“It reads better than it lives”: A 60th Anniversary Tribute to Tiffany Case

Article by Revelator

Diamonds are Forever 1st Edition2016 marks the 60th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s novel Diamonds Are Forever. During what’s left of the year Artistic Licence Renewed wishes to pay tribute to its heroine, Tiffany Case, arguably Fleming’s best female character.

Diamonds Are Forever suffers from weak plotting and its main villains–the Spang twins–appear too briefly to join the ranks of Goldfinger or Dr. No. But the novel is otherwise strong in characterization, from henchmen Shady Tree and Wint & Kidd to allies Ernie Cuneo and Felix Leiter, and its most memorable character is undoubtedly Tiffany Case, whose complex character makes Fleming’s earlier heroines look one-dimensional. She represents a breakthrough in Fleming’s handling of women and points forward to strong later heroines such as Tatiana Romanova, Honeychile Ryder, Domino Vitali, Vivienne Michel, Tracy di Vincenzo, and Kissy Suzuki. In this essay her best attributes will be highlighted and the strength of her character will be demonstrated by charting the course of her relationship with Fleming’s hero.

“It was brilliant the way you handled those cards. If you can do that you can do anything.”

Tiffany is a professional: there’s no doubting her agency, skill, and sense of initiative. Bond might be the diamonds’ carrier, but it’s Tiffany who tells him exactly what to do and decides how to smuggle the goods, by ingeniously concealing them in golf balls. She’s quick to stand up for herself, and rebut masculine condescension: “And don’t ‘little girl’ me” she tells Bond. “We’re on a job. And I can take care of myself. You’d be surprised.” She even talks back to her boss Seraffimo Spang, who insultingly says he can’t understand how Bond supposedly fooled her: “The hell you can’t… don’t think you can push me around.”

It is Tiffany who saves Bond’s life after he has been captured by the mob, tortured, and rendered helpless, “like a wounded animal.” She wakes him from his blood-soaked sleep and leads him to the railroad handcar that will allow escape from certain death. Tiffany has even filled it with petrol and worked out their escape route. “My God, you’re a girl,” Bond marvels. After Spang’s demise she saves Bond’s life yet again, by leading the delirious OO7 to the highway: “But for her he would never have kept a straight course. He would have stumbled about amongst the cactus and rock and mica until his strength was exhausted and the broiling sun came to finish the job.” After all this, Bond merely returns the favor by saving her from Wint and Kidd aboard the Queen Elizabeth.

“If you don’t like my peaches, why do you shake my tree?”

Fleming continually associates Tiffany with tough and scrappy American icons—Casey Jones, Buster Keaton, and Annie Oakley—and her dialogue associates her with a classic American archetype, the wisecracking, fast-talking dame, showcased in the great American screwball comedies of the 1930s–40s and portrayed by Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, and Carole Lombard.

Lana Petanić as Tiffany Case (Photo: Belizar Valic)

Lana Petanić as Tiffany Case (Photo: Belizar Valic)

Tiffany’s wisecracks handily disprove the spurious idea that Fleming’s novels have no sense of humor, but it’s also true that she exhibits a greater sense of humor than any of Fleming’s previous characters. Her wit can be spiky (“Do you mind if I smoke?” “If that’s the way you want to die”) or wistful—“I guess every girl would like to come home and find a hat on the hall table. Trouble is I’ve never found the right sort of thing growing under the hat.”

She’s adept in cajolery (“You’re not much of a spender. I want another of these [drinks]. I’m beginning to enjoy myself. And how about ordering dinner? Or d’you hope I’ll pass out before you get around to it?”) and gallows humor: Bond asks if she can get more out of their handcar; she grimly replies “Not a scrap. Even if my name was Casey Jones instead of Case.” And she can be playful: Bond jokes, during their ocean voyage, that she wants to put the other men’s temperatures up; she relies “What d’you expect a girl to do on the Queen Elizabeth? Fish?”

“Listen, Bond, it’d take more than Crab-meat Ravigotte to get me into bed with a man.”

Unlike Fleming’s previous heroines, Tiffany has a vivid and conflicted inner life, shown by her emotional volatility. She has a melancholy that appeals to Bond (and his creator). Fleming sets this up before we met her, when Bond approaches her room and hears the “rather sad tune” “Feuilles Mortes” (“Fallen Leaves”). The melancholy is momentarily dispelled by his first sight of Tiffany, who sits “half naked, astride a chair in front of the dressing-table, gazing across the back of the chair into the triple mirror.”

The sexuality of the display is inseparable from her projection of inaccessibility and disdain; Bond’s senses are tantalized by “the arrogance in the set of her head and shoulders.” She “briefly and coolly” inspects Bond in the mirror, before saying “I guess you’re the new help…Take a seat and enjoy the music. Best light record ever made.” Bond thinks the album—Georges Feyer’s Echoes of Paris—“was appropriate to the girl. All the tunes seemed to belong to her…It had her brazen sexiness, the rough tang of her manner and the poignancy that had been in her eyes as they had looked moodily back at him out of the mirror.” Behind the sensuality he finds strength of character—she might have a sinful mouth, “but not, thought Bond, one that often sinned—if one was to judge by the level eyes and the hint of authority and tension behind them.”

Diamonds are Forever: "The Trouble with Tiffany"

“The Trouble with Tiffany” by Gerald Wadsworth

Bond fixates on Tiffany’s level, “rather scornful grey eyes” several times throughout the novel; they send messages to help him grasp her mercurial character. At first they send him a challenge: “Sure. Come and try. But brother, you’d better be tops.” But after Bond secures a promise of dinner Tiffany grows remote and shows him the door. She listens until Bond’s footsteps vanish, and “with brooding eyes,” switches the record back on. Listening to “Je n’en connais pas la fin” (“I Don’t Know the End”), she wonders “about the man who had suddenly, out of the blue, found his way into her life. God, she thought to herself with sudden angry despair, another damn crook. Couldn’t she ever get away from them? But when the record stopped her face was happy.” Throughout the rest of the book, Bond must find a way to banish that despair and preserve her happiness, by convincing her that he is the real thing, emotionally and morally.

“I’m not going to sleep with you…so don’t waste your money getting me tight. But I’ll have another and probably another one after that. I just don’t want to drink your Vodka Martinis under false pretences.”

Croatian modeal Lana Petanić as Tiffany Case (Photo: Belizar Valic)

Croatian model Lana Petanić as Tiffany Case: Photo by Beliza Valic; styling was done by Iva Tuđa and makeup made sure Kristina Hošnjak

Felix Leiter tells Bond that Tiffany has good reasons for being wary. “Nice kid,” he says, but she “didn’t have much chance from the cradle up.” Her mother ran a bordello in San Francisco, and when she failed to pay protection money the mob gangraped sixteen-year-old Tiffany, who ran away from home, developed a drinking habit, and ended up in Reno. There she was ushered into the Spangled Mob by Seraffimo Spang, “who got all excited because she wouldn’t sleep with him.”

Since her trauma, Tiffany has vowed to have nothing do with men. Like many of the heroines in the Bond novels, she has strayed into a corrupt world because of a traumatic painful sexual history. Bond’s task is to help her find a way out of her neuroticism and criminal career by representing the sort of male decency she has never encountered. The next time Bond looks into her eyes, he finds a message along those lines: “All is possible between us. But don’t be impatient. And be kind. I don’t want to be hurt any more.”

Bond and Tiffany’s next encounter, at dinner in New York (Sardi’s), initially goes well; she genuinely enjoys the occasion (including the Crab-meat Ravigotte), until Bond, reluctantly doing his job, asks too many questions about her employers. “You’ll get to know them,” she sneers. “You’ll like them. Just your type.” He has become “another damn crook” again. Bond realizes he’s killed the evening and put Tiffany in a vin triste; “Why’n hell couldn’t you dream up something else to talk about except these goddam hoodlums?” she asks.

'Dying to Eat' created by food stylist Charlotte Omnès and photographer Henry Hargreaves

‘Dying to Eat’ created by food stylist Charlotte Omnès and photographer Henry Hargreaves

Bond curses his mission, vowing “whatever the job dictated, there was one way he would never ‘use’ this particular girl. Through the heart.” After Bond accompanies Tiffany to her hotel room door, she turns to face him: “Listen, you Bond person” she angrily begins, but after pausing she looks into Bond’s eyes, and he sees that her eyelashes are wet. Suddenly she flings an arm round his neck and says “Look after yourself, James. I don’t want to lose you.” She kisses him once, “with a fierce tenderness that was almost without sex.” But when embraces her and starts to return the kiss, she stiffens and fights her way free. “Now get away from me,” she fiercely says, slamming the door and locking it.

Tiffany’s troubled mindset is exemplified in those actions. We know Bond will not hurt her, but she can’t. She cannot risk giving an untested man access to her body and soul; her past will not allow it, not until Bond fulfills his vow to never use her through the heart. And he does: aboard the Queen Elizabeth Bond realizes he’s “very near to being in love with her.” But would “the child and the woman ever come out from behind the barricade she had started to build that night [in San Francisco] against all the men in the world?”

Tiffany’s glance again delivers a message “Don’t worry. I will keep step with you. I have always been in step with the thought of you, but you didn’t come, and I have spent my life listening to a different drummer.” But to march together will require great responsibility from Bond, as he realizes: “He would be in the role of the healer, the analyst, to whom the patient had transferred her love and trust on her way out of the illness. There would be no cruelty equal to dropping her hand once he had taken it in his.”

It is impossible to read those lines and believe Bond is the sexual predator and vicious misogynist we’re often told he is, usually by those who have deeply shallow knowledge of Fleming.

Illustration by George Almond

Seraffimo Spang – Illustration by George Almond

After Bond’s epiphany, he and Tiffany engage in a long conversation on life, love, and marriage—the sort of conversation never heard in a Bond movie. Even if he found his ideal woman, Bond says he couldn’t necessarily marry her. In lines that beg to be used in a Bond film, he admits “I’m almost married already. To a man. Name begins with M. I’d have to divorce him before I tried marrying a woman.”

Tiffany admits she’s never found the right man and stopped looking after entering the mob. “A girl can’t have friends in that company. You either put up a notice saying ‘No Entry’ or you’re apt to pick up a bad case of round heels.” Bond laughs but thoughtlessly asks if she’s had intimate relations with Spang. Tiffany’s eyes blaze as she leaves the table and walks out of the bar. Bond follows and finds her in tears “How mean can you be?” she asks. “Oh, James…You just don’t understand.”

Bond contritely says he was hurt by the idea of her being with Spang. “You mean that?” she asks, searching his face. “You mean you liked me already?” He reassures her, and she takes him by surprise by asking if he’s read Alice in Wonderland: “There’s a line there I often think of…‘Oh, Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool of tears? I am very tired of swimming about here, oh Mouse.’ Remember? Well, I thought you were going to tell me the way out. Instead of that you ducked me in the pool…But I guess you didn’t mean to hurt.” Bond looks quietly at her mouth and kisses her, believing “nothing but the great step of physical love would cure these misunderstandings.” He waits until she asks for that love.

“It reads better than it lives.”

Freed from the mob, Tiffany moves into Bond’s flat for several happy months. There’s “some idea” of them getting married, but then she meets a Marine at the American embassy, and the new couples sail back to American to get married. Bond tries to be blasé when M asks what happened: “She couldn’t really settle down here. Fine girl, but she’s a bit neurotic. We had too many rows. Probably my fault. Anyway it’s over now.” But to himself Bond admits he “missed her badly and his mind still sheered away from the thought of her.” Like all of Fleming’s heroines, Tiffany lasted for one book only, but she provided a first draft of the woman Bond would later marry, Tracy di Vicenzo. One is countess and the other a criminal, but both suffer from melancholy and emotional volatility. Both are relieved of their hang-ups through Bond’s gentleness and consideration.

Tiffany’s rejection of Bond, after kissing him, is reworked into Tracy kicking Bond out of bed and telling him he’s a lousy lover. The most famous and meaningful phrase from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service appears twice in Diamonds Are Forever: During Bond and Tiffany’s first dinner, they eat their caviar in contented silence and he “suddenly felt they had all the time in the world”, while aboard the Queen Elizabeth, “the waiter came with the bill and their hands separated. But now there was all the time in the world and no need for reassurance from words or contact.”

Jill St. John as Tiffany Case

Jill St. John as Tiffany Case

And as it turned out, Tiffany directly followed Tracy onscreen. The film of OHMSS, the most faithful to Fleming’s letter and spirit, preceded that of Diamonds, which plays like a spiteful parody of Fleming’s novel. Nowhere is the parody more evident than in the screen version of Tiffany Case, who starts out superficially tough and devolves into the sort of airhead Fleming had no interest in. Bumbling around Blofeld’s oil rig in a bikini, she ruins Bond plans (“You silly twit!” snarls Connery) and so ineptly handles a machine gun that the recoil pushes her into the Gulf of Mexico. She joins the shameful gallery of bimbos who populate every Bond film scripted by Tom Mankiewicz and directed by Guy Hamilton. Bond even slaps her, a gesture impossible to imagine from Fleming’s Bond, who does not strong-arm women.

Most shamefully of all, movie Tiffany lacks the alloy of toughness, vulnerability, and hidden hurt found in the original. Onscreen, the character has no inner life—behind the bravado there is no more than opportunism; she has no inner conflict. The movie has no equivalent to the two long dinner conversations, and though Bond and Tiffany still board the Queen Elizabeth, their discussion of love and marriage is sent up: Tiffany keeps attempting to ask Bond a serious question, clearly suggestive of marriage.

Many interruptions later, her question turns out to be how to can retrieve the diamonds from Blofeld’s satellite. The mercenary substitution of greed for love is complete. Throughout the film, the filmmakers persistently avoid and traduce the depth of emotion found in the book—and in the preceding film. As a poor adaptation, it fails to do justice to the best parts of the novel, and most unforgivably it fails Fleming’s best female character.

One can imagine the literary Tiffany Case watching with an appalled sneer, saying “it reads better than it plays.”

Incidental Intelligence

Behind the scenes with the Croatian Diamonds are Forever cover art team

The Hidden Gems in Diamonds Are Forever

Ian Fleming, Diamonds Are Forever and Saratoga Springs

Field Report: “Diamonds Are Forever at 60 (and 45)”

Diamonds are Forever: “The Trouble with Tiffany” by Gerald Wadsworth

2 thoughts on ““It reads better than it lives”: A 60th Anniversary Tribute to Tiffany Case

  1. One of the things that I love about this site is that it brings really interesting insights from true aficionados.
    DAF is my least favourite Bond book but reading this celebration of TC certainly makes me think about her in a new light. Great article Revelator !

    • Thanks very much David! I also think DAF is among Fleming’s lesser novels, but when I reread it a few years ago I was struck by how vivid Tiffany’s character was. Had Fleming built a better book around her I think she’d be widely regarded as his best female character. Her closest competitor would be Vivienne Michel, but Viv had the advantage of narrating her own book!

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