Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

James Bond film #07 (Sean Connery Bond)

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

After George Lazenby’s solo run as James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli were told to get Connery back in the suit at any cost – and that cost ended up being 1.25 million pounds, an amount that equals out to about $32 million in today’s dollars. Having spent so much on their lead actor (in fact, the highest salary to an actor for a role ever at the time), the pair of producers aimed to recreate the commercial success of 1964’s Goldfinger, hiring that film’s director (Guy Hamilton), using Shirley Bassey to sing the title song again, and originally centering the story around Auric Goldfinger’s twin. After Broccoli dreamt of recluse Howard Hughes getting replaced by an imposter, however, the plot was changed to that fantastical idea, creating the character of Willard Whyte and setting most of the story in Las Vegas.

Vegas seems like the perfect setting for James Bond. It’s a land of liquor and ladies, a city centered on showmanship, all things that the Bond series had come to be associated with by this point. Some of the best scenes occur while exploring the City of Sin, providing us with the ever useful cultural snapshots that accompany the series’ on-location shooting. While it may not be as exotic as the Japanese weddings of You Only Live Twice or the Turkish gypsy camp of From Russia With Love, the tight-rope theatrics of Circus Circus are a vivid background for Bond as he goes about his super spy business.

In fact, if Diamonds could be summed up in one word, you might choose theatrical (that is, if you felt generous and didn’t want to go with “campy”). Bond villains have always had a knack for flair – look no further than Oddjob’s signature hat-throwing – but nothing we’ve seen so far comes close to the ridiculousness we get here. Most egregious is the pair of henchmen featured throughout, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, whose penchant for elaborate murders makes them the quintessential “bad guys who don’t kill off Bond when they have the chance”. Instead of just putting him down with a handgun, they try to cremate him, bury him alive, and blow him up with a bomb – all failing, of course, and eventually leading to their defeat.

Their one-liners (during that cremation scene, they’ve got plenty) and strange behavior (Mr. Wint is insincerely polite while Mr. Kidd is devoid of most affect) make them memorable characters indeed, but their salacious homosexual behavior – down to Mr. Wint’s euphoric smile as Bond reaches under him during their final fight – seems out of place and overtly deviant. Here we have the first ever homosexual characters in the series, and of course they’re made out to be creepy and predatory. These are the gays that your grandfather is afraid of, and it’s disheartening to see such a negative depiction in a big-budget box-office success, but it’s probably just a relic of the times.

Anachronistic prejudice aside, Diamonds Are Forever still suffers from a lack of substance. The diamond smuggling ring plot gets messy and confusing, and many scenes fizzle out after a strong start, most notably the cremation scene, which is suspenseful and terrifying until a slimy character named Shady Tree ends it abruptly and unrealistically. Even worse is the fight scene with two women henchmen, Bambi and Thumper, who are another embodiment of the film’s over-the-top campiness, and whose scuffle with Bond ends after he dunks them underwater in a pool.

Diamonds Are Forever does have some great classically Bond scenes. The close-quarters elevator fight between Bond and the real Peter Franks is one of the series’ best so far, and both chase scenes, one on Vegas’ crowded streets and the other involving a moon rover, are lots of fun. But for every moment like these, there’s an elephant celebrating a slot machine win, and the worst pair of Bond girls yet. Plenty O’Toole, as played by Lana Wood, is definitely the worst, her gee-golly voice and ostentatious shallowness falling flat before she even gets going. Luckily, she’s tossed out the window quickly (and literally), but Jill St. John as Tiffany Case is painfully inept and obnoxious. While previous Bond films were able to mitigate their sexism with occasionally strong female characters (I’m looking at you, Pussy), Diamonds is having none of that.

For his part, Connery does a better job here than he did in his last appearance as Bond in You Only Live Twice – he seems newly energized, even if he’s getting a little thick and grizzled at this point. Charles Gray plays Blofeld, and while he may be the best actor to inhabit the role yet, the character has suffered tremendously by his constant cycling of actors. Had Gray started the role off in You Only Live Twice, or had Pleasence stayed on board for the remainder of the character’s run, Ernst Stavro Blofeld would be one of the greatest cinematic villains of all time (sorry, Telly Savalis). Without a consistent face (or even demeanor), he’s instead only occasionally iconic. Hit even harder by the same problem is the character of Felix Leiter, whose fourth appearance in the series is performed by a fourth actor, Norman Burton. Burton is older, portlier, and just seems exasperated with Bond’s antics than all the previous Felixes. At this point I’m questioning why they bother including the character at all.

As chintzy as its Las Vegas setting, Diamonds Are Forever is an interesting entry to the Bond series. Although they’ve all been gratuitous, Diamonds crosses the line into cheesy camp while also failing to entertain enough throughout its two hour runtime. The film may go out with a bang, but Connery’s last foray as Bond is definitely a dud.

Final rating: 5.5/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • That opening scene just sets the film up for awfulness. What kind of goopy plastic surgery did they have in 1971?
  • I’m glad Bond always addresses Blofeld and Felix by name in their scenes, or else I’d never be able to guess who the hell these new actors were supposed to be.
  • The Bond theme continues to get some variations added to it, this time a few twangs that are prescient of disco.
  • The shot of the three hearse drivers turning on lamps in Bond’s hotel room is excellent use of lighting. Them throwing Plenty O’Toole out the window was excellent use of a window.
  • Seriously, what was with Mr. Kidd’s weird forehead hair? It looks freaking gross, man.
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