“Diamonds are forever…they are all I need to please me…”
I could wish this movie had pleased me a little more. Another one of the ones I hadn’t seen for decades, I had forgotten almost everything about it until I watched it again (though some memories did come back as the show played out). It still had Connery, of course, an amazing score by John Barry, an excellent title song by Shirley Bassey, and a fair share of action and intrigue. There were some good fight scenes, a terrific car chase, and memorable villains. But Connery’s performance was a bit flat, neither of the main Bond girls was particularly likable or interesting, and the story wasn’t especially great. That being said, even weak Connery is still pretty good Bond.
Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Again filmed in ‘scope, again digitally restored, again looks beautiful. The first Bond movie to be set mostly in America, this film shows off the Vegas Strip to full effect.
After Bond has finally killed Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played this time by Rocky Horror‘s Charles Gray), he is recalled to London. A diamond syndicate executive is concerned that a large number of diamonds are going missing from the mines but not ending up on the market. Bond is tasked to investigate this diamond smuggling. Meanwhile, a couple of hit men are going around eliminating each link in the diamond smuggling chain to cover its tracks.
Bond follows the trail to diamond smuggler Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), and ingratiates himself with her under a cover to smuggle a shipment of diamonds to America, and to the empire of reclusive engineer and magnate Willard Whyte. (I never realized until watching the documentary material that Whyte was a no-celebrities-were-harmed version of similarly-reclusive Howard Hughes, a long-time friend of Broccoli’s. It makes the whole thing that much funnier.) After discovering Whyte was being held prisoner in his own home by not just one but two still-very-much-alive Ernst Stavro Blofelds, and the diamonds had been built into a satellite laser weapon, Bond leads a raid on Blofeld’s oil rig platform where the control facilities are housed.
As I already mentioned, this really wasn’t a great movie. Even though it’s Connery in the role, not Moore, Diamonds are Forever marks the start of Bond’s seventies slide into camp. There were the idiosyncratic assassins, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, in love with each other and loving what they did; a pair of singularly annoying Bond girls, neither of whom was especially likable; and some fairly ridiculous henchmen. (Such as the unfunny stand-up comedian played by Leonard Barr, Dean Martin’s real-life uncle. Where’s Fozzie Bear when you need him?) Still, it has its moments.
After Lazenby left the franchise, Broccoli and Saltzman tried to take the franchise in another new direction—making Bond “more American.” They even cast an American actor in the role, until they were able to get Connery back. You could kind of tell he wasn’t really thrilled about being here. His performance seemed a trifle flat. Nothing you could really put your finger on, but he just didn’t seem like the same James from his previous movies. That said, he did use his $1.25 million paycheck to set up a scholarship fund for poor Scottish families, so at least he got some good done out of it. (Funny to consider that Connery earned more money for appearing in this movie than Dr. No‘s entire budget!)
This is where the Bond franchise really started to repeat itself. Part of that was intentional—Broccoli and Saltzman wanted to make another movie more like Goldfinger, which had been the high water mark of the sixties-era Bond. They went so far as persuading Guy Hamilton, director of Goldfinger, to come back for this movie. Bond Scribe Richard Maibaum took the edict literally, and the first draft of his script involved Auric Goldfinger’s twin brother. (American writer Tom Mankiewicz was brought in to polish the script, and it ended up being Blofeld again instead.) Even given the script’s changes since the first draft, it’s still easy to see some of the similarities. In Goldfinger, Bond was tasked to investigate gold smuggling. In Diamonds are Forever, it’s diamond smuggling. And both movies involve the use of a high-tech laser weapon.
But on the whole, instead of Goldfinger, this movie ended up harking back instead to Dr. No and You Only Live Twice. SPECTRE madman develops weapon he uses to threaten the world powers? Yeah. Unlike Goldfinger, in this case the diamonds are just a means to an end.
One interesting thing about Diamonds is Bond’s sudden willingness to use violence toward women. This was something he had largely stayed away from in previous movies—when he came up against femme fatales or female archvillains (such as Rosa Klebb, Fiona Volpe, and Helga Brandt), generally someone else killed them. He did toss Pussy Galore around with judo, but she gave as good as she got. About the only other time Bond fought one was in From Russia with Love, and that largely consisted of pinning her to the wall with a chair while the Bond girl killed her.
But here, Bond is considerably less reluctant. Rather than seduce the information out of her, he garottes a female SPECTRE operative with her own bikini to find out where Blofeld is, and holds Bambi and Thumper’s heads underwater to subdue them until Leiter and his men can show up to take them into custody (though, of course, they had just tried to kill him rather physically themselves). This is actually an element that brings the movies closer to the novels, but I guess it’s tricky to show some things on screen.
Bond doesn’t show any feeling concerning Tracy, who he lost at the end of the last movie. You could perhaps read the feeling of loss into his implacability in finding Blofeld in the pre-title sequence, and M’s remark about expecting some decent work out of Bond now that Blofeld is finally dead, but not once does anyone mention her. It would have been nice for Bond at least to say something like “That’s for Tracy” when he (thinks he) kills Blofeld in the pre-title. But instead, we have to wait ‘til For Your Eyes Only for Bond to get some payback—and then, it’s payback against the bald, neck-braced Blofeld of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as if Diamonds are Forever never happened. (Though as mediocre as this movie is, maybe that’s just as well.)
Another interesting thing, though not played up as much as in other films, is that this is another gadget-light movie. Effectively the only “gadgets” Bond is seen to use are the fake fingerprints with which he fools Tiffany Case and the piton gun he employs in climbing up to Willard Whyte’s penthouse (and killing Blofeld’s double). The mediocrity of this movie should be taken as proof that cutting down on the gadgets is not, by itself, enough to make a good movie.
Neither of the two main Bond girls in this movie is very interesting, or very sympathetic. This is the first time in any of the Bond films that’s happened. Tiffany Case starts off as a mysterious, confident criminal who is nonetheless not a villain—a character type not seen previously in Bond movies (as a Bond girl, at least), and possibly the prototype for Maud Adams’s character from Octopussy. But she soon gets freaked out by the violence going on around her, and ends up whining about not wanting to go to jail. She has some agency—particularly when she evades her CIA tails after picking up the diamonds, or switches the laser control tape in Blofeld’s base (unfortunately after Bond had already switched it, so she just switched it back), but it largely evaporates by the end, when she’s demoted to cheap comic relief. (Firing a submachine gun pushes her off the oil platform. Really?) It’s as if she started out as Alexis Carrington or Sue-Ellen Ewing but then turned into Lucy Ricardo.
Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood) only had a few minutes of screen time (there were a couple deleted scenes that fleshed the character out more included on the Blu-ray), but in what she had she came off as a simple-minded, brash, annoying gold-digger who served more of a plot purpose dead and floating in Tiffany’s swimming pool than she did alive. I was really surprised Bond tolerated her clinging to his arm after he left the table. She had no class or sophistication at all.
Between the two characters, I’m tempted to wonder whether these were a conscious call-out to an “ugly American” stereotype. Is that how the British see Americans? Brash, uncultured, and annoying? But then again, Broccoli was raised American, and the script was polished by an American, so maybe it’s just a coincidence.
Jimmy Dean was terrific as Willard Whyte. I’d always enjoyed his “Big Bad John” songs, and Diamonds are Forever showed he has a great sense of comic timing. “Tell him he’s fired.” Classic. Charles Gray was one of the series’ best Blofelds, I thought. Not grotesque enough to be distracting, very British and proper, and possessed of a terrific acerbic wit. I really wish he could have returned as the heavy in more Bond films. Having two of him together in the penthouse was a terribly clever idea.
The rest of the cast was pretty good, too. Norman Burton did a decent job as Felix Leiter, though he was a bit more annoying than the Leiters of previous films. M, Q, and Moneypenny were all their usual delightful selves. The scene with Q going down the line of slot machines and triggering jackpots in each one was amusing; he’d never have gotten away with it in a real casino, though. Bond didn’t get to toss his hat this time, though he did have a fun little scene with Moneypenny in a police uniform.
Assassins Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover, father of actor Crispin Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) were amusingly idiosyncratic in their roles. A friend of mine felt they didn’t belong in a Bond film, but I tend to disagree. There’s something very British about such duos. Similar idiosyncratic assassin duos popped up in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and Terry Pratchett’s The Truth.
The implication that they’re a gay couple is rather broad, with them holding hands, Mr. Wint bestowing loving gazes upon Mr. Kidd, and Mr. Kidd outright saying Tiffany Case was attractive “for a woman.” Less broad are the implications that Bambi and Thumper are also such a couple, but they certainly seem to work well together. (Scenes we’d like to see: a Wint/Kidd Bambi/Thumper double-date.)
I suppose that would qualify as another point of similarity to Goldfinger, given the vague implications that Pussy Galore was a lesbian—but compared to that, Wint & Kidd are practically jumping up and down waving placards. I’m not sure whether it’s a positive thing from an affirmative action standpoint to have homosexuals featured prominently as villains, but it’s a milestone of some kind, anyway.
I have to wonder why Blofeld went to the trouble of gassing Bond and having him put in a pipe segment rather than just shooting him. (For that matter, you would think the construction crew would have noticed a man lying in one of the pipe segments they were burying. Shouldn’t they be looking through them for obstructions, stray animals, etc. before they drop them in?) But the bit in the elevator of having Bond expect the floor to open up beneath him and instead getting gassed from the ceiling was rather clever.
There are a few good action set pieces here, too. The elevator fight at Tiffany Case’s apartment is a creative bit of choreography, and the car chase through Las Vegas is an effective set piece. (Possibly too effective; in his commentary on Live and Let Die, writer Tom Mankiewicz notes that having a middle-of-the-film set piece that actually outshone the finale was a bit of a mistake.) The finale in which Bond used Blofeld’s escape ship as a wrecking ball was amusing, too. It’s too bad a revival of the Thunderball feud with Kevin McClory (as he began making plans for what would eventually become Never Say Never Again) meant that this was the last time they would be able to use Blofeld by name up until the Daniel Craig era.
Other amusing bits: Blofeld cross-dressing (right down to lipstick! He’s just a sweet transvestite…). I gather that it’s some sort of British cultural thing to find men cross-dressing as women especially funny (as also seen all the time in Monty Python). The idea that Vandenberg could get a satellite into orbit in a matter of hours from the time it was delivered is also hilarious. If nothing else proved Bond movies are set in a fantasy world, that sure would!
It is also worth noting that Diamonds are Forever seems to be the first Bond movie with an actual end title crawl, including the cast and so forth, rather than just “James Bond Will Return in such and such.” It’s quite short compared to the sprawling epics later films would get, but it’s definitely there.
This is another Bond disc with a great number of extras. For the first time, there are deleted scenes (including a rather funny one featuring Sammy Davis Jr., that I could nonetheless see why they didn’t keep in the actual movie). There are alternate angle cuts of some scenes (which I couldn’t seem to get to work with my player, but oh well). There were also documentaries on the making of the movie and the life of Cubby Broccoli, an interview with Sean Connery, and period featurettes. The Broccoli documentary was very interesting, as it covered aspects of his life and career I hadn’t seen mentioned elsewhere. The commentary track is the usual pieced-together-from-interviews, and is as entertaining as usual.
My next movie is Roger Moore’s introduction, Live and Let Die. I seem to recall not enjoying this film as much as some of the others. It will be interesting to see how my perspective has changed over time.