The next Bond film, Daniel Craig’s last, arrives September 2021. Until then I’m revisiting all the Bond films in order of release. This time, we reach Diamonds are Forever. Expect spoilers…
On Her Majesty’ Secret Service made over ten times it’s production budget. But the different style and tone of the film, criticism of Lazenby’s performance by reviewers, and the fact he quit are some of the factors which have contributed to its unfounded reputation as an unsuccessful Bond.
The planned revenge storyline for the next film was jettisoned after Lazenby left, and United Artists made it clear that Broccoli and Saltzman should get Sean Connery back. Eventually United Artists agreed to a record fee of $1.25million plus percentage of profits and the original Bond was back.
Connery donated his fee to set up a Scottish charity to help creatives apply for funding in Scotland, and United Artists offered to pay for two new films of Connery’s choosing (see Sidney Lumet’s The Offence).
Connery was back, Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton was back, and even Shirley Bassey was back singing the theme song. What could go wrong?
Bond interrogates three different individuals to discover where Blofeld is. This is presumably a nod to the continuation of the story from OHMSS although that isn’t explored in any way. Bond ends up in a lab where Blofeld is using plastic surgery technology and mud baths to help him disguise his identity. The fights are alright, but they have jettisoned the excitement of the OHMSS editing. Blofeld is now played by Charles Gray (you will remember him as Henderson in You Only Live Twice) and is drowned in a mud bath.
BOND AND M
M reiterates that Blofeld is dead and that Bond could perhaps get on with his job again. After showing off his superior knowledge of sherry, Bond learns about the diamond smuggling business out of South Africa. This scene then segues into our introduction to:
MR WINT AND MR KIDD
These two goons, who incidentally have a cool recurring bad guy motif in John Barry’s music, are introduced as two offbeat, dry, polite and slightly amusing bad guys, who are ruthlessly killing a chain of people involved in the smuggling of diamonds. After brutally dispatching a diamond mine dentist with a scorpion, then blowing up the helicopter that arrives to receive the smuggled gems, they walk off into the desert – hand in hand.
This terribly camp touch will return later when we see the duo throughout the film. Are they partners – yes. Is this important to the story in any way – no. This treatment is quite uncomfortable to watch today, unlike in the seventies where it was “acceptable” to have gay characters often, if not only, presented in flamboyantly camp ways. It’s a shame as they are inventive, brutal and efficient killers who would be better remembered if portrayed without campiness.
Bond travels to Amsterdam impersonating diamond smuggler Peter Franks to figure out who is stockpiling smuggled diamonds. His investigation leads him to Las Vegas to uncover the plot.
Amsterdam looks very pretty in the film, although most of the action set there is indoors. One cracking fight takes place between Bond and Franks in an extremely slow-moving elevator in Amsterdam. The fight is extensive, claustrophobic and rough – although Peter Hunt-style editing could have made it an all-time classic.
Jill St. John appears as Tiffany Case, the contact Peter Franks was to make in Amsterdam. Changing hair colour during her first scene suggests a slippery character. Her dialogue and her delivery of the lines suggests a hard villain. She even efficiently sneaks “Franks” fingerprints to analyse (Spy Time!) – so she is no passive female. In that opening scene we see her in her underwear, then in a see-through gown before a dress with a deeply plunging neckline, but she’s a force to be reckoned with. By the end though, she’s running around an oil rig in a bikini with a cassette in her pants.
The fight, like Tiffany, and Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, betray the strange duality in this film – caught between the harder edge of OHMSS and perhaps Guy Hamilton’s Goldfinger, but lumbered with the unsubtle bloated humour. Bond Bloat doesn’t just apply to the need for the films to be bigger and more spectacular!
VIVA LAS VEGAS
Funeral Goon 1: “The stiff – deceased back there. Your brother, Mr Franks?”
Funeral Goon 2: “I got a brother!”
Bond: “Small world.”
Some of the lines are good. Perhaps the work of Tom Mankiewicz, brought in to make the script more suited to US viewers. Using the dead Franks body to smuggle the diamonds to the US, Bond is attacked then almost cremated in the funeral home, before realising that a funeral goon is a comic appearing at Willard Whyte’s “The Whyte House” hotel.
Plenty: “Hi. I’m Plenty.”
Bond: “But of course you are.”
Plenty: “Plenty O’Toole.”
Bond: “Named after your father perhaps.”
After meeting Plenty (Lana Wood) at the craps table at The Whyte House, the goons in Bond’s hotel room throw the topless Plenty out of the window before she and Bond can get to bed (“I didn’t know there was a pool down there” says Goon 1) and Bond realises Tiffany is already in his bed. Bond removes his clothes, Tiffany delivers a double entendre, then cut to the post-sex cigarette moment.
Plenty is found drowned in Tiffany’s pool (presumably mistaken for Tiffany by Wint and Kidd) and Bond explains that everyone in the smuggling chain is being killed one by one – and Tiffany must be next. They follow one of the reclusive Willard Whyte’s assistants to Whyte-owned TECTRONICS lab in the desert (from which Bond escapes in a moon buggy(!).
THE CAR CHASE
Bond and Tiffany are pursued by the police through the neon lit night-time Vegas streets, the red Ford Mustang gleaming as they continually evade the cops. A great chase as it isn’t always high speed but uses the environment and location to show Bond outsmarting them.
This includes the cool stunt where Bond flips the car onto two wheels to squeeze down a narrow alleyway to finally escape from the police. (Famous continuity error as the car emerges from the alleyway on the two left wheels, having entered the alley on the right wheels! They spotted this, and inserted a bizarre camera move and metallic screeching noise inside the car to try and explain the error).
THE WHYTE HOUSE
Bond takes the scenic elevator to the recluse’s inaccessible penthouse (by standing on top of it), then using some handy pistol/karabiner device to swing and climb into the building again.
Ken Adam’s set for the penthouse is wonderful as usual, a huge cavernous mix of antiques and shiny metal.
And then the reveal. It’s Blofeld who is in this penthouse. And then another twist – when a second Blofeld walks down the stairs (remember the plastic surgery techniques in the pre-titles?) It’s not really explained why he’s creating a double, nor does he explain what the diamonds are for. Soon Bond is knocked out and left by Wint and Kidd to be buried alive in a construction area. That old question arises: why don’t they just kill Bond quickly and get it over with?
BAMBI AND THUMPER
When Bond tracks down Whyte’s real location he wanders in to discover two athletic females lounging in the large open plan living area. Bambi and Thumper then proceed to beat Bond up using acrobatics and some brutal kicks. It’s a strange little scene which is effective in its own way, but merely a diversion as Bond soon overpowers them in a swimming pool, holding their heads under the surface (!).
SPACE, LASERS AND OIL RIGS
Whyte helps them figure out that his technology is being used to control a satellite and to use its laser to attack whatever targets Blofeld wants, starting with missiles in the US and in China. They learn that the laser can be controlled by a simple cassette tape (we see one twice earlier in the film) and that Blofeld is based in an oil rig off the Californian coast.
Cue the big finale. And Tiffany Case with a cassette in her pants.
The big finish is underwhelming, especially as they were aiming for Goldfinger, and were willing to spend millions to make the film a success. That’s not to say the finale is poorly staged, but it isn’t spectacular or thrilling. And unlike OHMSS you aren’t invested in the characters enough to really worry about them.
- Q appears in Vegas and ends defrauding the slot machines using one of his own gadgets.
- Moneypenny added as a late addition with little to do.
- We see an elephant playing and winning at a slot machine in the casino.
- Bond slaps Tiffany as he questions her. It was the seventies, folks. Things were different then, right?
- Bond and the CIA rescue Whyte at the remote luxury house, even though they know exactly where Blofeld is. Why not get the villain first?
- Blofeld escapes the casino by walking through it dressed as a woman. Poor Blofeld, it’s only been two years since OHMSS, but we’ve come a very long way… Once the shadowy leader of a mysterious organisation, ruthless, powerful, and now in drag for sheer ridiculous comic effect. After this film Blofeld would not reappear until much later in the series.
Without a doubt, for me at least, the best scene in the film is the final one, where Mr Wint and Mr Kidd appear on the cruise ship to serve Bond and Tiffany with a luxury dinner. The scene has some genuine wit and laughs, with genuine threat. The way the men are dispatched is both spectacular and dangerous (Wint) and funny (Kidd). The kiss off line is laugh out loud and the final seconds of the film leave us with a nice picture of Connery and St.John
I used to like Diamonds are Forever. Sadly, not anymore. Maybe I’ve just grown up. Or old.
It’s great to see Connery back as Bond – he seems to be enjoying it again. You’ve got to love his negotiation for the biggest fee – and how he donated it all to help others. But he really deserved a better finish.
DAF is like another soft reboot, neither one thing nor another. It has some spectacle and some good lines, but is bloated full of irrelevant scenes, and the villains just aren’t allowed to be bad enough. They seem to be trying to “course correct” from what they perceived as the oddity of OHMSS and instead the film is a bit of a mixed bag.
The film was another huge success in the UK and across the world. Connery was leaving for good. And Roger Moore was finally available…
|Produced by: EON Productions|
Presented By: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli
Director: Guy Hamilton
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Composer: John Barry
“Diamonds are Forever” written by John Barry
Lyrics by Don Black and sung by Shirley Bassey.
Production Design: Ken Adam
London Premiere December 1971
Jill St John