“Where is he? I shan’t ask you politely next time. Where is Blofeld?” – James Bond
Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This is our weekly walk through the Bond films. We continue in this thirteenth week with 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.
Diamonds Are Forever is a bit of a mess. I’ve never quite cared that much for this seventh outing for 007. Quite frankly, most would say this heralds the triumphant return of Sean Connery after that last fellow wasn’t back to make another film. To me, that is just one of many issues this film has.
Now, before you think me some sort of hater on the Connery version of Bond, please do not think that. It’s just that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is brilliant. While certainly adequate in the role, George Lazenby, by extension, benefits from that brilliant film. Diamonds Are Forever, is not brilliant. Like an imperfect titular jewel, it is murky and dull.
There are things to like, and I’ll get to those momentarily.
The film concerns diamond smuggling. Bond is sent to investigate a diamond smuggling ring that may be attempting to fix and depress the market by way of dumping, or the undercutting of pricing for high quality diamonds. Bond infiltrates the smuggling ring under the guise of Peter Franks and meets Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) to bring in a gigantic amount of rocks. However, two killers, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, are pursuing smugglers and killing them one by one.
Bond eventually lands in Las Vegas and discovers a sinister plan to use the identity of Las Vegas billionaire recluse Willard Whyte (sausage king Jimmy Dean) to position various pieces on the chess board. Whyte is being impersonated by none other than Ernst Stavro Blofeld (this time played by Charles Gray). Blofeld’s plan involves using these smuggled and stolen diamonds to build a giant satellite that will reflect sunlight off the diamonds creating a gigantic laser.
Knowing that I have issues with this installment, you probably think the giant diamond laser is something I’m not terribly fond of. Well, that’s not exactly true. I actually love those bigger, more fantastical, ideas in Bond films. No, my first, and probably biggest issue, is that the general plot is very bland. This is based on an Ian Fleming novel that does, indeed, focus on diamond smuggling. It’s all an interesting premise that makes for good sluethin’ and sneakin’ and spyin’ about, but this film feels off. Like it is trapped in some sort of identity crisis.
This film was originally conceived to “Americanize” the Bond series. Lazenby was out, as was usual Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum’s original idea for his script. In came Tom Mankiewicz, a young American writer to come up with some new ideas. American actor John Gavin was signed, but Adam West was discussed at one point – he even met with Albert Broccoli and the role did come up in conversation. When Connery was paid an incredible sum for 1970 standards to return, all idea of Americanizing the role went away.
Also, there was a real desire to bring the series back to blockbuster status. Diminishing returns were seen over the last few movies. It wasn’t so much so that the movies weren’t successes, it just wasn’t Goldfinger and Thunderball money. Producers Harry Saltzman and Broccoli brought back Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton. Hamilton said he had enough time away from the series to have some ideas about what he’d like to see, and the reunion of Hamilton, Broccoli and Saltzman, and Connery was complete.
Now, if we were to go back to my review of Goldfinger, you’d likely remember that I was quite disappointed in Bond’s demeanor. There’s a little bit of him taking the piss out of his boss, M, in a scene, but he is a little bit more of a hybrid between of Lazenby’s version and Connery’s Bond. So, at least Bond’s a little more likable, but he also doesn’t seem particularly special in this film either. He’s a bit lost in the pageantry of Connery’s return.
There are little nitpicks that I could discuss too. Like how Connery’s voice over in the opening, pre-title sequence seems sped up or awkwardly adjusted to make him sound younger, or more like Lazenby, or just different. I can’t exactly put my finger on why it feels different. It’s like we’re being made to think this is someone other than Connery, but considering the amount of money the film ultimately made, you’d have to think most people already knew it was Connery back in the lead.
There’s a terrible mistake made in the big car chase along the Las Vegas strip. Bond is driving down an alley and the only way through is to tilt the car onto the two passenger side wheels. The next stunt team who complete the shot as it exits messed it up by having the car on the driver side’s wheels. Hamilton fixes the shot in post by inserting a shot that shifts the lean to make it up, but that sort of stuff just can’t happen. It looks bad, and it, at the very least, gives a sense that the movie was either made on an incredibly tight budget or time table. Neither looks good.
Charles Gray as Blofeld is pretty uninteresting. I like Gray. His more offbeat British agent who went native in Japan in You Only Live Twice was fun, albeit for a single scene. Generally, I find him to be an interesting actor, but, as Blofeld, he just doesn’t bring any gravitas to the role. Donald Pleasance was a weird, disfigured man who seemed to hide behind his incredible reach and deep organization. Telly Savalas had that deep voice and intimidating delivery. This Blofeld lacks. I would have rather seen either of the two previous actors return because it is only exacerbated by the fact there are multiples of this Blofeld thanks to plastic surgery.
Hey, remember when I said the scene explaining Bond had plastic surgery to disguise himself from Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was cut? Well, the idea was definitely not cut from this movie because Broccoli was fascinated by a dream he had of himself not appearing as himself. So doubles and plastic surgery are in where a plot hole in the previous film could have been avoided.
There are a things I do rather enjoy in Diamonds Are Forever. First, I love the gleeful (read: gay) assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. They have fun dialog and they are clearly written to be gay partners. After blowing up a helicopter in the desert, they walk off hand-in-hand. There’s no extra attention called to it. It just is. Later, Mr. Kidd remarks that Tiffany Case is rather pretty… you know, for a lady. It’s treated as a quirk within the set of all the characters in the movie, and they are not treated as flamboyant. In fact, they seem like very normal people. Who just happen to be cold blooded killers.
Adding to that, Willard Whyte has a pair of lady bodyguards, Bambi and Thumper. They are an interracial duo, and it’s possible they are lovers as well. They certainly fight and kind of dress almost like Amazons. They are another quirky set of characters that are fun and interesting. Apparently, whenever Jimmy Dean talked to someone about the film, they always asked about Bambi and Thumper, but he never had the pleasure of being on screen with them and therefore never had any shooting days with them.
Speaking of the ladies, I really like Jill St. John in this film. For one, she’s gorgeous. It’s the first time we really see a redhead as the lead, protagonist, Bond Girl. We see her in several states of undress in her first seen. She’s particularly playful in the movie too. She’s sharp tongued in her early scenes, but, later, she sleeps with Bond, gets his word that she’ll be kept out of prison for all her smuggling in the past, and when Felix Leiter tells her that she’s this close to going to the slammer. Her response is a playful, “But I’m cooperating” as she lays naked under a fur blanket in the honeymoon suite at Willard Whyte’s hotel. In the climax (heh), she spends the entire sequence in just about the smallest bikini bottom you ever did see. Bond slips an audio cassette into the back of that and there’s no damn way that little piece of cloth is big enough to conceal an audio cassette.
The most notable Bond Girl gag in the film involves Lana Wood in the role of Plenty – Plenty O’Toole. She introduces herself to Bond when she realizes he’s a high roller at the craps table by exclaiming she’s Plenty. Bond, checking out her massive rack, agrees. She then reveals her full name, and Bond quips that she must have been named after her father.
Things don’t go all that well for Plenty. She goes back to Bond’s room and gets tossed out the window into the pool below while topless. The next time you see her, she’s tied to a cinder block and drowned in a pool.
Overall, Diamonds Are Forever has always been one of my least favorite films in the series despite some really clever line deliveries from Connery and some nice little things sprinkled throughout the film. It’s just that the sum of the little things doesn’t outweigh the general missed opportunities of a bland story and a not so imposing version of Blofeld. It was clear that a change was needed, and that’s what would be coming soon with Connery gone like how diamonds are – forever.
Join me next week for a look at the music of Diamonds Are Forever. In two weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the eighth Bond film, and the start of a whole new era for Agent 007, Live and Let Die.