Diamonds Are Forever (1971)


The majority of James Bond films have had little to nothing to do with the books.  Some characters, locations and general plot points are kept, but the movies and Ian Fleming's original novels and short stories are two different creatures.  The other thing you realize early on, especially as new actors began taking on the roll of the world's most famous secret agent over the years, is that internal consistency is also rather shaky.  Still, after James Bond finally finds love and gets married, only to have Blofeld and his henchwoman kill his new bride shortly after the wedding at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it frustrated me that it affected the following movies so little.

Turns out that was not always the plan.  When George Lazenby was still attached to Diamonds Are Forever it was supposed to be the main theme - Bond taking revenge upon Blofeld for Tracy's death.  A number of things happened in the two years between the movies: Lazenby, upon some bad advice from an agent, was convinced that the changing times meant James Bond films were on their way out, so he walked out on the multi-film contract he had signed.  Since On Her Majesty's Secret Service didn't perform as well as some past Bond films the producers were not to sad to see him go, and so the search for a new Bond was again on, and the whole revenge aspect was abandoned.  Once again future Bond actor Roger Moore was a top choice, but he was again busy.  Eventually they settled on actor John Gavin, who had recently played a French spy. 

Eventually, however, Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman managed to get Sean Connery to play the role for one last time - and one major paycheck.  With Connery returning, the serious tone, less reliability on gadgets and more complex plotting was abandoned.  In addition to Connery, Guy Hamilton (who had directed Goldfinger) is back, as is Shirley Bassey belting out the theme song. In fact, Diamonds Are Forever seemed like it was doing everything it could to convince audiences that the old Bond was back.

While the movie takes a different turn, we first join James Bond as he searches for Blofeld (Charles Gray), eventually finding him and sending him off to his final reward - or so he thinks.  With Blofeld gone, Bond returns from his time away from M5, and M (Bernard Shaw) assigns him to a new case: a large amount of diamonds have been reported smuggled out of mines in South Africa, and none of them have turned up on the black market, leading to fears that someone is stockpiling them for nefarious reasons. 

With rumors that one of the hubs for the operation may be in Amsterdam, M5 kidnaps a man named Peter Franks, whose job is to help get the diamonds into the U.S., and replaces him with Bond.  Franks's connection, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) is initially convinced, and Bond is met by Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) who lends his aid in discovering what is happening.  Whatever it is, it soon turns out that everyone who has come in contact with the diamonds have met their fate at the hands of a pair of assassins names Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover).  Bond almost meets his, but it turns out that the diamonds that Bond brought to the contact were fake, and everyone decides he needs to live - at least until the real ones turn up. 

To make matters more complicated Bond is reunited with Case, interrupting his interlude with a casino hanger-on by the name of Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood).  When it turns out that the assassins meant to do away with Tiffany as well, she decides to switch sides and begin helping Bond and Leiter find out who is behind the diamond thefts, and why it all seems to point to a reclusive millionaire named William Whyte (Jimmy Dean), whom no one has seen in five years and whose casino dominates the Vegas Strip. 

Needless to say, Blofeld, as usual, isn't as dead as everyone hoped, and he once again has plans to hold the world for ransom.

I always remembered this as being one of the sillier movies in the series, but it isn't as outright campy as You Only Live Twice, and at least Sean Connery doesn't looks as bored as he did the last time out.  Still, that movie had grand sets and some solid performances from many of the secondary characters, while many of the grand sets and effects, many of which seem glaringly missing, had to be abandoned this time around in order to afford to pay Connery's salary.  Despite that, we still get one of the most memorable (if ridiculous) chase scenes as a bunch of guards chase Bond across the Mojave as he escapes in an experimental moon buggy, culminating in a more traditional chase in Las Vegas itself.

As for side characters, Norman Burton is barely given a sidekick role as Leiter.  Jill St. John is quite beautiful, but she's no Diana Rigg, who while not having a silly name was the most memorable and enjoyable Bond girl up to this point.  Speaking of silly names, Plenty O'Toole is barely given any time at all, and the time spent alive is largely getting tossed out a window while half naked.  While I really do get upset with people reinterpreting the Bond films out of context, even in context this scene seemed unnecessarily cruel, especially as it's played for laughs, and the next time we meet O'Toole Wint and Kidd have done their usual.

Speaking of Wint and Kidd, I am surprised that I had completely forgot about them.  If there is one thing that does make this movie unique it's this pair of a killers, and while it's not put up in glaring lights, it's quite obvious they are a homosexual couple.  To see a couple of male lovers outside of a movie like Midnight Cowboy, and not to have them portrayed as swishy comic relief at the time, is surprising.  Still, it is sometimes amazing what you can get away with in a major production that instigates the clutching of pearls if done in an independent film (see the "mewling quim" comment that Loki makes toward Black Widow in the first Avengers film, for a modern example).  No one is going to say Wint and Kidd were a major breakthrough for mainstreaming the LGBTQ community - neither actor is gay, and they are arguably worse villains than Blofeld himself - but it does show how times were changing.

Having villains like Wint and Kidd is dangerous, especially since Charles Gray is not the most notable actor to play Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  He previously appeared as a British intelligence contact in You Only Live Twice, but every time I see him all I see the narrator from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Donald Pleasance's performance may have been what inspired Dr. Evil in Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery, but I still prefer Telly Savalas's portrayal in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Gray just doesn't seem to have the menace the other two bring, although he does have some great comic timing when Blofeld starts realizing his escape plans have gone awry. 

In the absence of grand sets we are instead treated to what many of the Bond films do best: location filming.  I'm not sure how Amsterdam looks compared to then (I'm sure I'll get to see it someday), but it is amazing how different Las Vegas was.  Most of the casinos shown (including the Landmark, which doubles as the fictional Whyte House) are long gone, save Circus Circus, which is still holding on after over 50 years, and some of the seedier ones in downtown.  In fact, the Strip as we know it was in its infancy, and most of the action (Pioneer, Fremont, etc.) were downtown at the time.  The last time I was there just 20 years ago I was amazed by how small the city really was and how the desert abruptly took over at the edges of the city.  Seeing it in the early '70s shows just how much things changed in a short period of time, as most of the strip looks barely plotted out.

It's interesting, but the problem is it's not exactly what one wants to start thinking in the middle of a James Bond film, especially when Guy Hamilton kept things at a swift and memorable pace in Goldfinger.  By the time your mind starts drifting to just looking at the sights it's pretty obvious that the movie could have been tightened up, especially when it seems like we're running over the same plot for the umpteenth time.  By now even the Pink Panther movies were coming up with the same plots, as were many of the more minor spy films.  While it was ultimately legal disputes (the litigious Kevin McClory also claimed ownership to Blofeld and S.P.E.C.T.R.E., and the courts ultimately agreed with him) that led to Blofeld's absence, it at least forced Broccoli and Saltzman to go in a different direction as they brought Roger Moore on board.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Time: 120 minutes
Starring: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith
Director: Guy Hamilton


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