Review: Diamonds Are Forever
Welcome to my review of Diamonds Are Forever, the seventh part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, here. Spoilers follow.
Diamonds Are Forever
(dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)
I imagine that following the unfair critical lambasting of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, there was a meeting at EON Productions that talked about getting the 007 franchise back on track. Diamonds Are Forever is an obvious attempt to renew past glories, but unfortunately it misses its targets spectacularly and lands like a floppy, camp blancmange.
Let’s start with the plot. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service left us with the death of James Bond’s new wife, murdered by Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his henchwoman Irma Blunt. The opening to Diamonds Are Forever doesn’t entirely ignore this, starting as it does with horrendously dubbed bad guys being beaten up by Bond as he searches for Blofeld. And then Bond catches up with Blofeld, who is in the process of altering the appearance of a henchman to use as a body double. Bond kills Blofeld and wittily quips, “Welcome to Hell, Blofeld!” Good; that’s the revenge all sorted then. On with the next adventure!
After the credits, in which Shirley Bassey gives us what is undoubtedly the highlight of the film, we then get a story that starts out with a diamond smuggling ploy and ends up with a jewel-encrusted satellite that can shoot a laser beam and cause unconvincing explosions around the world (even considering the year this film was made, the special effects for the laser are shockingly bad). Unsurprisingly, Bond had killed one of Blofeld’s body doubles and the actual Blofeld is now impersonating Willard Whyte, a Howard Hughes knock-off who is conveniently never seen in public. For some obscure reason, Blofeld is running his evil scheme from a toilet cubicle on the top floor of a Las Vegas hotel. I am not making this up.
In order to get back at the critics for deriding George Lazenby’s film, Guy Hamilton (director of Goldfinger) was brought back with what I can only assume were instructions to remake You Only Live Twice, this time set in Nevada. Sean Connery was drawn in with a paycheque that was higher than the entire budget of Dr No ($1.25 million, which is about $20 million in today’s money), which pretty much killed the special effects budget if the satellite laser beam is anything to go by. It could have been worse; the part had already been turned down by Adam ‘Batman’ West.
Blofeld, having had two very different portrayals in You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is reincarnated yet again by Charles Grey, this time with a full head of hair. And speaking of which, what is it with Felix Leiter? I get that they might not have been able to contract the same actor in every film—hell, if they can’t lock down the lead actor then there’s no reason to even try with the bit-parts—but would it have killed anyone to try to find someone who even looks the same, or who has at least the same kind of build? In Dr No, Leiter was a youngish CIA agent that looked like the US version of Bond. Here, he looks like Colombo’s slightly cheaper brother.
Blofeld now has two henchmen, Mr Kidd and Mr Wint (Putter Smith and Bruce Glover) who are clearly evil because they are openly gay and very camp and they hold hands and stuff. Early in the film, they kill an unsuspecting diamond smuggling dentist by putting a scorpion down his shirt. Later, they crack a line about a Bombe Surprise, and according to Bond they “smell like a tart’s hanky”. It’s heart-warming characters like these who have helped homosexuality become truly accepted in society.
In what I can only assume is another reaction to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the Bond girls eschew the gravitas leant by Diana Rigg to give us screechy incompetence. Jill St John is the worst Bond girl so far as Tiffany Case (brash and annoying and unfunny, she’s out-acted by her wigs: “Go blow up your pants!” indeed). There’s a briefly entertaining moment when the perennially bored Connery gets beaten up by two acrobats called Bambi and Thumper, but that’s about it. The less said about Plenty O’Toole the better, apart from the fact that she inspires one of the best jokes in the film (see “Greatest moment”, below). It wasn’t for nothing that the director once said that “one of the rules with the Bond pictures is that you’re not allowed to have a leading lady who can act”.
Diamonds Are Forever is not completely devoid of entertainment value, but this film definitely marks the moment when the Bond franchise started relying on a certain campy style of humour. I’ve noticed over the franchise so far that Bond often seems to need the support of the Americans when it comes to overcoming his foes (Goldfinger and Thunderball being good examples of this). Here, America dominates the film totally in terms of tone and setting and humour, and unfortunately this does not do the film any favours. Blofeld says it himself when he wonders why the British even bothered to turn up.
Title song: If it wasn’t for Shirley Bassey’s hauntingly brilliant Diamonds Are Forever, I would imagine this film would have sunk into obscurity by now.
Greatest moment: Bond brings Plenty O’Toole back to his hotel room and promptly undresses her. Before they can do anything else, thugs appear, grab Plenty and throw her out of the window. When Plenty lands in a swimming pool, which saves her life, Bond comments, “Good shot!”. One of the thugs merely looks at him and says, deadpan, “I didn’t know there was a pool down there.”
Worst moment: Lots of choices here. The bit where the car goes up on two wheels and then changes sides? The satellite special effects? Any scene with Jill St John in, especially when she’s at the circus? No: it’s definitely the bit where Bond crashes in on the US Military faking a moon landing, whereupon he promptly steals a fake moon buggy and drives away. Hi-jinks ensue.
Best gadget: Bond doesn’t use too many apart from a voice changer that Q whips up to beat Blofeld at his own game, but Q has a lovely moment where he works his way along a line of slot machines with a ring that fixes the reels and triggers the jackpots. Of course, if he actually tried something like that in Las Vegas, he’d have been dead before he reached the third machine…
[While playing Craps]
James Bond: I’ll take the full odds on the ten, two hundred on the hard way, the limit on all the numbers, two hundred and fifty on the eleven. Thank you very much.
Plenty O’Toole: Say, you’ve played this game before.
James Bond: Just once.
Most obvious product placement: This film, as far as I can figure out, is basically a huge advert for Las Vegas casinos. Looking at the end credits, it was sponsored by a bunch of the big hotels in the city.
Verdict: Easy one this time.
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969)
- From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
- Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
- Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
- You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
- Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
- Diamonds Are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)
And that’s it for Sean Connery as 007. Two Bonds down, four to go. Next time, I’ve got to swallow years of preconceived notions about the Roger Moore era as I watch Live And Let Die.