Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bond Is Forever... As Are “Diamonds”

MI6 agent James Bond (Sean Connery) tracks the diabolical Blofeld (Charles Gray) to Cairo, where the villain is producing duplicates of himself. A physical confrontation ends with Blofeld sliding into a pool of boiling mud. MI6 later assigns 007 to investigate the smuggling of African diamonds, which continues in spite of tight security measures. Bond poses as a smuggler, one of numerous people who pass misappropriated diamonds down an assembly line of smugglers, most of whom are killed upon completion of his/her task by Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith). Bond finds an ally in Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), and the two follow the diamonds to Las Vegas and a man named Willard Whyte, a reclusive casino owner. Sneaking into Whyte’s high rise casino, The Whyte House, Bond exposes the true culprit as Blofeld -- posing as Whyte by electronically replicating his voice -- standing in an office with one of his doubles. Blofeld plans to use the pilfered diamonds in a weaponized form and hold the world hostage.

After Connery departed from the series following You Only Live Twice (1967) and George Lazenby made his sole effort as 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), it seems that EON Productions wanted a return to form for Connery’s homecoming in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. Director Guy Hamilton had previously helmed the hugely successful Goldfinger (1964) with Connery, the film’s title song sung by Shirley Bassey, who also lent her voice for Diamonds Are Forever. Hamilton would additionally direct the subsequent two 007 movies, Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), and Bassey would sing a third theme with Moonraker in 1979. Even Charles Gray as Blofeld makes a return from his appearance in You Only Live Twice -- though, despite the 1967 movie featuring Blofeld, said villain is portrayed by Donald Pleasence while Gray plays an MI6 agent working in Japan.

Diamonds Are Forever was the final film in the cinematic Blofeld Trilogy and the final film for Sean Connery, who would reprise the role in an “unofficial” entry, Never Say Never Again (1983). Blofeld is a minor character in the pre-credits sequence of For Your Eyes Only (1981), but his face is never shown. Never Say Never Again is a second adaptation of Thunderball and was made after a lengthy legal squabble (see Thunderball for more on its bumpy road to the big screen).

Though not as remarkable as previous Connery/Bond films, Diamonds Are Forever is a worthy movie with strong qualities. Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are notable foes, very respectful and formal as they assassinate smugglers who are no longer necessary, and the men are made all the more intriguing by the implication that they’re lovers (an idea taken from Ian Fleming’s source text). Sprightly and physically adept Bambi (Lola Larson) and Thumper (Trina Parks) are irrefutably farcical, but they’re likewise memorable, if for no other reason than their monikers. And though some action scenes fall flat, such as 007 in a moon buggy pursued by men on minuscule ATVs and the concluding sequence atop an oil rig, they are overshadowed by superior moments, including Bond’s scuffle with the man he’s impersonating while crammed inside an elevator and a chase on the luminous streets of Vegas in Tiffany’s handsome Mustang Mach 1.

So while the villains are noteworthy, it’s disappointing that the Bond advocates are far less diverting. Tiffany Case is a mediocre Bond character. An introduction to Tiffany as a smuggler initially piques interest, but she loses credibility when learning that she was tricked into helping and is completely unaware as to what will happen to her when her employers feel she’s served her purpose. She even proves detrimental to the mission near the end of the film. Similarly, the genuine Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean) is a superfluous addition to the story, Norman Burton is an unexceptional Felix Leiter, and Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole has very little to do, other than latch onto Bond and remove her dress when they make it to his hotel room. The “good guys” are highlighted by appearances from Q (Desmond Llewelyn), who breaks the bank at the slot machines simply to test a new device, and Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), looking rather fetching in full uniform at the customs office.

In 2009-10, following MGM’s financial turmoil and the threat of bankruptcy, the James Bond series was in danger of expiring. But MGM recovered, and production for a new Bond film recommenced. Daniel Craig will return for a tentative release date of 2012. It will be the 23rd movie of the EON Productions series.

Diamonds Are Forever has its faults, but I cannot rightly disapprove of a movie that maintains tradition and keeps its feet in familiar terrain. Here’s a Bond who first appears with his celebrated introduction to a woman but who actually speaks it to the camera and the audience; a Bond whose assignment takes him to Las Vegas for a reasonably good excuse to gamble and wear a tuxedo; a Bond who, when asked if the man he’s just fought is dead, answers slyly, “I sincerely hope so.” The film does occasionally slip into camp, but it’s undeniably grounded in the world of James Bond, a world which I’ll happily visit time and time again.

This is the final Bond Is Forever entry, as I have now covered every 007 film with the exception of the latest in the series, Quantum of Solace (2008). But since James Bond will be returning to theatres, I’ll end this with an optimistic disclaimer: Bond Is Forever will return.


  1. Sark, it was good to see Sean back as 007 in Diamonds. While not my favorite it still is a lot of fun. And even Blofield makes with the one liners "If only they were brains"Looking at Jill's " rear in a Bikini.THe Whyte house was at the the time the International with later became the LV Hilton from which I know way to well. Good post.

  2. Sark, it's so sad that your fabulous BOND IS FOREVER series has come to an end! I've enjoyed it tremendously--from the unique connections you identified among the films to the production notes to the differences between the films & Fleming's novels. Best of all, you brought a fresh perspective to one of my favorite series and one which has taken many unusual turns over the last almost 50 years. As for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, I've always viewed it as an entertaining lark for all concerned. Charles Gray is my second favorite Blofeld (after Donald Pleasance), Wint and Kidd are amusing (as you noted) and I also like the downtown chase (is it that easy to drve on two tires?). I don't think Vegas is one of the better settings for a Bond flick (I prefer the more exotic ones) and I agree that Jill St. John and Jimmy Dean don't get much to work with (not that either one is a dynamic performer). Still, it's a solid entry with the Bond team (Ken Adam, Maurice Binder, John Barry, etc.) all in peak form. Thanks for a great retrospective on 007!

  3. Sark, I have really enjoyed your Bond is Forever series! You have done an exceptional job in making every nuance of the films and performers come to life with your remarkable research. Thanks for making Bond, James Bond a highlight at the Cafe!

  4. Is this really the last Bond film to be reviewed here? I must have joined this review series in progress. Will need to go find the older ones. Have enjoyed them all. I love 007 no matter who plays him.

  5. Well, what about Quantum of Solace? No one likes a quitter, Sark!

    Guess what...I know you'll be surprised--I haven't seen this Bond film either! Enjoyed reading your write-up. Tiffany Case isn't just as neat a name as Pussy Galore! LOL

  6. I am optimistic that this won't really be the end either, Sark. If nothing else, I hope you will find another series to work with, because this one has been such a treat to look forward to. I loved Diamonds Are Forever, despite its flaws, mainly because I love Connery. Having Bassey do another title song was thrilling. And I too really liked the characters of Wint and Kidd with the subtle hint of their true lives as lovers. There was a lot to like here, as you said, as a true Bond movie.

    This has been a remarkable series. I hope you won't stay away long!

  7. Sark, you have done a fabulous job on your BOND IS FOREVER series and I have really enjoyed reading all your wonderful posts. Thank you for all the time you have put into writing them. As for the film, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, which is not my favorite of the Bond films, but.. still very enjoyable film..

  8. Sark, I just love this movie. It is my third favorite of Connery's Bond films. I am a big Jill St. John fan and thought she was so cute and lovely in this film. The characters in the story are great like Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, Bambi and Thumper, and Plenty O' gotta love that name! The song is great and on my iPod...will listen to it as soon as I finish my comment. I love the last line of the movie. It is funny, exciting, splashy, and pure entertainment. I enjoyed your excellent review.