The countdown marches on to the 7th Bond film, and one of the all-time stinkers. . .
. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Sean Connery
SETUP: James Bond rips through SPECTRE henchmen in a successful mission to find and finally kill Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray). With the Blofeld business over, M sends Bond into the international diamond trade. A smuggling ring is stockpiling diamonds, putting the global market at risk. Bond’s mission is to uncover the smuggling ring and, if possible, destroy it.
BUT IN REALITY: Bond tracks the diamonds to Las Vegas billionaire Willard Whyte (sausage king Jimmy Dean) but soon discovers that Whyte has been replaced by the not-dead Blofeld, who doesn’t care at all about diamond markets or global trade. The diamonds are for a light-refracting satellite capable of destroying the world’s nuclear arsenal from outer space. Bond sabotages Blofeld’s plans, wrecks his oil rig headquarters, and uses a crane to snatch the supervillain’s escape pod right out of the water.
VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Whenever Blofeld appears in the series, he has a different physical gimmick. This time he’s created an army of duplicates via extreme plastic surgery, each with vocal matching and their own personal pet cat. This explains the film’s opening. Bond thought he killed Blofeld, but it was just one of the villains many decoys.
THE MUSCLE: Blofeld hires Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, world-class assassins, to wipe out the evidence of his smuggling ring, which they do, brutally. They use scorpions, drownings, bombs, and more to dispatch the chain of smugglers, and even get a really good shot in at James Bond. Wint and Kidd knock Bond out with an urn, then lock him in a casket and send him into a crematorium to be burned alive. Bond only survives because some idiot villains drag him out to ask him a question. I feel like I can’t hold that against Wint and Kidd. At worst it’s a wash.
BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) works for the smuggling ring and holds absolutely no loyalty to Bond, Blofeld, or anyone else, interested only in her personal cut of the profits. She repeatedly plays Bond while trying to nab the diamonds until a casino tart named Plenty O’Toole (oof) ends up dead in Case’s pool. Case realizes that she’s been marked for death and happily joins Bond’s team. As for the femme fatale, Case fills that role nicely, but honorable mention go to Bambi and Thumper, two bikini-clad acrobat assassins charged with guarding Blofeld’s prisoner, Willard Whyte.
“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: Q provides Bond with prosthetic fingerprints and a voice simulator to aid in infiltrating the ring. When he has nothing better to do in Vegas, Q bolts for the nearest casino and promptly uses a gadget to cheat at slots. Why? Meh. Why the hell not?
MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are memorable assassins, but they’re also depicted as flamboyantly gay with a sensitivity only found in 1971. They hold hands while committing murder, lather on perfume (causing them to smell, Bond suggests, like a “tart’s handkerchief,”) and, worst of all, get sexually aroused when they grapple with Bond in the film’s final moments.
BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: Maybe not the best, but certainly the most bizarre. When CIA agent Felix Leiter asks Bond how he smuggled diamonds into America aboard a corpse, Bond replies “Alimentary, Dr. Leiter,” presumably referring to the deceased’s, um, digestive system. In Bond’s defense, it was a very long plane ride, and he had plenty of time of think of the perfect response. Too much time, probably.
WORTH MENTIONING: The reclusive Willard Whyte is obviously based on Howard Hughes, a friend of Bond producer Albert Broccoli. Hughes was peeing in jars at the time, but allowed the producers access to his casinos in exchange for just one print of the finished film. . . This was the last official movie to feature Blofeld and SPECTRE by name, as the rights for these elements were tied up in legal matters. . . It’s never stated in the film, but Bond’s pre-credits rampage is clearly a reference to the tragic ending of the previous film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
OVERALL: The most important fact to know about Diamonds are Forever is that this was Sean Connery’s comeback film. Connery walked after You Only Live Twice, and when George Lazenby failed (financially) as his replacement, producer Albert R. Broccoli offered Connery a substantial fortune to rock the tuxedo one more time.
Broccoli was desperate. Everyone was desperate. In fact, the whole damn movie is desperate for attention, goodwill, laughs and, most of all, American acceptance. A vocal minority had declared Bond dead and irrelevant as the 60s ended. They believed American audiences would no longer support a British hero and, in fact, Burt Reynolds was in consideration to take the part and make it fully American before Connery made himself available. His return was a plea for forgiveness. “See? Bond’s back and he’s just like you remember him. No, wait! He’s better! He’s in America!”
The flaw is that this isn’t Connery’s Bond anymore. The shameless audience pandering in Diamonds are Forever leads to too many gags and too little excitement. For the first time, a series that always teetered on the edge of camp decided to jump right in without water wings. The gay assassins. The acrobatic pool bunnies. Master criminal Blofeld in drag. A fake moon landing on an underground set. Plenty O’Toole. The non-climax on the oil rig. Diamonds are Forever was the first film to embrace the slapstick that Roger Moore would make his Bond trademark. The result is an awkward, uncomfortable farewell for the man who originated the role and made Bond an icon.
As I prepared for this project, I re-watched each Bond movie in the original release order. My girlfriend, somewhat of a Bond newbie, hitched along for the ride, enjoying each and every Bond film that made it to the DVD player. . . until this one. Her review says it all. “Baby, it’s just bad.”
The James Bond Project
22. Diamonds are Forever
22. A View to a Kill