“Curious… how everyone who touches those diamonds seems to die”
[Warning—this review contains a couple spoilers within it, of both this movie, and also concerning ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’… If you wish not to be spoiled, cease reading now.]
Hello everyone and welcome to the seventh installment in my series of reviews covering the famed ‘James Bond’ movie franchise. This time around the movie we’ve got on tap is 1971’s ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ starring Sean Connery once more in the role of secret agent Double O’ Seven for what would be the final time for over a decade, and the final time for good as far as the official EON cannon of films is concerned. For some brief back-story concerning this, Sean Connery was reportedly finished with Bond for good when he left the role after 1967’s ‘You Only Live Twice’ but after the abysmal box office performance of 1969’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and its star George Lazenby declining to return to the role again, it was decided by the producers and the studio that the only option was simply to offer Connery more money than he could reasonably resist, which at the time was a cold one million two hundred thousand pounds, or two million dollars (or twenty million you could say, after being adjusted for inflation in today’s currency…) and so that, as they say, was that. A few other new actors were considered for the role, but once Connery’s name was down in black ink, all of that dilly dallying ceased, and work began in earnest.
So now, as the question always goes at the end of the day in each of these reviews, was this particular Bond movie worthy of the lofty price tag its star actor commanded? All in all I would have to give this movie a “thumbs in the middle” perhaps leaning slightly up. Connery of course, is his usual impeccable Bond best, so unlike last time there are no complaints in that department. Guy Hamilton, the man who directed the five star classic ‘Goldfinger’ returned to the franchise here for his second of four films in the series… And as far as gadgets, girls, style, and action goes, this movie has all of that and then some, as well as arguably the greatest villain Bond ever faced in Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
With all that said, why, you ask, would I give this movie such a middle of the road rating? Well, personally, for me, the reason for the rating boils down solely to one thing, that being, redundancy. While Goldfinger had a fully engaged plot that kept you guessing and waiting to see just how Bond was going to get out of each situation he encountered, here instead there was only the old familiar Bond formula, with every cliché (entertaining as they might be) in the book, being recycled with the precision of an advanced computer program. Yes there were the usual instances of Bond being chased, or trapped, or whathaveyou, but never at any point did I feel even the slightest bit concerned for him, I mean after all, he’s James freakin’ Bond ya know? To make matters worse, the biggest physical threat to Bond in this movie isn’t Blofeld, or any of his highly trained henchmen, but rather, Bambie and Thumper, two beautiful leggy gals who appear to be plucked straight out of some kind of cheap blacksploitation movie from later on in the decade from which this movie was made. If I were to make an uber-sexist comparison here from Bond movies to women (two themes that normally go together, on screen anyway), ‘From Russia With Love’ and ‘Goldfinger’, would be the equivalent of two world class supermodels, with perfectly proportioned, all natural bodies, the faces of divine angels, as well as interesting and engaging personalities to boot, standing at a high class cocktail bar in expensive evening dress, drinking some vintage chilled champagne and casually glancing at you from afar with alluring looks, while ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ would be their equally hot but mentally vacuous and all in all uninteresting (from a conversational point of view) younger cousin with mammoth silicone implants and a high pitched squeaky voice, standing outside your local pub, wearing a see through top and barely there mini skirt, cheap yager shot in hand, crudely crossing and uncrossing her legs, and yelling for you to come over and… Well, you get the picture I presume.
With those thoughts out of the way, now we can dig into the actual meat and bones of this movie. First of all the story, if that’s what it wishes to be called, begins with what Bond himself refers to as a routine diamond smuggling operation, hardly worthy of his time. In the grand scheme of things, this smuggling operation is somehow contrived into being the source of power for a giant space laser (operated strangely enough, by a cassette tape), owned and operated by you guessed it, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, to be used to hold hostage the entire world for a massive sum of extortion money. That Blofeld, what a glutton for punishment this guy is, time after time, he spends countless billions on these cockamamie schemes for world domination or at the very least, to turn some kind of profit, but that ‘waskily wabbit’ James Bond, is always right there, mucking up the works and denying him his much worked for prize. Repeated enough times, you can actually watch these movies and begin to view Blofeld as the victim, and Bond as the bully, who just can’t let poor little Blooey (my nickname for the mad villain) have even a brief moment in the sun. Before this all begins, we first see Bond on the hunt for the aforementioned Blofeld, who in the last movie, if we are to assume there is to be any kind of continuity between the Lazenby film in 1969 and this one directly following it in 1971, murdered Bond’s newlywed wife, Tracy. Bond eventually catches up with the person he assumes to be Blofeld, undergoing some kind of plastic surgery to alter his appearance, while submerged in some bubbly mud like substance, which Bond promptly uses to drown him in.
This sets the scene for Bond to return to routine work as usual back at headquarters. In one of the early briefing scenes between Bond and M, when Bond complains of this smuggling assignment being beneath his stature as an agent, M reprimands him like a father might take to ask a not too ambitious adult son still living at home and spending all day on the couch playing video games. After the debriefing, which gets into the specifics of the smuggling operation to a degree which neither Bond himself, or any of us could possibly be interested in, he is finally released into this tangled mess of a smuggling conspiracy to put all the pieces together and bring to justice the mastermind behind the whole affair.
Before we move on to the rest of the fun stuff found in this movie though, there is one short exchange during the beginning of this movie that while I had watched it several times before, never really gave me pause until just recently watching it. The scene I’m referring to is the one where Bond is just about to set off for Amsterdam, (the location where he begins his mission in this movie) and just before departure he engages Miss Moneypenny in some fairly typical and polite flirting comments which she returns in jest back at him… However, I noticed at the end, how, when Bond asks Moneypenny if there’s anything he can get her while he’s away in Amsterdam, she matter-of-factly says something to the effect of “how about a diamond… in a ring perhaps?…” to which Bond makes a witty retort, smiles, and then departs on his merry way. Now, viewed from the point of view that this is a stand alone movie, that’s nothing more than the usual flirtatious cuteness that Miss Moneypenny provides in every picture she’s in and of no real consequence. However, if you are to take the series as a whole, or in the form of a continuing saga, chronicling the complete evolution of the Bond character from the point of view of the trauma that was just inflicted upon him in the last movie, then James should’ve promptly slapped Moneypenny in the mouth and said “You cold hearted bitch… you know my wife was just murdered recently. You were at the wedding for pete’s sake!” I don’t know why, but that whole deal there made me shake my head somewhat, although if nothing else, it is probably proof that at the time anyway, the producers of the Bond series, wanted so little to do with the previous Lazenby film, that they were now treating it like it never even existed at all, so in that sense perhaps this movie could be considered the first of many coming ‘Bond reboots’…
One high point for this movie, to me anyway, was the steady supply of Bond girls. I already mentioned ‘Bambie and Thumper’ up above, so leaving them aside, Tiffany Case was the primary leading lady in this picture, and she fulfilled all the duties required for her role. Her character was that of a smuggler, working under Blofeld who Bond was to get close enough to, to glean valuable information from her. The next one, and the girl whose name everyone remembers, even though her character is hardly on screen for more than five minutes, is Plenty O’ Toole, who showed plenty of style and personality, not to mention cleavage, so much so that I was really hoping she would stick around and replace Ms. Case… Such was not to be the case though. Aside from the girls, Bond also had his usual back-ups, first of all in the ever reliable old Q, who provided him with those ever useful creative contraptions to get him out of all the various jams he finds himself in. There’s also Felix Leiter, an American CIA agent, and longtime Bond ally dating back to Bond’s first picture, Dr. No. Among the people who Bond has to deal with as enemies in this movie include two rather bizarre characters called Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, two openly homosexual hitmen who tail Bond and kill various people related to the smuggling operation in order to cover Blofeld’s tracks. They have the annoying habits of making horrifically bad jokes and finishing each others sentences. I wanted them both killed the second they appeared on screen, but unfortunately had to put up with them through virtually the entire movie. Blofeld himself here was played quite capably by Charles Gray, who formerly was best known in the Bond world for playing a man named Henderson who was one of Bond’s contacts in ‘You Only Live Twice’.
While he does a commendable job here and can in no way be criticized for his performance, I consider it a lost opportunity that the casting people were not able to sign on Donald Pleasence to reprise the role that he mastered, even given the scandalously little screen time he had in the last Connery movie. All in all Blofeld’s scenes with Bond in this movie are, aside from the great car chase scenes, the high point of the entire film for me, and without them here, this movie would receive a far lower rating than the one it currently enjoys. Another major character who plays a role in Blofeld’s scheme here is ‘Willard Whyte’ a reclusive billionaire played by Jimmy Dean meant to bring to mind the late Howard Hughes, who supposedly lives in the top floor of his Las Vegas hotel dubbed ‘The Whyte House’ and hasn’t been seen outside of it in over five years. Finally, anyone who has watched a lot of old westerns or John Wayne movies will be pleased to recognize old Bruce Cabot in this movie, who plays an employee of Mr. Whyte, as well as an underling and trusted ally of Blofeld.
I mentioned the car chases above there, and for my money, the ones here are some of the best in the entire series. Although he doesn’t have his trademark Aston Martin with him, James Bond more than makes up for that with a shiny new red Mustang which he drives in ways that I’m pretty sure are actually physically impossible. The police chase him throughout the streets of Las Vegas, but are alas, unable to even come remotely close to cornering him as you would expect. Aside from that he also at one point commandeers a ‘Moon Buggy’ for a fun little romp through the desert that sees plenty of overturned automobiles and hapless underlings crashing into one another. The only complaint I had with these scenes is that the classic James Bond theme music was not played at any point throughout either chase. To make up for that misjudgment I simply hummed the tune in my head while Bond swerved around the city streets and desert trails in his various souped up rides. On top of the chases, there is also a lot of witty one liners from Bond and others throughout this movie, which made for some fun moments, and which were a precurser to the light hearted days to come with the next actor who would take the role from Connery.
So what’s my final verdict on this movie you ask? Personally, in light of some of the criticisms above, I say see it. I wouldn’t rush out to the video store and snatch it up mind you, but it’s of a high enough quality in my mind to warrant either catching it on television or watching it on a rainy day when there’s little else to do. The fact that it’s not in my mind at least, one of the essential Bond movies, in no way negates from the fact that it is still, for all its flaws, a very fun piece of afternoon matinee material. So to sum up my thoughts here, I again say ‘see it’ if you’ve got nothing better going on, but by no means make it a priority, as there are far better Bond movies out there worth seeking out before you get to this one. That concludes our review for the time being. I would like to thank all of you for taking the time to stop by and check it out, and of course, James Bond will return next time in my review of ‘Live and Let Die’ and with that we will formally begin to run down the legendary era of Bond movies staring none other than Sir Roger Moore in the role of Agent Double O’ Seven. So with that, I bid you a fond Bond farewell and say “see you all, next time…”