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It really is an outstanding film and a terrific James Bond film. Sean Connery is on top form and his return and the subsequent film saved the franchise. Make no mistake about it, without Diamonds are Forever, the Bond series would have died. Diamonds are Forever gets alot of stick from the Bond community? Why? It has one of the best 007 performances, a great re-introduction of Connery in the pre credit sequence, a great plot, great dialogue, great one liners, a terrific and memorable Bond girl, strong villain with great henchman and some great sequences of action and stunts. The fight scene in the lift is the best fight in the entire series. The soundtrack is amazing, some memorable instrumentals are littered throughout the film and Shirley Bassey delivers her best Bond theme.
The criticism of DAF is that it is an unlikely successor to OHMSS (one of my favourite Bond films). People continually link the two films together. Yes, OHMSS did deserve a revenge sequel. But there was no way that film could have been made straight away, even with Connery. Besides, don't punish DAF for what it wasn't...judge it on it's merits of being a terrific James Bond film with a lot of great qualities.
DAF is the antithesis of its predecesor (and if that's a good thing, a leave it to each one opinion). While OHMSS had a pure Fleming story, with a new Bond in a deep relationship and a mission in where he looses personally, DAF is a safe move with the stablished formula while extending the campiness. But even if you like, the bad editing, the huge plot holes, the mediocre performances, and the anticlimactic ending couldn't redeem it. (The only one who mantains his high level is John Barry, of course.)
I understand and respect the favorable opinions, but objectively can't be judge as a "good" Bond movie.
Bond pioneered this recipe. It's a hard formula to pull-off convincingly. Most of the early imitators such as Flint and Helm, didn't even try. They instead went for full-on spoof. Man From Uncle and Avengers did have some success with the Bond formula, and found a successful balance between style and danger, but not with the big-screen impact of Bond.
DAF is a tribute to Bond's golden era whilst also embracing '70s excess. DAF is high camp, balanced by dark humour and palpable danger. Villains such as Wint and Kidd are utterly outrageous but also scary dangerous.
Barry's score is simply brilliant. It masterfully transitions us from the sexy and very coy, to colourful, bombastic and exciting, to eerie and spooky, to suddenly dark and dangerous. And DAF boasts not only a rousing classic 007 score, but the sound design itself so impresses, it was even nominated for an Oscar.
Ken Adam's set design is magnificent, especially the Whyte House penthouse. Ditto for the lighting, the generous use of rich colours and overall look of the film.
Tom Mankiewicz's flair with the pen is on full display, fusing scene after scene with dry wit and very smart dialogue.
Guy Hamilton pulls it all together, defty keeping the story moving along.
But ultimately it's Connery that makes DAF work so well. Despite the outlandish goings-on, this mature Bond maintains his trademark malevolance, punching with brute force and quipping with a relaxed edge.
Connery's assured presence succeeds in grounding the whole outrageous affair, as he engages his business with both a suave self-assurance and deadly determination. Witness the penthouse-lair scene, where the two old nemeses, Bond and Blofeld, renew acqaintances. A calculating 007 smoothly indulges Blofeld's friendly, even respectful banter, yet tension permeates the encounter, until the mood is violently shattered by Bond's well aimed bolt-gun shot -- delivered right between the eyes.
This scene is vintage Bond; escapist, captivating staging, jarred by a sudden explosion of raw, but exhilarating violence.
Perfectly paced excitement, glamour and thrills permeate the entire proceedings. From the camp danger of the pts culminating in Connery's satisfied "Welcome to Hell Blofeld," and the chilling cat shriek segueing into the explosive title song's erie intro, DAF delivers one stylish and invigorating Bondian sequence after another.
This brash Bond adventure is so unabashedly entertaining, it easily ranks as one of the canon's most repeat-watchable entries.
This 7th entry in the Eon pantheon, lustily embraces the series' glorious history. You might even say, it unashamedly engages in self-parody at times, but ultimately DAF triumphs as a colourful, fanciful, yet bewitchingly dark and dangerous celebration of the Bondmania which rocked the previous decade, and forever changed the face of cinema.
Well done, Mr. Bond! Welcome to the new decade! :)
The year is 2008 and as I am enjoying my first months at university, I am equally anticipating the release of the new Bond movie coming out in November of that year, Quantum of Solace. Sharing halls of residence with people who haven't really seen Bond before, we embark on a Bondathon, a James Bond film every other day once we had got back from lectures in anticipation for the release of Daniel Craig's second film. Pumped and all "Bonded" up, we head to the cinema to see Quantum of Solace. As you always do after seeing a movie at the cinema, you stumble down the stairs, muttering to your friends whether they enjoyed, what they thought was good. The consensus was negative to mixed (a review for another day) generally. One friend, however, just walked casually towards me and just shrugged "Disappointing...wasn't a Diamonds are Forever, was it?"
This quote has always stuck to me and I hear it clearly in my head now as I did 4 years ago almost. What would prompt someone new to the Bond films not only to condemn a new hyped up film but to also condemn it using not just an old, an old film seen regularly by Bond fanatics as one of the weakest entries in the entire series? I asked him what he meant, and in his roundabout blunt way, he shrugged further "Well, having watched Diamonds are Forever, I felt that a Bond film should be like that. It had everything I now want from a Bond film". I remember on the walk back to our place thinking about his words..."It had everything". At this point in time, I admit that though I enjoyed Diamonds are Forever, I wasn't a taken fan by it, ranking it in the middle. I had always thought From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me etc had been the Bond movies to have everything, Diamonds are Forever wasn't in consideration. I must have watched Diamonds are Forever a couple of times in that next week to review it, to see what I was missing, to find what made my friend make it his definative Bond film.
Upon those first reviews (and subsequent viewings since) Diamonds are Forever proves continuously to prove my friend right. It simply is one of the best entries in the series. Enjoyable, fun, tense, mesmerising, brilliant, visually stunning, memorable and dark, Diamonds are Forever is a banquet of great cinema and, more specifically, great Bond. It's a high point in the series. Without it, Bond simply would have died in the 1970's. IT would have been out of touch with the times, whilst the rest of cinema moved on from 60's noir to the brightness of the 70's action movies. Regardless of your opinions of Diamonds are Forever and the films before or after it, one cannot deny the importance of the film in the series.
I love On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I think that it is a terrific film let down only by George Lazenby. Cards on the table, it deserved a more suitable sequel (not better sequel, just more suitable to dealing with Tracy's death). I accept that and I believe the producers missed a trick here. But that's only in hindsight. Bond and the series was on it's knees in 1969/1970. On Her Majesty's Secret Service and George Lazenby had flopped massively. The film and star had strayed too far from the respected formula set by previous Bond films. Yes, in 2012, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is seen as a great film. But 43 years ago, it was seen as it's generation's Die Another Day. Bond needed saving, it needed to return to the type and style of film seen in Connery's later years. Bond needed saving and only James Bond i.e. Sean Connery could save it. Two things saved the Bond series: the film itself and the plot and, more importantly, the return of Sean Connery to the role of 007 that set the series on course for the success it still enjoys today. I will deal firstly with Connery's return and performance and the legacy it left in the series.
Trail through these forums and reviews of the film, you will see members and critics sniping that Sean Connery in Diamonds are Forever looks "bored, out of shape" and is "motivated by money...going through the motions at a poor rate"and that he should never have returned to a role he didn't want to return to. Has more nonsense ever been uttered? For me, Sean Connery delivers a sublime 007 performance in his last Bond movie. To be honest, he didn't need to deliver an average performance. It was all about having back that was crucial. You cannot deny Connery was needed to kick start the series again. Casting Roger Moore (who would have been splendid in the film) or continuing with Lazenby would have been a mistake and the producers and United Artists should be applauded for the courage to ask Connery back and pay him a wthen world record fee. I would rate it as his second best Bond performance and one of the very best in the entire series, justifying his large pay cheque. Regardless of what people say, Connery enjoys his final outing as James Bond very much. He shows a maturity that was missing in his other films and a sense of humour that bristles throughout the film. Connery delivers the jokes and the one-liners perfectly and perhaps this is forgotten in light of the terrific Roger Moore years. Connery's one-liners in Diamonds are Forever are always tinged with a darkness because there is a sense of violence behind every joke he delivers. This is no mistake, this is testimony to the acting ability of Sean Connery that he can tell jokes and yet appear lethal in equal measure (didn't they give Heath Ledger an Oscar for doing this in The Dark Knight). This myth that Connery is bored is nonsense. He loves every minute of his time back in the role and it shines through upon each viewing. Another myth that needs to be buried is the fact that he is out of shape. If he's out of shape in Diamonds are Forever, then God help us all. Connery is terrific and looks as fit as he did in his early days. Don't let the greying of the hair and the wrinkles fool you. He's comfortable in the action scenes. One great thing about Connery in Diamonds are Forever is his chemistry with his co-stars, noticably Jill St John, who is cast as Bond Girl Tiffany Case. Apart from Fiona Vulpe in Thunderball and a few others, Connery's bond failed at times to create chemistry with other characters, something that added to the charm of his tenure. In this film, the chemistry is dynamic and sparkling, aiding by a terrific script and Connery simply enjoy his dialogue. It's sad to think his performance is dismissed in such a way it is. Because he does do his best and his best is amazing in a fast paced action movie. A note on Connery's fashion style: inspired and brilliant...what he wears when he faces Bambi and Thumper is terrific, one which I have copied on numerous occasions. And he looks great in a balck (or white) tuxedo.
For 1969, On Her Majesty's Secret Service did not work. It was not the Bond movie the public demanded or expected after a feast of fantasy in Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Too many of the classic Bond ingredients was missing, the script and movie didn't sparkle in comparison. Diamonds are Forever employs all the Bond ingredients and isn't ashamed to show them off. For those who don't know, Diamonds are Forever sees Bond investigating a diamond smuggling operation that sees him impersonating a diamond smuggler and travelling from London to Dover to Amsterdam to Las Vegas to discover who is behind the smuggling and what the purpose of smuggling diamonds is. I won't reveal more but Bond fans will know the rest in this great movie. Diamonds are Forever is simply a visual masterpiece and a masterpiece in script writing and directing. The plot is terrific fun and is rather interesting. It pulls you one way and then the other, great blocks of dialogue and chemistry building scenes inter-mingled between some great action sequences. The film makers place the audience in a maze, leading them up one avenue before blocking it and directing them somewhere else. The shock of who's the antagonist was stunning when I first saw this. And how the villain gets away with it is simply masterful and story telling at it's best. Diamonds are Forever features one of the strongest plots and scripts in the franchise and how people can say it's weak is beyond me. It really is story telling at it's best . Fun and enjoyable whilst keeping the spy and action themes that launched the series in Dr No and From Russia With Love, there is something for every Bond fan and movie lover in Diamonds are Forever.
Having alluded to them previously, it is worth discussing in depth the action scenes littered throughout the film. The film's opening is amongst the best out of all the pre-Spy Who Loved Me films. The reintroduction of Connery as Bond in three steps is done terrifically. "Where is he?" and a kick to the face of Blofeld's Japanese stooge...brilliant. "Hit me" and a punch to the face to Blofeld's Egyptian colleague...terrific. Ultimately, one of the great Bond moments in the series comes when he meets Marie, the last SPECTRE agent. "There's something I'd like you to get off your chest" before whipping off her bra and proceeding to strangling her. It's brilliant, a classic Connery and James Bond scene. The scene buzzes with both humour and violence, always balancing the two contrasting themes. In essence, it is the story of Diamonds are Forever, setting the tone for the rest of the film.
The fight sequence with Peter Franks is terrifically put together and, in this reviewer's opinion, the best fight scene in the series. It is so much more frantic than the fight in From Russia With Love and so much more brutal than the staircase fight in Casino Royale. It is superbly choreographed by the impressive Bob Simmons, with every punch and movement prepared and as elegant as a ballet. Bond and Franks have a brutal time in that lift and it really does make an impression. It's a shame that there haven't been more of great fights like this. The chase scenes throughout the film are done brilliantly. I don't care what anyone says, the moon buggy scene is amazing. Aided by John Barry's impressive score, it is a chase in the best Bond traditions. Fun, greatly edited and tense, I am mystified to how this can be panned by so many. The subsequent car chase in the Mustang is also superb, let down only by the crowds of people watching (well, it was Diamonds are Forever after all ;)). The police chief in this scene is how JW Pepper should have been by the way. And driving the car on 2 wheels is always amazing and one where I hold my breath. The climax is a feast of action, a frenetic countdown aided by a frantic Bond trying to save the day.
Diamonds are Forever is truly a stand out entry in the series, partly because it has so many stand out villains. Ernst Stavro Blofeld is arguably the greatest Bond villain of all time. Dastardly and evil, he is the complete antithesis to 007 and was a faithful character to the franchise. He personifies cinematic evil and though may have become a source of parody what with Austin Powers, Blofeld still is one of screen's all time great villains. In Diamonds are Forever, it is the turn of the great Charles Grey to stroke the white cat and to plot the take over of the world. Grey really is terrific in the world and brings something to the role that Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas failed to do. Grey's Blofeld is a lot more 'fun'...that is not a criticism, it is a compliment. Bond villains like Grey's Blofeld are the best because there is a sociopathic element to them...humour mixed with murder. Grey was an outstanding choice to play Blofeld. He updated the character to fit in with the tone of the film and he does this superbly without sacrificing the dark element of the character. Grey is menacing throughout the film and it's English accent that adds to the terror of the character. Grey's Blofeld is scandalously the forgotten Bond villain (people tend to remember Pleasance more) and this is a shame because Grey brings dynamic qualities to the role of Bond villain that is surprisingly lacking throughout the entire series.
Blofeld is served admirably and tantalizingly by numerous hench people, often in small parts that contribute to the concept of a sprawling evil empire that is SPECTRE whilst keeping in line of the film's goal to entertain. Morton Slumber, Shady Tree, Dr Metz. Each bring something to the film and play there part well, leaving 007 not knowing who to trust. Bert Saxby and Peter Franks, though not having much screen time, are memorable in separate ways and each bring a great screen presence in there few short scenes. Bambi and Thumper bring deadly fun to the film with there fight scene and are a welcome sub-plot to the story.
The stand out henchmen of the film though are Mr Wint and Mr Kidd. There is a delicious element to the characters that make them the most intriguing, enjoyable and sinister characters in the Bond universe. There homosexuality is neither here nor near. They are killers who are in love. It is these contrasting themes that mirror there actions of killing and making light of it, something regularly done throughout the film. Every time Mr Wint and Mr Kidd are on screen, they light it up in there fusion of death and humour. There methods of killing are graphically horrific, there commentaries on them even more so. Stock characters? No my friends, these are classic Bond villains. There demise suits how there characters are portrayed throughout the film...dark, deadly with a touch of panache.
Tiffany Case has always been one of the most outstanding Bond girls in the series. Played terrifically by Jill St John, Case is a stunning schemer who, unlike other Bond girls, enjoys her time on screen. The chemistry between St John and Connery (as stated previously) is terrific and one which ranks high in the series. Case is interesting as not only is she fiery, she's also vulnerable. Case is also smart and knows what she wants, something that can't be said for all the Bond girls. Case is at her best for me before she finds out that Bond is actually Bond. She bristles with anticipation in every scene and is cunning. Case goes down as a great Bond girl because she had a "CatWoman" quality about her. She is by no means innocent and this helps her endear herself to the audience as someone on the wrong side looking to come good.
The soundtrack to the film is the best in the Bond series. John Barry had been on impressive form in the previous film but he surpasses himself in this classic film The gunbarrel music is strangely ominous and suggests a tone to the film that Diamonds are Forever ultimately rejects. Shirley Bassey scores her best Bond song and one of the best entries with the eponymous title song. It is a beautiful song with a great melody and memorable and haunting lyrics. Barry's music helps the movie set the tone, telling the audience when to laugh and when to hold it's breath. A lovely return (and the last true classic appearance) of the 007 theme in the climax is a terrific addition and is the best version of the theme in my opinion (credit to @Murdock for linking me to the Youtube video of it).
Overall, Diamonds are Forever is a masterpiece in Bond history. Is it camp? Maybe...but that's why I love it. It took Bond away from gritty realism and allowed the audience to enjoy Bond again after two tense films (arguably You Only Live Twice less so). Diamonds are Forever is a great of the Bond series because like my friend noted, it has all the classic elements that make Bond Bond. This is how James Bond should be: a cinematic classic which is both a visual masterpiece and a terrific, fun action movie. 2 Hours fly by when watching this because it is that enjoyable and that good. I love the film. guilty pleasure? No, by no means. It's a pleasure I am happy to have in my life and am proud to state. I enjoy every second of it and I don't think I would change a thing about it (except re-cast Willard Whyte....something about Jimmy Dean is grating). Diamonds are Forever should be praised by Bond fans alone as the film that saved the franchise. Additionally, Diamonds are Forever should be appreciated for being a classic entry that allowed the series to re-engage with the public. I implore you all to watch it again, looking for all the elements, appreciating that great bits. It is packed with it.
Dedicated to my friend who "showed me the light" ;)
EDIT: Private message feedback is welcomed :)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton; Produced by: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz – loosely adapted from the Ian Fleming novel (1956); Starring: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Norman Burton, Joseph Furst, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Bruce Cabot, Joe Robinson, Lola Larson, Trina Parks, Leonard Barr, David Bauer and Ed Bishop; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 120 minutes; Colour; Released: December 14 1971; Worldwide box-office: $116m (inflation adjusted: $618.5m ~ 8/24*)
* denotes worldwide box-office ranking out of all 24 Bond films (inflation adjusted), according to 007james.com
Plot ~ 6/10
Deciding their return to Fleming-basics in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) hadn't quite paid off, Bond producers Broccoli and Saltzman turned to what they felt sure would work for Diamonds Are Forever - out-and-out fantasy. Mind you, it's only in the film's final third its plot becomes ridiculous; for the first two-thirds it's actually rather smart. Discovering swathes of British-mined diamonds are going missing at source, wonderfully monikered government charlie Sir Donald Munger turns to MI6 and, just returned from offing super-villain Blofeld (in revenge for killing his wife in OHMSS), Bond is assigned to pose as the next chain in the latest smuggling 'pipeline' that's now reached Amsterdam. There he meets contact Tiffany Case, with whom he travels to Las Vegas to deliver the diamonds to the stockpilers - whom turn out to be space programme minions of tycoon recluse Willard Whyte. On visiting Whyte, though, 007 finds evil Uncle Ernst in his place, whom with the aid of several duplicates of himself has avoided Bond's assassination attempt and is planning to hold the world's nuclear powers to ransom via a light-refraction-powered (thanks to the diamonds), giant laser-toting satellite. As you do.
Bond ~ 8/10
A return to fantasy isn't the only 'sure bet' the filmmakers took on Diamonds; after the gamble of casting the raw George Lazenby as Bond in Majesty's, they did the inevitable and got Sean Connery back as 007. And maybe surprisingly, given how cheesed off he'd previously become in the role, Connery's (re-)casting works. Admittedly neither the eager beaver of Dr No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963) nor oozing the charm of Goldfinger (1964), as well as middle-aged by now (even his hairpiece is greying), Connery's 007 here is a mature agent who seems tired of chasing megalomaniacs around the globe, but doesn't know what else to do with his life (actually, Fleming's Bond had the same problem in the end). And because of that, this Bond portrayal's full of humour; the Big Tam's clearly enjoying writer Tom Mankiewicz's dialogue and Las Vegas's distractions. He cruises through the film offering oodles of charisma in every scene, knowing that gets the job done nicely with so much crazy sh*t going on around him. This would be Connery's last hurrah as Eon's Bond, but he hadn't properly said sayonara to the role yet...
Girls ~ 7/10
The historic template for the '70s Bond Girls is set in Diamonds - namely bikini-clad near bimbos. Having said that, look closer and there's more than meets the eye with the flick's two main female characters - Jill St. John's larceny-dedicated redhead Tiffany Case and Lana Wood's bodaciously bosomed good-time girl Plenty O'Toole - as both boast their fare share of sass. Especially Tiffany. In the hands of the very capable St. John, she's a woman whom, at least in the verbal department, is every bit the equal of Connery's sardonic Bond, certainly as cynical and sharp-tongued as he is (at one point he even refers to her as 'dragon lady'). It's a shame then that as soon as she discovers his real identity and there's no danger she'll be thrown in the slammer, the script abandons her and she turns into a wet, rather useless accessory - she even messes up Bond's mission in the climax and has a ludicrous accident with a machine gun. Worth mentioning too in this section are Bambi and Thumper (Lola Larson and Trina Parks), Willard Whyte's acrobatic guards, whom Bond has to best in order to free him. A rare instance of the female sex posing a physical threat to 007 (at least before the '90s), they're good value indeed.
Villains ~ 7/10
This flick sees the final proper bow of Blofeld, the biggest of all Bond villains. But he doesn't go out with a bang. There's nothing inherently wrong with Charles Gray's interpretation, his fey, verbose, upper class British gent gone very rotten is generally engaging (we'll ignore the bizarre drag act for now), yet after the menacing, less comic Blofelds of the last two movies, his just doesn't really sit right, however many duplicates he has. And his demise, sitting in his bath-o-sub (why's it called that? Is there actually a bath in there?) with which Bond destroy's his oil hig HQ's control room, is a big let-down as the exit for 007's chief nemesis. Still, at least there's also Leonard Barr's crap Vegas comedian Shady Tree, David Bauer's oily funeral director Morton Slumber, Marc Lawrence's family of hoods and Ed Bishop's friendly lab coat-clad jobsworth Klaus Hergesheimer, all of whom are rather surreally part of Blofeld's operation - and some of whom are offed by the very un-PC, but wickedly witty gay assassin lovers Mr Wint and Mr Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith), perhaps the two most unexpected supporting characters in Bondom.
Action ~ 5/10
If you like chases, Diamonds may be right up your alley - not least because it contains that notorious moment when, driven by Bond, Tiffany's red Mustang switches from its right-hand two wheels when it enters an alley to exit on its left-hand pair because of an original continuity gaffe. That bit comes in a night-time car chase when the Mustang's pursued by a plethora of police cars through the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas. It's one of the series' best car chases, but tops-off car-chase overkill - that same car's already trailed a van to the space programme's desert centre and, in between, Bond, yes, in a moon buggy's been chased across the dunes by security charlies on balloon-wheeled trikes; a sequence that aims for amusement but isn't as funny as it thinks it is. Diamonds' action also includes Bond's claustrophobic elevator-bound scrap with the smuggler he poses as in Amsterdam, a particular highlight, but the film's climax is rubbish. Oil rigs may have been exotic in '71, but when your production designer's Ken Adam why set the action finale on a platform in the sea instead of in a brilliant looking set? Dr No was made nearly a decade before (and for a fraction of the budget) and its conclusion is more explosive than this.
More a comedy than an action-adventure (although the 007 flicks only truly became the latter from 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me onwards), Diamonds zings with easily the most one-liners, wise-cracks and innuendos of any Bond movie. Some are clever ("I give up; I know the diamonds are in the body, but where?"/ "Alimentary, Dr Leiter"), others saucy ("I tend to notice little things like that, whether a girl's a blonde or a brunette"/ "And which do you prefer?"/ "Providing the collars and cuffs match...") and others still are just, well, marvellous (Bond stepping on to Blofeld's oil rig HQ in the finale: "Good morning, gentlemen: ACME pollution inspection. We're cleaning up the world, we thought this was a suitable starting point"). A lot of humour's also offered by the homicidal homosexuals Wint and Kidd. Some may suggest their presence in this flick strikes a bit of a homophobic line. For me, that's going a little far; Diamonds is a movie from a very different era. What they definitely sum up is the film's very black, often successful humour.
Music ~ 10/10
Easily Diamonds' most satisfying aspect, its music sees John Barry at very nearly his very best. The tone’s set by the all-time classic Shirley Bassey-performed title song, a dazzling and assertive but rather acidic (listen to its lyrics) anthemic show tune – it may just be the best of La Bassey’s trio of Bond tracks. Taking the Las Vegas-informed, slightly seedy showbiz theme further, other pieces in the score soundtrack scenes as if they’re lounge music playing in the background (Diamonds Are Forever – Source Instrumental; Q’s Trick); there’s something almost satiric about this form of scoring from Barry, perfectly fitting the film’s tone. As a whole, the score’s overtly brassy and overly dramatic (maybe the most of any Bond score – and that’s saying something) and very memorable. Days after watching the flick you’re bound still to have Wint and Kidd’s eerie but damn cool leitmotif stuck in your bonce. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The last of Barry’s ’60s(ish) punchy Bond scores, this is one to savour.
Locations ~ 6/10
There’s a low-rent Brits-on-a-foreign-weekend-away feel to sending Bond to Amsterdam in the flick’s first half (he even travels on P&O’s ‘cool’ new hydrofoil to get there). Amsterdam’s pretty, but hardly exotic – it’s just not different enough from the UK for that. The (ahem) money shot among Diamonds' locations, though, is The ‘Vegas. But this isn’t the faux sophisticated Vegas of Ocean’s Eleven (2001), it’s a Vegas that was in the transition from a Mafia-owned, sparse but cool, Rat Pack-populated entertainment haven to the corporate-backed, gaudy, Times Square-like night-for-day fantasy world it would eventually become. In which case, rather like Diamonds itself, it kind of feels neither one thing nor another; slot machine-packed and crime-filled, but aspirational and glamorous at the same time. It’s the perfect bizarro world in which a perverse Blofeld interpretation should set up camp, I suppose (with the emphasis on camp, obviously).
Gadgets ~ 6/10
There’s some nifty gadgets this time out. The cleverest is either the imitation fingerprints Bond wears for his cover as smuggler Peter Franks – and is able simply to peel off his digits – or the phone-friendly voice alteration device that Blofeld uses to pose as Willard Whyte to underlings. Q sets up an equivalent that Bond uses later to gain intel from his enemy; the latter claiming he ‘made one last Christmas for the kids’. Nice. But the coolest devices 007 uses are the piton gun with which he scales the outside of the Whyte House en route to facing Blofeld in the hotel’s top-floor penthouse and the air balloon thing that floats on water and in which, after dropped from a plane via parachute, he literally walks on water to reach the climax’s oil rig. Also, in his Vegas downtime Q makes the most of one of his own gadgets, an electro-magnetic RPM controller (think 1995′s GoldenEye) that doubles as a ring on one’s finger, with which he’s able to win a fortune on the slots and could have used as a gambit to chat up Tiffany had she not espied Blofeld escaping the casino in drag – that bloody moment’s got so much to answer for…
Style ~ 7/10
If there’s one word that sums up Diamonds' style then it’s ‘sleazy’. With Mankiewicz’s borderline smutty lines (“Tiffany, we’re showing a little more cheek than usual… pity, such lovely cheeks too”) and set-ups (an only-panties-clad Plenty chucked out of a hotel window and into a pool several storeys below: “Hey, what the hell is this, a pervert’s convention?”) and Las Vegas as chief location (‘Circus, Circus’ features, with its mixture of a traditional circus and floor-space filled by slot machines and teens mouthing off when they don’t win prizes on fairground games: “Who’s she, your mother?”/ “Blow up you pants!”), the film was never going to be anything but. This is hardly usual Bond territory, but the series has now entered the ’70s and that decade’s going to be very different to the ’60s; harder-edged, franker and more cynical. Thanks to the Vegas setting and all the US characters, it’s also the first of the ‘American Bond films’ and, again, it’s a very ’70s America – almost the nostalgically naff ’70s of The Towering Inferno (1974) and TV’s Quincy, M.E. (1976-83). Like it or not, the times have changed and Bond’s changed with them.
Diamonds Are Forever is an odd beast – on the one hand the sleazy, neon-lit alley cat of the Eon series; on the other arguably as witty and sardonic a cool cat as you’ll see among the Bond films. It has its moments, but perhaps not enough to make up for its loose plot, underwhelming climax and overall lack of quality and substance. And, too often, that vision of Blofeld in drag tends to command attention immediately the movie springs to mind. And that’s hardly a glittering legacy.
<font size=4>Overall: 66/100</font>
Best bit: Bond scales the outside of The Whyte House
Best line: “Right idea, Mr Bond”/ “But wrong pussy”
Get the full treatment of my 'Bondathon' reviews here
On Her Majesty's Secret Service is an exceptional film, however, by Bond's box-office standards, it was a disappointment. The decision to portray a more human, back to Fleming's Bond, had, apparently failed, so Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman would do a complete U-turn for their next 007 film, Diamonds Are Forever.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service fitted in with the late 60's, early 70's films, such as “Easy Rider”, or so it seemed, but the audience, at that time, didn't want that from a Bond film; they wanted escapism. The 60's had ended, and with it the sense of optimism, and it was being replaced with grittiness and nihilism of the early 70's.
Cubby and Harry gave the audience what the producers apparently thought they wanted, On Her Majesty's Secret Service had caught the prevailing public mood, but it had backfired; and yet You Only Live Twice had made money, even though the “spy craze” had waned.
It seemed there was a template for the Bond movies, so Cubby and Harry went back to the first Bond blockbuster; Goldfinger, with its fantasy, sophistication and humour. The producers decided to up the ante with both the fantasy and humour, which went against the realism of the early 70's movies, and more to the point, Majesty's. If the audience wanted escapism, the Bond films would deliver.
Hoping he would have the Midas touch, the producers turned to Guy Hamilton to direct, and the other architects of Goldfinger's success namely, and in the case of the latter quite aptly, Richard Maibaum, John Barry and Ken Adam.
One notable omission is Sean Connery; Cubby and Harry felt that it was a pipe-dream of Connery returning to the role he defined almost a decade before, and thus concentrated on approaching other actors to play the part of 007.
David Picker, United Artists president, had other ideas, however. For a then record breaking fee, $1.25 million, and two films of his choice, to be produced by United Artists, Connery stunned by the world by announcing that he would slip on his dinner jacket in Diamonds Are Forever. Connery donated his fee for Diamond's, to his own charity, the Scottish International Trust, which he had just founded.
With Diamonds Are Forever the producers had been trying to Americanize the
series; it would have been filmed in Hollywood, and the actor they had found to replace George Lazenby, was John Gavin, of “Psycho” fame, an American, for example.
However when Connery said yes, the filming was to take place in good old Pinewood, not Hollywood, to take advantage of the Eady Levy; all films, at that time, were given a subsidy for filming in the U.K. Thus the Americanization of the series stopped. The film-makers had the questionable idea that American audiences were turned off by the fact that On Majesty's Secret Service was set in Europe. The producers seemed to have forgotten that Thunderball, the highest grossing Bond film, was set in the Bahamas.
Ian Fleming's Diamonds Are Forever is probably the weakest of his Bond novels, so like You Only Live Twice, and unlike Majesty's, Maibaum came up with an original screenplay, that passes a resemblance to Fleming's source novel, such as the locations, characters, the diamond pipeline, and certain situations i.e. the South African sequence and the climax on board the Queen Elizabeth II.
The producers were not happy with Maibaum's screenplay, featuring the rather hoary device of having Goldfinger's twin brother appear, so United Artists suggested Tom Mankiewicz. Only 28, Mankiewicz had a strong understanding of the British idiom, and inspired by a dream Cubby had, he set to work.
In Cubby's dream, he was floating outside of the penthouse, of Howard Hughes' hotel. Hughes' had his back to Cubby, and when Cubby knocked on the window, expecting to see Hughes', he instead saw an imposter, which is mirrored in Mankiewicz's screenplay, in the characters of Blofeld (the imposter) and Willard Whyte (Hughes).
The resulting screenplay overindulged on sight gags, overt humour and bitingly funny one-liners; the era of humour in the Bond films started here, and not in the Roger Moore movies.
For example; an elephant pulls down on a “one armed bandit”, and gets a jackpot; Tiffany fires a machine gun, and falls off an oil rig and the inexcusable “comedy” Sheriff, more suiting to a Burt Reynold's film, not a Bond epic. The Bond movies should have a dark, dry style of humour about them, not sight gags.
It must be said, however, that Mankiewicz does have a way with a quip; wickedly funny and smart double entendres adorn Diamond's.
On Bond's meeting with Tiffany Case for the first time, in her apartment;
Bond - “Weren't you a blonde when I came in?”
Tiffany - “Could be”
Bond – “I tend to notice little things like that – whether a girl is a blonde or a brunette...”
Tiffany - “Which do you prefer?”
Bond - “Well, as long as the collar and cuffs match...”
and then, when Bond is introduced to Plenty O' Toole over a gambling table;
Plenty - “Hi! I'm Plenty”
Bond - “But of course you are”
Plenty - “Plenty O' Toole”
Bond - “Named after your father, perhaps?”
are two examples of Mankiewicz's classic quipping.
If Diamond's had contained quips, it would have been fine; the reason why the Bond movies has lasted so long, is because the series has adapted, i.e. 60's chic, iconic and cool; 70's fantasy and humour; 80's conservatism, so having a lighter touch to the Bond films, by having quips, dialogue exchanges achieved that; after all the Bond would be rather dull if they were all the same. However introducing sight gags and overt humour, was a step in the wrong direction. This isn't a complaint with the befit of hindsight, as some reviewers commented in 1971;
“it looks like a sequence of the same kind in the Bond imitations”, Pauline Kendel wrote in the New Yorker.
Like so many of the Bond pictures, from 1971 to 1985, a bit of editing would have done it a power of good, to remove the overt humour, that plagued the Bond series, in that period.
It is especially relevant during the action scenes, most of which are played for laughs, containing wanton destruction and spectacle, and little in the way of tension, danger and ingenuity.
Perhaps it can be attributed to the lack of Peter Hunt in the editors chair; he always featured, in his action sequences, a certain drive and decisiveness. By comparison the editing, and subsequent action, seems rather pedestrian, not only in Diamonds Are Forever, but also the other two Bond films helmed by Guy Hamilton, of the early 70's, Live And Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun.
There are two notable exceptions, however; a fight between Bond and a smuggler in a lift, and when, at the end of the car chase, through Las Vegas, Bond tilts his Mustang over on its side, and escapes through a narrow ally, although in the case of the latter, its impact is diminished by a continuity error; the Mustang goes in on one side, and it emerges on the other side.
It is a problem that Diamond's suffers throughout; the usual high production standards are missing, such as in the PTS (pre-titles sequence), where there is some shoddy dubbing, and in the Moon-buggy chase; a Moon-buggy wheel appears, even though there is no Moon-buggy on-screen.
Its a general malaise that Diamonds Are Forever has fallen into; the director has to step in and re-shoot, re-dub, certain scenes, but Hamilton has the air of “on to next scene” ethos, that undermines the movie.
Still, Hamilton delivers a film full of sophistication, macabre characters and situations, and the pacing is rather good, until the final act, anyway, where Hamilton seems to have run out of zest.
There is plenty to enjoy in Diamonds Are Forever. The style of Bond's world contrasts nicely with the gaudy, tacky nature of Las Vegas, and Mankiewicz serves up some sparkling dialogue.
Moreover the contributions of two stalwarts, namely John Barry and Ken Adam, are up to their usual high standards, although in the case of the latter, setting the climax on board an oil rig reins in Adam's prodigious imagination, somewhat.
Barry comes up with, yet again, another musical master-class, showcasing an eerily villains motif, big, brassy scores for the Las Vegas segments, and lilting string themes, reminiscent of From Russia With Love, for the action scenes, and sublime, menacing cues.
With Sean Connery returning, who better to herald his return than Shirley Bassey? She does a remarkable job, being haunting, mysterious and sultry, all at the same time, and Barry uses the title track throughout, very effectively.
Reflecting the theme of the movie, the cast is particularly lightweight, benefiting from Sean Connery's presence, who managed to find that missing “spark” that deserted him in You Only Live Twice. Tom Mankiewicz said about Connery, that he “has an old graces pro” about him, mirroring that Connery is maturing in the role. He can still knock the living hell out off someone, as exemplified by the lift fight, but Connery has the air of a veteran agent about him; calm, collected and authoritative.
The first American Bond Girl, Tiffany Case, is played with engaging charm and playfulness by Jill St. John. Tiffany starts off an intriguing, feisty character, but it soon devolves into a bimbo. It is to John's great credit, then, that a one-note character is enliven by her performance; John bring dignity to the role, where none should exist. John and Connery have a great, mischievousness chemistry together; John really deserved a better script.
In Ian Fleming's original novel, Bond and Tiffany become very close; she moves in with Bond, but, as he had just got married in the previous film, it was wise for the producers to avoid Bond and Tiffany getting to entangled.
Playing the role of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the third actor to play Blofeld, in as many films, is Charles Grey, who appeared as Bond's contact in You Only Live Twice. Grey was very memorable in that movie, so why did the producers decide to cast Grey in Diamond's? Still, Grey is witty, camp and entertaining as Blofeld; the complete opposite of what Blofeld is meant to be. Grey would have worked fine, if his character, was not Blofeld, but some other villain.
To bring a much needed sense of menace to Diamonds Are Forever, and probably two of the most un-PC characters to appear in a Bond film, are Blofeld's gay henchmen, Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, portrayed with genuine infectious glee, and good natured evil, by Bruce Glover and Putter Smith, respectively.
Rounding out the main cast are; Willard Whyte, (Jimmy Dean) who is personable; Plenty O' Toole, who is superfluous, and Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) who is utterly inane, and is the worst Leiter of the series; gone is Fleming's understated, but cool, agent, replaced instead, with a bumbling nincompoop.
Released on the 17th of December, Diamonds Are Forever posted a wholly respectable $116 million worldwide, (for a time Diamond's had the biggest seven day opening in the U.K), benefiting from audience and critics enthusiasm at seeing Sean Connery play 007 for one last time, regardless of the movies actual merits.
Diamonds Are Forever is a fun, often breezy, entry into the Bondian series, featuring a reassuring, smooth presence by Connery, bizarre elements, a witty, blackly humorous script by Tom Mankiewicz, and terrific scoring by John Barry; all in all an entertaining, comic strip Bond, that proves the template for the Bond movies of the 70's; namely fantasy, humour and spectacle, and with Diamond's box office returns, it established, like diamonds, that James Bond's box office appeal, is indeed forever.
Since his peak in Goldfinger, Connery has invested less of his heart in the role with each passing film. In You Only Live Twice, he resembled an old log, but by DAF he was completely ossified, tired and out of shape.
DAF sees the series at a crossroads. It feels derivative of previous Connery films but at the same time it tries to push the silliness to its breaking point within the formula. It still follows the Goldfinger formula, so the amount of harm done is limited. But I'd rather just watch the other movies.
Despite being a sequel to OHMSS, it fails to acknowledge its predecessor's existence at all. Perhaps Eon wanted to forget the fiasco with Lazenby, but DAF is in no standing to do so. Blofeld had Bond's wife murdered in OHMSS, but Connery is barely angry or upset toward Blofeld in this one. DAF had a few interesting moments, but nothing that really stood out at the end of the day. I've already forgotten what they were.
Theme Song: Shirley Bassey totally nails it with a haunting, alluring and catchy theme.
Bond Girls: Tiffany Case was pretty much just another one of the two-dimensional but attractive variety.
Villain: Blofeld looks like a game show host here.
One-Liners: "Well, one of us smells like a tart's handkerchief." (Yeah, DAF didn't have any great ones)
It's just one of those films that makes you shake your head and wonder why they overreacted to OHMSS. Yeah, it didn't make as much money as the previous ones, but do you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater? Hell, no. It was just the worst mistake in the world to change the tone and say we want to go back to Goldfinger again and make that movie as many times as we can get away with.
ACTOR & CHARACTER ELEMENTS
Bond & Actor Performance:
If ever there was a Bond actor who could come out of retirement to have one last adventure, it would be Sean Connery. The story is now famous, regarding his casting. Following Lazenby’s refusal to continue on in the role out of concern that Bond was going the way of horses and carriages, the Bond producers mounted a search for the next Bond, getting so far as writing up a contract with American actor John Gavin to star. United Artists made their intentions to get the golden boy back known, however, and in a then unprecedented move, they offered Sean a whopping $1.25 million to return as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever.
While doing press during the lead up to the release of the film, Sean was more than up front about his intentions behind signing on. For one, United Artists agreed to back two of his future production film projects if he returned, and more importantly, his salary for the film would be used to found and support the Scottish International Educational Trust in his native land with the express purpose of giving worthy young Scots shots at higher learning through scholarships. And even with all these extraneous deals and heavily business-like arrangements going on behind the scenes, Sean’s performance here feels more natural and less driven by outside stressors and complications on set than his work in You Only Live Twice did.
While the script for Diamonds Are Forever has its fair share of outlandish things, Sean himself noted it as a far better written piece than some of the others he’d worked on previously, and the text gave him the opportunity to have fun in a way You Only Live Twice didn’t; nor did it force him to do something as equally ridiculous as “going Japanese.” While he never regains the fire he had in his early Bond days, a big part of that man is here in this movie, with all the magnetism, danger and panther-like prowling he made classic from Dr. No onward. It’s clear from looking on the screen itself that Sean is enjoying himself more, something that isn’t as obvious in You Only Live Twice where you can only guess just how much of the on-set tensions came out in his performance and signaled his dissatisfaction with the series that made him wash his hands of Bond completely. At moments in the latter, you can almost feel on screen how uncomfortable Sean is with what he’s being asked to perform, like a fish out of water. In his return to the role, we now see a Sean that appears to be getting a kick out of the proceedings, enjoying the work far more than the last time.
It’s clear here that a four-year respite from the role and a film with a superior and more rousing script than the last provided him with the kind of juice he needed to go out on a far greater effort than before. In this way, Diamonds Are Forever caps off his Bond legend in a more gracious fashion.
When it comes to how James Bond is portrayed in Diamonds Are Forever, there’s clear signs that the writers were playing quite experimentally with how audiences would feel about how 007 is acting as his manhunt for Blofeld turns him rabid. One of this film’s redeeming qualities, amongst many, is just how wonderfully bastardized they present Bond. As audience members we’re used to rooting for Bond at the sidelines because his villains are often so expressively villainous and so devious that it’s a thrill to watch him foil their plots and damage their egos. In this movie, however, it grows difficult to stand by Bond in some moments as he breaks rules of spy craft he never would have pre-Blofeld. This Bond risks blowing his cover as an agent by busting into public places, shaking down every two-bit SPECTRE operative he can, threatening them in front of crowds of people for information on their boss and his whereabouts. This Bond walks up to a woman sun bathing, feigns attraction to her and then uses her own bikini against her as a makeshift garrote as he threatens to choke the life out of her with the garment if she doesn’t supply him with what he wants-no, needs. When he finally thinks he has Blofeld dead to rights, this Bond also quips sadistically in reaction to the death of his enemy as the hint of a righteous smirk forms on his face. This is shocking to witness because back in the old days he was far more likely to use one-liners to smooth out the edges of the acts he had to commit on the job, and not as celebratory phrases to pat himself on the back for a dirty deed done right. Now he’s sadistically getting a rise out of punching an enemy’s ticket. This man did take his wife from him, of course, so it’s partially understandable.
Because of all these elements, Diamonds Are Forever portrays an almost foreign Bond at times, as the way he acts is so disparate from what we expect from previous movies. Sean’s Bond was all about the mission, and completed it any way he could, with smooth talking or bullets, but here we have a Bond who is openly focused only on killing Blofeld in a rather selfish manner that affects those outside of him, like M, and he even has the audacity to be flippant while belittling his boss in front of a colleague on top of it. Bond’s overt boredom and indifference in the face of anything M is saying as he shares important mission sensitive information about carats is shocking, as the only time we’ve seen the spy go at his boss or treat him with even the slightest hint of disrespect was the moment in Goldfinger where he raised his voice an octave too high-which M hushed with a barbed look. But what we see in this movie are unceremonious actions that go beyond just ill words or gestures, representing that Bond no longer has the sense to know that he isn’t the boss around those parts. M’s anger throughout this entire opening sequence is palpable and poisonous, with Lee playing the sour mood well. It’s at this point that the movie makes you wonder how things got this distorted and disparate with Bond and M, but the truth is that the previous film had already laid the groundwork for the fracture that was slowly inching its way between them.
As with most problems in Bond’s life, we can track this fracture back to Blofeld, and SPECTRE in association. By this time in the series 007 and SPECTRE’s leader had crossed each other enough to effect the blossom of an immense rivalry. And although Blofeld had threatened Bond’s life dozens of times to no avail, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service we could see that he’d done the unthinkable, successfully tearing Bond and his boss apart at the seams, enough to cause tensions between them. Because of this, SPECTRE’s No. 1 serves a purpose in these films beyond just being a maniacal villain with a scheme, dually representing just how much Bond has changed for the worst because of him. Even in the early parts of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service it was already clear that Blofeld had grown to be a heavy fixation of Bond’s, and clearer still how the villain was quickly becoming a monumental source of conflict between the agent and M. As a 00, Bond lost his ability to detach himself emotionally from the job and because of that, the history he had with fighting SPECTRE and Blofeld made it impossible for him to give up on his hunt, even stating that the villain was “something of a must” for him. M was steadfast in keeping Bond away from missions involving Blofeld because he couldn’t have his best agent getting so irrationally attached to an objective or allow him to spend all his time off the job desperately searching for signs of SPECTRE’s leader while other worldly concerns demanded his attention as an MI6 operative. Between them formed a great divide; Bond’s selfish-near suicidal-mission to wipe Blofeld off the face of the earth in the nastiest way possible vs. M’s responsibility to manage his agents with impartiality and professionalism, something far more difficult for him to do when it comes to 007. This exchange in M’s office concludes with Bond storming out, calling his boss a “monument” and declaring his resignation from the service after his frustrations at being tied up in red tape had reached a breaking point. M’s job of keeping Bond from doing anything reckless would only grow more impossible over time, and when Tracy’s life is taken in a drive by shooting orchestrated by Blofeld, the hopes of rescuing Bond from madness is lost.
Going into 1971, we had last seen Bond holding on to the corpse of his dead bride, absolutely delirious and in catatonic shock, parked off to the side of a stretch of road with his stomach turned inside out. As Diamonds Are Forever begins questions start to form, and you ponder what the spy has done since the tragic moment, where Blofeld was at and how M was about to deal with Bond following Tracy’s death. Because we get no tangible scenes of M attempting to console Bond as he experiences an emotional tornado, all we can do is imagine what kinds of high-stress interactions these two had since Tracy’s murder. The film gives us one clue in just a bit of dialogue at the start that may give us a good idea about how all this went down.
It is heavily implied during the conversation between Bond and M following the pre-titles sequence and opening title that not only did M sympathize with his agent following the murder of the man’s wife, he allowed him to take time off the job to find Blofeld and kill him, knowing fully well that Bond would never be able to focus on his work again while the villain was still breathing. I can only imagine Lee’s M calling Bond one night after some time had passed since Tracy’s death, ordering his agent to come to his office for a talk so that he could get him back on a straight path to recovery. Bond had no doubt been shacked up in his Chelsea flat, spinning in and out of hysterics, spending much of his time chugging down all that was left of his alcohol reserves to soak his problems in something that would effectively compliment his severe self-loathing.
Seeing Bond like this, I imagine M would snap at him from behind his desk, asking rhetorically if this was any way for a man to act in memory of his wife, to allow himself to be so overwrought with rage and hatred that he’d become his own worst enemy. It was also likely in a moment such as this that Bond finally snapped out of his state enough to focus again, urged back on the path by M, who agreed-with reluctance impossible to quantify-to give him carte blanche to hunt Blofeld and kill the bastard as a personal and professional courtesy if and only if he could have him back on active duty again once the job was done.
Following M’s approval of his mission to kill Blofeld, Bond no doubt allowed the operation to suck up all his energies, refusing rest until he had the exact location of his archenemy. Diamonds Are Forever begins just as Bond is in the middle of this personal mission, right out of the gun barrel sequence. Watching Bond beating and interrogating his way to Blofeld is a thrill to watch, and it’s easy to be caught off guard by just how vindictive he is being. You can see the fractures in his psyche that have formed post-On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, where Tracy’s death has left him scrambling for a chance to get his revenge, losing sense of other obligations in service of the personal quest for vengeance he feels raging inside of him. This mission has gone beyond a fixation, and grown seemingly into a full-time way of life for him, an urge he can’t sate until he sees Blofeld die between his clenched hands. Although Tracy is never mentioned by name in the film, through Sean’s performance and the anger and brutality that pours from him as the spy plows his way through agent after agent to get at Blofeld, we can see exactly what Bond’s motivations are for doing what he’s doing. He’s a maddened widow, unhinged and off the leash.
While M may have thought that his issues with Bond’s rather irksome, selfish and unprofessional behavior would come to an end with the supposedly confirmed news of Blofeld’s death, he was proved incorrect. M did all these implied favors for Bond, treating him to privileges he quite frankly shouldn’t have offered, and how does Bond thank him? Fresh from his kill of who he thinks is Blofeld, 007 is visibly overjoyed at the murder he has just committed (referring to it as a holiday away), sipping a bit of liquid courage in a toast to his departed foe without showing any professional respect for the courtesies his boss allowed him to openly abuse. You almost want to stare directly into Bond’s eyes from your seat as the movie plays, asking him at a rather loud decibel, “Just who do you think you are, bub?” Even when Bond snaps out of his funk and takes on the mission M has for him, the general recklessness he has already displayed in the film is destined to have long-lasting consequences on events yet to unfold.
By the time Bond is sent to Amsterdam to integrate himself into the diamond smuggling pipeline funneling through there, the deadly determination with which he “killed” Blofeld has had massive rippling effects that actually tarnish his ability to be a spy in some capacities. After Bond kills Franks and does an I.D. switch to make Tiffany think “James Bond” is dead, we discover that 007 is quite well known in certain crime circles once the woman reacts with utter shock to the identity of the man laying dead at the bottom of the stairs. Because Bond had made such a known mission of axing Blofeld since Tracy died, acting recklessly through his grief and plowing through anyone with answers to where the SPECTRE head operator may be, it’s not hard to imagine that the news of his bloody and brutal quest was carried on whispering lips all throughout the criminal underworld. By this point, SPECTRE had to have been exposed to a large part of this underworld anyway due to the monumental failures endured by the organization under Blofeld. Because Bond had served as such a surgical instrument in stopping them, both he and Blofeld were no doubt exposed as their years long conflicts went on. Due to Bond’s tenacity and near mythic nature for surviving anything thrown his way, it’s no wonder he is as feared as he appears to be in the eyes of those like Tiffany who’ve heard tell of the man and his legend countless times before. The spy’s infamous reputation amongst the criminal classes he rallies against really makes you question just how secret an agent he can be any longer, as well as if he has stepped a bit too far over the line. It almost seems inevitable that M would call him in and rescind his operational capacities for being too “hot” an agent to bring into the field, where so many now know his name and face.
This recklessness on Bond’s part, motivated entirely by his actions against Blofeld, makes good company with his frustration, a feeling he experiences continually while infiltrating the smuggling pipeline and tracking the diamond stockpiler, still under the guise of Peter Franks. Over time, Bond’s involvement in the labyrinthine smuggling system of hand-offs becomes all the more complicated, and his anger and frustrations show as people left and right try to either kill him or flat out lie to his face. What makes the plot of this film so fascinating to watch unfold is the fact that everyone involved in the smuggling operation are wearing false faces, scheming with their own unique intentions. It becomes difficult to know who is working for whom, and who out of the people surrounding Bond, including Tiffany, can be trusted. This is part of the reason why the film feels so much like a noir-styled gumshoe tale, with Bond in the role of the private dick hot on the trail of a case that is snaking around him so fast he’s in danger of being choked out by it.
When the action takes to Vegas, Bond’s dour mood can at times be felt. The landscape of the city in the desert is a place of artificial glitz and glam and even worse acts of sensationalism. Self-parody and shoddy attempts at satire and wordplay run rampant through groan-inducing shows like Shady Tree’s, a “comedy” act that Bond seems to openly abhor. He seems to have his fill of Vegas folk quite quickly, often deriding the power Whyte seems to have over the town, punning that the hotel isn’t the White House, that the man isn’t the president and that he shouldn’t be allowed to exert the control he has over everyone like a de facto king. Because Bond is elegant in the traditional and fine sense, going to a place like Vegas which puts up the impression of being a glamorous and stylish place might rub him the wrong way as he feels out its hollowness over time. The look he gives to the card table as he surveys the casino floor makes me think he’d rather be sitting there unwinding than working the tedious mission, but even the gambling tables carry a feeling of hollow class, far removed from the exquisite, traditional and sophisticated casinos he’s used to frequenting that don’t pretend to be anything greater than they are.
As he navigates the games on the casino floor, Bond runs into a perfect personification of Vegas avarice and fleeting luck in the form of Plenty O’Toole, the sexiest shark you could ever hope to meet. She sniffs out Bond’s fat pocketbook and makes her move to entice him, her eyes painted over with dollar signs. Sean plays classiness well here, commanding the table as he takes his winnings and Plenty along with him, wrapped inside his arm. He seems to know the intentions of this woman quite well, but decides to enjoy her all the same as they make way into his hotel room, with the girl quite quickly getting in the mood. We are to assume that she will try to find a moment to distract Bond and pilfer his money at some point in the night, though this scheme is halted when the goons of the Slumber funeral home have Bond at gunpoint, wanting the real diamonds. As Plenty is thrown out the window we see Bond rush to look out, with clear hints of worry on his face. Relief comes when he sees the woman has landed in the pool below safely. A great character moment comes when the thug behind him admits he had no idea a pool was there, fully intending to kill Plenty, which offsets Bond and makes him snap as he sends a strike back at the man. Bond doesn’t want to see an innocent woman hurt on his account, since he is the sole reason Plenty came up to his room in the first place.
Throughout the film, Bond is constantly scheming and playing his own games with a full cast of figures, like he did in Dr. No. He’s surrounded by people he doesn’t trust and has to uncover a stockpiler out of an entire criminal underground populated by smugglers-no easy feat. When the CIA make the diamond swap he lays in wait, watching for who reacts to the fake diamonds and what players reveal themselves so that he can keep making his way closer to the top of the rung. When Whyte’s power hold on the area infuriates him he purposefully gets the bridal suite at the hotel to investigate the man directly, knowing the room is a straight shot up to Whyte’s floor from the outside elevator, fully expecting the CIA and Felix not to give him any permission to get at the mythical man with their assistance.
Bond’s finest hour probably comes when he makes his move on Whyte’s apartment. Tiffany quite rightly describes him as a wolf being guarded by little pigs as he goes on the prowl out the window. He’s all charming to the woman, really romancing her, but once he’s on the landing Sean’s performance exudes a feeling of reflection and introspection as Bond sheds the theatrics and disguise. While walking over to the elevator Bond raises the rose poked through his suit lapel and gives it a sniff. I like to think that he is taking a moment out of his hectic mission to remember Tracy while he has some fleeting quiet, as flowers were such motifs of their love.
The reveal of Blofeld at the top of the Whyte House is one of my favorite scenes in the Bond catalogue, and the pair exchange some repartee that feels earned for their previous brushes with one another. Bond is in shock to see Blofeld ahead of him after he spins around in his chair, and doubly so when he sees yet another Blofeld walking down the stairs to meet him. It’s a spectacular moment of confusion and chess as Blofeld and his double finish each other’s sentences and speak in riddles to hide the genuine Ernst while they braggadociously share the big scheme. The respect that the Bond and Blofeld have for each other in this scene is interesting and shows how well the two of them know each other by this point after many years of butting heads from the shadows. Bond is visibly impressed and curious as ever about how Blofeld was able to take control of Whyte’s interests, and Blofeld points out that Bond hasn’t lost a bit of his intellect. The genius of Bond testing the loyalty of the white cat to the true Blofeld is inspired, as is the fake-out with the multiple cats on Blofeld’s part as the pair continue their chess game. As the scene finishes, Blofeld gives Bond one last compliment by assuring him that he’d be the first person he would tell his big plan to, a twisted bit of honor from villain to hero. I love the confusion on Bond’s face when Blofeld decides not to kill him and instead invites him to go down in the elevator. Bond’s shock at not being dead is amusing in a comically black way, as is the fear he seems to have of the floor of the lift giving way and sending him falling to his death. His past run-ins with SPECTRE’s head honcho have made him understandably paranoid.
Other great moments for 007 in Diamonds Are Forever include when Wint and Kidd leave him for dead in the pipeline as he’s covered with dirt, meaning that Bond officially experiences the two aftermaths of death in the film, first a cremation and then a full-on burial. Near the end of the film Bond also uses Q’s tech to impersonate Bert Saxby and utilizes the moment to slyly stroke his own ego to Blofeld, referring to himself as a genius. His handling of Bambi and Thumper and how he sniffs out Wint and Kidd (literally) is also thrilling as his snobby nature comes in handy this time to just escape death on the cruise liner.
Overall, while Sean’s best days as Bond were long behind him at this point, he finishes far stronger than in You Only Live Twice, a film that overshadowed Bond with its attempt to be bigger than Thunderball and suffered for it. In Diamonds Are Forever Sean again gets to play Bond as a character with multitudes, working from a script that gives him some great moments including the opening search for Blofeld, the Amsterdam Peter Franks fight, the scaling of the Whyte House, his reunion with Blofeld in the hotel and his dispatch of Wint and Kidd, all while spouting some of his greatest lines of wit throughout thanks to Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz.
Overall, the package comes together far more cohesively than You Only Live Twice, a film with a strong first hour that gave way to a ridiculous second half saved only by Ken Adam’s artistry. Bond is also far more interesting in this film than the last, in presentation and characterization. While You Only Live Twice had hints of him being a fish out of water in Japan, that feeling got bogged down by everything else in the film that steered the narrative away from what he was going through. In Diamonds Are Forever, Sean got to return to playing the kind of Bond he was famous for, a rough bastard that was a real predator, capable of facing any threat with cunning and well-honed survival instincts. The movie marks the most aliases used by Bond in one movie as well, including Peter Franks in Amsterdam and Vegas, Mr. Jones around the hotel, Klaus Hergescheimer inside Whyte Tectronics and Burt Saxby on the phone to Blofeld. The variety of disguises Bond slips into during the film allowed Sean to play all kinds of variations in mood and personality as the spy tried to hide behind these many false faces. His Franks is a flirtatious yet businesslike brute, his Mr. Jones unassuming, his Hergescheimer meek, self-important and sassy, and his Saxby anxious and consciously self-referential. It must have been great fun for him as an actor to play Bond sinking into these many disguises and “parts.”
It also appears that Sean got to have just as much fun offset as he did onscreen, using his time in Vegas to let the place seep into his veins. "I didn't get any sleep at all,” he once said after the fact. “We shot every night, I caught all the shows and played golf all day. On the weekend I collapsed - boy, did I collapse. Like a skull with legs." He also apparently took a liking to the slot machines of the casino, and one time delayed filming because he was busy collecting his winnings. It’s unconfirmed whether he was using Q’s electromagnetic gadget to win, however. There’s even tell of his dalliances with both of his starring Bond ladies, Lana Wood (Plenty O’Toole) and Jill St. John (Tiffany Case), though it’s impossible to ascertain just how much of these stories are true.
In a funny moment of symbolism, it is reported that the final scene Sean ever shot as James Bond in the official EON series of films was on Friday the 13th in August of 1971, when a knocked-out Bond was carried by Wint and Kidd into the coffin at the funeral home to be cremated. In that moment, Sean was finally putting Bond to rest figuratively and literally, bidding adieu to a character that had done him just as much good as bad.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Bond Girl/s & Performance:
Tiffany Case- In Diamonds Are Forever, Tiffany represents the perfect case (see what I did there?) of a Bond girl that is conflicting in conception.
The film tries mightily hard to present Tiffany as a strong, sassy and independent woman who is always on top of things and prepared for several eventualities-which she’d need to be as a diamond smuggler in a rather deadly business-while at the same time making her seem imbecilic, sloppy and foolish. Tiffany Case impresses during the first half of the movie, where she is best described as a classic opportunist who makes her bed where she can. She plays Bond (or thinks she’s playing him) in order to gain herself either the real diamonds or immunity from the law (motives that change as the film progresses), realizing that the web she’s strung herself up in will be hard to untangle from.
When we first meet her we see how prepared and sharp she is, double checking the identity of Franks as she no doubt does with all her business partners on principle, and her frankness and earnest business-no-pleasure attitude makes her feel interesting and fresh. This scene also does a great job of shifting focus between her and Bond as they run their own games from just a room apart, her getting prints and him finding out he’s getting investigated. The script even treats us to a bit of background on her as she relates to Bond how she was born inside a Tiffany’s store (hence her name) once her mother’s water broke, the location likely sparking her lifelong love for diamonds, as if destined by fate. In a nice touch, John Barry uses an arrangement of the movie’s title song to introduce her character in this scene, solidifying her as a woman who lives and dies for all that sparkles.
Throughout the film, Tiffany carries hints of a femme fatale (suitable considering the noir feel of the film at times), including many moments where she is working just as much for herself as anyone, and lying in bed with Bond or Blofeld depending on which one gives her the better odds of surviving the aftermath of the smuggling operation. We never really get to see just how skilled she is at this duplicity, however, as both Bond and Blofeld are far more cunning than her usual marks would ever be, and together the pair make her look quite bad at her job simply because they’re always twelve steps ahead of everyone else, as necessitated by their work.
And of course, with all these grand moments come the bad. At the beginning of the movie Tiffany is built up as a chameleon-like cat burglar type of gal who can get herself out of most situations with finesse, but as the film goes on we see her shriek as Bond drives her around at a slightly high speed across Vegas, attempt to swap Blofeld’s satellite tape as conspicuously as she could have done it at the 11th hour and worst of all, in the finale she picks up a gun, shoots at men who she already saw get blown to bits by an explosion and closes her eyes while aiming the weapon, allowing the recoil to knock her off the oil rig. The Tiffany of the first half of the movie would have felt far more relaxed in the car chase (and could’ve taken the wheel from Bond if need be), she would have found a more cunning way to swap the tapes (or would’ve realized Bond already did the job in the first place), and she certainly would’ve known the proper way to handle a gun. These lesser moments really take away from her character in unfortunate ways, leaving her a conflicted, contradictory and half-baked character that could have been much more than she was. This is all part of why I often tend to (lovingly) refer to this character as Tiffany “Basket” Case in light-hearted discussions with other Bond fans.
An actress of great success and allure long before she ever got the part of Tiffany Case, Jill St. John often does well with what she is given, especially in the first section of the film. She feels mysterious as Tiffany constantly changes wigs, and carries a resourceful air about her while doing background checks on “Franks.” She is also able to play up the femme fatale aspects of the role successfully, and you can see the gears in her head turning as she tries to butter up anyone who can get her out of Vegas without a pair of handcuffs strapped to her wrists. In scenes of romance she is great fun and sexy enough, though I think she’s overshadowed by Lana Wood in this category (a personal choice, mind). When she needs to be funny in moments of wit, St. John also doesn’t disappoint, eliciting a knack for comedic timing that makes moments like the circus balloon game a highlight of the movie as she goes to war with a pre-pubescent boy. She is also adept at playing more subtle moments, as in the scene where she discovers Plenty’s drowned body in her pool; the fear in her eyes at the realization of what she has gotten herself into is clear, as is her nervous energy when Bond keeps pressing her for answers she doesn’t have.
Tiffany Case is not the greatest Bond girl we’ll have, but she’s also far from the worst, and also holds the title of the first American Bond girl of the series, not a title of little worth.
Plenty O’Toole- Starring in a minor role that is criminally short, Lana Wood fills out the part (and purple dress) of Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever, thereby joining the distinguished company of Bond girls whose names conjure images of genitals and general sex in the mind. Wood’s casting in the film was quite simple, really. Producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli came across some shots of the well-endowed babe in Playboy Magazine, and quickly found her to be the perfect fit-and measurements-for the role. Although she was used to playing roles in the shadow of her famous big sister Natalie Wood, Lana shows that she has talent all her own here, with a presence to match.
With just three minutes or so of screen time to her name, Wood makes one hell of an impression in what still remains her most famous role. For my money she’s one of the sexiest Bond girls in history, with the right kind of allure, fun and bubbliness to make her fleeting part in the action a memorable section of the picture. Wood is dressed to kill in the purple dress that shows off her best assets, and when she bends over the gambling tables to roll Bond’s dice for him, exposing the plunging neckline of the ensemble, I could keel over in a stupor.
Wood also has good comedic timing and exudes the kind of sweet innocence that runs counter to the scheming nature of her character. It’s interesting to watch Plenty butter up gamblers around the casino, keen on taking them for all their money. And though she is very determined to be a gold-digger in this way, even when her marks fail to make bank for her she dismisses them softly so as not to stamp on them and their lack luster performance, giving her a sweet air. When she gets Bond in her sights, Wood exudes sex as Plenty again tries to latch onto another gambler in the hopes that her night finally results in some pleasures. In a deleted scene removed from the film, we also see Plenty treat Bond to a dinner in the casino, and we can tell by how familiar she is with one of the performers in this part of the Whyte House that she does this sort of act frequently.
As she and Bond go up to his room and prepare for a different kind of recreation, Plenty is taken by some of Slumber’s boys and tossed out the window, landing safely in a pool. One of my aforementioned favorite moments comes when Bond punches out the guy who meant to kill her by tossing her out the window, an act he visibly abhors and takes umbrage with.
In yet another deleted scene we see Plenty return to Bond’s room, where he finds him with Tiffany, leading her to look through the diamond smuggler’s purse to find out the address she is staying at in Vegas. She later goes to Case’s home, likely to confront her for ruining her chances with James, but meets Wint and Kidd there instead, who mistake her for Tiffany and kill her thinking they’ve done away with yet another link in the diamond smuggling pipeline.
In the end, Plenty amounts to little more than a symbol of mistaken identity and what happens when one is in the wrong place at the wrong time as Bond finds her drowned in Tiffany’s pool. One of the film’s consistent themes is doubles, with Blofeld taking on the name of Whyte and producing numerous “clones” of himself, Bond adopting an endless stream of aliases, Tiffany pretending to be something she isn’t and scores of other characters in between them that also put on false faces. It becomes fitting and inevitable, then, that Plenty would end up going to Bond’s room the very moment gangsters have staked it out, and even more likely that she is mistaken for someone she isn’t and killed for it.
While shooting the moment where Plenty is found in the pool, Wood’s feet were strapped to a real cement block and the film crew used a rope extended across the water for her to use whenever she needed to raise herself up for air. The critical issue came with the design of the pool, however, which was sloped at the base, meaning that during each moment Wood came up for air, the block she was tied to would be sent slipping deeper and deeper into the pool. During one moment, she was so deep into the pool she was no longer able to come back up for air, which the crew thankfully caught on to, and raced to untie her from the block to save her from dying in the same fashion as her character. This behind-the-scenes detail is made all the more tragic and ominous when one notes that her older sister Natalie Wood would go on to die the same way just ten years afterward.
Overall, while she failed to get the time to grow in the film that she deserved, Lana Wood’s Plenty is another excellent part of a rather good Bond film that I always look forward to when I put it in, with a personality and general character that makes her fun to watch. She’s also one of the more alluring Bond girls in the series, especially for the 70s films, and if I had the pick of just three or four Bond girls to roll around in the sheets with, I would keep her in heavy consideration for the position.
Bambi & Thumper- Lola Larson and Trina Parks star as Diamonds Are Forever’s Bambi and Thumper respectively, characters with character in a film jam-packed with heaps of both.
Bambi and Thumper appear in an interesting sequence of the film where Bond is going off to free the real Willard Whyte from internment in his own house high in the hills. Bond isn’t sure what he’s going to find as he makes his way to the high-rising residence, but I can guarantee he would have never prepared for this pair of flexible femmes, who spring into action and send him flipping and falling all over the space once he makes his mission known.
Bambi and Thumper’s animalistic names become suitable and fitting when we see the way they move, like predators, and though I think this sequence of the film would’ve been more thrilling and danger laden if Bond was facing a few armed SPECTRE guards who were babysitting Whyte, the two add a certain flavor to a film that is already full of interesting and off kilter characters and imagery. It’s also quite amusing to watch Bond dunking the pair under the water of the pool in order to locate Whyte.
Bond Henchman & Performance:
Mr. Wint & Mr. Kidd- If ever one had to highlight a particular part of Diamonds Are Forever that has since become iconic, like a scarred Blofeld and the volcano set of You Only Live Twice, it would have to be the characters of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, who’ve been heavily parodied and fondly remembered since 1971.
The terrible twosome are one of the best parts of the film, and every time they show up you know something depraved and twisted is bound to unfold. They feel like sadistic killers ripped straight out of a psychological horror film of the 70s era, with a list of characteristics that really make them unforgettable. They both share a love for dark comedy, swapping endless black puns, quips and proverbs with one another, often finishing each other’s unseated sentences. With each kill they plan they always shoot for the bizarre, whether it’s stuffing a scorpion down a man’s shirt, drowning a woman in the biggest tourist center of Amsterdam, placing a man in a coffin to be cremated, shooting a hack comedian with a real gun disguised as a gag firearm, strapping a beautiful woman to a block of cement or planting a ticking bomb inside an exquisitely decorated cake. Everything about Wint and Kidd is methodical and minutely planned, from the kills they dream up to the wordplay they exchange in the aftermath of the havoc they wreak. The hints towards their homosexuality only continue to characterize them as soul mates in sadism, a dream team for dealing out the kind of depravity Blofeld relishes. This last element is particularly interesting, because though the pair are under Blofeld’s employ, they share not one scene with him.
Like villains of the past, most exemplified by Donald Grant in From Russia with Love, Wint and Kidd are always just off stage as Bond makes his moves, unable to see them from the shadows. They travel through the film like a hanging pestilence, killing here and there before disappearing, leaving Bond to find only the remains of their work. They also deliver some of the best comedy of the film, albeit very black comedy, as they spout their assorted quips. These lines are fascinating to study the effects of when spoken by the twosome, because they make the villains feel much more vile than Bond, even though they all act similarly and have the same humor. Because Bond is built up as a hero on the cinema screen, his own deliveries of extremely black comedy after he kills his enemies is looked at as more endearing and clever, but when villains like Wint and Kidd do the same thing you see just how creepy and disconcerting it is to quip in such a fashion. This revelation only becomes noticeable when the villains quip the same as the hero does.
Other great moments involving these two include when Kidd points out that Tiffany looks attractive-for a woman-on the plane. Wint’s jealousy makes him unwilling to continue a line of repartee. It’s also amusing that Bond thinks the scent of Wint’s perfume is comparable to the smell of a tart’s handkerchief. I can almost see the commercials for the perfume now; “Wint: Scent of a Woman.” And, in a slightly twisted moment of sentiment, I love the look that Wint gives to Kidd during the final scene of the film as the latter man becomes engulfed in flames and stumbles over the boat’s side to his death. Looking at just Glover’s expressions, you can witness Wint experience a string of emotions in just seconds; first fear at what is happening to his partner, then fierce sadness when he knows Kidd is dead, and finally, untamed rage when he continues to choke Bond in an effort to avenge him. Though the pair are sadists and quite unhinged agents of chaos for Blofeld, there is a part of me that feels sympathy in this moment as they meet their ends together.
To fill out these colorful roles, the producers selected Putter Smith for Kidd and Bruce Glover for Wint. Smith was not an actor by trade, but a jazz musician, and director Guy Hamilton saw something special about him when he caught a Thelonious Monk Band Show where the artist was performing as a bassist. Glover was originally turned down for his role, cited by producers as being too “normal,” largely because they were actively searching for an actor who looked deformed to add a certain element of strangeness to the character on the screen. Anyone that has seen the film and witnessed Glover’s wide grins of sadism and excitations in the throws of a kill, however, will see that he was a perfect choice to bring the creepy Wint alive.
ACTOR & CHARACTER ELEMENTS CONTINUED
Bond Villain/s & Performance:
Ernst Stavro Blofeld- To finish off the Blofeld Trilogy of Bond films in the form of You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever, producers needed to find the right actor to help them end the series’ fascination with SPECTRE’s No. 1 after the man and his schemes ruled the 60s era.
They selected Charles Gray to fill out the devilish role, an actor who, much like the character, had gone through his own identity crises as a young actor, changing his name from Donald and then to Charles as he became a performer, sometimes appearing under the name Oliver in promotional items. A chameleon by nature, Gray’s experience with the renown theater companies of England, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, with work at locations like the Old Vic offered him a chance to grow into an actor of earnest quality. He seemed the perfect actor to embody Ernst Stavro Blofeld in his third notable screen presentation in a Bond film, being a chameleon-like character by design.
In my mind, Gray’s Blofeld is second only to maybe Telly Savalas’ take on the character. He got to act in a Bond film that gave him a lot of meat to play with, with a script whose main themes are disguises, doubles and decoys. In Diamonds Are Forever Gray not only gets to play the Blofeld we love to hate, but also brings alive a couple of the man’s doubles in some of the greatest scenes in the Bond canon as the villain repeatedly tricks 007 into thinking he’s finally killed him. The idea of Blofeld’s doubles is possibly my favorite element in this film, because of how fascinating it is to watch Gray switch from the genuine article to his decoys as well as for how Sean’s Bond reacts to the shock of finding out he’s been duped.
In his performance, Gray offers a slimy Blofeld of supreme smugness with a touch of the aristocracy. He struts around with such an inflated air about himself, exerting his power as he sees fit, and Gray’s voice and how he inflects gives the character a haughty tone to match his personality. By simply speaking this Blofeld sounds condescending, even when he doesn’t mean to be. Throughout, Gray gives great character to Blofeld, as in the pre-titles sequence where he and his armed guard come upon Bond in an ambushed position, whereupon he lets out an amused and long-winded whimper as he scoffs at the agent’s attempts at killing him.
The height of Gray’s performance in the role comes when Bond scales the Whyte House thinking he’s set himself up to meet the mysterious man the building is named after, but instead stumbles upon his archenemy in the middle of yet another scheme. The reunion of Bond and Blofeld following the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a highlight of the film and the series, with so many great elements therein. Gray jumps between playing the genuine Blofeld in the far chair and the decoy sitting on a sofa nearer to Bond. It’s a fun game of chess between the hero and villain as the former is struck with surprise at what he’s faced with and the latter relishes in tricking him as both the genuine article and decoy finish each other’s sentences to mask who is who. Bond thinks on his feet and uses the loyalty of the cat to test which Blofeld is the real one, but the villain has already anticipated that eventuality and planted a decoy cat as well. With the decoy dead, Bond is stuck in the sights of Blofeld’s gun, but the madman doesn’t shoot the agent dead, and instead ushers him to the elevator. Bond looks utterly puzzled as to why he’s still alive as he is ushered on to leave the Whyte House.
The whole scene is wondrously constructed not only in its tension, but in what it teaches us about Bond and Blofeld. These two have tussled for so long that they know all each other’s moves like the palms of their hands, and because of their history they’ve gained mutual respect. Bond listens attentively to Blofeld’s plans, genuinely impressed at the man’s cunning, and Blofeld honors Bond in a very twisted way for his amazing intellect and knack for mucking up all his schemes, finishing off their meeting by proclaiming that the man is the first person he’d confess all his crimes to. The pair have a fascinating relationship for these reasons, and the dynamic they have resembles something along the lines of the honor thieves share. They’re both in a rough business they know backwards and forwards, and though they are both men who kill to survive and engage in deadly chess games with the biggest playing pieces imaginable, at the end of the day they must both extend respect for how each has undone the lives or plans of the other throughout their many years. I’ve never seen a relationship of this sort with any other characters beyond maybe Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, and even then I think Bond and Blofeld are far warmer towards each other than the former pair.
When examining Blofeld’s plan, we continue to learn more about how the man has developed over time as a villainous threat. His schemes in the past have either been about extortion or embarrassment, with moments between where he planned to set nations against each other using subtle trickery. In Dr. No, he ordered his eponymous agent to topple American missiles and cause some frustrations for the nation. In From Russia with Love, he is attempting to secure the Lektor decoder and shame the British in one fell swoop using Bond as a pawn. In Thunderball, he was back to simple extortion in exchange for the return of the stolen nukes. In You Only Live Twice, he was setting the Americans and Russians against each other for profit and in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he was working towards the goal of ultimate amnesty using the threat of bacteriological warfare as his tool of persuasion. Quite a decorated catalogue of operations, surely, and plans he methodically set to work with Bond cast as the only man with the resources, instincts and knowledge of SPECTRE’s modus operandi to stop him.
In Diamonds Are Forever we can spot how Blofeld has tired of his old ways and is attempting to use new approaches. Although he often went to the trouble of tricking nations into thinking they were enemies of one another, he bored of that method following You Only Live Twice, driving him in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever to demand what he wanted with major threats of death and destruction. In both of the latter films Blofeld also made the point of hiding himself behind a name or title before his plan was ready to unleash, first trying to become a count and after that, using Willard Whyte’s name and resources to do his deeds.
We can also see just how sharp a threat Blofeld is while dissecting his plan. He knew he needed to get a scientist to join his ranks that could make him the fully operational diamond satellite he needed, and so he cunningly appealed to Dr. Metz’s beliefs of anti-nuclear power. He made it seem like he was going to use Metz’s creation to destroy all the nuclear weaponry in the world to ensure they could be wielded by none, but in reality he is using the threatened destruction of the tools of war as a means to get an exorbitant amount of cash from the major world powers he’s holding for ransom.
Blofeld was also able to maneuver around Willard Whyte from the shadows, studying his assets and weak spots in order to capture him and utilize some tech to impersonate the man, employing his own SPECTRE agents amongst Whyte’s guard so that his plans would come to fruition. He uses Whyte’s Vegas tower to remain concealed, has Metz and his team stationed at the Tectronics Lab to build the satellite and prepare it for launch, and has buttered up the Vegas police force so that they can keep any suspicious eyes away from his schemes in exchange for untold gratuities-whether or not they know he isn’t Whyte is up in the air. He even uses a base in Baja California to mount his ransom operation because it’s the only piece of land not under the operation of Whyte himself, meaning it would be off the books. And as is consistent with the previous films in which Blofeld is the main villain, at the end of Diamonds Are Forever he knows he is beaten and makes a move to run for his life-as cowardly as ever-as his bath-o-sub is prepared for its exit.
Throughout all the mystery, scheming and mental chess games, Gray’s Blofeld even recites a quote from French writer François de La Rochefoucauld, to the tune of, “Humility is the worst form of conceit.” From this we can get a clear sense of this man and how he views the world. A person of great ego, Blofeld must think that those who strive to appear humble and feign it are a far greater nuisance than those like him who simply act on their egos to contain, control and rule over all that they see. He must view Bond’s kind of do-gooding as similarly foolish, wondering why any man with his resources and abilities would ever choose to become an under-paid stooge of a post-empirical government instead of working as a free agent as he is, making his own moves without chains holding him back.
In the end, I guess we are to assume that Blofeld dies in his bath-o-sub after Bond plays with the lift’s controls, burning to ash along with the rest of his oil rig. Apparently the original plan was to show audiences that Blofeld had survived somehow to set up future adventures down the line, but legal tie-ups of the time thanks to Kevin McClory would effectively kill the character’s appearance in later Bond films, except for one fleeting moment in For Your Eyes Only and only in appearance, not name. Blofeld finishes his time in the official James Bond series here as the behemoth villain of the 60s, the puppet-master behind much of the biggest threats Bond faced in that time. The nascent (and greatest) Bond era is best signified and celebrated as a narrative of one hero fighting against a whole organization, in each film tearing more and more of the veil away from its dreaded leader until he is fully exposed and able to be destroyed.
While the many re-castings the Blofeld character experienced did prevent audiences from attaching one face to the evil name, the many actors that shifted in and out of the role did lend to the metamorphic, chameleon-like appeal the character had in Fleming’s mind. It’s hard to prepare for Blofeld and his schemes because in each film he always wears a new face and carries a different stature about him, sometimes becoming a figure on the exact opposite side of the spectrum he embodied before. The Blofeld of You Only Live Twice with his meek nature and minute physicality is a far cry from the towering figure and booming voice of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s Blofeld, and that’s exactly the point. We are to believe that he is a shape-shifter that can never be predicted or caught because by the time a plan could be hatched to counter him, he’s already wearing a new face, off on yet another dastardly venture. The true fear of Blofeld is that he doesn’t have a face, or at least he never wears one long enough to be uncovered.
While I think the cinematic Blofeld never reached the status of Bond’s “Moriarty” as I wish he would’ve, what we have in these films, concluding for a large part in Diamonds Are Forever, is a worthy villain for Bond to face over so many films and so many years. The build-up to him wasn’t perfect, stumbling out of the gate in You Only Live Twice, but through the succeeding two films afterward he cemented himself as the archetypal Bond villain. He was a man who was cunning, arrogant and sadistic, and who treated Bond as his equal and with respect, though they both knew the kind of business they were in and the kinds of things men like them were forced to do to survive. Diamonds Are Forever isn’t a perfect ending to his character-personally, I wish we’d gotten the ending where Bond and Blofeld fight to the death in a salt mine-but it is an ending of sorts as the departure of SPECTRE and its leader made way for the 70s as 007’s villains sprung from other sources beyond the ominous organization.
Supporting Cast Performances:
M- Bernard Lee returns as M in what may be his finest hour as a “sour puss” boss. Watching M in this movie is to witness the exemplification of frustration as he digs into Bond for how he’s pursued Blofeld at the beginning of the film. After Tracy’s death M probably had the rough job of getting Bond back into shape mentally and focused on being a 00 again after tragedy rocked his life. Weeks of hard drinking and unseated rage must have followed, with Bond’s boss left to pick through the rubble Blofeld and Bunt left behind to salvage something amidst the trauma and emotion. But, as it is implied, Bond couldn’t give up his rage and M had to reluctantly support his personal revenge mission with the only hope that once his agent had killed the man who robbed him of his wife he could finally have him back doing the work that was required of him. And yet, even after Blofeld appears dead post-pre-titles and his own mission is over, Bond is still being a rude bugger, very absent-mindedly listening to what M is telling him of his new mission. There’s a distinct lack of respect here on Bond’s side that I really dislike. M indulged his near-suicidal mission, allowed him the time and resources to complete it, and yet he has the audacity to then act unprofessional with his boss and embarrass him in front of one of the man’s colleagues. Lee’s face is plastered with thought bubbles of, “Who does he think he is?” and exclamations of “007!”
Lee plays these moments beautifully, giving Sean’s Bond glares that burn through his soul. He’s got a permanent look of frustration and disbelief on his face throughout the entire opening, first in reaction to how childish Bond is being and second because he can’t believe 007 is treating him in this bizarre, primitive way. M looks like he’s trying to decide whether or not he’s being pranked, and the anger and disappointment he visibly holds for Bond in the opening allows me to sympathize with him as a character because I hold the same contempt for his agent.
It’s positively shocking to see Bond and M at such odds with each other here, and to see Bond act so flippantly with the man he didn’t even dare to raise his voice at only a few films ago. His behavior with M goes a long way to showing why Blofeld has become something of a must for Bond over time. His hatred for the man and the desire he feels to hurt him for all he’s done to his life, best exemplified by Tracy’s murder, has clouded his mind and taken his focus off of things he used to pay more attention to, like being decent and professional. Because Blofeld breaks the rules Bond also must, and his satisfaction at “killing” the man in the beginning of the movie and the sadistic way he celebrates it shows how broken and warped he’s become since Tracy was taken from him. This is Bond at his most dangerous, recovering from vulnerability and looking to settle a score.
That M was able to pull Bond out of his stupor is a testament to his own professionalism and tactfulness as a friend first and a boss second, though the 00 gives him no thanks in return for all he’s done.
Moneypenny- Though her appearance is brief as Miss Moneypenny here, Lois Maxwell is her usual effervescent self as she sets Bond up with the papers he needs to impersonate Franks.
While the inclusion of a line where Moneypenny requests Bond to get her a diamond ring in Holland is odd and uncomfortable considering the ending of the previous film, her reply of “Yes!” when Bond says he’ll secure her a tulip is perfectly timed in its wit and how Lois endearingly delivers it.
Q- Desmond Llewelyn appears to be having a cracking time as Q in this movie, informing Bond about the escaped Peter Franks on the phone with an indifference that approaches the amusing, in addition to showing off more of his unmatched gadgets later on in Vegas (even field testing some himself!).
As Bond prepares to disguise his voice as that of Bert Saxby’s after getting a look at Blofeld’s cunning tech, he has Q whip him up something similar. In this scene we get a great detail that tells us Q had made the same kind of gizmos for the kids in his family for Christmas, giving him a warm, grandfatherly image that characterizes him well. This line conjures all kinds of images in my head, as Q’s grandkids unwrap Christmas packages containing wristwatches with secret lasers hot enough to singe the fur off the family cat, robots with an artificial intelligence so high they can do all their homework in five minutes and water pistols that can shoot liquid with the force of a fire hose.
We even get to see Q hitting the slots, using a freshly tested gadget to win some big money. It’s great to see him doing some field-testing here, though I must say he’s putting himself in great danger cheating a casino out of money when its current affiliates are gangsters with no shyness for brutality. He’d need some pretty nifty gadgets to get himself out of that sticky situation.
Felix Leiter- While the character of Felix Leiter is a bit of a running joke in the Bond series, always wearing a new face and often serving little purpose in the films beyond showing audiences that the Americans exist and that Bond is far more capable than them, I think Norman Burton’s turn as the character is one of the better ones, for what that contention is worth.
Bond fans are used to not seeing Felix do much but carry a gun around and chase 007’s coattails as a less impressive and capable version of a wingman, but at least in this film Felix’s part in the action has a relevancy to it that some of the other films lack. It’s questionable why the CIA would specifically put him in Jamaica to do little else than oversee ongoing operations being led by the superior Brits or track a fat man with a gold fetish to his Kentucky ranch just to monitor Bond doing all the legwork, just as he’s out of place in the Bahamas doing little else than dressing Bond up in his underwater gear each time he prepares for another deep-sea dive.
In Diamonds Are Forever, however, it actually makes sense that Felix is there. The diamond smuggling ring is coming right in to the United States, making the criminal interest a definitively American one, giving far more reason for Felix to be on the case than most Bond films provide us with. We get to see him impersonating a customs official to sneak a look at the cargo Bond is bringing in so that he and his boys can switch out the real diamonds with fakes to get them out of play and prepare for a counter-maneuver. While in Vegas, Felix also organizes a detail for the Whyte House using his agents and resources to create a staged scenario in the circus room where Tiffany believes she is working with Franks’ associates and not the government, nearly feeding into their hands. While there are moments where the agents are incompetent and foolish, like when they lose trace of Tiffany after she departs to deliver the real diamonds to the next person in the pipeline, at least Felix feels like he belongs in the movie.
Burton plays Felix as an eroded agent juggling with heavy logistics and burdened by red tape and bureaucracy, which adds an interesting aspect of frustration to the character as we see him struggling under the weight of the forces he is commanding and the obstacles that stand in the way of him doing his job. This take on Felix feels like an older version of Lord’s interpretation, no longer a young and virile young man with idealizations and goals to set within the agency. Like Bond, Felix has done the job for a long time now and as a result he’s settled into it and, by association, he seems to have let it get to him as Bond may also have. Burton’s out of shape form gives credence to the idea that Felix has been out of his prime, letting things go for a while and may be unhappy in his current position, as well as that the man he used to be is long gone in more than just spirit.
Gun Barrel Sequence-
The Bond theme plays boisterously, with the accompanying horns really punctuating themselves at the end of each note, all leading up to the black and white image of Sean doing his walk, the third and final time the sequence would appear in the Bond series. It’s largely business as usual.
The gun barrel design is quite different this time around, however. While previous designs weren’t stylized in any interesting fashion, the gun barrel for Diamonds Are Forever has a shimmer and look of glitz and glam about it, as if a spectrum of light is being shot right through the barrel itself. This flashy imagery and use of sparkling light, reminiscent of a diamond, is quite suitable for this film, as so much of it takes place in Vegas with its famous streets, casinos and hotels blazed up with bright, vibrant lights, and the main scheme involves the construction of a shining satellite made of diamonds. If any Bond film required a gun barrel of such a style and look, it was this one.
The pre-titles sequence of Diamonds Are Forever should get instant respect for the interesting nature of its premise alone. The action of the film kicks off as Bond methodically plows his way through ranks of SPECTRE members all looking for the location of one man: Blofeld. One of the reasons why this sequence is so interesting to watch is because we aren’t used to seeing Bond like this. He can go to dark places in the service of a mission, sure, but here he is storming into public areas and causing a raucous just to get the information he needs instead of getting it a more covert way. He even uses a woman’s bra as a makeshift choking instrument, cutting off her oxygen until she gives him what he needs. In these interactions we can see just how much Tracy’s death has impacted Bond. He’s no longer playing by any kind of rules other than his own, and is willing to do anything to get at Blofeld after what he’s done. He’s off the leash, not answering to MI6, and is using all the skills he’s learned in the service with brutal efficiency. It’s rare to see Bond this unhinged, and in moments I barely recognize him.
As the action shifts to a compound where Blofeld is housed and preparing an agent for surgery, we are introduced to one of the film’s strongest aspects, the doubles SPECTRE’s No. 1 has set into motion to deflect danger from himself and deceive his foes. It’s interesting to watch Bond deal with the surprise of Blofeld’s newest counter-maneuver, and he gets to have a bit of a scrap before he believes he’s sent the real Blofeld to his death. His delivery of the line, “Welcome to Hell, Blofeld,” is a surprisingly off-color omission on his part, but it gives us a sense that he has built up the man as the devil incarnate in his mind for the havoc he has wreaked on his life.
The sequence also does a great job of setting up a film full of doubles, trickery and face-offs between Bond and Blofeld that all come together to give the film a thematic identity all its own.
In the typical fashion of an early Bond film, especially in the hands of cinematographer Ted Moore and his team, Diamonds Are Forever’s locations are rich and eye-opening in many ways, with the primary focus of the location shooting being on Vegas.
The first place we get a taste of on the screen is Amsterdam. Though our time there is fleeting, it’s interesting to get just a shot of the location as we see the first hints of Wint and Kidd’s unique sadism while Mrs. Whistler is fished out of the waters. As this introductory scene plays out, we find ourselves sharing the perspective of tourists in Amsterdam as they are informed by a guide about some of the background behind the location. We get to hear nice factoids about the area of the shoot, including the sisters and the skinny bridge and Rembrandt and the famous Dutch houses, which makes us feel part of the tourist experience.
When the action shifts to Vegas, we get some of my favorite location shooting in the franchise. While Vegas is by no means as exotic or fascinating a climate as say, an Istanbul, Nassau or Japan, it does have its interesting features that more than make it a treat to watch on camera. With a distinctly American aesthetic of materialism and flashiness, Vegas holds an almost mythical nature as a gangster-run city in the desert. We’re first introduced to the setting as Bond is driven past a “Welcome to Nevada” sign, with a tagline at the bottom that reads, “Recreation Unlimited.” This image and text perfectly sets up the rest of the film and how it shows Vegas off, from the dirty deeds done in its desert to the bustling casinos and street corners dotted with the lights of advertisements, bars, restaurants and nude clubs galore that mask sharks and amateur gamblers alike.
Bond sees all types of people first hand here, from gold diggers like Plenty, schemers like Saxby and artless hacks like Shady Tree, all while taking in the duplicitous smiles of tassel covered dancers shaking it on the stage and the local fascination casino-goers have with the bizarre as crowds flock to see a woman shape shift into an ape. This depiction of Vegas has it all and shows it all. From these vast collection of images we get a sense of the place and how Bond may feel about it. I made a point earlier in my analysis that I imagine him not likely much of what he sees. From the over-packed gambling tables swarming with seas of sharks to the endless string of hackneyed and groan-inducing performance shows, everything we see of Vegas feels hollow and artificial, and Bond even has his fair share of eye rolls as he navigates his way through it. Adding further credence to all not being as it seems, even the king of Vegas in the form of Willard Whyte is smokescreen and mirrors, hiding Blofeld behind the moniker.
It’s this general fakery, this sense of style over substance, that adds a negative but altogether fascinating element to this film, with a script that already focuses so much on deceit and double-faced characters with lists of their own agendas. In this way, Vegas becomes just another character in the action like Tiffany, Plenty, Blofeld, Saxby, Morton, Wint and Kidd. It has a lot to hide underneath its ostentatious outer shell and the script expertly uses both the good and bad aspects of the location to add thematic layers to its narrative by subconsciously commenting on the characters that populate its landscape.
While Diamonds Are Forever often carries a bad reputation for going too far in style and script, once again I find this contention largely misjudged, even when its gadgets are examined.
Although the movie has Bond using tools that aren’t as grounded or “real-world” as those of Terence Young’s movies, what we have on display also isn’t to the obscenely crazy level of a laser watch or a submarine ready Lotus Esprit. On the whole, Bond has just his wits and his PPK to rely on like the old days, but along with him he also has some supplies that directly service his mission in organic ways.
First, Bond has a full set of climbing equipment that cunningly allows him to mount, traverse and slip into the top floor of the Whyte House with nothing but a simple rope and hooks. Later on in the film, Q also prepares for him a voice changer that he uses to impersonate Saxby to shift the status quo in his favor and sniff out Whyte’s true location. Both gadgets supply us with great moments, one of extreme thrills as Bond ascends the Whyte House to uncover the mysterious man at the top (though it’s not the one he thinks) and one of intrigue and cunning as he fools Blofeld long enough to get Willard to safety.
Throughout the rest of the film, Bond only uses the tools that are on hand to him, making it a more exciting film to watch. Like in the best of the 60s era, Bond is solving his own problems with his own means, not relying on gadgets to repeatedly rescue him from a half-baked and predictable demise.
Although Diamonds Are Forever’s action seems to be overshadowed by some of its other elements, I believe it represents some of the great additions to Bond’s legacy of done-for-real stunt work. Two pieces of choreography that really make this film special are the Franks fight in Amsterdam and the Vegas car chase with the now famous two-wheel escape down the alley.
Where the lift fight between Bond and Franks is concerned, the Bond team had by this point mastered how to do rousing face-offs, best represented by the fight between 007 and Donald Grant at the end of From Russia with Love. While the Diamonds Are Forever bout lacks the kind of strong, dramatic build-up the From Russia with Love one had in spades, it feels very much like a worthy successor to the latter, even if it doesn’t exceed it. Stuntman Joe Robinson had already taught Sean Connery some judo in his last Bond film, You Only Live Twice, and when Guy Hamilton had the idea to stage a fight inside a small moving lift, Robinson returned to the Bond team to take on the role of Peter Franks in the film. He and Sean apparently choreographed the fight themselves, and they are also the sole performers of the sequence.
By following the same principles of what made the From Russia with Love fight special, the team produced a great sequence that stands well on its own. Like the Bond and Grant fight, the actors themselves are doing “the dance” as Connery would put it, the bout takes place largely in a claustrophobic, closed space, and the music is almost entirely cut out of the action to allow every shatter of glass and thumping punch and kick to reverberate the ear drums.
The way the fight kicks off is truly exceptional and thrilling to watch unfold. Bond has just gotten a call from headquarters that Franks is on the run and coming his way, leading Bond to take a direct approach with the smuggler to wipe him out of the game. Posing as a local in Amsterdam, Bond follows Franks to the meeting place that Tiffany is calling her base, planning to stop him somehow, someway before he gets to the top. Both men take the elevator up, and under the guise of checking his watch, Bond prepares a punch, but accidentally knocks out a pane of glass in the lift as he goes, alerting Franks and putting him on the defensive. It’s hard to tell whether this moment was scripted or Sean miscalculated his move and accidentally elbowed the glass to a shatter, which kind of makes the fight even more exciting as you believe anything could happen. Because Sean and Robinson seem to make mistakes, the fight also carries a perfectly natural feeling as both Bond and Franks feel like they’re scrambling to get an edge ahead. Jumping on each other, throwing out as many blows as they defend against, the pair bang into all sides of the lift, often pressing buttons on the console that move the elevator up and down, up and down. The movement of the lift and how its direction is always changing while Bond and Franks battle inside it gives the sequence a unique kind of kinetic energy that hasn’t been seen since in the franchise.
Because it’s really Sean and Robinson getting scuffed, beaten and sweaty in the bout, the whole piece carries an even greater rawness and impact. The fight is constantly changing, not just kinetic in movement, but also in structure and progression. Bond and Franks start with just punches, but as glass shatters, the pair then battle over the shards as the latter attempts a stabbing blow. With the glass shattered, the fight then spills out into one of the high floors of the building as Bond makes use of a fire extinguisher and, as to a flame, snuffs Franks out. It’s a fight that has everything, holding onto all the elements that made previous sequences of its kind classic, but with its own unique and clever touches that give it a distinct identity, still remaining special inside the Bond close-quarters canon.
Later on in the film, Bond finds out Whyte’s close friendship with the Vegas police first hand as the latter are ordered to give chase to him, resulting in one of the greatest sequences of its kind in the franchise. It’s raw, it’s real, it’s no-nonsense, with no funny business to hold it behind. Driving the flashy beast known as the Ford Mustang Mach 1, Bond gives the police a run for their money as he tears his way through the busy Vegas streets, taking corners like a madman. The location shooting of the film and the high-class choreography of the action make a beautiful lovechild here, two great elements that become exceptional together. As Bond speeds away from the cops we get to see the vibrant Vegas lights pop and reflect off the red body of the car, giving the visuals a dizzying, lively mood that refuses to let up. The sound design is immaculate, the score peeling away to allow room for the sheer majestic tunes emitted by the racing vehicles to take over as Bond goes over the limit in a Vegas now dead. Each time Bond takes a sharp turn in the Mustang, the tires of the beast screech like a banshee’s cry. Just like the lift bout, the Vegas chase is also highly dynamic and kinetic, always changing into something new. Bond takes to the main streets, then speeds around car lots, all before hitting the alleyways to dodge pursuers. As the cops attempt to keep up, Bond uses the geography of the spaces around him to play a chess game with cars, strategically timing his turns and mileage to send the police ramming into each other or spinning out of control mid-chase. The final piece of the action, with Bond driving on just two wheels, is legendary, and Barry closes the sequence with a romantic flourish of music, like he’s characterizing what we just watched as a climax worthy of lovemaking.
The only somewhat weak sequence of the film action-wise would have to be the buggy chase that erupts as Bond mounts an escape from Whyte’s desert facility. While it isn’t by any means an abomination, it does lack the visual stimuli, dynamic structure and auditory punch that the Vegas chase had in spades. While it was thrilling to watch Bond tear through the streets and strategically maneuver the police into collisions with one another, in the buggy sequence it appears like the police are undoing themselves. They oversteer and topple their own cars in clouds of dust and crash coming off jumps with Bond doing very little as he races on as fast as the buggy can take him. Because Bond is so disconnected from the action in this way, the police look way too incompetent as they almost exclusively take themselves out of the chase. This also robs the sequence of real thrills or suspense, because Bond never feels in danger of losing this fight. The sequence could have desperately used a seriously kick of Barry, if you ask me, in order to compensate for the lackluster choreography on offer.
2/3 ain’t bad, though.
For a film that is often derided for starting the campiness of James Bond, I feel like Diamonds Are Forever is fairly misrepresented as the causation of the worst parts of the Moore era and Bond series at large.
I was never a big Diamonds Are Forever fan when I first started to get into the movies, probably because my elitist and naïve mind was a slave to what I viewed as the greatest Bond films at the time (early Connery), driving me to despise anything that dared to depart from the template (like not having Sean as Bond in the film). This passionate loyalty to Connery’s early films led to me blindly hate Moore’s films for years along with the campiness that had painted a picture of the actor’s era in my mind. A little older and a lot wiser, I don’t hold such a shortsighted opinion of the Moore films anymore-though I still don’t like the camp-and have grown up from hating them with a passion to being able to deal with their existence, which is progress if I’ve ever seen it.
Revisiting Diamonds Are Forever now with more developed eyes, now 23 instead of 16 or 17, it has grown favorably in my estimation. I probably had a warped perception of this film early on, because I had the misconception in my head (along with many others) that all it amounted to was an endless string of horrid one-liners. With my daft past self left behind to make way for the far more intellectual, developed, open-minded and objective present day me, the greatness of Diamonds Are Forever finally shines through.
Where the humor of the film is concerned, imagine my surprise when I discovered how clever much of it is, and how lax the script was on any real groan-inducing one-liners. I was seeing comedy and wit unfold with a more sophisticated structure (thanks to a Maibaum and Mankiewicz tag team) that blossomed inside the film far more organically than Bond films after it would manage. From Bond’s “nice little nothing” line to his riff on Plenty’s name and his deduction of Wint and Kidd’s true intentions (“tart’s handkerchief”) the film is littered with lines and dialogues that are imaginative and sharp in their wit, and that don’t feel overplayed. They are delivered expertly by Sean, who retains the straight face and dry tone throughout that is crucial to save such lines from sinking where they land.
Add in all the clever interplay between Wint and Kidd as the pair finish each other’s twisted and sadistic sentences, the thrilling verbal chess matches that Bond and Blofeld share, the clever double meanings of character or location names in the film (the Whyte/White House and Morton Slumber running a funeral home) and all the quirks of the many characters in between, and you have a very vibrant cast of players doing their damnedest to sell the humor of the movie, which never feels overwhelming and doesn’t reach a point where it robs the film of agency as it tries to be a good Bond film, a balance that would be upset in the 70s.
One of the greatest surprises I had in revisiting this film was discovering that its script and the moments of wit therein were structured and paced in a way that was truly artful and that showed the attention the writers paid to where and when lighter moments were needed, and where the dry wit could best accompany the action without coming off as a nuisance.
It seemed inevitable that one day Bond would graduate to a plot like this one that went full bonkers and accepted itself as a larger than life adventure. The Bond series began in the early 60s as straight spy thrillers with added wit where it was needed, and over time the movies changed in ambition and tone until we got Thunderball, where I think the balance between early Bond and a greater ambition made beautiful love, and You Only Live Twice where the same experiment as before failed horribly. While Thunderball was able to have a bigger plot with insane stakes, throughout all that craziness it kept Bond at its heart as the central character against which all the danger was cast. You Only Live Twice felt the need to take things even farther, however, and because of that misplaced ambition, Bond and his journey in the film suffered as the focus of the movie shifted from him to the gigantic space plot.
With Diamonds Are Forever we have a plot in the same crazy leagues as You Only Live Twice, what with a laser made of diamonds that can cast a ray of destruction on the nuclear weapons of major world powers, but even with this over the top scheme at its core, the film keeps Bond at the foreground of the movie as we experience everything through him. There’s never a moment in the movie where Bond is lost trace of or the film forgets his perspective and his experience of what is going on. We follow him everywhere and react to what he reacts to, always beside him. The film also endeavors to give him moments to shine as a character, as in his battles with the Blofelds, Franks, Wint and Kidd, as well as in how the film presents Bond experiencing the landscape of Vegas. These moments make Bond a joy to watch as he’s confronted with all that the city in the desert obstructs him with.
While the diamond satellite is bizarre and implausible by its very nature, a stepping stone plot to even more out there narratives as in The Spy Who Loved Me or Moonraker, the criminal side of Diamonds Are Forever that kicks off the film carries an impact of truth. How the smuggling ring is run and the way the diamonds are shuffled down the pipeline from Africa to Amsterdam and America doesn’t feel too hard to imagine, and the actions of the vibrant characters getting the cargo to Vegas make it all the more interesting to watch. While the inclusion of a villain masquerading as a billionaire who wants to seize control of the diamonds for extortion is a distinctly Bondian exaggeration, the core of the film and its set-up around a very real world smuggling operation grounds the action at moments as Bond moves from target to target all while the diamonds are only a few exchanges away from reaching his arch-enemy. This element in particular gives the movie a noir feel, casting Bond as a Philip Marlowe type on the hunt for diamonds as he chases their path all the way to Vegas where he fights for the control of them and goes on to try and uncover the man behind the whole operation.
The mix of a bigger Bond plot and a more grounded criminal conspiracy at the heart of the film makes Diamonds Are Forever less of a tonally irregular film and more a vibrant and fascinating experience, doing as Fleming did in his books by successfully combining the fantastical with the ordinary to create an escapist adventure.
While the plausibility of the diamond satellite is one of the loonier Bond plots, Blofeld’s scheme on the face of it is one of my favorites.
I have made the comment many times that this movie is a Vegas set noir with Bond playing the detective, where the mystery he is assigned to untangle just so happens to involve his old arch-enemy hiding away in a “Whyte” castle masquerading as an eccentric billionaire. The film’s use of imagery and theme from both noir narratives and medieval sorts of tales, casting Bond as a gallant knight storming the “castle” of the Whyte House to unseat the hidden threat, is fascinating to experience. Vegas is even characterized as a kingdom all its own where the rules are thrown out the window once you cross into Nevada as Blofeld-under the guise of Whyte-exerts his control and even has the cops doing his bidding to ensure his operations are a fruitful success.
Blofeld has some of the greatest schemes in the Bond films, and the same theme continues here. As with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Blofeld is once again pretending to be someone he’s not, this time Willard Whyte, a billionaire who he has usurped in order to use the man’s resources for his own. It’s brilliant how Blofeld was able to mount a complete takeover of Whyte’s businesses without anyone noticing, and how we was able to hire his own SPECTRE agents as new employees in order to make his creation of the diamond satellite a possibility. On top of that, because Whyte was already known as a bit of a hermit, he was the perfect target to kidnap because nobody would really notice him missing in the first place. The smoke and mirrors Blofeld uses to disguise himself through the voice changer is additionally brilliant, as is his ability to strategically use Wint and Kidd to systematically kill off the big players in the smuggling operation as the diamonds are funneled directly into his hands from Africa.
At this point in the Bond canon, Blofeld had often used subtle extortion and subterfuge in the past to get what he wanted, as in Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but here we can see that he’s clearly grown tired of playing these games and instead chooses to directly force the world powers into making a decision by destroying some of their nuclear weaponry. Diamonds Are Forever represents a Blofeld who has finally reached the brink, now unwilling to plan elaborate operations to make the Americans, British and Russians go at each other’s throats. This time he wants the nations to know it’s him, and he wants a big paycheck from one of them, or they can kiss their stockpiles of military might goodbye.
Blofeld’s scheming in other areas is also brilliant. His use of doubles is a magnificent strategic move, allowing him to operate from the shadows even when it doesn’t seem like he is. It also gives him several opportunities to torture Bond when the agent thinks he’s finally killed his enemy, but has only axed yet another double. And just like in Thunderball with Dr. Kutze and the Chinese clients in You Only Live Twice, Blofeld manipulates Dr. Metz into working with him by telling the man that he’ll use the diamond satellite to destroy all the nuclear weaponry in existence, leading to a permanent peacetime. How Blofeld is able to trick Metz and use his belief systems against him is typical of the villain, and adds a great layer of conflict to the movie that is consistent with his character from the past movies, making Gray’s take feel not too far removed from that of Pleasence or Savalas, though their statures and approaches to playing the villain contrast.
Originally, the director of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Peter Hunt, was set to direct Diamonds Are Forever as a follow up to the previous picture, but because he was already tied up in a film project and the Bond producers wouldn’t postpone the movie release to give him a window, the job eventually went to Guy Hamilton.
Hamilton had already made ripples in 1964 by helming the now classic Bond film Goldfinger, and it’s highly possible that the renewed involvement of Sean Connery was a big motivator for his return to the franchise. Diamonds Are Forever also offered him a completely new experience than what came before. While much of Goldfinger was set-bound shooting, his second turn as director saw Hamilton getting to go to Amsterdam and the vibrant Las Vegas to shoot his Bond film. This gives the movie a real sense of genuine energy, which Goldfinger lacks outside of the Switzerland sequences. Because the Bond script allowed the action to take place largely in one area, Hamilton also got to direct a Bond film the way Terence Young did three times, giving audiences location shooting that really showed off the unique energy and culture of the place Bond found himself in. Under Hamilton’s watch we get to see so many interesting facets of Vegas, from the dusty, sprawling deserts (with untold bodies buried underneath) to the hillside estates of the rich and the shark-infested floors of the casinos and hotels. Everything about the film feels gaudy and glimmering, giving a perfect visual look to a location that is known for its fixation on loud displays and sensationalism in its many forms.
While Sean Connery’s salary for the movie meant that the producers had to seek out a cheaper effects company for the film to cut back on costs, Hamilton was also able to deliver on action. The rousing Bond and Franks bout was born in his mind, and the Vegas car chases are one of the series highs, where the director’s contempt for some American car models made the filming of the set pieces a particular joy as he watched the vehicles become trashed in collisions, roll-overs and spin-outs.
In my mind, Hamilton was able to take Diamonds Are Forever as a production and with it, improve on most of what we got in Goldfinger. The script is far more fascinating with greater dialogues, Bond and Blofeld’s meetings are good rivals to the ones between Auric Goldfinger and 007, and the locations, cinematography and use of Bond as a character are a step-up in major ways. Goldfinger will always win in the glamour category, however, boasting still unmatched style, and the music and sets are also impressive.
In his second time around the Bond bend, Hamilton was able to grow even further as a franchise director in many areas, getting to face new challenges he didn’t have in his franchise debut while ultimately ushering out Sean’s James Bond in style. What he had learned here would also go on to serve him in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun down the line, though his last two Bond efforts fail to ignite the same spark as the likes of Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever.
Opening Title Design-
Coming off of an underwhelming opening title design in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Maurice Binder crafts a much better sequence here that uses the expected and perfect visual motif of diamonds to build around.
The strongest aspect of these titles is how Binder structures it and uses the diamonds themselves as a means of panning the frame and introducing new sequences of shots. Images of diamonds will appear and shimmer in a unique fashion, then their movement on the screen will lead into an introduction of more images of the rocks. Throughout the sequence you get the now classic silhouettes or shadowed bodies of women surrounding these objects as they covet the jewelry. Some of the women are posed cross-legged like worshippers at temple, as if they are praying to the diamonds as a part of their religion. White cats also play a little role in the action, a nice detail considering the villain of the film and how the opening titles are segued into by a close-up of the eye of Blofeld’s cat that shifts into a diamond itself. We get to see the feline race through the titles, directing some of the movement as it squeezes between the legs of a couple beauties. There’s a couple of moments where the film image will pause on the white cat mid-movement, as if the editing has mucked up, which has always been an odd detail of the sequence for me as it halts the great movement it otherwise carries exceptionally. I somehow forget about the slight stuttering that happens here every time I watch the film following a long break from it, and instantly think my disc has jumped in the player each and every time.
Diamonds Are Forever’s opening titles aren’t Binder’s most experimental or fascinating creation, but it does the job and uses the right amount of color, composition and visual movement to feel interesting despite being entirely cloaked in heavy shadow. I personally think Binder missed a trick by not having at least one part of the titles feature the posed body of a woman with the lights of Vegas shining on her via a projection. The design gives us our fill of diamonds and cements how they are important to the idea of the film and to Blofeld, who covets them just as much as the women, but I’d have loved to see Binder play with projection a bit on top of it all to showcase some of Vegas’ sensibilities. He could’ve cast looped film of spinning roulette wheels onto the breasts of women to create a surreal image, or use their bodies as canvases for teasing some of the film’s major locations like the desert to give us a fully realized sense of what the film has to offer a la Goldfinger.
In addition to the visuals on display, Shirley Bassey’s tune is the glue that holds the entire sequence together. Her voice puts you in a trance, convincing you that the diamonds are mesmerizing you and taking away your control when it’s really just her all along. It’s the perfect song for this film, with lyrics that tell you why diamonds really are a girl’s best friend.
While Diamonds Are Forever often gets derided for campiness, I find this criticism to be largely undeserved as it delivers one of the more interesting Bond scripts that is full of both great dialogues and set pieces but also its fair share of clever satire and wit. Tom Mankiewicz was sought to come on with Maibaum for writing duties this time around, selected by Cubby because the producer thought the project needed an American writer on board largely due to its heavy use of Vegas. In his opinion, “the Brits write really lousy American gangsters.” Mankiewicz was originally only hired to work on the script for a two-week slot, but he must have impressed the team, as he was kept on for the duration of the picture.
Script-wise, the best Bond films often have a sort of unconscious theme or “bigger idea” at the heart of them that gives the events that unfold a sort of added meaning when looked back upon. Dr. No is a sort of paradise noir mixed with elements of space race tension as Bond becomes a detective and one-man wrecking ball, smashing his way to the villain. From Russia with Love has a fixation on sex, intimacy and duplicity with a plot that plays out like one giant chess game, even using game pieces as common motifs. Goldfinger feels sadistically patriarchal in how it characterizes the likes of Auric and Oddjob as oppressors of women, ordering the deaths of beautiful babes while defacing images of beauty itself in the form of statues.
If a common theme or idea was to be settled on for Diamonds Are Forever, then, it would be defined as a film about doubles and duplicity, showing how people’s motives can force them into lying where they begin wearing ten faces in order to survive. Not only does this film contain the most aliases in one James Bond film that our hero slips into, the main villain also creates multiples of himself through plastic surgery to ward off and trick his enemies. The idea of Blofeld’s many copies is probably the movie’s strongest element outside of Bond’s rough and jagged characterization, and the twist does a great job of adding a special something to the narrative that gives it a sizable impact of suspense and mystery. Because of Blofeld’s heavy use of these doubles as insurance policies, Bond has many moments where he thinks he’s killed his archenemy, releasing his rage in the act of murder, only to find that the bastard is still alive, bringing his feelings of fury back to the surface all over again when he realizes he’s been duped. It’s a waking nightmare of his, how this man can’t be done away with, much like how Blofeld must feel about Bond and his annoying survival skills. The mission to kill Ernst never feels over for 007, as if the villain is a horror genre monster that keeps coming back, no matter how many times he seems to have finally been obliterated.
On top of all this, at the core of Diamonds Are Forever is a massive diamond smuggling ring full of conspirators who are each playing a duplicitous game to hide their true intent from others. Wint and Kidd are lying to the likes of Whistler, just as Slumber and his hooligans are using the front of a funeral home to guide diamonds into Vegas under the radar. When we first meet Tiffany she is slipping in and out of many wigs, as if she’s shape shifting from disguise to disguise, and it becomes hard to get a proper reading on her because of her changeability. As the film goes on and she feels the heat from the conspiracy enveloping Bond, we also see her trying to butter up him and the CIA to protect herself and/or keep out of jail, depending on the situation. Even the secondary Bond girl, Plenty O’Toole, is a double-faced gold digger who is lying to men to get at their coffers. And of course the biggest exemplification of duplicity in the film is the wonderful idea of Blofeld kidnapping a mysterious and near mythic Vegas billionaire and co-opting his name (and voice) to run his schemes while having the entire city population completely fooled, including Bond.
The script also boasts a lot of clever wordplay and satire, characterizing Willard Whyte as a pompous and elitist figure because he named his hotel The Whyte House, causing Felix to even comment quite dryly that Bond would have a better chance of meeting the president himself than the king of Vegas. Whyte’s alliterative character was originally inspired by that of Howard Hughes, a man who had become known for his own reclusive nature and general eccentricity at the time of filming. Legend says Cubby Broccoli himself planted the idea of a kidnapped billionaire in the minds of the writers after he had a bad dream where Hughes, an old friend, had disappeared after being kidnapped by someone. In the dream Cubby had gone to meet with the man somewhere in Vegas, but when he showed up and entered a room housing Hughes, there was an imposter in the man’s place (much like the scene where Bond scales the Whyte House to face the man directly, finding Blofeld in his spot). In an interesting parallel to the plot, Hughes himself was actually hiding away in a Las Vegas Hotel as the movie was filming. Life mimics art, and vice versa.
In another interesting detail about the production, Jimmy Dean, who played the Hughes-inspired Willard Whyte, was actually working as a performer at Hughes’ personal hotel The Desert Inn when the movie was being made. Dean was quite understandably anxious and uneasy at the thought of playing his boss in such a caricature-like role, but got on with it nonetheless. Hughes ultimately seemed to be a good sport concerning his role in inspiring the film, however, as he gave EON full permission to shoot at his casinos and other properties while they were in Vegas, requesting just one 16mm print of the film as payment for his services.
In other smart uses of wit and puns in the script, having a man with the surname of Slumber running a funeral home is delicious in its double meaning. The section of the film that plays out at Slumber’s funeral home even takes a moment to include derisive commentary on the needlessly expensive urns and coffins that the industry pushes on families planning their dearly departed’s final service. As Bond waits for the cremation process to end in the office, Slumber takes a moment to tell him he’d be provided with the most decorative and high-class items for his brother (with a likely astronomical price tag) like the shyster he is.
Once the action hits the hotels and casinos of Vegas we get plenty moments where the film shows us the gaudy nature of the city and its fixations with sensationalism and riches. The comedy is bad, the glam is unending, and everybody has something to sell you that you don’t need. There’s even a nice, self-aware play on words that happens from time to time. For example, Bond’s main mission is to infiltrate a diamond smuggling pipeline, and at one point in the movie Wint and Kidd knock him out and have him locked away inside an actual pipeline.
As a greater story, I’ve often made the point that the film’s script unfolds like a noir mystery with Bond as the private dick in charge of unraveling a labyrinthine case in California, slithering his way through all the Janus-faced conspirators to find the truth behind the diamond ring. There’s also something very fitting and mythic about a rich man locked away in a tower, as Willard Whyte is characterized here, and how that image produces so much mystery and allure when laid over the script.
Even the narrative of the film itself has numerous plot twists that make for one complex, sometimes convoluted adventure straight out of a Raymond Chandler noir as you try to make clear in your head who knows what and who doesn’t at each stage of the pipeline, and why certain characters are acting as they do and others aren’t. Reading the film back in your head, trying to keep a balance and sense of it, is part of the fun. Bond is Franks, who Blofeld’s people must think is holding out or trying to cheat by masking the true diamonds’ location. Blofeld knows Tiffany was working with Franks, so she is who he calls, forcing her to work with those at Slumber to get Franks to reveal the location of the real diamonds under the guise of Whyte. Bond bides his time at Vegas to see what players show up to challenge him, knowing that he won’t be made to “disappear” as long as the diamonds are in his possession. Tiffany eventually gets the diamonds and slips away, not knowing the people trailing her are lawful CIA agents, and she turns over the diamonds to the next pair of hands in the pipeline (Saxby) on the orders of Blofeld, again masquerading as Whyte over the phone. Once she outlives her use, Wint and Kidd go in for the kill at the pad Blofeld set her up with, unknowingly killing Plenty on accident and leaving Tiffany to see that she was being used as a pawn. She works with Bond both because she feels strung along and sees that if she doesn’t aid the intelligence community she could be doing hard time behind bars, offering her services in the hopes of receiving immunity. And on, and on, and on…
Of course, with some big strengths in consideration, the film also sinks in some ways. The finale, for one, isn’t terribly exciting or fulfilling. With You Only Live Twice, the build up to Blofeld’s reveal and the big fight in the volcano wasn’t adequately serviced by the script, and the ending felt like a letdown because of how anti-climactic it all came across. In the case of Diamonds Are Forever, so much of the first two acts are superb, but the final section of the movie makes it a somewhat lopsided effort because it can’t match up to what came before.
The biggest issues fall on Bond and Blofeld. Blofeld’s death-if you can even call it that, as nothing is ever confirmed-feels cheap and anti-climactic, as is Bond’s action in the sequence. For most of it he’s trapped away on the rig, not really a part of the action as he should be. And because Bond isn’t “in it,” it’s hard to engage in the battle as a viewer. Even when Bond is taking the crane controls as Blofeld is trapped in his bath-o-sub, slamming the villain around the rig, there’s no tension. You never feel like this is Bond’s big moment of revenge, finally, after all this time. What’s also missing is Bond saying under his breath, “This is for Tracy,” or anything of the sort to make us connect to his journey towards exacting this vengeance. And because Ilse Steppat had passed away since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was released, the chances of Bond getting his revenge on Irma Bunt for what she did to Tracy in the film also vanishes into thin air, along with any mentions or even implications of his dead wife in the script itself.
The finale of the movie was originally going to end with frogmen coming to Bond’s aid, blowing up the oil rig with explosives in a sequence that would lead into a boat chase between Bond and Blofeld. The chase would then carry into a final confrontation where the pair would engage in a fight on a salt mine, leading to the villain’s death at the spy’s hands as he was sent toppling into a salt granulator. While I would absolutely kill to see this particular ending, the production team couldn’t get the salt mine to agree to their requests to shoot there and the finale would have been overlong anyway due to the heavy action involved in staging it. On top of it all, budget constraints shot down any notions of adapting the idea to the screen, as the team only had $7.2 million to use and $1.25 million of that was already going to Sean Connery just to entice him to return.
For all its imperfections, the story of Diamonds Are Forever could have been much, much worse, as the original plot of the movie featured Goldfinger’s twin brother (also played by Gert Fröbe) coming back to kill Bond in revenge for what he did to Auric many films ago. Yeah, just let that sink in.
Bond legend Ted Moore returned to the franchise following a hiatus that took place during You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to usher the 007 films into the unknown 70s.
In typical Ted Moore style, the location shooting that made his early Bond work such a thrill to take in returns. Because Diamonds Are Forever features one primary location like the vast majority of the other Bond films he’d worked on, Moore was again in his element and able to give Vegas the time it needed on screen to become a character in its own right. Through his eyes we see the location in its many forms, from its dusty, arid desert climate to the flashy, almost exhaustively busy casinos and bustling streets lit up large with glimmering lights for advertisements selling every service imaginable to passersby.
As in his earlier Bond work, best seen in films like Dr. No and From Russia with Love, Moore takes many special moments to make Bond feel miniscule in pursuit of his mission, upping the stakes visually. One of the best things about Moore’s style of filming is that he always showed off the beauty of the production designs Ken Adam and his team created for the film. Never one to throw away film on endless close-ups, he preferred to show as much of the actors as he could as they navigated their surroundings, not wasting a bit of the sets or locations he was shooting while doing so. These choices in effect make us feel like we’re a part of the action while allowing us to get epic, wide shot views of Dr. No’s lair, the gypsy camp, Fort Knox, the MI6 briefing room and scores of other strong spaces as Moore and his team set the visual blueprint for Bond and the era of filmmaking itself.
A special moment of cinematography in the film comes when, after Bond scales to the top of the Whyte House, we see a shot of the spy taking in the far away chair and the person hiding behind it. As Blofeld is revealed Bond and the villain are kept at a distance as wide shots are used, shots that continue even as Bond walks along the floor, its surface dotted with Whyte’s properties as he inquires about what his enemy’s plan is this time around. The camera then shifts to a top-down view of the action as Bond paces and paces about the place, visually caught between a Blofeld in the far chair and on the couch, literally dangling in the middle of them like a piece of meat.
Other notably special moments include the opening of the film where Moore and his team use clever angles to mask Bond from viewers as he begins his rampage through SPECTRE agents to get to Blofeld. In addition, once in Amsterdam Moore tells a story with his pacing of images as the camera swaps between Bond and Tiffany as they each play games with one other from separate rooms. The shooting of the casinos later in Vegas adds a sense of absolute chaos to the proceedings as seas of people surround Bond while he plows his way through to another lead in his mission. Taken as a whole, there’s a real sense of opera about how our spy is captured traveling from place to place around the city’s many terrains, whether it’s the sprawling desert, high hills dotted with expensive villas or the opulent nightlife spots bursting with folks carrying loose wallets.
The second-unit team of this production must also be applauded for their amazing work shooting the Vegas chases, as they utilized the nightlife of the streets and the location’s natural and artificial lights to give the sequences added flavor. And, as discussed previously, the Bond and Franks fight combines a wonderful feeling of visual claustrophobia and dynamic staging to become something truly exceptional.
Coming off the back of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, one of his all-time greatest musical contributions, John Barry was once again on composition duties for Diamonds Are Forever. Though it would have been difficult for anyone to top an effort like what was heard in 1969, in ’71 he still kept consistent with the output of his craft.
One the whole, Barry’s score gives a great mood to the film, particularly the Vegas scenes, through his smooth, jazz-styled arrangements. Every time I listen to the score I envision Sean walking around a casino in my head in that perfect cream dinner jacket, eyeing the gambling tables and ladies he passes. When it comes to particular compositions, I have my favorites.
“To Hell with Blofeld” has a strong, tense first half with a second that features the return of Barry’s now classic “007 Theme” as high-octane action kicks in.
“Gunbarrel and Manhunt” features the introductory music of the film as Bond crashes through to various areas looking for the location of Blofeld, during which Barry scores the action with ethnic sounds culturally associated with the locations we see Bond travel to on screen.
Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd’s theme is particularly interesting, very methodical and bizarre in sound, and almost whimsical in some way. The music bridges the gap between uneasy and ominous with frequent flourishes of jazz that make it a very mercurial piece. It’s fitting, then, that Wint and Kidd as characters can kill coldly one moment and quip the next, just as changeable in mood as the theme that represents them.
“Airport Source/On the Road” is a piece of great movement that uses Barry’s later composition of “The Whyte House” and blasts it to eleven to really get the pulse of the film pounding. It’s this rousing sound that welcomes Bond into Vegas, as if Barry’s music is unrolling the red carpet for him as he meets with Slumber’s crew and makes his way to the city in the desert.
“Slumber, Inc.,” like Diamonds Are Forever itself, is a very self-aware Barry composition that is simply genius in design. The track sounds like the funeral music you would hear during a real service, with an organ and a chorus of melancholy voices adding to the composition. The notes help to set the mood of the funeral home as Bond finds his way inside, and the self-referential style of the piece is almost amusing, as the film script also has the same clever consciousness. The track is also wonderfully mercurial as it shifts from quiet notes of mourning into a full-on operatic composition as Bond finds himself dead to rights in the cremation chamber. This sequence always retains a feeling of urgency, and Barry’s music goes a long way towards realizing that success.
“The Whyte House” may be my favorite piece of the film because of how it instantly gets you moving. It plays as Bond navigates the casino in his dinner jacket, and Sean is the first thing I think of (along with Lana Wood) every time I hear it. Listening back to it I always find myself craving to do the same as Bond is, taking in a crazy place full of intense stimuli. The song has a great sense of movement to it as it plays, always feeling like it’s progressing towards something big and exhilarating while taking you along for the ride. The steady rhythm of it is enchanting as it repeats again and again in cycle, sometimes reaching a high as it goes, almost trance-like in its style. The perfect song to characterize a stimulated, never-stop kind of town like Vegas.
When it comes to the title song of the film and Shirley’s Bassey’s performance of it, little else in Bond can match its power. Don Black returned to write the lyrics of “Diamonds Are Forever” after composing the words to the opening song of Thunderball, which I always define as the Bond tune that represents and defines the spy best, almost becoming an unofficial anthem for him. Here Black provides a song for a female narrator, a dame sick and tired of men and how unreliable and nasty they can be. There’s only one thing girls can count on not to let them down, and that’s diamonds-they’re also forever, don’t you know?
Bassey had originally written herself into history belting out the classic title song for Goldfinger, and for Diamonds Are Forever she gives another powerful, urgent performance. There’s such a sensuality to her voice, and when the time comes for her to really give the notes life, she doesn’t disappoint. Her voice reaches such crazy heights it’s unfathomable, and the way she uses it to create a rhythm of sound puts me in a trance as she hypnotizes me into submission. As with Goldfinger’s song, this one leads up to a big moment near the end that is the payoff of the tune, where Dame Shirley is allowed to really belt one out, putting herself in danger of fainting right in the recording booth. Word has it that Bond producer Harry Saltzman hated this song for the explicit sexual implications of the lyrics, but he hated the Goldfinger song too, so what does he know? He was right about the sexual nature of the song, however, and John Barry even advised Shirley to imagine she was singing about a penis as she recorded the track. Only in Bond…
In true Barry fashion, the music maestro keeps this tune at the heart of the film and constantly arranges it in strange and enchanting ways to accompany any number of scenarios and scenes, in moments of romance, action, suspense and frivolity.
With Peter Hunt permanently removed from the Bond series as both a directing force and editor, how Bond films were to be cut would never feel the same again post-On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
While some of Hunt’s editing choices could be argued against, it cant’ be denied that his approach added a real sense of style to Bond that was punchy, fast and urgent. By this time in the series EON had shuffled Hunt out of rotation, and after his directing debut in the series he would never work on a Bond film again.
With the editing job left in other hands, this time with Bert Bates and John Holmes, the pictures started to feel less like Bond films in how they were cut and instead seemed to strive to represent the general expectation of how a “normal” feature was to look. This is neither for better or worse, as it comes down to preference, but the change between Dr. No or From Russia with Love and Diamonds Are Forever in editing style can’t be overstated. This movie feels the most like a Hunt helmed cut when we hit action scenes. The go-to editing trick is fast cutting with shifting angles on the action, as we see in the fight with Bond and Franks at times that is reminiscent of the train fight in From Russia with Love. The shots don’t hand off to each other as swiftly as Hunt would race them, however, and it’d be interesting to see if the editing of the sequence in his hands would have ended up making it even more kinetic and thrilling.
The editing does its job, however. While I lament the absence of Hunt in these movies post 1969 for his important creative voice and imprint on the franchise and the filmmaking of the age, EON’s choice to embrace common editing techniques while discarding some of the over-stylized elements he pushed for isn’t something I can fault them for. Bond was leaving his cinematic birthplace in the 60s era and heading into the 70s, a new age with new expectations. It was clear that EON expected different Bond films at this stage in time, and what they crafted in that decade with a greater emphasis on camp and humor, sans some of the more earnest and strident parts of Bond’s old style, meant that Hunt’s approach to editing also had to go, taking the Cold War spy thriller tone of the early movies along with it.
With Diamonds Are Forever’s release, the rich and iconic partnership between the Bond team, Sean Connery and tailor Anthony Sinclair came to an end, a union that spanned nine years and six films. In between this time the world was witness to the creation of the ultimate style maverick in the form of James Bond as an endless string of fantastic suits were sewn together for Sean Connery to wear in these magical films. It was Sinclair who developed the “Conduit Cut” and ushered the Bond films into the fashion stratosphere. He provided the wonderful array of gray suits Sean Connery’s Bond so often wore, especially in his early tenure, suits that the hero always finished off with wonderful navy grenadine ties. These suits became the default ensembles for Bond before Goldfinger came around and Sinclair strove to explore even more of the spy’s fashion limits. Out of this experimentation with fabric and style we got my personal favorite suit in cinema history, the three-piece gray suit Bond adorns fresh off the plane in Kentucky, as well as a fantastic hacking jacket ensemble, a gorgeous ivory dinner jacket and many classic variations on traditional suits tailored with the hourglass silhouette that made Sinclair renowned. It was extremely fitting then, that the man who introduced Sean Connery and James Bond in tandem to the world would also be the man to dress him up for his swan song adventure. Sinclair’s tailoring here is the very exemplification of “going out in style,” as he ensured that even while Sean was walking out the door, he’d look good doing it.
The mannequin for Sinclair’s creations, Sean Connery retains the same style and magnetism in his clothes that made him the blueprint Bond, albeit with a somewhat snuffed flame burning in his eyes. An unfortunate detail in this business is that after Thunderball’s release in 1965, it was clear that Sean was letting himself go, and not even the greatest of Sinclair’s tailoring efforts could mask that fact. In You Only Live Twice you could see that the Scot had added on a fair bit of belly weight since the previous picture, and by the time Diamonds Are Forever rolled around four years after he’d retired from the role, that pudginess had carried into his face too. It was quite clear that at just age 41 Sean Connery wasn't aging gracefully, and because of that he feels less Bondian while wearing his suits in this film than in his first four by default. It's very important for a Bond actor to look the part as well as act it, and while he had all of the latter, the former was hurting his portrayal and overall effectiveness even as he paraded himself around in Sinclair’s expert cuts. Gone was the sleek, athletic and panther-like fiend of Dr. No and From Russia with Love, replaced by a man who looked like a copper close to retirement who'd taken the liberty of a few too many on-duty donuts.
In addition to Sean’s obvious bloating in face and belly, the styles of the early 70s were moving away from what Bond had first been birthed into during the early 1960s. In Dr. No and the rest of the first Bond films, Sean’s suits were designed to be timeless style items that were purposely narrow in measurements, from small pocket flaps (when they were there) to narrow lapels that were perfectly fit for Sean’s athletic body type. At the time of Diamonds Are Forever’s production, the suits were made with wideness in the design, from big lapels and pockets to bigger ties, with a button stance placed much lower on the jackets to give a great V-shape to Connery’s torso while tricking the eye into thinking he wasn’t as bulging as he was. The wide design of the suits here, dictated by the fashions of the day, becomes an amusing sartorial detail to study as the actor wearing the suits was also getting wider by the moment.
And yet, even though Connery himself didn’t look as much the part as he once did, his suits are still at a high Sinclair standard. To kick off the film we first see Bond literally dressed to kill in a beautiful herringbone tweed Norfolk sports coat as he infiltrates Blofeld’s compound in the pre-titles sequence right as the villain’s stooges are working on creating another double for him. The suit represents a bit of casual formality, interesting for Bond. In most moments where Bond knew he was heading to a heavily guarded area to make a kill, we’d be more likely to see him wear stealth gear of some kind, or at least model civilian clothes that had a more casual bent. Here he is dressing up for what he hopes is his final dance of death with the man who orchestrated the death of his wife. He axes the tie and goes for a simple open collar shirt to accompany the jacket so that no frills or general pomp in his ensemble would get in his way if he was forced into a fight-which he is. It’s interesting to note what Bond’s choice of uniform tells us here. He treats Blofeld so seriously as a threat, and yet with a certain respect, that he dresses his best even when he’s coming for the man’s head. Only James Bond would make that kind of distinction for his foes.
Following the pre-titles sequence, the next time we see Bond he’s keeping warm in a grey flannel suit while audaciously ignoring M as he goes on about diamond smuggling. It’s a great color that suits Sean as much as his old grey suits from the early films, but with a darker look to it. I call this one Bond’s “celebration suit,” as he looks quite prideful about his killing of “Blofeld” as he sips his drink during the briefing. Maybe a bit too proud…
Entering Amsterdam under the guise of Peter Franks, Bond next wears a gray glen check patterned suit that recalls the iconic Goldfinger three-piece suit Sean wore in his heyday, sans the suit vest and knitted silk tie. While Sean almost always went for navy grenadine ties to finish off his looks, in this movie he sticks with black grenadines in nearly all cases, including this ensemble. Fitting, considering how dark and bastard-like Bond can be throughout. The glen check suit is made from a lightweight fabric perfect for wearing during, say…a big scuffle inside a Dutch elevator. It’s always a nice surprise to see Sean return to the kind of suits and color palettes he debuted in as James Bond.
A nice sequel to the gray glen check suit of Amsterdam, while in Vegas Sean’s Bond sports a light gray suit that is also very reminiscent of his old default gray suits from Dr. No and From Russia with Love. Although the elements of the design for this suit are wider in some respects and the palette is far lighter than what the 60s Bond wore, I think it’s a perfect hue and works well with Sean’s features to make him “pop.” This suit is probably my favorite of the film overall for its sense of style and appeal, in addition to how well all the various elements work together to make something that is nostalgic for the past films’ style items while carrying an identity of its own. The light gray suit is also the ensemble that sees the most action in the movie. This is the suit Bond wears while orchestrating the diamond hand-off with Tiffany at Circus Circus as well as during his infiltration of Whyte Tectronics and the speedy escape he mounts from there in a moon buggy with half of the Vegas police on his behind. It’s also what he wears while driving Tiffany’s red Mach 1 on its two side wheels as he loses his pursuers all through the city once Blofeld sicks the sheriff on him.
As Bond makes his way to Willard Whyte’s Palm Springs villa in the hills, intent on mounting a rescue mission, he can be seen in a cream linen suit perfect for the heat of the desert city, complete with a pink tie. I have often compared Diamonds Are Forever to a California noir story in the vein of a Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe mystery, and for some reason the suit Bond wears here evokes the feeling of a Vegas private eye to me. I do a lot of reading about Bond’s style and the history of suit wearing in general both out of envy for him and because I’m a big proponent of looking sharp. Because of this background, I know there are many out there amongst the sartorially inclined who find this suit to be an absolute fashion abortion. “Why a pink tie?” they fret with shame. “And why, tell me why the damn thing had to be tied in a Windsor knot?” These criticisms are fair.
The pink tie is the very definition of overt (bad news for a spy on a clandestine mission) and far removed from the timeless style the 60s Bond films strived for in Sinclair’s hands. Further, not only is it reprehensible that the tie is placed in a Windsor knot-a tie knot Fleming despised for its display of vanity-the Windsor style always results in a bigger knot being formed with the tie, making the item look fat while also shortening its length because it requires so much of the material to realize the knot. Here the pink tie is knotted in such a heavy Windsor that its length appears to come to a rest on Sean’s chest above his belly button. The result of this makes the suave secret agent resemble a grown man who spent his day trying on a suit he wore for his wedding thirty years prior, fully expecting it to fit snuggly. Even with all these setbacks, however, I love the suit. There’s something about it that gives it character, and as with everything he wore-yes, even that horrid terrycloth playsuit from Goldfinger-Sean somehow rescues this untraditional and definitively 70s ensemble from becoming a joke. Further proof that he could and still does get away with everything.
Where uber-style is concerned, we also see Sean’s Bond wear three big items known for their individual formal statements in the form of an ivory dinner jacket and two tuxedos. To navigate the many sights of Vegas on the gambling and show floors, Bond chooses to first wear an ivory dinner jacket that does much to recall the first time he wore the ensemble in Goldfinger. The ensemble almost has a youthful effect to it, making its wearer look and feel younger than their years. Sean wears the jacket with absolute style, and it’s easy to see why he attracts many eyes as he gambles his way to winnings and snags Plenty O’Toole around his arm.
Before scaling the Whyte House in an effort to meet the man he thinks is hiding at the top floor, Bond changes into a tuxedo that is the most unsightly suit of the entire bunch. For whatever reason, a nice tuxedo was taken and spoiled by burgundy and black silk patches that overwhelm the suit on the lapels and on the inside fabric of the tuxedo jacket, as well as on the cummerbund that is wrapped around Bond’s waist. While a red carnation would be a nice style addition in most of these cases, instead the flower only continues to offset the already garish hues of burgundy on woeful display that ultimately hijack a traditional tuxedo and murder it like only the decade of the 70s could.
The failures of the black and burgundy tuxedo are redeemed at the very last second in the film as Bond sports a velvet dinner jacket while he and Tiffany share a meal on the cruise ship, with Wint and Kidd just off to the side. This ensemble is far more reminiscent of the tuxedos Bond wore in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball, as it keeps things traditional and doesn’t allow 70s fashion mores to disrupt its classic style. It’s a nice, if late, redemption for Bond’s formal fashion.
Where the rest of the movie is concerned, Bond wears two three-piece suits, one an all black ensemble he adorns while flying into Vegas under the guise of Peter Franks to cremate his “brudder,” and the second a navy suit with blue chalk stripes that almost drives me to tears when the left shoulder of the coat is ripped as Blofeld searches Bond for the launch tape following his arrival on the oil rig. We also get to see a blink-and-you-miss-it shot of Bond in a blue lounge suit as he and Tiffany touch off on the cruise at the end of the film, and, in a rare moment of casual dress for Bond in a film that feels like a rotating door of endless suit changes, he also sports a wonderful terrycloth top that is adequate as far as 70s relaxed wear goes.
As with every 70s Bond film, the decade and its garish fashion mishaps of flamboyant style tweaks and crazy color palettes are represented here in the checked tweed jacket and turtleneck Bond wears just before the finale, a get-up that is a sartorial eyesore and nightmare double-team. While Connery always looked good in brown, especially when the colors were muted as in his hacking jacket country ensemble from Goldfinger, here the brown tweed is overly patterned and the color choices for the jacket and turtleneck do nothing to favorably accentuate his features like previous all-brown ensembles did. Even still, it’s hard to make the argument that he’s the worst dressed present when Felix Leiter sports a mustard yellow dress shirt with a gray suit in the same scene. Oh, the 70s.
There’s also a lot to appreciate when it comes to the ensembles of the supporting cast. Wint and Kidd sport many zany suits throughout that are perfect representations of all that was wrong with 70s fashion, but in this case the mismatched and colorful nature of their suits add, not detract, from the character of the villains Glover and Smith are playing, with the latter being the more outlandishly styled of the pair. And of course it wouldn’t be a James Bond film if Blofeld wasn’t seen in some Mao suits-also colloquially known as Nehru suits-fit for any enterprising dictator, sporting them in varying shades of both gray and beige. Charles Gray wears them with a delirious sense of egotism, with the clothes supporting his smug, aristocratic take on Blofeld quite immensely as he marches about in a most prideful state.
Where the Bond women are concerned, Jill St. John’s Tiffany Case never looks better than in her screen debut as she changes in and out of wigs in her Amsterdam apartment. Part of me wishes she’d kept the brunette wig on for the remainder of the film, as it makes her look particularly radiant. After much changing she finally decides on an all black dress that accentuates her figure in enchanting ways.
St. John is embarrassed, however, the very moment Lana Wood appears as Plenty O’Toole. Wood wears a low-cut silk dress of a royal purple, fitted with a sparking gold choker around her neck that dangles a pendant as it directs your eyes right to her cleavage like a neon sign on the Vegas strip. The dress is immaculate in its simplicity and wonderfully accentuates Wood’s generous bust, an ensemble whose only rival in the entire franchise is the black dress that Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd sports during the poker game of Casino Royale. With hair that looks recently tussled about by a lover, Plenty is every inch a wild, fun woman that any heterosexual man would love to find under his arm in a Vegas casino-or anywhere else, for that matter!
For all its fashion faux pas, Diamonds Are Forever also contains a bevvy of great ensembles for the heroes and villains alike. Sean remains stylish as Bond on the whole, and Plenty O’Toole enchants in a way few Bond girls can manage all wrapped up in silk. Far more tellingly, the film marks a shift in the Bond franchise that reaches beyond even the campy tone that was to come in the Roger Moore era.
It is after this movie that Bond’s suits began to gradually move farther and farther away from the mark of smart and sensible fashion that the likes of Anthony Sinclair were the architects of. It was truly the end of Bond style, and I fear that without the 60s films and Sinclair’s brilliant work, James Bond wouldn’t be recognized as the style icon he is today. Diamonds Are Forever carried into Moore’s era of Bond films, during which three separate tailors had just as many successes as they did failures in suiting him up, making 007 look far more like an aristocratic government diplomat than a secret agent. Timothy Dalton’s Bond looked like he got most of his suits off the rack while on a budget, and Pierce Brosnan peddles a wardrobe that far too often makes him resemble your local used car salesman. It’s only when Daniel Crag and Tom Ford became a team in that actor’s era of films that true style returned to the James Bond films in a way that it hadn’t since the tail end of the 60s. This is largely down to the mission statement of the Tom Ford suits Craig wears, many of which are quite clearly tributes to Anthony Sinclair’s 1960s Bond suits in their spirit and palettes, with a heavy focus on traditional suits stitched in shades of gray and blue, Connery’s favorites.
It’s clear that even today, Sinclair’s iconic tailoring and the impact his suits had on style culture live on decades after his landmark work in Bond, proving that he created utterly timeless pieces that have yet to be matched. For his work, the tailor extraordinaire is every bit as vital as Ken Adam’s iconic production design for carving out the visual look of the Bond films by defining how a dapper hero should look while marching into battle. To watch Sean Connery navigate an Adam set in a Sinclair suit is to witness the works of two daring geniuses in action.
FILM ELEMENTS CONTINUED
After the production budget of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service eliminated the need for Ken Adam to join the team of ’69, he returned from the break as Diamonds Are Forever was going into production. As seen in the form of Adam’s volcano set for You Only Live Twice, his work was genius, but he also required a gigantic paycheck to realize these visions. The producers always seemed mindful of this, and when the budgets were tight they weren’t afraid to skimp on Adam sets.
When it comes to the design of Diamonds Are Forever, it feels difficult at times to know just what Adam contributed and what he didn’t. The feeling I get is that he was constricted budget-wise due to Sean’s pricey salary, and that decrease in funds must have also led to the production design being scaled back in favor of using a lot of real locations to save vital money.
Most of the Las Vegas shots we see were staged in and around hotels owned by Howard Hughes, who Cubby secured a deal with. Hughes was also involved in getting the streets of Vegas free of pedestrians where action needed to be shot, along with the aid of local police. The Las Vegas Hilton stood in for The Whyte House, and the Circus Circus space was offered up to the production for use by its owner because he was a fan of the franchise, receiving a cameo in the movie as payment. Even the homes we see on screen aren’t production designs, as Tiffany’s pad in Vegas was the real home of legendary actor Kirk Douglas and the Elrod House in Palm Springs stood in for Willard Whyte’s home (and prison) in the hills, designed by John Lautner. Not even the oil rig that acts as the stage for the finale was a set. The production hired a portable rig for $40,000, which they then customized to fit their needs and took out into the waters off the coast of Southern California when it came time to shoot the climax of the movie.
Because the production relied so much on pre-existing locations to represent elements of the script and character homes or owned hotels, it can sometimes feel like Adam was underused. A Bond loving friend of mine once said that Diamonds Are Forever was the one film with production design by Adam that felt the least like a Ken Adam Bond movie, and in some ways, I can see where he’s coming from. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of great sets to take in here, however, even if the film lacks one set that feels instantly iconic like Adam’s previous work in Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice.
To create the inside of the Slumber Inc. funeral home, Adam went scouting to many funeral homes in Vegas to get the visual research that would feed his final vision for the piece we see. It was a conscious effort on his part to make the set as tacky and gaudy as possible, utilizing Tiffany lamps and other assorted eyesores of decorative items to parody the many mortuaries he saw in person. The clashing colors of purples with reds, oranges and yellows further the garishness of what we see, with the cherry on top of the cake being the purple carpet that cuts down the aisle between the wooden benches. In a nice final touch, the stained glass window in the center of the room’s far wall is reminiscent of an upside-down diamond, fitting for the funeral home’s importance in the smuggling pipeline and the film’s use of the sparkling rocks as a general motif.
Adam’s design for the inner labs of Whyte’s Tectronics is suitably sterile and elemental in feeling, as if it is composed wholly from the resources of the environment, from metal to marble, where everything carries a chrome-like shine. It feels like a place where science would be performed.
When Bond and Tiffany partner up in Vegas and share a hotel room together, what results from a set design perspective is what would happen if Ken Adam were able to build his vision for a wedding suite. In a space dominated by white and gold, evoking a real sense of grace, he and his team play with space in a way only they could. The design elements used are fascinating, and feel worldly. Pillars that look inspired by Greek builders hold up a landing and staircase, and an assortment of regal chairs, mirrors and lighting arrangements that appear gilded complete the look of a room that feels as if it was owned by an explorer who brought souvenirs back from his exotic travels. The long, impressing curtains in the far side of the room and the raised bed with a fish tank encircling the mattress completes a very quintessential Adam design that looks like nothing else you’d see from any other creator.
The best set of the film is probably the space that represents the office at the top of The Whyte House that Bond believes to contain the eccentric man. Imagine his surprise then, when he finds his old arch-enemy (who should be dead) in the billionaire’s place. The Whyte House office represents the most Ken Adam-like set of the movie, as it utilizes the most of what he was known for as a visionary. It has an interesting ceiling design-slanted, this time- that plays with angles and spaces items of furniture strategically so as to make the actors feel miniscule as they navigate it. He also utilized materials that appear to originate from the earth, as in previous Bond sets he’d done, most namely Dr. No’s lair, which literally looked built into rock, and the Fort Knox interior of Goldfinger that shimmered as much as the bricks it was protecting. The twisted metal stairs are also a brilliant visual, as is the cylindrical piping that makes up a ceiling unit hanging above the lounging area. Possibly the coolest detail, however, is the section of the sitting area where, underneath the floor, a model of the United States is positioned that marks all of Whyte’s industrial concerns nationwide. It’s a great visual detail that gives us an idea of the man’s power, and all the resources that Blofeld has open to his use now that he’s taken over an empire. In effect, the set feels like a place where one would plan world domination schemes, and that’s exactly why it’s perfect for Blofeld.
The Elrod House, a design by architect John Lautner, is where the fight between Bond, Bambi and Thumper is staged as 007 attempts to rescue Whyte from his own home. For uninitiated Bond fans, the space feels exactly like a Ken Adam set. It has an elemental feel and uses earthy materials in its construction, with a minimalist style when it comes to spacing to accentuate a feeling of wideness and a wonderful ceiling with an unconventional design that makes it look like an alien spaceship has crash landed on top of a rich man’s villa.
Adam noted that the design of the Elrod House seemed like something right out of his own imagination, with its floor made entirely of natural rock, a large vaulted ceiling and a mix of natural material and manmade design elements. These design choices weren’t just stylish looking, however: they had function. The vaulted ceiling was positioned to shield the inside of the space from the rays of the hot desert sun and the giant rocks Thumper is seen resting on in the movie were real rocks that were removed from the ground as the construction of the home began and Lautner’s contractor uncovered them as the digging of the earth progressed. Because of this, the space co-exists with the nature that birthed its materials.
While he was scouting for locations to shoot Diamonds Are Forever around, Adam was joined by Sidney Korshak, a Los Angeles lawyer who had a reputation for being able to make any deal come through even in the toughest of negotiations. Korshak was able to exert his influence around California, getting EON permissions to shoot at all sorts of locations, including the Elrod House, after he was able to persuade the right people to give carte blanche to Adam, who was allowed to see any house that caught his eye. Originally, the owner of the Elrod House wasn’t willing to allow EON to film there, but once Adam called Cubby and Cubby called Sidney, it took just thirty minutes on the phone for the man to give his full permission. It’s like something out of a Bond film.
In Diamonds Are Forever, many signs were pointing to the Bond series growing far less stylish, entering into a period I view as very confused. The timeless fashions of the 60s would make way for some downright garish suits in the 70s, and coming directing styles would be a lot less artful than the genius that came before in far superior films. Though Adam’s sets would continue to impress for a little while longer, it was clear that change loomed on the horizon. His sets required a lot of time, money and effort to build, and soon the budgets would shuffle him out to save costs, as was only inevitable. As a result, only two more films after the ’71 effort would feature his design sensibilities.
While nothing in Diamonds Are Forever comes even close to matching Adam’s anteroom set, MI6 briefing room or volcano headquarters in style and atmosphere, I consider it a blessing that he was still continuing to give the Bond franchise the iconic look he laid the foundations for, even when it seemed like everything was changing in how the films were being produced and presented.
I don't do quantitative ratings on a 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 scale as a principle of mine, but if I did, I don’t think Diamonds Are Forever would fare too badly in a ranking. I put it above You Only Live Twice, so at the very least it would place either right in the middle or maybe even a little higher than that. Far superior films would kick it from ever entering the top ten, but a middling position is admirable for a movie I used to rank around the bottom three.
Watching Diamonds Are Forever for the first time in years, and for the first time since I had matured as a fan, was an interesting experience. My obsession with Bond began with the early Sean Connery films, and I became so attached to that image and style of Bond film that I wasn’t prepared for when I viewed the so-called campy Diamonds Are Forever, a film other Bond fans I knew claimed to be the culprit for why the series deflated in quality so much in the 1970s. Seeing it all these years later with the lenses popped out of my rose tinted glasses, I found a lot to appreciate about the film and now hold You Only Live Twice as far more guilty for the sins of the 70s, on top of being a far inferior film to this one.
There’s not many-or any-days of the week that I’d choose to watch Diamonds Are Forever over Connery’s first four, but the same could be said for nearly every Bond movie; those films just hold a special meaning and magic to me. Even still, I would be acting disingenuous if I didn’t give an honest impression of all the great things I think this film does.
It was clear that following the sub-standard reception of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in the United States (at least in comparison to the past Connery films) EON were scrambling to find a way to continue the franchise in a sustainable way. Even worse, the last film they’d produced didn’t exactly allow for the opportunity to just continue on as if nothing had happened the next time around; after all, the final shots of the 1969 adventure show James Bond whimpering with agony into the neck of his murdered bride, with the last frame fixing on the very spot where Bunt’s bullet punctured his Aston’s windshield and silenced Tracy.
It would’ve been awkward for EON to start the next film with Bond on another adventure, but it was also not wise to give so much attention in the script to a film that failed to impact with some audiences, for fear that Diamonds Are Forever would repeat the box office totals of the 1969 adventure. Somewhere in the mix, the producers and writers were able to come to a compromise. While Tracy Bond gets no mention in the film itself either by name or even through a photo, it is highly implied and quite clear just why James Bond starts the film by beating his way through every SPECTRE agent he can find to get to Blofeld at the top of the pyramid. Ernst orchestrated the death of Tracy on the very day Bond made vows of love to her that he was willing to do anything to protect, the murderous act becoming the straw that broke the camel’s back, sending Bond off the edge of the brink he was already teetering on. Blofeld was no longer just a professional hit he felt the moral need to expunge; now it was all personal, a mission of revenge to avenge the only woman he ever loved enough to give it all up for.
What’s dangerous about this Bond is that he’s lost the ability to view things sensibly and professionally following Tracy’s death, and even M can barely keep him on a leash anymore. He’s cracked and reeling with trauma that he has done nothing to heal, likely because he’s been too busy injecting all his time into finding a way to track down Blofeld and send him to “Hell.” At moments he doesn’t feel like the James Bond I know and love, and seeing him act out this badly, allowing himself to be so infected by poisonous hate, resentment and vengeance, is terrifying.
In addition to a frightening characterization of Bond that is interesting to watch unfold because he feels so different in the movie than he has before, Diamonds Are Forever also has other strengths. The fast and loose Bond and Franks fight in Amsterdam is a series highlight that is a worthy cousin to the bout on the Orient Express at the end of From Russia with Love. We are also treated to some of the greatest stunt car driving in the franchise with a master class chase through Vegas as Bond takes the wheel of Tiffany’s Mach 1 to dust some of the local police and send them careening, flipping and screeching out of his way.
The script is also an admirable feat, with the right amount of earnestness to believe in the mission Bond is on as well as the implied drama growing between him and Blofeld. It also has the perfect mix of comedy, wordplay and wit that shows how clever frivolity can be managed and balanced in a Bond film without stepping into parody. The narrative is also a fascinating one, featuring Bond chasing after loose diamonds like a private eye, all the way from Amsterdam to Vegas. The depiction of the city in the desert on screen is also suitably mythical and engaging, as is the build up the film creates to the mysterious Willard Whyte, who is only mentioned to us as a man of legend housed away inside the top floor of the tallest tower in Vegas. Everything about the experience feels so medieval, and when Bond grows frustrated enough in his investigation to climb the Whyte House to meet the man himself, it’s as if he’s going there to slay a dragon. The moment he and Blofeld reunite on the top floor is the best scene of the film because the movie puts in the legwork early on to build up the requisite suspense needed to make the unveiling of the villain’s scheme something that feels devilishly impressive.
The script’s themes of doubles and things not being as they seem is also fascinating to experience, best exemplified in the form of Blofeld’s doubles and in the many diamond smugglers who each have their own motives as they stare at Bond with their lying eyes. In the case of the former, Ernst’s use of doppelgängers as strategic insurance policies is both a magnificent twist and cunning scheme for a man known for always changing his own appearance, and the presence of the latter in the narrative always keeps us guessing along with Bond as to the intentions of the many smugglers he bumps shoulders with while in Vegas, even Tiffany. Wint and Kidd are wonderful henchmen that are an iconic part of the Bond tradition who show how memorable minor villains can be created without trying to remake Oddjob or Donald Grant every go around. The black comedy they represent in the form of their twisted proverbs and quips cement them as truly unique characters in a series that can often fall victim of repeating itself.
Of course Diamonds Are Forever does have its weak or wacky moments, like the scene where a woman in a cage changes into an ape before a packed crowd (?), or when a circus elephant plays the slots on the casino floor and wins the big pot (??). And who can forget the moment when Bond puts on a grotesque Dutch accent and asks Franks, “Who is your floor,” while getting into a lift with him, or better still, the scene where he has a chat with a rat while stuck in an oil pipeline, during which he apologizes for accusing the rodent of smelling funny (I promise I’m not making this up). However, I would be remiss if I didn’t extend my hearty respect to Diamonds Are Forever for all the daring things it does, showing us a Bond at his most bent and twisted in the pre-Dalton days, giving us some rousing action and delivering some classic moments of repartee between the spy and Blofeld that are amongst the franchise’s best dialogues. The movie also successfully escapes self-parody in its attempt at being a bit more frivolous in tone, which is a hard balance to manage.
It was clear that with Diamonds Are Forever, EON were scrambling to recapture the feeling and essence of Goldfinger following On Her Majesty’s failure to ignite with audiences. The proof is all there to see, from the choice to get Connery back as Bond (with a historically hefty price tag) to Guy Hamilton filling out the directing gig and Shirley Bassey returning as the songstress of the movie’s opening tune. In addition, the team went about creating a script that is a bit more light-hearted and loose than expected in a plot that swaps out the smuggling of gold with that of diamonds, takes Bond back to America for the first time since 1964, and throws a leading Bond girl into the mix whose morals are cloudy until she joins up with the spy in the 11th hour just as Pussy Galore did.
And yet, in doing all this the team of ’71 avoided producing an obvious remake of what had already come before. At the end of things both Diamonds Are Forever and Goldfinger sparkle when placed next to each other, much like the diamonds and bars of gold that their respective villains strive to covet against all odds.
I read the first big chunk of part one about the Bond character and Bond actor.
That was a real Interesting read. Seriously.
It doesn't matter whether one agrees with every utterance or observation - that's not the point.
The essay works as a well supported, well thought out treatise on the film.
It is a good read. Caused me to look at many scenes from a fresh angle, and I've watched this movie a zillion times, like over 50x, at least, so its good to have the whole thing given a good shake-and-bake, from a fresh perspective.
I'll read the rest of it before the weekends out.
Looking forward to it. I'll need to find time to settle in and indulge.
Real good work!
@obrady, you've put lots of work into the character summaries and analysis.
I liked the Wint and Kidd detailing. Yes as it turns out Glover could do bizarre, quite well enough to play Wint.
He turned up shortly after DAF, as more normal -as Buford Pusser's loyal deputy in the original epic Walking Tall.
The transition in character was quite jarring but it did show his range.
I've always thought the casino hood, that Scaramanga uses as target practice, a couple.of films later, did know there was a pool down there.
Mind you he may not have been crushed if he had missed, rationalizing that his intentions were at least good.
Just seems like typical thug humour he was using to put off Bond.
Bond slugs him instinctively, primarily I think out of disgust for his recklessness, but also to reassert alpha status and shut his stupid mouth, as much as he does to facilitate escape or control of the situation.
I think with Blofeld's bathosub dilemma, his survival was left purposely in limbo, so that he could return when needed, which ideally was to be in TSWLM, a film like DAF, which didn't offer a strong Fleming lead villain.
Re Bond's rudeness to M at their diamonds briefing, I can see your take. It's definitely there, and you present your case.
I see it a little differently ie Bond just being his usual know-it-all self, and M only too used to it by now, knocking him back down to size, when he can. I think M rolls with this show-off side of Bond, because he's earned it. He's his best agent, but still is happy to snap at him, to remind who is boss, and Bond of course would expect no less. M does seems rather pleased that Bond can't blather on about diamonds.
Now, I haven't read the whole essay, so you may touch on this later, but the scene also reminds of the gold briefing in GF.
Hamilton directed both films, so I'm guessing there was an attempt to maybe revisit the GF back-and-forth, including the outside expert present to enlighten on the subject matter of the respective films.
Diamonds Are Forever was a huge success in 1971. Later it became widely regarded as a low point in the series.
From a production quality point of view that may well be true. There are the unfortunate cheap special effects in some scenes.
DAF has a cheaper look in general than the films that came before, especially after OHMSS this seems to be quite a change in style. And it doesn't stop there, the humour that goes into parody and camp territory was a first as well for the series. There is even a good portion of black humour in DAF.
On its own, detached from what was done in the 60s, DAF holds up very well when it comes to re-watchability and having fun with a Bond film.
The James Bond films from DAF onward always toyed with style and different themes. And as long as EON stayed true to the classic Bond and the beloved, necessary traits like the gun-barrel and the words everybody is rightfully expecting, "shaken, not stirred" for instance, doing different things was alright and did the franchise good.
The score in a Bond film plays a pivotal role. It's unimaginable we don't get the James Bond theme regularly in a film, as it clearly diminishes the overall experience greatly if it doesn't sound like Bond.
John Barry's score helps DAF quite a lot, especially in scenes that are not too spectacular. Barry elevates even the weaker moments in DAF to a higher level of enjoyment.
Jill St. John's Tiffany Case is and will forever be my favourite Bond girl.
Every little thing she is almost wearing in DAF is a work of art fashion wise, her hairdo is always perfect. I approve.
While Tiffany gets a bit silly by the end of the film, the character overall is just perfect for DAF. Jill St. John brings T. Case wonderfully to life by showing a bit more cheek than usual.
Dialogue is one of the reasons I can watch DAF over and over again. The whole film is quotable and I claim it is the best overall dialogue in any Bond film, because in the end, to be entertained is key, and DAF's endlessly humorous dialogue is fantastic fun from start to finish.
Everything up to arriving in Las Vegas is actually quite perfect imho. Mr. Wint & Mr. Kidd are my favourite henchmen. I do love other henchmen as well, almost as much. But that duo in DAF is the cream on the cherry.
I have such a gay time with them whenever I watch DAF. Bruce Glover's performance is simply priceless, fabulous and such fine comedic acting!
The ensemble cast is colourful and many of these characters have depth and are written very well considering how little screen time some have.
It's a great cast and many of them belong to my favourites. Tiffany Case as mentioned, Wint & Kidd, but also Felix Leiter who spends a lot of time on-screen and he has great, great chemistry with Connery. Norman Burton plays him expertly.
And don't forget the many supporting but nonetheless very memorable characters like Willard Whyte, Saxby, Dr. Metz, Shady Tree, Mrs. Whistler, Mr. Slumber and more.
The Amsterdam sequence starting with Moneypenny being so sexy in her uniform is such delight from start to finish and naturally, the lift fight is my favourite in the series!... Or perhaps I should say "elevator". Peter Franks, yet another character that has little screen time but makes a memorable impression.
View the lift fight here: https://youtu.be/jpffY6ZRfZk
The plot may be silly, the film may be silly, but DAF belongs to the most witty, most memorable and most funny films in the series.
So there is a lot in DAF that I like and don't mind at all.
I love Blofeld in drag, and that scene stands exemplary for the silliness of DAF that is oh so fun to witness.
Charles Grey as Blofeld. I find him rather fitting and amusing, even when cross-dressing.
I even don't mind her! And why would I? Lana Wood as "Hi, I'm Plenty!" "But, of course you are..."
Between all the subtle, obvious and silly humorous moments in DAF there is still an underlying menace and sense of danger. Mr. Wint & Mr. Kidd are quite cruel, sinister and dark in how they are having fun leaving a trail of dead people.
"If at first you don't succeed... Try, try again."
Let's not forget these two lovely characters:
"I see you've met my friends, Bambi and Thumper." "Yes, we did have a bit of a chat."
Whyte's residence is a good example for the many beautiful sets in DAF, that is something that may be forgotten a bit.
Personally I view DAF as the follow up to YOLT. It totally fits if you watch them back to back.
In the end, DAF is a silly, fun romp. Fun is never wrong and I for one, am very glad it got made. It paved the way for Sir Rog's humour heavy Bond films in the 70s and 80s.
"I haven't seen you here before. I'm Klaus Hergersheimer. I've been here three years. G Section."
The sequence in Whyte's space lab with Klaus Hergersheimer and Dr. Metz is something I could watch endlessly. Brilliant comedic acting from all of them.
Dr. Metz to Connery: "Will you please leave, you irritating man?"
Bond: "Doctor, there's no reason to run down the little people. G Section may not be as important to the operation as you are, but we do have our orders."
I'm afraid DAF catches me with more than my hands up, whenever I watch it!
This GIF represent very well how I feel about DAF.
For a more visual version of this review with lots of lovely pictures go here: https://www.ajb007.co.uk/post/891536/#p891536 scroll down to 9th post
To start off with what I liked about the film and felt was good we have An imo great, quick and to the point PTS that kicks the film into the starting line rather nicely. I feel Sean Connery while looking mostly bad in this film, did deliver a somewhat good performance as Bond and it certainly was better than his sad performance in YOLT where he just seemed Bored a lot. Imo this film also has the best Blofeld with Charles Grey at the helm, I just feel like he really gave the character a personality while retaining the elements that made Blofeld who he is and Frankly I can't help but just enjoy every scene he's apart of.
Keeping with the villains we also get imo 2 of the best henchmen in the franchise with Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd who play the devious and mischievous duo very very nicely and their humor is pretty good too. Speaking on the humor department I did appreciate that this film felt more light hearted than the bond films before it (even if it gets a bit ridiculous at times) and really it was the prototype for the Roger Moore style of Bond films which I just love to bits. I also quite liked John Barry's score here, while not every track is memorable their are some goodies like 007 and counting in here as well as some good suspenseful tracks too.
I also liked the location of Las Vegas as the setting as it brings a different dynamic to a bond film and by all means would be made better from here. The pacing was so much better in comparison to the 3 previous films and wasn't dragging its feet for 3/4's of the film. The usuals of Benard Lee, Desmond Lleweyn and Lois Maxwell are great here too. Last but not least I want to mention the character of Tiffany Case, while she's a total bafoon who does make dumb decisions and epically slips at times, I do feel that she does it very well and She does have some funny moments (she's also a beautifal girl imo).
Now unfortunately this film ain't exactly free of negatives. I mentioned that sometimes the film gets ridiculous, but maybe even to crazy sometimes such as Blofeld being in Drag and the scene with the two girls fighting Bond. I also feel that Felix's performance was pretty meh overall. A big complaint I do have is that the PTS is very much serious and to the point whereas the rest of the film is very much wacky in tone, it just makes it confusing as to why it drastically changed tones. I also think the whole diamonds plot wasn't exactly very intriguing and I honestly forgot about it part way through as the plot seems to just revolve around waiting for the big reveal of Blofeld being alive.
Speaking of that I feel that the two Blofelds bit was kinda uneeded considering the 2nd one dies pretty much instantly, I think having 2 blofeld's for a bit longer would have created a far more interesting dynamic for the film. Last but not least at times the film does feel like it may be trying to fill in time, I mean the scenes with Plenty really didn't add a whole lot to the plot and could've been either cut out or shortened.
But as a whole I do quite enjoy this entry in the bond film series and feel it is massively overhated for no reason, it certainly is not the worst Bond film by any means. I feel it was better than Connery's previous two films and it finally put an end to slow as snail paced bond films (for the most part) and was honestly an enjoyable movie.
My final rating is a 7/10
First off, let's start with the positives. Sean Connery gives a pretty good performance as Bond, though he has visibly aged poorly for someone who was actually younger than who succeeded him in the role of James Bond, Roger Moore. The characters are also pretty good, though I find that Tiffany Case was a bit stupid, not Honey Ryder levels of stupid, but up there. I also really liked Charles Gray as Blofeld in this movie. I would say that he is the best Blofeld in the films, being a perfect mix of the serious and campy Blofeld. Wint and Kidd were also pretty good as the henchmen, being silly but at the same time threatening. The soundtrack of this movie is also great, featuring some catchy cues, especially the one that goes with Wint and Kidd. The action scenes are once again great. I especially liked the car chase in Las Vegas, as well as the elevator fight with Peter Franks, the pre-title sequence, the moon buggy bit and the finale on the oil drill. The storyline was also pretty good, if rather on the silly side.
Now, there are some negatives to this movie still. First off, this movie suffers from the exact same issue that the Bond films had since Thunderball: it gets too focused on a plot point that isn't interesting at all, with the pacing suffering as a result as well. In the case of Diamonds are Forever, that uninteresting plot point is Bond disguising himself as a diamond smuggler. Bond disguising himself as a diamond smuggler isn't itself bad, but it's made bad by excessively focusing on particular aspects of the diamond smuggling, and it takes the focus away from the movie itself. Secondly, Tiffany Case as a Bond girl is certainly good-looking, but she is honestly kind of stupid. Another thing I didn't like is the sudden shift in both pace and tone: the pre-title sequence seems to set up a serious and fast-paced Bond movie, only for us to get a campy and slower-paced Bond movie. Not that campy is a bad thing, it's the sudden shift and contrast that is a bad thing.
Overall? Diamonds are Forever is a pretty solid Bond movie that is very fun to watch, has a great, if dumb Bond girl, good characters, arguably the best Blofeld of all of the movies, great action scenes, a great soundtrack and a suitably campy tone and plot. However, it still suffers from excessive focusing on boring exposition, the Bond girl being rather clumsy and dumb and the sudden shift in pace and tone between the pre-title sequence and the rest of the movie. This is a pretty good final movie (official, anyway) for Sean Connery as Bond, and certainly a huge improvement over the mediocre You Only Live Twice.
The bottom line? It's very good despite its' flaws and worthy of a better reputation. I'll give it an 7.5/10, or a B-.
The 2nd Bond Film I revisited in my attempts to rediscover the series in new and (hopefully) exciting ways following NTTD, Diamonds Are Forever marks the return of Sean Connery to the role that made him famous. After the (at the time) mixed reception to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, DAF was welcomed with open arms upon its release in 1971, but was that just because everyone was happy Connery was back as Bond, or because they genuinely thought it was a good film? My guess is the former.
You see, I used to love Diamonds Are Forever. It was one of my favorite entries growing up, I loved the film for its silliness, it was perfect for a young boy who was discovering the Bond films, but then I grew older. In the wake of the more serious Bond films growing on my with age (LTK, OHMSS, FYEO), some of the sillier, over the top films have gone down in my rankings, and DAF is one of those films unfortunately. Like my last review (Quantum of Solace), I’ve decided to approach this review thinking of elements I could critique that haven’t already been critiqued constantly before. I’ve also opted not to compare this film with its predecessor, as it’d only hurt the film in my eyes during the process.
First off I’ll start with the big man himself; After his less than enthusiastic performance in You Only Live Twice, having Connery back with that old twinkle is wonderful to see. You could tell that those 4 years between YOLT and DAF helped create enough distance to where he can enjoy himself more, but that also negatively shows in his look for the film. It’s been said countless times, but here Connery doesn’t look too great at all. His age is showing, he looks slightly overweight, and those eyebrows are incredibly mushy. It’s astonishing to compare how he looked from DN-TB then compare how he looks in DAF. In some scenes he looks fine (could be down to lighting), but others you really wish that he’d been in a bit better shape than he was. He’s still got the physicality however, as the elevator fight is superb and he looks incredibly convincing in it. Plus Connery has a natural presence that you can always feel whenever he’s on the big screen. While I feel his performance in DAF doesn’t hold a candle to what he did in his first four Bond films, it’s at least much better than the bored performance he gave in YOLT.
Jill St. John as Tiffany Case is an interesting character. At first she’s presented as this very tough female lead who could handle herself, if a little shrewd. However throughout the movie, she loses that coolness, to where any independence she may have started off with at the start of the film has completely washed away by its end. It’s a fun performance no doubt about that, one that I just wish was a bit more consistent. I don’t mind Bond girls who aren’t incredibly kick ass female characters, just write them correctly. I’ll always love Jill St. John’s position on being a Bond girl however; you can tell this was a role that she cherished, and still cherishes to this day, and that’s always commendable.
Charles Gray as Ernst Blofeld. I think a lot has been said over the years about this version of Blofeld, and how he stacks up against the other screen portrayals, and for a while, he was the Blofeld I considered to be the worst. However, in light of how disappointed I was over the inclusion of Blofeld in the Craig Era, and how he was handled in those films, my appreciation for Gray as Blofeld has increased over the years. Do I wish they’d have gotten either Pleasence or Savalas back? Yeah I do, but that wasn’t what happened. For the film he’s in, Gray as Blofeld works incredibly well. He’s a campy villain, even going so far as to dress in drag. He’s got some witty dialog, and a pretty fun scheme. His henchmen, Wint/Kidd and Bambi/Thumper, are some of the most memorable villainous characters this series has seen. Even his scheme of kidnapping Jimmy Dean and keeping him locked up while he impersonates him is very amusing. If this was a more serious film, Gray as Blofeld wouldn’t be appropriate at all, but as I said, I’ve come to enjoy him more and more over the years.
The film unfortunately falls flat for me in several different areas though. I find the action scenes to be largely uninspiring, and lacking the speed and intensity of previous action scenes from the films, and this is an issue I think would really get worse as the Guy Hamilton Bond films continue on. The film looks very sleazy as well, lacking the class and sophisticated look of films like DN, FRWL, TB, and OHMSS. Plus, for all its attempts to recapture the tone and style of Goldfinger, DAF doesn’t succeed. The problem is DAF was made at a different time than Goldfinger. The series has suffered OHMSS’ mixed reception, the films were earning less money than they had been previously. Competition from other contemporary films proved to be an issue, and the series would continue to struggle finding a place for Bond within this new, changing Cinema landscape. Which leads me back to the question I had at the start. Was the film’s success back in 1971 attributed to just the return of Sean Connery? I think after watching the film and writing this review, yes. You see, I hold a very specific opinion that DAF is one of the few films that nearly killed the James Bond series. The money the film made says otherwise, but DAF would almost doom the series by putting it down a path that it’s never really successfully gotten off of: this was the 1st Bond to outright riff on other, more successful films. In this case, the film they were riffing on was Goldfinger, but as the films continued, we’d see countless other films/genre’s being riffed by the Bond team.
•Shaft/Blaxploitation in LALD
•Martial Arts in TMWTGG
•Star Wars/Science Fiction in MR
•Indiana Jones/Adventure Genre in OP
These are just a few examples of many more than can be listed.
So while DAF may have temporarily saved the series, it also has left quite the impact (and not in a good way.)
Regardless, DAF is a fun little film with lots of interesting elements that could’ve been done in better ways. Not my least favorite after this viewing, but certainly down towards the bottom. My final rating for DAF is a 5/10. So it’s increased slightly in my rankings, but not enough to make me sing about how glorious this film is.
Another Bond film reviewed, but still 23 more films remaining. My next review will be of the very next film in the series...
1973’s Live and Let Die.