Bondathon #7: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Posted: March 21, 2016 in Movie Review
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Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Director: Guy Hamilton

Starring: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot

The unanticipated departure of George Lazenby after just one film left the James Bond producers in a bit of a pickle. Here they were, entering a new decade, the perfect time to be ushering in a new era. Instead of breaking new ground, all that could be done now was to try to recapture old magic. To this end, Sean Connery was lured back with the promise of a big paycheck, among other assurances. In addition, “Goldfinger” director Guy Hamilton would return as would Shirley Bassey, who to this day is still the only singer ever to do more than one Bond theme song. Too bad no one remembered that the 1964 classic (while it had it moments of descension into camp) also came with a competent and exciting story.

Considering the tragic and maddening way in which “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” ended, you would think that the next logical step would be to formulate a plot in which James Bond (Sean Connery) is able to exact vengeance upon arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) for the death of his wife, Tracy. For only a few fleeting minutes during the prologue of “Diamonds Are Forever,” it looks as though we could be getting exactly that. A visibly angry Bond forcefully interrogates several people in his quest to discover the whereabouts of Blofeld. Through a bit of globe-hopping based on the tips he receives, Bond finally tracks down his enemy in a facility where… through the process of plastic surgery… Blofeld is creating several lookalikes. Seems he’d anticipated an act upon his life. Bond immediately kills one who has yet to complete the transformation. He then appears to kill the real Blofeld by drowning him in molten hot mud. Disappointingly easy, but effective.

Whatever hard edge is established by these first few minutes is then thrown in the trash bin and replaced by the lightest tone the series had seen up to this point. Diamond smugglers around the world are being bumped off one by one. The culprits are a pair of assassins known as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith). In addition to being evil, it’s implied that the two are also homosexual, a link that would draw sharp criticism if attempted today. Word gets out of a smuggling ring. When someone figures out that stockpiling diamonds might actually be a bad thing for the world’s economy, Bond is given the mission of figuring out the who’s and the why’s. His contact is to be American smuggler Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), whom he will meet in Amsterdam.

Now, I know this might come as a shock to some people, but Bond actually assumes a fake identity when meeting with Tiffany. He’s been so upfront about offering his real name when introducing himself that it’s refreshing to see Bond putting the ‘secret’ back into ‘secret agent’ for once. Bond is so famous, in fact, that when he kills the real Peter Franks and switches ID cards, Tiffany shows that she’s heard of James Bond before. Now in Las Vegas, Bond brings the body of Franks which he is using to smuggle the diamonds to a crematorium. Bond passes the urn containing the diamonds to smuggler Shady Tree, and Bond is then himself almost cremated by Wint and Kidd. Tree, however, stops the process just in time when he realizes the diamonds are fake. Bond had switched out the real ones with his CIA pal Felix Leiter (Norman Burton, the fourth actor to play the role).

At the casino known as the Whyte House, owned by billionaire Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean), Bond finds that Wint and Kidd have killed Shady Tree, not knowing that the diamonds were fake. Bond also has a brief fling with Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood), who is later murdered because the assassins mistake her for Tiffany Case. Tiffany had escaped this fate by blowing off the deal to meet back with Bond after retrieving the real diamonds, which instead wind up in the hands of casino manager Bert Saxby (Bruce Cabot). They’ve been taken to Whyte’s research facility where a satellite is being constructed. Bond would investigate further, but he is found out and has to flee the scene in typical grandiose fashion, even drawing the attention of the inept local authorities.

Thinking Whyte to be behind it all, Bond goes to confront him, finding a very much alive Blofeld instead. In fact, he finds two of them, killing one. The surviving Blofeld turns out to be the real one. Before he can finish the job, Bond is knocked out and put into one of those easily escapable, not closely monitored situations which Blofeld assumes will result in Bond’s death. It doesn’t, but Bond will have to rescue Tiffany, who’s managed to get herself nabbed by Blofeld. Speaking of the head of SPECTRE, his latest scheme, while a little less clearly defined than usual, is still large in scope. This time, he’s going to use a diamond-powered laser on a satellite in orbit to show that he has full control over who gets to be the big kahuna of nuclear power in the world, namely him. Bond tracks Blofeld to his base in Baja, California. There, with help from Felix and the CIA, Bond once again thwarts the plans of Blofeld, who tries but fails to escape in a mini-sub, though whether or not he actually dies is left up in the air.

By far the weakest of the Connery Bonds, it ends up making you appreciate all the things that the flawed “You Only Live Twice” got right. I don’t want to appear to be too harsh on Jill St. John because, no matter who they got to be the main Bond girl for “Diamonds Are Forever,” they were doomed to be a letdown after Diana Rigg. But Tiffany Case is really quite boring and is made to appear a bit clumsy during the film’s climax. Sean Connery himself looks out of shape, and his performance has the appearance of someone who’s only in this for the money. “Diamonds Are Forever” has only one saving grace: The casting of Charles Gray as Blofeld. Nearly perfect for the role, this is the guy who should have had the part all to himself from the start. This is the Blofeld who should have been the big reveal in the final act of “You Only Live Twice,” the one who should have been the Blofeld responsible for the death of Tracy Bond at the end of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” At the very least, he deserved a better movie than this.

Because this would be Blofeld’s last official appearance in a Bond film for more than forty years, the lack a true sense of finality in Bond’s conflict with him is the film’s most aggravating offense. After the events “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” I would not have begrudged 007 for going on a bloody, Liam Neeson in “Taken”-style rampage. I wonder if audiences in 1971 could have been ready for the kind of brutality from Bond which that situation would call for. Perhaps not, which would help explain how we ended up with “Diamonds Are Forever.”

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Perfect. I couldn’t add a thing. To do so would be “to show too much cheek.”

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