For the love of entertainment
Sean Connery makes his grand return to the Bond franchise, but don’t get too excited. Because this … this is pretty awful. I know the Lazenby experiment didn’t work out, but why bring Connery back if you aren’t going to bring your A-game? Connery would have been much better served going out with a ‘bang’ by letting You Only Live Twice be his final official performance as 007 (the less said about Never Say Never Again, which isn’t part of the official canon anyway, the better). I understand why producers wanted him so badly–their first attempt to recast the part didn’t go so well and they were desperate to keep their series profitable. Bringing Connery back was just phase one in their quest to win back their audience–they also decided to set the bulk of the film in Las Vegas to woo American moviegoers. Regardless, he’ll be moving on (again) after this, so don’t get too used to him.
In the opening title sequence, Bond tracks down Blofeld–fresh from serious plastic surgery to help him hide (and allow a new actor, Charles Gray, to play the role)–and kills him. Or does he?
Back at work, M sends Bond to infiltrate a diamond smuggling scheme by impersonating smuggler Peter Franks. Through several unnecessarily complicated machinations (to be honest, I was too bored to try to connect the dots), James ends up in Las Vegas convinced that there’s a grander scheme afoot. His investigation leads him to The Whyte House, a casino owned by enigmatic Willard Whyte, a vastly wealthy man who has been isolated in his casino penthouse for three years (cough *Howard Hughes* cough). When he finally breaks into Whyte’s penthouse he discovers that Blofeld is alive and well, having tricked 007 into killing a doppelganger earlier. Blofeld commits a classic villain faux pas by not killing Bond directly, because of course. James escapes Blofeld’s henchmen and tracks down the real Willard Whyte, who fills in the blanks about Blofeld’s nefarious scheme to hold the world hostage using a satellite laser beam (powered by some very expensive smuggled diamonds). From there we go to the big final confrontation on an oil rig off the coast of California. Of course.
In the grand scheme of things, Diamonds Are Forever isn’t a terrible Bond movie. There will certainly be far worse once Roger Moore gets into the swing of things (to say nothing of the Pierce Brosnan years). The problem is that there are some dull patches. Some confusing moments. Some slight homophobia. But mainly, this installment suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It tries to be campy, bless its heart, but it takes itself so darned seriously. Maybe it’s just that a lot of the comedy doesn’t land. Whatever it is, Diamonds has an unfortunately flat feel to it.
Notable Event: Unless producers can sort out the legal red tape surrounding the character, this marks the final appearance of both Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his criminal organization, SPECTRE (update: they have reached an agreement, and not only will Blofeld return, but the 24th Bond movie will be called Spectre). This marks a huge shift for the Bond franchise, which had relied heavily on Blofeld as a consistent baddie. Subsequent films would adopt a one-and-done system for their antagonists. In other news, Jill St. John is the first American to play a Bond Girl.
Gadget: 007 is surprisingly light on the gadgets this go-round. There’s a latex adhesive that allows him to disguise his fingerprints while assuming the role of Peter Franks. Then Q hooks him up with a box that will disguise his voice over the phone–a little ruse he picked up from Blofeld. That’s about it.
Ally: Felix Leiter of the CIA is back, this time played by Norman Burton, who acquits himself quite well in the role. He’s still not so much an American version of 007 as he is a slightly curmudgeonly sidekick, but he’s fun, he’s capable, and he doesn’t wear out his welcome.
Bond Girl: Jill St. John plays the aptly named Tiffany Case, a diamond smuggler who gets tangled up with 007 when he impersonates the smuggler she’s hired to do her dirty work. She’s intended to be a mercenary character–willing to adapt to any situation or sell out according to what will suit her own interests best. But this mercenary quality is fatally undermined by the way she absolutely refuses to get her hands dirty. When the chips are down, she’s less than useless. Basically, she’s the stereotypical female sidekick in an action movie–the one who sleeps with the square-jawed hero, then gets wide-eyed and throws up her hands in alarm when bullets start to fly. It’s a definite missed opportunity. Pussy Galore proved that the world was ready for a strong Bond Girl with shifty alliances. It would have been much more interesting to make Tiffany Case a deeper character in the Pussy Galore (or even Octopussy) style. The way she just gloms onto James is one big eye-roll. Tiffany is also a bit of a comic foil, because as I said this movie can’t decide if it wants to be taken seriously or make you laugh. And that pretty much sums up Tiffany Case: no one can decide what she should be.
For her part, Jill St. John does her best with the part. The flaws with Tiffany are in the writing, not necessarily the acting. She deserved better. She doesn’t get much opportunity to play up the mercenary side, so it’s hard to say if she could have done that well. If they had decided to make Tiffany funny, she would have exercised her comedic chops well.
Lesser Bond Girl: Ugh. Can we skip this one? Because Plenty O’Toole is a vast waste of space. The only reason people ever talk about her in the Bond canon is because she has one of the most ridiculous names in a series known for flights of lunacy in terms of character names. She also has some epic cleavage. Seriously … wow. But if you told me that her total screen time only added up to five minutes, I wouldn’t be surprised. She’s completely inconsequential to the plot and, I’m sorry, but whoever they got to dub Lana Wood is a terrible actress. If Lana Wood’s voice is really worse than that, then she is in serious trouble. And I won’t really get into this here, but it kinda cheeses me off that people insist that Moneypenny can’t be considered a Bond Girl in Skyfall (1) because she’s Moneypenny and (2) a Bond Girl is supposed to sleep with Bond to earn the title. Because these people always welcome Plenty O’Toole to the club, and the fact is she never sleeps with Bond either. Nor does Camille in Quantum of Solace. But I digress.
Villain: Charles Gray barely had any screen time before his character was killed off in You Only Live Twice, but he makes up for it here by playing Ernst Stavros Blofeld and two henchmen who underwent plastic surgery to look just like him. And while Gray is an acceptable enough Blofeld, he lacks color or flair. Not that all Bond villains should be as over the top as Donald Pleasance in YOLT, but their personalities should have more heft and less superficial menace. To be fair, following in the charismatic footsteps of Telly Savalas does Gray no favors. Savalas oozed personality and menace in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with enough of a crazy gleam that you knew not to mess with him even without the heavy theatrics. Gray is a fairly standard British villain with a deep, bored voice, a furrowed brow, and not much else.
Henchman: Double ugh. I mean … what the frickin’ hell?? Frick and Frack (actually named Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd) seem to have wandered on set from a completely different movie. Hopefully, they found their way back and will never be seen again because they are awful. Silly catch phrases that are desperately not funny. Mostly ineffective hijinks that are supposed to be passed off as diabolical criminal acts. The implication that they are homosexual lovers. It’s awful. Everything about it should be stricken from the cinematic record. The less said about them, the better. There’s also Bambi and Thumper, but they’re really just an excuse to have two athletic women in skimpy outfits fight Bond in a pool. Yawn.
Theme Song: Thank the HEAVENS, because after the crap show that was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s theme they decided to go back to the winning formula of Miss Dame Shirley Bassey. The result, it has to be said, is kind of amazing. The bombastic camp of her Gold-FINgah theme is dialed down in favor of a delicious hybrid of melancholy, capital-D Diva, and early-era disco flourishes. I’m tempted to say that “Diamonds Are Forever” isn’t a showy song, except that Dame Bassey is incapable of oozing drama and power out of every pore. It’s the lyrics that I really love so much here. “I can see every part, nothing hides in the heart to hurt me. I don’t need looooooooove, for what good will love do me? Diamonds never lie to me … unlike men, the diamonds linger. Men are mere mortals who are not worth going to your grave for.” Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for sad songs. I do not know why, but I am. This song just speaks to me. I picture a gorgeous woman loosely draped in a white fur coat and diamonds that would make Liz Taylor blush traipsing about her fabulous penthouse with a martini in one hand and a dismissive gesture in the other. A woman who always has a withering put-down at the ready and a shell as hard as the diamonds dripping from her earlobes to disguise the hurts in the deepest corners of her heart. I inexplicably adore this woman. I want to get a coffee with her and let her insult me all day long. Dame Bassey and the accompanying music do her proud.
Side note: according to Wikipedia (so it must be true!), composer John Barry told Shirley Bassey to imagine she was singing about a penis. That only makes me love the song more.
Iconic Moment: Sadly, there isn’t really an iconic moment in this Bond film. The car chase through Las Vegas is a cinematic treat. But the closest this movie came to having a pop cultural impact is the moment when James hears the name Plenty O’Toole for the first time, and the awful quip that follows. If you don’t mind, I’ll pass.
Grades: Movie: 2.5/5; Bond Girl: 3/5; Villain: 3/5; Henchman: 1/5; Theme Song: 5/5