With George Lazenby out and Sean Connery back in for one last go-round, producers returned to the more traditional Bond. No more ruffles and ascots. But Connery’s return is short-lived, so enjoy it while you can–or if you can, rather.
Producers tested other actors for 007 but United Artists wanted Connery back, and they shelled out $1.25 million to get him back–a record salary for an actor back then. Choosing to use Goldfinger as a template, they also brought back its director, Guy Hamilton, and Shirley Bassey, who had made its theme song iconic. And while Diamonds proved to be a commercial success, critics derided it for its campy tone.
Diamonds is also significant because after this movie, the structure of the Bond series was fundamentally altered. The Thunderbal lawsuit (more on that here) escalated to the point where a judge decided that Kevin McClory owned half of the rights to the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his criminal organization, SPECTRE. Producers were henceforth banned from using both Blofeld and SPECTRE in future movies, so they would have to resort to a series of one-off villains going forward.
I’m avoiding Diamonds because I hate it, but let’s just get it over with.
In the opening 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 diamond smugglers. Through several unnecessarily complicated machinations (I was too bored to connect the dots), he ends up at The Whyte House, a Vegas casino owned by a vastly wealthy man who has been isolated in his penthouse for years (cough *Howard Hughes* cough). Surprising no one, Blofeld is alive, 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 scheme to hold the world hostage using a satellite laser beam powered by the smuggled diamonds. From there we go to the big final confrontation on an oil rig off the coast of California.
Diamonds Are Forever is awful. It’s dull, confusing, homophobic, and it suffers from an identity crisis. It tries to be campy, bless its heart, but it also takes itself so darned seriously. Maybe it’s just that a lot of the comedy doesn’t land. Whatever it is, Diamonds has no sparkle (get it?). I know the Lazenby experiment didn’t work, 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).
The Blofeld story is also dull. I suppose we should be grateful that producers halfway acknowledged the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by having 007 seek revenge in the opening, but after OHMSS gave us such an emotional ending, it’s disappointing that producers only gave it a token resolutionn before doing their best to pretend they don’t need to worry about continuity.
Indeed, this story is so dull that it makes it difficult to care that Blofeld was banned from the series going forward. Instead, it makes you relieved that producers could stop trying to make fetch happen by repeatedly going back to the same well.
As discussed, Blofeld would not return to the Bond series in an official capacity for another 44 years–and Connery’s return to the series would prove to be short-lived. This time, it really is goodbye (I prefer to pretend his unofficial Bond movie, Never Say Never Again, never happened). In other news, Jill St. John is the first American to play a Bond Girl.
007 is surprisingly light on gadgets this go-round. There’s a latex adhesive that allows him to disguise his fingerprints. 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.
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.
Jill St. John plays the aptly named Tiffany Case, a diamond smuggler who gets tangled up with 007 when he impersonates the smuggler she hired to do her dirty work. She’s intended to be a mercenary–willing to adapt to any situation or sell out according to what will suit her own interests. But this mercenary quality is fatally undermined by the way she 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 hero, then needs to be saved. 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 in that mold. 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, so why should we care?
Supporting 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 is because she has one of the most ridiculous names in a series known for lunatic character names. She also has some epic cleavage. 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, she’s a terrible actress. They even dubbed her despite the fact that she’s American and should be able to speak English perfectly fine.
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 menace. To be fair, following Telly Savalas as Blofeld 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 standard British villain with a deep, bored voice, a furrowed brow, and not much else.
Double ugh. 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. Their silly catchphrases are desperately not funny and their plotline consists of mostly ineffective hijinks that are supposed to be passed off as diabolical criminal acts. The movie also handles the implication that they are lovers in an extremely homophobic way. 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.
Producers brought Dame Shirley Bassey back for a second go-round and the result is amazing. The bombastic camp of her Gold-FINgah theme is dialed down for a delicious hybrid of melancholy, capital-D Diva, and early-era disco flourishes. It’s the lyrics that I really love. “I can see every part, nothing hides in the heart to hurt me. I don’t need love, 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.” 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.
007 violently interrogates three people to work his way to Blofeld–including putting a woman in a stranglehold with her own bikini top. With their intel, he finds Blofeld where he is undergoing extensive plastic surgery and drowns him in a hot spring. Or so it seems…
There isn’t really an iconic moment in this Bond film. The closest this movie came to having an 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: 1/5; Bond Girl: 2.5/5; Villain: 2/5; Henchman: 1/5; Theme Song: 5/5