Travel and conventions have kept me tied up recently, so I’ve struggled to post to the blog, especially on my regular series on all the Bond films. I’m back today, though, with a look at 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever — Sean Connery’s brief return to the role of 007 in the official Eon Pictures movies.
As usual, I’ll look at the film and its impact on the series, so there are spoilers.
Diamonds Are Forever opens with a bloody-minded Bond attempting to run down Ernst Stavro Blofeld after the fiend murdered Bond’s newlywed bride at the end of the previous film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
He eventually locates him having plastic surgery to alter his appearance. After a brief fight, Bond ties Blofeld to a gurney and rolls him into a tarpit, killing him.
With Blofeld dead, MI6 assigns Bond to a diamond-smuggling case that begins in South Africa, moves to Amsterdam, and eventually ends in Las Vegas. Not only has there been a rise in diamonds disappearing, everyone connected to the operation ends up dead.
Bond infiltrates the operation, where he meets the lovely and fast-talking Tiffany Case. With her help, he smuggles the diamonds into the U.S., but the homosexual assassins, Wint and Kidd, make several attempts to kill 007, all of which nearly succeed.
Bond discovers that Blofeld is still alive, and that he has made a double of himself — hence the plastic surgery. It was another double that Bond killed earlier in the film.
Blofeld is masquerading as reclusive billionaire, Willard Whyte, and is running the smuggling operation. He needs the diamonds for a satellite laser that he intends to use to blackmail the world’s most powerful nuclear nations — U.S., U.S.S.R., and China — into paying a ransom for nuclear superiority. The country that bids highest will not have its nukes destroyed and will therefore become foremost on the world stage.
Bond makes it to Blofeld’s hideaway, organizes a commando raid with the help of longtime friend Felix Leiter, and destroys the operation, with Blofeld left to an uncertain fate.
This is the first bad James Bond film, and there are a lot reasons why.
After firing George Lazenby, the producers were desperate to find a new Bond, who could quickly find appeal with audiences. Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton (both of whom would later get the part) were considered for the role, but Moore had television obligations and Dalton felt he was too young.
In the end, they approached Sean Connery. He refused until he was offered a king’s ransom to do it. With Connery back in the role, the producers attempted to recreate the feel of Goldfinger.
But there were several problems with Connery. First, he was too old for the part. He looks older in multiple scenes, and playing opposite a young Jill St. John didn’t do his looks any favors.
Second, Connery didn’t offer any of the emotional resonance Lazenby would have. He gives the impression that Bond kills Blofeld because he’s a bad guy — not because he’s plagued the world with multiple nefarious schemes and certainly not because he murdered Bond’s wife. There just isn’t any of the raw anger and loathing one would expect in a sequel to a movie where the protagonist’s wife is killed and the murderer is still on the loose.
Finally, Connery didn’t want to do this picture. His performance is empty. Not only does he have no emotional connection to Blofeld, he doesn’t seem to have any connection to the film at all. He’s phoning in this performance.
Next is Blofeld himself. Charles Gray’s rendition is all wrong. Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld was sinister, frightening. Telly Savalas’s was powerful, dominating, and brutal. Gray plays Blofeld like a fop. He’s more of a comical villain, which further contributes to the disconnect from the idea that Bond should want this guy dead for murdering his wife.
Moreover, why the hell is Blofeld making copies of himself? What possible advantage is there to that and what does it have to do with the rest of the story? It seems to fit in line with the 1970’s fascination with the idea of cloning, but the only purpose the plot point serves is to make us think Bond killed Blofeld before, only to have him come back again.
Connery’s return also means the return of his sexism. We have the ridiculously named character, Plenty O’Toole, so Connery can quip, “Named for your father, I suppose.” When Tiffany Case makes the wrong switch of a cassette tape to foil Blofeld’s plan, Bond calls her a stupid twit.
And then there’s Bambi and Thumper — two nubile bodyguards named for Disney characters that Bond has to fight to release the real Willard Whyte. They at least get some good licks in before he defeats him, but it’s still silly.
And speaking of silly, the stunts in this film are terrible. Bond steals a moon buggy and is chased across the Nevada desert in one of the most preposterous scenes in the franchise. Worse, he escapes down an alley by putting a Mustang fastback on its two right wheels, but when the car emerges from the alley, it’s on its left wheels.
The best part of the film is Wint and Kidd. The two lovers are clever and witty. Each kill is executed with a quip, and Bruce Glover and Putter Smith seem to delight in the roles. Every scene they are in is fun to watch . . . unlike much of the rest of the film.
Where It Fits
Diamonds Are Forever is easily the worst of the first seven James Bond films, and it’s Connery’s only stinker. Since its release in 1971, several other entries in the series have challenged it for Worst Bond Film of All Time (notably 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, 1985’s A View to a Kill, and 2002’s Die Another Day), but DAF makes a credible argument for the crown.
It’s too bad. The book is terrific, and there are echoes of the novel in the movie plot. It also had the potential to be a really emotionally powerful film, following On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but since OHMSS was considered a box office disappointment and Lazenby had proven impossible to work with, the producers steered away from a serious picture and went for camp and fun instead.
What they got as a result is an entirely forgettable film that made for a disappointing swan song for Connery, and a piece that does not stand up well over time.
Diamonds Are Forever is hard to watch. I own it for completeness sake, but I only rarely put it in.