Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – BlogalongaBond #7
Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, Bambi and Thumper, Connery and Toupee. James Bond enters the 1970s in – SPOILER! – my favourite 007 movie.
Diamonds Are Forever
(Guy Hamilton, GB, 1971)
Another reboot – but, this time, one that worked. Welcome to the 1970s, Mr Bond, a nice little nothing of non-stop Vegas cabaret. I approve
1970. The James Bond movies are in crisis. Nobody recognises the romance and ambition of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby doesn’t want to carry on, and a franchise that had been near-100% hitsville during the 1960s is heading for an ignoble exit just shy of its 10th anniversary. So the producers gamble on paying through the roof to bring back Sean Connery, reunite him with the director of his most popular Bond movie, and make a momentous decision. To hell with art, they say, let’s have some fun.
Most reviewers in BlogalongaBond, I’ll warrant, won’t go easy on Diamonds Are Forever. This is where my peers and I part company, because I think Connery’s (official) swansong is a delight. It’s the template for every James Bond movie for the rest of the 1970s, and the one the brand continues to return to when they’ve had enough of trying to be all suave and serious. Even Goldfinger, the film this most resembles in tone (flippant, comic-booky) and content (America, expensive commodity as MacGuffin) was still paying vague lip service to the idea of Bond as super-spy. Here, 007 is less an espionage expert than Mr Casual, wandering through a Vegas cabaret of set-pieces and one-liners that would become the de facto setting for the Roger Moore films.
Nowadays, we’d get a Quantum of Solace-style sequel to OHMSS’ shock ending. Here, Bond’s vengeance is merely alluded to in the vaguest way possible, and Blofeld is (apparently) dispatched before the opening credits. Diamonds Are Forever is the real reboot in James Bond’s early years, slamming the door on plot progression and knowingly putting an actual facelift into the plot to highlight the fresh start. Connery doesn’t give a toss about the lack of integrity because his deal includes the green light to give his greatest performance in The Offence; nor, seemingly, does anybody else. Ken Adam’s sets are uninspired and humdrum; John Barry’s score is so indolent it barely musters up the energy to perk up during chase sequences; and the oil rig ending is an appalling comedown from epic battles in volcano bases and Alpine lairs.
“Aesthetically, Diamonds Are Forever is a disaster, but Guy Hamilton gets to the heart of why James Bond’s audience – and BlogalongaBond! – keeps coming back for more…”
Aesthetically, then, Diamonds Are Forever is a disaster, but Hamilton – bouncing off a fun-filled screenplay – gets to the heart of why James Bond’s audience (including us BlogalongaBond writers!) keep coming back for more. His style is summed up by one of the film’s best quips: “that’s a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing.” The plot is as threadbare as Tiffany Case’s wardrobe, but hey, we’ve got your attention and we’re not going to lose it.
This is the most incident-packed James Bond film to date, scarcely pausing before unleashing another freakish set-piece: death by scorpion sting, attempted premature cremation, a surreal chase involving a moon buggy; Bond getting the crap kicked out of him by gymnastic lady-thugs Bambi and Thumper. Little makes sense, which is perhaps why Hamilton uses two gay hitmen to give a running commentary on the action. Mr Wint and Mr Kidd are the film’s most unusual touch: henchmen with pretty much their own story (look how the traditional dullness of M’s briefing is gatecrashed with irony-filled segues to what the perfumed pals are doing) and whose paths cross only faintly with Bond in order to optimise the film’s punchline.
“Diamonds Are Forever places James Bond into a vulgar expat comedy, an action-movie remake of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One with a dash of Carry On…”
And then there’s Vegas, a city that has derailed better men than Bond, and which here seduces and destroys him with its tacky glamour. Indeed, the film is a considerable step up (or, more accurately, down) from the stereotyping of Jamaica or Japan in earlier films: Bond no longer has to be coy about patronising another culture, because this one is tasteless enough to begin with. Accordingly, the mid-section is a fantastic, vulgar piece of expat comedy, an action-movie remake of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One with a dash of Carry On, as Lana Wood’s big-busted Plenty O’Toole gets chucked out of a hotel, a Vegas comedian turns out to be a hoodlum, and the local funeral parlour is smuggling diamonds. Lording over everyone, is Howard Hughes-surrogate, Willard Whyte, whose presence marks a noticeable shift in the Bond films to outright pop-culture satire. You only have to watch Scorsese’s Casino to see that, in its off-kilter, cartoonish way, Diamonds Are Forever is bang on the money.
Throughout, the new style – soon to become orthodoxy – is being defined. Charles Gray’s Blofeld is neither Cold War warrior nor the thuggish criminal Telly Savalas played, but a camp, Wildean mastermind who appears to holding the world to ransom to stave off ennui, and who can’t wait to get into drag. The fabulously brassy Jill St John does away with the sultry jet-set sophistication of Sixties Bond girls with a more blatant, available Russ Meyer-style vixen. And Connery, in retrospect, is playing Roger Moore: too old to be doing the action shit, he spends the film with the wry indulgence of a man who can’t wait to wrap to hit the roulette tables for real. But after the gritted-teeth unhappiness of his performances in the mid-Sixties, Connery offers such relaxed charm you kind of wish he had played Roger Moore for longer.
In short: there’s Bond before Diamonds Are Forever, and Bond afterwards. Given that this is only film #7 of 23 and counting, the odds are stacked as heavily as Plenty O’Toole in its favour. This is the Bond film which is more influential than any of us would care to admit. Basically, Diamonds Are Forever is responsible for us being here now, forty years on, still talking about the Bond movies.