There is an idea that the styles and fashions of the 1960s are of far more lasting influence and of greater cultural importance and good taste than those of the 1970s, by which time society and pop culture had gone through seismic changes. After the initial creative explosion, things started to get lazy. Even though Diamonds are forever was released as early as 1971, it does back up that argument.
In the four years since Sean Connery last played Bond, things have changed.
Diamonds are forever is by far one of the most kitsch and tacky of the Bond films, and the fact that much of the action and location shots are set in Las Vegas, adds to the overall trash aesthetic. If it’s possible to manage the combination of expensive and tacky, then Diamonds are forever is a good example. Diamonds also sets a trend for the more ‘Americanised’ direction the series would take throughout the early to mid seventies. It’s the first in a trilogy of films directed by Guy Hamilton, the man behind Goldfinger, and the emphasis on tongue in cheek style (which epitomises the Roger Moore era) started with this film. So did an apparent obsession with outrageous car stunts, which would feature in all of Guy Hamilton’s Bond films of the early ‘70s. Despite these new variations, the film was originally meant to reunite the team that made Goldfinger, with the intent of making a similar success. This film was originally intended to feature Goldfinger’s brother (again to be played by Gert Frobe) until the existing story was created. In the event, Shirley Bassey returned for the title song, but the similarities between the two films don’t extend too far.
The film begins with Bond on the trail of Blofeld, cornering the villain in the middle of a plot to create some ‘clones’ with plastic surgery. The usual assumption is that Bond is out for revenge following his wife’s death. But this is not entirely true. Diamonds are forever seems keen to distance itself from the events in On Her Majesty’s secret service, not least because the film was perceived as a failure due to George Lazenby’s sudden departure and because the man playing Bond was a one off who certainly wasn’t Sean Connery (although OHMSS was still a box office hit). Lazenby’s uncooperative actions had left Broccoli and Saltzman with egg on their face, and they were keen to avoid any further damage to their franchise. Probably because of this fear, Diamonds is a tongue in cheek comedy adventure, and wants us to forget about George Lazenby by offering thrills and spills and the odd laugh. As a result of this light hearted approach it’s by far the weakest Bond film up to the time of its release. And the script isn’t all that fantastic, regardless of what Connery thought of it at the time (he did say it was the best he’d done). American Tom Mankiewicz is brought in to complete Richard Maibaum’s story, and will add his own style to the next few pictures in the series.
Playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld this time is veteran Charles Grey, who I always remember from The Rocky horror picture show and the Hammer classic The Devil rides out. He also played Henderson in You only live twice. An engaging actor, but his version of Blofeld is too camp and comes across more as a dastardly cad than a menacing adversary. It doesn’t help that he smokes his cigarettes through a holder and is seen disguised in drag at one point! Compared to the version played by Telly Savalas (or even Donald Pleasance) he’s just not in the same league. Infact, occasionally, he’s an embarassment. The Bond girl this time is the first American one and is Tiffany Case, played by Jill St. John. I like her, and found her quite an entertaining female lead. She’s quite brash and isn’t the most demure of the Bond women, but she has a nice chemistry with Connery and looks better in a bikini than I do.
The most memorable of the Diamonds cast are the two gay hit men Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (who actually refer to them selves by those very names). They are exceptionally creepy individuals and Bruce Glover and Putter Smith deserve praise for bringing such original creations to life. One of them looks like Peter Lorre or some extra from a horror film, and the other looks like he’s just come back from an Easy rider audition (what’s with the hair?) You never actually see them on screen with Blofeld, which is even odder, despite the fact they’re working for him. They have some highly amusing exchanges in their usual macabre fashion….“If man had meant us to fly…” “They would have given us wings, Mr. Kidd”, they wisely comment as a helicopter explodes above them, containing one of their unfortunate victims.
Also in the cast is Norman Burton as Felix Leiter. Why they couldn’t keep to the same actor for Felix with every film he’s in, I’ll never know (as with ‘M’, ‘Q’ and Moneypenny). Burton is decent enough in the role, but adds nothing exceptionally new.
Diamonds are forever has a proved a nostalgic favourite with me, as I remember watching it in a B&B in Dover in 1986, when with my parents and Aunty. The two men that have transcended the years of wisdom and cynicism are Sean Connery and John Barry. Connery is quite captivating here, although he plays the role more fatuously than before, and the humour is far more pronounced. He’s also put on a considerable amount of weight since You only live twice and looks far older than in any of his other Bond films; he isn’t the toned looking secret agent he should be. He gets some great lines to deliver though:
“As long as the collars and cuffs match…” (when he questions Tiffany’s change of different coloured wigs), “Right idea…wrong pussy” (as he shoots the wrong Blofeld clone, after following the white cat) and the infamous exchange with buxom casino girl Plenty O’Toole, as played by Lana Wood (“…named after your father, perhaps?”).
Come to think of it, Charles Grey’s Blofeld has some great lines too, all delivered as smarmily as possible. “Such pretty cheeks”, he comments as Tiffany’s bikini clad form is taken away by his guards, “if only they were brains…”
This Bond film still makes me laugh out loud, and I think that’s why I like it more than I probably should. It gives up much pretence to treating anything seriously before the pre-titles sequence. “Making mud pies, 007?”, enquires Blofeld shortly before being dumped into the mud bath himself.
“Welcome to Hell, Blofeld”, says Sean’s Bond, barely managing to hide a grin and looking nothing like a man who’s wife has presumably just been murdered.
John Barry is the other man who comes out of this kitsch car crash of a Bond film with some dignity, and he supplies the film’s music. His Diamonds are forever score is one of my personal favourites. It’s almost lounge music in some parts, but suits the Las Vegas setting very well. It’s quite engaging and suits the “tacky but expensive” tag down to a tee. Shirley Bassey also equips herself very well with one of the more memorable theme songs.
As I mentioned, the film begins the tongue in cheek style, which would colour the Roger Moore years. Bond is almost a parody of himself in places and there’s even a scene where Tiffany shrieks, “Oh my God, you’ve killed James Bond!” This is when the real Bond swaps his I.D. with a certain dead Peter Franks – whose identity Bond has assumed. That Tiffany knows so much about Bond undermines his role as a secret agent, and I think it was quite silly of the writers to go down that route. Diamonds isn’t the only film where this happens, but it’s the first time I recall a ‘civilian’ being so aware of Bond’s reputation. In Thunderball his reputation is taunted by SPECTRE agent Fiona (Lucianna Paluzzi) , but that is acceptable as he is part of their secret world.
I mentioned the car chases, and fans of that kind of thing won’t be short changed. There’s a hectic chase across the Nevada desert, which is quite daft but a lot of fun. Bond gets to steal a prototype moon buggy from a space research centre, and is a good excuse for some rampant destruction of walls and other vehicles. The stunt work in Las Vegas is tremendous, with Bond’s red Mustang going over on two wheels to get through a narrow alley. Producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s friendship with elusive Vegas kingpin Howard Hughes meant that the Bond crew had full access to his casinos and even the street outside. That ensures that the film never lacks any Vegas location in which to set the action. So the whole film looks as garish and as neon lit as possible. Speaking of Howard Hughes, he was the inspiration for Willard Whyte- the character played in Diamonds by country singer Jimmy Dean, who’s quite charismatic in his role. But, of course, Blofeld has had him kidnapped and has also taken on his identity (a reoccurring theme in this Bond).
Another great part of Diamonds are forever is Whyte’s concrete house in the desert, which is actually a real building. You can visit it to this very day. Here Bond encounters “Bambi” and “Thumper”, two girls whose only function in the story is to give Bond a good hiding. He ends up getting the better of them in the swimming pool; just before Felix and company arrive on the scene.
All in all, Diamonds are forever is probably the weakest Bond film up to the time of its original release. It did good box office, due in large part to the return of Connery. He would never return to the Eon series after this film, treating Diamonds as a one off comeback, but he would play the role of James Bond again in unofficial release Never say, never again.
But even with Connery, Diamonds are forever is a disappointment for anyone expecting a return to the glories of Goldfinger (as was the original intention). It paved the way for the light hearted Bond adventures of the ‘70s, and at least does something new with the series in that respect. Personally I really like Diamonds are forever, but I can still recognise it as the worst of Sean Connery’s Bond films (with the exception of Never say, never again). Still, it offers more ireverant amusement than Dr. No or Thunderball, if you want your Bond played for laughs! It’s still an engaging Bond adventure, with a certain charm all of its own. I can understand why it was chosen to be the Christmas day movie on its British TV premiere in 1978; it is rather like a loud Christmas party; a lot of fun but with some bloody awful bits. It’s also a tacky action picture with lots of money behind it, but it doesn’t really pretend to be anything else. It wanted to be Goldfinger but ended up setting its sights considerably lower. Even the villain and Bond girl are not quite in the same league.
Right idea….wrong Pussy.