He's back - Diamonds Are Forever reviewed

"Making mud pies, 007?"

In 1970 the producers of the James Bond series had to find a new 007 much sooner than expected when George Lazenby - on the advice of an agent who he probably felt like shooting later - quit the franchise after only one film. Eventually it was American actor - John Gavin - who signed to fill Lazenby's shoes and become the third official James Bond. Gavin was best known for playing Sam Loomis in Psycho and a Bondish spy in O.S.S 17 Double Agent. Studio United Artists however were not thrilled at the prospect of Gavin. They hadn't been that happy with Lazenby and felt a second risky choice in a row would not help the series flourish. They decided to go after the original James Bond Sean Connery. Connery had fallen out with the Bond producers and not played the role - of which he'd tired - for four years. To entice him back United Artists were required to pay a then unheard of fee of $1.25 million (which Connery gave to charity), support two film projects of Connery's choice and also pay the actor for any overrun in the weekly shooting schedule. With this (then) sensational deal completed a slightly older and pudgier Connery returned to play James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever - a film that would reunite him with Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton.

What is the plot of Diamonds Are Forever you ask? The plot of Diamonds Are Forever is all over the place with one or two holes but essentially revolves around diamond smuggling. The British Secret Service notice that someone is building a vast collection of the world's diamonds and send James Bond to investigate why they keep disappearing. The trail leads 007 to American millionaire Willard Whyte and, of course, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. But how are these two men connected and why they need all of these diamonds anyway?

Diamonds Are Forever has been described as the first Roger Moore James Bond film and I think there is some truth to this observation. Although Diamonds Are Forever is quite offbeat at times with a very atmospheric score by John Barry that is a major strength, it is also quite jovial in tone. There is a lot more humour in this one in contrast to earlier entries. The previous film - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - had, through the influence of director Peter Hunt, presented a very tough but human and vulnerable Bond played by young newcomer George Lazenby. In Diamonds Are Forever Bond is very much an unflappable dandy who doesn't take any of the scrapes he finds himself in too seriously. The film is cerainly good fun but suffers a little in comparison with the previous entry. Compared to OHMSS it does seem a bit lightweight.

One of my problems with Diamonds Are Forever is that I - and I'm not sure if this an eccentric view or not - would have prefered the film to be directed by Peter Hunt and feature Lazenby's Bond on a revenge mission agaisnt Blofeld. That said, what is good and bad about Diamonds Are Forever?

The good would have to feature Sean Connery. He has too easy a time here, looking like he's enjoying himself a lot (Who wouldn't with the deal he got!) but it's fun nonetheless to see him back in the role. He's a bit older with grey hairs but still suave with a wonderful dry delivery to handle the many jokes that the script sends his way. DAF has a pretty good pre-credit sequence where Connery threatens to strangle a woman with her own bikini top to get information and beats up several shady looking characters looking for Blofeld. The sequence - understandably as Lazenby is gone - never quite divulges if Bond is looking for Blofeld because of the events of OHMSS but it's a stylish and quite iconic reintroduction to Connery when the Bond theme kicks in.

Shirly Bassey's song is a strong one with a good title sequence by Maurice Binder too. 

Bruce Glover as Mr. Wint and Putter Smith as Mr. Kidd, homosexual hit men working for Blofeld, are a distinctly strange yet interesting addition to the cast. I'm not sure that you could get away with stereotypical camp characters like this today but they have some good moments as they knock-off diamond smugglers with scorpions and share litle nuggets of wisdom with one another. "Curious," says Mr Wint. "How everyone who touches those diamonds seems to die." They also have a funny final confrontation with Bond. Charles Gray camps it up as Blofeld even resorting to drag at one point! He perhaps lacks the menance of previous Blofelds but his sarcastic delivery is very amusing and he's given some good dialogue. "If we destroy Kansas the world may not hear about it for years," he says to a scientist. Lana Wood as Plenty O'Toole supplies perhaps the most famous one-liner in the film, delivered by Connery.

There is a fun sequence that involves Bond escaping from Willard Whyte's Nevada Lab in a moon buggy and also a car chase through Las Vegas that features a famous continuity error. Diamonds Are Forever is part of that (much missed by me) era when each Bond film used to end with a spectacular battle sequence that found 007 in the middle of all sorts of mayhem. The climax here, on an oil rig, is ok but perhaps not quite as satisfying as the climaxes of OHMSS and The Spy Who Loved Me or some other vintage Bonds. Bond arrives at the oil rig in typical fashion: "Good morning, gentlemen. ACME pollution inspection. We're cleaning up the world, we thought this was a suitable starting point."

The main strength of the film is the humour and there are some good witty lines in the film for Bond and Blofeld. Asked if he prefers blondes or brunettes Bond replies that he doesn't mind as long as the "collar and cuffs match" and in another scene Bond pretends to have a brother. A mortuary assistant tells Bond he has a brother too. "Small world," deadpans Connery under his breath. This is also the film where Bond ends up being buried in an underground pipeline. His escape and reaction to daylight is very cinematic James Bond. Diamonds Are Forever also a good fight sequence in a lift.

What doesn't work so well in Diamonds Are Forever? The plot is a bit vague and takes a while to get going. The predominantly American locations are fun but the film lacks the varied locales of other Bond films. The Las Vegas scenes for example while glitzy and enjoyable start to become a bit samey after a while as Bond walks through casinos and crowds. Jill St John as Tiffany Case is not the greatest actress ever and eventually grows a little tiresome with her wisecracks ("Go blow up your pants!"). St John is a distinct step down from Diana Rigg. 
The special effects are somewhat mixed in terms of quality and Blofeld's masterplan doesn't actualy make much sense when you think about it. One other quibble is Norman Bunton's unmemorable and bland Felix Leiter. Thankfully though, M, Q and Moneypenny are all here in their original and classic forms and all have a good moment in the film. Bernard Lee's look of mild exasperation when Bond proves to be an expert on Sherry near the start of the film is classic.

So overall, Diamonds Are Forever is fun and a colourful romp but not quite classic Bond. My attention drifts in a few places whenever I watch it and there some more obvious flaws than usual in terms of its plot and casting. The wit inherent in the script, John Barry's score and some nice set-pieces save it from being one of the weaker entries in the series. Plus of course Connery, who, though he looks much older than (the older in real life) Roger Moore did when he later took the role in 1973, is still a joy to watch in what would be his last official appearance as James Bond.

Diamonds Are Forever is flawed but still fun.

- Jake


c 2008 Alternative 007