Diamonds Are Forever a Satirical Action Mixed Bag
By Kristin Battestella
My husband liked this 1971 final official appearance of Sean Connery as 007 for its dry, straightforward heist designs. However, the uneven mix of sardonic camp, flashy settings, and Vegas cash in hasn’t stood the test of time.
MI-6 Agent James Bond (Connery) pursues Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith) as bodies in the illegal diamond trade fall in their wake. With his jewel smuggling contact Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), 007 heads to Las Vegas and joins CIA ally Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) in uncovering a multi-faceted, high-tech, high-rise, and doppelganger-laden heist lead by none other than Bond’s thought dead nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray).
Glorious a Sin City time capsule it may be, Diamonds Are Forever doesn’t quite feel like any of its onscreen Bond predecessors thanks to these Vegas caper designs. The Illicit jewel trade, wealth obsessions, and peripheral political commentaries on the subject are not as good as Goldfinger’s analysis, and one even wonders why franchise writers Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz have 007 involved in such a basic American escapade at all. Change the names and toss in any old cops and would Diamonds Are Forever be any different? Previous Bond Director Guy Hamilton’s approach is Nevada old and arid with no wink thanks to the lack of Bondian hallmarks, and attempts to liven the adventure confuse the scheme. What do the diamonds have to do with the Blofeld intro? We’re at the circus? With elephants? In a Bond movie? Distasteful racist undertones over a decidedly Yiddish showman and his trick of turning a black woman into a gorilla are also too bizarre and unfunny. Though the satirical moon buggy chase sequence looks good, it is an of the time deadpan gag laughable for the wrong reasons. Between the changing of the decade, British world transitions, and attempted American humorous appeal, Diamonds of Forever simply has too much to do in addition to its unenviable position between the franchise’s return to Connery after Lazenby’s serious, book faithful misstep. The events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are completely ignored here, by the way. Space flight notions, crime angst, Willard Whyte conglomerate switch a roos, an out of the blue oil rig action finale – it’s all over the place yet not enough. Are those diamond, oil, and water statements supposed to be taken seriously? Because Blofeld’s one man submarine being bandied about on a crane is too far toward parody. Are we supposed to be laughing at the villain who put so much terror in his numbered subordinates just a few films ago?
Of course, the rechristened Sean Connery looks old and gray for Diamonds Are Forever, but the reduced amount of personal action here seems fitting for this aged style. Though the congested elevator fight early on is well done, this 007 is on the case more with his wits and stays mostly by the book with no Bond Theme to follow him. The mortuary scenes and that fiery close call are fun, but James doesn’t really have any chemistry with Tiffany Case. Combined with the meandering, unfocused script and lack of nudge nudge wink wink swanky, this puts a major damper on Connery’s room to maneuver. The pair may just be too far apart in age or style, as Tiffany seems too young and unbelievable a catch even for James Bond. We see them in an intimate relationship and yet the caper and lady foil humor attempts make the duo feel more like a chaste friendship compared to Connery’s previous bum slapping and love ‘em and leave ‘em conquests. Thankfully, our first American Bond Gil Jill St. John (Come Blow Your Horn) has some tricked out spy works of her own for all this crime business – complete with that Tiffany’s related name, of course. Her introduction is naughty with fun wigs and flashy style changes. Tiffany’s smart but stupid and goofy design may be dated to some or retro cool to others, granted, but her over the top jewel thief panache fits the character. If some Bond films are memorable for the villain, then Diamonds Are Forever is mostly memorable for St. John.
Unfortunately, Blofeld’s confusing disguises in Diamonds Are Forever and his Eon film history hinders Charles Gray. The short pre-credit sequence gives no explanation to the changes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service nor You Only Live Twice if you want to discount Lazenby and by default Telly Savalas as Blofeld – not to mention Gray’s previous role as MI-6 ally Henderson in You Only Live Twice. Audiences who haven’t seen any prior Bond films wouldn’t even know who Blofeld is, much less care about Bond’s off and on pursuit of him. If this generic caper didn’t have to have 007, then it also doesn’t really need Blofeld. Gray keeps the humor going with his incognito womanly style, whiff of kinky, and those wrong pussy jokes, but the back and forth plastic surgery decoys and lookalike switches ruin his performance. It’s also odd to see Blofeld in some simplistic American one-man operation with no real support. This is the head of SPECTRE reduced to some evil old diamond smuggler with an oil rig? Perhaps this over the top, 180 degree disservice to the character and the organization is due to those infamous Kevin McClory legal issues, but if there was going to be that much trouble, other clear cut, no expectations options might have improved Diamonds Are Forever. Sadly, Bruce Glover (Walking Tall) and musician Putter Smith as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are also all over the place too quirky, not scary, not funny, annoying, and dorky. Obviously, they are gay and this aspect shouldn’t be used for comic relief, but there is also little rhyme or reason to their non-standard henchman pattern. They are with Blofeld, but just shadow everyone with their quips and never outright encounter Bond until the finale. The viewer doesn’t see the match up and knocked out thwarts until after the fact so there’s no real fun in the expected 007 cat and mouse games. Likewise, Lola Larson as Bambi and Trina Parks as Thumper make for an awkward shoehorned in excuse for eye candy that comes across as too butch and unnecessary.
Thankfully, the MI-6 support makes for some loveable Bond bemusement in Diamonds Are Forever. Desmond Llewelyn has a fun phone call as Q and has a gadget man’s good time in some great casino scenes. Bernard Lee, however, looks somewhat ill or feeble as M and remains seated for his cranky quips with Bond. Lois Maxwell’s brief out of office Moneypenny visit is charming, too, and it’s a wonder why she didn’t pop up in disguise more often during her tenure. Norman Burton (Planet of the Apes) appears as the fourth official Felix Leiter and features well in the plot with his American snark – but his portrayal is again a little left field compared to previous CIA incarnations. Ironically, Lana Wood (Peyton Place) as the relatively pointless Plenty O’Toole may perhaps be the best part of Diamonds Are Forever. She’s looks bosom great in fitting, low cut Bond Girl fashion, and the awesome retorts in her scenes are the most Bondian part of the picture: “Named after your father perhaps?” Deleted scenes featuring O’Toole help clarify the character’s placement, and it might have been interesting to have seen Plenty play both sides of the heist – perhaps replacing Bambi and Thumper for a sexy shakedown – rather than just being some throwaway girl – literally!
Garish purple and oranges schemes, bad yellows, clashing lights – the bevy of boobs in the main titles is fun and the diamond themed designs should be glitz and glamour friendly, yet Diamonds Are Forever’s chic feels too dated and tacky for the most part. Even the aquarium waterbed looks sweet but uncomfortable, and while the lack of fantastic gadgets may appeal to that audience looking for more Bond realism, scenes like that out of this world moon simulation negate any seriousness. The Vegas Strip car chase and up on two wheels action is superb, but sadly it seems like someone left the music off the picture – the inexplicably absent James Bond Theme would have given Diamond Are Forever the extra punch it needed by setting off these pursuit scenes. Fortunately, the kitschy feathers, great explosions, Amsterdam cool, Nevada flair, and ring a ding ding do look simply delightful thanks to this blu-ray revitalization. There’s also a quick nipple in the opening strangle that might not have been seen without this glorious high definition! The cassette mini-MacGuffin will be goofy to younger tech savvy audiences, but it’s back and forth fun is one of the few, um, cheeky bright spots in Diamonds Are Forever – a jump drive in a girl’s bikini bottom just wouldn’t be as bemusing.
Longtime 007 viewers will find Diamonds Are Forever watchable, certainly more so now thanks to the blu-ray edition and all its glory. Camp fans can enjoy the tacky, sure. Newer Bond fans and American caper audiences may love the unintentional humor or appreciate the absent cliché Moore designs, Brosnan spy surrealism, or other Bondisms and perceive Diamonds Are Forever as a seventies action vehicle and nothing more. Unfortunately, the forced, dry satire, confusing plot, and falling flat jokes here are a tough pill to swallow for Fleming fans expecting a return to Connery’s wink, smile, martini, and sophistication. Diamonds Are Forever tried to stand out in what was a difficult time for the franchise. Some of it works, but most of it is too mixed for long-lasting, repeat viewing.