The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production of each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
In today’s 007 Collective, I review Sean Connery’s final outing as Bond in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.
Mission Title: Diamonds Are Forever
James Bond: Sean Connery
Release Date: December 17, 1971
Source Material: Based on the novel “Diamonds are Forever” by Ian Fleming
Tagline: Diamonds Are Forever…forever…forever…forever…
After defeating arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Bond is sent to investigate a series of murders linked to a South African diamond smuggling operation. Infiltrating the ring using the alias Peter Franks, Bond hooks up with smuggler Tiffany Case, and then heads to Las Vegas in search of reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte. But Whyte turns out to be just a decoy in a sinister plot involving smuggled diamonds and a laser satellite capable of destroying any city in the world.
After the PR disaster that was George Lazenby—the actor abruptly quit after appearing in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, his one and only appearance as Bond—Bond producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman went into full damage control mode. They contemplated replacing Lazenby with American actor John Gavin (who they offered a contract to), British character actor Michael Gambon and even Batman star Adam West but United Artists chairman David Picker balked at their suggestions, preferring to entice Sean Connery back to the series. Connery had quit four years earlier after You Only Live Twice, stating that he was growing tired of the role (and Broccoli & Saltzman who weren’t paying him enough). Thanks to Picker, Connery didn’t have to worry about his salary any more. The studio boss offered the Scottish actor a then-record 1.2 million pounds ($34 million in 2015 rates) to star in Diamonds Are Forever along with the funding of any two movies of his choice—a deal that was irresistible to the actor.
Connery wasn’t the only one lured back to the series. Hoping to re-ignite the magic of Goldfinger, Broccoli and Saltzman also re-hired Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, cinematographer Ted Moore, composer John Barry and production designer Ken Adam. They even set the film primarily in the United States, again, just like Goldfinger.
But Goldfinger this is not! Though there are definitely aspects that are memorable (the Mustang car chase, the thrilling elevator fight, henchmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kid), the pieces never come together like they did in previous entries. The plot, which finds Bond once again attempting to stop a global-domination scheme by Blofeld (this time played by the terribly miscast Charles Gray), is convoluted with Bond meandering from one point to the next without a clear sense of purpose. It never builds up to anything satisfying either. Numerous characters appear and disappear without a trace while others exist solely to pad the running time. Shady Tree, anyone? Even the finale, set on an oil rig, is a disappointing imitation of the massive volcano lair seen at the end of You Only Live Twice.
Equally disappointing is Connery himself. By this time in his career, the Scottish actor was clearly over James Bond. Going by his listless performance, it’s obvious that this was an appearance motivated only by the hefty paycheck. He coasts through the part, delivering the majority of his lines looking disinterested or bored. It would have been fascinating to see an actor like Connery tackle the emotional turmoil that Bond suffered after the shocking events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service—still one of the boldest creative decisions in the entire series. Alas, in an attempt to distance themselves from anything Lazenby-related, Broccoli and Saltzman brush off Bond’s revenge rather quickly (during its five-minute pre-credit sequence), and never bring up the issue again. Poor Tracy never got her due!
However, the biggest change that Hamilton and company brought to the series, at least up to that point, was its tone. Gone were the grit and ruthlessness of the earlier films. They were now replaced with a tone embossed with camp, comedy, and larger-than-life scenarios. Once again, this was a planned contrast to the intimacy of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Roger Moore’s films receive flack for their cheesiness but Diamonds Are Forever is where the seeds were sowed. You see it in Jill St. John’s smartass diamond smuggler Tiffany Case (one of the film’s highlights), in Lana Wood’s pornstar-like Plenty O’Toole, in Putter Smith and Bruce Glover’s quip-tastic homosexual henchmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, in female gymnast assassins Bambi and Thumper, and with scenery-chewing redneck millionaire Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean). In fact, nearly every character not named Bond could fit comfortably in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Even Blofeld joins in on the cartoonish nonsense when he engages in a bit of cross-dressing! By the time Bond escapes a secret base using a moon buggy with flailing robotic arms, it’s clear that the franchise had made the leap from breezy espionage-thrillers to absurdist action-comedies. Perhaps it’s apt that the film was primarily set in Vegas.
Diamonds Are Forever is far from an embarrassment. It’s certainly no A View to a Kill or some of the other movies I’ll be revising in the next few months. There are hints of the excellent earlier films still alive here—the elevator scene is one of the franchises’ most brutal hand-to-hand fights, Jill St. John’s sassy Tiffany Case is one of the better Bond girls (even if the producers insist on her wearing next to nothing for the majority of the film’s running time), and henchmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, despite playing gay stereotypes, are among the most creative villains in the series. But with its disengaged leading man (Connery was already one step out of the door), a needlessly convoluted plot, a forgettable villain, and a bizarre combination of camp and absurd characters, the film is too much of a mess to be taken seriously as one of the essentials of the Bond canon.
While it doesn’t explicitly address the events from the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever does open with Bond scouring the globe in search of the still at-large Blofeld. His investigation takes him to Japan, then Cairo, and eventually to South America where he beats the information out of Blofeld’s accomplices. Disguising himself as a surgeon, Bond infiltrates his nemesis’ lair by first killing two henchmen before tying the mastermind himself to a stretcher and dumping him into a boiling mud pit, sending him to his apparent death. The pre-title sequence ends when Bond is distracted by Blofeld’s iconic Turkish Angora cat, now wearing a diamond-encrusted collar. Like most of the film that follows it, Diamonds Are Forever’s cold open is short on thrills and mostly forgettable. It only serves as a reminder to fans that, “Hey guys… Forget about that Lazenby guy, ol’ Sean is back! Okay, he looks paunchier, about 10 years older and has to wear a stupid toupee to hide his balding head but, you know what… it’s Sean!”
Title Designer: Maurice Bender
Title Song: “Diamonds Are Forever” by Shirley Bassey
Famous Quote: “Diamonds are forever… Hold one up and then caress it… Touch it, stroke it and undress it”
Remember how I said Bond producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were desperate to recreate the formula of Goldfinger by hiring as many of that film’s chief collaborators for Diamonds Are Forever? Well, that invitation went out to songstress Shirley Bassey too. One of the series’ most iconic theme tunes—popularized again when Kanye West sampled the entire damn thing on his “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”—”Diamonds are Forever” benefits from Bassey’s seductive delivery of the sexual innuendo-infused lyrics and those horns. It’s not as good as “Goldfinger” but how many songs are? The visuals of Maurice Bender’s title sequence feature Blofeld’s cat frolicking among dancing women, guns and the diamonds of the title. Interestingly, all three films I’ve tackled so far in this series (Goldfinger, A View to a Kill, Diamonds Are Forever) have had the good fortune of killer title tunes, which means I’m about to hit a bump in the road. Gulp!
The Big Bad: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray), the egomaniacal head of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) who faces off against Bond for the third movie in a row. Extremely intelligent, with a vast pool of seemingly unlimited resources at his disposal, Blofeld is a criminal mastermind in lust with power and world domination. The arch-nemesis of James Bond. Fun fact: Gray was the third different actor to play the iconic Nehru suit-wearing villain.
Henchman: Creepy, sarcastic and delightfully droll assassins Mr. Wint (Putter Smith) and Mr. Kidd (Bruce Glover) who are partners in more ways than one. They’re also quite imaginative with their kills, as well as their post-kill quips. Fun fact: Bruce Glover is Crispin Glover’s dad.
World Domination Plan: After encrusting his death ray-equipped super satellite with the diamonds he smuggled from South Africa (for who knows what reason), Blofeld plans to hold the world ransom using the satellite, and then selling his services to the highest-bidding world power.
Primary: Street-smart and savvy diamond smuggler Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) whose witty banter with Bond gives the film some of its spark. Although she’s reduced to a helpless object by the film’s conclusion (shocker!), her independence and impishness are never in question. Many Bond fans find her shrill and annoying but those aspects of her character never bothered me. She was the first American to play a Bond girl.
Others: Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood), a character whose appearance increased the film’s misogyny meter by three points (see below).
Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean), a reclusive redneck American billionaire who was modeled after Howard Hughes, a then friend of producer Cubby Broccoli. Whyte began a trend in the Bond franchise in which Americans were portrayed as loud, obnoxious and ignorant (also see Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, Goldeneye)
CIA agent Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) who is depicted as a cranky old man constantly annoyed with Bond’s philandering ways instead of Bond’s American chum, as he was in previous films. Burton was also the fourth actor to play the character in as many appearances.
M (Bernard Lee)
Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell, who appears in a blink and you’ll miss it cameo).
Q (Desmond Llewelyn)
Finger trap which comes to good use when one of Bond’s adversaries tries to disarm him. Ouch!
Voice concealing machine
Fake Finger prints which Bond uses to throw off Tiffany when he’s pretending to be Peter Franks
Slot machine EMP ring used by Q to win big in Vegas
Water Sphere: A float which Bond uses to walk across the surface of the water to Blofeld’s headquarters on an oil rig. Bond uses a similar device in The World is Not Enough to escape an avalanche.
Grappling hook gun which Bond uses to ascend Willard Whyte’s tower and into his penthouse
ODDS & ENDS
[The busty Plenty O’Toole introduces herself to Bond at a Las Vegas casino]
Plenty O’ Toole: Hi, I’m Plenty.
James Bond: But of course you are.
Plenty O’ Toole: Plenty O’ Toole
James Bond: Named after your father perhaps?
Most Memorable Moment:
While I like the Mustang car chase, it has to be the vicious fight in the elevator between Bond and the real Peter Franks. The fight, which is very reminiscent of the famous train fight in From Russia with Love, is perhaps the only sequence in the entire film not soiled by camp.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
Hands down, the flabbergasting moon buggy chase sequence! Bond escapes from Willard Whyte’s tech factory by stealing a moon buggy and is then chased by security guards on three wheeler dirt bikes across the Nevada desert. Watch the scene here.
[After a couple of engineers open a manhole to an oil pipeline, Bond steps out, in complete dinner wear, nonchalantly, stating]
“Thank you very much. I was just out walking my RAT and seem to have lost my way…”
Most Shocking/Outrageous Moment:
No matter how good Smith and Glover are as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, there’s no escaping the fact that they’re gay stereotypes—creepy, perverted, odd and “fruity.” The scene in which they meet their end at the hands of Bond is brutal.
Best Pun/Double Entendre:
[Bond, upon discretely inserting a cassette tape containing the missile launch codes into the rear of Tiffany’s bikini bottom]
“Your problems are all behind you now”
Worst Pun/Double Entendre:
[Felix Leiter is searching for the smuggled diamonds in the body of a dead Peter Franks]
Felix Leiter: “I give up. I know the diamonds are in the body, but where?”
James Bond: “Alimentary, Dr. Leiter…”
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
Diamonds Are Forever is pretty light on action scenes so the Mustang car chase on the streets of Vegas with a plethora of cops hot in pursuit of Bond and Tiffany wins by default. After getting rid of most of the cops in a parking lot, thanks to some fancy driving, Bond escapes through a tight alleyway by tipping the Mustang on one side and driving on just two wheels; a fantastic stunt that would soon be eclipsed by even more outrageous stunts in the Roger Moore movies.
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 2 (both times with Tiffany)
Number of people Bond kills: 7
Bond’s Best Kill: Offing Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd by burning the former to death and tying a bomb to the latter’s hands and throwing him off-board a cruise ship. Boom!
Locations visited (In order of appearance): Japan, Cairo, South America, London, South Africa, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Baja California
Misogyny Meter: 7/10
As long as Connery is Bond, the misogyny rating will continue straddling the red zone. Bond slaps Tiffany with his tie when interrogating her; he chokes a female associate of Blofeld’s using her bikini top as a gagging device, and treats Plenty like a toy. Nearly every female character is written as a money-grubbing bimbo only interested in Bond for his money. Brutish assassins Bambi and Thumper are exceptions since they’re supposed to be lesbians.
Homophobia Meter: 8/10
With the two primary henchmen depicted as gay lovers, Diamonds Are Forever’s depiction of homosexuals is flat-out stereotypical hogwash. We’re expected to laugh at them because of their effeminate nature, propensity for perfume and their sense of fashion. How weird and disgusting, right? Bond even refers to one of them as a “tart.”
Racism Rating: 4/10
Not much aside from a scene where Italian-Americans are depicted as air-headed gangsters.
Box Office: $43.8 million ($220 million, adjusted for inflation); the ninth highest grossing film of the series.
Oscars: 1 nomination (Best Sound)
007 Chronological Listing: 7/24
Running time: 120 minutes
Companies: MGM, Eon Productions
Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Recommended)
The 007 Collective will return in:
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)
Previous entries in The 007 Collective: