Diamonds Are Forever ’71

After the troubled post-production and mixed response to ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969), James Bond would enter the  1970’s decade a different man. Even though OHMSS was a global hit by any standards, the length, tragic ending and George Lazenby made Cubby Brocoli nervous; instead of Ian Fleming’s follow-up novel, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, or the planned script with 007 seeking revenge for the murder of his wife, the producers opted for a lighter USA-centric script using the Las Vegas based DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER for the template. Guy Hamilton was brought back for his Midas directorial touch along with bizarre, desperate casting calls for an Americanized Bond to re-capture the dominant market. Potential candidates included Adam West, Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and finally, John Gavin (PSYCHO; PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU), who was actually signed to play the British secret agent. Ultimately, United Artists wanted Sean Connery and he was offered the highest salary ever paid to a film actor at the time.

Five years from his bored, contemptuous performance in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), Connery seems to be enjoying himself here, as he actually gets a chance to play a few different personas such as a Dutch smuggler, a bereaved decoy and a radiation scientist. Nobody does a quip better than Sean Connery, and screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz provided him with some of his best lines in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. I particularly like his “Who is your floor?” query and of course, the brilliant moment where he uses Blofeld’s cat as bait but kills his double instead: “Right idea, Mr. Bond.” “But wrong pussy.” Charles Gray makes for the most fey, witty Blofeld in the series, although lacks the threat of such a nemesis. Jill St. John as the first Yank Bond Girl is bright, engaging but diluted by the end. The most memorable characters are Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, the gay assassins (Bruce Glover took on Wint after Paul Williams (!) dropped out) whose sexuality was edited out of the first ABC network showings. Guy Hamilton’s light approach was the harbinger for the decade, and there’s little of Ian Fleming’s 007 essence or the admittedly pulpy story. Still, the scene where Bond scales the side of the Whyte House at night is an atmospheric spy beat with a terrific neon panorama backdrop. Yet compared to the structurally sound OHMSS, the narrative for DAF is a loose mess with a climatic oil rig battle lacking rhythm or kineticism — Blofeld’s defeat is barely established in the action.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER was released on December 17, 1971 and quickly became one of the biggest hits of the year, though ironically not much more so than OHMSS. Being the first Bond movie of the Me Decade, the tone is 0070’s indeed, with more risque humor and less 60’s pop style. To that end, John Barry’s evocative hit theme song uses a “wacka wacka” guitar under Shirley Bassey’s brassy voice; it’s one of my favorite scores in the series, utilizing cool lounge and suspense cues. Although an uneven film entry, there’s something wistful about Sean Connery’s last official Eon Production as 007 — the final moments with him smiling up at the diamond-veiled satellite circling the stars are a reminder of better Bond nights ahead and behind. To reverse Tiffany Case’s line from the novel, “It lives better than it reads.”

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21 Responses to “Diamonds Are Forever ’71”

  1. Going from Majesty’s to Diamonds is like having an orgasm and then getting kicked in the balls. If Connery is having any fun in this movie at all, it’s at the thought of spending all the money they gave him to come back. This for me is the absolute nadir of the Bond series. I think I hate it even more than License to Kill or Moonraker.

    And frankly it continues to surprise me how much people underrate You Only Live Twice. Maybe I just can’t let go of the little kid in me getting off on the ninjas and the volcano lair and Little Nellie (not to mention Ms. Nancy Sinatra), but there it is.

    Anyway, Diamonds has a decent theme song. I’ll give it that much. Jill St. John is horrible. Las Vegas is.. well it’s Las Vegas which means it’s tacky, American and horrible. The Mustang fastback is fine in an American car chase movie, but is otherwise as un-Bond as you can get and therefore horrible. Jimmy Dean is horrible. James Gray is fine, but he’s no Donald Pleasance.

    • Ouch! And Connery donated his salary to setting up a Scottish arts charity so it was more than a cash grab (he turned down 5 MILLION DOLLARS — said in best Dr. Evil voice — to do LIVE AND LET DIE). His BBC interview from 1971 on the Ultimate DVD reveals the details and the fact that Connery had only read three Fleming novels! He also dissed OHMSS and said the script for DAF was very good. Which is too bad that he never sought out to source Fleming’s 007 — even after he made Bond Scottish to honor Connery.

      I feel about DAF the way I feel about THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, a mess that has moments. Guy Hamilton’s style was too casual. The Mustang chase has a nice bit when Connery backs up as the sheriff steps over — the precursor to J.W. Pepper. But it’s a tacky vibe and too much time is spent roaming the attractions. Too bad they cut Sammy Davis’s totally extraneous but cool cameo. And since this was Bruce Cabot’s last film, it’s amazing he lasted from KING KONG to Bond.

      Jimmy Dean is indeed way overcooked. Tho I think Charles Gray is better than Pleasance, the worst Blofeld. Every one of Gray’s line readings is funny, but then, that’s the problem. DAF does have the worst scenes of the series up to that point. Don’t even get me started on Bambi and Thumper.

      As for YOLT, it’s an exotic, wonderful 007 adventure which is doused by Connery’s clear disdain with the role.

      • I think the one film in the series that has me completely flummoxed is LIVE AND LET DIE — so obviously poor, so terribly crafted (Gloria Hendry gives the worst performance imaginable), so horrifyingly dull, not to mention so obviously low budget — yet one look at the customer comments at Amazon and it’s somehow regarded as one of “the best.” As someone who ‘grew up with’ Connery in the role, having seen GOLDFINGER in the theatre first run, I never cared for Moore (too much of a pouf), but I can recognize the values in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, MOONRAKER and, gulp, OCTOPUSSY that could’ve been put to better use if only Cubby Broccoli hadn’t insisted on so much idiocy. The sheriff in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is radically superior to J.W. Pepper (who hit the lowest point in the series when reciting this line), just as the rigged gay comedy relief of Wint and Kidd feels utterly sophisticated in comparison to Richard Kiel’s horrifyingly gauche tenure as ‘Jaws.’ DIAMONDS was the series’ initial departure into burlesque, something it wouldn’t shake off and recover from until THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (although FOR YOUR EYES ONLY made a valiant, albeit pointless, try). But this is just my humble opinion. And as La Rochefoucauld might have put it, humility is the worst form of conceit.

        • LIVE AND LET DIE was one of the earliest Bonds I fully recall in the theater, and it has its moments, particularly Geoffrey Holder as Samedi and McCartney’s great explosive title song. Nice to see Yaphet Kotto as Mr. Big and his death scene might be the most ridiculous in the whole series. The Bond films were always culturally relevant and blaxploitation was at its peak, helping LALD at the box-office.

          But Moore was just too dapper and had none of Fleming’s Bond. I’m going to watch it again and see how it fares. I always though the final shot was one of the best — and genuinely chilling — of the films.

          • I agree that the Bond films were culturally relevant. But what separates the Connery films from the Moores is that the Connerys created new trends while the Moores aped existing ones from other camps: LIVE AND LET DIE with blaxploitation, MOONRAKER with STAR WARS, JW Pepper with all those terrible Good-Buddy-CB-Radio-Breaker-Breaker movies of the 70s, SPY WHO LOVED ME going underwater after JAWS (plus the character of Jaws), etc.

            I don’t agree with you on the last image of Geoffrey Holder. For me, it’s just another unnecessary addition to an already bloated ending. After Bond kills Mr. Big, for example, then he’s stuck in a train compartment fighting one of Mr. Big’s henchmen, the guy with the hook hand. It’s entirely anticlimactic, tiresome and, structurally, makes no sense.

            The broad comedy in LIVE AND LET DIE, by the way, is an absolute disaster, making me question Guy Hamilton’s capability and prompting me to wonder just how much input the producers and screenwriters may have had on GOLDFINGER and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Hamilton fared far better on MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, but even that film’s a little thin.

  2. Unless I’m mistaken, Connery’s paycheck on this film went to charity.

    • Yep. Here’s what Roger Ebert said about the film in 1971:

      “The cultists like the early James Bond movies best, but I dunno. They may have been more tightly directed films, but they didn’t understand the Bond mythos as fully as “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever.” We see different movies for different reasons, and “Diamonds Are Forever” is great at doing the things we see a James Bond movie for.”

  3. I agree with Flickhead regarding Moore. I actually came along in the Moore era and liked him at the time, but once I discovered and appreciated the books, there was no getting around Connery. Connery would never have been caught dead in a safari suit.

  4. Safari suits make me think of Lee Majors, for some reason.

    DaF always seemed to be on TV when I was a kid, so it sort of defined Bond for me. I doubt I’d like it much now.

    I consider the last few Moore films rock-bottom. They were campy wink-fests with a decrepit wax dummy in the lead.

    • The death of many a long running movie series (Star Trek, Bond…) is the moment when they lose the confidence to take themselves seriously. Bond showed some signs of that as far back as Goldfinger, but it really became unbearable in the Moore years. I liked them when I was 12, but as an adult looking back they’re mostly crap except for For Your Eyes Only. Huge chunks of Spy Who Loved Me are still great and bits of the others are fine, but… eh.

      One reason I think the first Dalton film was so refreshing even though it wasn’t perfect: It had the stones to take itself mostly seriously. And it was appropriately grim.

      • This self-parody is exactly what Ayn Rand warned of in her essay on Bond films except she was already calling it out by FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE…

        There are moments in all the Moore Bonds primarily due to John Barry, Ken Adams and the usual crew.

      • Craig, I was elated when THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS came out. After my disappointment with the Roger Moore movies — I actually dreaded going to see each new one — it was as if the series itself rediscovered 007 in Timothy Dalton, who was excellent in the role. And Maryam d’Abo looked terrific.

  5. David: I’ve referenced this before, her essay “Bootleg Romanticism” from “The Romantic Manifesto” my favorite of her non-fiction essays. She gets Fleming’s Bond more than any writer and gets the films. From my Retro-View of THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS:

    http://christiandivine.wordpress.com/2008/11/13/retro-view-the-living-daylights-1987/

    Flickhead: See above!

    And the BBC just released some archival Bond material: http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/james_bond/

  6. And apropos of nothing, Sid Haig has one of my favorite moments in DAF where he tells Sean Connery, “I got a brudder” to which he responds, “Small world.”

  7. Cool post. I enjoy all of the Sean Connery Bonds (some more than others). DAP is far from perfect, but like NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, it was always an enjoyable trip with Sean returning in the role. Thanks, christian.

  8. I saw “Diamonds Are Forever” in its original release way back when & I guess I still can only see it with those same, bedazzled eleven-year old eyes. I know it has problems (the bloated ending for one), but I’m still baffled that anyone could find it worse than anything Roger Moore ever did (especially his later films like “Octopussy” & “A View To A Kill” which are unwatchable abominations). I love DAF’s blackhearted brassy title song (it’s one of my favorites) and the set up is nifty (“Strange how anyone who touches those diamonds…dies”), but, then, as you note, it does degenerate toward the end. Great essay, Christian & Happy New Year to you & all that have been posting at this site!

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