Skip to main content

Well, if we destroy Kansas the world may not hear about it for years.


Diamonds are Forever
(1971)

In conception, Diamonds are Forever was a retreat to safer ground for the series following the “failure” of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In the end, it proved to be a significant break in tone and humour from what had gone before. More playfulness was evident in the heightened characterisations and settings, but simultaneously more boundaries were pushed in terms of sex and violence. Las Vegas lends the film a tarnished, glitterball quality that would quite accurately predict the excess and decadence of the coming decade. And presiding over the proceedings was a greying Bond, somewhat gone to seed and looking noticeably older than the near-decade it was since his first appearance. Somehow, the result is as sparkling and vital as the diamonds of the title, but it is understandably a curate’s egg. In many respects it bears more resemblance to the camp affectations, eccentricities and quirks of the television series The Avengers than the more straightforward heroics seen in previous Bond films (and replete with character names like Morton Slumber, which could have been plucked straight from an Avengers script).


Goldfinger became a touchstone for what the series should aspire to, and as such director Guy Hamilton was brought on board to bring some of that magic. Writer Richard Maibaum initially drafted a script featuring Goldfinger’s brother as the villain. This entrenchment came with the understanding that Bond would yet again be recast and, indeed, Psycho (American) actor John Gavin was signed up for the role (another concern of the producers was that the series should appeal consciously more to the US market). United Artists still wanted Connery back, though, and when the reluctant Broccoli and Saltzman (reluctant, as they did not wish to persuade Connery to do something if he really didn’t want to) gave the actor an offer he couldn’t refuse Gavin was nixed. Meanwhile, script problems had resulted in Tom Mankiewicz being brought in to rework it.  An American writer might have been expected not to “get” Bond, but Mankiewicz recognised its absurdities and fully embraced them.


It has been suggested that, due to Connery’s (then) enormous fee ($1.25m, about $7m in today’s money) the effects budget was scaled back. This may explain why a fight between Blofeld and Bond in a diamond mine was excised from the climax, left unfilmed. Certainly, the action is noticeably less extravagant than the last couple of Connery pictures; a car chase set piece along the Vegas Strip and the oilrig climax, and that’s about it. Instead of action we’re treated to stylisation and eccentricity. Larger than life characters abound, from gay assassins Mr Wint and Mr Kidd to hit women Bambi and Thumper to Howard Hughes by-another-name Willard Whyte.


DAF was adapted from the fourth Fleming Bond novel, which did not feature Blofeld as the villain. Notably, Connery was a big fan Mankiewicz’s work on the script; he can be seen discussing it at the time, observing that it was the best one yet. He commented that the plot was very strong, but maybe he was also thinking of the campy, humourous tone, which came in for much criticism at the time. As such, it may be the most Marmite of Bond films. Either you love it or it’s near the bottom of your series ranking.


The plot that Connery considered so strong really isn’t all that, basically a plan by Blofeld to hold the world to ransom under threat of destruction with his laser satellite (constructed using the all-important diamonds). What is undoubtedly in the script’s favour, and more than making up for the slightly mundane quest for global domination, is that almost every scene in the film is memorable; for it’s dialogue, characterisation and distinct purpose. Even the gangster caricatures make a strong impression (“I didn’t know there was a pool down there”, one opines after throwing Plenty O’Toole from a hotel window.


With that tone came a more cavalier approach to the trademark sex and violence that Bond engages in. This is the first film in the series to show bare breasts, in a scene where 007 is at his most sadistic, threatening a woman with strangulation (“There is something I’d like you to get off your chest”). Later, a double of Blofeld is shot in the head (we are privileged to see the bullet hole). 

Tellingly there is no attempt to provide continuity with OHMSS, unless one assumes that Bond’s desire to get Blofeld as the film opens is a result of Tracy’s demise at the end of the previous film. The opening echoes the pre-credits sequence in From Russia with Love, where a Bond double is killed by Red Grant. This time it is 007 shooting a Blofeld double.


The American setting was reportedly fixed on as a sop to the US audience who had been less embracing of OHMSS, and what is most surprising – largely down to Mankiewicz – is that it doesn’t feel like a forced choice. The American Bond girl, Tiffany Case, runs the biggest risk (of being a caricature loudmouthed American). And, to be honest, that’s exactly who Jill St John plays her as. But she also plays her immensely likeably, and the result is one of the most resourceful of Bond girls (sometimes too resourceful, as in the tape-swapping scene). St John also looks fantastic in a bikini, which doesn’t hurt her “case”.


One is left with the impression that Connery isn’t trying too hard to summon up the Bond of old. He’s almost too relaxed, but he does appear to be having fun. He’s also blessed with some of the series’ best one-liners. Upon first catching sight of Tiffany he comments, “Well, that’s quite a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing”. As if to emphasise the point, Tiffany’s arse-crack is showing. This is also the film where 007 notes that he doesn’t mind what colour Tiffany’s hair is, “as long as the collars and cuffs match”. DAF has little time for notions of elegance or etiquette. And Bond never looks particularly dapper in his ‘70s-cut tuxedo. Nevertheless, the film as a whole is blessed with fantastically quotable, such as 007’s classic exchange with Lana Wood’s Bond girl.

Plenty: Hi, I’m Plenty.
James Bond: But of course you are.
Plenty: Plenty O’Toole.
James Bond: Named after your father, perhaps?

Later, on being accosted by heavies in Plenty’s bedroom, he observes,

James Bond: Well, I’m afraid you’ve caught me with more than my hands up.


Even Blofeld turns lecherous in DAF. After noticing the cassette tape containing the satellite control codes nestling amid Tiffany’s buttocks, he has her placed under guard. And then waxes lyrical.

Blofeld: What a pity, such nice cheeks too. If only they were brains.


At other times, the revelling in absurdity is more akin to Connery’s successor. Bond emerges from an oil pipe at one point, much to the surprise of the workers who open the hatch.

James Bond: Thank you very much. I was just out walking my rat and seem to have lost my way…

This, after holding a conversation with said rat.

James Bond: Well, one of us smells like a tart’s handkerchief. (sniffs) I’m afraid it’s me. Sorry, old boy.


Mr Wynn and Mr Kidd make two of the series’ wittiest henchman. Their man-love is barely referred to, but it’s revealed obliquely through the performances of Putter Smith and, particularly, Bruce Glover. In their first scene, after killing several diamond smugglers, they disappear into the desert hand-in-hand. Later, Glover’s Mr Wint shoots Mr Kidd a most unimpressed look when he comments on how attractive Tiffany is (“for a lady”). Mainly, though, it is their in-tandem repartee that makes them so memorable. On sending Bond to be cremated, they eulogise.

Mr Wint: Very moving.
Mr Kidd: Heartwarming, Mr Wint.
Mr Wint: A glowing tribute, Mr Kidd.

Their presence on the periphery of the main action recalls Red Grant shadowing Bond in From Russia with Love. But in a more surreal, cartoonish form.


It isn’t just Wint and Kidd that display playfulness with ideas of gender and sexuality. Blofeld dons drag at one point, while Bambie and Thumper are deadly fighters who nearly best Bond using only their bodies as weapons.


I commented in my OHMSS review that I was unsure who was my favourite Blofeld, but it’s definitely Charles Gray. He’s just having so much fun, and he’s so witty too.

Blofeld: Well go on, go on, it’s merely a lift. Or should I say elevator?

In contrast, there’s little to say about M, Moneypenny or Q this time round. M gets sniffy with Bond over his identification of the vintage of sherry and delights in his lack of knowledge of diamonds. Felix Leiter is back to being a rather dull pen pusher, this time played by Norman Burton; it’s curious how nondescript most of the Felixs have been.


One of the most appealing characters is Willard Whyte, played with an “Aw, shucks” affability by country music singer Jimmy Dean. The (rare) likable tycoon persona would later re-emerge with Jon Glover’s performance as Daniel Clamp in Gremlins 2.


In a sense, DAF does bear comparison with Goldfinger; it isn’t the action scenes that make it such a strong entry in the canon. There are a couple of solid ones, nevertheless. The brutal, close-quarters fight between Bond and Peter Franks in a cramped elevator isn’t quite as proficient as the scrap that most likely inspired it, between Red Grand and Bond in FRWL, but it’s thrillingly messy. And it’s a nice touch that it’s initiated when Bond makes a mistake, drawing back his elbow and breaking the glass behind him.


Perhaps most famous is the fake Moon landing sequence. Bond, exploring Whyte’s research laboratory, stumbles across astronauts filming on a Moon set before fleeing his pursuers in a rover. It’s quite surprising to see such a satirical set piece in a series of films not exactly known for such elements. It’s clearly a commentary on the conspiratorial rumblings that the Moon landing of two years previously had been filmed in a television studio. The book Dark Moon: Apollo and the Whistle-Blowers even devotes several pages to dissecting the exchanges preceding the scene (the focus on radiation levels and shields; the lack of protection against harmful radiation is one of the arguments presented by conspiracy theorists that the Moon landing couldn’t have been real). Connery obviously relishes the dialogue, posing as Klaus Hergerscheimer


Elsewhere there are further strange, surreal moments thrown in. An elephant playing, and winning at, slot machines (Q also proves highly adept). A stage act where a woman transforms into a gorilla. The design of the Moon buggy Bond escapes into the Nevada Desert in, arms flailing uselessly at its sides.

A word for John Barry’s score. If OHMSS is his most elegantly classic Bond work, DAF sees him at his loosest and most freewheeling. From the wonderful funeral music at Slumber Inc to the catchy casino muzak to maybe the best Bond song, creatively he’s on fire.


Diamonds are Forever looks set to remain one of the most divisive Bond films, ironically as it was envisaged as a sure thing, a safe bet to get viewers back on side following the perceived failing of OHMSS. It was a bigger hit than Lazenby’s solo mission but fell considerably short of Connery’s three previous runs (in inflation-adjusted terms). I rate it as one of the best in the series, possibly only second to OHMSS. Perhaps I’m the wrong sort of Bond aficionado, as I tend to consider the more idiosyncratic entries to be the best ones. DAF saw Connery go out on a high. Maybe he wasn’t giving it his very best, but this remains one of his most enjoyable performances; much different to the all-round going-through-the-motions that crippled You Only Live Twice.


The man with one raised eyebrow was waiting in the wings, and for the rest of the ‘70s Bond would be a safe, known and immensely popular quantity. But Moore’s Bond would, after a couple of films, receive mounting brickbats from purists enraged at the mockery he was making of their beloved spy series. They should have looked to DAF, which is arguably where the “rot” set in.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

He made me look the wrong way and I cut off my hand. He could make you look the wrong way and you could lose your whole head.

Moonstruck (1987)
(SPOILERS) Moonstruck has the dubious honour of making it to the ninth spot in Premiere magazine’s 2006 list of the 20 Most Overrated Movies of all Time. There are certainly some valid entries (number one is, however, absurd), but I’m not sure that, despite its box office success and Oscar recognition, the picture has a sufficient profile to be labelled with that adjective. It’s a likeable, lightweight romantic comedy that can boast idiosyncratic casting in a key role, but it simply doesn’t endure quotably or as a classic couple matchup the way the titans of the genre (Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally) do. Even its magical motif is rather feeble.

You're reading a comic book? What are you, retarded?

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (2009)
(SPOILERS) It’s a decade since the holy grail of comic books finally fought through decades of development hell to land on the big screen, via Zach Snyder’s faithful but not faithful enough for the devoted adaptation. Many then held the director’s skills with a much more open mind than they do now – following the ravages he has inflicted on the DCEU – coming as he was off the back of the well-received 300. Many subsequently held that his Watchmen, while visually impressive, had entirely missed the point (not least in some of its stylistic and aesthetic choices). I wouldn’t go that far – indeed, for a director whose bombastic approach is often only a few notches down from Michael Bay (who was, alarmingly, also considered to direct at one point), there are sequences in Watchmen that show tremendous sensitivity – but it’s certainly the case that, even or especially in its Ultimate Cut form and for all the furore the change to the end of the story provoked,…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Bleach smells like bleach.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’d like to be able to say it was beyond me how Clint’s misery-porn fest hoodwinked critics and the Academy alike, leading to his second Best Picture and Director double Oscar win. Such feting would naturally lead you to assume Million Dollar Baby was in the same league as Unforgiven, when it really has more in common with The Mule, only the latter is likeably lightweight and nonchalant in its aspirations. This picture has buckled beneath the burden of self-appointed weighty themes and profound musings, which only serve to highlight how crass and manipulative it is.

I’d kill you too, Keanu. I’d kill you just for fun, even if I didn’t have to.

Always Be My Maybe (2019)
(SPOILERS) The pun-tastic title of this Netflix romcom is a fair indication of its affably undemanding attributes. An unapologetic riff on When Harry Met Sally, wherein childhood friends rather than college attendees finally agree the best thing to be is together, it’s resolutely determined to cover no new ground, all the way through to its positive compromise finale. That’s never a barrier to a good romcom, though – at their best, their charm is down to ploughing familiar furrows. Always Be My Maybe’s problem is that, decent comedy performers though the two leads may be – and co-writers with Michael Golamco – you don’t really care whether they get together or not. Which isn’t like When Harry Met Sally at all.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…

They went out of business, because they were too good.

School for Scoundrels (1960)
(SPOILERS) Possibly the pinnacle of Terry-Thomas’ bounder persona, and certainly the one where it’s put to best caddish use, as he gives eternally feckless mug Ian Carmichael a thorough lesson in one-upmanship, only for the latter to turn the tables when he finds himself a tutor. School for Scoundrels is beautifully written (by an uncredited Peter Ustinov and Frank Tarloff), filled with clever set pieces, a fine supporting cast and a really very pretty object of the competing chaps’ affection (Janette Scott), but it’s Terry-Thomas who is the glue that binds this together. And, while I couldn’t say for sure, this might have the highest “Hard cheese” count of any of his films.

Based on Stephen Potter’s 1947’s humorous self-help bestseller (and subsequent series of -manship books) The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (or The Art of Winning Games without Actually Cheating), which suggested ungentlemanly methods for besting an opponent in any given field, gam…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…