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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

The past is a statement. The future is a question.

Justified Season Six
(SPOILERS) There have been more than enough damp squib or so-so show finales of late to have greeted the demise of Justified with some trepidation. Thankfully it avoids almost every pitfall it might have succumbed to and gives us a satisfying send-off that feels fitting for its characters. This is a series that, even at its weakest (the previous season) is leagues ahead of most fare in an increasingly saturated sphere, so it’s a relief – even if there was never much doubt on past form – that it doesn’t drop the ball.

And of those character fates? In a show that often pulls back from giving Raylan Givens the great hero moments (despite his maintaining a veneer of ultra-cool, and getting “supporting hero” moments as he does in the finale, 6.13 The Promise), it feels appropriate that his entire (stated) motivation for the season should be undermined. He doesn’t get to take down Boyd Crowder, except in an incarcerating sense, but as always he is sanguine about it. After…

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…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

It’s not every day you see a guy get his ass kicked on two continents – by himself.

Gemini Man (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ang Lee seems hellbent on sloughing down a technological cul-de-sac to the point of creative obscurity, in much the same way Robert Zemeckis enmired himself in the mirage of motion capture for a decade. Lee previously experimented with higher frame rates on Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, to the general aversion of those who saw it in its intended form – 48, 60 or 120 fps have generally gone down like a bag of cold sick, just ask Peter Jackson – and the complete indifference of most of the remaining audience, for whom the material held little lustre. Now he pretty much repeats that trick with Gemini Man. At best, it’s merely an “okay” film – not quite the bomb its Rotten Tomatoes score suggests – which, (as I saw it) stripped of its distracting frame rate and 3D, reveals itself as just about serviceable but afflicted by several insurmountable drawbacks.

You’re only seeing what’s in front of you. You’re not seeing what’s above you.

Mr. Robot Season 2
(SPOILERS) I suspect my problem with Mr. Robot may be that I want it to be something it isn’t, which would entail it being a much better show than it is. And that’s its own fault, really, or rather creator and writer-director of umpteen episodes Sam Esmail’s, who has intentionally and provocatively lured his audience into thinking this really is an up-to-the-minute, pertinent, relevant, zeitgeisty show, one that not only has a huge amount to say about the illusory nature of our socio-economic system, and consequently the bedrock of our collective paradigm, but also the thorny subject of reality itself, both of which have been variably enticing dramatic fodder since the Wachowski siblings and David Fincher released a one-two punch at the end of the previous millennium.

In that sense, Mr. Robot’s thematic conceit is very much of a piece with its narrative form; it’s a conjuring act, a series of sleights of hand designed to dazzle the viewer into going with the flow, rath…

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You’ll just have to face it, Steed. You’re completely compromised.

The Avengers Season 6 Ranked – Worst to Best
The final run, and an oft-maligned one. It’s doubtful anyone could have filled Emma Peel’s kinky boots, but it didn’t help Linda Thorson that Tara King was frequently earmarked to moon over Steed while very evidentlynot being the equal Emma and Cathy were; the generation gap was never less than unflatteringly evident. Nevertheless, despite this imbalance, and the early hiccups of the John Bryce-produced episodes, Season Six arguably offers a superior selection of episodes to its predecessor, in which everyone became perhaps a little too relaxed.