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Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)

Starring: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Putter Smith, Bruce Glover, Jimmy Dean

Written By: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz Directed By: Guy Hamilton

The Short Version

Or, as I think of it, “James Bond visits The Cheesecake Factory.”

The 007 franchise shifts from “over-the-top” to “totally shameless.”

Mr. Connery sure has changed… is that why this feels “less Bond-y”?

Meanwhile, ‘Merica!

Whatever its shortcomings, Diamonds are Forever is still a fun movie.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEESECAKE.

Paging Miss Case and Miss O’Toole…


Pairs Well With...

MOUTON ROTHSCHILD '55.

A claret.

“That’s quite a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing.  I approve.”


When Sean Connery said he’d had enough of playing 007 after filming You Only Live Twice, Eon Productions tried The George Lazenby Experiment with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which while not exactly a financial disaster was certainly an artistic one.  Everyone sighed with relief when Lazenby backed out of his seven-picture deal, leaving the studio with yet another panicked search for a new 007.  But contrary to popular belief, they didn’t race back to the waiting bank account of Sean Connery right away; instead, they cast an American, John Gavin, and only later made an acceptable offer to Connery.  (Producer Albert Broccoli, sportingly, insisted that Gavin be paid in full all the same.)  Even though the triumphant return of Connery would prove to be just a one shot deal, it was, ultimately, the right decision, and undoubtedly saved the franchise.

Besides, Diamonds Are Forever has plenty of other ways to pander to the American audience, which Eon was particularly targeting this time around after an extremely cool Yankee reception to the previous film.  I can think of no better word to describe the final film than “shameless,” and if the American audience is what you’re after… well…

Even though Diamonds Are Forever features some genuine spycraft and occasionally quite detailed undercover work (in the standard sense of the term… for now) on the part of 007, it’s unlikely you’ll remember any of that once the movie is over.    True cinema connoisseurs may remember the outstanding performances by most of the cast (with one glaring exception), but the average audience member?  Nah.  This is because the folks behind the camera have made it a point to bury all of that crafty stuff under a pile of Las Vegas bluster, cheesy humor, flagrant T&A, and – oh yes – ZOMG lazerz from outer space.   The patchwork screenplay – an amalgam of Fleming’s original novel (the serious smuggling stuff), pop culture (fake moon landing, anyone?), and an utterly ham-handed addition of Ernst Stavro Blofeld into the mix (he was never a part of the original story) – is far less important to the overall experience of Diamonds Are Forever than is the sense of shameless adventure, and fortunately for Eon (and the future of the James Bond franchise), that shameless adventure is enough to carry the day, despite the fact that there was almost no money to throw at the special effects… or at anything not named “Sean,” for that matter.

But even though he’s not the same Sean he was just four years before – this is definitely Sean Connery, Actor, as opposed to James Bond, Character – he’s really the only effect that audiences needed to make the film a success (though the camera takes every opportunity to highlight the natural effects presented by Jill St. John and Lana Wood, just in case).  By the time it’s over, it’s plain to see that despite a good performance, Connery has moved on and just isn’t the same old 007 anymore, but by making that apparent while providing a buffer to drive away the memory of that George guy, he also makes it clear that it’s possible for the character to be played differently and not have a stench-ridden result.  He also, by appearing in this cheese-and-cheesecake laden film, makes it acceptable to audiences for the franchise to go in a different direction: one of shameless adventure where the spycraft matters less and less (however much may be present).

As a result, even though Diamonds Are Forever is, in effect, a James Bond movie only in the abstract sense (this is one of the few 007 flicks wherein one could simply change the names and end up with a regular action movie that requires no essence of Bond whatsoever), it an essential part of the franchise as a whole.  It is what Eon Productions had hoped On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would be: permission to evolve into a new era.

So does it matter that the plot’s a mess, the story’s kind of dumb, and the villain is acceptable to any degree only because he’s not Telly Savalas?  No, it doesn’t.  The shameless adventure, the cheese, and yes, the cheesecake are all quite enough.  Realistically, Diamonds Are Forever is a mediocre film at best, but it’s the best kind of mediocre: the kind that leads to begging for more.

That, and the kind that’s propped up by some truly wonderful acting for those with eyes to see past the polyester.

The camera may only want viewers to notice that the gold-diggers played by Jill St. John and Lana Wood have remarkable physical assets, but these ladies are anything but twits.  These are two truly talented professionals who put on a craft clinic as they pretend to be flakes in a way that only the gifted and intelligent can muster. St. John has the rare task of playing James Bond’s only lover in this film, giving her much more screen time and responsibility than most of her predecessors, and she more than lives up to the challenge, going toe-to-toe with a scene-chewing Connery again and again and always coming up his equal, even when her character is flaking out.  Meanwhile, anyone who has had to endure talentless eye candy in other films will realize the genuine skill with which Lana Wood plays her role, making the most of her brief screen time to create one of the most memorable “secondary” Bond girls in franchise history.

But even these ladies take a back seat to Bruce Glover and Putter Smith, who steal the show as the delightfully murderous Mr. Windt and Mr. Kidd.  Now best remembered for playing what is an obviously gay couple, Glover and Smith own every moment they get on the screen, even when they’re just standing in the background.  They take what could easily have been a paired gimmick role – for in 1971, the gay assassins were far less of an intentional statement than they were an intended pop gimmick – and turn it into something much more, giving the potentially goofy characters a real air of dastardly menace while also displaying the superb chemistry one hopes for in any screen couple.  They are joy to watch from the first moment to the last, and their performances assure that Windt and Kidd stand alongside Oddjob and Jaws as the greatest henchmen in the James Bond franchise.

This is a very good thing, because Charles Gray is so dreadfully miscast that only the (unfortunately) unforgettable prior example of Telly Savalas keeps his performance tolerable.  Just.  But again, one doesn’t watch Diamonds Are Forever for the sake of Blofeld, who never should have been here in the first place.  Rather, one watches it for what Blofeld’s gratuitous presence here represents, which is complete and utter shamelessness.

There are worse reasons to pick up a movie.

Bottom line, Diamonds Are Forever isn’t going to top any serious fan’s list of “Best Bond Flicks Ever,” nor is it likely to even make the top half.  But it’s still fun for all of its polyester-clad – and occasionally nearly naked – shamelessness, and hey, there’s also some pretty decent acting to be enjoyed, for those who care to look.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2013


More From The Bar! | Thunderball | Moonraker | A View to a Kill | Die Another Day |



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