Generally when you ask someone to contemplate Sean Connery’s tenure as James Bond, they would immediately think of his turns in, Goldfinger, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, which all contain some of the most iconic moments in the franchise:
Similarly, when you are required to muse upon the “camp and frothy” era of Bond, one would tend to pinpoint the mid 70’s – mid 80’s Roger Moore lead features. Diamonds Are Forever falls somewhere in between. Diamonds was Connery’s last (official) outing as 007 and was his welcome return to the series. After George Lazenby’s 140 minutes of fame in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it would appear cinema goers weren’t quite ready for Connery to give up the role.
Stepping back into the tux gained Connery a place in the Guinness book of World Records as he received the highest ever acting fee of the time. The $1.25 million he made was selflessly all donated to the Scottish International Education Trust.
The tone of the film is set instantly with the pre-title sequence.
Bond has tracked down (the “new”) Blofeld to a facility in which Blofeld look-a-likes are being created via intricate reconstructive surgery. As chance would have it, they’re all exactly the same height and have the same build as the original Blofeld, played, less menacingly, by Charles Gray.
So this is the point in the film, where the audience can say, “What on Earth is this? Why is Bond using super-heated mud as a weapon? Why is Charles Gray stood next to some latex molds of himself that look nothing like him? Wasn’t he in You Only Live Twice playing a completely different character?”
Or, you can take the approach that I did, and say, “Righty ho. I’m going to go with this.” And with that outlook, you’re open to anything and everything. It’s perhaps because of this that I’m a really big fan of Diamonds, because they definitely throw anything and everything at you throughout the course of the film.
Firstly, Charles Gray as Blofeld is a joy for me. I know in Bond fandom he’s not the ideal casting choice and is generally unfavourable when compared to previous portrayals by Donald Pleasence and Telly Savalas, but my reasoning for championing Gray is relatively straight forward. I’m a big fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. End of.
On to the titles.
A very slick credit sequence, with a very smooth theme song from Dame Bassey. Her second Bond film after Goldfinger saw her return to the series along with Connery, and was an excellent musical choice. Bringing her back, as an already familiar figure in the Bond Universe, was presumably to help erase any audience memory of George Lazenby’s brief 007 jaunt. So far, Shirley Bassey has been the only artist to record more than one Bond theme. Along with 1979’s Moonraker Bassey has produced 3 official Bond title tunes. On top of this she had also recorded an opening song for 2008’s Quantum of Solace, which got pipped to the post by Jack White and Alicia Keys’ alternative / rock / hip hop / R&B / screechy / guitar-driven / piano based / cat in a blender type number. Do seek out Shirley Bassey’s rejected theme on YouTube though, it really is a treat.
The Diamonds theme suits Bassey’s vocals brilliantly, and whilst retaining the classically elegant ballad format, there are traces of early 70’s infused pop music to carry it along. The film’s whole soundtrack is very enjoyable and there are flutters within the score that set it aside from a lot of other Bond movies. In particular the musical motif of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd is infectious:
The flamboyant pair of assassins are introduced to us at the start of the film, killing several diamond smugglers. This then rouses suspicion with MI6 that South African diamonds are being stockpiled, and Bond is sent to investigate. Wint and Kidd are definitely two of my favourite “supporting baddies” in the Bond series. Considering that Diamonds Are Forever is rather tame (rated PG) when compared to other 007 features such as Licence to Kill or Casino Royale, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any characters as sinister or creepy as Wint and Kidd. Along with their weird and mysterious accompanying music. The actors look and act incredibly strangely, constantly referring to each other as “Mr Wint” and “Mr Kidd”, have an ambiguous “romantic” relationship and are generally murderous psychopaths. A very bizarre duo indeed.
After flaunting his expertise on vintage sherry Bond is sent to Amsterdam, posing as a diamond smuggler, Peter Franks. It is here he has a rendez vous with his contact Tiffany Case:
En-route, the real Peter Franks turns up and Bond manages to intercept him before he reaches Miss Case. There is a marvelous showdown between the pair in a moving elevator and when compared to the “whimsical” opening of the movie, the confrontation really brings the film back down to Earth. Showcasing one of Connery’s strength’s (on screen brawling), the elevator scene is one of the best set pieces in the film, with tension, drama and explosions of violence.
After the real Franks is taken out, Bond then switches their IDs making it seem like James Bond has just been killed. Using the corpse of Franks to smuggle diamonds out of the country, Bond liaises with his CIA connection Felix Leiter at the airport and eventually lands in Las Vegas.
In perhaps his closest shave to date, Bond narrowly escapes an assassination attempt at a funeral home, whereby Wint and Kidd trap him in a coffin and try to cremate him, making off with the smuggled diamonds.
Bond is then required to visit the Whyte House, a Las Vegas casino, to meet with Shady Tree, a diamond smugger, moonlighting as a stand up comedian in the hotel. Learning that the diamonds flown over in Franks body were fakes planted by the CIA, Bond requests the real merchandise to be shipped over and tries to speak with Shady in the meantime.
After his stand up act, 007 finds Shady Tree murdered backstage at the hands of Wint and Kidd, who are still unaware that the diamonds they intercepted at the funeral home are fakes.
At the craps table Bond is approached by a covetous young woman introducing herself as “Plenty”.
Her appearance is incredibly short lived and unlike most Bond girls she doesn’t actually get to spend the night with James. When arriving back at his hotel room, a gang ambushes the pair and very outlandishly throws her out of an open window.
A tad drastic.
After some umming and arring from Tiffany she accompanies Bond to the airport, where the real diamonds are given to Bert Saxby, the Whyte House casino manager. 007 then tracks him to a remote research laboratory out in the desert, where a satellite is under construction.
The film also suggests, this is perhaps the location where the moon landing footage may have been forged.
Escaping in one of the finest vehicles ever to grace the silver screen, Bond speeds off to safety in a moon buggy.
In order to confront the reclusive owner of the Whyte House, Bond scales the building and infiltrates the penthouse suite.
This scene is another definite highlight in the film, showcasing some great gadgetry and daring spy work. Also the building itself and the top floor suite are very aesthetically pleasing to look at.
The casino owner, Willard Whyte is a known recluse who hasn’t been seen in public for years. Inspired by film director and aviator Howard Hughes, Mr Whyte is a person of mystery, controlling his businesses from the security of his top floor apartment.
When Bond eventually comes face to face with the elusive character he is shocked to be staring back at none other than…..
Alas, not just one Blofeld but two. Two seemingly identical “Clonefelds”. Along with deceased Blofeld from the opening sequence, this film could be re-released under the title 50 Shades of Gray. After eliminating the Blofeld look-a-like, the real Blofeld holds Bond at gunpoint and informs him that he, using an electronic voice changer, has been posing as Willard Whyte and is keeping the actual casino owner hostage in his summer house outside of the city.
Together with Felix and some other federal looking blokes, Bond heads up a rescue mission and, after battling his way through some gymnastics enthusiasts…
manages to safely extract the real Willard Whyte.
There he is.
Whyte then helps Bond track Blofeld’s location to an oil rig in California, and unveils his plan of world domination. Which is your bog standard diamond fueled space satellite, powerful enough to emit a laser that would destroy the major world powers nuclear weapons supply.
Bond’s not too happy about this, so he decides to foil the plan, destroy the oil platform, kill everyone and escape safely with the girl. There’s a brief reappearance of Witt and Kidd just before the film’s end, but instead of blowing 007 up they decided to get burnt alive instead.
Now that….. is a mind-bendingly far-fetched plot. I’ve just given you the abridged version as well. I didn’t even touch on the midget submarine, Bond having a conversation with a rat about “smelling like a tart’s handkerchief.”, a bomb hidden in a cake, a recurring motif of a “big band” cassette tape, a ring developed by Q to cheat fruit machines in the casino and a car chase so potent, that it required the Las Vegas strip to be closed down for six nights of filming.
It’s wonderful. Miles apart from the (relatively) straight-faced first few Bond features, but still not as ludicrous as the Roger Moore films, Diamonds Are Forever sits nicely between the eras. Like many of my favourite Bond films, it’s all over the place. But that isn’t a criticism. It’s an awkward blend of tense action and thrills with genuine creepiness, camp laughs and over the top set pieces, with a pinch of sci-fi, featuring a myriad of interesting performers bringing everything they needed to bring to the role.
As far as Connery’s Bond’s go, there really isn’t another one like it, and as a segue between On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Live and Let Die it really is something completely different.