Diamonds Are Forever
October 23, 2010 Leave a comment
Title: Diamonds Are Forever
Year: 1971. Nine years after Bond first hit the big screen, the series was in crises. 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the weakest performing Bond film in terms of box-office to this point. Worse still, by 1971 the suave globetrotting superspy was beginning to feel dated. In the new decade, a new kind of cop hit the big screen; a gritty, hard nosed, no nonsense, working class American. Two of the years biggest films were The French Connection (1971) and Dirty Harry (1971), staring Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Poppy” Doyle and Clint Eastwood as “Dirty” Harry Callahan respectively. Both films have zero glamour and feature heroes with even less. They are anti-Bonds. Bond drinks to relax, these men drink to forget. They live in one room apartments, eat stale sandwiches while standing in the rain, drive shitty cars and live in a world void of any sexuality. They are willing to kill (a fact that got Eastwood’s Dirty Harry labeled a fascist by some critics) but unlike Bond, they don’t have the legal cover of a double O. These men share Bond’s world weariness and cynicism but enjoy not one bit of their work. And it is work. Bond enjoys himself while always staying above the villain, one step ahead and better dressed to boot. Harry and Poppy are below the bad guy, crawling around in the same muck, slithering on the same filthy streets, always a few steps behind. All three agents are obsessively driven to get…their…man. But Bond always knows the score, 100% sure of what he’s doing and why. Poppy and Harry, by playing on the same field as the villain, sometimes forget what side they are on, or even why they are after this guy in the first place. Dose it even matter to them? Harry and Poppy take the “man on a mission” story arch and turn it into a dark obsession right at home in Viet Nam/ Nixionain “Law and Order” America. That said, while the greater film going audience may have been drawn to the realism of the New York and San Francisco based cops, the darker On Her Majesty Secret Service showed Bond fans preferred good old fashioned escapism. So, for the seventh entry, Broccoli and Saltzman bucked current trends and returned to what works. And with that, Bond, clad in a tux and sipping a martini, took one look at Harry and Poppy Doyle, shook his head, climbed into to his Aston Martin, and peeled out of the lot, leaving the two sad sacks covered in his dust.
Film Length: 2 Hours
Bond Actor: Sean Connery. In 1961, Connery was an unknown son of an Edinburgh mill worker. According to Playboy, he left school at 13 and drifted from job to job working as a coffin polisher, a lifeguard, a seaman, an artist’s model, a welterweight boxer, and a printer’s apprentice. Young Sean was trying to make a go at it as professional soccer player when he got a gig with the road-company production of “South Pacific” for $35 a week. Bitten by the bug he began studying drama. It wasn’t long before he was winning roles in Shakespearean productions, BBC television films, and the feature The Longest Day (1962). Needless to say, when Albert Broccoli and Cubby Saltzman signed Connery on for Dr. No (1962) no one knew where it would lead. Five films later, Connery was one of the biggest stars on the planet and EON had a license to print money. Connery walked, and 007 carried on with George Lazenby. When Lazenby also gave Bond the kiss off, United Artist and EON embarked on a campaign to save the franchise. The #1 priority; bring Connery back. The stormy courtship was not unlike the annual late summer brew-ha-ha surrounding the resigning Brett Favre. It took UA president David Picker flying to England before Connery would agree to one more film. Still seething about how things were left after You Only Live Twice (1967), a 41 year old Connery agreed to star in Diamonds are Forever for an unprecedented $ 1.25 million, plus 12.5% of the films take. But this wasn’t just about a huge payday. Just like Favre went to the Vikings (via the Jets) to say F you to his former employer, Connery saw an opportunity to stick it to Broccoli. Not only did he put a huge dent in EON’s bottom line, once Connery got the money he turned around and donated it all to the Scottish International Education Trust, an organization he’d founded to aid Scottish students. This was the ultimate F you, the former coffin polisher very publicly saying I’ll take you money, but I don’t need it … and I don’t need James Bond. To underline the point, when asked if he would make yet another Bond film, Connery famously answered “never again.”
Director: Guy Hamilton. For his second go at Bond, the Goldfinger (1964) director made like Heath Ledgers Joker and asked “Why so serious?” His goal was to “go for the fun” and make the picture more “broad.” While the tongue firmly planted in cheek approach to Goldfinger worked wonderfully, the results here were decidedly muddy. Indeed, the light tone of Goldfinger remained intact but little things like plot, pacing and shot composition and acting were sacrificed. Hamilton was quoted at the time as saying “You don’t tell Sean Connery how to play James Bond.” Fair enough, but the enterprise would have been help along considerably if he did guide his actors instead of taking a paint by numbers approach right out of the George Lucas school of directing. That is, to have actors stand in place, say their lines, and worry more about the special effects going on around them.
Reported Budget: $7,200,000 estimated. Considering $1,250,000 went to Connery, that leaves 6 million for, you know, making a movie. This was the skimpiest Bond budget in years and it shows in the final product.
Reported Box-office: $43,819,547 (USA) $116,000,000 (Worldwide). Though made for 2 million less than You Only Live Twice the take was on par with Connery’s last Bond and significantly more than its predecessor, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. You don’t need a MI6 intelligence report to figure out EON spent the $1.25 million plus 12.5% wisely. Audiences proved more than willing to fork over their hard earned $1.65 to watch Connery’s return to the role that made him famous.
Theme Song: “Diamond’s Are Forever.” Forget Connery being back, Shirley Bassey has returned!! Without further ado …
OK, not as great as Gold FINNNGGER! but the rolling refrain “Diamonds are forever, forever, forever…” was catchy enough to provide the irresistible hook for Kanye West’s 2005 protest song “Diamonds From Sierra Leon.”
Opening Titles: The credits feature naked women clad only in …diamonds. Shot in a soft focus with diamonds reflecting disco ball flares of light at the camera the entire thing feels like a 70’s porno. A porno that features Blofeld’s diamond collar sporting cat wandering around and peering out from under a women’s bent leg not unlike Dustin Hoffman in the poster for The Graduate (1967).
Opening Action Sequence: Continuity is a strange thing in the Bond universe. Sometimes, certain story lines carry over from film to film. But for the most part, save the relationships between Bond, M, Q and Moneypenny, each film hits the reset button. Judging by the popularity and staying power of the series, most fans are fine with this arrangement. It also helps in no small way avoiding pitfalls that would come up after 22 films over 40 some odd years. But the Blofeld storyline was one that had loose play though in the past few films. So, when this movie opens with Bond literally spanning the globe barking “Where’s Blofeld!” at everyone he encounters, 1971 audiences can be forgiven for flashing back to the last image they saw of Bond; that of a broken 007 holding his dead wife in his arms, killed by Blofeld. The first shot of this film shows a faceless Bond throwing a man through walls in Japan, then smacking a fez wearing gambler in Cairo, and finally walking onto a beach where we see his face for the first time. “Hello, I’m Bond, James Bond” he says right before strangling a woman with her bikini top, “Something to get off your chest?” Bond is on the war path and he finally tracks his wife’s killer down in an underground spa or something. There are mud baths, gun tooting baddies (taken out by drowning in the vomit like mud) and knife wielding surgeons (dispatch thanks to Bonds knife throwing skills and a mouse trap like gadget in his holster.) Bond even manages to overpower Blofeld and launch his arch enemy into a bath of boiling mud from which #1 does not emerge. “Welcome to hell Blofeld” and with that, Bond has avenged his wife. However, Diamonds Are Forever wants to have its cake and eat too. Later in the film when Bond learns he killed one of several Blofeld imposters he expresses a moment of shock, but the Charles Bronsen Death Wish (1974) revenge for his wife is nowhere to be found. This is just one of many times the movie introduces an idea, storyline, or plot point only to drop it before it even gains traction.
Bond’s Mission: With Blofeld out of the way, Bond is reassigned, tasked with break-up a diamond smuggling ring. 007 is not happy and less interested, rolling his eyes and openly showing contempt while M tries to explain the entire operation. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what’s happening. All the viewer needs to know is summed up by Mr. Wint, one of the two assassins in the film, “Curious how everyone who touches those diamonds dies.” Indeed, the dentist who delivers the diamonds to Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint blows up in a helicopter, the old lady school teacher who smuggles the loot from South Africa to Amsterdam ends up in the canal, the Vegas comedian Shady (a poor mans Henny Youngman) gets wacked in his dressing room after he receives a delivery, etc. This is all handle quickly and without much thought, the only purpose is getting Bond to Las Vegas, the distention of the diamonds and the main location of the film. Bond inserts himself into the chain of events by impersonation Peter Franks, the courier who is to smuggle the diamonds from Amsterdam to Los Angles. After getting a lift to a Vegas funeral home and avoiding his own demise in a funeral pyre, Bond eventually tracks down the man pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Villain’s Name: Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Whaaaa! I thought he was dead? How did he get to Vegas? Perhaps he did the “Time Warp” … again? After all, it’s just a jump to the left …
Villain Actor: Charles Gray. The character actor who claimed he never watched the midnight cult smash The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) was also in Connery’s last Bond picture playing 007’s man in Japan Mr. Henderson. For this turn he flipped sides to play a Blofeld who is quite a departure from the previous #1’s in several ways, not the least of which is a full head of silver hair. When it became clear plastic surgery was going to be part of the plot, I thought perhaps the screenwriters came up with an interesting way to explain the SPECTRE baddie’s new look. However it soon became apparent that purpose of the surgery was to make more people look like Blofeld, not the other way around. There’s that damn continuity thing again.
Villain’s Plot: Something involving diamonds smuggled out of South Africa so #1 can use them to build a space laser. To accomplish this, Blofeld impersonates multi-millionaire Willard Whyte and uses his business as a front. The reclusive casino owner Whyte (a character based on Cubby Broccoli’s close friend Howard Hughes who himself had invested in several Vegas hotels in the early 70’s hadn’t been seen in public in years. Blofeld simply locks the guy up and waltz into his office. “Who’s going to miss someone who hasn’t been seen in years?” Thanks to a nifty voice box that gives him a Dallas oil tycoon twang, Blofeld is able to run the Whyte empire in his preferred management style; sitting behind a desk with his best friend on his lap while barking orders into a microphone. Once the bling encrusted space gun is launched Blofeld will have control of the most powerful weapon in the world and he can then hold an “international auction with nuclear supremacy going to the highest bidder.” In his 1971 review of the film, Roger Ebert argues that this plot is nearly impossible to follow, but then decides it dose’s really matter. “The point in a Bond adventure is the moment, the surface, what’s happening now. The less time wasted on plot, the better.” I struggle with this. On one lev el, yes. As an audience we want to see Bond kicking ass, getting the girl and the bad guy, and not breaking a sweat while doing so. However, when the story isn’t the driving force of the action, or at least a frame work behind the action, the action feels hollow. It becomes a Michael Bay film where we are meant to just ohhh and ahhh at the spectacle. I think Bond films are smarter and better than that, at least the good one are. Speaking of Michael Bay, whom I give credit for very little outside of trying to destroy film, I must admit the man knows how to make things go BOOM real good. Saying the explosions in Diamonds Are Forever look amateur is being chartable. And it has nothing to do with special effects available at the time, the helicopter exploding in From Russia with Love (1963) and the boat in Thunderball (1965) are on par with, if not better than, anything in Transformers 1, 2, or 18. Back to Blofeld’s diabolical plan, it does raise a question. Why not just kill Mr. Whyte and continue playing the role of the reclusive millionaire? #1 could simply use all those plastic surgeons that seem to be hanging around to “become” Willard Whyte and live out life free of Bond in the lap of luxury. Maybe Blofeld just isn’t happy unless he’s holding the entire world at gun point. Or, as Ebert would say while shaking his head “because then there wouldn’t be a movie, would there jackass?” Sorry Roger, the less time wasted thinking about the plot the better.
Villain’s Lair: Since he has a multi-million dollar cooperation under his control, Blofeld has several places to hang his hat. Mr. Willard Whyte has his hand in many pots, but it appears he built his empire on oil and indeed the climatic action sequence takes place on a deep-ocean oil rig. This couldn’t make me happier as it continues the proud tradition of making Blofeld the face of evil by 2010 standards. He was the corrupt banker in From Russia With Love, a terrorist backing nuclear proliferation in Thunderball, a chicken loving chemical warfare terrorist in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and here, a BP executive. Additionally, Blofeld operates out of the penthouse suite of the Willard Whyte Hotel which in real life was the Las Vegas Hilton. Throughout the 1970’s that very penthouse would serve as Elvis’s home away from Graceland, a gilded cage from which the king would descend twice a night to perform, while spending the rest of his time popping pills in desperate loneliness. Outside of town right next to the shallow grave Joe Pecci ended up in in Casino (1995) is Wtecronics. This sprawling complex of warehouses contains, among other things, the set that was used to fake the Apollo Moon landings. It also provides an excuse to bring back the tacky sets that were mercifully jettison in On Her Majesty Secret Service.
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Blofeld is all about hiding and ducking in this go around. He is able to buy himself cover using a mud-bath filled spa where plastic surgeons churn out Blofeld doppelgangers. #1 is also not above dressing in drag to avoid his arch nemeses. I also very much enjoyed the plastic cigarette holder, not to mention the cool voice box that enables Blofeld to become Whyte. Finally, the cat becomes more than just a prop in this film. Not only does the kitty get to wear a diamond necklace that would make Lady Di jealous but the long haired feline is instrumental in pivotal Bond/Blofeld showdown. Way to go kitty!
Badassness of Villain: On one level, Blofeld is ruthless. Much like Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas (1990) kills everyone attached to the Lufthansa heist, Blofeld makes sure that everyone who can trace the stole diamond to him is taking out of the picture. However, after the Golden Greek’s action oriented Blofeld of the last film, this exposition spouting Blofeld comes across as a little flat.
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: We first meet assassins Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint playing with a scorpion, much like the children in the opening shoot of Peckinpah’s classic The Wild Bunch (1969). Mr. Kidd, he of the strangest hairline in the history of cinema, is played by Putter Smith. Smith is an accomplished bass player who worked with everyone from Thelonious Monk to Phil Spector to the Beach Boys. Mr. Wint, his partner in crime (and other things) is played by Bruce Glover, father to Chrispin Glover of Marty McFly fame and star of one of my favorite 80’s film, River’s Edge (1986). These two complete each others puns and clichés while making sure that “everyone who touches the diamonds dies.” For example, when they stick Bond in a coffin and roll the box into a furnace, the two yammer one eye rolling line after another. “Moving, Mr. Kidd” “Heart warming, Mr. Wint” “A glowing tribute” and so on. They are also lovers. The idea of a homosexual couple working together as killers for hire is fascinating but Diamonds plays the relationship for laughs in yet another example the film dropping the ball to do something more. The minions that guard Wtecronics look like members of “CHiPs” with W armbands and the oil rig henchmen look like Playschool People. Then, there are the mafia thugs. A note about how director Guy Hamilton, who clearly never set foot on Mulberry Street, sees Italian Americans. Much like the gangsters in his last Bond film Goldfinger, these mobsters are out of some 1940’s film that I’m not sure ever really existed. Not only do they look like the baddies from The Triplets of Belleville (2003) but when they open their mouths things like “ids a muc smoter ride in frnt Mr Franks” and “Hey, I got a bruta” come out of their mouths.
Bond Girl Actress: Jill St. John. The former child actress turned jet setter girlfriend to Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery and eventual husband Robert Wagner has the distinction of being the first American Bond girl. The word “sexy” doesn’t do this woman justice. So hot is Mrs. St. John that even Mr. Kidd points out she is good looking “for a girl I mean.” (This comment draws a look for Mr. Wint which is one of the funniest moments in the film.) When Connery first meets St. John in her apartment, the two actors engage in a fascinating dance. While overtly flirting the two try to read each others tells with the goal of sussing out where the other party stands. Sadly, after starting of with such a spark, the rest of the time St. John is on screen is nothing but fizzle. When Guy Hamilton said “One of the rules with the Bond pictures is that you’re not allowed to have a leading lady who can act – because we can’t afford them…” he clearly had Jill St. John in mind. She a looker, but not much in the line reading department.
Bond Girl’s Name: Tiffany Case, who in her first scene changes outfits and hair color more than Lady Gaga. “Weren’t you a blond when I came in?” Bond asks. “Could be…” “I tend to notice little things like that, weather a girl is a blond or a brunet.” “And which do you prefer?” “Providing the collar and cuff match…” shrugs Connery. For this scene, it seems Bond may have met his match. She is using sexuality, one of Bonds few weakness, to get a read on the situation. Bond is naturally one step ahead, but Case had an opportunity to be another Pussy Galore or Domino Derval, a Bond girl who could hang. However, Tiffany quickly becomes the dumb, shrieking pain in the ass that is afraid to pick up a gun fearing she may break a nail. She even goes so far as to sabotage Bonds final plan out of shear stupidity, quite inconsistent with the smooth operator we meet in the beginning of the film. Bottom line, she, like almost everything else in the film, is simply an avatar, serving the plot when necessary but with zero life or decision making capability of her own. There is also Plenty O’Toole (no relation to Peter O’Toole) played by Lana Wood, sister to Natalie Wood. Woods acting is so dreadful that every time she uttered a line I was sucked out of the film. So thin was her résumé that the “Ultimate Edition DVD” lists, without irony, an “impressive appearance in the April 1971 issue of Playboy” as her previous experience. The film thinks so little of her she’s thrown out of a 20 story hotel window by a mobster before Bond even gets a chance to bed her. “I dient even know der was a pool dow der.” Yep, this is the kind of a movie where they throw a topples woman out of a 20 story window.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: Hard to gage. It’s clear from the get go that she is in charge of her sexuality and knows how to use it to get what she wants. However, she is also shallowly in it for the money, and melts to Bond when she realizes her can get her into the best suite in Vegas. Again, the inconsistently of the character makes her very difficult to nail down, but outside of her first scene, I’d say she is simply a loose playgirl who likes the excitement of running in dangerous circles.
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: “Hi my name is Plenty O’Toole” “ ..of course you are” Bond responds. This kind of sums up the film.
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: When Bond first meets Tiffany in her apartment, she at one point emerges in a sexy piece of lingerie. Bond doesn’t miss a beat. “Nice little nothing you’re almost wearing. I approve.”
Number of Woman 007 Beds: 1. Yikes! In the Bond universe, not to mention two years after Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), sex with one woman counts as celibacy! Perhaps the number of conquests is due to Bonds treatment of the lades in Diamonds Are Forever. Before the credits even role he removes a ladies bikini top and uses it to strangle her. He also smacks Tiffany across the face, hard. It’s a nice cases of comeuppance when Bond almost gets his ass handed to him in a ménage a trios beat down courtesy of Bambi and Thumper; two ladies who would make a good living on the GLOW tour. Many critics have taken Bond to task for being sexist and for the most part, I think they are looking a little to seriously at a franchise that treats many serious issues; sex, violence, world piece, as a light frame to hang a fun adventure upon. However, the treatment of women in Diamonds (remember the window throwing incident) did rub me the wrong way. It was just another instance where I was sucked out of the film and worse, reminded of Connery’s several statements in the press (Barbara Walters in December of 1987; Playboy in November of 1965) where he said it is OK for a man to hit a woman, with an open hand of course. “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman … If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it.” Ohh dear dear Sean, how I wish it was you, and not Rodger Moore, who went toe to toe with Grace Jones. She would kick…your….ass. Anyway, Tiffany Case wins the honor of being Bonds one and only. They bang-a-gong not moments after Plenty O’Toole is dispatched out the window and then once again on a plastic bed that doubles as a fish tank in the Whyte house suite of the Vegas Willard Whyte Hotel.
Number of People 007 Kills: 8, and half of them are Blofelds. He kills two Blofelds in the open alone, drowning one in a mud bath before he has the chance to gain the Blofeld mug. The other, who Bond mistakes for the real Blofeld, is drown in a waterfall of mud that looks like a stream of vomit straight out of a Tosh.O clip. Bond also throws a few surgical knifes into a doctor taking him of life support…. PERMANENTLY! So far, From Russia With Love is my favorite Bond film with a bullet, and out of the countless standout scenes, the Grant fist fight on the Orient Express is one of the most memorable. So, when Bond meets Franks, the very man he has been impersonating, on an old fashion elevator with frosted glass windows, my expectations where high. The idea of another tightly choreographed fight in an even tighter space should be enough to get any Bond fans heart racing. It pains me to say but Gay Hamilton just doesn’t have the chops or skill that Young brought to the screen. As I watched, something felt absent, and it wasn’t until two thirds through the fight, when the theme finally kicked in, that I became aware of how flat the fight felt with the music’s absents. Did Young use the theme during the train fight in With Love? I have no idea. That’s how good it was, but here, I missed it without even realizing it. It just fell short, had none of the heart or soul, and functioned as a independent moment, separated from the whole. Anyway, Frank’s ultimate death is disappointing. Much like heavy “vomit” mud unbelievably pounded the faux Blofeld in submission, Franks is taken out by a blast to the face from a fire extinguisher. When two Blofelds confront Bond he gets the idea that if he kicks the cat, it will naturally jump onto the lap of the correct Blofeld. However, it turns out the faux cat jumped on the faux Blofeld (You see how hard this film is to follow?) and Bond shoots and kills the wrong guy…again. “Wrong pussy” Connery declares, an eye rolling line delivered with as much dignity as the great Sir. Sean can muster. Despite a major full blown shoot out on the oil rig, not one of the faceless minions are taken down by 007. In the final moments Bond turns the tables on Kidd and Wint (never to be confused with Kidd N’ Play) and sets Mr. Kidd on fire right before he ties a bomb to Mr. Wint’s coattails and sends him overboard into the sea.
Most Outrageous Death/s: Blofeld has been an evil presence from the get go. In Dr. No, we met an Asian madman who works for an evil organization called SPECTRE. In following films, we get to know #1 as ruthless terrorist with unlimited influence and wealth at his disposal. Blofeld had world domination within his grasp several times with only Bond standing in his way. As payback, Blofeld killed Bond’s wife on their wedding day. 007 and #1; two men hell bent on opposing each other no matter what the collateral damage. Holmes vs. Prof. Moriaty, Batman vs. Joker, Ali vs. Frazer, Sparta vs. Athens, Jason vs. Horny Stoned Teens; Bond vs. Blofeld was one for the ages. So after 7 films and 9 years how dose Good finally triumph over Evil? When a bemused looking Bond jumps into the cockpit of a deep ocean oil drilling crane from which Blofeld’s one man submarine is dangling. Bond, all but guessing what levers to pull, then swings the arm of the crane around and bashes the suspended sub into a wall. Meanwhile, the trapped Blofeld does what he does best; yell at people through a microphone. Bond then jumps out of the crane and off the oil rig just before it explodes, presumably with Blofeld on it BUT…we don’t know? The worst part of this; it was a God damn patch, a last minute fix, an after thought. The original script of the film featured Blofeld escaping from the rig in his sub, Bond chasing him down, and a climatic battle in a salt mine. But somewhere along the line someone said “ahh, screw it. Lets just have the biggest hero in cinema history take out his biggest nemesis while to two are completely removed from each other robbing the audience of a face to face fight. In fact, Bond won’t even kill Blofeld, it will be random dudes in helicopters who blow up the oil rig and we won’t even let the audience know if in fact Blofeld is dead or not. Sounds great! Someone get me a drink, we’re done for the day.” I think I speak for every Bond fan when I call 100% bullshit on this entire thing. (Ed. Note. Blofeld may come back, I can’t recall, but the film goes a long way to implying Bond has finally beat SPECTRE’S #1 without giving a definitive answer.)
Miss. Moneypenny: Even in her one limited scene, Mrs. Moneypenny manages to charm. Our favorite pencil pusher comes out from behind her desk to work in the field posing as a customs agent. Once out of the office, all the security does is capturer and incapacitate the international diamond smuggler Peter Franks. The woman should qualify for double 0 status right there! As Bond leaves Moneypenny, bound for Amsterdam, he asks his long suffering underling if she would like anything. “A diamond?” answers a hopeful and ever persistent Moneypenny. As he pulls away Bond asks “Would you settle for a tulip?” Conveying with her eyes and pitch perfect delivery that anything from Bond would be just as meaningful as the requested diamond, she lets out a “Yes!” Her answer however is unheard, lost in the wake of Bond’s rapidly departing car. If it’s not clear by now, let me say for the record, we here at Blog James Blog love Moneypenny.
M: In a funny nod to Connery’s hiatus, M off handedly tells 007 “We do function in your absence commander.” It’s a big laugh and one of the best lines in the film.
Q: Q finally gets some respect from Bond. Not once but twice Bond goes out of his way to complement Q, as he should. The gadgets 007 uses in this film are more subtle than a car with rocket launchers (although an Aston Martin can be seen getting outfitted with 4 side-winders in the background of Q’s workshop.) Q also gets a rare opportunity to field test one of his inventions, an electro magnetic PRM controller. In a scene that gives us a window into Q’s soul, we see MI6’s gadget guru in Las Vegas walking down a row of slot machines. He holds his gizmo up to the machines and promptly hits the jackpot, then as he moves on to the next machine, quarters pour out of the previous. Tiffany Case (who calls him Mr. Q), impressed with the money he’s winning, indicates she would be willing to spend some time with him and his new found wealth. In everyway the antithesis of Bond, Q doesn’t notice the girl or the money and is simply interested in playing with his new toy.
List of Gadgets: In the open, a baddie reaches into the breast pocket of Bond jacket with the intention of disarming him. Instead he gets a nice surprise when a mouse trap like device crushes his fingers. Bonds first tip of the cap to Q comes after fake fingerprints successfully fool Tiffany into thinking Bond is Franks. The second device that gets Q props, “this contraption actually works,” is a voice box that allows Bond to make a phone call to Blofeld sounding like one of #1’s southern fried flunkies. I wonder if the pink tie Bond wears for the call helps him get into character? These devices are neat but the gadgets in this movie, like pretty much everything else, feel hollow. This is because we don’t have the scene were Q lays out all the new toys and explains them to Bond. The gadgets magically pop up in ways that are simply to covenant to the situation. An example; Bond crawls out of the window of his suite at the Whyte Hotel and rides to the penthouse while perched on top of an external elevator. The shots of Bond slowly rising up above the Vegas skyline are awesome, so much so that my 13-year-old viewing companion explained “That is SO COOL!” Then when Bond reaches the top, he pulls out a harpoon like gun he uses to anchor himself into the wall, swing out below the window, and climb up into the building. It’s a great toy, but so ridiculous is this plot device that even my 13- year-old buddy moaned “Of course he has that.” The final and most outrageous gadget is a ball that allows Bond to walk on water as if he were Wayne Coyne crowd surfing. (Ed. Note: I love me them Flaming Lips.)
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: None. Bond doesn’t even singe his suit when he’s trapped in a coffin that’s fed into a crematorium.
Other Property Destroyed: Not to much. In the open Bond tosses a dude through some paper walls in Japan. He and Franks bust up the glass in the elevator during their fist fight. Bond bangs up Tiffany’s car during a chase in Las Vegas that leaves several cops cars in ruin, and he takes part in destroying a deep ocean oil rig.
Felix Leiter: “I have a friend called Felix that can fix anything” Bond tells Tiffany just a beat before half the Vegas police start chasing them. If by fix anything Bond meant Fing it all up, then yes, Felix is your man. Played this time by character actor Norman Burton of “The Untouchables” TV show that would inspire The Untouchables (1987) film that would win Connery his Best Supporting Actor Oscar (see what we did there) Felix reaches new levels of uselessness, even by the already sky high standards of previous incompetence. Bond, posing as Franks, uses a coffin, containing the real Franks, to smuggle the diamonds into the U.S. (Don’t worry if you don’t understand, it makes little sense in the film.) It’s here that we meet Felix posing as a customs agent. (A cover Moneypenny already used to the upmost effectiveness…just sayin.) Felix lets Bond smuggle the body into the country (good) but then promptly hands Bond over the Vegas mobsters (bad.) Later Bond sets up the Circus Circus Casino as the exchange point for Tiffany to pick up the diamonds. Felix and thirty of his agents lock the joint down, “A mouse with sneakers couldn’t get through my men.” Now dear reader, what are the odds in Vegas that the CIA will loose Tiffany and the diamonds? Bond, “Felix doesn’t tell me you lost her?” Felix “We lost her.” In the very next scene, Bond not only finds Tiffany’s hideout with zero effort, but he is waiting for her pool side the moment she walks in. Still later, Bond endures the Bambi/ Thumper beat down and it isn’t until he’s subdued them both that Felix and his men come to the rescue; a day late and dollar short. Felix even tries to put Bond on lockdown, posting guys outside his suite. Bond sidesteps this inconvenience by simply crawling out the window and hitching a ride on top of the elevator. It takes Felix and 20 dudes to mess up what Bond easily accomplishes all on his own. “I have a friend called Felix that can fix anything” indeed.
Best One Liners/Quips: Bond is knocked out and thrown into the trunk of a car where his body smashes a bottle of perfume. His unconscious body is then placed into a pipe in the middle of the desert. 007 awakes to find himself in a sewer with a rat. Connery gives one of his irresistible looks that says, “yah, I know this is outrageous, but I can go with the flow” as he says to the rat “One of us smells like a tarts handkerchief … I’m afraid it’s me.” This line would be eye rollingly bad coming from 95% of actors, but Connery is able to make it shine, and that’s why he makes the homerun money.
Bond Car/s: Red Mustang Mach 1. This is technically Tiffany’s auto but Bond drives it like it’s his own, able to pop it up on two wheels by simple shifting his weight. Additionally, Bond catches a ride on helicopter and a huge hovercraft. In one of the cooler moments of the film, Connery and not a stunt man, jumps off the back of the moving 3 wheeled ATV, lands on his feet, and without breaking stride goes into a full run. It a truly impressive bit of stunt work. Sadly, Connery also suffers the indignity of having to evade several thugs while driving a moon buggy….through the desert.
Bond Timepiece: Bond takes a look at his watch at one point but we don’t see it. Boooo!
Other Notable Bond Accessories: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Lets hope the white dinner jacket with the pink tie getup stays as well. Earlier in Amsterdam, a quick thinking Bond plants his gold Playboy Club Membership card on Paul Frank’s body. While posing as Franks, 007 tells Tiffany that he was just attacked in the lobby by the dude now laying in her foyer. When she looks in the dead guys pocket she pulls out the no doubt well used card “Do you know how you just killed? James Bond!” A shock positively shocked! Connery responds “Is that who that is?”
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: Four. Not nearly enough. Between this low count and lack of sex, I must ask if Connery became a Mormon while on hiatus from 007. He’s in Vegas, a place well know for good drink and sex! Anyway, while getting debriefed by M Bond washes down a Sherry “51 I believe.” “Sherry’s don’t have years 007.” “I was referring to the vintage sir…1851.” Cue the Bond Theme. Tiffany gets the faux fingerprints off a glass Bond uses to sip some Scotch. After she takes off with this glass, Bond happily pours himself another. Then, while on a cruse with Tiffany, the two share some vino, a bottle of Claret I believe, which will become and important plot point. See Special Abilities for more…
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: And the lack of taking advantage of the Las Vegas location continues. While in Sin City 007 doesn’t lay a finger on a card. He instead finds himself rolling the bones. When he asks for a 10 thousand dollar credit line, the pit boss must intervene. “My name is Franks, Peter Franks.” “Mr. Frank’s money is good here” and Bond is off. It should come a no surprise he knows his way around a craps table and leaves $40,000 up in short order, giving $5000 to annoying Mrs. O’ Toole (“Say, you’ve played this game before!”) who then gets tossed out a window.
List of Locations: After rocketing from Japan to Cairo to a Mediterranean beach in France, all in the first thirty seconds, the film settles down in London at the MI6 offices. A short time later Bond boards a hovercraft bound for Amsterdam where one of the famed cannels makes like the East River AKA a dumping ground for dead bodies. Bond then returns to the U.S. for the first time since Goldfinger where he hooks up with the CIA’s #1 man at LAX. The globe trotting finally settles down after a ride through the desert to Las Vegas, Nevada, the only location in the film given a chance to truly shine. The movie wisely stays away from the “Vegas is Disneyworld for Adults” vibe. Much like The Hangover (2009) and Leaving Las Vegas (1995) the Vegas of Diamonds is a mysterious and dangerous place, more of a seedy backwater than a playground for multimillions. Diamonds came out the same year Dr. Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was first published in Rolling Stone Magazine. In the now famous work of “Gonzo Journalism” Thompson saw Vegas as the garbage left washed up on a beach after a wave crashes and rolls back out to sea. That vibe lurks just outside the frame in Diamonds, particularly during the Circus Circus scenes. “Circus Circus is where the entire hip world would be hanging out on a Saturday night if the Nazis won the war” Hunter wrote and the … ahem…circus atmosphere is perfectly captured in Diamonds. From the flying acrobats to the carnival barkers to the third-rate carnie sideshow tricks the entire place feels a little “off.” The best action sequence in the film happens on the world famous Fremont St. Bond zips around in his Mustang as hapless cops give pursuit and hordes of gawkers stand around like they are track side at 24 Hours of Le Mans. The crowd is somehow unfazed by the fact that at any second one of these fast moving vehicles could lose control and hop up on the sidewalk. It’s almost like they are standing around to watch a film being made… Bond eventually eludes most of the cops in a wonderfully choreographed chase featuring 007 zooming in and out of parked cars outside The Mint Hotel. The Mint is of course where Hunter stayed while in town and I picture him looking down on the scene below as that damned hotel bill just keeps going up. Also prominently featured is the Vegas Hilton standing in here at the Whyte Hotel. The most impressive structure is Willard Whyte’s cliff side home. Actually located in Palm Springs, the house features stunning views, oddly shaped window walled rooms, and an infinity pool disappearing off the cliff. The home, deemed the #1 bachelor pad by Playboy, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protégée John Lautner. Lautner homes have been featured in Body Double (1984), Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) and as Jackie Treehorn’s beach house in The Big Lebowski (1998). It is in the basement of this home that Bond finally tracks down the elusive Willard Whyte played by James Dean. Please forgive a slight detour so we can point out the fact the Jimmy Dean, who just died this summer, is one of the cooler people to have walked this planet. Mr. Dean was not only musician who was instrumental in bringing country music to its current prominence, but he was also entrepreneur who founded “Jimmy Dean Pure Pork Sausage,” and an actor who appeared in, among others things, a James Bond film. Please take a moment to tip you Stetson in his honor.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Bond admits he doesn’t know much about diamonds but he knocks M into his place with his knowledge of Sherry. He also has a noise for shenanigans; he figures out Tiffany tested his glass when he picks up the scent of the finger print dust. He can throw dice better than the best of em (HEY! You’ve played this game before…) and he continues his streak of being able to operate any piece of machinery he encounters; an ATV, a deep oil rig crane, and a moon buggy are all expertly navigated. 007’s swan dive off the oil rig seconds before it goes all BP Deepwater Horizon earned him a 9.2 from the judges (a 6.8 from the Russian). While Bond’s physical prowess never ceases to amaze, I personally love when Jimmy B’s vices (like gambling) aid him in his quest. In the finally scene of Diamonds, 007’s love of booze literally saves his life. Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd track Bond and Tiffany down on a cruse ship. Posing as waiters, the two make their way into Bond cabin pushing a dinner cart which contains a bomb. Bond’s super sensitive honker recognizes Mr. Wint’s cheep aftershave. After presenting the bill of fare, Mr. Wint serves Bond a Mouton-Rothschild ’55. “The wine is quite excellent but for such a grand meal, I would have expected a claret” 007 complains. “Of course, unfortunately our cellar’s rather poorly stocked with clarets.” “Mouton-Rothschild is a Claret.” Check and mate.
Thoughts on Film: For 007 #7 EON took inspiration for the past to move into the future. Returning to the fold were star Connery, director Hamilton and songstress Shirley Bassey. However, hindsight was far from 20/20 in the Broccoli, Saltzman, and Hamilton vision of where Bond should be. While some the elements the production team drew from the 1964 classic work (Bassey’s belting vocals, Connery’s devil-may-care nonchalance, international smuggling rings) they mostly misread what made that film so wonderful. This happens all the time with sequels and it’s a small miracle that it didn’t happen until the seventh film in Bond. Many sequels are like the Michael Keaton clone in Multiplicity (1996); at first glance they look as good as the original but if you spend any time with them you realize they are bad copies missing key elements. There are countless examples but lets just take the Hannibal Lector films. The Silence of Lambs (1991) is a spooky psychological thriller with a distinct tone that is perfectly captured in the poster, a poster that features not a trace of Anthony Hopkins or his character. For the sequels, film makers completely misread what made Lambs a classic (Foster, Demme, the script, Buffalo Bill, the tension built not though action but dialogue, etc.) and instead think the film was all about Dr. Lector. Hence the crappy follow ups that play like bad monster movies. (Ed. Note, Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986) is still the best “Hannibal” film.) EON also misread the elements that made Goldfinger so charming and instead just took the cheese level and pump it up to an obnoxious 11. Hamilton, not showing all that much skill for picking a shot in the his ’64 Bond debut, decides to just throw the camera wherever he parks his production truck for this movie. Add to that the terrible pacing, amateur acting and complete lack of motivation for half of the action and its clear EON said “Screw it! Just get Connery in that tux, blow some shit up and get it into theaters as quickly as possible so people can forget about that Lazenby film.” Like all Bond films (so far at least) this movie has some great moments. Connery also gives us little subtle things like his expression of complete boredom when getting briefed on the diamonds and his sideways looks at the flying ladies at Circus Circus. But for the most part, the film can’t get out of the way of itself. There are red herrings galore that are handled clumsily. How many times can Bond kill Blofeld to realize, Ha-ha, it’s not Blofeld! Tiffany is on Bonds side, no she with Blofeld, no she’s out for herself, no she really is with Bond. This is marching band tape, no it’s the nuke code tape! We are on the moon, no we are in the desert! (Why then, are the astronauts chasing Bond like they are moving in zero G?) Even the damn diamonds end up to be fakes at one point, a possibly that was never even hinted at previously. Add clueless redneck cops, Blofeld in drag, a mortician named Slumber, and Connery suffering the indignity of having to say “wrong pussy” after kicking a cat clone and you get the full picture. Connery is clearly more engaged than he was in YOLT, so it’s a shame that his finally official Bond film is his worst. With Diamonds Are Forever, camp puts down stakes and pitches a tent in the middle of the Bond franchise, setting the stage for the Rodger Moore era. Camp and Bond can work brilliantly, as it did in Goldfinger, but to quote David St. Hubbins “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”