Thursday, May 21, 2015

Diamonds Are Forever (1971) | Bond

Actors and Allies 

I used to assume that Connery's return in Diamonds meant that George Lazenby was a failed experiment. That Saltzman and Broccoli were displeased with Lazenby and fired him before coming to their senses and begging Connery to come back. Boy, was I wrong. Lazenby turned down a seven-picture contract and left the series of his own free will to become a hippie. (Incidentally, OHMSS director Peter Hunt was also invited back, but had to decline for scheduling reasons, so they brought back Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton instead.)

The producers next approached American actor John Gavin (though they also considered Adam West). Gavin's probably best known for playing Sam Loomis in Psycho. United Artists wasn't having it though. Not wanting to risk another new Bond, they insisted on having Connery back whatever the cost. They bought out Gavin's contract and paid Connery £1.25 million, the equivalent of about £23 million today.

Sadly, Connery was as enthused about playing Bond in Diamonds as he was in You Only Live Twice. But though he looks bored in both, it presents itself in different ways. In YOLT, because of the humorlessness of Roald Dahl's script, Bond comes across as serious and dull. In Diamonds, he takes nothing seriously. He's amused at everything, which removes any possibility of tension from the film.

The one time he becomes serious (not counting the cold open), is when he's talking to Tiffany after Plenty O'Toole is murdered. It's possible that he's upset about Plenty's death, but I get the impression that it's more about convincing Tiffany that she's in danger. He slaps her during that scene, which is where the power balance shifts between the two of them. She realizes then that he's not just some underling who wants to double-cross the smugglers and run away with her. It's a jolting scene and doesn't work for me because it's so out of character for the version of Bond that Connery's playing in the rest of the movie. Unfortunately, it's the only way she's going to take him seriously and get out of the way so that he can be in charge for the last half of the film. That Bond has to resort to smacking a woman to be taken seriously illustrates the big problem with Connery's performance.

Conney doesn't even look like Bond anymore. Maybe it's the gray in his hair, maybe it's his longer sideburns. Maybe it's just a really bad toupee. Whatever the reason, he's no longer a debonair spy, but an aging, slightly creepy old dude (even though he was only 40 when the movie was filmed).

M is irritated with Bond in their scenes, but that's not especially anything new in the series. We've seen it particularly clearly with Q. As Bond becomes a less serious character, that grates on the nerves of the people giving him his orders.

In keeping with the weird tone of the movie, the Moneypenny scene is really awkward. Not only is she in the field wearing a fake uniform to perform an extremely minor task (giving Bond his fake passport), but her banter with him is super inappropriate. He's off to Holland and offers to bring her back something, so she asks for a diamond... in a ring. Whether or not she's serious about wanting an engagement ring from him (and I dearly hope she's not, but you can read it either way), that's just an awful thing to say to someone whose wife was recently murdered. Again, the movie isn't thinking about stuff like that. It's just making sure we get some Moneypenny flirting in and doesn't care if it makes any sense.

Felix Leiter shows up in Diamonds, but he has no personality. He's only there to make Bond's activities official on US soil and to occasionally fix things. It's dumb though that he can't authorize an interview between Bond and reclusive millionaire Willard Whyte. By the time Bond makes that request, he has plenty of evidence proving that Whyte is deeply connected to the smuggling ring, but Felix acts like Bond just wants to see Whyte on a hunch.

And speaking of Willard Whyte, he's the best thing about this movie. Country singer/sausage king Jimmy Dean is awesome, charming, and completely convincing as a guy who's been forced out of his business empire. He's equal parts frustrated by the situation and determined to fix it. Love him a lot.

Best Quip

"Well, as long as the collars and cuffs match..." concerning his preference in women's hair color.

Worst Quip

"Named after your father, perhaps?" to Plenty O'Toole when she introduces herself. What does that even mean? Is he implying that she's Peter O'Toole's daughter? Why?


There are a few gadgets in Diamonds, but some of them are relatively mundane, like fake fingerprints and a grappling gun. Blofeld's voice changer is pretty cool and I enjoy Q's nonchalance about the ease with which he duplicates it.

The water ball that Bond uses to reach Blofeld's oil rig is iconic, but that's less a gadget than another reference to new, real-world technology like the hovercraft from earlier in the film.

That leaves my favorite of Diamonds' gadgets: the finger trap in Bond's holster that snaps a henchman's fingers when trying to confiscate Bond's gun in the cold open. It's brutal and bloody; a good match for what that cold open is supposed to be.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
2. Jet pack (Thunderball)
3. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
4. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)
5. Attaché case (From Russia With Love)
6. Propeller SCUBA tank with built-in spearguns (Thunderball)
7. Rebreather (Thunderball)
8. Camera-tape recorder; mostly because it reminds me of a camera my dad used to use (From Russia With Love)
9. Seagull SCUBA hat (Goldfinger)
10. Holster finger trap (Diamonds Are Forever)

Bond's Best Outfit

Can't go wrong with a classic, black tux and the red carnation is a nice touch.

Bond's Worst Outfit

I don't mind the pinkness of the tie; it's the ridiculously short length. The '70s, man.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I always assumed that "named for your father" line would make sense when I was older. Guess not.

thingmaker said...

Honest to Zod... That "Named after your father" quip... It simply must be a reference to tool as a penis reference. It is obviously supposed to be risque or bawdy and that's the best guess I could ever make.
In this sense, a guy I once knew named Moore Johnson was very much aware that his name had porn-star connotations.

Michael May said...

thingmaker, your explanation makes WAY more sense than my stupid Peter O'Toole connection. And it's funnier. I may have to rethink it as the Worst Quip.


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