Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Diamonds Are Forever (1971) | Story

Plot Summary

After sweeping the last movie's heavy ending under the rug, Bond tries to uncover a diamond smuggling ring before it shuts down. Hilarity ensues.


On Her Majesty's Secret Service was one of the top money-making movies of 1969, but it still made far less than You Only Live Twice. Saltzman and Broccoli wanted the series back to where it was, so for the next film, they made a conscious effort to duplicate old successes. Goldfinger had done extremely well in the US, thanks in part to a lot of its being set there, so the producers chose another US-based novel, Diamonds Are Forever, as the next film.

Richard Maibaum was brought back to write the script with US writer Tom Mankiewicz coming in to give it an American feel. The basic set up from Fleming's novel was used, but the mastermind behind the smuggling ring was changed from standard gangsters to Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

A minor influence that popped into the movie was the English Channel hovercraft. The hovercraft had been operating for a couple of years by the time Diamonds came out, but it was still a cool, new thing. Referencing new, real-world technology soon became a recurring phenomenon in the Bond movies.

One thing that some think is an influence - but isn't - is the conspiracy theory that the US moon landing was faked. At one point, Bond encounters some men in spacesuits on a moon set, but that's just a reference to the space program in general. The facility that Bond's infiltrated does space research, so those are just astronauts in training. The fake moon landing conspiracy theory didn't get big until a few years after Diamonds.

How Is the Book Different?

I've already mentioned Blofeld. His scheme for the diamonds is completely different from the gangsters' plan in the novel, which is just about making money. We'll talk more about Blofeld's plan in the Villains post, but since Saltzman and Broccoli were trying to recapture the feel of blockbusters like Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, they needed Blofeld to do something bodacious with those diamonds.

The movie also skips over all the New York stuff from the novel so that it can get to Vegas more quickly and spend more time there. That may have been partially a budget thing (thanks to Sean Connery's enormous salary for the film), but I don't know that New York was ever in the movie script.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

Though the villains' plans are totally different in the movie, a lot of stuff early in the film is right out of the novel. Wint and Kidd's shutting down the pipeline is from there, and even the death of Blofeld's double in the cold open is inspired by the mud bath scene from the book.

The scene that's closest though is when Bond meets Tiffany in her apartment. It's not a word for word reenactment, but the tone and the characters are exactly right. Bond's pretending to be smuggler Peter Franks and he's bewildered and a little amused that his contact is a tough woman.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

Again, there's the whole ending, but more than that, Diamonds strikes a weird, goofy tone that's completely foreign to Fleming. That moon scene is one example, with the astronauts moving in slow motion for no reason as they try to stop Bond. The worst though is when Tiffany is walking through the Circus Circus casino and an elephant inexplicably wanders up to a slot machine and plays it.

The Roger Moore era has the reputation for being silly and over-the-top, but that starts right here. As dumb as You Only Live Twice was, I never get the feeling that it's intentionally dumb. But audiences seemed to love that stupidity and Saltman/Broccoli decided to keep serving it up.

Cold Open

The job of Diamonds' cold open is to resolve the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service as quickly as possible. It opens with a series of beatings as an unseen Bond tries to locate Blofeld and take revenge for Tracy's death. We hear Connery's voice as he questions the underlings, but we don't see him until he arrives at a villa to question a sunbathing woman, choking her with her own bikini top.

She directs him to Blofeld, who's in the middle of surgically creating doubles of himself. Bond and Blofeld fight and Blofeld is apparently killed. Though Blofeld of course turns up later, the cold open wants you to believe that that's it. OHMSS is now wrapped up all tidy and we can get back to the fun Bond that we apparently want.

The cold open is supposed to be the serious, brutal finale to OHMSS, but it doesn't work that way. Forgetting for a second that the rest of Diamonds completely undermines it, the cold open doesn't even work on its own. Connery's performance (which I'll get into more in the next post) is so disinterested that it's impossible to take his quest for vengeance seriously. Even the voiceover work before you see his face lacks any real emotion. In ranking it, I only put it ahead of You Only Live Twice because at least it has a couple of gruesome mud bath deaths.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. Thunderball
2. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
3. Goldfinger
4. From Russia With Love
5. Diamonds Are Forever
6. You Only Live Twice
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Movie Series Continuity

With Blofeld "dead" in the cold open, everything's supposed to go back to normal. M says as much in the very first scene, callously dismissing any feelings that Bond still has about his wife's death. Which sadly is fair, because Bond doesn't seem to have any feelings about Tracy. Hunting down and killing Blofeld was apparently an obligation, not satisfaction. Bond actually seems amused by it. But then he seems amused by pretty much everything in the movie.

Bond's still a know-it-all (about sherry this time) and it still irritates M. And keeping with M and Moneypenny's field activities in You Only Live Twice, Moneypenny and Q both leave MI6 HQ in Diamonds. I can buy that Q might be needed in Las Vegas (though why he has to deliver Bond's equipment personally is never explained), but there's no reason whatsoever for Moneypenny to show up at Customs - in uniform - to deliver Bond his fake passport. It's nothing but a ridiculous way to get her into the movie, because audiences want to see Bond banter with her. The filmmakers are just putting checkmarks in boxes at this point.

Oh, you know what continuity isn't in Diamonds? The hat rack trick. Apparently Bond's throwing his hat to Moneypenny at the wedding was the last time he'd do that, which actually suits me just fine. I'll miss that bit, but I'm glad that it went out with some emotion and meaning attached to it.

One final bit of continuity is that everyone still knows who James Bond is. His notoriety goes beyond SPECTRE now and includes common smugglers like Tiffany Case or crooked casino managers like Bert Saxby. Bond's faked death in You Only Live Twice hasn't even fooled the general public.

1 comment:

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

The bikini top straggle is a shocking and cold way to start a film that becomes so goofy by the end with Bond driving a moon rover. This feels so much like a Moore era film the more I think about it.


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