UK / USA, 1971
Review by Marcus Gilmer
Posted on 19 March 2005
Source MGM VHS
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
Diamonds Are Forever has always been my favorite Bond movie. I could never say why exactly, even though I’ve seen the film a dozen times. But upon my last viewing, I at least realized why I kept going back to it: it made me laugh.
Diamonds Are Forever, released in 1971, marked Connery’s return to the Bond role after George Lazenby’s much, and wrongly, maligned attempt to fill 007’s shoes. It’s hard to imagine anyone succeeding Connery, so what else to do but revert to the original actor? The world was as it should be. Though, judging from the finished product, it’s hard to tell in this film.
The plot of Diamonds Are Forever seems straightforward at first glance. Bond imitates a diamond smuggler, Peter Franks, in order to figure out who is after such a large quantity of diamonds, why they want them, and why dead bodies are appearing in the diamonds’ wake. Behind it all is Bond’s nemesis Blofeld, who intends to use the diamonds as part of a satellite, the jewels focusing sunlight into a laser beam he uses to blow up military installations around the world.
And there are the Bond standards: girls, chase sequences, and clever one-liners. Jill St. John is Tiffany Case, the first American Bond girl in the series. Her double-crossing character is nonetheless buxom and pleasant eye candy. Q makes a few appearances and provides some comic relief, even if this movie is low on gadgets. On the surface, it seems as if we’re in for business as usual.
But, as we know, Bond films are like camping trips: getting there is half the fun.
During 1971, Hunter S. Thompson made his now-infamous trip to Las Vegas with lawyer Oscar Acosta. The resulting book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, detailed the drug-fueled escapades of the duo. But Bond did Vegas first and Diamonds Are Forever is the living document that nothing about the city is normal. At times, it feels as if the script was the result of Thompson and Acosta’s binge.
How else to explain the completely surreal images we’re bombarded with over the course of two hours? Bond films have always been over the top, but never before or since has a Bond film been so… campy.
The strange happenings begin early on with the introduction of the primary non-SPECTRE villains, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, a not-so-ambiguously gay duo who kill people and frolic, holding hands and uttering borderline retarded monosyllabic one-liners. Their purpose is to ensure an easy path for the diamonds to Blofeld and to make sure no one lives to squeal, including a dentist, an elderly orphanage director, and Bond himself.
Connery looks a bit thicker and older but slips back into the role of Bond with ease. The wisecracks are there, including a well-timed erection joke after being caught with a half-naked Plenty O’Toole (no relation to Peter). Though even Connery seems sluggish at times, especially when he gets beaten around by Bambi and Thumper, a pair of gymnastics-loving vixens.
At the center of all this insanity is the mysterious Willard Whyte, a reclusive casino owner that’s a not-so-subtle nod to producer Alfred Broccoli’s friend Howard Hughes. (Hughes even allowed filming inside his casinos in exchange for his own 16mm print of the film.) Why are Whyte’s henchmen after the diamonds? And why hasn’t anyone seen him in five years?
Along the way we make numerous visits to the desert, encounter the mob, see Bond make a narrow escape from a crematorium, and witness an elephant hitting the jackpot at a slot machine at Circus, Circus—a casino featured prominently in Fear & Loathing. Coincidence?
The highlight of hilarity has to be the scene in which we find out what was really going on with all those moon-landings, complete with a slow motion attack by an astronaut. Acting at its finest. This scene leads to one of the most lackluster, yet funniest Bond chase sequences. Bond, in a moon buggy, is pursued over the rugged desert landscape by sheriffs on three-wheelers. The speed is reminiscent of the OJ Simpson “White Bronco Chase” and the bumbling sheriffs are more Keystone Kops than they are accessory villains.
Have I even mentioned the half-baked subplot involving Blofeld’s attempts to clone himself? Or what about Bond booting a cat across a room? Or Blofeld walking out of a casino in full drag, looking exactly like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie?
In the end, maybe that’s why I love Diamonds Are Forever so much and why I was so bored by the Austin Powers franchise: how can something be a successful parody when it has so much in common with the object of its satire?
It would be too easy to dismiss Diamonds Are Forever, ridiculing it as an example of the excess of the times in which it was made. But the film is in on the joke, the moon landing scene and the cross-dressing Blofeld being two great examples. Also worthy is the sequence at the beginning that explains the diamond trade, an encyclopedia-like description set against a tongue-in-cheek example of reality. Or Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd skipping hand-in-hand across the desert after disposing of a diamond handler with a scorpion. Or the look on Mr. Wint’s face during his death scene. Bond going S&M?
It seems too much to believe. But this is the point at which Bond films began the turn towards self-parody and away from the comparatively more serious concerns that had peppered the earlier films. Part of this also had to do with the actors portraying Bond. Diamonds Are Forever turned out to be both Connery’s return and his last Bond film (depending on how you qualify Never Say Never Again). Roger Moore would ably take over the role of Bond in 1973’s Live and Let Die, which is just as well seeing as how closely Diamonds Are Forever’s Connery resembles Billy Bob Thornton in Friday Night Lights.
But Diamonds Are Forever and all its surrealism remains my favorite of the series and always will.
Is it Bond at its finest? Not quite.
Is it Bond at its weirdest and most enjoyable? Absolutely.