James Bond Retrospective #7 - Diamonds are Forever
Welcome to the seventh instalment of Sticky Trigger Entertainment's James Bond 007 Retrospective. We'll be bringing you a new retrospective review each week, covering every Bond film from the official canon, leading up the Australian release of Skyfall in November. Get that toupee sitting just right before you swing into the next adventure of Bond... James Bond.
Title: Diamonds Are Forever
Director: Guy Hamilton
Writer: Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz (based on the novel by Ian Fleming)
Starring: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray
After George Lazenby's only film, the producers of the franchise were desperate to get Sean Connery back in the tux for at least one more instalment, offering him an exorbitant amount to return as James Bond. He accepted, to the delight of fans at the time, and Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton came back to direct this film, but their returns don't save this cluster of a film that barely rises above the level of Connery's previous Bond film, You Only Live Twice. It's choppy, and Connery is no small part of the problem.
After travelling the world to revenge himself on Blofeld for the events of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, James Bond is assigned the seemingly mundane task of finding the mastermind of a diamond smuggling operation before it's cleaned up by a couple of assassins. By going undercover, Bond gets close to smuggler Tiffany Case (St. John), who leads him to Las Vegas, reclusive millionaire Willard Whyte and an old enemy with a new scheme. It hits all the check boxes of a Bond film but aside from the quick and completely misplayed teaser (more on that later), Maibaum and Mankiewicz's screenplay is by-the-numbers, never feeling fresh or original.
The film has a strong enough opening. During his undercover shenanigans, Bond has agency and really drives the plot, trying to balance his cover against his objective and getting the various smuggling players on-board. There's a decent amount of intrigue and action, and Bond's climbing escapades on the top floors of the Whyte House are rather spectacular, but by the halfway mark everything has started to slip into mediocrity. Dangerous characters become buffoons, smart characters become idiots, and all flash and spectacle disappears. The attack on the oil rig is meant to be epic, Hamilton's answer to the assault on Piz Gloria from the last film, but the staging is awkward and bogged down with bad bluescreen work, and the main characters do absolutely nothing -- worse, they practically help the villain. It all devolves into a pathetic effort of a Bond film.
Connery's return to the franchise is a mixed blessing. From his first scene, it's impossible not to notice how much older he is: no longer a svelte young man with class and swagger, Connery's wrinkles and obvious toupee make the scenes of him romancing women half his age seem creepy and weird to watch. He looks so bored with the role that he kills whatever positivity we might've had towards the character, even if he does get stuck into a few more of the action scenes -- the fight between Bond and Peter Franks recalls the brutal showdown with Red Grant and is possibly the only moment of the film where the audience can properly root for Bond.
The opening scene provides a great contrast between the latter years of Connery and the only film of George Lazenby. Bond is on an epic rampage to get to Blofeld, but Connery seems like he couldn't give a toss about what he's doing or why. Had Lazenby been doing this, there would've been emotion: rage and anger, a thirst for revenge, something for the audience to get behind. On Her Majesty's Secret Service provided a great springboard for a dark, dramatic story, but Connery and the filmmakers robbed this film of all that potential and momentum.
Charles Grey, who had a bit part in You Only Live Twice, steps into the shoes of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and may very well be the best actor to play the part. What he lacks in the distinctive appearance, he makes up for with an affably British wit and humour, and a sense of malevolent intelligence. When Blofeld says "I enjoy our little talks, Mister Bond," we believe him, and he certainly helps elevate Connery's Bond into more interesting territory. The Bond girl, Tiffany Case, isn't half as interesting. She starts out as a seductive femme fatale who needs Bond's help and doesn't know it, but at the halfway mark her prescription of stupid pills kicks in and she becomes possibly the dumbest character to appear in the series to date, unwittingly foiling Bond's attempts to save the day and doing nothing but filling out a bikini.
This is film is a chaotic mess that will make the audience sincerely miss George Lazenby and Peter Hunt's take on the franchise. The plot takes a sharp nosedive, as do most of the characters, and the expensive return of Sean Connery winds up detracting from the film rather than helping. Whatever the previous film did to salvage the franchise after the disaster that was You Only Live Twice was completely undone by Diamonds Are Forever, a film that's only for the completionists or the masochists.
Highlight: The lift fight.
Written by Bronzethumb
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