James Bond Declassified: File #7 - 'Diamonds Are Forever' is Connery's last shot
JAMES BOND 007 DECLASSIFIED
FILE #7: "Diamonds Are Forever"
This series will trace the cinema history of James Bond, while also examining Ian Fleming's original novels as source material and examining how faithful (or not) the films have been to his work.
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Screenplay by Richard Maibuam and Tom Makiewicz
Produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli
CHARACTERS / CAST
James Bond / Sean Connery
Tiffany Case / Jill St. John
Ernst Stavro Blofeld / Charles Gray
Plenty O'Toole / Lana Wood
Willard Whyte / Jimmy Dean
Saxby / Bruce Cabot
Mr. Kidd / Putter Smith
Mr. Wint / Bruce Glover
Felix Leiter / Norman Burton
Dr. Metz / Joseph Furst
"M" / Bernard Lee
"Q" / Desmond Llewelyn
Shady Tree / Leonard Barr
Moneypenny / Lois Maxwell
Mrs. Whistler / Margaret Lacey
Peter Franks / Joe Robinson
Sir Donald Munger / Laurence Naismith
Mr. Slumber / David Bauer
Connery's return to the series starts with a great, casual gun barrel turn, and then launches directly into a brutal fight as Bond beats the holy hell out of a guy looking for information about the location of Blofeld. That leads him to Cairo, where he beats the crap out of another guy in a casino, and that leads him to Maui, where he strangles a woman with her own bikini top to get more information about Blofeld out of her. It's a series of quick cuts, and it creates a sense that Bond isn't playing around. He's driven to find Blofeld so he can get his revenge.
We see that Blofeld is planning plastic surgery, and that he knows Bond is on his trail. He orders his doctors to do the operation that night, and they put him in a mud bath to prepare him for the procedure. Blofeld tries to draw a gun on Bond, who promptly drowns… a double. Blofeld ambushes Bond, two armed henchmen at his side. Bond dispatches them easily, and this time, when he drowns Blofeld in the hot mud baths, it's the real one, and Blofeld's trademark white cat hisses at Bond as we zoom in on the diamond necklace around his neck.
The Binder title sequence makes remarkably unsubtle use of the white cat, naked women, and diamonds to create a series of visual puns that are almost embarrassingly on the nose. It's nice to hear Shirley Bassey back in the Bond theme business, and I think it's one of the great big ballad Bond themes. It's a clear sign that the producers were trying to get back to the formula that they were comfortable with after the experiment of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," which did much better around the world than it did in the US. Hiring Connery to return as Bond was incredibly expensive, but essential for them to prove that they could keep the series on-course.
As the titles end, we pull back from a close-up of a diamond to reveal "M" and Bond studying diamonds mounted in a case, their faces reflected in the glass case. "M" is telling Bond about his new case, a smuggling investigation, and he makes it clear that now that Blofeld is dead, they expect Bond to do some "plain solid work" again.
Sir Donald Munger briefs 007 about the case. Bond knows very little about the diamond trade, so Munger lays out the way things work in South Afriacn mines and the way security is used to keep the workers honest. As Munger lectures, though, we see the truth of things and just how easy it is to keep smuggling diamonds out of the system.
Then we meet Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint in the middle of the desert, watching a scorpion and admiring how well it kills. Wint catches it and carries it with them to meet with a dentist we saw working with the miners to steal diamonds. The dentist brings out the smuggled diamonds. Kidd pretends to have a problem with a tooth, and as the dentist looks at it, Wint drops the scorpion down the back of the dentist's shirt, and he's killed instantly. When a helicopter tries to fly away with the smuggled diamonds, it blows up. Kidd and Wint seem to entertain themselves with the murders they commit, and as they walk away hand-in-hand, it's apparent we're dealing with a truly freaky team here. You may or may not know that Mr. Wint is played by Bruce Glover, who is indeed Crispin Glover's father. He's also worked as an acting teacher in LA, and it's interesting watching his work here and thinking about Crispin, who definitely seems to have picked up some his father's mannerisms. You could draw a straight line from Bruce's work as Mr. Wint to Crispin's work as the Creepy Thin Man in the "Charlie's Angels" films.
We cut back to Sir Munger as he continues his briefing for 007. Meanwhile, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint stop to see Mrs. Whistler, who runs an orphanage for South African kids, and they drop off the diamonds for her. They tell her that they're off to Amsterdam, which is where Sir Munger sends Bond to begin looking into a potential stockpiling situation that is developing.
Bond leaves the country by car, and at the border, he sees Moneypenny, who is in disguise as a customs official. Bond is posing as Peter Franks, part of the smuggling pipeline that MI6 wants to disrupt, and Franks is detained at the border while Bond takes his place. Bond boards a hovercraft for the ride over, and when we cut to Amsterdam, we're on a tourist boat in the canals. We see Mrs. Whistler's dead drowned body being fished out of the canal, and we see Kidd and Wint watching to make sure she's dead. Evidently, they're knocking off each piece of the smuggling operation, following it person to person and making sure no one is around to keep things running.
As Franks, Bond arrives at the home of Tiffany Case, his contact. She greets him in a very skimpy underwear set, and he observes that she was blonde when he entered the apartment, although she's brunette by the time she presents herself to him. She plays a little game to check his fingerprints, and when they match with the Franks fingerprints she has on file, she relaxes and starts to discuss business with him, which involves somehow bringing 150,000 pounds worth of diamonds into Los Angeles. She's finally settled on her real hair color, red, and also has finally thrown on some clothing. This movie made preposterous use of St. John's curves and jiggles, and it seems like she's showing more skin in any single scene than some of the earlier Bond girls did in their entire movies. She talks to "Franks" like he's an idiot.
When Bond leaves, he calls "Q" to thank him for making the fake fingerprints that helped him pass Case's test and he learns that Franks escaped. He rushes out, mid-phone call, to head Franks off before he can go talk to Tiffany Case and reveal what's happened. Bond and Franks fight in an elevator, and it's a nicely staged bit of close-up combat. I like the way they keep knocking out glass panels with elbows as they try to get enough room to punch one another. Tiffany witnesses the end of the fight when Bond manages to kill Franks. He switches wallets quickly so that she thinks he just killed James Bond, raising that disturbing narrative point again that everyone in the world seems to know who he is, rendering him somewhat less than ideal as a covert operative.
They use the coffin of "James Bond" to smuggle in the diamonds, which have been crafted into a huge chandelier. Both Bond and Tiffany are onboard the plane, as are Kidd and Wint, who are watching Bond and Tiffany. Kidd makes a joke about how Tiffany is attractive "for a lady," and based on Wint's reaction, it's not a joke that he's particularly crazy about. I find the weird homosexual dynamic between Kidd and Wint to be one of the strangest choices in any Bond film. And, no, that's not me saying that homosexual relationships are creepy… just this one. Perhaps any relationship with Bruce Glover in it would be creepy, but in this case, they go out of their way to depict the strange tension between these two.
Once they get to the US, Felix Leiter steps in, posing as a customs agent, clearing "Franks" through and allowing him to leave with the diamonds, which are being smuggled inside the body. Leiter can't figure out where, leading to the single worst pun in the history of the series: "Ailimentary, my dear Felix." Bond is picked up by three men from the Slumber Inc. funeral parlor, and they drive him to Morton Slumber's place in Las Vegas. It's a crematorium, and it's revealed that the cremation process is part of how they retrieve the diamonds from the dead body. They're handed over to Bond in an urn, and as he goose to drop them off, Kidd and Wint overpower him easily, locking him into a casket and sending him into the crematorium.
The only reason he's saved is because Shady Tree, the guy who was supposed to pick up the diamonds, realizes they're fake. Bond says he'll bring them the real diamonds when they give him the real money he was supposed to be paid, giving him some time to kill while Q brings the real diamonds into the country.
Vegas seems like a perfect place for the late '60s version of James Bond, and when we see Shady onstage, he's awful. He's the house comedian at the Whyte House, the Vegas casino owned by Willard Whyte. Kidd and Wint kill Shady too soon, and once Bond sees that he's been eliminated, he heads to the betting floor to start playing craps and attract as much attention as he can.
"Hi, I'm Plenty."
"But of course you are."
As Bond girls go, Plenty O'Toole is exactly what I think of when I think of the best of the bunch. She's gorgeous, played by an ex-Playboy model, with a ridiculous name and a fantastic wardrobe. Too bad she's only in about four minutes of the film. Case is already waiting in Bond's suite, and after a quick roll in the sheets, they talk about the problem that "Franks" is facing now, and how everyone wants the real diamonds. She talks to him about setting up a double-cross so they can take the diamonds and run.
Whenever I see the sequence where Tiffany goes to retrieve the diamonds from the Circus Circus casino, I can't help but flash on the way Hunter S. Thompson described the place. It's strange, because we know now that organized crime had their hands in everything during this era of Vegas history, but when you look at it, there's something sort of quaint and innocent about "Sin City" as it's presented here.
Plenty O'Toole ends up dead in Tiffany's pool, wearing her black wig, and when Tiffany comes home, she finds a very angry Bond waiting for her. He levels with her, and she tells him where the diamonds are going to be picked up, allowing him to follow them. They see that Saxby, Willard Whyte's right-hand man, is driving the van, and she distracts Saxby long enough for Bond to sneak into the van.
I like how they use the mythology surrounding Howard Hughes to establish Willard Whyte as a man of mystery, famous but never seen, supposedly living on the top floor of the Whyte House. Bond is driven out to WW Tectronics, a high-tech project that Whyte has built in the desert outside of Vegas. Bond goes poking around the facility, leading to one of the strangest scenes in any Bond film. He runs into a soundstage where it appears they are faking the moon landing, and he steals a moon buggy, which he then drives through a wall so he can escape. It's such a strange moment that it feels like they cut a reel out of the film that would explain why that room was in the facility and what it has to do with anything else that's going on. All we really learn in the scene is that Whyte's company is using the diamonds as part of their secret project, but we're not really sure how or to what purpose.
The moon buggy turns out to be a pretty good getaway vehicle considering the desert landscape as every car in pursuit wipes out. Bond and Tiffany head back into town, where Whyte's got the local cops waiting, and I love seine the car chase they apparently really staged in the streets of Vegas, especially because of the huge crowds that are just standing around watching everything. Vegas looks positively small-town, and I love every moment of the chase, both for the way the action is staged and for the tour of the city that has changed so dramatically in the 40 years since the film was made.
Bond checks the two of them into Whyte's casino, and I tip my hat to Ken Adam and the rotating plastic fishtank bed he built for the honeymoon suite. When you talk about this series, you have to acknowledge Adam as one of the key creative voices who helped define the way we think of Bond. He must have had fun riffing off of a city that was already known as an ode to excess, and also the crazy stories that existed at the time about Howard Hughes and how he was living.
Bond sneaks into Whyte's private penthouse, literally dropping from an open window into Whyte's personal bathroom, which is set up like a business office. He walks out into Whyte's penthouse, and discovers not one but two Blofelds waiting for him. It's a surreal moment, especially when one of the Blofelds starts speaking in Willard Whyte's voice when he answers the phone. It's an ingenious way of playing off of Hughes and his mysterious public persona, having Blofeld take his place since no one ever sees him. Bond tries to kills Blofeld, using his cat as a sign of which one's the real one, and is frustrated when it turns out that even the cat has a perfect duplicate. Bond is gassed and sent all the way to the private basement garage, where Kidd and Wint are waiting for him, ready to try to kill him a second time. They leave through Whyte's private disguised exit, driving Bond out into the desert. Considering how many times they get the drop on Bond in the film, Kidd and Wint are fairly terrible hired killers. They keep putting Bond into these elaborate situations he's able to escape from instead of just putting a couple of bullets in his brain, which would end things quickly.
Bond calls Blofeld, posing as Saxby, and it's just plain weird watching Connery speak with Jimmy Dean's voice while Charles Gray speaks with Bruce Cabot's voice. Blofeld tells Saxby to go kill Whyte when Saxby says he saw Bond in the casino. Bond drives out to Whyte's house, where he's being held captive, and he has to fight his way past Bambi and Thumper, the two scantily clad guards who seem more than capable in hand-to-hand combat. I have to believe Ridley Scott had this scene bouncing around in the back of his head when he staged Deckard's fight against Pris in "Blade Runner," because there's a really familiar quality to the way the women tumble around the room during the fight. Bond finally gets the upper hand on them, and with Felix and the CIA to back him up, they kill Saxby, who showed up to kill Whyte.
There's a very funny scene with Q in a casino, beating every single slot machine that he plays thanks to a little ring-sized gadget. It's a weird beat, though, when you think about the reality of it. Tiffany Case seems to know who Q is, and she's just running around the casino, having a casual conversation with him. She sees Blofeld leaving, disguised as a woman, and when she goes after him, she's thrown into his car. Whyte, Bond, and the CIA head out to WW Tectronics to try to figure out what Blofeld's been doing, and they learn they're too late to stop the launch of a satellite that Blofeld controls. The diamonds are all part of a refraction screen that are used to fire a laser from the satellite, and as soon as the thing is active, Blofeld tests it by blowing up missiles still in their silos in China and America as well as a Russian submarine. The explosion of the submarine is one of the roughest special effects I've ever seen in a mainstream movie, but as I understand it, Connery's salary demands on this film meant that almost everything else was done on the cheap. It shows.
Blofeld calls in his demands, explaining that he's going to use his laser on any country that refuses to pay him an exorbitant ransom fee. Bond works out how he can stop the satellite, but they have no idea where Blofeld is. That is, they don't at first, but when Whyte sees that someone's added an oil rig in Baja, California to his holdings, Bond figures out that's where Blofeld has to be.
Once the movie shifts to the oil rig, pretty much everything else takes place there. Bond tries to parachute in, but gets captured immediately. That's the plan, of course, and he uses his "capture" to get close enough to the controls so he can switch the control tapes. I love the moment where Bond drops in on the parachute, encased in a weird silver mylar sphere that he "walks" across the water to the rig. It's a great quick image. Bond sees that Tiffany Case is already on the rig, reading a magazine and sunbathing, apparently in on it with Blofeld.
Blofeld has Bond searched and finds the control tape that he wanted to switch out. Tiffany quickly reveals that she's still trying to help Bond, stealing his tape back so he can use it. Blofeld does some wonderful monologuing and can't help but lay out his plans for Bond. Bond manages to make the switch right in front of Blofeld, but when he gives the real tape to Tiffany, she misunderstands. Bond signals by releasing a balloon, which sets off a full-blown assault on the rig by Felix Leiter and Willard Whyte and the rest of the men they've got with them. Since Tiffany switched the tapes back, Blofeld is able to still control the satellite, and his henchmen prepare for the incoming attack. There's a fair amount of practical work in this sequence, but thanks to the way Hamilton shoots it, the whole thing's got all the dramatic tension of a theme park stunt show. It's weird, because while I think Guy Hamilton's work on "Goldfinger" is iconic across the board, his work here is almost indifferent, and there are a number of things I think he fumbles in execution. It may be that Hamilton's tone and the script's tone are at odds, but it feels more to me like this is the moment where the producers really started to push to make the films feel uniform, and Hamilton just doesn't respond well to the situation.
The one part of the final sequence that is fun is the way Bond torments Blofeld once he takes control of the crane that is meant to lower Blofeld's submersible from the rig to the water so Blofeld can escape. Bond seems to take great delight in bouncing the submersible off of various surfaces. Meanwhile, Jill St. John runs around in a ridiculous outfit, and when she tries to fire a machine gun, she ends up being thrown off the rig. Just in time, too, as the entire thing finally explodes.
James and Tiffany board a cruise ship owned by Willard Whyte to enjoy a little R&R, and as they're getting comfortable, Kidd and Wint show up with catering trays, pretending to be waiters. Kidd sets the timer on a bomb that is meant to kill them both. Bond recognizes the cologne that Wint is wearing, and he quickly dispatches them both. The way Kidd dies is particularly gruesome, a great fire stunt, and then Bond manages to pull off one of the most eccentric kills in the series for Mr. Wint.
As Bond and Tiffany stand on the deck, they look up at the night sky, where the diamonds are still orbiting, part of Blofeld's useless satellite, and Shirley Bassey's song kicks in again.
Can you imagine if Michael Gambon or Adam West had stepped into the Bond role at this point? With Connery onboard, it feels like they're working to get the series back on track. With one of those choices, I think this could well have ended the Bond series. The film is so relentlessly mediocre that watching Connery play the part again is one of the few genuine pleasures it offers. I do wish Paul Williams had played Mr. Wint, as was originally planned, just for the oddity of it. Putter Smith, who plays Mr. Kidd, was a well-known jazz musician, and I'd be curious to see what kind of chemistry he had with Williams. Glover is about as good as anyone could hope, though, considering how thinly written the characters are, and Kidd and Wint are memorable even if the film around them isn't.
I imagine Jimmy Dean must have been at least slightly nervous about playing Willard Whyte, since he worked for Howard Hughes at the time, but Hughes and Cubby Broccoli were friends, and the only reason the film was able to pull off its location shoot in Vegas was because Hughes made it happen.
Overall, the film feels very matter-of-fact, an entirely functional entry in the series, but considering the way "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" ends and the emotional weight of Tracy's death in that film, there's an odd lack of heft to this entire film. The death of Blofeld should be more than an off-screen punchline, and somehow the movie never figures out how to make any of it matter. There are several details here that feel like they fit perfectly into the larger Bond franchise, but this is also the point where the slavish devotion to the formula starts to retard any chance of character growth. What should have been the big finish to a three-film storyline feels inconsequential here, a missed opportunity. And while Kidd and Wint may be memorable because of how creepy and odd they are, they're barely used in the movie, and they ultimately seem fairly ineffective. All in all, "Diamonds Are Forever" should have been a much bigger and richer film, marking Connery's return to the role, and instead it just feels like the series starting to tread water, retreating after the ambitious nature of the previous film.
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
James Bond Will Return In
LIVE AND LET DIE
The film starts off as a decent adaptation of the novel. Peter Franks, smuggling ring, Tiffany Case… all present and accounted for even if the details are a little different. Once the story shifts stateside, though, we begin a familiar pattern where elements of the books are used, but whole chunks of the story are just thrown out and ignored. In the book, Kidd and Wint are incredibly unsubtle about being vicious gay stereotypes, and this, the fourth book in the series, is one of the titles that has not aged well thanks to some of Fleming's biases.
One of the real pleasures of the novels for me is the relationship that Bond has with Felix Leiter and the way that develops from story to story. In this book, Leiter is no longer with the CIA and is instead working with Pinkertons. He only shows up briefly, but it lays groundwork for later appearances in the series, where he played a much more important role.
Keep in mind that this was the fourth book in the series, published after "Moonraker" and before "From Russia With Love," so in the novel, Bond hasn't been married to Teresa yet. He's still somewhat damaged from what happened to Vesper, and so his relationship with Tiffany in the novel is a significant step towards recovery for him. The Tiffany of the book is a much better character, richer and more interesting, and Bond does consider the possibility of settling down with her. Like Bond, she's damaged by life, and that uncertainty between the two of them is well-done and makes them both seem real.
The book is incredibly busy, plot-wise, and Bond spends the entire novel on the move, eventually ending up in Sierra Leone. It would have been cost-prohibitive to try and take the film to as many locations as the book goes, and to be honest, the book never really settles into a storytelling groove. There's no central villain, no easy to translate plot mechanic. It's just about Bond breaking up a smuggling ring and tracing each part of the pipeline. In some ways, the film starts out where the book ends, although on a much smaller scale.
Fleming did so much research for the novel that he ended up writing a non-fiction book about the subject as well called "The Diamond Smugglers." It feels like Fleming is still struggling to define what a James Bond novel is with this one, and I think the books on either side of it are far more successful overall. This is one of the cases where they pretty much had to cannibalize the book to make a film out of it, since there wasn't a strong narrative spine present in the first place. Even so, some of the adaptation choices are unfortunate, and a result of where the film falls in continuity, and it ends up shortchanging both the film series version of Blofeld and the book's version of Tiffany. Frustrating, to say the least.
Our Series So Far:
File #1 - "Dr. No" kicks off our look back at the classic series
File #2 - "From Russia With Love" is still one of the best
File #3 - "Goldfinger" takes the series into the realm of pop cartoon
File #4 - "Thunderball" is the first series stumble
File #5 - "You Only Live Twice" rewrites Fleming completely
Father's Day Dossier
File #6 - "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" changes everything
James Bond will return...