Between Sean Connery's first and second retirements from the role as Bond, his sixth rendition of the role emerged. It would be his final "official" performance as Bond within the auspices of the Broccoli-produced series. As Stephen Murray astutely pointed out recently, in a comment on one of my other reviews for this 007 series, the Bond films up through 1996 always had as much or more to do with their producers as their directors, so perhaps a little background on Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman is in order here.
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Historical Background: Film producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli was born April 5th, 1909, in New York City and died in 1996. He was educated at City College of New York as an agronomist, but entered the film industry in 1938 as an assistant director at 20th Century-Fox. In the early fifties, Broccoli moved to England, where he formed Warwick Pictures, along with Irving Allen. Under that umbrella, he produced about a dozen good quality films before forming what would prove to be a momentous partnership with Harry Saltzman. As Eon Productions, they would co-produce the first nine Bond series films. Broccoli was later honored with the Irving G. Thalberg Award at the 1982 Oscar ceremonies.
Harry Saltzman was born on October 27th, 1915, in St. John, Canada, but grew up in the U.S. He entered the film industry in the forties. He was producer or co-producer on four films before teaming up with Broccoli for the Bond series. Saltzman sold his share of the partnership to Broccoli in 1974, after the second Roger Moore film, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), flopped.
After the fiasco that was On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), Broccoli and Saltzman were determined to win back the audience that the series had previously enjoyed. To do so, they recalled virtually the entire production team that had created the biggest triumph in the series up to that time, Goldfinger (1964). That included English director Guy Hamilton, born 1922, who would end up directing a total of four Bond films: Goldfinger (1964), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973), and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Also returning with Hamilton were Ted Moore as cinematographer, Richard Maibaum as screenwriter, John Barry as composer, and, even, Shirley Bassey as the vocalist for the title song. Even with all that experience on hand, the full magnificence of Goldfinger proved impossible to recapture.
The Story: The pre-credit sequence features possibly the most emphatic exhibition of ruthlessness on the part of Bond that occurs anywhere in the series. And why not? Bond, we presume, is still very pissed off about the death of his beloved Contessa Tracy at the end of the predecessor film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Bond relentlessly pursues one lead to another, by brutal intimidation, from Asia to Cairo, and even threatening to choke to death Blofeld's current main squeeze, Marie (Denise Perrier), with her own bra. All this effort seemingly pays off when Bond storms in on what appears to be Blofeld in a mud bath. After killing the man, Bond is quite naturally taken back to see a doppelganger suddenly appear, looking all the world like the man Bond just killed. Blofeld, it seems, has taken the precaution of duplicated himself through plastic surgery, just to keep Bond off guard. Bond overcomes Blofeld's thugs and kills Blofeld #2 as well. Case closed. Or is it?
The credits now run against the title song, some dancing girls, and artsy, sparkling images of diamonds. Afterward, Bond is seen at MI6 headquarters, meeting with a rather testy M (Bernard Lee). M has orders to put Bond onto a diamond smuggling operation. Bond thinks the assignment beneath the double-0's and further annoys M with his unlimited expertise on a variety of subjects. Bond and M meet with Sir Donald Munger, who explains that someone has been stockpiling diamonds smuggled out of the South African mines and could use the stash to destabilize the diamond market. As Munger describes the problem, as best he understands it, we simultaneously see the reality of the situation by video exposition. A pair of gay assassins, Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover), is closing down the smuggling pipeline by systematically eliminating each person in the chain, including a dentist, Dr. Tynan (Henry Rowland), a helicopter pilot, and a little old lady schoolteacher, Mrs. Whistler (Margaret Lacey).
Bond is to find out who is behind the smuggling operation. To get the ball rolling, he's to impersonate a Dutch smuggler, Peter Franks (Joe Robinson), who has been identified as part of the smuggling operation. ("We do function in your absence, 007," sniffs M.) Franks is stopped at a border checkpoint and arrested. Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) modifies his passport to favor James. Bond then pays a call on Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), who is the go-between connecting Mrs. Whistler to Franks. Bond successfully passes himself off as Franks to Miss Case, thanks to a fake fingerprint furnished by Q (Desmond Llewelyn). Meanwhile, however, Franks escapes, which threatens to blow Bond's cover. Bond and Franks duke it out in the elevator in Triffany Case's apartment building, with Bond emerging victorious, after a difficult struggle, and Franks dead. Bond and Ms. Case then proceed to Las Vegas with the diamonds, supposedly hidden away in the dead man's alimentary track, inside a coffin. Bond poses as the bereaved Franks, delivering his brother's body home to Nevada. It doesn't hurt that Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) of the CIA has been alerted by M and is there to meet Bond at customs.
After clearing customs, Bond is met by a group of thugs, who escort him and the body to Slumber Inc. crematorium. The driver (Marc Lawrence) asks, "The stiff . . . the deceased, your brother Mr. Franks?" Bond replies, "Yes." One particularly dim-witted hoodlum (Sid Haig), taking his best shot at intelligent small talk, offers, smilingly, "I gotta brotta," to which Bond aptly responds, "Small world." At Slumber Inc., overseen by Morton Slumber (David Bauer), Bond has a narrow escape, almost being cremated alive, no thanks to Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, but he's taken the precaution of hiding the real diamonds, so the gangsters suddenly realize they need him alive. A burnt-out Vegas nightclub comedian, Shady Tree (Leonard Barr), picks up what he expects to be the diamonds, but discovers glass instead.
Bond has nothing better to do, for a while, than take in the sights in Vegas and, especially, Shady Tree's lame routine at the Whyte House, a fancy Vegas casino owned by the reclusive Willard White (modeled after the famous Howard Hughes, who was a personal acquaintance of Cubby Broccoli). While Kidd and Wint are murdering Shady Tree and rendezvousing with chief henchman Albert R. "Bert" Saxby (Bruce Cabot), Bond meets a pretty casino shill, Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood), and soon has her undressed in his room. The Slumberland thugs show up, however, and one tosses the nearly naked O'Toole out a window, into a pool several stories below. In her place, the hoods have left Tiffany behind in Bond's bed. Her job is to pump Bond for information. With Bond, that requires quite a bit of pumping, but Tiffany is up for the job and so is Bond. Later, they reach a post-coital understanding with one another. They'll run off together with the diamonds. Naturally, this arrangement is just a double double-cross. At a circus, Tiffany picks up the diamonds and eludes thirty CIA agents. Bond tracks her down (how is never explained) at a house, where Bond's persuasive logic and a corpse in the swimming pool convince Tiffany that her career as a diamond smuggler has no future. She agrees to cooperate.
James and Tiffany proceed with the diamonds to the next contact point, where Bond spots Saxby, who picks up the diamonds and passes them on to a Dr. Metz (Joseph Fürst), who works at Willard Whyte's aeronautics center. Bond stows away in Metz's car. At the aeronautics lab, Bond impersonates a low level functionary, Klaus Hergersheimer (Ed Bishop), a radiation shield inspector, to gain access to Metz's lab. Bond overhears Metz talking with Willard Whyte. When Bond's cover is suddenly blown, he has to make his getaway in a lunar vehicle and is pursued by security men in cars and on dirt bikes. Back in Vegas, Vegas cops take up the pursuit of Bond's red sports car, suspecting he's some kind of saboteur. Bond ultimately gets away by driving his car through a narrow alley after standing it up on two wheels.
Bond and Tiffany check into the bridal suite as Mr. and Mrs. Jones. The CIA denies Bond permission to drop in on Willard Whyte, so he ingeniously invades the top-story Penthouse from the outside. There, he discovers that Whyte's identity and empire has been commandeered by Bond's old nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Worse, Blofeld has another doppelganger on hand. Bond gets an opportunity to kill one and only one of them and gives the white pussycat a sharp kick, figuring it will run to its master. It turns out Blofeld has had the cat duplicated as well and Bond has kicked the wrong cat. "Right idea, Mr. Bond," says Blofeld. "But wrong pussy," says Bond. Story of his life!
Blofeld sends Bond off in an elevator, where he is gassed. Later, he is buried in an underground pipeline in the desert. He escapes, of course, and his next order of business is tracking down the real Willard Whyte. To do so, he has to fight his way through two comely but lethal female bodyguards, Thumper (Trina Parks) and Bambi (Lola Larson). It's a momentary blow for women's lib to see Bond getting his ass kicked by a couple of athletic young ladies, but it doesn't last long. Whyte is found but by then Blofeld has taken his act elsewhere. Together, Bond and Whyte devise a notion of what Blofeld is up to and a likely base of operation. The rest of the film is the usual Bond finale penetrating and destroying the lair, and foiling the sinister plot. There's a nice epilogue on a cruiser in which Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint seek to exact revenge on Bond, masquerading as waiters delivering a "bombe surprise."
Production Values: The screenplay for this film was based only very loosely on the Fleming novel of the same name. All that was retained from the novel was the notion of a smuggling operation, "Tiffany Case" as the name of the Bond girl, the gay henchmen Kidd and Wint, and Las Vegas as a location. The scriptwriters, Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz, added all of the business about Blofeld, Willard Whyte, the space laser, and the Amsterdam connection. At one point, they had even toyed with the idea of making the villain Goldfinger's twin brother! The resultant script is badly disjointed and comes across as little more than an effort to tie loosely together diverse action pieces. On the other hand, some of the set pieces taken individually are pretty memorable. The incoherence of the overall story precludes this film reaching the heights of the same team's earlier effort, Goldfinger (1964).
The script for this film propelled the Bond series further down the path to tongue-in-cheek self-spoofing. In retrospect, that quality of Diamonds Are Forever is perhaps less evident than it should be because all but two of the Roger Moore films carried the trend still further, and the last two Moore films especially so. Nevertheless, the present film has sometimes been called a Roger Moore film starring Sean Connery. How one feels about the influence of the present film on the series depends on whether one prefers Bond films straight up or with a dash or two of absurdity. I personally enjoy Bond films of both types: with or without campy humor. I therefore do not hold up that issue as a primary factor in rating the various films, unless the humor overwhelms the drama and intrigue. The dialog in the present film is often quite witty. There is more than the usual number of appealing one-liners, mixed in with a few likely to evoke groans.
I'm not a big fan of the Las Vegas setting, with its bright lights and glitter, so for me personally, the cinematography for this film is not the best in the series. The scenes in South Africa and Amsterdam are too brief to add much to the overall ambiance. The use of color could have been far more effective. Among the action scenes, the pre-credit scene is a real adrenaline rush. Also effective is the fight between Bond and Peter Franks in the elevator. The Vegas auto chase is decent enough, though rather routine. The chase scene with Bond in a lunar vehicle, pursued by dirt bikes, is pretty weak. Bond's fight with Thumper and Bambi plays well as pure humor while the climactic showdown on the oil rig is disappointing by Bond standards. I rank the title song, crooned by Shirley Bassey, in the upper half for the series but not in the top half-dozen. The musical score by John Barry is very good.
Sean Connery is pretty darn effective in this film. He's not as outstanding as he was in his first four Bond outings, but I found him more convincingly invested in his performance than for his fifth film, You Only Live Twice (1967). Connery later stated that he really enjoyed making this film, unlike the preceding one. He and Jill St. John had a good relationship, flirting on camera and off, and, apparently, Connery enjoyed the Las Vagas nightlife. Connery looks young enough for the part when he's sniffing the carnation in the buttonhole of his tuxedo, but his age shows a bit when he's stripped to the waist. His grim smile is freely in evidence as is his steely determination. Broccoli and Saltzman dispensed with George Lazenby by making him an insultingly small salary offer. They went so far as announcing that John Gavin, an American, would assume the role, but United Artists insisted that Connery be brought back at any cost. The offer was so lucrative that it made Connery the highest paid actor for a single film up to that time. It included one-and-a-quarter million plus 12.5% of the gross and later financing for a film of Connery's choice.
A lot of critics dump on both Jill St. John and Lara Wood as the principal Bond girls in this film. I agree on the second point but not the first. St. John and Wood were the first two American Bond girls. Lara Wood, as the air-headed Plenty O'Toole, is not much of an advertisement for the women of America. St. John's part was not well written, requiring her to devolve from a tough, self-assured, woman, comfortable with walking around in her underwear with a male stranger looking on, to a coquettish bimbo as the film nears its end. That problem is not the actress's fault. St. John invests the role with more personality than most Bond girls exhibit, even if she sometimes comes across as something of a cheap slut. I like her flirtatious eyes and sultry voice and there's a nice chemistry between Tiffany Case and Bond. Both are in the habit of using people.
The role of Blofeld in this film is poorly written and Charles Gray is badly miscast in the part. He's not as annoying as Telly Savalas was in the role, but Gray is otherwise one of the least effective Bond villains in the series. Gray had previously appeared in You Only Live Twice (1967) and later worked in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Also rather weak are Bruce Cabot as Bert Saxby and Norman Burton as Felix Leiter. Among the more effective male members of the cast are Jimmy Dean as Willard Whyte, Leonard Barr as Shady Tree, Joe Robinson as Peter Franks, David Bauer as Morton Slumber, and Joseph Fürst as Dr. Metz. Joe Robinson was perhaps best known for his work in A Kid for Two Farthings (1955). Even two of the thugs from Slumberland (Marc Lawrence and Sid Haig) make an impression.
Special kudos must be extended to the actors and actresses playing the presumably gay characters: Putter Smith and Mr. Kidd and Bruce Glover as Mr. Wint on the male side and Trina Parks as Thumper and Lola Larson as Bambi on the female side. All four are memorable. Whether or not there's offensive stereotyping involved with any of those characters I won't presume to say. Kidd and Wint rank as two of the best henchmen ever written into the Bond series. Luckily for Bond, neither recognized Mouton Rothschild as a claret. Putter Smith was a jazz musician rather than a professional actor. Bruce Glover appeared elsewhere in Walking Tall (1973).
All three of the recurrent characters from MI6 get better than typical opportunities to strut their stuff. There's a nice bit of sharp repartee between Bond and M near the beginning. Miss Moneypenny actually gets out into the field for a change and Q gets a change to jimmy the slot machines at Las Vegas with an rpm controller. I also liked Laurence Naismith's performance as Sir Donald Munger.
Bottom-Line: I enjoy this film, despite its disjointed plot, because there's a lot of individual scenes that work well: the violent opening, Tiffany in her underwear, the fight with Franks, kicking the pussycat, escaping from the pipeline, and the playful innuendos exchanged between Kidd and Wint, as they kill without remorse. Here, then, is my Overall Certified Gold Bond Rating designed to provide a uniform system of rating the various films against one another.
Bond: Sean Connery Rating: 5/5
Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) Rating: 2/5
Henchmen: Albert R. "Bert" Saxby (Bruce Cabot) 2/5; Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) 5/5; Shady Tree (Leonard Barr) 4/5; Dr. Metz (Joseph Fürst) 4/5; Mr.Slumber (David Bauer) 4/5; Peter Franks (Joe Robinson) 4/5 Overall Rating: 4/5
Henchwomen (Naughty Bond girls): Thumper (Trina Parks) and Bambi (Lola Larson) 4/5; Mrs. Whistler (Margaret Lacey) 3/5 Overall Rating: 4/5
Bond (good) Girls: Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) 4/5; Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood) 1/5 Overall Rating: 4/5
Colleagues: M (Bernard Lee) 5/5; Q (Desmond Llewellyn) 5/5; Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) 5/5; Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) 1/5; Sir Donald Munger (Laurence Naismith) 5/5 Overall Rating: 5/5
Storyline: Bond's revenge 5/5; Diamond smuggling chain and Kidd/Wint assassinations 5/5; Blofeld doubles 1/5; Willard Whyte kidnapping 2/5; aeronautics/space center 1/5; diamond-based laser space gun 1/5; cassette switch 1/5 Rating: 2/5
Action: Bond vs. Franks 4/5; Vegas auto chase 4/5; space center lunar vehicle vs. dirt bike chase 2/5; escape from pipeline 4/5; fight with Thumper and Bambi 4/5; climactic showdown on oil rig 2/5 Rating: 3/5
Toys: fake fingerprint 1/5; wall scaling suction cups 3/5; voice modifier 2/5; Q's rpm controller vs. slot machines 4/5 Overall Rating: 2/5
Character Development: Tiffany with more personality than average Bond girl Rating: 4/5
Music: "Diamonds Are Forever" sung by Shirley Bassey; score by John Barry Rating: 4/5
Locales: South Africa, Amsterdam, Las Vegas, oil rig Rating: 3/5
Overall Certified Gold Bond Rating: 42/60
You may also enjoy my other reviews for 007 films:
Casino Royale (1954), non-series, television
Dr. No (1962)
From Russia with Love (1963)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Casino Royale (1967), non-series
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Live and Let Die (1973)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Never Say Never Again (1983), non-series
A View to a Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987)
Licence to Kill (1989)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)
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