Posted on October 10, 2018
After talking about Bond in the previous post and noting that my first and favorite Bond film was Diamonds Are Forever, I remembered I haven’t seen that movie since sometime in the 1970s so I decided a re-watch was in order. And just to make it fun, I decided to take notes and blog them here.
TL;DR: Hold up, Doesn’t Hold Up.
Spoilers for Diamonds Are Forever after the jump.
A little bit of history is in order before I press PLAY. Diamonds is the seventh film in the James Bond canon (1967’s Casino Royale is a satirical romp so it doesn’t count). Sean Connery played Bond in the first five films but quit the series as escalating tensions between him and Eon Productions, chiefly because Cubby Broccoli didn’t want to pay him what he was worth, reached a boiling point.
I believe the reason Broccoli and Eon wouldn’t pony up the cash for their star was that they believed anyone could play the character, even an Australian. The fifth film stars an Australian male model by the name of George Lazenby. Some people swear by his performance and lament that he got wacky and dropped out of the franchise after one turn. I personally can barely watch this movie. The overdubbing, the stiff acting, the lack of chemistry among the leads is just awful.
It’s fair to say that a lot of that is true of the first five films as well. Broccoli wasn’t just cheap with his actors. The movies were made very inexpensively and relied on a lot of Hollywood tricks that were fast becoming obsolete even at the time, i.e. – over dubbing actors with a different voice, cheap looking model work, and liberal use of travelogue footage to make the locales seem exotic. But Lazenby just isn’t a Bond for me, so his performance brings down the whole movie and makes me notice all that other stuff.
After Lazenby bowed out, they finally offered Connery enough money to come back for a two picture deal. However, he would only make one more picture as Bond, Diamonds Are Forever, before dropping out of canon all together.
So Connery is back but he’s not happy. He’s essentially just here to soak Broccoli for the money he feels he’s owed. At the same time, we are seven movies into a franchise that is sourced from a fairly shallow series of pulp novels written by a blatantly homophobic, xenophobic, racist fascist in a world that is rapidly changing, especially where women are involved.
That’s where we are as the movie begins:
- Connery doing the credits sequence where he turns and fires down the gun barrel is oddly awkward.
- Connery isn’t even in the first couple of scenes. They just dubbed in his voice saying, “Where is he?” I can see Connery telling the director, “You don’t really need me for this shot. Shoot around me” and then just staying in his trailer giggling and drinking martinis.
- But this serves as a reminder that Bond’s wife Traci was murdered at the end of the previous movie by Ernst Stavros Blofeld of SPECTRE. That’s his whole mission at the beginning of this movie: to kill Blofeld.
- Which he does in the goofiest way possible: Drowning in a mud bath he was already submerged in. Not even sure of the physics of this.
- My next note: “Fight scenes have come a long way.” They probably look more like real fights than what we see today, but they just seem awkward and slow.
- “Love that the fatuous old white guys find bond tiresome” The flabby faced fellows at MI6 just constantly roll their eyes and throw shade at Bond for being a know-it-all.
- One of the few interesting things so far is the pair of (I guess homosexual?) hit men, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint. They’re quite kooky and entertaining. They’re also rolling up the smuggling ring in the same way The Joker does in Dark Knight.
- “Are they defending the diamond trade?” This part really threw me. I had to go back and watch it again to make sure, but MI6 is giving a quite glowing report about diamond mining in South Africa, talking about the excellent treatment of the workers including wonderful dental and medical care. This whole case is about protecting the diamond industry from smuggling. Really? Really.
- Now, having mentioned how uninspiring the fight scenes have been so far, I have to admit that the fight scene in the elevator between Bond and Franks is still remarkably good. That looks like a real struggle.
- “Is he dead?” “I sincerely hope so.” That’s just a great Bond line.
- Jill St. John is the single light that remains bright in this whole film. There is a bit of a slide into damsel-in-distress as the movie progresses, but she starts off as a strong, independent character who’s both tough and smart. Even when she sleeps with Bond, she’s not gaga for him, she’s all, “So how are we going to get those diamonds?”
- “You just killed James Bond.” Again, and I’m certainly not the first to point this out, but how can someone be a “secret” agent if they are famous?
- “Weird homosexual overtones.” As mentioned above, Fleming was a typical British aristocrat and therefore prey to all the vices of the old empire such as racism and homophobia. He really didn’t like women, either, so he absolutely hated lesbians. The depiction of Kidd and Wint as hand holding psychopaths skipping through the desert is unfortunately typical of the lurid portrayal of gay men in those days. I prefer to look at these two characters as just being kooky and not even think about their sexuality.
- “Coffin scene from Scrooged.” So, this is interesting because it’s nearly identical to the scene in Scrooged where Bill Murray finds himself in a coffin going into a cremation furnace. I wonder if that scene was inspired by this one.
- “Plenty is not as good an actor as I remember.” She’s also not nearly as naked as I remember. I saw this movie in the theater on first release so I was probably 11 or 12 and just dropping down over the lip of that first big drop into the roller-coaster of puberty so this scene with Plenty O’Toole was a big moment for me.
- “I didn’t know there was a pool down there.” Is this the first instance of that joke? It’s the first I can find, though there are plenty homages over the years.
- “Bond is way too classy for a Vegas casino.” I’m convinced this movie is why I have never been drawn to Vegas. Bond in his tuxedo standing at the roulette table next to goobers in wrinkled shirts from JC Penney is just so off putting. Give me Monaco or give me… well, just let me keep my money because I hate gambling.
- “Did they dub everything? Okay the whole throwing Plenty out the window makes no sense.” This is where I started to realize the whole movie appears to be dubbed… badly. And why throw Plenty out the window? That’s just going to draw attention. Just tell her to leave. This is dumb.
- “Jill St. John’s character has so much agency in the beginning of the film.” As noted above, she’s a badass until the third act and even then holds onto most of her dignity unlike everyone else in this movie.
- “There’s no actual mention of why Bond wants to kill Blofeld.” Unless I missed it, we’re just supposed to know from the previous movie — two years ago starring a different actor — that Blofeld murdered Bond’s wife Traci. And also, does Bond look like a widower? He’s screwing everything that moves and is in a pretty jovial mood for someone who just lost the love of his life.
- “Jill St. John is the star of this movie.”
- “The trick for getting through the security door is good.” Bond waits for someone else to badge in, then mimes badging in and tailgates the guy inside the facility. We actually used to have to watch videos about tricks like this when I worked for NSA. It’s the one time in this movie so far that Bond has appeared clever.
- “Is this a faked moon landing bit?” Not sure about this, but during Bond’s escape he runs through what appears to be a faked moon landing in progress. This was filmed in 1970, just a year after the first moon landing. Inside joke?
- “The moon buggy chase sequence is scored terribly.”
- “Bond movies are just travelogues with nudity.” At this point, the bourbon really kicked in, but I think this is still a valid point. They burn a lot of minutes with B-roll and stock footage of “exotic” places to give the movie a worldly feel while most of the action takes place on obvious sets.
- “Connery is a hard 41.” I speak from experience when I say Scots and Irishmen age hard. Our fair skin and proclivity toward whiskey age us rapidly. Connery is just 41 in this film but he looks a modern 61 with that beefy face and those sweaty pores. You have to go back to Dr. No to find a fresher looking model of the man.
- “French connection came out same year. Car chase is perfunctory.” Probably not a fair comparison because The French Connection changed car chases forever and this was filming at the same time so there was no way the director could have known it, but the car chase in this movie is as obvious as those old football movies where the opposing players just jump out of the way as the hero runs the ball in for a touchdown. The traffic is literally lined up so he can weave in and out of it in that giant Mustang. (I had a 69 Mustang. It was a better look.)
- “Love the elevator gag.” Bond walking out onto the ledge and calmly stepping onto the top of the exterior elevator is prime Bond. And the bit at the top where he’s not sure if he’s going to crushed is a nice tag on what a loose cannon he is.
- “No way he just swings out on those pegs he shot into the concrete fascia.” He doesn’t even test the lines first. He just shoots the pegs into the concrete, which is just a shallow covering, and then leaps out into space absolutely confident they will hold his weight.
- “Bond’s pink tie doesn’t even make it below his rib cage.” His tie is hilariously short. It’s like something out of a 1930s noir. Broccoli must have been in charge of the tie budget.
- “Bambi and Thumper.” Um… so that happened.
- “Why did bond have to go in first?” They have a whole tactical assault squad outside Willard White’s house. Why does Bond go in alone? You might assume it’s for stealth purposes except, as per Bond usual, he just walks in and announces himself. The fight’s fun, though.
- “Jimmy Dean is a better sausage maker than actor.” Did not remember how bad he was in this. I mean, it’s on a par with Glenn Campbell in True Grit.
- “Love guys on the oscilloscopes.” I used to work at NASA and I can tell you that the only thing we used oscilloscopes for was debugging logic gates on wire wrap boards. These guys seem to think they can control the rocket’s trajectory if they can just get a good sine wave going.
- “Bonds concern for Tiffany is sweetly out of character.” He does actually show a tad of concern for her once the going gets rough, but only briefly.
- “Blofeld’s shoes are so worn.” This is so funny to me. Blofeld has his feet up on his desk plainly showing the soles of his shoes and they are SO WORN. His shoes practically have holes in them. You can conquer the world but you can’t drop by Florsheim?
- “Until military contractors ran riot in Iraq I always wondered who all these guys with guns were.” Do they hire minions from a job board?
- “Bond looks disappointed to see Tiffany in the company of Blofeld.” He looks betrayed, actually.
- “God she’s beautiful.” I’m not sure if it’s right to say or not, but it’s true. Jill St. John is just amazingly beautiful.
- “Love the tape switching fiasco.” The older Bond movies, unintentionally silly as they are, could use a bit more comedy (though not nearly as much camp as Moore movies).
- “There’s a speaker in the broom closet where they locked up Bond.” Why?
- “Charles Gray will always be my Blofeld.” Bourbon.
- “Bond literally just lost his wife.” He’s not sleeping with Tiffany to get information or to any way further his mission. He’s in the honeymoon suite with her just months after losing his wife.
- “Eve? Jill? Really?” I don’t know what this note means and I’m not willing to go back and find out.
- “Tiffany has the best last line of any Bond film.” She rescues her own character from becoming another Bond girl when she says, “Now how do we get those diamonds down?”
Needless to say, this is no longer my favorite Bond movie — that would be the new Casino Royale — and Connery is no longer my favorite Bond — that would be Daniel Craig — but this was a fun and eye opening exercise.
Stay tuned for my next Blog Watch: The Wicker Man (1973).