As we continue our journey through the Bond movies Matthew Kresal extends his expertise into the field of diamonds...
After the rather “dismal” box-office returns of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby departed the role of James Bond leaving the 007 position open. Producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman choose to leave the serious Fleming-esque film and take the Goldfinger approach of action humor and an outrageous plot. They even went as far to give Sean Connery, who had said he would never play the role again, $1,200,000 to play 007. The film promised to be one of the best, with Connery saying that the script was “the best one we’ve had, certainly construction wise.” Unfortunately, the film does not come out as good as Connery makes it to be.
The problems with Diamonds Are Forever start right with the main character, 007. Sean Connery does very little in terms of acting in the film besides giving one liners that are mostly cringe worthy. The Bond we start off with in the teaser sequence of the film is apparently revenge minded and more like the Bond of Dr. No and From Russia With Love. But after he arrives in Las Vegas, Bond becomes a light hearted comedic character who is more interested in bedding Tiffany Case and Plenty O’Toole then attempting to find out who’s hoarding the smuggled diamonds. Age is also an issue, as Connery changes hairstyle and color many times in the film, and his scene with Plenty are unbelievable due to a very obvious large age difference.
The main girl, Tiffany Case, is another character that starts off good and ends up comedic and useless. Her meeting Bond in Holland, her treatment of Bond, and her getting the diamonds in the Circus, Circus casino shows her to be a tough self-sufficient character who puts Bond in his place more than once. But once the pursuit in the Moon Buggy is over, Tiffany becomes a complete bimbo for the rest of the film and a Bond sufficient woman. This can’t be blamed on Jill St. John who does the best that she can with this poorly written role.
The role of Ernst Stavro Blofeld is both poorly written and terribly miscast. This Blofeld is nothing like the Blofeld’s that we have previously seen in You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. While they had menace and a commanding presence to them, this Blofeld is the polar opposite. He is sincere, un-menacing, and just gives orders. He's much more interesting as he hides behind the cover of Willard Whyte, as it is only here that the character has any menace what so ever. Once it’s revealed that Blofeld is only pretending to be Whyte, the character becomes rather tiresome. Also, Blofeld and Bond share none of the chemistry they did in the previous film, only adding a tired feel to the movie. This is further hurt by one of the worst casting decisions in Bond history, and do I dare say all film history, Charles Gray. Gray, who is much better in his very short role in You Only Live Twice, is the worst of the trio of actors to portray Blofeld.
The only highlight in the talent is the supporting cast, with Plenty O’Toole as the best as she steals every scene she is in during her short appearance (it is, however, worth noting that a lot of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor). Willard Whyte is a truly inspired character that is serious and only once used for a laugh (Whyte: “Burt Saxby?” Bond: “Yes.” Whyte: “Tell him he’s fired!”) and he actually makes a very good joke. The casting of Jimmy Dean in that role was also inspired and he is surprisingly very believable. The characters of Burt Saxby, Morton Slumber, Shady Tree are all very well cast and stand out enough to make this a memorable film in terms of the supporting cast.
With that said, it is worth noting that the supporting cast is not perfect. The role of Felix Leiter and the henchmen Wint and Kidd are underwritten, and in the case of Leiter miscast. The characters of Wint and Kidd, like their boss Blofeld, lack menace and are used entirely for comical purposes, shooting bad quips at every given opportunity. Leiter is the polar opposite of the character set in Dr. No and Thunderball, and becomes more of the paper pushing CIA agent seen in Goldfinger, and whilst in Goldfinger the role was well written which made up for the miscasting, here it doesn’t. Norman Burton is totally unbelievable in the role and the badly written part doesn’t help at all.
The action in the film reflects the approach of humour and outrageousness. The opening fight in the teaser sequence starts off good, though it is largely tame compared to the fight that started off the previous film. Connery at least does well here in the fight scenes, and Blofeld does actually have some menace in the scene when he attempts to stab 007, but that disappears the moment Bond easily knocks him out with a light. The fight in the elevator stands out as the best action sequence in the film and gives a much-needed dose of realism. But the moon buggy chase and car chase are useless as neither one pushes the plot on and are nothing more than attempts to showcase Bond’s skills at causing the police and security guards to destroy their cars. The climactic battle on the oil rig is boring, hampered down by terrible effects of exploding helicopters (the same can be said of the sequences where Blofeld’s satellite sets off various nukes) and a pathetic end to the film. The fight that actually ends the film, with Wint and Kidd against Bond, is totally boring and only adds to the overall boredom that is apparent in the film.
If there is a bright spot in this film its John Barry’s score. It is never played for laughs and perfectly suits the film's Las Vegas location. It helps to add some much needed tension, particularly in the climb outside the Whtye House. However, the score does have its moments of lacking. The music for the Moon Buggy sequence is not well suited to the chase, and the over use of an action theme that starts in the teaser and goes right trough to the end of the film becomes tiresome. Also, some of the score takes a lot from earlier ones (the Moon Buggy chase sounds like the Gypsy girl fight in From Russia With Love, and the music accompanying the various attacks by Blofeld’s satellite sounds like the space march from You Only Live Twice). But overall it remains one of the best Bond scores with its use of both the James Bond Theme and the 007 theme. The main title theme is very reminiscent of Goldfinger, and is a classic song, both amongst Bond themes and songs in general.
With lackluster performances by the major stars, an overall good supporting cast, ridiculous action sequences, poor special effects and a score that is one of the best in the series, Diamonds Are Forever is a very mixed bag that proves to be better in parts rather than the whole. That being said, what is the film's legacy? Perhaps it is that it kept the series alive until yet another actor could assume the role of 007.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.
James Bond will return next Thursday...