BOND: Revisiting DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresal extends his expertise into the field of diamonds...

Though often regarded as a classic today, 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service was viewed at the time as something of a misstep. With George Lazenby having departed the role of James Bond, a mid-course correction seemed in order, and fast. The result was Diamonds Are Forever, which appeared before audiences in time for Christmas 1971 with Sean Connery back in the role of Her Majesty's Secret Servant (to the tune of a $1.25 million payday). Though a considerable box-office success at the time, how does the film hold up in retrospect?

In terms of having Connery back, the results were most definitely mixed. The Bond we start with in the teaser sequence of the film is revenge-minded and more like the Bond of Dr. No and From Russia With Love. Yet, once he arrives in Las Vegas, Bond becomes a light-hearted, almost comedic character, dropping quips more akin to Roger Moore Bond in years to come than the Sean Connery Bond of years past. Not to mention being perhaps more interested in bedding Tiffany Case and Plenty O’Toole then attempting to find out who’s hoarding the smuggled diamonds he's meant to be tracking down. It's also here that Connery's age (and hairline issues) become apparent. While Connery at times looks more engaged than he did during You Only Live Twice, there's still a sense in places of an actor showing up more for a paycheck than anything else.

Following much in the same line is Jill St John as Tiffany Case. Her meeting Bond in Holland, 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. Then, once the pursuit in the Moon Buggy is over, and continuing for the rest of the film, the character becomes increasingly played for laughs, when not serving as a plot device. Her final scene on the oil tanker, blasting a machine gun into the air until she falls off, serves as a case in point of a character arc that craters rather than lands. None of which can be blamed on Jill St. John, who does the best that she can with a script that doesn't seem to know what to do with her.

Which brings us to the villainous Blofeld, played by the third actor is as many films. While the Blofeld’s we had previously seen have menace and a commanding presence to them, Charles Gray's Blofeld is sincere and un-menacing, with about the only thing he can manage being issuing orders. Indeed Gray, who had previously played Henderson in You Only Live Twice, is about as miscast a villain in a Bond film as one can think of, ending up as the worst of the Blofeld trio by some margin, if through no fault of his own.

Thankfully, Diamonds Are Forever is blessed by its supporting cast. Lana Wood's Plenty O'Toole, while being an entirely disposable character in terms of plot, fares better in terms of writing, and Wood's chemistry with Connery's Bond is never in doubt, making it sad that a number of her scenes hit the cutting room floor. The casting of Jimmy Dean as the billionaire Willard Whyte was an inspired one as he is surprisingly very believable and, more to the point, his humor works in the film's favor. The characters of Burt Saxby, Morton Slumber, and Shady Tree, members of the diamond smuggling ring, are all very well cast and memorable roles. Once one factors in the returns of Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llywellyn to their MI6 roles, it would seem to be a fine supporting cast.

Or, it is, for the most part. The roles of Felix Leiter and the henchmen Wint and Kidd are underwritten, and in the case of Leiter, utterly miscast. Wint and Kidd, like their boss Blofeld, lack menace and are used mainly for comedic purposes, shooting quips at every available opportunity. Leiter, meanwhile, is the polar opposite of the character seen in Dr. No and Thunderball and becomes more of the paper-pushing CIA agent seen in Goldfinger. Whereas Goldfinger had Cec Linder being a believable, if slightly older, friend to Bond, Norman Burton lacks either the chemistry with Connery or professional air to make it work here.

Of course, much of the issues cited with the cast have little to do with them and more with the direction that producers Broccoli and Saltzman, in addition to director Guy Hamilton and screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, took the film in. Moving away from the serious Fleming-esque film and taking the Goldfinger approach of action, humor and an outrageous plot, Diamonds Are Forever is a film that, at times, is struggling between those extremes. The first half, even with the quips and moments played for laughs, is fairly serious, from the teaser sequence to the fight in the elevator that stands out as the best action sequence in the film. It's in the second half, or a little before (certainly with the moon buggy and car chase sequences), that the humor and outrageousness overwhelm the rest of the film. This wouldn't be the last Bond film to suffer from this problem (Die Another Day would face similar issues three decades later), but Diamonds Are Forever was the beginning of an era that would continue throughout Roger Moore's time as Bond, when style (such as it was) ruled over substance, and rarely to the benefit of the series or the films themselves.

If there is a bright spot in Diamonds Are Forever it's John Barry’s score. It's never played for laughs, and perfectly suits the Las Vegas location, and helps to add some much-needed tension, particularly in the climb outside the Whyte House. However, the score does have its moments of lacking. The music for the Moon Buggy sequence is not particularly suited to be an action cue, and the overuse of the action theme that starts in the teaser, and goes right through to the end of the film, becomes rather predictable. The score also sees Barry returning to the past for inspiration in places, with the aforementioned Moon Buggy chase echoing the Gypsy girl fight in From Russia With Love, or the music accompanying the various attacks by Blofeld’s satellite sound like the space march from You Only Live Twice. Even so, it remains one of the best Bond scores with its use of both the James Bond Theme and the 007 themes in triumphant Barry style. Add on Shirley Bassey's main title theme and it's everything a Bond fan could have asked for.

When viewed in the wider perspective of the series, Diamonds Are Forever's minuses will perhaps always trump its pluses. Yet, viewed on its own, there's plenty to enjoy about it as a slightly campy action-thriller. As a result, it's the perfect rainy day Bond film, even if it isn't half as good as perhaps ought to have been.

Revisiting Dr. No
Revisiting From Russia With Love
Revisiting Goldfinger
Revisiting Thunderball
Revisiting You Only Live Twice
Revisitng On Her Majesty's Secret Service

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.

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