Directed by Guy Hamilton
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman
Screenplay written by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming
Memory is a funny thing. Ask me what I had for dinner last night and I’ll probably take a few minutes to think about it. Ask me what I did last week and there’s a better than average chance I’ll tell you I have no idea. But ask me about the Saturday afternoon in 1971 when my father took me to see my first James Bond movie DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and I’ll go on and on for hours recounting every single detail in such a way that you would swear it had happened to me yesterday.
I think that the major reasons DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is my absolute favorite James Bond film of all is because of two reasons: It was the first James Bond movie I saw in a theatre and I saw it with my father, who is also a huge movie fan. He took me to see Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” during its original theatrical run and we drove my mother crazy discussing the movie for days and days afterwards. My voracious movie addiction can be blamed on the both of them. A favorite story they like to tell about me is when they took me as a baby with them to see “The Ten Commandments”. While other babies in the theatre were crying and had to be taken out by their disgruntled parents, my parents claim I was totally silent, eyes open as wide as possible, staring at the screen as if hypnotized. I probably was. Movies do that to me, y’know.
The movie’s pre-credits sequence has an unusually brutal James Bond (Sean Connery) hunting down his archenemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray). Although it’s never stated outright, one can assume Bond’s looking for Blofeld to take revenge for the murder of his wife, Tracy that occurred at the conclusion of the previous Bond adventure, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. Bond seemingly dispatches Blofeld in a particularly nasty manner and after the gorgeously lush theme song sung by Shirley Bassey we get into the meat of the plot:
Startling amounts of high-grade diamonds are being smuggled out of South Africa to Las Vegas by means of an efficient pipeline of couriers. There is worry that these diamonds will be dumped into the market at some future time, which would drastically drop diamond prices. Bond is assigned to follow the pipeline, an assignment that he clearly thinks is beneath his talents but M (Bernard Lee) quickly puts him in his place: “Blofeld is dead, 007. I think we have the right to expect some plain honest work from you now. Bond heads off to Amsterdam to take the place of Peter Franks, an international jewel courier and he makes the acquaintance of the superhot redheaded smuggler Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), the next contact in the pipeline.
The trail of deadly diamonds leads Bond to Las Vegas where it quickly becomes apparent that smuggling is only the tip of the iceberg as Bond’s archenemy Blofeld returns from the dead with a scheme to hold the world hostage that involves a diamond enhanced laser satellite. Now when I lay it out like that, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER seems like your straightforward action/adventure, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. I broke the story down to its simplest elements out of space consideration but it has been said by many critics and reviewers that the plot of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is too complicated to properly explain and I have to agree. When you throw in the Howard Hughes-like Willard Whyte who for about half of the movie’s running time we think is the movie’s real villain, the homosexual killer duo Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint who run around whacking the various diamond smugglers for no apparent reason and even Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood) who at one point in the movie shows up someplace she has absolutely no business being and is drowned for no reason at all…and that’s not even half the inconsistencies and plot holes that stick out like a cockroach on a wedding cake.
But somehow, none of that seems to matter when you’re right there on the edge of your seat watching the movie. Sean Connery is James Bond and when he’s on the screen you can’t take your eyes off him. Connery understood the dynamics of a James Bond movie in a way no other actor who played the role would until Pierce Brosnan strapped on the Walter PPK and he occupies the center of the movie with total confidence. He doesn’t take it all that seriously but his performance has such wit and charm that while he’s clearly having fun with the character and the material he respects it and thereby respects us. The major acting disappointment comes from Charles Gray as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Gray is simply too effeminate to be a towering mastermind of brilliant evil bent on world domination. He looks as if he would be more at home organizing The Sisters of The Revolving Door Tabernacle Annual Cotillion and Fish Fry. And Norman Burton barely registers on screen as ace CIA agent and Bond’s best friend Felix Leiter. But let’s face facts, except for David Hedison (who is the only actor to have played Felix Leiter twice) and Bernie Casey, Felix Leiter has never been played decently.
But we’ve got dependable regulars such as Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn (Q) and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) to pick up the slack and Jill St. John is wonderfully spicy and looks gorgeous as Tiffany Case. And any mention of the acting in this one isn’t complete without noticing the excellent work by Putter Smith and John Glover (Crispin Glover’s dad) as Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint. The pair is not only properly chilling but also provides a good deal of the movie’s humor as they grow increasingly frustrated as Bond continually manages to circumvent their efforts to kill him. And I have to mention Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s sister) even though it’s apparent from her first scene that she wasn’t chosen for the role for her acting ability. Why is she in the movie then? I’ll give you a clue: 36C/D-24-35. Need I say anymore other than I commend the casting director for his excellent eyesight? I even liked Jimmy Dean as eccentric multibillionaire Willard Whyte. Today Jimmy Dean is mostly known for his line of pork products but back during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s he was a fairly popular country western singer who occasionally acted. Bond and Whyte click so well during the hunt for Blofeld that I think the producers missed a bet by not having Whyte become a re-occurring character in the films. By the end of the movie Bond and Whyte seem more like best friends than Bond and Leiter.
And it never fails to amuse me that even though people will say that DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER isn’t as good as the other Connery Bonds, it’s the one that has more action sequences people can readily name right off the top of their head than any other Connery Bond. Everybody remembers the chase through the desert with Bond driving the moon buggy. There’s the classic Las Vegas car chase sequence that ends with Bond flipping his Mustang up on two wheels to slide through a narrow alley and evade his pursuers. The helicopter assault on Blofeld’s oil rig headquarters. There’s the nail-biting climb Bond performs on the outside of Willard Whyte’s Las Vegas casino/hotel. The fight in the elevator with Peter Franks. The fight with the outrageously beautiful pair of acrobatic karate killers, Bambi (Lola Larson) and Thumper (Trina Parks)
I suppose that most who read this review will probably have seen DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER on television or DVD and so won’t have the same love I have for the movie as I do. But no matter how many times I see it, I always remember seeing my first James Bond film on the big screen with my father and the feelings I had that day have never left me and it was those feelings that made me want to create stories as exciting and thrilling as the one I was watching and I suppose that in a very large way, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER helped shaped my passion to write and for that if nothing else, it will remain my favorite James Bond movie.