Diamonds Are Forever
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Although Diamonds Are Forever (1971) was the last official James Bond film to star Sean Connery, it really has more of the feel of the Roger Moore films to follow. It's casual and jokey, more of a spoof than Connery's previous entries, and for that reason it's usually rated as his weakest 007 picture. Nonetheless, the film has a lot going for it, especially in its first half, such as an excellent fight in an elevator, an inspired car chase, and a very fine score by Bond composer John Barry. In a way, Sean Connery himself personifies the very qualities of this movie as a whole: he looks a bit paunchy and long in the tooth physically, and he meanders through several scenes almost lazily, but he still has that Bond twinkle in his eye and is able to show glimmers of the old 007.
Connery, of course, had starred in the first five James Bond pictures and become a superstar in the process. To most Bond fans even today, after six actors have played the role, Connery will always be the 007. As early as the third film, Goldfinger (1964), Connery was tiring of the role and feared being typecast for the rest of his career. After the fifth, You Only Live Twice (1967), he departed the franchise and was replaced by George Lazenby, who starred in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). While regarded in retrospect by many as perhaps the best movie of the series, OHMSS was a box-office disappointment and, more importantly, Lazenby was universally panned. Not helping matters were the sour relations between Lazenby and the Bond producers. Clearly the actor would not be returning for an encore.
Frustrated with the state of their franchise, producers Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided that the way to go was to shake things up dramatically in the casting department while also returning to the elements that had created their favorite early Bond film, Goldfinger. Many actors, British and American, were considered to play the new 007, including Roger Moore, Michael Gambon, Burt Reynolds, and even Adam West. At the end of the process, American actor John Gavin was chosen and even signed. But then, at the last minute, United Artists head David Picker made one last try to bring back Connery but the actor was still resistant. Picker's offer, however, was too good to refuse: $1.25 million, then an exorbitant sum, plus money for Connery to develop two non-Bond films to produce and/or star in. (Only one ever came to fruition: The Offence .) Connery took the offer and donated his entire salary to the Scottish International Educational Trust, a charity he had co-founded. As for John Gavin, he amicably withdrew from his contract, doubtless placated by the fact that he still got paid.
Now Broccoli and Saltzman could really re-capture Goldfinger, they thought. Not only was Connery back, but so were Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton, Goldfinger production designer Ken Adam (who had also designed three other Bond films) and Goldfinger title song performer Shirley Bassey. Richard Maibaum's screenplay even had as its villain Auric Goldfinger's twin brother! Goldfinger himself, actor Gert Frobe, was to have played the part. In the end, however, that character and plot element were eliminated after young writer Tom Mankiewicz was brought on to rewrite Maibaum's script. The final version kept a few elements of Ian Fleming's novel (some characters, a Vegas setting and a smuggling subplot), but for the most part it was an original.
Bond's nemesis Blofeld is back, this time played by Charles Gray, and this time with a plan to use diamonds on a specially-built satellite to help generate a laser beam of such intensity that it can destroy targets on the ground. Along the way, Bond travels to Amsterdam, Las Vegas, and an oil platform off the Baja peninsula while encountering a reclusive American billionaire named Willard Whyte (played by singer Jimmy Dean), Bond girls Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) and Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood, sister of Natalie), and a pair of gay assassins named Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith respectively).
Before the story launches, however, Bond takes care of some unfinished business. In the previous film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond had fallen in love and married Tracy Di Vicenzo, who was murdered on Blofeld's orders in the last scene. The film faded out on Bond weeping over his wife's body. Diamonds Are Forever opens with a vengeful Bond traversing the globe and brutally questioning various people as to Blofeld's whereabouts. Without knowledge of the previous film, one would be perplexed over Bond's rage here. After Bond (seemingly) finds and kills Blofeld at the end of the teaser sequence, 007 suddenly turns into a much more relaxed and carefree character for the rest of the picture, and events of the previous film are never mentioned -- even when the real Blofeld turns up later on. It's a curious way to handle Bond's reaction to Tracy's death, but it obviously speaks to the producers' desire to steer as far away from the previous film as possible while still acknowledging what Bond had gone through.
If the best parts of Diamonds Are Forever do resemble Goldfinger, it's not for superficial reasons like the substitution of diamonds for gold, or the early scene in which Bond and M are lectured on diamonds in much the same way as in a similar scene in Goldfinger. Instead, it's in the way the good scenes blend humor and action. The elevator fight is a great example. It's expertly and excitingly choreographed in and of itself, but it begins after a moment in which Bond thinks quickly to intercept the villain and then comically speaks in a fake Dutch accent to come off as non-threatening. When the villain lets his guard down for a moment, the fight begins, and it is serious, brutal and deadly (and made all the more interesting by its confined space). When it's over, Bond quickly switches his wallet with the dead man's so that his identity will not be revealed. When Tiffany Case pulls the wallet out of the dead man's pocket, we see James Bond's membership card to the Playboy Club, a perfect comic topper. A later sequence of Bond scaling the top of a Vegas skyscraper by means of more quick thinking and a rope device is at once casual and breathlessly suspenseful, again expertly blending changes in tone and mood for the audience. Scenes like these are far more memorable than the dull helicopter attack on the oil rig that forms the climax of Diamonds Are Forever.
The car chase at the film's midpoint is another high point. Set in downtown Las Vegas, the sequence was actually filmed there over five nights (except for the portion in the parking lot, which was shot at Universal Studios in Hollywood). The neon lighting from the casinos lining the streets was so bright that no artificial lights were required. While the chase is well-choreographed and great fun to watch, there are two blemishes to the scene. The first is the fact that crowds of tourists are clearly lining both sides of every street in the sequence, watching the action (the film crew was simply unable to keep them from being there).
The second is a famous continuity gaffe at the end of the chase. Bond manages to escape the police through a narrow alley by driving his car on its two right wheels. But when the car emerges at the other end it is on its two left wheels! The stunt was filmed in two locations -- the beginning at Universal Studios and the ending in Las Vegas -- with different stunt drivers and film crews. The mistake was not caught until it was viewed in dailies. An attempt to fix it was made by hastily writing and shooting an insert in which Bond instructs Tiffany to lean in the other direction before we see the car emerge from the alley, as if to imply that the car was able to easily switch sides in mid-roll.
The car Bond drives here is a new, red Ford Mustang, and in fact every single car that is damaged in Diamonds Are Forever is a Ford. The company offered to provide the filmmakers with as many cars as they wanted if only Bond would drive the Mustang during the car chase. Several dozen cars were destroyed in the course of the film, including many in takes that weren't used.
Cubby Broccoli's personal friendship with Howard Hughes not only inspired the character of Willard Whyte but also allowed for greater ease in location shooting, with Hughes giving Broccoli carte blanche to film for as long as he needed in any of Hughes' casinos. In the supporting cast, classic movie fans will recognize the face and voice of Marc Lawrence as one of the goons. Lawrence acted in over 200 movies dating back to 1932, and he would reappear memorably in the opening sequence of a later Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Another familiar face is that of Bruce Cabot, veteran of over 100 films including King Kong (1933), here making his final screen appearance. Bond fanatics will also recognize Charles Gray from his earlier, brief supporting turn in You Only Live Twice, and character actor Shane Rimmer from an earlier bit in You Only Live Twice and a much larger role as the submarine captain in the later Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
Diamonds Are Forever was shot on a budget of $7 million and grossed nearly $120 million. Clearly, the return of Sean Connery brought audiences back. But Connery was not to return, and for the next Bond film, Live and Let Die (1973), the casting process started all over again until Roger Moore won the role. Connery did play James Bond once more a decade later, but that was in the independently produced Never Say Never Again (1983), which was not part of the official Bond film canon.
Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Director: Guy Hamilton
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz; Ian Fleming (novel, uncredited)
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Art Direction: Bill Kenney, Jack Maxsted
Music: John Barry
Film Editing: Bert Bates, John W. Holmes
Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Jill St. John (Tiffany Case), Charles Gray (Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Lana Wood (Plenty O'Toole), Jimmy Dean (Willard Whyte), Bruce Cabot (Albert R. 'Bert' Saxby), Putter Smith (Mr. Kidd), Bruce Glover (Mr. Wint), Norman Burton (Felix Leiter), Joseph Furst (Dr. Metz), Bernard Lee ('M'), Desmond Llewelyn ('Q'), Leonard Barr (Shady Tree), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Margaret Lacey (Mrs. Whistler), Joe Robinson (Peter Franks).
by Jeremy Arnold