Countdown to Spectre: Diamonds are Forever Revisited

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The Bond: Sean Connery as an old man. United Artists worried that putting another new actor into the role would endanger the franchise, so they were determined to get Connery back at any cost. For one more Bond picture, he was given a $1.2 million straight fee (which he donated to his charity, the Scottish International Educational Trust), 10% of the gross receipts (meaning a cut of the profit earned once the movie made back its costs) and a promise by UA to back two films of his choice. They only made one, a Sidney Lumet film called The Offence.

The Release: December 17, 1971 in the US and the 30th in the UK. UA’s fight to get Connery paid off and the film made significantly more than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service nearly doubling its domestic totals and earning $116 million worldwide.

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The Girl: Jill St. John as Tiffany Case, my choice for worst Bond Girl. Tiffany has no discernible skill other than looking decent in a bikini—which is her major function in the climactic oil rig scene. Even worse, St. John constantly overacts, theatrically gasping at Bond’s every action. The other girls aren’t much better. Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole barely merits mentioning and Olympic gymnast Lola Larson and dancer Trina Parks play lady assassins Bambi and Thumper. Embarrassing as their Disney cartoon names are, there’s something enjoyable about watching them beat the hell out of Connery.

The Villain: Charles Gray as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in the character’s final appearance in the franchise (until the upcoming Spectre, presumably). Gray previously played a secret service agent in You Only Live Twice, but he’s best known as The Criminologist in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That film is a few years after this, but Gray brings almost as much camp to this role: Blofeld dresses in drag at one point and Gray makes just about the most heinous woman in history. Bond scholar James Chapman (whose book Licence to Thrill was an invaluable resource for this series) suggests that this moment is supposed to suggest Blofeld is gay, but his interest in a bikini-clad Tiffany–even if it is for Bond’s benefit–might contradict that. Assassins Wint and Kidd (played by Bruce Glover and Putter Smith, respectively), however, are pretty much cringe-worthy caricatures of homosexuality.

The Gadgets: There are many, but the moon buggy Bond uses to escape the underground satellite facility is the best. The movie rather hilariously suggests it comes from the U.S. government’s faked moon landing set and while there’s a lot of ridiculousness in Diamonds, watching the vehicle’s skinny mechanical arms flail around as Bond drives it through the Las Vegas desert is a highlight.

The Song: “Diamonds are Forever” by Shirley Bassey. This is one of the best Bond songs ever—and I’m not just saying that because Kanye West sampled it in one of his best songs, “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”. Lyricist Don Black does some of his best work here with lines like, “Diamonds are forever/They are all I need to please me/They can stimulate and tease me,” and “I don’t need love/For what good will love do me?/Diamonds never lie to me.” Admittedly, they only work as well as they do because of Bassey’s killer vocals. Graphic designer Maurice Binder also created one hell of a credits sequence, with naked women, cats and diamonds flowing across the screen in seemingly infinite patterns. They’re so good you may as well turn off the movie after they end because it’s all downhill from there.

The Book: Diamonds are Forever takes very little from its source material, but that’s no great loss. The book is pretty boring for the first two-thirds. No moon buggy, no oil rig, no Blofeld. Instead, it’s about a mob-run diamond smuggling ring that spans the world, going from Africa to London, to horse racing in Saratoga, to Vegas and finally to a crossing over the Atlantic in the Queen Elizabeth. There’s also a visit to an old west ghost town and a train crash, both of which the film sadly skips. However, it also gets rid of all the terrible, sloppy, un-spy-like decisions Bond makes.

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He is shockingly brazen about keeping his ties to the British Secret Service hidden. After finding out that his old friend Felix Leiter (played by yet another new actor, Norman Burton, in the film) is working on the horse racing part of the mob’s operation as a Pinkerton’s detective, Bond openly travels all over New York with him. He even acts as Felix’s representative in paying off the the jockey who double crossed the mob, using his own name instead of his cover alias. The most unbelievable plot point, however, is that Bond fails to realize that the same pair of assassins (a non-gay Wint and Kidd) have been following him since London even after Leiter describes enough of their physical attributes to make it glaringly obvious.

The only real loss is Tiffany Case. On the page, she’s sassy in the right way and Book Bond–as is his way–falls in love with her almost immediately. Mostly that’s because her aloofness represents a challenge, but what really seals the deal is his discovery that her standoffishness stems from the fact that she was gang-raped at 16. Fleming has a very troubling habit of using a history of rape to explain why Bond’s love interests initially resist him. Dr. No is the only instance where it actually makes it into the films, but it happens with Pussy Galore in Goldfinger as well.

However, despite some truly terrible moments where Bond fears getting stuck with Tiffany forever after healing her wounds, they’re perhaps one of the better romantic pairings of the series. Especially in the movies, Bond is usually the witty one, but in the book, it’s Tiffany who gets all the good lines. One of their first exchanges sets up their dynamic perfectly. “Do you mind if I smoke?” Bond asks. “If that’s the way you want to die,” Tiffany replies.

The Movie: While OHMSS took pains to establish continuity within the franchise (see the scene where George Lazenby’s Bond looks fondly at props from previous films as the score repeats the themes from each), Diamonds pretends that film never happened. It essentially picks up where YOLT left off, with Bond chasing Blofeld in Japan. M does suggest Bond has a bit of an obsession with catching Blofeld, but it seems to be more about ego than getting revenge for a dead wife.

While Connery may be a better actor than Lazenby, at 41, with graying hair and a pudgier build, he’s nobody’s concept of a dangerous world-class spy. Though Connery called Diamonds the best of his Bonds in an interview at the time, both he and the character feel ancillary here. He’s just the hook on which all the shenanigans hang. The only good character moment in the whole feature comes when Bond walks onto his hotel room balcony, nonchalantly steps on top of the outdoor glass elevator and rides it to the top. Still, Connery’s slightly rougher energy is an odd fit for the film’s complete lack of seriousness and while many believe Roger Moore’s arrival in the franchise marked its downfall, at least his expressive eyebrows and ironic charm better suited what the franchise became. Even if what it became was mostly terrible.

By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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