We all have guilty pleasures: those forms of entertainment that we’re almost embarrassed to admit that we love. Bond fans no doubt have their own, and mine is the 1971 film, Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery’s last official Bond film — though he would return twelve years later in Never Say Never Again.
On the surface, Diamonds Are Forever is a terrible film. It marked Connery’s comeback, after a four year absence, and unfortunately he no longer seemed to fit the role. By then, he was a little pudgier, less dynamic, and he often looked bored on screen. Perhaps Connery was attempting to play off the film’s overall tone. Diamonds was the first Bond film to delve into camp and comedy. The results would appear mixed, at best. Though the film has received its share of positive reviews over the years, it is mostly ranked in the “bottom tier” on critics’ and fans’ Bond lists.
Why the film works
Winter is Coming
There is a certain charm to Diamonds Are Forever, likely because the film never takes itself seriously. The audience gets this in the pre-title sequence, as Bond tries to obtain information on Blofeld’s whereabouts.
“Where is he?” Bond asks. The informant’s words don’t come close to matching his barely moving lips, reminiscent of the dubbing in Japanese monster movies: “Cai…Cai..Cairo.” (Odd note, here: the film received an Oscar nomination for Best Sound. )
From there, things don’t get much better — which is actually a good thing. The story, loosely based on Ian Fleming’s novel, is a wild ride through Amsterdam and Las Vegas (the sin capitals of the world?), as Bond investigates a diamond-smuggling operation. Some of the characters are outlandish, particularly the villains. Even Charles Gray’s portrayal of Blofeld is over-the-top, a near parody of previous incarnations. One is left to ponder what substances Guy Hamilton (director) and Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz (writers) were under the influence of when piecing the film together. If not for Connery’s presence and John Barry’s score, perhaps his best in the franchise, not much is familiar. This is a Bond film on acid.
A crazy plot
The film offers a number of incredulous, “You have to be kidding me” moments. Could a single Bond film really contain…
- A homosexual couple as Blofeld’s hired assassins (actually, an element from Fleming’s novel)?
- A dentist killed by a scorpion?
- The smuggling of diamonds inside a dead body?
- An over-the-hill stand-up comic known as Shady Tree, accompanied by two women known as his “acorns?”
- A man in a gorilla suit running wild in Circus Circus casino?
- An elephant playing slots?
- Bond riding a moon buggy across the Nevada desert?
- Bond conversing with a rat in underground pipe: “One of us smells like a tart’s handkerchief”?
- Acrobatic female guards named Bambi and Thumper?
- Singer and sausage king Jimmy Dean as a Howard Hughes-type tycoon?
- Blofeld in drag?
- Low budget special effects, in Blofeld’s laser attack on Russia, China, and the U.S.?
And yet, Diamonds thrives, not in spite of these moments, but rather because of them. Even car chases (Bond driving on two wheels) and fight sequences (Bond killing Peter Franks via fire extinguisher) are a bit askew. And it doesn’t hurt that Jill St. John plays Tiffany Case to the hilt, as well. Her scene with a gas station attendant is a hidden gem.
All in all
When done right, camp is its own reward, and such is the case with Diamonds. Unfortunately, for me, such camp could not salvage Moonraker, released eight years later. The difference being that in many places, Moonraker attempted to be a serious film, leaving it somewhat unbalanced. With perhaps one exception, the death of Plenty O’Toole, no such attempts are made in Diamonds. It is pure silliness all the way. And we’re all the better for it.