Sean Connery’s first three James Bond films are all classics, from the low-key nature of Dr. No to the supremely suspenseful From Russia With Love to the bombast of Goldfinger. It’s absolutely no wonder why they launched a cinematic franchise that continues to this day. While we rightfully hoist Connery and his era high, sometimes it’s easy to forget that his run wasn’t perfect.
Thunderball is iconic, but a little too stuffed for its own good. You Only Live Twice offers up thrilling locales and further iconic sequences and elements, but showcases a Sean that is visibly getting tired of the role. While he stepped away from 007 in 1067 and the part was handed over to George Lazenby for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Sean found himself back in the role four years later. After audiences didn’t turn out as much for the serious and rather dark OHMSS and Lazenby unceremoniously quit the role, EON was looking for a cushion for Bond to land on.
They found it in a returning Sean, who agreed to reprise the role one last time in exchange for a multi-picture deal with United Artists (that he mostly spent making films with Sidney Lumet). Guy Hamilton, who had previously directed Goldfinger, returned to the series as well and was paired with a script by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz. Thus, Diamonds Are Forever was born.
Many lambast the Moore era to this day for it’s campy narratives and silly humor. While I won’t fault anyone for not enjoying either of those elements, let’s not kid ourselves. They had both been present in the series since the middle of Connery’s run and had fully folded over into it from You Only Live Twice onward (OHMSS excluded). Diamonds Are Forever fully personifies this, straddling the line between entertaining adventure and outright parody from its opening moments to its closing scene.
This film is ridiculous and it knows it. Furthermore, Connery is fully aware of this as well and almost plays Bond like he himself is in on the joke. I’ve seen many point their finger at this film and say that Sean is sleepwalking through it for his paycheck (which he gave away to charity), but I just don’t see it. The closest Connery every came to sleepwalking was during the shoot for YOLT when he was exhausted after making five films in five years and constantly being hounded by the press. Sound familiar? It should. Everyone’s been doing the same to Daniel Craig.
Instead, Connery seems to be having the time of his life here. The years away from the series clearly did him some good, as he is clearly enjoying the role again, relishing every comedic line and gag tossed his way. I can fully appreciate why the high dosage of comedy on display here wards off others, but as someone who wholeheartedly loves this series flaws and all, I tend to openly embrace the even the most troubled entries, so long as they are trying something different.
The locations in Diamonds Are Forever aren’t nearly as exotic as previous films, since the majority of the film takes place in Las Vegas and the surrounding desert. That’s probably a turn off for some, but it works for me. I find it almost comforting that Bond appears more like he’s goofing off on vacation than on an actual mission. To be honest, I don’t think he takes his task at hand very seriously at all until he realizes that Blofeld is behind it all. After all, he thinks he dispatched him for good in the opening. Everything after that is gravy for him, to be taken in stride … which is exactly how he operates for the majority of the film.
Speaking of Blofeld, we come to the sorest point with fans. The chief complaint against the film’s narrative is also a very legitimate one: Bond’s matter of fact attitude towards Blofeld after the murder of Bond’s wife, Tracy, by his command in the previous film. To this day I still mourn the loss of the revenge film that we surely would have gotten had Lazenby remained on board. I can still picture it in my mind: Bond out for vengeance, backed up by Felix Leiter and Tracy’s crime boss father, Draco; the three of them dismantling SPECTRE and taking out Blofeld once and for all.
The prospect of such a film died with Lazenby’s departure. EON moved on and attempted to smooth things over. While it’s disappointing, it’s rather unfair to hold this film against one that never happened. To be honest, Diamonds Are Forever pretty much plays like a direct sequel to You Only Live Twice. Blofeld escaped from his lair in Japan at the end of that film, and Japan is where this film opens. The events of OHMSS are never mentioned in this film and actually are not brought up again until three films later, in Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
Judging the film on its own merits, it does have some downers. Charles Gray, who had previously played a character named Henderson in YOLT, is inexplicably now playing Blofeld, and he’s pretty terrible at it. Normally I might chastise the writing equally, but the problem here is 100% with the performance. He’s not menacing at all and comes off more as some irritable stuffy aristocrat than a megalomaniacal genius with designs on world domination.
Equally awful is Jill St. John as Tiffany Case, our main Bond Girl here. Her character is just all over the place, being a sharp criminal mind one moment and a doofus damsel in distress the next. Whether it’s the fault of the actress or the writing or both (I’m guessing both), Tiffany is definitely on the “Worst Bond Girl” end of the pool when all is said and done.
Neither of those things can temper my enthusiasm for an enjoyment of the film. Connery is just having way too much fun and the film is filled with numerous odd details that just make me smile. Mr. Wint (Bruce Clover, father of Crispin) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) are a delightfully dastardly duo as Blofeld’s current reining, pun-loving assassins. Every dialogue exchange they have is a memorable one and I quote them often.
We are also treated to another great Shirley Bassey song, which is always a plus, and we are gifted another great John Barry score to go along with everything. Also, even with the less exotic locations, Ken Adams’ impeccable set design is still something to marvel at. It might be silly, but it still looks and feels like a Bond movie.
More than anything, however, it really is the humor that makes this one utterly memorable for me. M’s early-on disdain for Bond’s knack for coming off like a know-it-all. Bond’s “making out with himself” tactic to hide from Peter Franks. Bond’s amusing responses to Tiffany when she thinks he (masquerading as Peter Franks) has killed the great James Bond. His cornball exchange with Felix Leiter at the airport. The entire Klaus Hergersheimer: G Section bit. Bond’s stumbling upon a fake moon landing set. The sheer existence of Bambi and Thumper, plus James making an ACME reference. Hell, having Jimmy Dean, of all people, as a Howard Hughes analogue!
Diamonds Are Forever is neither the best of Sean’s films in the role, nor the worst (Never Say Never Again has that honor). It may not be one of my absolute favorite Bond films (misleading article title!), but it is one that I pop in often if I am in need of a laugh-filled piece of breezy entertainment. If you approach this one with an open mind for the kind of film it actually is, as opposed to what it isn’t (and was never meant to be), then I think you might find that you will enjoy it a whole lot more than the last time you watched it.
If not? Well, that’s okay too! Counting the 23 (about to be 24) official entries in the series and the couple unofficial ones, there’s is a wide variety of options at your disposal when it comes to choosing the Bond film(s) right for you! That’s the beauty of a series with this much longevity and this many installments. There’s a little something for everybody. Go pick your poison and have some fun as we all await the release of Daniel Craig’s Spectre!