RECAP: Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Guy Hamilton

George Lazenby had one go at James Bond and said sayonara, welching on a seven-picture deal, which seems insane, but you have to consider he went on to appear in [three bad movies].

Sean Connery decided that maybe Bond wasn’t such a bad character to play, so he came back. Helping sway him was a then-record salary of £1.25 million.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: James Bond battles his arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, for we swear is the final time, who is at the apex of a diamond smuggling outfit and determined to make the great powers cower with them.  

Hero (4/10)

Sean Connery returns to the role he swore off four years before. James Bond is looking a bit haggard and gray around the edges. Right off the bat he’s after Blofeld by name, beating and choking men and women who might know where he is.

If you think this Bond movie will feature a vengeful 007, hell-bent on killing the man who killed his wife in the previous film, you were disappointed. Bond finds Blofeld (Charles Gray) and kills him with little animus, or so he thinks. Any chance at serious character work is quickly discarded. Bond will go back to being fun.

With Blofeld dead, M (Bernard Lee) expects some “plain, solid work” from Bond. Someone, somewhere, is stockpiling South African diamonds for presumably nefarious purposes. Bond heads to Amsterdam to pose a diamond smuggler.

In the Netherlands Bond meets Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), a stunning American of indeterminate hair color who is the next link in a chain of smugglers. She assigns Bond (posing as a smuggler named Peter Franks) the job of smuggling the diamonds into the US, which he does thanks to his friend in the CIA Felix Leiter.

James Bond and Tiffany Case

Throughout Diamonds Are Forever we find Bond in a campy atmosphere. We learn that Bond is a member of the Playboy Club, which seems out-of-touch even in the 1970s for a British gentleman. He does the trick where you wrap your arms around yourself to appear as if you are making out with someone.

We also see Bond drive a fake moon rover through the Nevada desert at, uh, three miles per hour and still evade cars and motorized tricycles. He swims in a pool with two women who had beaten him up when they were on land.

Yes, it’s a strange journey for Bond in America, but most trips to Las Vegas are. He maintains his cool. Toward the end, when Bond finds himself on an oil rig, he gets there in a floating ball that he ran across the ocean while wearing a full suit. There’s barely a time he’s not wearing a suit, be he rappelling off the side of a tower or buried alive in the desert.

Bond’s water transportation.

Bond’s fight skills are often tested, and nearly as often he fails. He survives only because his enemies are pathologically unwilling to kill him. Blofeld has countless opportunities to do so and refuses. So do the men running the diamond smuggling outfit. So do the assassins Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover).

Connery spends most scenes imagining what it will be like to cash those record-setting checks.

Villain (3/10)

The villain in Diamonds Are Forever remains under wraps for quite some time. The movie starts with Bond chasing Blofeld, finding him in a mud bath clinic. Bond kills Blofeld by sending him into a boiling mud vat.

And after that there’s no villain. We think it is the reclusive Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean, yes, the sausage guy), owner of Las Vegas’s largest hotel tower and its most advanced technology company. We hear from Whyte a couple of times dictating orders from his penthouse, where he’s remained unseen for several years.

Turns out Whyte is Blofeld. The leader of SPECTRE kidnapped the real Whyte and installed a voice modulation chip in his own throat to sound like the famed recluse. Not a bad idea, to kidnap a man no one has seen for years.

Blofeld has a plan to create a satellite-mounted space laser that can irradiate significant areas of Earth. At the heart of his plan are the 50,000 carats of diamonds that all the movie’s characters get their hands on and many die for.

The diamond laser doing its work.

The plan might have worked if not for Blofeld’s crippling desire to show off to James Bond. Blofeld keeps his cool throughout the movie, and that proves his downfall. He is several times presented with the chance to kill Bond: in the mud clinic (where he orders others to kill him before trying himself), while dangling from the roof of the Whyte House, while pointing a gun at him, in the elevator with gas, and each and every second he is on the oil rig.

Blofeld never considers killing Bond once (the Blofeld in the mud clinic wasn’t the real Blofeld, obviously, because he died). Is he obsessed? When Bond tries to trick Blofeld into revealing his evil plan, Blofeld assures the spy he’ll be the first to know. When Bond shows up at the oil rig, Blofeld is disappointed it wasn’t a head of state, but he still enjoys showing Bond around the facility and locks him in a storage room instead of shooting him on the spot.

The only things Blofeld loves more than James Bond are diamonds and his white, unnamed cat. The diamonds he needs for not only the satellite but also his cat’s neck. What a fancy kitty it is.

One villain, one bigger villain. You decide which is which.

Let’s talk about The Plan. Blofeld, pretending to be Whyte, built the space laser and sent it to space in a short period of time. Smart move easily done. He used Whyte’s industrial empire as cover, putting his control center on an oil rig purchased after Whyte’s kidnapping.

As discussed later, an oil rig might be the worst place to house a secret base. Few structures are more conspicuous or approachable, and indeed the troops easily destroy it when they learn what it is.

With an inflated sense of intelligence, calm under fire, one-piece suit, and extreme British-ness, Blofeld is a memorable villain if not a practical one.

Action/Effects (3/10)

One of Bond’s silliest chases occurs in the Nevada desert. Bond escapes the Whyte facility by way of a moon landing site, a ridiculous nod to famed conspiracy theory about NASA’s faking the moon landing in 1969 in a studio outside Las Vegas.

Bond finds a fake moon rover and decides to hop in. Of course it will work, right? Bond flips some switches and crashes the thing through a studio wall and into the Nevada sun.

Was Kubrick on set that day?

While the rover buzzes about (it’s running on batteries, of course) Whyte’s guards are mobilizing in their real, gas-powered cars. Three of them burst through the compound gates in pursuit.

Bond hits the sands and rocks of the desert and pilots through them with ease. I know the thing was built for the moon, but not at such high speeds. The cars pursue, driven by nincompoops.

These cars can’t navigate the arroyos and outcrops. They fly over ridges and flip. Some slide into ditches. Guards worth their salt should be able to drive in the desert. These cannot.

Bond eludes the cars easily, but what about the trikes? Three motorized tricycles leave the compound long after the cars. Low to the ground and with fat tires, these vehicles are ready for the desert. They have little trouble catching Bond in his buzzing rover, but their lack of size is a problem, as Bond can outmuscle them.

No need, because Bond has another strategy: deception. Bond departs the rover near a hillside, sending the machine zigzagging across the dirt, pursued by two trikes. Bond hides behind a hill and finds the third trike on its side. Bond attacks the driver and speeds away, leaving us with the image of a suit-wearing Sean Connery riding a tiny tricycle. It’s cute.

***

Sidekicks (3/8)

Bond’s partner in events is Tiffany Case. Case runs a section of the diamond smuggling chain bringing diamonds from South African mines to American customers, in this case Whyte Tech., though it’s Blofeld calling the shots.

Tiffany Case being cool in a two-piece.

Case receives the diamonds from a British woman running an African orphanage, the woman who got the diamonds from South Africa to Amsterdam. Case is supposed to run them along to a dealer named Franks who will get them to America.

Case meets Bond-posing-as-Franks in Amsterdam, where she changes her hair color three times, her outfit as many, and her attitude not at all. Case is as calm as Bond, at least when doing her job.

St. John smolders as Ms. Case, wearing more sultry outfits than perhaps any “Bond Girl” in the series. A smile accompanies each outfit, and she’s at ease whether in the company of a suave spy or a murderous supervillain. There’s always time to sunbathe.

The only character who scared Case was Willard Whyte, when she thought she was messing with his satellite operations. Unfortunately she devolves into witless bimbo in the final act. She plays her role as helpless without Bond, though she’s done quite well for herself in the diamond smuggling ring until now.

Case and longtime companion-in-law Felix Leiter are cut from the same cloth: smart enough on their own but oafs when around Bond. They lose agency to their fate when in the orbit of the super spy, and the movie is worse for it. The better Bond movies have several characters with different motivations, but they fail utterly in Diamonds Are Forever to do more than ask Bond, “What do we do now?”

Henchmen (2/8)

Blofeld is a maniac of the highest order, determined to control all outcomes. He’s so paranoid in this, his final tussle against Connery’s Bond, that he can’t trust other people to do his job for him. He hires people to become body doubles a la Saddam Hussein and other dictators of the day. Bond kills at least three of these doubles. Blofeld can only trust himself for the job, and he can be in several places at once.

OK, Blofeld does have others help him, but they are business types and not insane criminal types, the exceptions being the gymnastic fighters Bambi and Thumper. These ladies are what the Bond series is all about.

We want to imagine a world of people as dangerous as they are strange. Hedge fund managers and corrupt politicians are the types of villains we’ve all met in high school and college. Little imagination is needed to considers such types.

But two women tasked with back flipping, guarding a hostage, and wearing bikinis? That’s weird. It’s what we want in Bond movies. That and guys who stay at their posts drolly stating, “Six minutes and counting,” as if they are trying to count themselves to sleep.

Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint work the diamond smuggling ring from bottom to almost the top. These guys are dangerous. Once the diamonds leave the South African mines, Kidd and Wint follow them, putting pressure on those who touch them like rock on coal. One smuggler they kill by placing a scorpion down his shirt. Another is exploded in a helicopter. A third person, an old woman, is strangled and thrown into a river. They kill Shady Tree in his dressing room because they didn’t like his act.

They try to kill Bond by throwing him in a casket for cremation. Later they try to kill him by burying him in a tube in the desert. Finally they try to kill him after he’s stopped Blofeld. Relentless, for sure, and competent at killing except when it comes to Bond. Their methods are not swift enough for him.

Stunts (3/6)

Bond, driving Case’s car after escaping Whyte’s desert satellite lab, is pulled over on Las Vegas’s Fremont Street by local buffoonish policemen in the pocket of Willard Whyte. When one approaches the “son of a bitchin’ saboteur,” Bond pulls a nifty reverse escape, peeling backward.

Unfortunately the only police in the city are called onto the case, and another cruiser tales Bond. We got ourselves an ace in the hole car chase folks!

Bond coolly weaves through the slow traffic on Las Vegas’s original strip while Case squeals and makes silly faces riding shotgun. More cop cars arrive to chase Bond, trying to box him in. Problem is, Las Vegas has streets paved in axle grease, or something slippery, because the tires can’t hold a turn. Compare them to the European tires from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which kept to the wet, wintery roads.

Bond mounts a curb for a brief bit, scattering pedestrians, and also makes a 270-degree right turn. The result of all this turning is several rides around the Golden Nugget. Bond escapes the bright city lights and drives to a parking lot. The Mustang’s tight corners give it a huge edge here.

One car wrecks into another as the latter backs out of a parking spot, while the next cop car hits a wall. Bond stops, reverses, and that sends two cop cars careening into each other. A quick dodge from Bond sends two more cop cars into each other. We’re bordering Blues Brothers levels of car chase hilarity.

Several wide shots show all the cars driving around the parking lot, the better to display the tight quarters. Bond next finds an overturned trailer, or some such device placed conveniently and perfectly to allow Bond to make a jump over more cars and to exit the parking lot. A cop tries the same move and of course the car crashes atop other cars. Bond leaves six police cruisers wrecked in the lot.

Now for the coup de grâce. Bond coolly drives back to Fremont St., where the original sheriffs spot him again and pursue. Bond turns into an alley that is a dead end. It’s not truly a dead end, because a gap exists wide enough for half a car. OR, wide enough for a car on its side. Wouldn’t you know, a short ramp is conveniently placed in the alley.

Bond instructs Case to lean over. He zooms the driver’s side tires up the ramp, putting the car on its side at an angle that perfectly fits through the gap. The sheriff tries it and flips immediately. Then, when Bond exits the gap, the car is inexplicably on its other side.

An insane stunt

***

Hey, isn’t it funny when women fight men? Sure is! We’ve got an example here. Bond heads to a sexy crash pad on the hills above the Nevada desert to find the real Willard Whyte. He first meets two scantily clad gymnasts named Bambi and Thumper.

They ask Bond what they can do for him, and he smirks that he can think of several things. They give up Whyte’s location immediately, but they won’t let Bond go quietly. Thumper tricks Bond into an embrace and then knees him in the groin. She scampers (that is the right word) and says, “All yours, Bambi.”

Bambi does three back flips and ends by kicking Bond in the chest. They toss him around a bit before flipping through the room. Bambi leaps onto a parallel bar mounted from the ceiling, swings on it, and sits on it before Thumper attacks again. Lots of razzle dazzle from this pair. Bond shoves Thumper aside but can’t avoid a kick to the face from Bambi, sending Bond crashing into the glass table.

Bond spends some unpleasant moments with Bambi’s powerful thighs wrapped around his neck while Thumper splits and sprawls and coils up for her next move. One imagines this is how Bond fantasizes dying.

Both ladies stand in front of Bond now. They look at each other in joy and both kick Bond into some tasteful metal tubes posing as art. Then they make a mistake–they throw him into the pool.

Everyone knows deer and rabbits are fast and nimble on land, but in water they struggle. Bond gains the upper hand and holds both women underwater to extract Whyte’s exact location.

Climax (2/6)

Before Bond arrives at the oil rig, we see the powers of Blofeld’s space laser. A single shot irradiates and destroys an ICBM in North Dakota, a bank of missiles in China, and a Soviet nuclear submarine in the ocean.

Left unasked, how did Blofeld know these top secret locations? The submarine was moving! That knowledge alone would be reason to send the cavalry against Blofeld.

Blofeld holds the world hostage for what he claims he wants, total disarmament. He believes it to be a forgone conclusion, that all the great powers will lay down their arms and let Blofeld’s space laser be the only weapon out there.

Long shots of the explosive final battle.

Blofeld drops great lines during his time on the rig, his final minutes. He claims the phalanx of attack helicopters flying to meet him is a “farcical show of force.” He calls Britain a “pitiful little island,” which sounds like is also his island. He claims that, in destroying New York City, he will rid it of its “smut and traffic.”

He also hates marching music. There’s a whole thing about exchanging the control tape for the satellite with a marching tape.

Bond, shortly after arriving on the rig, releases a balloon, and that’s the signal alerting the Americans that he’s switched the tapes. Unfortunately Case, misinterpreting a line from Bond, has switched back the tapes, putting the real one in.

A half-dozen attack helicopters strike the oil rig seconds before its defenses are prepared. The Americans have rockets and .50 caliber machine guns, while Blofeld’s men have a four anti-aircraft guns. The rest of the guards use their rifles, which is surely a waste of ammo.

Case, desperate to fix her mistake, re-enters the control room. Blofeld proves he’s a bit of a horn dog; he spots the cassette tape concealed in her bikini bottom. Checking out the rear, eh Blofeld? Blofeld decides to throw her in the brig with Bond, saying that she has “such nice cheeks. If only there were brains.” While being escorted, her guard is killed by a helicopter gunner.

Another Blofeld body double murdered by Bond.

Bond, meanwhile, finds a hatch in his big closet and escapes through it. He does some rope swinging and crawling to reacquire the rig’s top side, where the Blofeld’s men are being slaughtered. Mild explosions are killing the guards, exposing the rig as not an oil rig at all!

The bad guys kill two helicopters before two anti-aircraft guns are lost in turn. The control room is taking hits, and Blofeld’s Number Two wants to surrender. Blofeld is confident in his plan, so confident that he’s about to escape in a tiny submarine.

Huh? Yes, Blofeld orders his cronies to ready his one-person submersible and has a crane lift it into position slightly above the water. That’s when Bond takes over the controls of a machine, the crane, he has no idea how to work. He’s a quick learner, though, and returns the sub to the rig.

Case joins Bond and nearly has to shoot some guys until a rocket bails her from fighting three guards at once. She shoots anyway, and the terror it engenders in her causes her to shuffle backward until she falls into the water.

Good thing she does, because Bond is using the Blofeld sub to blow up the control center. A wide shot shows the entire rig exploding in several controlled bursts.

***

That’s the end for Blofeld, but what about Messers Kidd and Wint? They are on the same steamer as Bond and Case, and they try their hand at killing them. They pose as waiters delivering a huge feast courtesy of Whyte. Many delicious foods, and for dessert, a bombe glacee, which Mr. Kidd calls a “surprise.” Turns out the dessert has a real bomb in it!

Would you like some…arm brûlée?

Bond sniffs out Kidd’s aftershave and tricks him with his failure to know what a claret is, the fool, and kills them by setting one on fire and tying the bomb to the other.

Jokes (2/4)

The entire movie leans into joke territory, but self-aware Sean Connery keeps it this side of camp. I liked the idea that the owner of Slumber, Inc. mortuary services was named Slumber. One of the mortuary guys, in his idea of small talk, relates to Bond by saying that he, too, has a brother. Imagine that.

Setting (2/4)

Las Vegas is the setting of the primary action in Diamonds Are Forever, and you’ll see old Vegas at its height, when Fremont St. was the center of the gambling universe. Golden Nugget, The Western, Flamingo, and more all have their neon lights flashing in the car chase scene that ends in–what could be a more American location–a parking lot.

The Whyte House

The characters also venture inside, specifically Circus Circus, one of the oldest major casinos still operating, but at the time three years old. The spies are easily distracted watching the long legs of the performers dangling from the ceiling. Q is rigging slot machines while Case plays the midway games alongside children.

Blofeld’s oil rig: An oil rig is a cool place to see in a movie, but why place a base there? Few structures are more conspicuous than giant platform 100 feet off the ocean. The rig is exposed 360 degrees to air and sea attacks, and the only possible escape is using a tiny sub that a crane must gently place in the water.

The desert plays an important role in the movie, of course.

Commentary (0/2)

Diamonds Are Forever strongly implies that America is full of well-endowed women.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Just your standard objectification of women. Tiffany Case parades around in next to nothing like she gets paid by inch of decolletage.

However, this movie has two gay men in roles of power. Uh, that’s shocking for a movie in 1971, especially one with global reach and Britishness of the James Bond franchise.

Others

  • Bond travels by hovercraft.
  • How would Bond see through the water ball he uses to run to the oil rig?
  • The Whyte penthouse is all chrome interior.

Summary (24/68): 35%

Bond’s producers seemed to want to erase any trace of George Lazenby. They brought Sean Connery back, sure, but in bringing Blofeld back they changed his actor, again, even using an actor who had appeared in Connery’s previous outing.

This Blofeld did not kill Bond’s wife, nor did Bond ever marry. Diamonds might be forever, but marriage isn’t. Connery’s marriage to the Bond franchise was over, too, as the series moved on to Roger Moore. Probably for the best, as the franchise ran its course with Connery.