In which James Bond is charged with infiltrating a diamond smuggling operation, which leads him to meet stylish criminal Tiffany Case – but she is only a small cog in a giant wheel turned by that Master of Malice, Blofeld (who hasn’t been killed in the opening scenes, as we all suspected.) Blofeld wants the diamonds to pay for the creation of a laser satellite that he will use to obliterate the weapons held by the superpowers and therefore in a position of supreme global power. Will James Bond let him get away with that? Of course not!
After George Lazenby refused to honour his contract to play James Bond again, the script that Richard Maibaum had almost finished for the next film had to be rewritten. For one thing, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t particularly impressed with it, and secondly, it had been planned as a revenge film, with Bond avenging the death of his beloved Tracy; with a change of cast, that just wouldn’t have worked. As luck would have it, Broccoli had a dream where his friend Howard Hughes was replaced by an impostor; and that’s how the character of Willard Whyte was born. The producers recruited American screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz to amend Maibaum’s original script, which resulted in the two writers sharing the writing credits.
The producers also had to look further afield to find their new 007. After toying with the ideas of John Gavin (of Spartacus, Psycho and Thoroughly Modern Millie fame), Burt Reynolds, Adam West (the original Batman) and Michael (Dumbledore) Gambon, they realised they needed the box-office guarantee of enticing Sean Connery back to the role. Connery demanded $1.25 million, using the money to establish his Scottish International Education Trust. This was a huge increase on Lazenby’s $100,000 and even Connery’s previous fee of $800,000.
Although Production Designer Ken Adam had been replaced for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – primarily for reasons of finance – he was welcomed back for Diamonds are Forever. Nevertheless, special effects were toned down as a result of Connery’s increased salary. Ted Moore returned as Cinematographer for the first time since Thunderball, with Bert Bates and John Holmes as Editors. For the big job, Guy Hamilton was recruited as Director for what would be his second of four Bond films, and of course, the music was once again in the capable hands of John Barry.
Diamonds are Forever was published in 1956 and was the fourth book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. It was inspired by a Sunday Times account of diamond smuggling in Sierra Leone. Using contacts, he met Sir Percy Sillitoe, the ex-head of MI5, who was working in security for De Beers, the famous diamond-trading company. The material he garnered not only provided the basis for Diamonds are Forever but also for a non-fiction book, The Diamond Smugglers, that he published the following year. Fleming wrote Diamonds are Forever at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, taking the title from an advertisement in Vogue Magazine, “A Diamond is Forever.”
I’m fairly sure that I saw this film with my schoolfriend John in a double bill with From Russia with Love at the Odeon in Aylesbury sometime in the mid-1970s. Chronologically, this was the last (i.e. the most recent) James Bond film that I saw either in the cinema or on TV until Skyfall – a gap of ignorance that made me want to do this James Bond Challenge in the first place.
Whilst the book and the film share many similar themes and plotlines, they also diverge in many areas. Like the film, the book deals with a diamond smuggler by name of Peter Franks, whom Bond impersonates to infiltrate the smuggling gang. He meets Tiffany Case, who is part of the smuggling chain; she leads Bond/Franks to the smugglers HQ; Shady Tree, another smuggler, also appears in both book and film. However, in the book, the mastermind behind the smuggling gang is the Spangled Mob, run by the ruthless brothers Jack and Seraffimo Spang. In the film, the Spangs have been replaced by Blofeld; whether he’s working independently of SPECTRE or not is uncertain. In the book, the Spangs’ henchmen Mr Wint and Mr Kidd carry out – or attempt to carry out – a few personal atrocities, whereas in the film, they perform most of the gangland murders even though they are never directly associated with Blofeld.
The book received largely – though not exclusively – good reviews. The Times Literary Supplement said it was Fleming’s “weakest book, a heavily padded story about diamond smuggling”, and the Sunday Times described it as: “about the nicest piece of book-making in this type of literature which I have seen for a long time”. The New York Times praised “Mr. Fleming’s handling of American and Americans”, although he felt that “the narrative is loose-jointed and weakly resolved”. The film also scored mixed reviews, with virtually all commentators approving the exciting car chase scenes, but with criticism of the performances of Jill St John (“one of the least effective Bond girls – beautiful, but shrill and helpless” according to Filmcritic.com) and Putter Smith and Bruce Glover (“looking and acting like a couple of pseudo-country bumpkins, [they] seem to have wandered by accident from the adjoining sound stage into the filming of this movie” according to Steve Rhodes.) Wint and Kidd, and Bambi and Thumper have been called the worst and second worst Bond villains of all time. The Guardian, however, described it as “oddly brilliant, the best of the bunch: the perfect bleary Bond film for an imperfect bleary western world”.
It’ll come as no surprise that the opening credits begin, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Last time it was George Lazenby of course, and this time it’s back to Sean Connery – and the background white colour has now become blue. Fortunately, there’s a new arrangement for the James Bond Theme, using an electric guitar, and not that disappointingly easy listening version used in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
We start off with something of a world tour. We begin in Japan, where Bond threatens an unnamed henchman with some proper violence unless he tells him where Blofeld is – answer, Cairo; then we visit a casino in Cairo, where the same question is asked of a befezzed gambler – answer, ask Marie. For those first two scenes, you don’t see Bond’s face – so is it Connery or Lazenby? Then Connery appears, meeting a pretty girl (presumably Marie) on a beach somewhere else and makes to strangle her with her bra unless she spills the beans on Blofeld. Finally, Bond tracks down Blofeld in a laboratory where they are creating a second version of the evil mastermind. There’s a fight and a struggle and Blofeld gets swallowed up in a mudpool and left to drown. Or does he……?
Cut to Blofeld’s cat, looking most peeved at the apparent death of his master. Here’s an interesting fact you won’t find anywhere else. The lady who owned that cat – and indeed she was a worldwide cat expert who judged on major cat shows throughout the world over several decades – was admitted to the same dementia care home as my mother. You heard it here first.
Anyway, back to the film. And it’s the credits, and Shirley Bassey’s performance of Diamonds are Forever, wisely using the title of the film and book as the title of the film, something that wasn’t an option with OHMSS. Like Thunderball, the lyrics to Diamonds are Forever were written by Don Black. Binder’s title sequence calls for a view after view of dripping diamonds, which after a short while becomes slightly less than interesting. Luckily, there are a few shots of barely hidden bosoms to perk the credits up. But I would suggest this is possibly the least creative title sequence in the series so far.
And the locations? The first location of any interest is Amsterdam – with plenty of typical tourist views which reminded me of the opening sequences of Van der Valk. The scene then shifts to Nevada, and Las Vegas, primarily designed to appeal to the American audience. Many of the Las Vegas scenes take place in Circus Circus, a larger than life setting for a large than life character and story. There are also a few glimpses of Dover; Blofeld’s oil rig home was off the coast of California, and the attractive lift in which Bond and Franks fight as filmed at 107 Fleet Street, London, now a suite of serviced offices. And the garden scene where Bond gives Tiffany a thwack across the chops was filmed in the Palm Springs house belonging to the late Kirk Douglas.
Bond, James Bond. Once again, those are Bond’s first words in this film (well, almost: “My name is Bond, James Bond”) – spoken in the credits sequence. If it seems like James Bond looks considerably more mature in this film than the previous time we saw Connery in the role, remember it has been four years since You Only Live Twice. In that period Sean Connery had appeared in several other movies and had aged from 37 to 41 and I think it shows. Mind you, he did say he hardly got to sleep when they were filming in Las Vegas – he played golf every day, saw all the shows every evening and did all the filming during the wee small hours of the morning. That would be enough to tax the strength of Superman.
Boo-boos. One of the best boo-boos comes in one of the film’s most celebrated scenes – when the Ford Mustang rolls through the alleyway on two wheels. Unfortunately for continuity, the two wheels that it enters the alleyway on are not the same two wheels it’s using on its exit! Also, all the people standing outside the Golden Nugget Saloon whilst the car chase is proceeding are clearly just standing there and watching what’s going on rather than going about their daily lives – and a minute or two later, there’s hardly anyone on the streets. When Tiffany comes out of her flat to observe the fight between Bond and Franks, she comes a couple of feet forward to see what’s going on but in the next shot she’s back in the doorframe – without enough time to have got back there. When Bond approaches Tiffany in the Whyte House hotel room apparently naked, the camera just manages to catch the top of his flesh coloured undies.
The Bond Girl. At one stage, I thought Plenty O’Toole would turn out to be the Bond Girl in this movie. But no, she just appears for a couple of short scenes, where she shows herself to be completely eaten up by a lust for money which soon leads to her death. Maybe the fact that, during the filming, Sean Connery and Lana Wood, who plays Plenty, were having a relationship, adds to their brief, but distinct, on camera chemistry. Lana Wood, the sister of Natalie Wood, has been married six times, the longest being to Husband Number Five which lasted four years. She was already an established actress at the time of filming, with a long run in TV’s Peyton Place under her belt. TV and film work dried up in the mid-1980s, with just a few roles since then. Much of her life has been devoted to clearing up the circumstances surrounding her sister’s death.
But the title of Bond Girl for this film definitely goes to Tiffany Case, played by Jill St John, the first American to take this title. Tiffany is possibly the most actively criminal of the Bond Girls so far, but that doesn’t seem to stop either of them from getting it on. She’s elegant, reckless, daring; but also, when it comes to replacing the lethal cassette tape that makes or breaks Blofeld’s wicked schemes, a bit ham-fisted and stupid. Possibly because she was also dating Sean Connery, and also because later she married Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood’s widower, she has carried out a longstanding public feud with her co-Bond Girl, Lana Wood. Whilst Jill St John had a successful Hollywood career, she largely gave it all up in 1972 to concentrate on her homelife.
What Bond Girls Are Like. Apart from the Japanese heritage that sets You Only Live Twice’s Kissy apart from the rest of the Girls, our currently agreed list of attributes common to the Bond Girls is: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional, scary, vengeful and bossy. How well does Tiffany conform to the role? Fairly well on the whole, although perhaps she’s a little more human than most, as she is prone to getting things wrong from time to time, and seems genuinely alarmed when Bond and Franks fight in the lift.
The Villain. Once again Blofeld is back, this time seemingly without the backing of SPECTRE, but no less lethal as a result. In fact, there are several Blofelds as part of the plot was to create lookalike Blofelds to make it even more difficult to assassinate the real one – and at least two of the false Blofelds die in this film. He’s played by Charles Gray, who, interestingly, had played Dikko Henderson in You Only Live Twice – changing sides from the goodies to the baddies. Gray had enjoyed a long and successful film career from the late 1950s up to his death in 2000. Writer Tom Mankiewicz described his performance as a much more “fussy” Blofeld than the other actors to perform the role – and it’s a very interesting characterisation. Blofeld actually only appears in three of the Fleming novels – Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice; and, apart from in the pre-credits for For Your Eyes Only, this would be his last appearance in a James Bond movie.
Other memorable characters? By far the most intriguing among the rest of the cast is the weird and wilful double act of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, played by Bruce Glover and Putter Smith. Hinting at a homosexual relationship between the two, they’re always together as each other’s right-hand man, so to speak. If someone needs bumping off, or if something needs stealing, they’re the men for the job, One assumes that they’re working for Blofeld, but it’s never made absolutely clear; maybe that’s because, as far as the plot is concerned, they are remnants of the Spangled Mob plotline, which was removed for the purposes of the film. As a result, their position in the crime family tree of this film is always undefined. Whilst some critics (see earlier) didn’t rate their performances, personally I find them very unsettlingly creepy. Mankiewicz described them as “vicious, but funny vicious”.
Bruce Glover also had a very long and successful career as a movie actor over five decades; now aged 87, he has carried on working right up to the last few years. Putter Smith was better known as a jazz musician; in fact, he was playing with Thelonious Monk at a club in Los Angeles when he was spotted by Guy Hamilton and approached to play the role. He’s worked with all the Greats; and in the pop world, he’s been a session musician with The Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers and Sonny and Cher. He’s still going strong at the age of 79. There is a story that Sean Connery believed both actors were gay, as per their roles, and they did nothing to disabuse him of this assumption, until one day Connery met Glover on a flight and observed Glover chatting up all the air hostesses – that’s when he realised he’d been had.
Friendly CIA Agent Felix Leiter makes a return to the world of Bond, this time acted by Norman Burton, who had a long film career working from the 50s to the 90s. As the name suggests, this version of Leiter feels a little lighter than other incarnations, providing a few humorous moments (“I’ve got 30 agents down there, a mouse with sneakers couldn’t get through”) whilst supporting Bond’s work. Norman Burton died in 2003.
Other interesting characters include the tetchy Dr Metz, a top scientist working for Blofeld, played by Joseph Furst, an Austrian who emigrated to Australia in the 1970s and ended up acting in soap operas there; Morton Slumber, the slimy undertaker who’s part of the smuggling gang, played by David Bauer, an American who emigrated to Britain because of McCarthyism and who died rather young in 1973; and Shady Tree, the stand-up comedian working in Whyte’s Las Vegas club who’s also part of the smuggling gang, played by Leonard Barr, who was indeed a stand-up comic as well as an actor and who was Dean Martin’s uncle. Not mentioned in the credits is a young David Healy, as the rocket launch director, whose accomplishments ranged from voicing Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, through comedy appearances with Dick Emery and Kenny Everett, to a show-stopping performance as Nicely Nicely Johnson in the National Theatre’s award-winning 1980s revival of Guys and Dolls. And, of course, there’s Bambi and Thumper, two Bond-girl wannabes who just end up trying to kill our hero. They were played by Lola Larson and Trina Parks. Whilst Lola Larson hasn’t done much acting since, Trina Parks, primarily a dancer, has been in a number of movies, and holds the accolade of being the first African-American female in a Bond film.
As usual, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. Moneypenny only appears in one, brief, scene at Dover Customs; apparently Lois Maxwell had dyed her hair for another role, hence she wears a cap to disguise it. Initially she wasn’t written into the film at all, as she was asking for more money and the producers weren’t keen – but in the end that was resolved. M gives Bond his task for this film – but then, unusually, we never go back to him. Normally, at some point in a Bond film, 007 would report back to him, or we would hear that M is either satisfied or dissatisfied with Bond’s performance – but not this time. Instead, we meet Q a few times, out in the field, including a very funny scene where he empties all the one-arm bandits in the casino due to an amazing gadget. What a clever chap he is.
And what about the music? As always, the film starts with the main James Bond Theme, in a nice, crisp guitar arrangement, written by Monty Norman; after that, it’s mainly all John Barry, apart from a brass version of the Norman theme when the Hovercraft leaves Dover, and when we see Bond and Tiffany relaxing on the liner at the end, when the Norman theme returns. In addition to the iconic performance by Shirley Bassey of the title track, there’s a luscious loungey arrangement of the tune when Bond first encounters Tiffany in her flat – entitled Diamonds are Forever (Source Instrumental) on the soundtrack album. There’s also a very cutesy arrangement of Monty Norman’s theme for the scene where Bond encounters Bambi and Thumper. All in all, it’s not a bad soundtrack, although you probably wouldn’t spend an evening unwinding to it.
Shirley Bassey’s recording of Diamonds are Forever reached 38 in the UK chart in 1972, although she was never really a singles recording artist. According to Wikipedia, so it must be true, John Barry told her to imagine that she was singing about a penis when she recorded the song. Make of that what you will.
Car chases. You have to wait a while before the film enters car chase mode, but once there it doesn’t let up until you’re thoroughly entertained. Basically there are two scenes – one, where a green security car, plus security officers on quad bikes, chase around what appears to be the surface of the moon – at the Tectonics research laboratory; and one where cops chase Bond and Tiffany around the centre of Las Vegas and the Mint Hotel parking lot – which includes the famous two-wheeled alleyway roll. The producers entered into an arrangement with Ford to use their cars as so many would get destroyed during the making of the film. Their only stipulation was that Sean Connery was to drive the iconic Ford Mustang that in the film belonged to Tiffany. The reason? It had just entered the market and there could be no greater advertising endorsement than that of James Bond!
Cocktails and Casinos. Part of the opening credits includes a quick casino scene in Cairo, where a man in a fez is attacked by Bond looking for Blofeld; then there are two more Las Vegas casino scenes, the first where Bond goes to see Shady Tree’s show, and one situated inside Circus Circus, where Tiffany goes hunting for diamonds. No cocktails are poured in this film; although Bond does appreciate the sherry with Sir Magnus based on an 1851 vintage. It’s a Chateau Mouton Rothschild that contributes to the death of Mr Kidd at the end of the movie.
Gadgets. Q’s on good form in this film. He’s already furnished Bond with a kind of mousetrap contraption that fits inside his jacket pocket and punishes anyone looking in there for something; and he’s provided Bond with a Franks’ fingerprints on a sticky piece of film that goes over his own fingerprints. He really does think of everything. Then there’s the gun that shoots cable – invaluable for scaling the outside of buildings, the speech gadget that makes Bond sound like Saxby (after all, Blofeld has a gadget – made by those nice people at Tectronics – that makes him sound like Whyte) and a cunning corkscrew. And, of course, Q’s favourite invention, an electromagnetic RPM controller – the widget that allows him to make a fortune on the fruit machines in the casino.
In Memoriam. Time for a quick countback. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 as well as all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40 stiffs; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox; Thunderball hit a peak of around 50 people; You Only Live Twice was going really well until a mass murder spree towards the end took about 40 lives, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service took out about 20 people only, including the longest wait until someone dies. But what about Diamonds are Forever’s death count? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Tiffany can enjoy the last days of their leisure cruise:
- Henchman in the grass outside Blofeld’s claying laboratory (presumably killed by Bond so that he could gain entrance)
- Clayed person in the vat
- Henchman, killed by Bond throwing knives at him
- Someone pretending to be Blofeld
- Dentist, killed by a scorpion down the neck
- Helicopter pilot given a bomb to take on board by Wint and Kidd
- Miss Whistler
- A guard (in absentia) killed by Peter Franks so that he could escape
- Peter Franks, whopped over the head by a fire extinguisher so he toppled over a balustrade to his death (covered in fire extinguisher foam)
- Shady Tree
- Plenty O’Toole, drowned in the swimming pool
- Another person pretending to be Blofeld, shot by Bond when he identifies the “wrong pussy”.
- An untold number of people at the missile area in North Dakota
- An untold number of people on the submarine
- Lots of Chinese people
- 2 of Blofeld’s henchmen
- Four people in another helicopter
- 2 more of the henchmen
- And the crew of another helicopter
- Four on a bridge
- Everyone on the platform
- Blofeld (one presumes)
- Wint and Kidd, flambéd, bombed and drowned.
That’s probably in the region of 70-100 people? That could be the highest toll in a Bond movie so far. Plenty of work for Mr Slumber’s funeral parlour if he’s looking for business.
Humour to offset the death count. In previous films, Bond’s classic asides are normally delivered whenever someone dies. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service started the trend towards funny lines in other circumstances too, and this continues in Diamonds are Forever. In fact, the funny lines in this film mainly involve sexual encounters. Here are some of his best bon mots:
To Marie, in the opening credits, where he whips off her bra: “there’s something I’d like you to get off your chest”.
To Leiter, explaining where the diamonds are stored in Franks’s body: “Alimentary, my dear Leiter”.
Tiffany, eyeing up the naked Bond: “there’s a lot more to you than I expected”.
Later when the naked Bond rolls over on top of the naked Tiffany, he quips, “relax, darling, I’m on top of the situation”. And when Tiffany assures Leiter that she is “co-operating”, Bond confirms, “I can vouch for that.”
When Bond kicks Blofeld’s cat and it leaps into the arms of its owner, Bond sees that as the definition of the correct Blofeld to kill. But no. “Right idea, Mr Bond”. “But wrong pussy”.
When Bond tucks the C90 cassette into Tiffany’s bikini panties: “Your problems are all behind you now”.
When Bond ties the bomb to the back of Mr Wint’s trousers: “He certainly left with his tail between his legs”.
Any less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. And to be fair, there’s nothing like the usual amount of sexism. Perhaps that’s because Bond doesn’t take advantage of the female characters as much as in other films – and in many respects, they take advantage of him. It’s quite interesting to watch the battle of the sexes more evened up than usual.
Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.
Bond on the Moon? In 1971 the US (and indeed the world) was still rocket-crazy with Apollo missions happening left right and centre, so Bond driving a Moon Buggy very much tapped into the Zeitgeist. Those people who thought the moon landings were staged thought that the site where this was filmed was the site where the landings were faked. So you could say that the whole buggy scene is something of a satirical nod to that conspiracy theory.
How lovely to see a hovercraft in action again! In 1971 they were (literally) a hot ticket and a very popular method of travel from the UK to mainland Europe. Such a shame that they are no longer commercially used. Such a great invention. I wonder if they’ll ever come back. It would be great if we were to discover that they’re more environmentally friendly.
Apparently, Sammy Davis Jr filmed a cameo role in a casino but the scene was deleted. Shame!
To sum up: A thoroughly enjoyable James Bond film, filled with interesting characters, a good solid story, some terrific car chases, a top theme title and lots of fun. What’s not to like? This would be the last time Sean Connery played Bond for Broccoli and Saltzman, and he would return only once more, in Never Say Never Again, but for a different production company. Diamonds are Forever was the last Bond movie I saw until Skyfall – so I’m looking forward to catching the next film, Live and Let Die, so I can finally discover what Roger Moore was like in the role!
My rating: 5 Sparkles
All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.