Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wildly Erratic, Sean Connery Returns In Diamonds Are Forever!

The Good: Decent pacing, Engaging reversals and plot development.
The Bad: Special effects/fight sequence editing, A particularly lame Bond girl in the form of Plenty O’Toole, Lack of character development, Dumb quips, Mediocre editing.
The Basics: Sean Connery comes back as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever which pits Bond against Blofeld and a whole diamond smuggling conspiracy.

When I was young, I went through a James Bond phase. At that time, I watched all the Bond movies I could get my hands on via the local library system. It was the age of VHS and I was young and I don’t know how much attention I paid to them because watching them now, I find myself stymied. Was I ever so young that I might love those films?! My James Bond phase was truncated by my personal discovery of Star Trek and I guess I remained there afterward. Now, as a reviewer, I’ve been going through the James Bond library and today I watched Diamonds Are Forever. Diamonds Are Forever was one of the movies I missed when I was in my James Bond phase.

As an adult, I can safely say I wasn’t missing much. Diamonds Are Forever is not (by far) the worst Bond film in the series. However, it is one of the most inconsistent. It has a rocky beginning marred horribly by absolutely cheesy special effects (the blood is terrible) and it develops into one of the worst-performed Bond films (Lana Wood is terrible as Plenty O’Toole). But then, somewhere in the middle, Diamonds Are Forever actually gets good. The reversals are exciting and the movie becomes watchable and tense with a plot that develops and unfolds in a clever-enough way to actually engage the viewer. But then, late in the film, Diamonds Are Forever turns again with the addition of more absurd assassins and sequences and a female sidekick that is shamefully presented for a woman in a movie from 1971. Still, Diamonds Are Forever is a James Bond film that has a pretty typical Bond sense of progression on the plot front and the characteristic lack of character development for the protagonist.

Opening with James Bond hunting the world round for Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He corners and apparently kills him in a volcano lair. Bond is then brought back to headquarters where he is given a background on diamonds and South African diamond mining. The corrupt workers in South Africa smuggle diamonds out, but now two goons Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are knocking off smugglers and stockpiling the diamonds. Bond is assigned to find out who is stockpiling the diamonds and thus secure the diamond market. Bond assumes the identity of Peter Franks and meets with Tiffany Case, who is smuggling diamonds and wants him to move a large shipment into the United States. When the real Peter Franks breaks out of prison, Bond must dispose of him to maintain his cover.

In exposing the diamond smuggling operation, Bond as Franks must enlist the aid of Felix Leiter to avoid cremation, bad puns and double crosses from a lousy comic who is in on the smuggling, Kidd and Wint. In tracing the diamond smugglers to the Las Vegas recluse Willard Whyte and his hotel/casino, Bond is reunited with Tiffany Case and the real power behind the smuggling ring. With Bond imperiled and the world’s nuclear arsenal being systematically destroyed from space, Felix, Bond and Case work to thwart the plans of an evil genius.

Diamonds Are Forever has Sean Connery returning to the role of James Bond with little fanfare and no acknowledgment of his return. On the character front, this works in that it allows Connery to take the role back from George Lazenby on the assumption (supported in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) that the code name James Bond is used on multiple MI-6 agents, without acknowledging or addressing at all that Bond’s wife (not from a mission) was killed at the climax of the last film. What the film leaves completely unanswered it the idea that even this version of Bond was recently married and there was no on-screen resolution to the relationship (yet). Diamonds Are Forever picks up as if there was no prior story to James Bond, save that he is obsessed with finding Blofeld and that obsession is never explained or elaborated upon.

The women in Diamonds Are Forever are almost universally presented as if they received their lines about five minutes before their scenes were filmed. For Tiffany Case and Plenty O’Toole, there is almost no resonance for the characters; they seem like actresses playing characters they are entirely unsure of. Despite how terrible their characters are, Bambi and Thumper at least seem to know what they are doing as they attack James Bond in Las Vegas. Rather horribly, though, they do not help the status of women in the movie as they are universally violent and one is unpleasantly masculine. Thumper and Bambi also serve to undermine the character of James Bond as he stands at a distance watching and waiting for the women to go through backflips and the like until they get into range to hit him. Given that, early in the movie, he strangles a woman with her own top and smacks around at least one other woman, there is nothing chivalric about him waiting around to be attacked by Thumper and Bambi.

Diamonds Are Forever actually has one of the better plots for a Bond film. While the fundamental villain reversal are entirely passé and the technique of having Blofeld duplicating his appearance is somewhat ridiculous, the film actually progresses well. Bond is given a chance to move forward after his vengeance against Blodfeld is satisfied (though there is no catharsis or reflection for Bond following him putting down his long-fought villain) and the mission in tracking the diamonds allows him to move forward in a substantive way. The simple diamond smuggling turns into a beautifully over-the-top scheme for world domination and that is more development than many of the Bond films (which start with an objective and end with the same thing).

Ultimately, Diamonds Are Forever is far too erratic in form and performance to be worth adding to one’s permanent collection, but it is a fair James Bond movie. On two-disc DVD or Blu-Ray, Diamonds Are Forever comes loaded with a commentary track and multiple featurettes on the movie, none of which improve the editing of the film to make the fight sequences less cheesy or the line deliveries better. Still, it’s a fun film, though objectively it has a lot working against it.

For other James Bond films, please check out my reviews of:
Dr. No
From Russia With Love
You Only Live Twice
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Die Another Day
Casino Royale
Quantum Of Solace


For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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