Across the Bond comes now to the first “bad” Bond film, in which old Sean Connery is old. While I’m loathe to say that any Bond film is a bad movie because Bond is awesome, it’s hard to defend this one very much. Xander is a bit more forgiving than I am with some of the film’s lesser aspects the movie just doesn’t live up to the hype. Of course it’s Conner and Connery is awesome even when he’s old and out of shape. I suppose that means something to.
What do you think? Is a Bond movie inherently enjoyable even though it’s not that great simply because it’s Bond?
When On Her Majesty’s Secret Service didn’t reach the anticipated heights at the box-office and George Lazenby departed the series on terrible advice from his agent, the producers abandoned all the good work they’d done in the previous film, ditching intricate character work in favour of broad humour and outlandish set-pieces, and begged Sean Connery to return, who did so only after agreeing a world record fee of £1.25m, more than the entire budget of Dr No less than ten years earlier. From a financial perspective, the plan worked: Diamonds recouped a healthy $116m against its $7m budget, compared to the $82m achieved by OHMSS on a similar outlay. Creatively, though, Diamonds is one of the few genuinely bad Bond movies, with a grievously misjudged tone and Connery turning up in body (even then, noticeably out of shape and sporting a wig better suited to J.R. Ewing) but definitely not in spirit.
The opening sequence is a painful betrayal of OHMSS‘ wrenching climax, turning Bond‘s hunt for his wife’s killer into a series of terrible jokes, with inexplicably lousy dubbing, and a tepid fight scene. Tracy isn’t mentioned by name, which turns out to be for the best: her memory would be sullied by association. After being briefly elevated by Shirley Bassey’s famous theme song, the movie continues in the same tiresome vein more or less from start to finish. There are a couple of great lines (the ‘I’m Plenty’ exchange; ‘You’ve caught me with more than my hands up’, and of course, the legendary ‘Who is your floor?’), the Bambi and Thumper fight is sexy as hell and fun to see the tables turned on the misogynistic Bond – how Connery must have loathed being kicked around by two women – and whatever the homophobic undertones, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are sleazily unsettling presences, but these are small highlights of an otherwise dreary two hours. Jill St. John’s Tiffany Case represents the first truly stupid Bond girl, Telly Savalas’ bitter snob interpretation of Blofeld is replaced by Charles Grey (who had a prominent role in You Only Live Twice just four years earlier) looking nothing like any previous incarnation of the character and dressing in drag, and the plot is a hodgepodge of stupid ideas which eventually coalesce into a bog-standard ‘hold the world to ransom’ scheme. At least it gave us cinema’s greatest ever screaming Chinaman – you’ll know him when you see him – in a hilariously bad sequence showing the power of Blofeld’s satellite to make atomic detonations look like tiny puffs of smoke. Although never confirmed, the suspicion lingers that Connery’s mind-boggling fee (estimated at just over £20m today) had a crippling effect on the budget, given how many shortcuts are taken with the effects work.
The famous blunder, where Bond‘s car enters a narrow alley leaning on one wall and emerges on the other, is ‘corrected’ in a way that shows how little thought went into making the movie work: a shot is inserted showing Bond somehow steering his car onto the other wall, which makes even less sense when you see it in action. The Las Vegas setting is also horribly handled: some fun material could have been mined from contrasting Bond‘s old-fashioned sophistication with one of the world’s sleaziest cities, yet the movie instead acts as though tacky casino floors are the height of glamour. There’s a nudge in the ribs every now and again, like Shady Tree’s lousy stand-up act, but the location was chosen to pander to US audiences and it shows. (An American, John Gavin, had even been cast as Bond before Connery agreed to come back). Bits and pieces of Fleming’s book are thrown in – the gangsters, death by mud bath, the international diamond smuggling pipeline – but without much care, leaving any serious fans wondering why the effort was made in the first place. The novel isn’t anything special by Fleming’s high standards, but contains the usual array of grotesque villains and sinister imagery, none of which comes through in the movie.
I’m struggling to think of anything else positive to say about Diamonds Are Forever – at a stretch, the fight with Peter Franks in the lift is pretty good, even if it ends on an unsatisfying comic note – which represents not only one of the worst Bond movies until Connery tried his hand again with the catastrophic Never Say Never Again (if we’re only counting official movies, it took until Die Another Day in 2002), but an opportunity missed to showBond having to come to terms with the loss of his wife and satiate his vengeful fury against Blofeld and Irma Bundt. The movie’s success led to the series adopting an ill-conceived comedic tone, with nearly any trace of its literary roots lost amid the excesses of the Roger Moore era.
The more I re-watch Diamonds are Forever the more convinced assured I am that it is my least favorite Bond film. It’s a bad Roger Moore movie starring Sean Connery, which makes it even worse. While I understand the desperate need for Connery to return to the role after OHMSS didn’t move like they wanted and Lazenby left the role, he really shouldn’t have. By this time he was far too old and he clearly came to set out of shape as his weight fluctuates dramatically throughout the film. The worst part is the absolutely careless matter with which they treat the death of Tracey Bond. Relegating such a truly impactful moment from the franchise into the opening sequence, and then completely forgetting about it is just plain insulting. I guess I understand the knee jerk reaction to take Bond back to his more successful escapades, but it really is too bad they missed this chance to develop the character more. Hell, even later Moore films dealt with Tracey’s death better, and we all know that Moore’s films avoided too much seriousness like the plague.
But it’s not just the first ten minutes that make Diamonds are Forever my least favorite Bond: it’s pretty much everything. Bond is pretty much a punch-line in this movie as is the entire plot, which revolves around a powerful laser destroying stuff from space (a plot device Bond screenwriters seem to have an unhealthy obsession with). It’s a story that makes almost no sense and is played entirely tongue-in-cheek, but that traditional wink at the audience that the Moore films have feels more like a slap in the face in this one. Everything about the film seems like an insult to the fans of the character and to Flemming’s work. The worst offender being Jill St. John’s Tiffany Case, who is beyond useless throughout the entire film and sadly heralded the onslaught of “dumb Bond girls.” She does win the award for most cleavage shown throughout a Bond film, spending most of the movie in insanely plunging neck lines until she ends up in the final action sequence in a skimpy bikini.
I think Xander is far too kind to action in the film. Pointing to the fight between Bambi and Thumper as Bond as fun negates the fact that its actually awful. There’s little to no fight and more randomly tumbling as Bond watches two women kick him in the face. Then suddenly these two athletic ninja-women fall in a pool of water and can’t fight a lick crushed under Bond’s ability to hold their heads under water. Then there’s the moon buggy chase scene, which I only refer to as an action sequence because it has moving vehicles in it. It’s possibly the most ill-conceived chase scene ever, and yet its topped in stupidity just seconds later when Bond magically changes the two wheels his car is driving as Xander detailed. I will give credit where credit is due as Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are two disturbingly evil henchman, but there so poorly used by the film that it’s barely worth it. Plus, Bond’s rampant homophobia (“One of us smells like a tarts handkerchief.”) is an odd choice as one of the only holdovers from Flemming’s literary character.
What do I like about Diamonds Are Forever? Well, there’s the title song… and then there’s the… title song. Actually, the thing that I like about Diamonds Are Forever is that despite my obvious disgust for the film as a Bond movie it’s still a Bond movie and thus, against all odds, still somehow enjoyable. When Connery steps out of his hotel window in a tux and rides on the roof of an elevator to the top floor likes its nothing out of the usual it’s still Bond and it’s still fun. They may have missed every opportunity imaginable with this one, and then gone ahead and made a bad movie to boot, but it’s still Bond.