Saturday, January 10, 2015

Diamonds Are Forever - 1971

Background: the luke warm reception of audiences to George Lazenby as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and the decision of the actor himself to not play the role again (he was advised by his then agent that the concept was old and tired and not destined for a particularly long life cinematically, he later admitted he should have disregarded the advice) Broccoli and Saltzman were in a bit of disarray. Peter Hunt couldn't direct again (thankfully in my opinion) so they offered that to Guy Hamilton, a good move.

Broccoli and Saltzman started the search for a new Bond. They were very advanced in talks with John Gavin. Batman actor Adam West was apparently considered, although I don't believe this was serious. He said in his autobiography that he turned it down because Bond should be played by an Englishman, this is despite the fact that to date the role had been played by a Scot and an Australian.

While Broccoli and Saltzman were doing that, David Picker was going after Sean Connery again. The sweeteners Picker offered the Scottish actor (a 1.25 million pound salary, a record at the time, a percentage of the gross, and a 2 picture deal over which he had creative carte blanche) convinced him to return to the role that had made him famous. Eon were less than thrilled, not because they didn't want to work with Sean Connery again, but because it was a one picture deal and following that they'd be back to square one.

Kevin McClory won a court battle which saw him gain ownership of SPECTRE (apparently his idea in the Thunderball film script that he and Whittingham started with Fleming) and Blofeld, so this altered the plans of the Bond people as regarded the future of the organisation and it's leader and Cubby Broccoli also had a dream which necessitated the creation of the Willard Whyte character, and in my opinion, unnecessarily confused the whole thing.

It's filmed in and around Las Vegas in what is clearly a grab for American audiences, something that Broccoli and Saltzman seemed to be greatly concerned with at this time.

Filming in the world's gambling capital had it's own concerns, they were able to shut down Fremont St for a time to film a stunt, which tells you how much pull the movies had by this stage. The Broccoli's had their room burgled during the making of the film and arrived back the following day to find two large, business suited men outside the door, they were courtesy of Mr Hughes (Broccoli's billionaire friend) and ensured that no one else disturbed their employer's friend.

With that background it's probably not surprising that Diamonds Are Forever isn't the best film in the franchise.

Story: I've seen the film a number of times and to be honest I still don't really understand a lot of it. Bond spends much of the time impersonating diamond smuggler Peter Franks, which is confusing, especially after he kills Franks and makes it look like he's Bond. Judging by the reaction of fellow diamond smuggler Tiffany Case to the fact that 'Franks' killed 'Bond' the spy is rather well known in criminal circles. Yet another reason why in reality James Bond would be an awful spy.

Most of the action centres around the possession of a quantity of diamonds and how nearly everyone who comes in contact with them winds up dead. There are two sets of people that want the diamonds. One is headed up by Blofeld, who wants to use them in a sort of doomsday device and the other is the duo of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, two quirky, gay diamond smugglers, who are working for themselves and kill anyone who gets between them and their diamonds.

Reclusive, kidnapped billionaire Willard Whyte (based on Broccoli's friend Howard Hughes) just adds another layer of complexity to something that is already a bit of a mess and really an excuse for plenty of action from a well known character popular with audiences.

There's also one of the more ridiculous chases I've ever seen when Bond takes off into the desert in a moon buggy designed for space exploration, with bad guys mounted on motorised three wheelers with big fat wheels in pursuit.

The whole mess ends with Bond attacking Blofeld's oil rig base and foiling the mastermind's plot. Although Blofeld isn't killed, he does escape on a submersible and possibly audiences were meant to think he did. Due to McClory's legal win the films haven't used Blofeld or SPECTRE since, although there was a scene at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only that is widely believed to show Blofeld's final demise, but neither the name of the villain or the organisation he headed up are used. Eon may have regained the rights, because the upcoming Bond film (the 24th in the franchise) is called SPECTRE.

In keeping with the endings of the films, Bond and Tiffany wind up on a boat, a cruise ship this time, and it's a nice neat ending in that Mr Wint and Mr Kidd meet their untimely demise.


Director: Peter Hunt was initially offered directorial duties on this one, but his schedule didn't permit it and Eon weren't prepared to alter shooting to accommodate him. Guy Hamilton returned. The initial idea behind this one which featured Auric Goldfinger's twin seeking revenge against Bond may have attracted Hamilton, but whatever it was it was a welcome return. Hamilton knows how to do over the top action that's exactly what Diamonds Are Forever is. It also features an early car chase and that shows exactly how far things had come since Goldfinger, which could have only dreamt of a sequence like that. He's also quite assured and makes even the silly look relatively plausible.

James Bond: Connery returned, but he really made David Picker jump through hoops. It was 5 years between films for Connery, and it did show. He'd been losing his hair as early as Thunderball and he's obviously wearing a rug in this, he's also put on weight. However he seemed to do better fight scenes, the one between Whyte's female guards Bambi and Thumper is a stand out, and he'd developed better delivery of a line, although it's still not a strength. It was a solid, if unspectacular performance, and did show how far Lazenby had been off the mark in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld: now I found this casting truly bizarre and inexplicable. For the 3rd time in as many films the criminal mastermind is portrayed by a different actor. The films had established Blofeld's baldness as part of his appearance, so they cast Charles Gray, an actor with a full head of snowy white hair. Adding to the weirdness was the fact that Gray had also played Dikko Henderson in You Only Live Twice and didn't look at all different. He tried his hardest, but it was really hard for anyone to get past how incredibly wrong he was physically for the role.

Peripheral roles: the regulars in Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewellyn returned for Diamonds Are Forever. M seems to have become grumpier over time, although he was delighted to have found a subject in diamonds in which 007 is not the font of all knowledge. Moneypenny's role was miniscule, she appears very briefly in disguise as a customs agent when Bond assumes the Franks role. One reason for this was because Lois Maxwell had dyed her hair black for another role and they were able to hide it under the cap of her uniform. Q also isn't featured much, he does have a nice comedic role in the casino where he's using one of his devices to get the slot machines to pay out. I thought it was rather cute that Tiffany referred to him as Mr Q.

Mr Wint and Mr Kidd: they always appear together so I have to mention them together. Bruce Glover, who plays Mr Wint is a character actor and Putter Smith, who plays Mr Kidd is better known as a jazz musician, so that in itself was out of left field casting. They work, oddly enough, though. They were a brave inclusion for the time, not just because they're odd looking and quirky, but because they're clearly a couple, not something that got much cover in the early '70's. People assume that they're Blofeld's henchmen, but to me they were very much in it for themselves and working autonomously.

Willard Whyte: Jimmy Dean played a thinly veiled camped up version of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. The character was only included, and required a reworking of the script, when Cubby Broccoli had a dream involving his friend Howard Hughes. Hamilton seemed to like working with redneck American types, that's how Dean plays Whyte. The actor was rather concerned, because he was working at the Desert Inn at the time and that was owned by Hughes.

Bambi and Thumper: just like with Mr Wint and Mr Kidd they go together. They're guarding Willard Whyte for Blofeld and Bond finds himself in quite a brutal fight with them, where they double team him and kick his backside until they unwisely take the battle into the pool, water is Bond's element and that gives him the upper hand. Bambi was Lola Larson and Trina Parks portrayed Thumper. Trina Parks is a dancer and choreographer and it's same to assume that Lola Larson has a similar background given the way they fought Bond.

Felix Leiter: I honestly don't know why it's so hard to get this role right, but they so rarely manage it. Norman Burton was again entirely wrong. He looks like a shorter version of Richard Kind and plays the role that way. Just everything about him went against what they'd attempted to establish with Jack Lord, Cec Linder and Rik Van Nutter. They really should have cut the character or given him another name. It was just wrong on nearly every level I can think of.

Plenty O'Toole: Natalie Wood's younger sister Lana played the casino haunting gold digger. I'm convinced she was cast and given the name due to a joke the scriptwriter wanted to give Sean Connery, it is one of his best jokes, though. She sidles up to Bond when he's playing craps (that in itself is odd, he nearly always plays cards, generally banco) and brightly introduces herself as Plenty. Bond takes one look at her generous and impressive cleavage and says: 'Of course you are!'. Undeterred she gives her full name as Plenty O'Toole, to which Bond dryly replies: 'Named after your father perhaps?' It may not be entirely coincidental that the role went to Lana Wood as she was the sister-in-law of one of Cubby Broccoli's friends in Robert Wagner.

Tiffany Case: Jill St John was the first genuine redhead (Diana Rigg's hair is not red) and the first American to play a Bond girl. The name ,while really stupid for a character, especially a diamond smuggler, is typical Fleming. St John had been acting since 1958 and did a few roles after, but is best known for this one. Raquel Welch (again), Faye Dunaway (again) and Jane Fonda were all considered. I would have liked to see Fonda, she could have done a lot with it. St John was also very close friends with Robert Wagner. Broccoli in particular seems to have liked getting his friends and friends of friends jobs in his films. Tiffany was played as window dressing and she's almost entirely unnecessary. I still don't understand why Blofeld took her with him instead of simply killing her off.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: Jill St John is very typical of many Bond girls and largely why so many of them don't go on to great things. She was a very limited actress and was often cast purely on her looks. Later on her friendship and marriage to Robert Wagner got her roles. Despite having a long list of credits, she's best known for the role of Tiffany and she's one of the least impressive Bond girls. Personally she's done well for herself having been married to Wagner since 1990.

The pre credit sequence: this one follows directly on from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with a vengeance seeking Bond storming across the globe and heavying all and sundry for information on the whereabouts of Blofeld, usually with the hissed question: 'Where is he? Where's Blofeld?' He eventually catches up with him, and for some reason he looks like Charles Gray, and tips him into a pool of boiling mud. It is then revealed after Bond leaves that Blofeld has managed to clone himself. It was rather good that they shelved the character after this because it was really becoming laughably stupid.

Gadgets: strangely, for a Bond film directed by Guy Hamilton, there isn't much in the way of gadgets. The only thing that really qualifies is Q's slot machine ring, which doesn't save Bond's life and isn't even used by him. It's mostly played for laughs.

Music: they went back to Shirley Bassey for title song. Initally I didn't like it, but it's grown on me over time. I still prefer Goldfinger, but Diamonds Are Forever isn't entirely without merit, and it was sampled wonderfully by Kanye West for Diamonds From Sierra Leone. Harry Saltzman hated it, largely due to the sexual innuendo of the song, but Saltzman's musical tastes seem to leave a lot to be desired.

James Bond will return in Live and Let Die.

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