Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1971)

7. Diamonds are Forever

George Lazenby’s sudden departure from the James Bond series left the long-running franchise in a lurch. Lazenby was supposed to be the next Bond. Desperate, Eon Productions set out on a search for the next-next Bond. After a few actors were considered, including the most bizarre choice of Adam West, the money people demanded the return of Sean Connery. During “You Only Live Twice,” the actor said he would never play the famous spy again. After a promised 1.25 million dollar paycheck, a record at the time, he changed his mind. Connery’s reappearance was only the first indicator that the producers were looking to recreate the success of the sixties Bond series as the seventies dawned.

James Bond’s quest of rip-roaring revenge against Blofeld concludes with the villain’s apparent death. That matter seemingly settled, MI6 assigns Bond to investigate a diamond smuggling ring, where many of those involved are suddenly ending up dead. Assuming the identity of one of the smugglers, Bond follows the trail through France, Holland, a funeral home, a science lab, up to a mysterious casino owner in Las Vegas. Britain’s greatest spy discovers that Blofeld is not so dead after all and the stolen diamonds are only one step in the madman’s latest plan to hold the world hostage.

Harry Saltzman and Albery Broccoli were eager to recreate the success of Bond’s earlier adventure, most specifically “Goldfinger.” Connery was back. A plot focused on a precious resource was back. Director Guy Hamilton was back. Even Shirley Bassey was back to sing the theme song. Bassey’s theme song has the singer alternating between a more sensual tone and her usual operatic heights. It’s a catchy, fun number, powered by a slinky synth boogie, and features some amusing, suggestive lyrics. As for Maurice Binder’s opening, close-ups of diamonds and Blofeld’s famous white cat appear alongside the silhouetted nudes, set against a cool blue background. It’s a good, not great, opening and a step back from the excellency of the last one.

Considering they had to roll a dump truck full of money up to his house to get him back, how does Sean Connery do in his last outing as the secret agent? The actor is noticeably older, with more lines on his face and more leathery skin. During a handful of moments, Connery seems to have his old spirit back. The man can still work a one-liner like nobody’s business. The actor appears to be having fun when joking around with M or making out with beautiful women. Too often though, Connery looks bored. The physicality that characterized his fight scenes in the first five movies is mostly absent. Many of the plot reveals are met with resignation, not surprise. The film never says as much but we can assume Bond’s quest of revenge against Blofeld is motivated by the murder of Tracy, seen in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” None of the passion or anger you’d expect from that motive is seen. Connery is clearly only in it for the money.

Another major problem facing “Diamonds are Forever” is a needlessly convoluted plot. The diamond smuggling ring has, count ‘em, ten different links. The film takes the time to established each one. Bond enters the path by meeting up with Tiffany Case in France. He replaces the real diamonds with fakes, sneaks them into the US, drops them off at the funeral home, doubles back to the casino, finds a cheesy stand-up comic, and finally tracks them to a science lab. That’s a lot for an audience to keep track of and the film doesn’t economically juggle the multiple plot lines. All of this is before Bond, and the audience, discovers that the complex diamond smuggling plot is only a means-to-an-end for Blofeld’s latest fiendish plot. Was it really necessary for the movie to go through all that just to get a diamond-tipped death ray?

Contrasting with the grounded tone of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” “Diamonds are Forever” goes far in the other direction. Concluding the movie with a satellite and a laser beam is only its most evident excess. Considering most of the story is set in Las Vegas, the most excessive city in the world, maybe that’s fair. However, “Diamonds are Forever” takes the series to then-unseen levels of ridiculousness. A brief stop into the Circus Circus Casino has a man in a gorilla suit and an elephant playing a slot machine. Bond sneaks into the science center via a co-worker’s stupidity. The sequence concludes with Bond leaping in a moon buggy and swatting people aside with the machine’s robot arms. Despite the buggy being relatively slow, none of the pursuers are able to catch him. Afterwards, he leaps onto a silly dirt bike, continuing the chase. Later on, Bond escapes a sparking cleaning device in a tight tunnel but not after befriending a rat. All of this shit is way too silly.

Connery’s clear boredom and the movie’s overly campy approach meet during the action scenes. The film starts strong. A brawl between Bond and a smuggler in an elevator is an early high-light. It’s a close-quarter fight, with lots of breaking glass and slammed bodies. It recalls the fight scenes from the franchise’s earlier, better movies. After that, the action takes a big dive. A car chase through the street of Las Vegas, though full of elaborate stunts, is lifelessly executed. More embarrassing is Bond’s fight with Bambi and Thumper, a pair of scantily clad, female body guards. The characters, from their names on down, are ridiculous, dressed only in lingerie. They battle Bond with tumbling, flipping, and leg locks. Connery seems utterly baffled by the scene. The spy turns the tide on the women far too easily.

Blofeld’s ever-changing appearance requires a new actor. (The film acknowledges the character’s addiction to plastic surgery.) Charles Gray previously played a minor part in “You Only Live Twice” but upgrades to main bad guy here. Gray is not calculated and frightening like Donald Pleasence nor as physically intimidating as Telly Savalas. Instead, he’s more of a classical supervillain, waving a cigarette holder around and making grand declarations. Gray’s performance is the right type of camp, as the actor is clearly having a ball. Even then, he gets an embarrassing moment all to himself, when the character dresses in drag. Considering a few years later, Gray would play his most endearing part in camp classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” his casting is in line with the film’s tone.

The secondary villains of the film are Blofeld’s two main henchmen, Mr. Went and Mr. Kidd. The eccentric evil-doers are the ones that actually do all the killing. They’re such odd characters. In keeping with Ian Fleming’s notorious homophobia, the two men are heavily suggested to be lovers. (They hold hands and, later on, Mr. Went seems especially enraged by Mr. Kidd’s murder.) However, their behavior isn’t preening or feminine. Instead, it’s just odd. Putter Smith plays Mr. Kidd and, with his spotty forehead and receding hairline, is an odd looking fellow. His speech, always stilted and pausing, is also strange. Bruce Glover plays Mr. Went, the apparent brains of the operation. Glover is perhaps better known as Crispin Glover’s dad and Bruce’s performance here proves that Crispin gets his eccentricity honestly. Glover is all-grins and hissing statements, covering his obvious psychoic behavior with a breathy pleasantness. Moreover, Glover adds odd pauses and strange body language to the behavior. “Diamonds are Forever” concludes with Bond facing off against the two henchmen, after Blofeld’s apparent death. This is appropriate since Went and Kidd are perhaps more interesting, imposing threats then the central villain.

Though excessive in every other way, “Diamonds are Forever” dials back on the Bond girls. Bond spends most of the film hanging around Tiffany Case, as played by Jill St. John. St. John, though given an unflattering hair style, is lovely and spends most of the movie either partially nude or in a bikini. Personality wise, Case is rotten. She’s motivated solely by greed and seems more interested in saving her own skin then helping our hero. Worst, Case actively screws up Bond’s plans several times, accidentally switching tapes or refusing to fire at bad guys. The attraction between the two is apparently just physical, as Connery and Case have zero chemistry. A better Bond girl is Lana Wood’s Plenty O’Tool. Wood’s voluptuous figure and low-cut dresses are a sight to behold. In her brief amount of screen time, Wood shows more personality and has more sparks with Connery then St. John does over the entire movie. For her efforts, Wood is tossed out a window and killed off-screen. Bummer.

Since “Diamonds are Forever” is built around recapturing the tone of the mid-sixties Bond films, Q and his gadgets make a strong come-back. Bond dissuades a baddie with a mouse trap in his jacket. He fools the smuggler ring with fake fingerprints, which is a neat gag. One of the film’s most dynamic sequences centers on Bond scaling the outside of a casino with a grappling gun. A voice changer plays an important part in one scene. A neat trick has Bond traversing the surface of the water on a giant, inflatable sphere. Is Bond rolling around inside a big ball goofy? Yeah. However, maybe if the film’s lunacy was more inspired like that, the campiness would have been more endearing.

As is standard issue by now, the seventh Bond film concludes with an army attacking the villain’s lair. This time, Felix Leiter and the personal army of millionaire Willard Whyte back up Bond. Blofeld is based out of an ocean drilling rig, as good a location for a secret lair as any. There’s plenty of explosion, shootouts, and helicopters in this finale. What there isn’t much of is James Bond. Bond spends part of the climax unconscious. He spends most of the rest climbing wires at the rig’s bottom. When he finally makes it to the platform, he gets behind a crane, using that to dispatch Blofeld. It’s a seriously underwhelming conclusion, one seemingly driven by the lead actor’s refusal to give a shit.

”Diamonds are Forever” was successful at the time. Its campy tone would largely direct the series’ style for the rest of the seventies. However, the reviews then and now weren’t kind. The film frequently ranks near the bottom of Bond “Best of/Worst of” list. It’s easily Connery at his least committed or interested. The action is overly campy and the plot is needlessly complicated. The main Bond girl is annoying. There’s a handful of decent elements but the movie does not hold together. Despite the lackluster reception, James Bond would return. But not with Sean Connery in the role, a change that was doubtlessly for the best. [Grade: C]


[X] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[X] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

No comments: