WFTB Score: 7/20
The plot: James Bond appears to dispatch his nemesis Blofeld, freeing him for his next mission: a voyage to Amsterdam to discover who is stockpiling diamonds, and why. The trail leads Bond to team up with the lovely but ambiguous Tiffany Case and to travel with her to Las Vegas, where reclusive industrialist and casino owner Willard Whyte is the prime suspect; the trip, however – much like the desert scorpions – has a nasty sting in its tail.
I’m no expert on Bond, but reading up on the films can prove just as entertaining as watching them, especially when their genesis is as convoluted as that of Diamonds are Forever, a film for which Sean Connery earned millions after George Lazenby (star of previous adventure On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) had taken advice not to continue in the role. Of course, off-screen intrigue can easily become more interesting than the film itself, and such is the case here.
Connery is back as Bond for the 6th time, then, and this time he seems to have things all sewn up before the credits, as he tracks Ernst Blofeld (Charles Gray) down to his hideaway and, in presumed revenge for the murder of Bond’s wife in OHMSS, sends him to a gloopy death among instruments prepared for plastic surgery. Back in London, ‘M’ (Bernard Lee) assigns 007 a new and seemingly unrelated task, to find out what is happening to the world diamond trade; because (as we see from scenes featuring sinister henchmen Mr Wint and Mr Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith)) diamonds are going missing and nobody has any idea why. Bond heads for Amsterdam in the guise of dodgy dealer Peter Franks, and makes contact (you know exactly what I mean by that) with glamorous American Tiffany Case (Jill St. John); the real Franks (Joe Robinson) turns up and briefly troubles Bond, but his corpse comes in useful when it is used to transport a whopping 50,000 carats of diamonds into Las Vegas. The diamonds are to be given to Willard Whyte, a magnate with fingers in many pies who lives in strict isolation at the top of his casino; but mere inaccessibility isn’t going to stop Bond, and his curiosity is rewarded by – spoilers! – the sight of not one but two Blofelds, one of whom has the real Whyte (Jimmy Dean) under lock and key. Blofeld also treats Bond to an explanation of his diamond hoarding: he has just launched a satellite whose diamond-powered lasers can destroy anything, starting with the world’s nuclear weapons – and the highest bidding country gets to keep theirs.
Although ‘Blofeld’s’ death is an obvious red herring, the sloppy, frantic pacing of the pre-credits sequence is symptomatic of the whole of Diamonds are Forever, which early on forsakes narrative coherence for glitter and gaudiness, sacrificing explanation for exploitation at every opportunity. For example, most of Bond’s best-laid plans are ruined by the empty-headed Tiffany Case; we don’t get much of an idea who Willard Whyte is, either, because Bond spends five minutes wrestling with his sexy bodyguards Bambi and Thumper (!). No doubt the feeling is intensified by the early seventies sensibility of the piece and the tasteless setting (I will never again doubt the accuracy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), but this Bond wants to dazzle sufficiently that you become blind to its many flaws. And while there are classic Bond moments – a moon buggy chase with some cool trikes, a car chase down the Strip, a repeating motif of 007 being buried alive – they are too thinly spaced out between nonsense, with the (tardy) unveiling of the “laser” and the oil rig climax at Baja non-events spoiled by some very mediocre effects. Furthermore, although you would never tag Bond as realistic – Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and his gadgets make their usual appearance – one or two moments of Diamonds are Forever tip over into camp: Blofeld in drag, for instance, is not something we ever needed to see. Accordingly, there is never the slightest sense that the world is being threatened, or that Bond’s destruction of the oil rig, using Blofeld’s submarine as the wrecking ball, is doing much to avert disaster.
All might have been redeemed by decent performances, but Connery is on little more than cruise control and St. John is totally unconvincing as a diamond-smuggling mastermind. Tiffany Case starts off as a promising character but eventually becomes one more starry-eyed devotee of the secret agent, and an irritating one at that (see how she delivers the line ‘Eee!’ when Wint and Kidd turn up to attack her, late on); however, she is as nothing compared to the vacuous turn of buxom Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole, a role so annoying (and which Wood performs so badly) that it’s a blessed relief that her role is reduced in the final film to three scenes, two in a swimming pool and the second of those dead. Gray, transvestism apart, has fun as the Blofelds and Glover and Smith make for creepy henchmen, but nobody else really makes much of an impression on the film.
I read that Diamonds are Forever was designed to transplant Ian Fleming’s quintessentially British hero in the affections of American audiences, and to that end it may have succeeded. However, the film lacks the intelligence that made most of Connery’s early forays in the role so enjoyable, and no amount of silly fun or girls in bikinis will – for the length of a feature film, at any rate – be sufficient compensation for that.