Bond Reloaded – A look back at Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Ahead of the release of SPECTRE this autumn, the Bond Reloaded series takes a weekly look back at each film in the iconic James Bond franchise. This week, Sean Connery returns for Diamonds Are Forever.

Sean Connery makes a triumphant return to the James Bond franchise with Diamonds Are Forever

After George Lazenby declined to return to play James Bond following On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the search began for a new lead. TV’s Batman – Adam West – was considered, along with Michael Gambon, but United Artists were insistent upon enticing Sean Connery back to the role that made him famous.

A hefty sum and a hell of a deal brought Connery back into the fold for Diamonds Are Forever, which is a fun ride that brings the campy humour that would become the trademark of the franchise under Roger Moore.

It might not be as polished as Goldfinger and it lacks the emotional heft of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but Diamonds Are Forever is certainly a really good time.

 

A girl’s best friend?

Producers Saltzman and Broccoli designed Diamonds Are Forever to recreate the aspects of Goldfinger that made that film so commercially successful. This went all the way to rehiring that film’s director Guy Hamilton, who had been replaced by Terence Young for Thunderball and Peter Hunt for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Long-time Bond writer Richard Maibaum was hired to write the script, with Tom Mankiewicz brought in to rewrite aspects of the story. The film replaces the book’s diamond-smuggling mobsters with the return of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who returns after apparently being killed by Bond in the rather brutal pre-credits sequence. This time around, he is portrayed by British character actor Charles Gray, who previously made a brief appearance in You Only Live Twice.

 

James Bond and Plenty O'Toole meet in a casino in Diamonds Are Forever

"I’m afraid you’ve caught me with more than my hands up."

 

Bond is tasked by M (Bernard Lee) to investigate the possibility of a criminal diamond stockpile. He poses as a smuggler to meet with Tiffany Case (Jill St John), who leads him into the operation. The trail takes Bond to billionaire Willard Whyte, who turns out to be a front for Blofeld, responsible for kidnapping the real Whyte.

Diamonds Are Forever is a return to “case of the week”-style Bond films rather than the continued pursuit of SPECTRE. With Blofeld out of the way before the credits, Bond is tasked with doing some “plain solid work”, only to find himself sucked back into SPECTRE’s world. Whilst this robs the film of its emotional push, it gives the entertainment a whole new impetus.

Free of much dramatic heavy lifting, Connery does some of his best quipping and schmoozing. His relationship with Jill St John’s Tiffany is a brittle and interesting one, particularly as neither is ever fully sure of whether they can trust the other. Meanwhile, fellow Diamonds Are Forever Bond girl Plenty O’Toole is perhaps the most hilariously ham-fisted of the crude pun names. She could easily be an Austin Powers character.

 

Carbon and car chases

The film’s central action set pieces are brilliantly helmed by Hamilton. A high-speed car chase between Bond and the police around the streets of Las Vegas is the film’s highlight, full of screeching tyres and twisted metal. By the time Bond squeezes through a tight gap by driving his car on two wheels, the scene has become one of the most thrilling in Bond history.

Bond films tend to only be as good as their villains. In the case of Diamonds Are Forever, the central bad guy is once again SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld, this time portrayed with a cheeky grin and a side order of cutting wit by Charles Gray. Gray’s Blofeld is a snarky genius and possibly the best incarnation of the character, even if Donald Pleasence is more iconic.

 

Charles Gray and Jill St John in Diamonds Are Forever

"What a pity, such nice cheeks too. If only they were brains."

 

Alongside Blofeld are murderous henchmen Mr Wint and Mr Kidd – two of the most divisive Bond villains. They are heavily implied to be homosexual lovers, with softly-spoken politeness and inventive killing methods. Their quips are brilliantly judged and their unorthodox murders give the film a slightly ridiculous, but thoroughly entertaining, edge.

The finale of Diamonds Are Forever is an interesting one, aboard an oil rig. Before the explosions start, it’s a tense battle of wits as Bond struggles to replace the tape that controls Blofeld’s satellite with a decoy. Once the spectacle does kick in, it’s a fitting, funny conclusion to a film that is consistently adept at balancing jokes with thrills.

 

Box office gold?

Diamonds Are Forever was released in 1971 and went on to gross more than $100m at the worldwide box office – the franchise’s best total since Thunderball. It was a hit and one of the highest grossing films of the year.

However, the film received incredibly lukewarm reviews from film critics, both at the time of release and in the 40 years since. Critics took issue with the film’s campy tone and focus on humour rather than drama, but Roger Ebert was more positive, pointing to Connery’s confident lead performance.

Years after release, American critic Danny Peary criticised the film for lacking spectacle and being nothing more than a mundane melodrama until the reveal of Blofeld. He called it one of the most forgettable of the Bond films. IGN agreed with Peary, naming Diamonds Are Forever the third worst of the franchise.

 

Wint and Kidd are the delightfully bizarre assassins at the centre of Diamonds Are Forever

"One is never too old to learn from a master."

 

For me, though, Diamonds Are Forever is a film that succeeds as a result of its playful tone. The emotional beats of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service were entertaining in their own right, but Diamonds benefits from Connery at his quippiest, a beautifully ridiculous narrative and plenty of thrills.

Next week, Roger Moore becomes embroiled in voodoo in Live and Let Die.

 

What do you think of Diamonds Are Forever? Should Connery have returned to the franchise? Let me know in the comments section and keep your eyes peeled for more Bond Reloaded next Monday.

You can read my look back at On Her Majesty’s Secret Service here and find other Bond Reloaded articles here.

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