Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Film Review: Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Production Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 17 December 1971 (USA), 30 December 1971 (UK)
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Guy Hamilton
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
  • Writer: Richard Maibaum

The Bond: Sean Connery returns for a one-off encore. George Lazenby dropped out after one performance, and in the chaos that ensued, United Artists paid Connery a record UK£1.25 million (UK£20 million / US$32 million in 2012 currency). The result is a performance that's duller than his older work, although it does fit the feel of the detective-style story that the first two-thirds of this movie is. Fun Fact: Much of this money went to form the Scottish International Education Trust. 2 out of 5.

The Girl: Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), diamond smuggler. A feisty type, and I'd like her more but for how she mucks things up every once in a while. Still, she doesn't know any better, and at least she's not as useless as Mary Goodnight, whom we'll see in a few films' time... Fun Fact: She was the first American Bond Girl. 4 out of 5.

On the other hand, we also have gold-digger Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood), who is by my call the worst Bond Girl ever. Drowned in a pool. 1 out of 5.

Other Allies: Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) the CIA agent in his fourth appearance.

Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean), an aerospace entrepreneur, held under house arrest by Blofeld.  Blofeld then assumes Whyte's identity and pretends to lock himself in his hotel's penthouse, a plot point inspired by the antics of Howard Hughes, while using the Whyte industrial empire as cover to build and launch his doomsday weapon.  Rescued by Bond and the CIA3 out of 5.

The Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) -- now with hair! -- the head of SPECTRE. Fun Fact: Charles Gray, previously Mr. Henderson in You Only Live Twice, starts a long-standing Bond tradition of actors who play characters who are killed off, only to be re-cast in another film. His escape ship is crashed into a building by Bond, but he kinda, sorta survives4 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith), a pair of ambiguously gay assassins, prone to finishing each others' one-liners. Lame, but somehow enjoyable.  One is lit on fire and thrown off a boat, and the other is blown up, both by Bond.  3 out of 5.

Bert Saxby (Bruce Cabot), Whyte's right-hand man who's been duped into working for Blofeld. Is not given a lot to do and leaves no impression.  Shot by Bond and the CIA.  1 out of 5.

The Gadgets: 007 uses fingerprints to pass as Peter Franks, and a grappling hook system stored in his cummerbun to climb up to the roof of the Whyte House. Blofeld uses a voice-modifier system to speak as Willard Whyte over the phone; with the CIA's help, Bond does the same to pose as Bert Saxby.  Low-key, but effective.  In a throwaway scene, Q also uses a miniature magnetic device to rig a bunch of slot machines and win big.  3 out of 5.

The Locations: Most of the movie takes place in England, the Netherlands,  United States (Nevada), and Mexico (Baja California). A montage in the pre-credits sequence features Japan, Egypt, and other locations, all of which were likely shot on soundstages.  Fun Fact: The Whyte House hotel featured in the film is actually the Las Vegas Hilton, currently known as the Westgate, with a penthouse added on top via matte-painting for long shots.  Second Fun Fact: The Circus Circus hotel also makes an appearance as a setting; the owner was a big James Bond fan and requested its inclusion.

The Theme Song: Performed by Shirley Bassey. Quite funky and, considering the Fun Fact that she was told to perform as if she was singing about a... "disco stick", quite seductive. No wonder it was sampled by Kanye West for "Diamonds From Sierra Leone". 4 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: Motifs include diamonds (natch) and low-light shots of women. Rather boring. 2 out of 5.

The Novel: The film and novel share some of the general structure and theme of diamond smuggling, but differ for the most part. The satellite laser plot is gone from the book, and Blofeld is replaced by Jack and Seraffimo Spang of the Spangled Mob as the villain. Instead of the Netherlands, the first act takes place in Saratoga Springs, New York, where Bond and Leiter investigate horse-race fixing and first discover Kidd and Wint.

The Plot: The movie starts with Bond on a worldwide revenge quest, seeking out Blofeld for, presumably, having his wife killed in the last movie. He meets up with him in a plastic surgery clinic, where another man is having work done to match Blofeld's appearance (now with hair!). Bond kills him and the real Blofeld. Cue opening credits. Back in England, Bond receives a briefing on a rash of diamond smuggling in South Africa, and is dispatched to Amsterdam to impersonate a smuggler, Peter Franks. There, he meets Franks' accomplice, Tiffany Case, and takes the diamonds, but not before the real Peter Franks shows up and is killed by Bond.

The three of them fly to the United States, and meet up with Felix Leiter, to whom Bond informs that the diamonds are hidden in Franks' corpse. Bond takes the body to a funeral home, where the diamonds are taken out and Bond is paid in $50,000... and a live cremation, courtesy of assassins Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint. But he is saved by a mister Shady Tree, because the diamonds in Franks' corpse were fake (switched out and planted by the CIA). In Las Vegas, Bond calls up Leiter to bring the real diamonds, and hangs out in the Whyte House casino, meeting a miss Plenty O'Toole. He spends the night with her and Case, working out a plan to hand over the real diamonds.

Monitored by Bond, Leiter, and the CIA, Case picks up the diamonds in the Circus Circus casino, but loses her tail and takes the diamonds for her own boss. Catching up with her at her house, they find Plenty dead in the pool, which inspires Case to cooperate. With her help, Bond tracks the diamonds to an aerospace lab. He sees them being used in a laser-equipped satellite, but blows his cover and outruns the lab's guards and, later, the Las Vegas Police. That night, Bond climbs up the Whyte House hotel and breaks into Willard Whyte's penthouse only to discover... Blofeld. With another double, in fact. Bond kills the wrong Blofeld, and is gassed on his way out.

Waking up in the desert, Bond gets back and calls Blofeld under disguise, learning the whereabouts of the real Willard Whyte. Bond, Leiter, and Whyte try to track down the satellite, but it's already in orbit, being used to destroy American, Soviet, and Chinese nuclear targets, with Washington DC next on the menu, pending a ransom. Bond and Whyte deduce Blofeld to be operating off an oil rig, and Bond is dropped in to sabotage the operation. With all said and done, his plan to switch the satellite's control tapes is accidentally foiled by Case, but Leiter is on hand to lead an air support squad. Bond foils the plan by crashing Blofeld's escape sub into the control building. Bond and Tiffany return to the UK on a cruise, fending off Kidd and Wint along the way. You are now free to turn off your TV.

There is great potential in the first two-thirds of this plot, I'll tell you that. The way Bond follows the smuggler's pipeline, going from one lead to another and outsmarting his opposition wherever possible, would serve well for a more hard-edged detective story, a la the original novel. And when Bond and Case unwittingly serve the purposes of the villain, they take responsibility and scramble to fix things. But then the laser satellite comes along and, while it's not a bad idea per se, it doesn't fit with the image the rest of the film set up. Or is it just me... At any rate, the campier elements of this film foretell of dark times ahead for the franchise, especially with the SPECTRE saga drawn to a close. Maybe switching out Bond's actor yet again will spice things up...? 3 out of 5.

The Call: 60% (C-)

IchigoRyu will return in
Live And Let Die

No comments:

Post a Comment