Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review – Diamonds are Forever

September 14, 2010

Diamonds are Forever – U.K., 1971

Diamonds are Forever, the seventh James Bond film, begins exactly as it should, with Bond on a violent quest for revenge. Two male henchmen, a seductive female that he almost strangles with her own brassiere, and a strange encounter with doctors apparently trying to create doubles of Blofeld later, and it’s all over. As Bond prepares to dump Blofeld’s unconscious body into a pool of liquid, he satisfactorily declares, “Welcome to hell, Blofeld.” He’ll later describe this “vacation” as “hardly relaxing, but very satisfying.” I suspect the scene will give viewers a guilty pleasure. I know it gave me one.

So what exactly is the British Secret Service supposed to do when their best agent goes on a personal quest for revenge? Why, put him back into field, of course. Soon Bond is being debriefed about a large amount of diamonds that have been smuggled out of South Africa. The going theory is that the diamonds are being stockpiled, perhaps as a means of blackmailing the leaders of the diamond industry. All of this is explained to us because for the first time in the series, Bond is not an expert on something, something his superior is most pleased about. Bond is then sent to Holland undercover, posing as a diamond smuggler by the name of Peter Franks. He soon learns that his job is to smuggle $50,000 worth of diamonds into the United States. Not even his partner-in-crime, the rather free-spirited Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), knows exactly why.

Diamonds are Forever includes many of the Bond staples we’ve grown to expect – the thrilling car chase, the conspiracy involving global domination, and the beautiful Bond women, which this time around include two women possessing extraordinary acrobatic and martial arts skills known only as Bambie and Thumper. It’s a plus for Bond that all the two ladies seem to do is lie around in skimpy outfits waiting for some poor hapless secret agent to walk in on them. As thrilling as some of the action scenes are, I’m not sure it completely makes up for the peculiar, chuckle-inducing sight of Bond making his getaway through the Las Vegas desert in a moon rover.

Diamonds are Forever, directed by Guy Hamilton, has a terrific first half, as Bond and Ms. Case try to uncover the real reason behind the smuggling of the diamonds, and they must act fast, for every person who has come in contact with the diamonds has somehow wound up dead. This set up creates a degree of suspense, for danger lurks at every turn. And everything seems to be leading to one person, the reclusive Willard Whyte, a character somewhat based on Howard Hughes. The only problem is that no one has seen Mr. Whyte for several years, and he appears to be the most powerful man in Las Vegas, so powerful in fact that even the government is afraid to move against him without hard evidence. Bond’s American contacts are even tasked with putting Bond under a sort of “hotel arrest.” Don’t they know that that never works?

Unfortunately, Diamonds are Forever cannot maintain its tart pacing or clever storyline. Two hired assassins go from being rather effective to being completely amateurish and clumsy, and there are far too many of those often maligned scenes in which a character has a chance to kill Bond once and for all, yet decides to task the job out to his incompetent subordinates. This is particularly galling because this character – I won’t say who it is – should know better. From there, we get odd scenes of villains dressed in drag, characters deciding for no particular reason to reveal crucial details, and our hero able to do something so obvious that it stretches the mind to have to pretend that none of the twenty people in the room saw him do it. I know this is a Bond film, and the ability to suspend disbelief is a bit of a requirement, but at a certain point, I couldn’t do it anymore. What I saw in front of me simply started to become silly.

This is of course no fault of Sean Connery’s, who seems energized by the time he spent away from the role. As legend has it, Connery agreed to return as Bond in exchange for what at the time was the most lucrative movie deal in history. Connery donated his profits to the Scottish International Education Trust and subsequently walked away from the role of James Bond for quite a long time. Jill St. John is every bit Connery’s match. In fact, I’d say all of the actors give credible performances, with the exception of Putter Smith and Bruce Glover, although this is no fault of their own. They are given the thankless task of playing the two assassins charged with murdering everyone who comes in contact with the diamonds. Throughout the film, they refer to each other as “Mr. Wint” and “Mr. Kidd,” and if I’m reading the film correctly, the characters are meant to be a couple, reducing much of their mannerisms to nothing more than cheap stereotypes.

Still, I like Diamonds are Forever enough to at least marginally recommend it. The film is well directed, and the script includes some of the better Bond lines so far in the series. In one scene, Bond tells a practically naked Ms. Case, “That’s kind of a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing.” Classic. I also like Bond’s aggressive streak throughout the film. It’s nice to see that the writers and producers didn’t retreat from the subtle changes that were introduced to Bond’s character in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s unfortunate though that the film cannot maintain the stellar pace it begins with, but perhaps that’s to be expected. When a character with every reason to want Bond dead has a gun pointed at him yet doesn’t shoot, where else does the film have to go but down? (on DVD)

3 stars


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