Seen by Martin before? Yes
What did I expect? A good late-Connery Bond movie.
What did I get? Pauline Kael deprecated Diamonds Are Forever on the grounds of insufficient suavity. She was on to something — it’s a relatively rough-hewn and low-key Bond movie — but I say she had it upside down. The test of a Bond movie is whether it would hold up as a good movie if you removed all the de rigueur Bond tropes and unmotivated globetrotting; by this standard, Diamonds Are Forever comes out looking pretty good — it can almost bear scrutiny as a regular movie. It’s very entertaining, and it admirably ignores many of the canonical James Bond tropes. More interestingly, it’s also a piece of lighthearted propaganda about the stupidity and worrisome might of the United States of America. That I was not expecting.
I won’t go into the plot — who cares — but Diamonds Are Forever is often appealingly analog. Bond is extricated from a sure-death situation in a crematorium because someone else happens to find him; no derring-do at all. Later on he is rescued from a pipeline in the most prosaic manner imaginable. About halfway through there’s an extended car chase in which Bond eludes several police cars, which end up piling on top of each other. Admittedly it’s all a bit “beneath” the expected razzle-dazzle of a Bond movie, but I appreciated the willingness to mix it up. My favorite bit of business might be the brief altercation with Bambi and Thumper, set in a swanky swinger’s pad; for a surreal minute or two, the movie resembles an outtake from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
After a scene or two in Amsterdam, Bond makes his way to Las Vegas, where the movie really takes place. Most of the American characters are uncouth or cloddish, and there’s even a Howard Hughes figure named Willard Whyte, an obscenely wealthy and scientifically inclined recluse who is said to exert more influence than the President. (His casino and hotel, where he lives in the penthouse, is called the Whyte House.) As I mentioned, Diamonds Are Forever seems to have it in for the U.S.A. — it got me thinking that 1971 may have been a bit like George W. Bush’s second term, when our foreign entanglements made it wholly acceptable for the international community to denigrate America. Diamonds Are Forever is ostensibly an advertisement for Las Vegas (just coming out of its pokey phase), but it doesn’t take much squinting to see it as a critique of the place.
Neil Armstrong had gone bi-orbal only two years earlier, and the emphasis here is firmly on the space race. Blofeld’s nefarious plan involves a laser mounted on a satellite — the offending satellite, diverted by the unctuous megalomaniac, emanates from a missile with the words “United States” on it; I think it was supposed to read “Cautionary Tale.” There’s even an uncommented-upon scene involving some people shooting footage of a faked moon landing — Bond absconds with the moon buggy, which turns out to be just as useful in the deserts of Nevada.
Either the stock nature of Bond’s helpers was not yet set in stone or (my fervent hope) the filmmakers simply elected to use them more creatively. Bond encounters Moneypenny in a different setting than usual (no coat rack in sight), while Q does not supply Bond with his usual pocket dei ex machina. Instead, Q more organically joins Bond in Las Vegas, where he does a passable impression of an actual team member/movie character. Even the climactic mayhem is resolved without a big synchronized, perfectly timed undoing of the mechanism — some might call it lazy; to me it feels relaxed.
What here smacks of 1971? A weird answer, but: the buttons inside the elevator. (Look for it — you’ll see what I mean.)
IMDB score: 6.7
My score: 6
Director: Guy Hamilton
Writers: Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz
Starring: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Glover, Bruce Cabot, Putter Smith, Norman Burton, Joseph Furst, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell
IMDB synopsis: James Bond’s mission is to find out who has been smuggling diamonds, which are not re-appearing. He adopts another identity in the form of Peter Franks. He joins up with Tiffany Case, and acts as if he is smuggling the diamonds, but everyone is hungry for these diamonds. He also has to avoid Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, the dangerous couple who does not leave anyone in their way. Ernst Stavro Blofeld isn’t out of the question. He may have changed his looks, but is he linked with the heist? And if he is, can Bond finally defeat his ultimate enemy.