Super Serial aims to dissect series of pop art — be it a filmography, discography or run of comics — by looking at its individual components.
Bond is back! Sean Connery is back! And maybe better than ever! After George Lazenby’s venture into super-spying, he surprisingly decided not to return to the franchise, which left a gaping hole for what was to come next. The famed producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli wanted to re-team Connery and director Guy Hamilton (from Goldfinger) and were able to convince Connery to come back with a then-record (said in Dr. No’s voice) $1.2 million salary. I have to say, bringing those two back together for one more film works. As you can tell from these posts, Goldfinger has been the most satisfying film thus far, and Diamonds Are Forever comes as close to it as I’ve seen.
Diamonds Are Forever opens as previous films have, with Bond on the run in search of Blofeld. After a quick encounter with his arch-nemesis, Bond is then sent off to Amsterdam to investigate a diamond-smuggling ring, which may seem like small potatoes, but the stakes are raised with the inevitable involvement of SPECTRE. The action ultimately leads them to Las Vegas, which seems like the perfect locale for Bond: there’s gambling, girls, exotic foods and lots of crime — I’m mostly just surprised it took him so long to get there.
While the film has all the makings of a classic Bond outing, there’s a particular tonal difference that makes this one stand out. For all intents and purposes, Diamonds are Forever is a slapstick comedy. Sure, there’s espionage, assassinations and intrigue, but the camp is what brings you. Bond, the plot and the girls all influence the comedic tone and particular aspects of the film provide darkly comedic subtext, which is something we haven’t quite seen before. If anything, it’s certainly a big contrast to its very serious predecessor, especially its outrageously cynical final scene. Is Diamonds Are Forever a good film? That’s maybe a stretch, as there are some contentious points I’ll get to here, but I completely enjoyed this romp.
[Bond, James Bond]
I’m sure all the drama going backstage during the making of the Bond films was well-publicized at the time, but the past few films were both shot as if the change-up in Bond actors was a secret. Like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, we get an introduction to Bond without showing his face; instead showing closeups of his hands and hearing his voice off-screen. Of course, we can’t mistake the deep chords of Sean Connery, but it’s meant to feel triumphant when he steps into the frame and introduces himself for the seventh time with “Bond, James Bond.”
The only tangible difference with Bond as a character is the simple fact that you can really start to see his age. Coming nine years after the first film, Connery was 41 upon the release of Diamonds. While that certainly isn’t retirement age, he is clearly past his prime, as indicated by the lack of non-stop action and the bit of silver fox shining through. The character’s age brings limitations, but I don’t think it’s a flaw. I’ll explain using a recent commercial from men’s hair product Just For Men. Have you seen the one with the older gentleman going on a job interview? He monologues whether it would be better to keep his gray mane to protray experience or if he should restore it for the appearance of vitality. Instead, he compromises by using Just For Men’s Touch of Gray, successfully melding the best of both worlds. This is how I view Bond in Diamonds Are Forever — you can tell he’s been around the block, but he can kick a little ass if he needs to.
If there’s a flaw in Diamonds Are Forever it’s with the mission plot — although I guess you can say that with most Bond films. With my viewing of this as a slapstick comedy, the particulars of the plot are ultimately less important to me. With much of the film set up as Bond taking on diamond smugglers, it doesn’t quite have the stakes of previous films, which definitely hurts it. By the end, when we fully understand SPECTRE’s involvement and the plans they have, some of these details feel a little tacked-on. It also feels a bit like the film’s plot is trying to conform with the model by including another world-wide ransom plot. You can’t have it both ways, I understand, but the overall mission leaves much to be desired.
There’s a particular element of the plot that does work quite well, a subplot of Blofeld creating an army of look-a-likes. We’ve seen SPECTRE use this tactic before in Thunderball, but the filmmaking technology of multiples of an actor on screen at once works well. Its introduction in the first scene provides a bit of a misdirection that’s fulfilled later on in the mission, even though I was personally confused about what exactly was going on — yet another actor portraying Blofeld (and one who doesn’t look anything like the previous two) made me think that he was getting some sort of plastic surgery to hide himself, but I’m not sure if that’s actually the case. Looking at the cast lists, Charles Gray actually played the character of the Australian spy who Bond met in Japan toward the beginning of You Only Live Twice. This doesn’t help this confusion.
A big appeal of Diamonds is that we get to see Bond live it up in Vegas, although the glitz and glamour of the city today didn’t quite exist in the early seventies. The coolest location in Diamonds Are Forever’s Vegas is the still-existing Circus Circus casino, which is featured prominently. During my one visit to Vegas I did not visit Circus Circus, so I can’t tell if its use is authentic, but it sure is fun — I mean, there are ELEPHANTS for gosh sake! Setting scenes in casinos and game rooms also calls back to the first scene in Dr. No, where we meet Bond playing cards.
As previously mentioned, Blofeld is once again the main villain of the film — but he’s not the main draw. Played by Charles Gray, the character looks decidedly different (giving him a full head of hair takes away from his signature look), but there isn’t much added to the character. His plot has a lot of elements from his previous crimes, with satellites in outer space and lasers holding entire nations ransom.
The real treat, though, is a pair of mysterious assassins named Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. Hired by Blofeld to track down all loose ends from a diamond-smuggling pipeline, they come into contact with Bond when he stumbles across SPECTRE’s involvement. These two perhaps contribute most of the dark comedy elements of the film and their presence on screen is both mind-boggling and absolutely entertaining. They are truly two of my all-time favorite movie characters and the film is worth watching only for their albeit too-brief performances. I can never tell if they’re supposed to be real characters or a cruel joke on everyone watching. They feel like great examples of David Lynch personae and seem to exist more in his world than that of Bond’s. From their cadence to their banter, they’re not only incredibly creepy but genuinely funny as well. They’re also quite scary. They employ a number of interesting ways to kill, including the use of a scorpion, bombs, drowning and burying Bond alive.
But there’s an even bigger subtext to these characters, one that is certainly noticeable but just under the surface, which makes them completely unlike any other in the series. Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are not only business partners but romantic partners as well. From what I remember, there are only two moments where the film makes reference to this. First, directly after a successful assassination, they walk away from the camera holding hands. Later on, Mr. Kidd sees Tiffany Case, our main Bond Girl, and says “I must say Miss Case seems quite attractive… for a lady.”
Because of the tone and completely random nature of the characters, one could argue that this is a negative portrayal of gay characters, but I truly disagree. Sure, they’re evil killers, but their sexual orientation doesn’t define them. Without this bit of context to the characters, they would still work on screen, but they’d be missing something.
[The Bond Girls]
A much more troubling representation is Tiffany Case, played by Jill St. John. In a lot of ways, she isn’t any different than most of Bond’s playmates, but there’s something about her portrayal that rubs me the wrong way. You can’t escape the fact that all Bond Girls are completely sexualized, but for Tiffany that seems disingenuously so. She may not have the double entendre name, but she’s literally introduced to us on screen in her bra and panties for no reason — really, just as a male fantasy shared by Bond.
This might be nit-picking in the context of the other films, but I feel more than any other Bond Girl she has very little skill. Most of the women we’ve come across are very good at what they do — they’re star pilots, spies or even assassins — but Tiffany Case is nothing more than a good-looking girl. And that would be fine, but the film goes to lengths to make her into a complete bimbo. Both Bond and Blofeld make remarks and call her stupid to her face, and there are multiple moments in the film where she screws something up. Her aiding Bond’s rescue at the movie’s end doesn’t quite do enough to counteract how the film has handled her character up to that point.
Plenty O’Toole is the second, minor Bond Girl in the film, who Bond meets while in Vegas. Really, she’s a thinly veiled prostitute — it’s a little interesting that the film just doesn’t go out and say it since it’s so obvious, although I suppose it could be a standards or ratings issue. Although in Vegas, she has a strangely stereotypical Midwestern sense to her, constantly saying words like “super,” and she’s quite simple given her suspected profession. Like Tiffany, she’s portrayed as being quite dumb, but she’s disposable in terms of the plot.
Although there are good uses of gadgets in Diamonds Are Forever and Q makes an appearance in the film (he was not in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), we don’t get the standard gadget introduction scene here. Because of that, the gadgets don’t hold nearly as important a place, but there are a few I wanted to mention. The coolest is a voice disguiser that’s actually used by both Blofeld and Bond, which allows particular plot points to remain hidden. In the film, we see a character talk, but their voice is replaced by a different accent or made to sound like someone else. The gadget certainly doesn’t work as it’s presented in the film, but it works pretty well. Earlier in the film, Bond uses fake fingerprints (a modern-day staple of spy films) that allow him to completely disguise himself as someone else. Finally, a strange gadget we see only used by Q is a type of magnet that helps him cheat slot machines. I like Q, but this is just flat-out deceitful — use your gadgets for good, brother!
Connery isn’t the only major player to make a return in Diamonds Are Forever, as Shirley Bassey, hot off her hit “Goldfinger,” sings our title song here. While I know many people hate “Goldfinger,” this is the worst song of the series so far, and it’s not even close for me. There are these really weird and dramatic shifts in tone throughout the song, going from ballad to disco, and it’s just gross. I’m not familiar with the Kanye West song that samples “Diamonds Are Forever,” so I can’t speak on that.
“Diamonds are forever,
Hold one up and then caress it,
Touch it, stroke it and undress it,
I can see every part,
Nothing hides in the heart to hurt me.
I don’t need love,
For what good will love do me?
Diamonds never lie to me,
For when love’s gone,
They’ll luster on.”
These lyrics are equally upsetting. I know diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but this goes a few steps too far.
- One of the downfalls of an aged Sean Connery is shots of obvious stunt men in place of Bond.
- While M is describing the diamond smuggling plot, we see a montage of diamond workers in South Africa — this filmmaking device is something we haven’t seen before in the regularly boring M/Bond mission sequences.
- In Amsterdam, hovercrafts have their own highway lane.
- I feel very sorry for Moneypenny in this film. I’ve mentioned in earlier films that she gets a little creepy in her love for Bond, but here she’s quite sad. Her need for his attention makes her look much more like a lonely spinster.
- Using a dead body to transport diamonds is kinda morbid.
- After Bond arrives in Las Vegas, he’s met by “employees” of the funeral home used as a cover for the diamond smuggling business. Why do they all sound like they’re from Jersey?
- Another reason why Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are an amazing couple: they look like a young David Crosby and Roman Polanski.
- Tiffany Case (pre-coitus with Bond): “There’s a lot more to you than I suspected.” I think she’s referring to Bond’s very prominent chest hair after de-robing.
- Bond FINALLY uses a fake name on the hotel registry. He’s learning…
- I hope the dealers at Circus Circus have updated their uniforms since 1971.
- There’s a bit character in the film named Willard Whyte, who owns the casino. He’s very obviously Howard Hughes, which speaks to the parodic comedy aspects of the film.
- Another instance to view this as slapstick comedy: there’s an action sequence that seems to be directly taken from a Keystone Kops gag.
- Bond crashes into the filming of a fake moon landing. I’m not quite sure if this is supposed to be an actual fake moon landing, i.e. the conspiracy, as much of the Bond world deals with outer space.
- Blofeld appears in drag — another slapstick bit. Also, not a good look for him.
- How does Blofeld come up with all these crazy plots, especially after all of them have failed?! Maybe poor preparation from one to the next consecutively has something to do with it. Gotta hand it to him, though, most supervillains would fold under the failure.
- For being so obsessed with finding and killing Blofeld, Bond also toys with him a lot when he has him by the throat. Didn’t he learn from his villains that it’s best not to savor the victory?
SERIAL, SUPER SERIAL will return in LIVE AND LET DIE
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more