Monday, July 4, 2011

Diamonds are Forever (1971)



Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: Diamonds are Forever. I know you think diamond smuggling is beneath your pay grade, but we get the feeling something bigger is behind all of this. Your mission is to
impersonate Peter Franks and rendezvous with Tiffany Case and get to the bottom of this.
The Beginning: This time the opening sequence is not so much a single sequence, but a montage of the search of Blofeld by Bond. We see Bond pushing people around all over the globe, looking for the answers to his tough questions until finally he finds Blofeld's secret lair where he is performing plastic surgery to create body
doubles for himself. Bond quickly dispatches the henchmen and then successfully rids the world of Blofeld himself. The sequence doesn't really work for a couple reasons. One, it is just done way too cheesy and the action is sort of bad and done in such a lame manner that it was never very exciting or tense. The other is because Charles Gray is playing Blofeld. What!? For Bond fans, you might recognize Gray as also having played a good guy earlier in the series, as Mr. Henderson, one of Bond's contacts in You Only Live Twice, which, honestly, is a bit ironic given how the rest of this film plays out. They also play up the fact that this is Connery's return by slowly waiting to reveal the face of Bond, which might work if you didn't know it was Connery's return.

The theme song and credit sequence, however, seem to redeem the lame opening. The credit sequence may be one of the less imaginative to this point, but it doesn't disappoint either. The real darling here is the song, "Diamonds are Forever" by Shirley Bassey. It is one of the more famous theme songs from a Bond movie and for good reason. I would rank it as perhaps the best Bond theme to this point in the series.

Locations: Amsterdam & Las Vegas

Allies: Bond struggles to find many allies in this film, though he manages to find a few. 'M' and the CIA's Felix Leiter both make appearances, but neither is very important to the proceedings.
Willard Whyte:
Willard Whyte would be the only real canidate as an ally in this situation, and even then it may be a stretch. Whyte is a ruch billionaire who has been kidnapped by Blofeld in an attempt to use Whyte's large empire to control his evil plan to take over the world. Once rescued, Whyte is able to provide some background information that helps Bond on the case, but other than that, Whyte merely serves as a caricature of the real life recluse Howard Hughes, after whom Whyte's character was modeled.

Enemies:Mr. Wint & Mr. Kidd:
Mr. Wint & Mr. Kidd are too extremely dry, lifeless evil dudes who just might stand in the way of Mr. Bond in his mission to foil Blofeld. It is never made abundantly clear who these two are working for, but they stalk Franks into Amsterdam and attempt to kill him, something the pair has done before and are not afraid to do again, for they are cold blood killers who seem to pop up just at the right time in the film. Although they are lifeless characters, it is that personality trait that makes them even more terrifying. Also, it is a possibility that they are lovers, though there is also no clear indication in that department apart from the comment by Mr. Kidd, when he proclaims that Tiffany Case is pretty, "for a lady".

Ernst Stavro Blofeld:
Blofeld is a favorite character of sorts in the Bond series. We met him first as the head of the criminal organization SPECTRE, though there is no mention of that organization here. He has also been portrayed by a few different actors, which makes him somewhat of an enigma, especially when they cast former good guy Charles Gray in the role here. I think it is pretty obvious that he is nothing more than a caricature in this installment, with a thin plan to hold the world ransom for a large sum of money, a tactic that the Austin Powers franchise made sure to capitalize on when it later spoofed the genre of British spy thrillers. The only interesting part of his character was the fact that he had body doubles which allowed him to fool Bond into believing he had actually killed him in the beginning of the film.

Q Branch: There really is nothing here this go around. 'Q' makes a brief appearance but there is no scene where Bond gets outfitted and other than a few small gadgets there is nothing much to write home about. He supplies Bond with a false fingerprint, grappling hook gun, and a voice box. But I guess the highlight for 'Q' in this film is the decoder ring (not out of a Cracker Jack box) which allows him to cheat the slots while in Las Vegas (but then again what is he doing in Vegas if he doesn't outfit Bond?).

The Girls:Tiffany Case:
Tiffany is an interesting character because she is half bad guy, half ally. She starts out as a diamond smuggler, but once she realizes what is going on, she aides Bond in his mission to take down the evil Blofeld. She is played by the beautiful redhead Jill St. John, though she has a couple hair colors in the beginning of the film. She really is a pretty stereotypical Bond girl. She has some smarts, but most times she is like a fish out of water and the lack of clothing she wears and her ability to easily slip under the covers with Bond are both things we have seen before, and which we will certainly see more of later.

Plenty O'Toole:
Plenty is one of the biggest wastes of a character in the series to this point, but I would be lying if I said she wasn't memorable. Plenty is played by the well endowed Lana Wood, sister of Natalie Wood. She appears only for a short while and it is apparent that her personality is short too. She hangs around the craps tables, looking to pick up attractive men who have money, so who better than Bond when he steps up to the table. So, of course, she willing goes to his room for a night cap, only to be thrown off the balcony, topless mind you, by a few thugs after Bond. She is a bit annoying really, but like I said, mammorable, er, I mean memorable.

Bambi & Thumper:
I didn't quite know where to put these two because they are pretty much enemies, but are only on screen for a short time, and are also not your normal Bond girls. They confront Bond and are doing quite a number on him with their acrobatic fighting style, but in the end of course Bond gets the best of them and is able to get what he wants out of them. No, not sex, just the location of Willard Whyte.

The Car & Chase: Like I said there is no outfitting by 'Q' in this film, so no fancy European sports car, but what Bond does get in this film is a little bit of American muscle. There are actually two car chases in this film, but the first can hardly be called a car chase at all. In Willard Whyte's secret facility, Bond hijacks a lunar buggy (because of course the moon landing was faked, I am assuming) and he escapes from the compound, but not before some anonymous henchmen try to case him down through the desert on these weird 3-wheelers (why not go 4-wheeler?). There are some cheesy stunts and nothing really all that exciting for Bond to escape.

But the other chase is definitely worth mentioning, and is where Bond gets his American muscle in the form of a nice Ford Mustang. The chase takes place through the streets of downtown Las Vegas, where they shot on location which makes it even better. There are some cool stunts pulled off in this one and plenty of destruction that reminded me a bit of The Blues Brothers
. But the signature thing here has to be the stunt where Bond gets the car up on two wheels in order to fit through a small alleyway.

Mission Debriefing: When I was first into the Bond series, I can remember Diamonds are Forever as being one of the ones that always stuck out in my mind for whatever reason. It was more memorable and notable, perhaps because I had seen it more than once, something that couldn't always be said of the rest of the series. But whatever it was, it certainly made an impression on me. But now, after going back over it with a fresh new perspective, having seen so many more movies (and a lot of really great ones), having seen all the other Bond movies, I really must ran this return as a disappointment. Even as I sat down and popped the DVD in I was excited to get back into these characters, but the viewing was bittersweet because it did not live up to my hopes. Heck, it didn't live up to the rest of the series. But it still has some things here that certainly still make it at least a worthy entry into the storied franchise.

The plot is pretty simple actually. James Bond, played by Sean Connery once more, is instructed to solve a diamond smuggling ring, which sends him to Amsterdam where he meets Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), who is a smuggler who can get him into the right places. But he encounters the henchmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd along the way, as well as the infamous Blofeld (Charles Gray), whom he thought he had killed. Blofeld has a simple plan. He has kidnapped and assumed the identity of Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean) and plans on using his power/resources, and the diamonds that have been smuggled, to use a satellite to hold the world hostage for ransom. He plans on destroying Washington, D.C. first. That is, of course, if he can get past the cunning Mr. Bond.

I would like to think that my film education (and perhaps growing snobbery) has not killed my love of this fun franchise. Based on my instinct, I think not, I think this film is perhaps an exception to the rest of the films and how I might remember them. First of all, the plot is still fun, if not a little simple and done without any imagination, which Mike Myers and Co. pounce on in the modern day spoof Austin Powers. And it is abundantly clear that this film was one which they pulled a lot from: generic henchmen with funny uniforms, evil villain with a gray suit and cat (which Blofeld had previously also), and just hold the world hostage for loads of cash, like always. There also seemed to be a bit of laziness where the script was concerned, because there were loads more cheesy parts here than there have been before. I can deal with the names, that is a staple, and Bond is famous for his one liners, but I just felt like this one, the stakes never seemed that high. Everything seemed a little lamer than usual.

The tone of the film I think is what set everything off. Director Guy Hamilton has directed before (the great Goldfinger) and will direct in the series again, but this outing really just felt flat and unexciting, even in moments that seemed very important that should have been great. Even the action scenes were lame. The lone exception would be the fight between Bond and Franks in the elevator. The closeness of it all made it a lot of fun, and I loved the fact that there weren't a billion edits. It was refreshing to just see good choreography and execution instead of jarring quick cuts. Another thing I quite liked was the score by John Barry. I already mentioned the fact that I really like the theme song, but the film score is great too. Well, great to listen to because I never really felt like it meshed all that well with the film and what was going on at any given time. Another strength, as always, was the production design by Ken Adam. His work on the franchise has been stellar and this installment is no different. He is known for great big open spaces and interesting shapes (take Dr. Strangelove for example) and I really can't get tired of his design.

But what ultimately killed the film for me was its lack of consistency. There are great characters here, and I know because they are memorable, even after this viewing. But they really struggle to become anything less than shallow caricatures of what they are supposed to be. I know it is a Bond film and there really isn't much character development to be had, but I just had no interest in any of the character, except perhaps Wint & Kidd just because they were so different and mysterious. But even they fit into the mold of the cheesiness of the whole film. Like when Blofeld was dressed a woman at the airport! What was that all about!? But even Bond was not developed much in this film. I have been looking at the character of Bond throughout this whole marathon and there have been things I have noticed in all the films, but this time I found him bland and some what forgettable. For that I blame both Connery, who is really starting to look older with a little salt and pepper going, as well as the screenwriters, who seem to shape as generic a character as they think they can get away with. Perhaps because the franchise is growing, this being the seventh installment, I am just starting to grow weary of the character of Bond, but my love of the series makes that proposition immediately false.

I look forward to a new era of Bond as we start to get into the Roger Moore filmography of the series. Perhaps the producers saw the same thing I did, and knew just when to get rid of Connery and revamp the series, though the director and one of the writers will be the same for the next film.


James Bond will return in...

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