Saturday, November 26, 2016

Film Review: Diamonds Are Forever

"Diamonds Are Forever"  *** (out of ****)

Sean Connery and the diamonds sparkle in "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971).

"Diamonds Are Forever" was the seventh feature-film James Bond adventure and the sixth to star Sean Connery as the 007 British secret agent. Mr. Connery had decided to walk away from the role after "You Only Live Twice" (1967). The next actor to be cast as James Bond was George Lazenby in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969). There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet (who would have thought?) regarding the circumstances as to why Mr. Lazenby did not return. Some suggest he too walked away from the role while others indicate the audience didn't accept him as the character.

That is where we find ourselves with "Diamonds Are Forever" and Mr. Connery's return to the character he made famous and in turn made Mr. Connery a superstar. There seems to be a mixed reaction to the movie. Some movie fans believe the story is too campy in a pre - Roger Moore era. Others, I have read, suggest this is one of the best Bond adventures and belongs side by side as one of Mr. Connery's best portrayals of the character.

The first hour of this two hour movie, works nearly flawless but it is not the Bond audiences had come to expect, the suave socialite with a martini in his hand, a double entendre on his lips and a pretty girl in his sights. Our introduction to Bond (pre-credits) shows an aggressive Bond looking for SPECTRE agent Blofeld (Charles Gray), as Bond beats henchmen after henchmen for Blofeld's whereabouts. It could in some ways serve as a pre-cursor for the Daniel Craig interpretation of the character. Many believe this sequence was meant to be a direct consequence of the events in which "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" ends on.

There are sequences which support the theory "Diamonds Are Forever" has a comical tone. A police chase scene with five police cars after Bond and Bond interrupting what looks like a moon landing re-enactment. However the overall tone of the movie doesn't feel comical. Instead it comes across as a tough cop movie with a detective looking for smuggled diamonds. If "Goldfinger" (1964) is the archetype of the Bond franchise, "Diamonds Are Forever" falls short as it deviates from the formula in terms of both structure and character. Your enjoyment of the movie will depend on how much of a "purist" you are. If you enjoy Daniel Craig in the role, "Diamonds Are Forever" may suite you fine. If you believe only the early Connery Bond movies are worth watching, you'll have a difficult time accepting this movie.

The plot to "Diamonds Are Forever" has been described as "complicated". It really isn't. Bond (Connery) is sent on an assignment to break-up a diamond smuggling ring, by impersonating a noted smuggler himself, which leads him to Tiffany Case (Jill St. John). Bond is to smuggle the diamonds out of Amsterdam to Las Vegas. The bad guys sense a double-cross when the diamonds are discovered to be fake. Have they figured out Bond's identity or is he working for someone else? Bond needs to find the head of the operation while Tiffany seeks leniency for her cooperation, as she has discovered who Bond is. The villain's ultimate goal is to destroy all government nuclear weapons.

If the plot doesn't seem to demand a secret agent of the stature of James Bond, Sean Connery's performance doesn't suggest it. Mr. Connery plays the character quite serious, which is a contrast to the way people seem to remember Mr. Connery's interpretation. With Mr. Connery at the helm, he is able to balance exaggerated sequences with a wry smile on his face while giving serious action scenes their due weight. One would imagine that is why Mr. Connery is the preferred James Bond of so many. He knew when to wink at the camera and when to bring the audience in and could often do it in the same scene.

There is one element to the story which feels largely out of place. Two hitmen known as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith) who kill everyone that comes into contact with the diamonds, while usually engaging in puns after the death of their victims. There is also a slight homosexual implication between the characters as in one scene they walk away holding hands. 

When I was growing up if you were to ask me to name my favorite James Bond movie, I may have said "Diamonds Are Forever". Watching it again, after countless viewings, I no longer feel that way but do greatly admire the first hour of the movie which creates a strong sense of danger for Bond, placing him in deadly situations. In one sequence Bond has been locked in a casket and is about to be cremated. How on earth will he escape? 

But, I now see the movie doesn't perfectly fit into the cannon of Bond films. There is an absence of what audiences like to see in the Bond movies; gadgets, expensive cars, exotic locations (one would think the Las Vegas location with temptation might have created some fun situations for Bond) and a strong Bond girl. It does however have one of my all-time favorite Bond theme songs, sung by Shirley Bassey, marking her second time performing a Bond theme. Ms. Bassey would be asked to sing one more theme.

If "Diamonds Are Forever" works at all for viewers it will be because of Sean Connery's performance. The actor takes full command of the movie with its silly and underdeveloped plot. Unfortunately Ms. St. John isn't memorable as a Bond girl. She is used mostly for comic relief and struts around in a bra and panties or bikini in scenes but isn't active enough in the plot and disappears for chunks of the movie.

Still the movie works. Not necessarily as a "James Bond" movie but as a good action movie which keeps its audience involved. Mr. Connery is very good in the lead role in his last "official" outing as Bond. After this movie we would begin the Roger Moore era for the remainder of the 1970s and into the mid-80s. "Diamonds Are Forever" is worth watching. A rewrite of the second half of the movie could have made this one of the best.