Bad Movies We Love: Diamonds Are Forever
Forty years ago this Friday, United Artists released Diamonds Are Forever -- the seventh entry in the James Bond series, and one that dragged founding franchise star Sean Connery out of 007 retirement in the hopes of rinsing the bad taste that his replacement, George Lazenby, left in moviegoers' mouths in the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Connery succeeded, but only by making what remains arguably the silliest Bond film to date. Enfolding globetrotting jewel smugglers, reclusive Las Vegas casino barons, effete hit men, bikinied enforcers named after cartoons, lunar-landing conspiracy bait, cosmetically enhanced villain-doppelgangers, and more one-liners than a decade's worth of White House Correspondents Dinners, Diamonds Are Forever is campier than a dome tent and almost as vacant.
I vividly remember watching it on TV as a kid, figuring its geopolitical space-race intrigues and bedhopping exploits were over my 8-year-old head. Today, after recently catching up with it for the first time in nearly 30 years, I realize that it's basically Tinker Tailor Soldier Why? -- that there is no making sense of the plot, the characters, the gays, the straights, the overlapping interests or why any of it is worth so much subterfuge and many people dying in so many gruesome ways. There is only the luxuriant enjoyment of a quintessential Bad Movie We Love.
It all starts with the vengeful Bond -- whose new bride was killed at the end of OHMSS -- tormenting a diverse array of associates who can lead him to his murderous archnemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. That much is clear. Note to self: Bikini-top strangulation is a hugely tasteful way to extract information from lithe, defenseless sunbathers. Actual line: "Speak up darling, I can't hear you!"
And Bond catches him just in time, what with all the plastic surgery Blofeld's arranging for numbers of hapless decoys. You just know this is where Saddam Hussein got the idea for lookalike bodyguards. I hesitate to include the video below, if only because the dude in the mud bath deserves every penny of royalties he earned for what looks like a hugely unpleasant bit part. Or at least his kin does, if they even deign to acknowledge, "Yup -- that's paw, awright, gettin' all mud-shit on and hosed off and re-drowned. Hold yer nose, paw!" Or how about the guy who gets the scalpel in the heart? Whatever. Let's just be thankful that modern cosmetic surgery has moved out of the dank, bubbling tar-pit lairs of Diamonds Are Forever. Duchess of Alba Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart knows exactly what I'm talking about.
From there Commander Bond is back to Britain, where payback is brushed aside for the moment and the details of his latest mission are laid out. Sort of: There are diamond mines in South Africa! And workers are smuggling jewels out! In their mouths! To dentists! Who in turn wind up exchanging the rocks during desert rendezvous with... these guys:
That would be Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, played with stone-like conviction by Putter Smith and Bruce "Father of Crispin" Glover, respectively. They identify themselves only by name at first, but creep back into the action wherever diamonds are found. Are they sophisticated high-class criminals proving the British Intelligence theory that someone's hoarding diamonds to create a depression? Not so much: They're dry, they're wry, they're cold-blooded... but mostly they are just creepy lovers whose homosexuality and psychopathology appear to be conflated in the film's only truly irredeemable streak of bad taste. It's not just that Mr. Wint can't abide Mr. Kidd paying pretty woman a compliment, as happens later in the film ("I must say, Miss Case seems quite attractive -- for a lady!"). I mean, holy Christ, check out how they celebrate a double homicide:
After that, it's anybody's guess. Sort of, anyway: There is the selflessly, thanklessly composed Wikipedia summary for the film, which lays out a succession of convolutions that track Bond from Amsterdam -- where he poses as diamond smuggler Peter Franks and encounters Franks's clothes-allergic peer Tiffany Case (Jill St. John, always my favorite Bond Girl after Eva Green. Well, and Maryam D'Abo, of course) -- to Los Angeles to Las Vegas. But only after Bond kills the real Peter Franks in a three-minute elevator fight and fatal fire-extinguisher blow -- but not the way you might think.
The diamonds are hidden inside Franks's body, leading to Kidd and Wint's attempt to cremate Bond, who is then saved by the wizened Sin City comic Shady Tree, who is in cahoots with the CIA, who meets his own regrettable demise at the hands of our gay assassins.
Following? With comebacks like this, does it matter?
Originally scripted by Richard Maibaum, Diamonds Are Forever received a near-total rewrite by Tom Mankiewicz -- the son of Oscar-winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz -- who was brought on to soup up a screenplay that would entice Connery to return as Bond. The results were not only a six-month stay on the project and a nearly 10-year stint with the Bond franchise, but a film with its tongue embedded so deep in its cheek it left a bruise. While steering the 007 franchise to the outer limits of levity, it also resulted in such extraordinary interludes as this one with craps maiden Plenty O'Toole:
Let's hear it for Lana "Sister of Natalie" Wood! She only solidifies her finest screen performance moments later with a topless defenestration into a pool from Bond's hotel suite ("I've got friends in this toowwwwnnnn..."), but still: This is Connery and St John's film. And it still makes no sense: Something about a reclusive billionaire hotel owner (Bond producer Albert Broccoli was inspired to include Willard Whyte after a dream in which his close friend Howard Hughes had a deadly double) with a top secret lab out in the desert, where Bond and Case achieve basically zero plot mobility but initiate consecutive car chases featuring both a lunar-stage moon buggy...
...and and a '71 Mustang, which... I mean... You really must watch it once and then play it back just to hear those vintage sound FX harmonize. It's not like director Guy Hamilton purposely left off the score -- that is the score:
And you know what? For all the fancy driving throughout, I'm ultimately much fonder of the Clark County Sheriff, whose extraordinary perception ("There goes that son of a bitch and saboteur!") and fearsome law-enforcement prowess deserve a nice long still-frame appreciation:
And while there remains an hour more to this movie, you find yourself envisioning a glorious world where this head-cramping gaudiness and camp endure forever -- where Bond scales all of the towers in Vegas, and where, inside those towers, he meets all of the cosmetically altered carbon copies of the douche who killed his wife, and that all of those baddies may disguise their voices as Blofeld does, and that you, too, may someday match his acumen after miraculously escaping from a tube buried in the Nevada desert:
And, of course, where all the watchdogs in the world have been replaced by comely, backhanded commentaries on the Equal Rights Movement. Ahem.
I'm no more certain of what happens in the rest of Diamonds Are Forever than I was decades ago -- something about Blofeld stockpiling diamonds to build a killer satellite, which apparently doubles as an excuse for Bond to blow the shit out of a SPECTRE base disguised as an oil well off the coast of Mexico. But there is no mistaking what's going on in the climactic showdown between Bond and Messrs. Wint and Kidd, which is to say: Beating Airplane! at its own sight-gag-and-sound-effect game nearly 10 years ahead of time. Happy anniversary, Diamonds Are Forever! Bombe surprise for everyone!