Saturday, August 25, 2012

Brandon Peters dissects the 007 series part 07: Diamonds Are Forever

With Skyfall dropping in theaters in just a few months, along with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, a close friend and fellow film nerd, Brandon Peters, has generously offered to do a comprehensive review of the entire 007 film franchise. Today is the seventh entry, with at look at not only the worst Sean Connery 007 adventure, but one of the worst films in the whole series, Diamonds Are Forever. I hope you enjoy what is a pretty massive feature leading up the November 9th release of Skyfall. I'll do my best to leave my two-cents out of it, give or take a few items I have up my sleeve (including a guest review from my wife as she sings the praises of her favorite 007 film, you won't believe what it is). But just because I'm stepping aside doesn't mean you should, as I can only hope for robust discussions in the comments section. Without further ado...

Diamonds Are Forever
Director: Guy Hamilton
Starring: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Norman Burton
Rated PG

Go blow up your pants!
                        ~Tiffany Case

Kills: 8
Bond Girls: Tiffany Case, Plenty O’Toole
Car: 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 "Fastback"
Locales: Amesterdam, Las Vegas
Odd Villain Trait:  Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are the original Ambiguously Gay Duo.  Peter Franks fits the Red Grant mold.
Song:  “Diamonds Are Forever” performed by Shirley Bassey. 

Everyone breathe a sigh of relief.  Sean Connery is back.  The director of Goldfinger has returned.  Shirley Bassey is singing the theme song again.  We’re going to recapture that old magic that was “apparently” lost with the previous film.  Following On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,  the 007 brass felt that there was a drop off (especially in America, hence why this is set in Las Vegas) with the Bond series and were willing to do anything they could to get it back on track.  Diamonds Are Forever may have been the financial success the studio was looking for, but is a failure as a quality picture.  In short, it's the first James Bond film that outright stinks.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) has kidnapped reclusive billionaire Willard White (Jimmy Dean) and assumed his identity through over-the-phone business affairs.  Blofeld has created a satellite in space with a diamond powered laser which he uses to blow up nuclear weapons in China, the Soviet Union and the United States.  James Bond goes undercover on a lead and ends up in the company of one of a ring of diamond smugglers (Tiffany Case, played by Jill St. John).  This takes him and Tiffany Case to Vegas where Bond is able to uncover another diabolical plan by Blofeld.

Right from the get-go this film just feels wrong.  The opening teaser is Bond going SPECTRE agent to SPECTRE agent hunting for Blofeld, angry over Tracy’s death.  But 007 comes off more like some just lit a brown bag of poo and stuck it on his front porch more than being upset over the murder of his wife.  He eventually confronts Blofeld.  This just doesn’t carry any weight whatsoever.  We are watching Sean Connery upset and trying to get revenge for something we just saw happen to George Lazenby.  It doesn’t work at all.  Who does he come face-to-face with?  Telly Savalas?  NOPE, a new Blofeld actor, Charles Gray.  So we have 2 new actors to this storyline trying to bring this ultimate showdown to fruition, to conclude the conflict of the previous film.   As a viewer it’s entirely weak and doesn’t feel at all worth our time or what we want following On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  It reminds me of the concluding chapter of The Stepfather series.  Terry O’Quinn, in a memorable and cult iconic performance, was THE stepfather in the first two films of the series.  He is the guy everyone associates with those films.  He didn’t return for the third and final film.  So they put a new actor in the role for the “ultimate finale.  It’s not earned because we want to see Terry O’Quinn finished off, not this new guy who we have no prior connection with.  It’s unearned and unsatisfying.  And this is exactly what this opening is. 

Contrary to popular belief, George Lazenby was not fired or shown the door following On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  They wanted him to come back for Diamonds Are Forever (and five more after that), but he refused.  Lazenby had an agent that convinced him that Bond wouldn’t live much past 1970.  Congratulations George, you’re now the answer to a trivia question.  John Gavin was hired by producers to play 007 in this film, but United Artist didn’t care and wanted Sean Connery back at ANY cost.  He was given the astronomical (at the time) pay of $1.25 million and the guaranteed backing for 2 pictures of his choosing.  This shows completely.  Connery is at his worst playing 007.  He pretty much just showed up for the money.  James Bond appeared bored and completely uninterested throughout the runtime of the feature. 

The film itself is rather almost cartoony and pretty stupid for most of its two hours.  We get Bond in a chase scene through the desert in a moon buggy.  He fights two ugly acrobatic women named Bambi and Thumper.  Plenty O’Toole is a bumbling bimbo.  Blofeld is having henchman have plastic surgery and voice box implants to double as him.  Jimmy Dean takes you completely out of the movie every scene he’s in.  There’s so much groan-worthy voice disguising by crappy dubbing.  The fx budget was severly trimmed due to Connery’s salary, and it shows. 

The hired assassins/main henchman, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, seem to have walked on to Diamonds Are Forever from some other film.  They come off like two Scooby Doo characters come to life.  They make more yucky quips than Connery did in his first six 007 movies combined.  There are actually a couple good, dark humored lines hidden amongst all the garbage they spew out.  And while they have no problem murdering some of these diamond smugglers, when it comes to Bond they just leave him in a pipe in the desert.  When they show up at the end it’s just the icing on top of this shit cake of a movie with their undoing.  Was it an attempt at humor that the obviously gay couple goes out with one of them catching flames and the other having a bomb pretty much shoved in his butt or just coincidence?

The acting in Diamonds Are Forever is atrocious.  Sean Connery stinks.  Blofeld comes off too campy.  There is a dentist who gets bit by a scorpion and has an outrageous reaction.  I’ve discussed Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint and frankly most of the one liner supporting cast is dreadful.  The Bond girls are lousy (perhaps a European commentary on American women?).  Tiffany Case is the first American Bond Girl and she’s pretty useless.  Jill St. John isn’t what you would call a fanastic performer, and her character doesn’t do a whole lot.  She just dresses in suggestive clothing and holds Bond’s hand if he’s near.

Felix Leiter returns for the first time since Thunderball.  Funny enough, now that Guy Hamilton is back directing, Leiter has reverted back to an older, more Goldfinger-esque character.  He’s helpful and useful this time around, on the same level of service as he was in Goldfinger.  I’m just surprised how much the producers have allowed for Felix to fluctuate like this throughout the series.  It’s almost as if he’s been two or four completely different characters who just happen to have the same name and just happen to work for the CIA.

My above-noted issues with Diamonds Are Forever notwithstanding, there is one scene in the film that warrants you to pop in this film and skip to it.  I’m talking about the car chase through the Vegas strip.  Bond and Tiffany Case are being hunted by the cops and some slick maneuvers are made, some ramping and a two-wheeled escape through a dead end.  Don’t watch the whole movie, just skip to this.  There’s a brief fist fight in an elevator between Bond and Peter Franks that’s mildly entertaining too, just to note.

Diamonds Are Forever broke the record for the 3-day opening weekend when it was released.  It was enormously successful on a global scale, earning $116 million worldwide.  The producers wanted a lighter tone than the comparatively dark and somber On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  And since the money was there, I’m sure they felt they succeeded.  In reality, what they got was an over the top, cheap-looking, too campy (not of the fun kind), shallow film that didn’t play well to critics then and doesn’t hold up now.  I don’t think this will end up being the worst Bond film but it’s easily the worst so far and the first qualifying as a truly bad film with nothing redeeming about it.  I spent most of this film rolling my eyes and just unhappy with what was transpiring on screen.  If Sean Connery is conveying to me that he doesn’t want to be there, then what’s my interest? 

Diamonds Are Forever did make me a bit more enthusiastic to switching James Bonds and going through what the comparably unpopular run of Roger Moore films.  Thanks to this film, I’m going in open-minded and optimistic.

Brandon Peters will return in LIVE AND LET DIE

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