Reel Talk

Diamonds Are Forever and Embracing the Camp

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I’ve never really been a fan of the term “guilty pleasure.” It’s supposed to mean that there’s something you enjoy that you should be ashamed of enjoying, because it’s not actually good. I find that to be kind of ridiculous, because if you like something you shouldn’t be ashamed about it. If it resonates with you, you should just accept that. I enjoy all of the Bond movies. Some in different way from others, but there’s always something that I can find about them that work for me. I can certainly rank the Bond movies based on my personal preference, but even whichever would be at the bottom (*cough* Die Another Day *cough*) is still a movie that I would happily watch. And this is a frame of mind that I tend to recognize in a lot of Bond fans. It’s just that you may not agree on which movies have the most flaws. Although, most of the time when I see people’s thoughts on the films as a whole, there’s one that I feel gets a lot of unfair flak. And that’s the film that we’ll be discussing today. I’ll admit right here and now that Diamonds Are Forever is not a traditionally good movie. It’s kind of a complete mess, and it may be the first “bad” movie in the franchise. But I love this movie. I love it so goddamn much. When I watched rewatched this movie for this series I did so with a grin on my face the entire time. My wife was seeing it for the first time, and had a look of baffled fascination for the whole run-time. I completely understand every criticism of this film, accept them, and choose to ignore them. This film is a delight.

Despite my love for the film, it is quite the oddity for the franchise. It’s kind of the Grover Cleveland of the Bond movies, since it’s our non-consecutive Sean Connery performance. Connery had of course left the franchise after You Only Live Twice for a variety of reasons, leading to the casting of George Lazenby. Lazenby then turned in one performance and bailed in order to become a counter-culture icon, which didn’t exactly pan out for him. So, desperate and without a star, the producers came back to Sean Connery. And he agreed to do it, on the condition that they pay him a million dollars. Which he then donated to charity, seemingly just to mess with the producers. And once he put in the performance, he bailed once again, also seemingly just to mess with the producers. And boy was he just phoning in his performance. Sean Connery clearly does not want to be in this movie, and doesn’t even attempt to hide it. And not only that, you also have to take in the fact that this script was cobbled together from several different ideas. Originally it was supposed to solely be about diamonds smuggling and feature the vengeful brother of Auric Goldfinger. And you can kind of tell the exact moment when this film stops being that movie, and becomes a radically different one. They also didn’t want to use the plot of the book, which was basically James Bond vs the Mob, which probably would make for an equally ridiculous movie. But none of that matters, because the decisions that they actually did make are utterly fascinating, and lead to this unique little gem of a movie.

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Okay, let’s see if I can make sense of this batshit plot. It opens up with James Bond beating his way through a series of goons, trying to find the location of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This movie never once mentions Tracy, or the events of the previous movie, but it’s assumed that Bond is so mad because he’s tracking down the man who killed his wife. Anyway, he finds Blofeld, who seems to be getting ready to get plastic surgery, which explains the fact that he’s played by yet another actor, and is preparing to have an underling get surgery as well, to create a double. Bond murders Blofeld by strapping him to a table and suffocating him in mud, and we’re treated to another delightful Shirely Bassey theme song. And once that’s over, we see Bond return to work, where he gets a lot of crap for “wasting time” tracking down the biggest terrorist the world has ever known. M then gives Bond his new job, which is just tracking down and stopping a diamond smuggling ring that’s bothering the British government. And we learn about this ring while also seeing a leg of it being destroyed by two mysterious assassins, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. We see the pair kill everyone that touches the diamonds, destroying every step of the pipeline. But Bond doesn’t know that, all he knows is that he’s supposed to impersonate a smuggler named Peter Franks and meet with his contact in Amsterdam. So Bond heads to the Netherlands and meets with Tiffany Case, his contact. Bond charms Case, and tries to establish himself as a legitimate smuggler. This is made more difficult when Bond gets word that the real Peter Franks has escaped captivity, and is hot on his trail. Bond catches the real Franks at Tiffany Case’s apartment, and gets into a shockingly brutal and intense fight with the man on an elevator, before killing him. And when Tiffany comes to find out who the man was, Bond helps his cover by switching wallets with the man, leading Case to believe that he just killed James Bond, the apparently famous super spy.

So, Tiffany Case now believes Bond, and the pair take the diamonds and head to Los Angeles, where the diamonds are transported in the corpse of Peter Franks, and they meet up with Felix Leiter. And once at Los Angeles Bond gets in a hearse driven by some gangsters and drive all the way to Las Vegas, where Peter Franks is cremated, leaving behind the diamonds. And this is where things get complicated. Bond is knocked out and almost killed in the crematory by Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, until he’s saved by the gangsters when they realize the diamonds were fake. Bond has the real diamonds held captive, and heads to a new casino in Vegas called the Whyte House, where one of the gangsters works. The Whyte House is owned by reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte, and Bond begins to worry think that Whyte may be behind the smuggling. Bond then wanders around Vegas, finding people killed by Wint and Kidd while trying to see if Tiffany Case is on the level by messing with her at Circus Circus. But Bond eventually decides he needs to start investigating Whyte, and heads to a secret research lab that Whyte has in the desert. Bond sneaks in, and finds a doctor who specializes in lasers designing some sort of satellite with the diamonds. However, Bond isn’t a particularly sneaky guy, and he’s quickly found out, leading to him getting chased through the lab. Luckily he’s able to find a room where they’re filming a fake moon-landing, and Bond is able to steal a moon-buggy to escape. This results in a moon-buggy/ATV chase that ends with Bond tricking Whyte’s security and meeting back up with Case. They then drive back to Las Vegas, where they get in yet another car chase, this time with a bunch of yokel sheriffs. But they eventually lose them and end up at the Whyte House, where Felix is not pleased. He tries to keep Bond and Case locked in the Whyte house, so Bond can’t get up to mischief. But that’s just what Bond wanted, because as soon as Felix is gone he starts scaling the hotel, reaching the penthouse apartment of Willard Whyte. And things get even crazier.

Because Willard Whyte is not inside the penthouse. Ernst Stavro Blofeld is. Specifically, two Blofelds. Turns out that the double surgery from the beginning was successful, and the real Blofeld is still alive. Bond quickly kills the double, but unfortunately doesn’t get a chance to kill the real Blofeld. He’s then gassed and carted out to the middle of the desert by Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, who decide to kill Bond by sticking him in a pipe so that the next morning he can be built into some sort of system of pipes. However, Bond quickly gets out of this pipe system, and meets back up with Felix to tell him the news. They now realize they need to find the real Willard Whyte. Which they do, at his summer home in the middle of the desert. Bond sneaks in, deals the the acrobats/jailers that keep Whyte hostage, and free the man. Blofeld then realizes the jig is up and leaves Las Vegas to start the next stage of his plan. Oh and he kidnaps Tiffany Case. And with the help of Whyte they piece together the evidence from that lab and realize that Blofeld has been smuggling diamonds so that he could make a satellite with a high-powered diamond laser. They then begin the hunt for Blofeld and eventually realize that he’s hiding out on a oil-rig that Blofeld created after assuming the identity of Whyte. So Bond logically  has to get into some sort of hamster ball and be dropped into the ocean surrounding the oil-rig so that he can be captured. Blofeld then explains the plan, which is basically that he’s going to use his laser beam to blow up American and Soviet missiles, and then ransom the two countries into paying him to not blow up their other missiles. And once Bond has that information he lets a balloon loose from the oil-rig, signalling an army of helicopters to swoop in and start blowing up the oil-rig. Blofeld tries to escape in a tiny one-man submarine, but Bond gets a hold of the crane that’s lowering it into the ocean, and uses Blofeld as a battering ram to destroy the command center of the satellite, killing Blofeld and ending the threat. Bond and Tiffany then go on a lovely cruise together, letting James Bond have sex on a aquatic vessel as per tradition, when they’re attacked by Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. But Bond is able to easily dispatch with the assassins, and gets to continue his romantic cruise.

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Okay, listen. This is not a traditionally “good” movie. Up until this point I think that the Bond franchise actually had a pretty good batting average. The other films, despite some minor problems, I think are pretty good movies. They don’t always make sense, but there’s nothing egregiously wrong with them. Then there’s Diamonds Are Forever. This movie is a goddamn mess. It really feels like there’s who distinct movies going on, a diamond smuggling movie and a Blofeld threatens the world movie. And they switch when Bond gets into the secret desert lab. As soon as he does that this becomes a radically different movie, and doesn’t go back. The acting is incredibly spotty, from all involved. Charles Gray as Blofeld is hamming it up like crazy, Jill St. John as Tiffany Case is in a slapstick comedy, and Sean Connery looks like he wants to be anywhere but this movie. The tone of this movie is also wildly inappropriate, especially considering what came before it. Watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever close together provides a serious case of tonal whiplash. If we really are to believe that these actors are all playing the same character of James Bond, he goes from a really down-to-earth adventure that ends with his wife being killed to a goofy romp involving a moon-buggy chase. I get the feeling that Sean Connery did not see On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and had no idea how it ended, because he sure as hell isn’t even trying to play a man who just lost the love of his life. And yet, I adore this movie.

And why is that? Because it’s absolutely insane. This film is completely absurd, doesn’t take itself seriously, and basically becomes a parody of itself by the end. This is essentially a James Bond comedy. Blofeld dresses up in a drag for a while for no reason, there’s seriously a moon-buggy chase, an elephant plays a slot machine and gets a jackpot, a Las Vegas sheriff refers to James Bond as a “Son of a bitchin’ saboteur,” James Bond apparently carries around a wallet where his only form of identification is his membership to the Playboy Mansion, and a significant portion of the film revolves around Bond finding a blatant Howard Hughes parody. This movie makes zero sense, but it doesn’t even act like it should. There’s a brutal and intense elevator fight that evokes the final showdown in From Russia With Love alongside a vaudeville routine at a gas-station so that a giant Scottish man can sneak onto a van. And don’t even get me started on Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. I seriously have no idea what’s going on with these characters, and I love them. They appear to be in a gay relationship, holding hands and saying things like “she’s quite attractive, for a lady,” and despite the fact that I’ve watched this movie about a dozen times, I still am not quite sure what their deal is. I suppose that they work for Blofeld, and are shutting down the pipeline because the diamond laser is complete, but honestly if someone told me that they were unrelated to the Blofeld plot I think I would buy it. There was an aesthetic from this time period that we call camp, and this movie is swimming in it. I’m not exactly sure that camp is something that belongs in the Bond movies in general, but it’s good to be sprinkled into the series. And this movie gets the lion’s share. It’s unapologetically weird, colorful, and crazy, and if you can accept that you can have a great time with this movie. This is not a serious Bond movie, and it makes absolutely no sense when paired with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but despite all of that this movie is a goddamn hoot. It’s certainly an anomaly when compared with the series as a whole, but if you can expand your concept of what a Bond movie can and should be, this movie has a lot to offer.

Diamonds Are Forever was written by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz, directed by Guy Hamilton, and distributed by United Artists, 1971.

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