Friday, September 15, 2017

"Named After Your Father, Perhaps?"

Another Friday night, another Bond movie to unwind to, (don't worry, I'm not going to write about every Bond movie as ITV4 show them again on Friday nights), this time Diamonds Are Forever from 1971.  Diamonds Are Forever makes for a fascinating contrast with its immediate predecessor, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  The latter was generally felt to have been a disappointment at the box office, with the blame being firmly placed upon the fact that it was 'atypical' of the series, from the casting of the leading man to the plot and style, it was felt that it had deviated too much from the established formula that loyal Bond audiences had become accustomed to.  Of course, the situation hadn't been helped by George Lazenby announcing that he wasn't going to to do another Bond movie before his first (and only) film in the series had even been released.  The Bond producers were left in a quandary, not only were they going to have to recast the role again, but plans for Diamonds Are Forever had been predicated upon Lazenby continuing in the role.  Indeed, the film had originally been intended as a direct sequel to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, quite literally picking up where the previous film left off: with the murder of Bond's wife by Blofeld on their wedding day.

In the end they opted to play safe in every department with the new film.  Most crucially, after touting a series of uninspiring and  unsuitable actors for the lead role, the services of Sean Connery were eventually secured, returning to the role on a one off basis and for a fee of a million dollars (which, it later transpired, he gave to charity).  The completed film makes no direct reference to the events of On Her Majesty's Secret Service - the pre-title sequence shows an angry Bond beating up various characters, demanding to know where Blofeld is, before confronting the super villain at a plastic surgery clinic where doubles are being prepared and seemingly killing him.  The reasons for Bond seeking Blofeld, or his apparent fury at him are never made specific.  In the opening scenes of the film proper, M makes reference to Bond having returned from a leave of absence, which he spent dealing with 'personal business'.  Thereafter, Diamonds Are Forever unfolds as a typical Bond movie with world once more being held to ransom by Blofeld, (the real one, not the double killed by Bond in the pre-title sequence).

There is absolutely nothing unexpected or novel in the film.  Everything is reassuringly familiar.  It's clear that the producers are trying to reference Goldfinger - the most successful and popular film in the franchise up to that time - throughout the film.  Many of the tropes from the earlier film are present: an obsession with a precious substance (diamonds rather than gold) which threatens the financial stability of a country (the UK rather than US), a villain with a high tech arsenal (both Goldfinger and Blofeld have powerful lasers), the use of gangsters as a front by the villain, even a climax involving a countdown to a potential disaster.  (At one stage in the film's development it was even proposed to bring Gert Frobe back as the villain - playing Goldfinger's diamond-obsessed identical twin brother).  Even the direction of Diamonds Are Forever was entrusted to Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton (a professional director of many British war films capable of handling large spectacles on screen, but visually less than inspired).  Consequently, the film has a similar look and feel to Goldfinger, returning to the glossy but solid look of earlier Bond productions, rather than the slightly harder edged and 'arty' look of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Diamonds Are Forever has a far lighter feel to it than its predecessor, featuring a jokey script which ramps up the campness.  (In this respect, it pretty much provided a template for the subsequent Roger Moore films).  Not only is Bond's animosity to Blofeld quickly forgotten, but Blofeld himself, played by Charles Grey, replacing Telly Savalas, is so archly camp as to be utterly non-threatening,  Even camper are his henchmen, Mr Wint and Mr  Kidd, a pair of appalling  gay stereotypes who, despite ruthlessly and efficiently dispatching various members of a diamond smuggling ring, fail time and again to kill Bond, always leaving him too many opportunities to escape.  Not that we ever believe that 007 is under threat at any point in the film, with him returning to his usual invulnerability after his flirting with humanity in the previous film.  We never fear that he's going to do anything as rash as treating women as anything other than sex objects and actually fall in love with one.  Connery's performance as Bond is virtually a parody of his previous appearances in the role, with wisecracks and smugness replacing his earlier ruthlessness.  His performance isn't helped by an unconvincing hair piece and visible paunch.   Unlike On Her Majesty's Secret Service, beyond the title, a few basic plot elements and Las Vegas setting, Diamonds Are Forever bears little resemblance to its source novel - in the interest of protecting its box office, obviously.

Despite being inferior to On Her Majesty's Secret Service in virtually every respect, Diamonds Are Forever was a huge success with audiences.  Familiarity, it seems, breeds not contempt, but increased box office takings.  To be fair, it is an entertaining film when seen as a one off - it only becomes disappointing when compared with its predecessor.  Diamonds Are Forever is a perfectly standard Bond movie with all the elements you'd expect, many of them very well executed.  It rolls reasonably smoothly from set piece to set piece, without the plot ever making entire sense.  But its highlights include a brutal fight in a lift, a decent car chase through Las Vegas, the sequence at the undertakers in the desert (where Bond nearly gets cremated).  Shirley Bassey (another nod to Goldfinger) blasts out a  typically bombastic theme song, ('sing diamond, think penis' composer John Barry allegedly directed her), which, along with the rest of the score, whilst entertaining, is far less subtle than Barry's work on the previous film.  Much of the film - like Connery's performance - feels somewhat perfunctory and the whole thing builds to an entirely underwhelming climax on an oil rig.  It does, however, feature a celebrated piece of smutty dialogue when busty Lana Turner introduces herself to Bond:

"I'm Plenty."

"But of course you are."

"Plenty O'Toole."

"Named after your father, perhaps?"

Ah, how witty and sophisticated secret agents were in the seventies.



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