2 of 5 stars
Sean Connery is officially back for his last Bond film (unofficially, he would do one more). After the disaster that was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Connery was talked back for this one film (I imagine the conversation went something like Cubby Broccoli and Harry R. Saltzman placing a bag of cash with a dollar sign on it on the table in front of Connery). Connery was 41 by the time this movie was made, but he doesn’t look a day over 56. With this comedic romp of an action/spy thriller, the producers seemingly attempted to sweep OHMSS under the rug.
OHMSS ended with Blofeld and Irma Blunt gunning down Bond’s wife as they headed off for their honeymoon. Diamonds Are Forever naturally begins with Bond searching for Blofeld. Bond seemingly gets rid of Blofeld before the opening credits, after which the movie moves on to a diamond smuggling plot, and Bond returns to work as if nothing had happened. This makes Diamonds Are Forever a wasted opportunity to dispose of Blofeld in a satisfying way (in Fleming’s book You Only Live Twice, which was adapted to film four years earlier, Bond strangles Blofeld to death in his Japanese castle right before it blows up). I know it’s futile suggesting what a movie should have done 42 years after the fact, but this movie should have had a depressed and brooding Bond going off on a personal vendetta to kill Blofeld. Instead, we get a silly, cheesy movie that set the campy tone for the 007 films of the ‘70s.
Bond is assigned to investigate what seems to be a fairly mundane diamond smuggling caper. The only clue there’s something more sinister to it is the fact none of the diamonds are reaching the market. Bond must discover what the smugglers’ motives are. The smuggled diamonds’ trail leads from South African mines, to Dutch apartments—where he encounters red-headed femme fatale Tiffany Case and utters the line, ‘Providing the collars and cuffs match’—and finally ends up in the casinos of Las Vegas. Bond suspects reclusive millionaire Willard Whyte’s involvement in the smuggling operation and decides to confront him in his penthouse, a.k.a. the “Whyte House.” He scales the side of the Whyte House and breaks into the penthouse to discover… Blofeld! Apparently, Bond had only killed Blofeld’s double in the pre-title sequence. Blofeld (played by Charles Gray this time around, who we last saw as Bond’s Tokyo contact, Mr Henderson, in You Only Live Twice) has been posing as Willard Whyte, while the real Mr. Whyte has been kept prisoner in his mansion outside of town.
It all culminates in a desperate battle on an oil rig where Blofeld controls a space satellite (constructed from the diamonds he’d smuggled) that can destroy missile silos all over the world. While demonstrating the space weapon’s capabilities, Blofeld somewhat amicably tells Bond, ‘The satellite is at present over Kansas. If we destroy Kansas, the world may not hear about it for years.’ To which Bond should have responded, ‘Remember the time you killed my wife, Blofeld?’
The movie’s not without its charms. Some of the camp is indeed fun. In one scene, Bond stumbles onto a sound stage where they’re apparently faking a moon landing. Someone in the booth yells, “Stop him!” And the astronaut actors, staying in character, move out in front of Bond as if affected by the moon’s low gravity. Bond then jumps onto a moon buggy and races off into the Nevada desert.
The moon buggy chase may be silly, but the film also features a car chase down the Las Vegas strip and around a parking lot that is wonderfully executed. As for the henchman, Blofeld employs two gay hit men who are genuinely creepy.
Not all the camp works. In one scene, Blofeld walks through a casino in full drag. Considering Blofeld violently murdered Bond’s wife in the previous film, this scene hits the wrong note. Tiffany Case recognizes him from his white cat (it was never established Case knew anything about Blofeld, so this is an apparent plot hole), tries to follow him, but gets captured herself.
Diamonds Are Forever kicked off the silly era of 007 films. Bond films from this period almost seem like they’re embarrassed of themselves. In hindsight On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a pretty good movie, but audiences in 1969 didn’t recognize its quality and rejected it. Therefore, the producers went in the opposite direction, handing movie-goers this schlock, saying, “Here’s what you asked for, you bunch of sheeple.”