When it’s on: Saturday, 7 July (2.55 pm)
The original plan for Diamonds are Forever was to make it a direct sequel to On her Majesty’s Secret Service. George Lazenby was slated to star, with Peter Yates again behind the camera and opening the film with the murder of Tracy. The story would then revolve around a revenge mission by Bond against Blofeld. But fate intervened. OHMSS clawed its way towards making a profit and Lazenby had tendered his resignation before the picture premiered. Used to producing financial juggernauts, Broccoli and Saltzman were in a dilemma. Where next to take 007?
Their initial answer lay in the series’s success in the States. Pandering to their biggest audience, the producers planned for an American Bond and, after scouting the usual raft of names, agreed a contract with Psycho actor, John Gavin. But then the unlikeliest coup of all took place when Sean Connery was persuaded to don the tuxedo again. He didn’t come cheap, commanding an exorbitant $1.25 million salary and the funds to star in and produce two further films for United Artists, yet it didn’t matter. With Connery back on board, the franchise could get back to doing what it (thought it) did best and effectively remake Goldfinger. Yates was out, and instead Guy Hamilton was hired with the express order to repeat his earlier success. Gert Frobe was proposed to play the brother of Auric Goldfinger, but Tom Mankiewicz’s rewritten script (from Richard Maibaum’s original) instead went for Blofeld, this time with Charles Gray in the role. Gavin was paid to walk away from the project and, determined to retain an American flavour, Diamonds are Forever took Las Vegas as its dominant setting.
If OHMSS can be considered a reboot of the format, then Diamonds is definitely a regressive step. Jettisoning the heartful Bond played by Lazenby, the character is essentially reset with Connery back in the part. After paying lip service to its predecessor by having Bond swathe a vengeful trail in search of Blofeld, the credits roll and, sure enough, it’s back to pre-Majesty’s business as usual. The message to viewers is clear – forget that aberration of a flick; this is the real Bond.
Only the real thing doesn’t feel half as good. With all the substance of a henchman who happens to be standing between Bond and his prey, Diamonds goes for a light-hearted approach, trying out the near-pastiche that would define the Roger Moore years to come. It’s played mainly for laughs, the plot acting as window dressing for expensively mounted stunts and heavy handed gags. Connery looks as though he’s trying to maintain his dignity, but like the film he appears tired and saggy around the midriff, whilst Jill St John, as the lead Bond girl, ticks the glamour boxes and obligingly wears very little but lacks all credibility once she no longer needs to play the part of a hard-nosed diamond smuggler and becomes the archetypal simpering female. As for the villain, one wonders what SPECTRE’s Number One did to deserve such a rubbish reading of his character. The camp villainy Grey projects is such a far cry from the shadowy leader of From Russia with Love that it’s simply impossible to take him seriously. Blofeld’s brief appearance in drag is simply the icing on this particularly mouldy cake.
The Las Vegas location looks almost appropriately tacky. The shoot had an almost free run of many of the city’s casinos thanks to the patronage of reclusive fan, Howard Hughes, and as thanks the story was adapted to shoehorn in a Hughes type character, played by Jimmy Dean who naturally turns into Bond’s ally. And the less said about the moon buggy business, or the botched stunt involving the car driven on its two right wheels, the better.
Diamonds isn’t entirely worthless. The confined space in which a fight between Bond and Peter Franks takes place lends the scene a degree of inescapable brutality. Two of the villains, a pair of gay assassins are interesting enough to command far more screen time than they eventually get. Another bit of action, in which Bond climbs up a Vegas skyscraper, is dizzyingly well filmed, especially as it suggests he does this kind of thing all the time, the sort of vertiginous stunt that any audience member in their right mind wouldn’t even consider. Supporting everything is a really fine score by house composer, John Barry, topped off with Shirley Bassey’s eminently memorable theme song.
And viewers responded, turning the film into another £100 million+ bonanza at the box office and proving the producers right all along. Perhaps silly thrills and the presence of Connery were all that was ever needed in the end. But with hindsight, it’s clear this was a picture made by people who’d effectively run out of ideas and were happy enough to go through the motions.
Diamonds are Forever: **