- Year: 1971
- Director: Guy Hamilton
- Series Rank: #13
- Year Rank: #36
- Oscar Nominations: Sound
- Nighthawk Nominations: Visual Effects, Sound Editing
- Bond Girl: Jill St. John (Tiffany Case), Lana Wood (Plenty O’Toole)
- Bond Villain: Charles Gray (Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Putter Smith (Mr. Kidd), Bruce Glover (Mr. Wint)
- Bond Support: Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Norman Burton (Felix Leiter)
I remember when I first watched this film I quite liked it and thought it had gotten a bit of an unfair reputation, especially given how much better it is than Connery’s previous outing. Watching it again, about halfway through the film I was thinking that yes, it is so much better than what comes after it, and maybe it’s even better than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But, then I got through the second half of the film and I remembered all the reasons why this does not sit up there with the other Connery films.
But, before I get to that, let’s start with the first half of the film and what the film does right. First, the film gives Bond a motivation. He’s a much more cold and calculating man now (in the pre-credits sequence we hear and see him before we see his face and know for certain it’s Connery), even strangling one woman with her bikini top to get information about Blofeld. We never hear his dead wife mentioned, but we can bring our own knowledge to the film. Second, it provides a couple of bizarre, but interesting villains in Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (Veronica and I both became convinced that they must have been an inspiration to Neil Gaiman in the creation of Croup and Vandemar in Neverwhere) who pretty much kill anyone they meet. (Digression: I was unconvinced that the scorpion they use for their first murder would really kill a man, but no, that looks to be a fattail scorpion, which is native to that area and absolutely can kill a man with its sting, so kudos to the filmmakers for getting that one right — the book uses an emperor scorpion but the book opens in West Africa rather than South Africa.) Third, we have a really great car chase scene in Las Vegas that gets suitably ridiculous (it’s the infamous up on two wheels scene where they go into an alley on a different pair than they are on when they come out). Fourth, we have a couple of sequences that are incredibly effective because they play on real fears – Bond is almost incinerated at a crematorium (Veronica’s big fear) and he has to scale the outside of a Vegas tower (not as bad for me as watching Tom Cruise hanging on the Burj Khalifa, but I don’t like heights and as Veronica pointed out, you’re just as dead no matter which building you fall off). Fifth, we have a couple of really good-looking Bond girls.
Ah, but that’s also where the film starts to go off the rails a bit. After Tracy in the previous film, the two Bond girls here are named Tiffany Case (she smuggles diamonds) and Plenty O’Toole. Not only that, but played by Jill St. John and Lana Wood, neither does any acting whatsoever. Show me a picture of Jill St. John as Tiffany in her bikini and I would choose her over Diana Rigg. But, watching the two films, there’s no way you can’t go for Rigg – she’s got appeal that goes far beyond simple beauty. We’re back to just fairly worthless eye candy. And we only get a couple of scenes of Plenty before she’s murdered by Wint and Kidd in a scene that really doesn’t make any sense in the film (there’s a deleted scene that helps it make more sense but not enough, and you can’t even go to the book to figure it out as she isn’t in the book) At the end of the film we’re even meant to think that Tiffany wants to marry Bond, but really she just wants to get the diamonds back from outer space.
And the ridiculousness of the Bond girls isn’t even where the film derails so badly. Notice I said there are diamonds in outer space. The plot of this film involves diamonds being smuggled from South Africa to Amsterdam to LA to Las Vegas all so they can be put in a satellite to create a super-laser. And it’s Blofeld who’s behind it – after supposedly killing him at the beginning of the film, Bond, in his new assignment, a much more routine assignment dealing with diamond smuggling, ends up facing off against Blofeld again, who not only turns up alive, but now there are multiple Blofelds (and they’re played by Charles Gray who was good in his limited role as Henderson in You Only Live Twice, but here is really a disappointment after Telly Savalas) and he’s suddenly running a casino by having replaced a Howard Hughes like recluse and is using a voice faker (which we later see Q duplicate, getting a good laugh when he says he made some for his kids for Christmas) and we even see him escape at one point dressed as a woman, though still holding the damn cat and using his cigarette holder. Bond gets tossed into an oil pipeline by Wint and Kidd (putting him in the crematorium was clever and would erase the evidence – this is just silly and overdone). Bond has to rescue the Hughes character and goes up against two evil female gymnasts called Bambi and Thumper. It all ends on an oil rig, with Tiffany being told her bikini is too-revealing and so she changes to simply a slightly less-revealing bikini. In the middle of all that we also have some appearances by Norman Burton who is easily the worst Felix Leiter in all the Bond films.
Diamonds are Forever is a good film. But, just watching the first half of the film we can see the potential for a much better film, something closer to Thunderball. What we get is something that is still better than just about every Roger Moore film that is about to follow, but it’s still disappointing to see what could have been.