Evil Ash checking in again.
This is the second installment in a six-part series looking back on classic, and in some cases, groundbreaking films, that are all celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year.
Thanks for your comments, opinions, and clicks on last weeks look back at The French Connection. As always, I hope that you will continue to enjoy these articles, share them with others, and – as always – leave your comments in the Disqus forums. This week – while it was hardly considered groundbreaking, it’s nonetheless a classic, and also marks the end of an era. Enjoy a look back at 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.
The late great Sean Connery – while forever linked to James Bond – wasn’t ONLY about James Bond. This was something he was trying to prove throughout his career, including during his time portraying the iconic super-spy. He starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 Marnie, and Sidney Lumet’s underappreciated 1965 The Hill. Still, the scripts and offers coming in for non-Bond roles just weren’t there for Connery. He made a few other non-Bond films in the 60s; A Fine Madness in 1966, and Shalako in 1968, but clearly, these were not star-turning roles for the newly minted superstar. He was rapidly growing weary of being pigeonholed into playing James Bond for the rest of his career. His lifelong friend and colleague Michael Caine would comment some years later:
“If you were his friend in these early days you didn’t raise the subject of Bond. He was, and is, a much better actor than just playing James Bond, but he became synonymous with Bond. He’d be walking down the street and people would say, ‘Look, there’s James Bond’. That was particularly upsetting to him”
By the time Connery began production on his fourth outing as James Bond, 1965’s Oscar winning Thunderball, he was already beginning to express his displeasure and doubts about continuing to appear in the iconic role. Connery would basically state this publicly while doing press junkets for the film, repeatedly telling the media that he was concerned about being typecast for for the rest of his career, as well as showing his disappointment towards still having two films remaining in his contract. Once production began on his fifth appearance as James Bond, 1967’s You Only Live Twice, things between Connery and producers, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, started to spiral out of control.
Although Connery still had a sixth Bond movie left on his contract – an adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – things boiled over during the production of You Only Live Twice, which would be his fifth film in five years. Connery demanded that ‘Cubby’ Broccoli increase his pay for the toll that being Bond was having on his private life. Broccoli flatly refused and Connery walked, thereby creating animosity and dislike between the two that would result in a 30-year feud, only achieving reconciliation shortly before Broccoli’s death in 1996.
Newcomer, Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby, would step into the shoes of Commander Bond in 1969, starring in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The film was a box-office smash, which immediately went to Lazenby’s head, as he turned down a lucrative seven movie extension, on the poor advice of his agent at the time. Broccoli would later say about his time spent with Lazenby:
“I find it incredible that a plum role can’t be respected. We chose George because in his physique and his looks and his walk he was the best of the candidates. He had the masculinity. Looking at the film, to put it in an old Spanish phrase, one could wish he had less cojones and more charm”
With Lazenby suddenly leaving the franchise after just one film, the door was now open again to convince Connery to come back. While United Artists were insistent that Eon Productions bring back Connery, Broccoli and Eon were more than happy to test other actors for the role. Between 1969 and 1971 Roger Green, John Gavin, Simon Oates, Oliver Reed, and a young Timothy Dalton were all considered for the role of 007. Still, UA was bankrolling the latest production, and they wanted Connery back in the role.
The studio offered Connery an unprecedented $1.25 million to return; a staggering amount of money at the time. This payday made Connery one of the highest-paid actors of the time, along with Duke Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman and a select few others. Connery agreed to return to the role for his 6th and final “official” outing; reportedly donating his entire salary to create a charity in his hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Production on Diamonds Are Forever would kick-off in April of 1971, and unlike other 007 productions, filming took place mostly in the United States. It was filmed extensively in Las Vegas and California, and throughout much of the film, it has a distinct “un-Bond” feel to it. Additional filming took place at Pinewood Studios in England, as well as in sections of France and Amsterdam.
Regardless of what you thought of the finished product, there’s no denying that there was a significant amount of talent involved in this production. Guy Hamilton (director), Tom Mankiewicz (writer), John Barry (soundtrack) and Ken Adam (production design), all converged to make what can only be described as a colorful and flamboyant film. Hamilton was expected to recreate the success of his last time directing a Bond film, 1964’s legendary Goldfinger.
The movie starts off with a solid opening sequence in which Bond hunts down and kills Ernst Stavro Blofeld (a wildly over-the-top Charles Gray), head of SPECTRE, by drowning him in some super-heated mud – a direct revenge killing for the murder of his new bride Tracy (Diana Rigg) from the previous Bond installment On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The franchise – with this entry into the canon – officially was embracing the “camp” element of James Bond and the over-the-top humor that had injected itself into Diamonds Are Forever would be a staple of the franchise that would remain in place for the next 35 years.
People think it was the always suave Roger Moore that started this trend. It was actually Sean Connery in his final official outing as 007 that started it.
This was quite a sharp contrast from the heartbreaking final image of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, where Bond is cradling his dead bride in his arms. Diamonds are Forever begins to take a comedic turn when Bond hooks up with Tiffany Case played with little emotion or effect by Jill St. John. Her character lacks any real substance and provides little to the film beside her natural sex appeal. Watching the film again, it seems like it’s two different productions merged into one finished product.
This coincides with the fact that longtime Bond writer Richard Maibaum had clashing opinions and viewpoints with writer Tom Mankiewicz. Since Mankiewicz’s contributions to the script provided the movie with its lighter moments and were not Maibaum’s style, it seems that UA and Eon favored the lighter direction that Mank was steering the film towards.
Guy Hamilton’s direction was solid, but at times over-the-top, as evidenced by the Moon Buggy and Las Vegas car chase sequences. Also, Charles Gray would have been a welcome entry into the Bond villain Hall of Fame had he been playing anybody besides Blofeld. However, he’s playing Blofeld and portrays him as a walking quip machine. Telly Savalas and Donald Pleasence never portrayed Blofeld like this, and it just seems off, as charming as Gray is. This isn’t helped by Gray dressing Blofeld up in drag at one point.
Felix Leiter is played in this film by Norman Burton, which would continue the trend of casting a different actor as Leiter in every Bond film to date. Burton portrays Leiter as a bit of a bumbling buffoon, and it seems hard to fathom that he and 007 would-be colleagues.
While it seems like I’ve trashed Connery’s final “official” outing as James Bond, I still like this movie. One reason is because of the casting of Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as homosexual assassin’s Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd as well as the casting of country singer and sausage czar Jimmy Dean as Willard Whyte who portrays a Howard Hughes type reclusive billionaire. With the casting of these characters, the producers announced that they were fully committed to the campy elements of the Bond franchise.
It’s a first for Bond, and Connery looks like he’s having an absolute blast throughout the production. The elevator fight that Connery engages in with Joe Robinson, is memorable, and also clearly a call back to From Russia With Love and the now-iconic train fight scene with Robert Shaw. Desmond Llewelyn, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell are all back and keep the film somewhat grounded. As referenced earlier, Ken Adam’s outrageous sets and John Barry’s score, are amongst the best ever in the franchise.
The plot and eventual climax of Diamonds Are Forever really doesn’t matter and it’s razor-thin at best in terms of coherency. The climax of the film involves helicopters attacking Blofeld’s oil rig, or something to that effect. Apparently, its central premise centers on Blofeld gathering enough diamonds to launch them encrusted in a satellite, which will give the satellite the ability to destroy major cities around the world unless paid a king’s ransom?
None of this really matters as the plot to rob Fort Knox in Goldfinger was WAY more focused and sensible than this. Again, who needs a coherent plot, when you can have Blofeld’s acrobatic and sexy female guards Bambi and Thumper getting wet, and beating the stuffing out of Commander Bond.
As enjoyable as the film is – and it IS a lot of fun – in the end, this was a pure money grab for Connery, and a tactical move to set up his career for the immediate future. On top of the $1.25 million fee which he received, United Artists agreed to a clause that gave Connery a $2 million guarantee to produce, star, direct and write any two pictures of his choice. Connery would exclaim on the set of Diamonds Are Forever:
“It’s not that I needed the money…I’m a relatively wealthy man. It was the fact that I put in an awful lot of work and energy into the Bond pictures and was not sufficiently rewarded. The producers were getting greedy. I had an awful time getting the money out of them.”
Diamonds Are Forever was #1 at the box office for seven consecutive weeks; something that just doesn’t happen anymore. On a $7.2 million budget, the film grossed over $115 million worldwide, a smash hit, like so many other Bond movies.
Connery had now played Bond in six films and was a top-10 box office superstar, and he was finally being paid like one, after earning only $16,000 in Dr. No nine years earlier. He had the juice to finally do the roles where he could be taken seriously as an actor (well…there was Zardoz), and not just how he looked in a tuxedo or swimwear. He would have an astonishing career over the next 30+ years – starring in such classics as Murder On The Orient Express, The Wind And The Lion, The Man Who Would Be King, A Bridge Too Far, Highlander, and many many others, culminating in a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Brian De Palma’s 1987 The Untouchables.
Sean Connery would return to the James Bond universe, albeit not officially, in 1983, starring in Irvin Kershner’s Never Say Never Again. The film is based on the 1961 Ian Fleming novel (and subsequent Connery film) Thunderball. The film was not an EON production and is not considered canon. While it did well at the box-office, it did not do as well as the competing Roger Moore Bond film Octopussy. Sean Connery died on Halloween 2020 in Nassau, Bahamas at the age of 90. While Diamonds Are Forever was far from his best James Bond film, it marked the end of an era and should be celebrated accordingly. Plus, it’s a ridiculously fun re-watch! While you’re stuck inside, throw on Diamonds Are Forever and behold the legend that is Sean Connery, chewing up the delicious scenery in early 1970’s Las Vegas. It’s quite a sight to behold.
Next week…did he fire six shots or only five? To tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kinda lost track…
Sound off Outposters and let me know what you think!
Hugh “Evil Ash” Feinberg
To find out how different the movie is from the book, take a look at our Diamonds Are Forever entry in our Fleming Revisited series here.
To see where one of our contributors ranked Diamonds Are Forever against all other Bond movies, check out the article here.