Saturday, September 29, 2012

Diamonds are Forever - Dir. Guy Hamilton (The Bond Project #7)

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Dir: Guy Hamilton

Sean Connery is Back... 
By Jay Maronde

                Before the EON productions team had completed shooting On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby had already declared that he would not reprise his role as 007.  Again the producers were left with a tremendous problem of who would be the next Bond. Numerous leading players were considered again (including Adam West), as were new candidates, such as Burt Reynolds. But no one was available or fit the producer’s fancy. The studio folk loved Sean Connery in the role, and orders were given to return him to Bond at any cost. The result was a world record breaking contract that included more than £20 Million (adjusted for inflation to 2012; approximately $32.3 MM in US Dollars), and a promise to produce two movies of his choice. But Connery was back on board.
To be honest, this might be my only real complaint about this movie (which has been panned by numerous critics over the years). Connery looks a little old for the role, and almost seems a little pudgy. He still Bond, he’s still awesome, and in fact he almost seems a little colder and angrier, which clearly fits in with his role as a secret agent, but he’s definitely older and you can tell that the hard living had worn on him (reportedly Connery filmed all night, and gambled and golfed all day during all the shooting in Vegas). Other than this one complaint, I think that this movie is great fun. Everything isn’t perfect, and I can see where some hypercritical folk might denigrate the film, but it is definitely worth viewing if only for the highly amusing campy attitude the film takes with itself (which was part of the reason that some people hated it, and part of reason that it has been vindicated by history—in retrospect it doesn’t seem too campy at all—just 1970s spy movie-ish).
                I should mention now that this film doesn’t really follow the book’s plot. The book portrays a revenge on Bond by Goldfinger’s twin brother. This was going to be the plot of the movie, until one night “Cubby” Broccoli had a dream where his dear friend Howard Hughes was kidnapped and impersonated by evil villains. Cubby felt that this was a fantastic plot (which it is, especially when the villains are building a space laser out of diamonds) and spoke with his friend about making this movie essentially about him. Cast wonderfully to play the Howard Hughes character (named Willard Whyte) is None other than “Jimmy Dean Sausage” Jimmy Dean, cousin of the late, great James Dean, and at the time a casino performer in several of the real Howard Hughes’ facilities. Jimmy Dean was more than a little concerned about imitating his boss and tried to escape the role, but Hughes liked him and insisted he take the part. Hughes loved the idea of the movie being about him, and offered tremendous assistance to the production allowing them to shoot on his properties. For his fee, Hughes only asked for a personal print of the film. This was extremely beneficial to the production as too much money had been spent on Connery and there was already some talk of having to scale back the special effects.
           Another highlight of this film is the casting of the two gorgeous Bond Girls. First off these two have some of the best names in the series: Plenty O’Toole (played by Lana Wood) and Tiffany Case (played by Jill St. John). Jill St. John got her role by auditioning for the role of Plenty, but the director, Guy Hamilton, who also directed Goldfinger, decided that she was better as Tiffany Case, thereby becoming the first American born Bond Girl. Lana Wood was cast as an indirect result of her fame following an appearance in a full Playboy spread. Both women are very beautiful and also perfectly cast. Hamilton even got around Wood’s particularly short stature by having her stand on a milk crate in any scene she was in with Connery. Notable also is that Wood almost drowned while filming the scene in which Bond and Case find her dead from drowning.
The crew jumped into the pool at the last minute and saved her, but in one of those “truth being stranger than fiction moments,” the first thread of a complex web of coincidence, love, casting, and death was spun. To wit: Jill St. John is currently married to Robert Wagner, who was on the boat (with none other than later Bond Villain Christopher Walken) the night that Wood’s famous sister, and Wagner’s earlier wife, Natalie Wood, drowned. Wagner would later appear as the villain “No. 2” in Austin Powers and while it may be hard to resist speculation about the nature of human existence and the ironies that befall not only famous lives, but all properly-examined lives, it would go beyond the scope of this review.  Suffice to say, whatever strange “Hollywood herpes circle” connections might exist between these two women, they are both excellent in their roles.
            The villains are also excellently cast. In this film Bond meets and kills no less than four Blofelds (it’s quite comical that the character of Blofeld had appeared and escaped in four movies previous to this film). Obviously they aren’t all Blofeld—it’s one Blofeld and 3 of his plastic surgery borne body doubles. Cast to play all these Blofelds is Charles Grey, who had previously played a Bond ally in You Only Live Twice, and he is the best of all the Blofelds in the franchise (I should also note that this is the last film that includes any mention of Blofeld, and contains no mention of SPECTRE, as Kevin McClory’s legal battles had been successful and the Fleming estate and EON productions lost all rights to those ideas). It is slightly disconcerting to me that this actor played a Bond ally in an earlier film (and may cause a double-take in the viewer following the franchise chronologically), but his performance will erase any doubts that he is, in fact, a slick super-villain, and no longer a creepy old man.
Also in this movie are two of the most famous henchmen in the entire Bond Franchise: Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint.  The characters (who were not in the book but created for the movie) are a pair of homosexual hand-holding assassins that snuff people out all over the world, but fail three times to kill Bond. These two provide a real sense of evil for the film. They are just hit men, but their very weird attitude towards their job and towards each other will not only creep you out, but leave you thinking about their performance for a long time to come.
Also back to reprise her Bond role is Shirley Bassey, and “Diamonds Are Forever” is easily one of my favorite Bond title songs ever! The song has been extensively sampled including for Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone.” Bassey’s big voice dominates the tune, which was loathed by the producers for being “too sexual.” In truth, years later Music Director John Barry would admit that he instructed Ms. Bassey to think of “penis” while recording the song. This little tidbit brought new light to the song for me, but still couldn’t change my opinion that it’s a great catchy tune with an incredible singer really belting it out.
                Director Guy Hamilton certainly did not produce another fantastic epic such as Goldfinger, but Diamonds Are Forever is nevertheless a fantastic film that stays very true to the franchise is a ton of fun to watch.  

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