March 12, 2013

Diamonds Are Forever (Bond #07) [Bond 50 BluRay Set]

After the moody On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the Bond series kinda went back to basics with 1971's Diamonds Are Forever. I kinda sense that this one doesn't get a lot of love from Bond aficionados, but I found it to be a solid (if formulaic) entry which allowed some of the campiness that would characterize the series throughout the 70s to start to creep in.

George Lazenby was offered the part of James Bond again, but he didn't want to commit to a long and restrictive contract, according to the IMDB, so he passed. The producers then flirted with the idea of hiring American actors like John Gavin (who was actually contracted at one point) and Adam West (!) before deciding to pay Sean Connery a record-breaking fee to appear as Bond one last time (at least for EON Productions... he would return to the role yet again in the unofficial Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again 12 years later). Although it's great to see Connery in the role again (he actually seems excited to be there, which wasn't always the case in You Only Live Twice), he starts to look a little old for the part at certain points of the picture.

As I said in my last update, the end of OHMSS was so strong that you kinda want to see the series continue in that direction for a bit, and it makes you curious about what Lazenby might have done with the role had he continued to play it. As a result, the pre-credit sequence in this next movie (where Bond hunts Blofeld and unknowingly kills one of his doubles) is sort of disappointing because you get the sense that the series, for the first time, is really backtracking from the interesting course it started to take in the previous movie and is veering back into tried and true territory (and it's certainly not the last time it would do so!).

Nevertheless, Connery's charisma gets you to forgive all that really quickly... I was particularly entertained during the sequence in Holland where he poses as diamond delivery man "Peter Franks." When the real Peter Franks shows up, Bond must quickly kill him and switch their wallets. When Tiffany Case looks at the dead man's wallet and exclaims that he has just killed James Bond, the look of faux surprise on Connery's face is priceless. Other standout sequences are the car chase through the streets of old Las Vegas, and the climactic fight that Bond has with Bambi and Thumper.

Another recasting for Blofeld and Felix Leiter in this one: Blofeld is now played by Charles Gray, who appeared in You Only Live Twice as a totally different character... Felix now looks like a 1940s jewish comedian who just did an extended run in the Catskills. Jill St. John plays Tiffany Case, the first American Bond girl... weirdly, she's a hard-ass mercenary in her first scene, and kind of bubbly and ditzy toward the end of the movie. Lana Wood plays the brilliantly named "Plenty O'Toole," whose character is consistently stupid throughout (even when she's dead in a pool later on). Crispin Glover's father, Bruce Glover, plays one-half of the duo of thinly-veiled gay assassins who trail Bond throughout the movie and unsuccessfully try to kill him several times.

And then there's Jimmy Dean, the once and future pork sausage king, as "Willard Whyte," an eccentric billionaire recluse unmistakably modeled after Howard Hughes. I could be wrong, but the inclusion of a character like that in this movie is the first time an aspect of a Bond picture was so clearly influenced by a real-life person or event. Many of the 70s Bond pictures would do the same (and then occasionally in more recent entries, like Jonathan Pryce's character in 97's Tomorrow Never Dies who was clearly a less evil version of Rupert Murdoch). The next movie, 1973's Live And Let Die, was made in the post-Shaft era where Blaxploitation pictures were plentiful and earning a lot of money... as a result, the movie is largely set in Louisiana and many of the villains have African heritage. 1974's The Man With The Golden Gun was made the year after Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon hit, and therefore there's kung-fu a-plenty throughout the picture. And of course 1979's Moonraker was released two years after Star Wars and contained an extended sequence where James Bond is in space firing lasers at bad guys (a sequence which caused the series to have another major "let's get back to basics" moment for it's next picture).

Director Guy Hamilton returned for this his 2nd Bond picture (the first being Goldfinger), and he would go on to direct the next two as well, both starring Roger Moore. So far I've found his two movies to be most consistently enjoyable to watch, but I haven't seen his next, Live And Let Die, in a long time, so... onward!

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