WARNING – If you havent seen this movie there will be SPOILERS in this review.
Soooo…here’s a bit of a disclaimer before I begin this review.
I don’t believe I’m an inherently negative person. I attempt to approach each review with a balanced view of what I think works while acknowledging—but not dwelling too heavily—on the things in every movie that don’t work so well. As I’ve stated before, the purpose of this site is to promote conversation about the value of movies that we love in a fashion that showcases their strengths and flaws equally.
That having been said, this was a tough movie for me to review. It is a slog to get through and though it has many cool, intriguing parts composing it they are completely wasted in the film as a whole.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What’s the story?
The film starts with James Bond (Sean Connery) following up leads rather violently as he hunts for his arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray), culminating in a short scene where Bond shoves Blofeld into a pit of boiling-hot mud before the opening credits roll. Then Bond is off on his next mission, infiltrating a South African diamond smuggling ring in which key members are being systematically killed off. On the way, he comes into contact with one of the members of the ring, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), who agrees to help Bond find out who is killing off the ring members. They embark on a trip involving casinos, gangsters, reclusive billionaires, and orbital death-rays. Just another day on the job for 007.
Oookay, where do I start with this? How about with the things that I genuinely liked about this movie.
I will freely admit that I’m a huge Sean Connery fan, for more than just his work in the James Bond series. His turn as Captain Marco Ramius in Hunt for Red October is one of my personal favorites and he’s a scene stealer in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as Jones Sr. He is arguably the best thing in this movie despite being saddled with a somewhat stilted script and an ultimately uninteresting plot. Over the years people have talked about who played James Bond the best in his astounding twenty-five appearances on the silver screen. Whether it’s the suave, cavalier attitudes of Pierce Brosnan, the adventursome antics of Roger Moore, or gritty, flawed intelligence agent of Daniel Craig, everyone has a version of the character that they prefer. Connery is my personal favorite because in my opinion, he has all the qualities that made Bond such an established character. He was the suave international man of mystery, spouting one-liners at every turn. He was the cold intelligence agent who would shoot a man in his bedroom and not give it a second thought. And as his time went on, he showed Bond to be a man dealing with a great deal of anger. Why this is, I’ll get into later.
Regardless, Connery is the man who makes this movie work, so far as he is able, and its a credit to his skills as an actor that he can do so without much support from the rest of the cast and crew. One exception to this, however, is Jill St. John as Tiffany Case. Her chemistry with Connery is a lot of fun to watch as they get in and out of trouble together. Sadly, there isn’t enough time in the film where the two of them are together. Plus, the last fifteen minutes of the film make what had been an engaging female lead into a complete dunderhead who can’t do anything right. At one point Bond even calls her a “twit” for a particularly frustrating mistake.
That leads me to the climax of the film, which really impressed me. Not that the climax itself is anything special, even as Bond films go. It isn’t. But what impressed me was what they did for their climax. The final battle takes place on an oil rig somewhere in the Pacific ocean that ends up getting blown sky high. “That’s not so impressive,” you say. “I’ve seen entire cities destroyed on film. I watched INDEPENDENCE DAY!!” True, much bigger things have been blown up on the silver screen but in 1971, they didn’t have CGI where they could blow just about anything up and make it look real. They either had to do it with scale models—which they often did for the bigger explosions—or they had to do it for real. In the case of Diamonds are Forever it looks like they actually blew up an oil rig which isn’t something that I could see a studio going to the expense to do in today’s era. For that, I have to give them major credit.
Also, the premise of Bond infiltrating a diamond smuggling ring to find out who is taking out the members is a rather intriguing one that I would have liked to see explored. Unfortunately, that brings me to the movie’s biggest problem, it’s plot.
I could go on for days about the problems with this movie’s plot and my specific frustrations with it. But for the sake of brevity and my own personal sanity, I’ll do my best to be concise.
The movie suffers from a plot that is unnecessarily complicated and adds little to the overall experience. I realize that intricate plots are par-for-the-course in the spy movie genre but that shouldn’t come at the expense of the watching experience. While some movies are intentionally confusing for the audience—such as psychological thrillers and horror movies—in order to evoke a more emotional response, this is the type of confusing narrative that takes you out of the experience. It was genuinely challenging to figure out what each character was after and who they were connected to and how. Half-way through the film, I wasn’t even sure what Bond was after besides the vague “find the bad guy and stop him” cliché. Getting thrown out of the experience like that is something that should never happen in a good film.
In addition, the villain’s plot is so silly as to be cartoonish: holding the entire United States for ransom using an orbital death-ray powered by diamonds. That sounds like something Doctor Claw from the Inspector Gadget series would come up with. For a film that starts with a very down-to-earth premise, the evil plot feels like it doesn’t belong in the same movie.
Furthermore, many elements that would be great if they were handled in the right way feel awkward or out of place here. For example, in the opening with Blofeld, the film sets up that he’s been working on creating a set of doppelgangers for himself. After Bond seemingly kills him in the opening, Blofeld then reappears later, revealing that he was successful in creating doubles for himself including the “Blofeld” killed in the opening.
The possibilities of this are quite exciting. How does our hero kill a man who has multiple copies of himself? Even if he kills them both, they could both be doubles doing Blofeld’s will and the real one is still out there. It makes him a much more dangerous villain.
But the filmmakers get rid of the concept as quickly as they introduce it. Bond kills the double and the real Blofeld flees to his secret location for the climax.
Speaking of locations, the James Bond series has always showcased a wide variety of fabulous locations in its films. It’s sort of like watching a sight-seeing tour through the eyes of a secret agent. Unfortunately, the locations in this film are bland and uninteresting. First we’re in Amsterdam briefly, then we go to Las Vegas and the Nevada desert, then a non-descript oil rig in the Pacific. Hardly the most exciting locales to see 007 navigate. Compare this to Macau and the Scottish Highlands in Skyfall and you can see what I’m talking about.
All of these points, good and bad, make for an uneven film that is too difficult to fully enjoy and while the performance and chemistry of the leads is certainly enjoyable, there isn’t enough of them to offset all the other problems that the film has. Which is a shame because it had been set up so well by the films that had preceeded it.
Prior to this movie, the conflict between Bond and Blofeld had been set up as far back as Thunderball, the fourth movie in the series. This conflict came to a head in You only Live Twice and On her Majesty’s Secret Service, the two movies prior to this one. In Her Majesty’s Secret Service Blofeld delivers to Bond the worst hit he takes in the entire series up until Casino Royale three decades later. He kills James Bond’s wife right after they’ve been newly married. That moment is the impetus for the entire opening sequence of Diamonds Are Forever and informs much of Bond’s behavior throughout the rest of the film. Unfortunately, if you haven’t seen the previous two movies, you won’t know any of this because it’s never mentioned in the actual film itself.
For that reason, I would say that this is only a necessary watch as the last part of what I refer to as “The Blofeld Trilogy”, and that only as a completion of the overarching conflict between Bond and Blofeld. Otherwise, unless you’re a huge James Bond fan, I’d consider On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to be a better use of your time.
Next Week: We go to ancient Egypt in a tale of great deities, brave heroes, fierce monsters, and lots and lots of shiny CGI in Gods of Egypt!