How ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ Wasted Sean Connery’s James Bond Return
Every actor has regrettable moments, and for Sean Connery, one of these came in 1971 when he returned to the James Bond franchise for Diamonds Are Forever.
For all of the tongue-in-cheek fun on display, it's shot through with so much absurdity that one can only groan by its conclusion, when a pair of gay assassins try to kill Bond by hiding a actual ticking bomb in an ice cream cake.
Connery played Bond in the first five films of the series during the '60s. He then decided to step away from the role to pursue more serious fare and was replaced by Australian model George Lazenby in 1969 for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Lazenby was reportedly offered a seven-film contract but turned it down, having been told by a friend that the Bond franchise was done in the era of peace and love, and was almost literally never seen on the big screen again. This left the producers in a quandary, so they lured Connery back with the promise of a massive payday.
Unfortunately, this came with so much story-level bungling that not even Connery's estimable talents could save the day. Based on an Ian Fleming novel of the same name, Diamonds Are Forever opens with its best scene, in which Bond hunts down and kills his nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) by wheeling him into some superheated mud, implicitly as payback for the murder of Bond's wife at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The sequence is tightly made and carries an undercurrent of real emotional edginess. Unfortunately, it gives way to a stringy plot centered on a diamond syndicate hoarding stones to depress world prices.
Watch the Opening Scene of 'Diamonds Are Forever'
Bond infiltrates this syndicate and meets Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), an American smuggler living in Amsterdam. In order to get to the top of the syndicate, Bond convinces Case to help him sneak some diamonds across the pond to Las Vegas in a casket. Unbeknownst to our hero there is deeper fiendishness afoot as well, in the persons of the aforementioned pair of gay assassins, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith, the latter a jazz bassist who has played with everyone from Thelonious Monk to Beck). This duo is working for the international crime group SPECTRE, which was headed by Blofeld before his demise.
In Las Vegas, Bond discovers that there's a connection between the diamond smuggling syndicate and one Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean), a reclusive billionaire who owns a casino and also has a laboratory out in the desert where he builds satellites. Bond sneaks into the factory and finds that the diamonds are being used to create a super-laser that will operate from space. For some reason, its engineers are also testing a planetary rover on a soundstage that looks like the moon. Upon being chased by security guards, Bond steals the rover and drives through a wall to escape
The caper raises the question of what Whyte is doing. Accordingly, Bond sneaks into the penthouse of Whyte's Vegas hotel. There, he finds that the magnate has been kidnapped by SPECTRE, and that none other than Blofeld is impersonating Whyte – Blofeld has been alive the entire time, because it was a body double that Bond sent to a bubbly grave in the opening.
Bond falls prey to knockout gas, and Blofeld, instead of killing his nemesis, arranges for him to be buried alive in a pipeline out in the desert, a terrible fate that Bond evades by climbing out of a service entrance and surprising two workers, to whom he quips that he was "just out walking his rat." He then tracks down the real Whyte, who's being held in a modernist house in the desert by two gymnastic female bodyguards in swimsuits, named Bambi and Thumper (Lola Larson and Trina Parks).
Watch James Bond Battle Bambi and Thumper
Whyte and Bond figure out that Blofeld is controlling his laser satellite from an oil rig, and so Bond parachutes aboard, messes up the satellite control system (which runs entirely on a single cassette tape), kills Blofeld again -- maybe even for real this time -- and destroys the rig. The film seems to be headed for a romantic conclusion when Bond and Tiffany Case board a cruise ship to head back to England, except for the fact that Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are also aboard, planning to kill him with dessert.
There are moments when the all this is more laughed-with than laughed-at, and at times it's even engaging. Director Guy Hamilton, who made Goldfinger in 1964 – perhaps the most successful of the tongue-in-cheek Bond films – was brought back on board for Diamonds, and his skills pay dividends. There are a couple of rousing fight sequences, and a really good car chase through Downtown Vegas, with Bond driving a boss Mustang Mach 1 (the influence of American muscle-car chase scenes like the one in Bullitt shines through clearly).
Watch the Las Vegas Car Chase
And, truth be told, there is something effective about Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. They are strange and cold-blooded, and their sing-song recitation of platitudes gives them a kind of ironic intelligence almost never seen in the world of Bond bad guys. But the fact that they are so clearly labeled as gay – holding hands, and at one point noting that someone is attractive "for a woman" – is odd, particularly in the context of a Bond film.
This kind of weirdness is exacerbated by the other, stranger elements in the film. The plot line about the kidnapping of Willard Whyte was apparently inspired by a dream producer Albert R. Broccoli had about his friend Howard Hughes, where Broccoli discovered that Hughes had been replaced by some kind of alien presence. Considering this a stroke of inspiration, Broccoli demanded that it be worked into the film.
There's also the fact that no less than three times in the movie Bond is at the mercy of evil forces, and each time their plans to do away with him are ridiculously more complicated than they need to be to, and are farcically easy to escape. Finally, there are the abundance of just plain silly details, perhaps the most beautiful of which is that, in the moon mock-up set in the laboratory, there are men wearing space suits who move as though they're in low gravity, swinging their arms in slow motion at Bond as he zooms by.
One could go on and on, but it's enough to note that in the end, movies are about choices. The accumulation of them for determines whether a film is going to be good or bad, enjoyable or a dud, fun and campy or tragically wacko. Diamonds Are Forever comes out on the wrong side of this ledger.
Watch the Trailer for 'Diamonds Are Forever'