Monday, October 31, 2011

Diamonds Are Forever

 I have unfortunately missed the last three Bond films after Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. This of course, as I wrote in a previous post, was due to watching the Rugby World Cup matches that overlapped with these films on a different channel. I wasn't worried at missing OHMSS as I watched and reviewed it quite recently. But it would have been nice to catch up with the last two films of Connery's first tenure as the world's most famous secret agent. 

 So here I am at the last official Bond film Sean Connery was to star in. He was asked to make the next film Let and Let Die but his response is the now famous 'never again'. Well we all know that he reneged on that statement and made the unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again. It is nothing more than a Thunderball re-make, and as much as I like Connery this was not his finest hour in deciding to star in this. He is the quintessential Bond and yet by starring in this he sullied his name, along with the wonderful things he gave the world as James Bond. Even as a film Never Say Never Again is poor and thankfully Roger Moore's official Bond film Octopussy far out grossed its same year competitor.

 Now even though Sean Connery is considered the best Bond it doesn't mean he couldn't star in what is considered the franchise's worst film. For me personally I rate Diamonds of  Forever as my least favorite Bond. I don't rate it as bad, but as a Bond film it has major failings that make it feel more like a Bond film trying to be a Bond film. I think its major flaw is that the novel it is adapted from is based heavily in the US. Hence I get the impression with this being so the producers made the mistake of making the film US concentric. In other words they made it how an American would make a Bond film.

 But I do understand the thinking behind this and it wasn't the first time the producers had equated in the American market. Goldfinger when made was very much aimed at American audiences ( because as we all know America is the worlds biggest cinema market and success there equates to dollars ). This is important I know but where as Goldfinger was aimed at America it doesn't have the almost sell out feel that permeates Diamonds are Forever. For me this is its biggest problem. It just doesn't have any British feel to it and yet Bond is a wholly British creation. Previous to this the franchise had achieved the balancing act of making a British character and film accessible to all audiences world wide. But in trying to aim at one specifically the whole film fails.

 The other problem here is Sean Connery himself. As you all know Connery had retired from Bond after 1966's You Only Live twice. His replacement for OHMSS George Lazenby of course made the career killing decision not to take up his pro-offered seven film Bond contract. This left the franchise without a Bond. Connery was lured back after stipulating the then astronomical sum of US$2.9 million which made him the highest paid actor in the world. This was due to United Artists wanting him back. They put the hard word on Broccoli and co telling them money was no object just to get Connery back. Again it is interesting to see who was considered for Bond after Lazenby's departure. Batman's Adam West, Psycho's John Gavin and even Michael Gambon were all considered. But ultimately money lured Sean Connery back for his last official turn as 007.

 By now Connery was 41 but looked older. In fact he looked older at 41 than Roger Moore did at 45 when he took over the reigns in 1973 for Live and Let Die. And yet it was only four years since You Only Live Twice. But appearance aside Connery just doesn't feel as if he had slipped back into being Bond in Diamonds are Forever. Sure the ad-lib lines are there, the accent, etc, but something is just missing. I really do think that four year hiatus, along his feelings towards the role and  producers, comes through here. He may be playing James Bond but he just didn't become Bond again.

 This is of course the seventh Bond film to be based on an Ian Fleming novel. Published in 1956 it was Fleming's fourth Bond novel. But even though his fourth, and published three year after debut Casino Royale, it has palpably dated more so than its three predecessors. Well that was my impression when I read it recently. It isn't a bad story it just has not dated well as a novel. So if you have been reading my Bond reviews you'll know that I state the stronger Bond novels make for the stronger films. It may be no exaggeration then as to why Diamonds are Forever, with its other flaws, just doesn't work as a Bond film.

 So how different are the two. Well as in the other novel to film adaptations there are changes, both out of necessity, and to upbeat the films in the process. With the film the first half follows the novel markedly, except that in the novel the diamond smugglers are American gangsters, and not from Blofeld's organisation. But once the smuggling angle is over the film deviates from the novel only to return in the climatic scene where Bond dispatches Mr.Wint and Mr. Kidd on board the ship. But even though a dated novel and deviations the film has a feel of two halves to it. The first half feels like a routine diamond smuggling film and the second is more Bond like with the appearance of Blofeld, the moon buggy and the oil rig finale.

 So the script isn't as solid as previous Bond outings. The major problem is that Diamonds are Forever  looks like a Bond film, it has the Bond ad lib lines, it has Sean Connery, it has Guy Hamilton directing, it is based on an Ian Fleming novel, it has arch Bond enemy Ernst Blofeld, a climatic shoot out scene,  two Bond girls Tiffany Case and Plenty O'Toole ( whose 'tools' we see all too little of!! ). And yet with all the usual Bond ingredients Diamonds are Forever manages to be as close as it can get to being a non-Bond film! In fact it feels as if it was made by the same outfit who made the unofficial bond film Never Say Never Again. It just has that sort of feel to it.

 So in my usual indubitable style some behind the scenes stuff is of interest. Well I always think it is and is often quite useful in gauging a films final outcome. So why did Sean Connery return? Well in a At the time what he earned for this made him I believe the first ' million dollar ' actor. But he had an ulterior motive in asking for and receiving such an outrageous sum. Not only was studio United Artists to back two films of Connery's choice, but he used the fee to establish the Scottish International Education Trust, where Scottish actors could apply for funding without having to leave Scotland to further their careers. Quite a generous move to make on Connery's behalf.

  Other castings included Charles Gray who of course plays Bond arch villain and nemesis Ernst Blofeld. This even though he played Bond ally Henderson in 1967's You Only Live Twice!! Also David Bauer who appeared in the same film as an uncredited American Diplomat plays Morton Slumber in this turn. Jimmy Dean who plays Willard Whyte was actually employed by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and had concerns at playing a patische homage to his employer! Actresses considered for Tiffany Case included Raquel Welch, Jane Fonda, and Faye Dunaway. Jill St. Clair was initially offered the role of Plenty O'Toole, but landed the role after impressing Guy Hamilton during screen tests. Interestingly by this the seventh Bond film she was to be the first American Bond girl. Also the woman in the bikini, whose top Bond so unceremoniously whips off in the films opening scenes, was Denise Perrier, Miss world 1953!!

 Diamonds are Forever was the last Bond film to use either Spectre or Blofeld, both of which were elements not featured in Ian Fleming's novels. This was due to the long running legal batle by Kevin McClory who claimed that he, and not Fleming, created the organisation for the novel Thunderball. Blofeld is subsquently identified but never seen in 1981's For Your Eyes Only, as Eon's arrangement with Fleming's estate did not permit them to use McClory's works. Initially the plot was to involve a twin of Auric Goldfinger seeking revenge for his brother's death. But after Albert Broccoli had a dream where his friend Howard Hughes was replaced by an impostor the script was re-worked. Also the script eliminated entirely the villains of the novel, mobsters Jack and Seraffimo Spang. This of course was to accomodate Blofeld and his use of the diamonds in his satellite laser.

 The films finale was meant to be much more spectacular. Armed frogmen were to have jumped from helicopters and attached limpet mines to the legs of the oil rig. Blofeld was to escape in his mini-sub with Bond pursuing him hanging onto a weather balloon. The chase was to end in a salt mine where Blofeld was to fall to his death in a salt granulator. But this was discarded because permission to use a local salt mine was not granted and the sequence was found to be too long. Further problems involved the premature blowing of the explosives when only a handful of cameras were ready. So we see the somewhat flat predictable scene instead.

 As always the filming locations and what nots throw up some points of interest. Most of it was filmed in and around Los Angeles International Airport, Universal Studios and eight Las Vegas hotel rooms. Filming in Las Vegas used hotels used by Howard Hughes because of his friendship with Broccoli. This friendship helped when it came to keeping the Las Vegas streets clear when filming of the car chase occurred. One advantage of filming in the famed gambling town was that no extra lighting was needed due to the sheer volume of naturally occurring illumination from the neon lights! Funnily enough at one stage during the Vegas shooting Connery delayed a scene because he was collecting his winnings from a casino!

 Actor Kirk Douglas's home was used as that of Tiffany Case's. Actress Lana Wood, whose character Plenty O'Toole drowned in the pool, did actually have concrete blocks tied to her feet and filmed as if drowned. At one stage she got into difficulties and had to be pulled out of the pool! The exterior shots of the Slumber Mortuary were of a real Las Vegas crematorium. The interiors are a Pinewoods Studio mock up. Ford made an arrangement with Broccoli that their cars could be used, but only if Sean Connery drove the Mach 1 Mustang as a semi-endorsement.

 Within what is considered the worst of all 22 Bond films the car chase is considered its only real high point. The now famous alleyway scene where Bond tips the car on to two wheels was filmed in two locations. One in Las Vegas and the other on Universal's back lot. It took over three nights to film and lead to a goof. As the car enters the alley it is on its right tyres, as it leaves it is on its left ones!The moon buggy Bond escapes in was inspired by a real NASA vehicle but the producers didn't find it 'outrageous' enough so arms were added to flay about during Bond's escape. It was custom built by car maker Dean Jefferies and capable of highway speeds!

 Of course this was the second Bond film to have the title song sung by Shirley Bassey. Producer Harry Saltzman apparently hated it, but on the insistence of Broccoli it was kept in the film. Saltzman objected was to the lyrics and their sexual inneuendo. In fact the song's composer John Barry told Bassey to imagine she was singing about a penis! When released the film received mainly positive reactions, but many questioned its camp tone. Some found the moon buggy silly and the plot too complex. Jill St. Clair was criticised for being the least effective of all the Bond girls. Even Las Vegas wasn't found exotic enough for a Bond film! But this is unavoidable because the bulk of the novel is set there. More modern reactions rate the film as the worst of the Bond franchise with Mr. Wint and Kidd, along with Bambie and Thumper, as the first and second worst Bond villains respectively.

 So Diamonds are Forever is not a good Bond film. It was a financial success in 1971 but it hasn't stood the test of time well. It's major flaws are being too American in feel, and the script which makes the film one of two halves ( the first half a diamond smuggling film, and the second an attempt at a Bond film ). But even Sean Connery is one of the films drawbacks. He looks too old for the role and just hadn't slipped back into Bond mode for the film. For me it almost feels like a diamond smuggling film with Sean Connery in it. And this is ultimately what is wrong with it. It is a Bond film that looks and trys to be a Bond film,  but utterly fails to feel like a Bond film.

 I am a serious Bond aficianado and I hate to use the word 'worst' here personally. But when it comes to Bond films Diamonds are Forever is the one I would watch last. And yet in itself it isn't a bad film, it just isn't a good Bond film. IMDB has this with 6.7/10. I'd give it a 5/10 simply because I don't dislike it but don't rate it well as a Bond outing. This is maybe because it is adapted from one of Ian Fleming's less convincing novels, of which maybe rubbed off onto the film?

 In short the least memorable of the Bond franchise I'm afraid.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

No comments:

Post a Comment