Diamonds Are Forever (Ultimate Edition) Review
After the events of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, James Bond is in the mood for revenge. Travelling the world in search of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Bond eventually finds him in an underground laboratory when he is creating clones of himself through plastic surgery. As SPECTRE thugs attempt to kill Bond, the secret agent throws Blofeld into a container of boiling hot mud, killing him as he sinks beneath the surface. But if there are is more than one Blofeld, has Bond got the right one?
Returning to London, Bond (Sean Connery) is told by M that vast quantities of diamonds are being smuggled out of Africa but have yet to appear on any of the known diamond markets. Assuming that they are being held to depress prices, Bond travels to Amsterdam in the guise of a diamond smuggler, Peter Franks, who has been detained by MI6 in England, to meet with the next link in the smuggling chain, Tiffay Case (Jill St. John). Unfortunately, and in spite of the very best gadgets offered to him by Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Franks somehow escapes from custody and travels to Amsterdam where Bond intercepts him outside Tiffany's apartment.
Killing Franks, Bond tells Tiffany that the dead man is actually James Bond and together they arrange for the diamonds to be smuggled into America within the body of the dead man. With the assistance of the CIA, all goes well but on arriving in Las Vegas, the diamonds are proved to the fake, Tiffany isn't all that she seems and Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean) is nowhere to be found. A difficult case, made even more so by the unwelcome attentions of Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith), a pair of gay hitmen who have something of an interest in Mr Bond...
Revenge was also in the mind of the producers of Diamonds Are Forever as they begun work on it in the early-seventies. What United Artists really wanted was Goldfinger all over again and the matter of revenge was looked upon as the means to bring back the series' most memorable villain. Clearly, one couldn't bring Auric Goldfinger back from his untidy exiting of his Lockheed Jetstream but he could, in the manner of all the best soap operas, have a brother. Gert Frobe was even considering making a return to the series to play Goldfinger's vengeful brother but in spite of United Artists' best efforts, the script ran into difficulty. Revenge, it was clear, was not motive enough for a Bond villain, least of all when United Artists demanded more humour in the script, having had their fingers burned by the gritty reboot to the series that was On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Instead, what United Artists wanted as a return to the good old days of Bond - guns, gadgets, girls and a glint in the eye of Sean Connery as he dispatched yet another SPECTRE thug. But most of all what they wanted was Sean Connery.
The problem was, of course, that Connery was tired of the part even before work started on You Only Live Twice. During the making of Thunderball he admitted as much, saying, "The sooner it's finished the happier I'll be," so United Artists had a fight on their hands to convince the actor to make a return to the Saville Row suits of 007. In the end, it cost United Artists $1.25m, which Connery donated to the Scottish International Educational Trust, and 10% of the gross. It also cost them an unspecified payment to remove John Gavin, who had been named as the successor to George Lazenby, from the film but who, thanks to the pay-or-play contract that he signed, still receives royalties from the film. All that was needed now was a story.
The idea of Goldfinger having a brother was not one that appeared to be working and, inspired by a dream that he had of Howard Hughes disappearing, Cubby Broccoli literally dreamed up a plot inspired by a multimillionaire who's held captive in a penthouse while his operations carry on across the globe as though it were business-as-usual. In a case of truth being stranger than fiction, there was indeed a real-life instance of Hughes disappearing, long after the near-fatal plane crash of 1946 that caused a long deterioration of his mental health. In the early-sixties, Hughes bought up the entire ninth floor and a substantial part of the eighth floor in the Desert Inn casino with the aim of turning the resorts in the city in to a gentleman's paradise. As his portfolio of property in the city swelled, the reclusive Hughes, who was by then paranoid enough to have hired lookalikes to lead lawyers and journalists astray, simply disappeared. He would, in time, be found in a hotel in the Bahamas but Broccoli wondered whether or not it was the real Hughes or a double.
Add that to Broccoli's dream and you certainly have the basis of Diamonds Are Forever. Is Willard Whyte living in secluded luxury at the top of the Whyte House or not? Did Blofeld die in the pre-credits sequence or was it a double? More worrying, is Diamonds Are Forever a true Bond or one, in spite of the presence of Connery, that's riding the coattails of the character's successes in the sixties.
Unfortunately, Diamonds Are Forever is not a particularly strong entry in the series, which came as something of a disappointment to this viewer. It is the first Bond film that I remember watching but though it creates a strong impression, it doesn't make a cohesive whole. Where Diamonds Are Forever is best is in, oddly for a Bond, its quieter moments, with the stillness of the South African and Nevada deserts being a strangely attractive addition to Bond, particularly as Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, having just admired the deadly charm of a scorpion, wait. Other memorable moments are the car chase through Las Vegas, Bambi and Thumper, the moon buggy, Plenty O'Toole's sudden exit from Bond's hotel room, 007 in a crematorium, the finale on, of all places, an oil rig and the sight of a cassette tape nestled against Jill St. John's shapely rear. But, good those these are, they often feel as though they've been dropped in to spice things up. Having actually spent time on an oil rig in the North Sea, it's rather an unlikely place to find anyone, Jill St. John included, wearing a bikini so such moments are peaks in what is otherwise a rather pedestrian story.
But Diamonds Are Forever remains famous for being the last time Sean Connery would portray Bond until Never Say Never Again and, later still, the video game adaptation of From Russia with Love (2005). I don't doubt that Connery was anything less than professional but he looks glad to be getting out of it here and, much like the later Moores, he looks old with his greying hair and thickening middle doing little to help him cut a convincing figure. On, then, to Roger Moore, Live And Let Die and the nasty feeling of contemporary culture interfering with James Bond.
Not looking a great deal better than the MGM Special Edition - it is the earlier films that look to have benefited the most from the restoration for these Ultimate Editions - this is a fine release but not without its problems. Granted that this was made in the early-seventies but the colours are now slightly too rich and though the film compensates somewhat by reducing the brightness of the image, the producers of this DVD have not been able to strike a point where the film looks particularly good and certainly not a great deal better than it did on the Special Edition, as these shots prove.
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)
Unfortunately, the lip synch issues that blighted Thunderball return here, though not as bad, but neither the DD5.1 nor the DTS audio tracks are particularly impressive, sounding as though they have a limited range, with neither extending too far into either the upper or lower margins. At first, I thought it was due to a cold that I was suffering from at the time but, when my head and ears cleared, Diamonds Are Forever sounded no better and was, at times, uncomfortable to listen to.
Once again, we have only the first disc in this two-disc set, which only includes a commentary but it's a good one. Introduced and narrated by David Naylor, this is a typical Bond commentary in which members of the cast and crew, Jill St. John and Guy Hamilton included, offer scene-specific and more random thoughts on the production. Like John Cork before him, Naylor offers his own thoughts on the film between those of the other contributors and, in doing so, ensures that the track moves swiftly along with few pauses. Blessed with a good memory, Hamilton is the best contributor here but it's a shame that he couldn't have been surrounded by others involved in the production to give this track a less formal feeling.
Also carried over from the Special Edition are Inside Diamonds Are Forever, a feature on Cubby Broccoli and original Trailers, TV Spots and Radio Communications. New to this Ultimate Edition are a BBC Interview with Sean Connery, a Close Quarter Combat feature, Deleted Footage of the attack on the oil rig, a Test Reel and Alternate & Expanded Angles. Finally, there is also an Interactive Guide to Diamonds Are Forever, which, if that of Thunderball is an example, will be a disappointing set of clips from the film.