Diamonds Are Forever is the final appearance of Sean Connery as James Bond in an official, Eon-productions-sanctioned film. He would, of course, appear in the "rogue" Bond film Never Say Never Again in 1983, but then, as now, the problem with his portrayal was Connery was getting a little bit long-in-the-tooth to be believably bedding multiple women and saving the world, all while swilling vodka martinis and driving sports cars. Connery was, however, well-compensated for this film, receiving $1.25 million, a record-breaking sum at the time and making him the best paid actor ever for a single film.
But as Connery shows up in the opening scenes, murdering people left and right and demanding to know where Blofeld is, time has not been kind. Despite only being a few years away from the franchise, Connery looks old. However, he manages to take revenge on Blofeld, killing him for the murder of Bond's wife at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and returns to MI-6.
But his new assignment is relatively mundane: investigate the disappearance of some diamonds. We are introduced to hired assassins Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint who are tasked with tying up all the loose ends of the chain of custody of the stolen diamonds. And the trail eventually leads from Amsterdam to Las Vegas and the hotel/casino owned by reclusive tycoon Willard Whyte, played by future sausage magnate Jimmy Dean. This is all a front, as the real Whyte has been kidnapped and replaced by, of all people, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, this time portrayed by Charles Gray.
His change in appearance is, once again, explained by extensive plastic surgery. And the "Blofeld" Bond killed in the opening minutes of the movie? A clever decoy, one of dozens of Blofeld doubles. But the real Blofeld has hijacked a shipment of diamonds and taken over Willard Whyte's businesses to use the sparkly gems to turn a satellite into a nuclear deterrent. He will auction off the right to exclusive use of nuclear weapons and use his satellite to destroy the nuclear stockpiles of all other countries.
Bond and diamond smuggler Tiffani Case (Jill St. John) rescue the real Whyte from sexy bodyguards Bambi and Thumper. They then lead an operation against Blofeld's base on an oil rig off of Baja California, Mexico and manage to save the day. All in all, not a bad outing for Bond.
The problem is this film introduced so many of the campy elements that would become hallmarks of the franchise for the next decade. Bond rides a dune buggy to escape from some henchmen in the silliest chase scenes in the series to date. The film goes to the circus for the first of many outings (producer Harry Saltzman had grown up in the circus and gotten his start in Hollywood making circus-themed movies).
Bambi and Thumper are little more than an excuse for "sexy fighting" and some T&A with skimpy outfits. And Kidd and Wint seem more interested in making small talk and puns than being serious assassins. (The film also seems to imply but not say they are gay lovers, a sad act of queer erasure, even at the time.) If Bond movies are defined by their side characters, this is a waste of potential.
And not that Bond girls really ever have a huge amount of character development, but in this film it's even more flimsy than usual. Jill St. John does fine as Tiffani Case but just isn't given much to do. The "first girl" Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood) is a case study in fridging and violence towards women. Literally just in the movie as eye candy, she is tossed out the window of a hotel into a pool, which the bad guys indicate they didn't know was there, before being murdered and left floating in a pool as a warning sign to Bond. It also gives the franchise another chance to double down on the creepy obsession with mixing sex and death.
But as Bond films go? This isn't the worst. But it certainly isn't the best. It was nice to have Connery back for another go, but it's almost more important as a reminder that it was past time for him to leave the role in the first place. And that any problems the films had did not stem from who was being cast as James Bond.
For the previous 007 Bond binges check out the box below.