Diamonds are Forever (1971)

After giving the Bond franchise a bit of a humorous jab with Goldfinger, director Guy Hamilton returns to the Bond series with Diamonds Are Forever. But this time he gives Bond a break, keeping him as the suave, misogynistic action hero of films like Thunderball and From Russia with Love. Instead, Guy Hamilton sets his sights on everything but Bond, making fun of the villains, setting up a preposterous story and establishing some of the funniest set-pieces for the franchise.

Take the opening sequence where James Bond (Sean Connery) rushes to stop Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) from his dastardly plan to make a double. As Bond sneaks his way towards the facility, he comes across a babe in a bikini top. Instead of disarming her with his usual charm, he strangles her to death with her own bikini top. It’s an act so ridiculous, so messed up and done with such deliberate irreverence it can only be intended as a joke.

Throughout the rest of the film, there’s a recurrence of such moments, little moments that are punctuated in such a way that they must be a joke. For instance, when Bond drives off to find his mode of transportation across the ocean, he passes a sign that points to a ferry, an airplane or a hovercraft. As if the camera can’t believe it either, it zooms to the image of the hovercraft and then cuts as massive hovercraft makes its way towards the ocean.

And while the film is filled with a number of other gags, it never tries to pull them off at Bond’s expense. It seems most audiences like this Bond bloke and Hamilton makes him into a true badass in this one as Bond achieves all sorts of feats of daring while also proving an expert at wine and a pro at gambling. Bond has every skill any man could ever want to have.

To this end, Hamilton gives him some big action moments, but he can’t help but make some of them hilarious. When Bond must make a daring getaway, he doesn’t get a nice sports car, but a space rover. And to make it even more hilarious, as this unwieldy vehicle speeds away, henchmen chase after him on motorized tricycles. And, of course, Bond has to commandeer one of the tricycles. The sight of Sean Connery on a motorized tricycle might be the funniest moment this entire series will ever have.

But sensing that fans might be upset that the big chase scene seems to be taking the piss out of Bond films, Hamilton gives them a solid, straight up action scene with that sexy sports car everyone wants to watch. On some level, it’s just as ridiculous as the rover scene, especially when half of it ends up taking place in a tiny parking lot, but it has enough of those cool moments to give the audience the best of both worlds.

While as a piece of entertainment, it’s got a lot of fun moments, the film also has some fairly interesting sexual overtones throughout the film. The first is in the depiction of women. Yes, they’re still the objects of Bond’s desire, but this film suggests that the women intentionally flaunt themselves in order to use Bond in various ways, whether it’s Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) who is trying to use Bond to recover her diamonds or the girl at the casino who is trying to milk him for cash.

The film also has a couple of female characters who actually use their sexuality to disarm men in order to overpower them. In other words, gone is the Bond babe who will just take whatever Bond deals out, they’ve got their own motivations and plans for Bond that existed long before he showed up to rock their world.

There are also two henchmen that wander about the film that are likely to be gay. Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) kill of their quarry and then walk off holding hands like lovers. Later on, Mr. Kidd comments on how attractive a woman is, adding “for a lady” after Mr. Wint gives him a scornful look.

Perhaps in order to distract the audience from this fact, the film overflows with an abundance of nipples. While the occasional Bond film has slipped in the odd wardrobe malfunction or barely obscured breast of a female, here there’s a good handful of nipple slips and short glimpses of boobs throughout the film. They’re brief enough to not be leering, but long enough to leave no doubt that it’s been seen.

This is to say that even though the film seems to be going for a little more sexually mature material, it also seems to be a bit juvenile about its depictions of females at the end, throwing in the occasional nipple shot just for the heck of it. While sexual maturity isn’t necessarily the territory of the fantasy of the Bond series, it seems a bit of a disservice to try something mature only to be juvenile as well.

And while that’s certainly true of the sexual elements of the film, it’s something that plagues most of Diamonds are Forever. Much like that car chase scene, it tries to give the audience both a satirical Bond film and a straight Bond film. It’s an interesting way to try to be a bit progressive with the series without causing a cataclysmic shift in the formula, but it’s not as consistent or strong as a film like Goldfinger or even as progressive as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing