Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Film Appreciation - Diamonds Are Forever Text Commentary


Put on the 1971 Bond film Diamonds Are Forever and watch along as guest contributor Luke Freeman provides a text commentary in this week's Film Appreciation.


DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER has long been my favourite Bond film. I think it's the wittiest, the sharpest, and the most entertaining of the Bonds. I also think it's one of the most overlooked, certainly one of the most mislabelled.

It's strong, it's muscular, and it has that ultra-confidence about it that all good Bond films should. It also has a lot to it. It's a much richer film than I think many people realise. I think the film needs re-examination, and nothing less than a full dissection, a complete running commentary will do.

This isn't a "defence" of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. DIAMONDS doesn't need defending. It can take care of itself, thank you very much. Nor is this an apology on its behalf. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER has nothing to apologise for. This is an explanation of why I rate it so highly, a celebration for those who feel the same, and a gentle pitch to those who have dismissed it as lightweight or written it off as shoddy to give it a fresh look. Of course, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER does already have plenty of fans, but maybe after this it'll have a few more.

Times refer to the Region 4 Special Edition DVD (once the films hit the '70s, I prefer the SEs to the Ultimate Editions - particularly LIVE AND LET DIE, which just doesn't feel like LIVE AND LET DIE on the Ultimate Edition DVD (one might argue that not feeling like LIVE AND LET DIE is an asset rather than a liability, but if there’s one film that should feel like LIVE AND LET DIE, it's LIVE AND LET DIE, right?) - but that's another topic altogether).

And away we go...



0:00:51 - What an opening! Bond on the warpath, smacking everyone around. "I shan't ask politely next time."


0:01:08 - "Hit me." Smack! I pity anyone who doesn't crack a smile when they see this.


0:01:36 - Bond strangling Marie with her own bikini top. I know some people hate this scene - and the pre-title sequence as a whole - but I think it shows resourcefulness and single-minded determination on Bond's part. He's not asking politely.


0:03:21 - Okay, now we're into mud baths and mouse traps. Why you go in armed with only a mouse trap (thus assuming that you'll be slower on the draw) I can't explain.


0:03:58 - Bond the expert knife thrower. Straight from his dossier in Fleming's From Russia, With Love. I’m loving this quick, resourceful Bond.


0:04:27 - "Welcome to Hell, Blofeld." Great line, and nice delivery by Connery. Bond's genuine satisfaction at finally disposing of his arch foe (or so he thinks) shines through. And people think this isn't a follow-up to OHMSS.


0:04:57 - Title song by Shirley Bassey. Reading the credits as they go by: Connery, Bassey, Barry, Ken Adam, etc. This is the Bond 'A' team. DIAMONDS is a big, glitzy, glamorous event. Bond films should be a big deal and DIAMONDS is.


0:06:14 - Maurice Binder's titles. These aren't regarded as one of his classics, but the contrast of the glistening diamonds on the otherwise very dark backdrop is simple, classy, and effective. Latter titles often lack a distinct theme. These ones don't.


0:07:34 - Traditional info-dump M briefing scene. Perhaps the best. Plenty of witty lines. Bernard Lee is at his curmudgeonly best. "The least we can expect from you now is a little plain, solid work."


0:08:38 - "1851, unmistakable." That M can't have a sip, "doctor's orders", and has to drink vicariously through Bond makes this moment even better.


0:09:01 - "Refreshing to hear there's one subject you're not an expert on, 007."


0:09:12 - As far as I recall, this is the only briefing scene in the series that presents the info-dump visually. By which I mean, as the expert briefs Bond and M, we get to actually see the diamond smuggling in South Africa and the goods being moved through the pipeline all on screen, as opposed to just listening to a bunch of old men nattering about killer toasters (see A VIEW TO A KILL). It's done in a fun way: The broad smile of the smuggler as he enters the dentist, the simple, understated juxtaposition of the expert beaming with pride about their "airtight security" and "loyal and devoted workers" while the shady dealings going on before our eyes.


0:11:15 - Wint and Kidd and the scorpion. Suitably dark and atmospheric (not words often used to describe this movie). "Curious. How everyone who touches those diamonds seems to die."


0:14:35 - Moneypenny in a customs uniform: The beginning of "M / Q / Moneypenny popping up in the field for no good reason", something that would become prevalent in the Moore years (though I have to admit I always do get a kick out of M's makeshift offices).


0:16:04 - "She did want some pictures of the canals for the children." Delicious. Wint and Kidd are wonderfully sadistic throughout. Dismiss them as lightweight henchmen at your peril: This is their third murder in five minutes, a body count not to be sneezed at, even if you're a person prone to sneezing at body counts. It's Wint what sells the relationship. One really believes that he'd kill for Kidd, and then present the victim’s severed head to him as a birthday gift.


0:17:45 - "Provided the collars and cuffs match."


0:18:54 - Tiffany checking the fingerprints. To be honest, they could have lingered a little here, between when we see Franks' fingerprint on the screen and when the match is confirmed, built the tension a tad slower, to make us feel "Oh no! Look Out! He’s about to be caught!"


0:19:58 - "What'd you think it was going to be, a pair of earrings?" Nice introduction for Tiffany Case. The character will lose her edge later in the film, and wind up just another bikini-clad twit, who doesn't know which tape is which, but here at least she's presented as a tough cookie; smart, strong, cool, calm, experienced, and all business.


0:21:06 - "Who is your floor?"


0:21:18 - The elevator fight. Two big men going at it a confined space. Mano-e-mano fisticuffs. There have been lots of good fight scenes in the Bonds, but this is one where you really feel it. These brutal brawls were dropped once the less heavyweight Moore took over, and didn't really come back until Craig. That was a shame. Bond should have to work and hurt and suffer and sweat a little.


0:22:48 – The action music is wonderful. In fact John Barry's score is grand all round. He sets all the right moods, whether it's Bond walking around the casino, or Wint and Kidd ominously lining up another kill.


0:23:52 - "You just killed James Bond!"


0:26:23 - "Alimentary, Dr. Lieter."


0:27:33 - "I've got a brother." "Small world."


0:28:03 - Bond and Morton Slumber going through the motions as they play out their little charade of grieving brother and consoling Funeral director. It's fun to see Bond enjoying his cover and amusing himself. "So many things one wanted to say to one's brother."


0:31:20 - Bond trapped in the coffin about to the cremated.


0:32:12 – "You dirty double-crossing limey fink! Those goddamn diamonds are phonies!"


0:34:52 - Chalk up another kill for Wint and Kidd: Shady Tree is cut down as the closing of the pipeline continues, though shouldn't they have rubbed out Case first, as she precedes Tree in the pipeline?


0:36:11 - "Named after your father perhaps."


0:38:32 - The lamps switching on to reveal the gangsters is neatly staged. Guy Hamilton isn't my favourite Bond director by any means, but DIAMONDS boasts loads of memorable little bits of business, more than most other two Bond films combined.


0:38:38 - "I'm afraid you've caught me with more than my hands up!"


0:38:42 - The perverts' convention is in full swing.


0:38:59 - "I didn't know there was a pool down there." Why don't people love this movie as much as I do? DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER hoods: 1. GOLDFINGER hoods: 0.


0:40:52 - Bond and Tiffany playing each other. Tiffany tries to play Bond in hopes of getting the diamonds: "You get the car, I'll get the diamonds", while Bond pretends to fall for her sweet talk to find out where they go next: "That's very good thinking."


0:42:09 – At the circus. I always appreciate the effort that goes into scenes in a crowded area, especially when the characters and action interacts with the surroundings. It's cleverly done, but it's the longest stretch of time that Connery isn't on screen (even though it's not really that long, it's just that Connery is front and centre for virtually the entire movie) and we feel his absence.


0:48:30 - Plenty O'Toole dead in the pool, while Bond just relaxes on the lounge. He doesn't seem at all fazed. "Oh, she must have come here looking for you." Doesn't even take the time to fish her body out. Why bother? The bitch is dead now.


0:51:25 – Tiffany at the gas station, distracting Metz and the attendant while Bond sneaks into the van "so shove a couple of gallons in there". Tiffany's attitude is great, Jill St. John has character. She really is one of the more stronger, more "in your face" Bond girls. And the character Tiffany shows you don't have to do the tired "female agent who can do anything Bond can and is his equal in every way" routine, which frankly shortchanges Bond, is condescending to both men and women, and, worst of all, is boring. Bond girl characters who play their own part in the mission, have their own unique skills and assets that they bring to the table are far more interesting. "Okay, lady. You win." You bet she does.


0:54:18 - Bond pretending to have a swipe pass. Just good, simple confidence-trickery that we should see more of in the Bonds.


0:55:08 - We get to see the satellite in progress before it's important.


0:55:22 - Claus Hergashimer, G Section. Checking radiation shields.


0:57:17 - Bond jumps into the moon buggy, and of course immediately knows how to pilot it. And to think they laughed at M when he insisted on sending all Double-Os on that mandatory two week Moon Buggy training retreat. Well, who's laughing now? Vindication is sweet.


1:02:00 - The car chase.


1:04:40 - The alleyway. Shame they botched it.


1:05:08 - Tiffany concerned about what's going to happen to her is a nice touch. She's switched sides and is cooperating, acting purely out of self-interest of course, which is totally natural. This is a real character with real motives, one who exists beyond the two hours of the story.

True, the characters in DIAMONDS aren't exactly three dimensional in the sense that none of them had rough childhoods or are seeking revenge for something that happened in some crummy flashback sequence. Nor are they even three dimensional in the sense that don't they seem like the type of people who have a favourite breakfast cereal or pair of underpants (though we do see Bond in the bathtub). But these bizarre oddballs all have their own idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, and their own little things going on. They each have their own unique voice. And that's why we remember them.


1:06:45 - "The Wolf being guarded by the three little pigs."


1:09:01 - Bond mountaineering around outside the Whyte House in his dinner jacket with the Las Vegas lights glistening in the background is a terrific image, one of my favourites of the series. I have to admit I like this movie as pop art as much as anything else, but I want to blow up that frame and hang it over the fireplace I don't even have.


1:10:21 - Much has been made of Connery's physical conditioning in this film. True, he's no longer the sleek panther of old - the twinkle-in-the-eye he had in GOLDFINGER is gone, so too some of the playfulness and charm - but somehow that makes him seem more intimidating, meaner. There are a couple of rather unflattering shots that expose him as being a tad thicker in the mid-section, and those are what we tend to remember, but overall he looks much better than the tired, haggard lead balloon that slept-walked through YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Connery is the glue that holds this film together; his seriousness really sells it. Even when delivering the many witty throwaways written for him he somehow makes the more bizarre happenings around him more plausible. He really does exude that "old pro's grace" in this film, and adds more than a few little nuances to his performance.


1:11:12 - Bond and Blofeld, face to face again. The more continuity concerned of fans often complain that, following the events of OHMSS, Bond should be "showing more emotion" toward seeing Blofeld. Uh, he tries to kill him first chance he gets. Shoots (who he thinks is) Blofeld square between the eyes. Watch this scene between the two of them again: Bond pretending to hold a civil conversation, all the while his mind turning like clockwork, scanning his surroundings, assessing the situation, searching for the perfect opportunity to strike, and Blofeld, fully aware of what Bond is thinking, warning him that the model "is not a practical weapon".

What do people want? Bond to lose it and break down and sob and shout "Klingon bastard you murdered my wife" over and over again? Nah. Don't give him the satisfaction. Never let them see you bleed.

I love this scene between Bond and Blofeld (and Blofeld). 1) For the two Blofeld gimmick. It's a great twist on the usual Bond/villain exchange. And 2) There's a certain sense of futility in the air. It's like "Well, here we are. Together again." Bond's buried Blofeld deep in mud, Blofeld's henchmen have thrown Bond into a coffin, yet neither of them can exorcize the other from his existence. Check out Blofeld's reaction of mild disappointment (but not surprise) later, when Bond arrives at the oil rig. "Oh, it's you."


1:13:45 - "Right idea, Mr. Bond." "Wrong pussy." Bond is smart, Blofeld is smarter. This film is about duplicity and fakery - Fake diamonds, fake money, fake fingerprints, fake Franks (Bond), fake Bond (Franks), fake Whyte (Blofeld), fake Blofelds, fake moon landing, fake waiters - and the ability of the characters to spot the real from the fake proves paramount throughout. Later, Bond will try to beat Blofeld at his own game, using his own fake voice machine, and of course the fake cassette tape.


1:14:57- Bond in the elevator, expecting a trapdoor. Though he has indeed walked into a trap (albeit at gunpoint), the scene still compliments him by showing off his "fine mental edge".


1:18:25 - "One of us smells like a tart's handkerchief. I'm afraid it's me. Sorry about that old boy."


1:18:55 - Bond in the pipe. I'm loving these "snake pit" scenarios, though the escapes aren't proving quite as satisfactory as the predicaments themselves. "Walking across the crocodiles" in Live and Let Die was easily this creative team's (Hamilton/Mankiewicz) best escape. Too often they were a tad better at getting Bond into trouble than getting him out of it.


1:19:38 – "I was just walking my pet rat and I seem to have lost my way."


1:19:49 - The Pink tie!


1:19:56 - You'd think Bond "purists", who lament the more outlandish gadgets in later films, would throw some praise DIAMONDS' way for its use of simpler spy devices like phoney passports, fake fingerprints and voice altering devices, but no.


1:22:27 - Bambi and Thumper. This is a great tussle they have with Bond. It works because they really mean it! Look at the hunger and intent in their eyes as they move in on Bond.


1:26:28 - "Burt Saxby? Tell him he's fired!"


1:26:38 - Q playing the slot machines. Where do MI6 get the money to send Q on all these jaunts?


1:26:39 - Question answered.


1:27:55 - "Blofeld in drag" has long been put forward as "Exhibit A" by those seeking to convict the film as camp and inane, but it's not like he could have just waltzed though the lobby and out the door in his Chairman Mao Zhongshan suit. It's very unlikely cover, utterly preposterous even, but doesn't that just make it perfect? What better disguise? It's silly, sure, a tad crude, but it also makes sense. It gets him past all the agents we saw running by at the beginning of the scene, while also baiting Tiffany. It's creepy too. Look Out! A mass-murdering arch-villain is on the loose, and he could be anyone! He could even be that little old lady crossing the street! Blofeld was always a master of the disguise.

Don't forget that he also had to move his plan forward by 24 hours at the last minute, and no doubt had to junk his original exit strategy.

The scene goes for about three seconds too.


1:30:32 – And finally we see what the Diamonds are for. A quick demo of the weapon's capabilities to let the USA, USSR and Red China (and us) know that Blofeld means business.


1:33:42 - Bond and Whyte deducing where Blofeld is hiding out is clever. Some may dismiss it as luck, but brainstorming sessions like these often produce such breakthroughs. And again it's Bond's mind ticking over that helps make the discovery. "Baja! I haven't got anything in Baja!" Beats the talking parrot in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (the gritty, down-to-earth Bond film) any day.


1:33:51 - The oil rig. Okay, even I can't deny that this film has a bit of a 4th quarter fade out, but it long racked up enough points to cover the spread. The imminent threat and some wonderful lines from Blofeld keep things lively. "Your pitiful little island hasn't even been threatened."


1:34:50 - Blofeld's exploitation of the "committed idealist" Dr. Metz is an interesting little subplot. It's rarely explained exactly why henchmen, soldiers, technicians, experts in laser refraction, etc go along with the villain and his scheme. Maybe Metz needed a little more screen time for this to 'really' work, maybe it isn't even necessary at all, but I appreciate the effort.


1:37:27 - Bond's cassette hidden in the shoulder of his suit.


1:39:02 - "If we destroy Kansas the world may not hear about it for years." Charles Gray is the most memorable of the three Blofelds. Donald Pleasence's version of man with the cat was a fidgety little imp, all build-up and no payoff, Telly Savalas' a mere gangster thug. Gray's Blofeld is also the most interesting in that he and Bond actually feel like arch foes. True, Gray's Blofeld is prissy, but he's also nasty. I know which of the three Blofelds I'd least like to be alone in a room with. Read into that what you will.


1:45:39 - Admittedly one of the more ho-hum raids on the villain's base. Even the "six minutes and counting" guy isn't interested. When in doubt, just do the ticking clock countdown.


1:46:28 - Just when you thought this movie couldn't get any better: Bath-O-Sub! I like how Bond uses Blofeld’s escape plan against him.


1:51:06 - "la bombe surprise"


1:52:12 - "That's rather potent. Not the cork, your aftershave. Strong enough to bury anything." "Moulton Rothschild is a claret." Bond's observational skills (set up when he was trapped in the pipe) and his knowledge of drink (set up way back at the beginning of the film in the scene with M) pay off as he unmasks the henchmen.


1:53:19 - "He certainly left with his tails between his legs."


1:53:26 - The film ends with Bond visiting Tracy's grave, cuddling her headstone and crying while an instrumental version of "All the Time in the World" plays poignantly in the background. Nah, just kidding. Tiffany gazes up at the sky as asks Bond "How are we going to get those diamonds down?", leaving the door open for a sequel. James Bond will return in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER 2: THE QUICKENING. Oh, if only.


AFTERTHOUGHTS

One of my favourite things about DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is Tom Mankiewicz's superb script (I'm a fan of his work on his other two Bonds and SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE too). It's witty and wonderful, simple yet sophisticated. It's colourful and inventive, well plotted and nicely paced. Frankly, I'm not sure there has been a Bond script as good since. It's certainly a better script than the 13 that followed. It’s well structured, taut, and it flows well - that the first half of the film is basically Bond (and us) following the diamonds along the "pipeline" helps. The exposition, of which there's surprisingly a lot, is swift and economical, and there's a certain ingenuity to it all.

The film is loaded with ideas and set pieces, but unlike OCTOPUSSY (which ends about four times) or A VIEW TO A KILL (which goes on for about a month), it never feels like too much. There's little flab (the lead actor aside – oh, but I kid) or excess, yet nor could one say that it's in any way underdone. Like the third bowl of porridge in the three bears' house, it's just right.

The tone is a perhaps a tad lighter than previous Bonds (though I prefer to think of it as "bizarre"), but the tone is maintained consistently throughout, never shortchanging its own reality for a cheap laugh (unlike, say, MOONRAKER or OCTOPUSSY, films that DAF is often unfairly lumped with). It's played straight and all the players mean business all the time. It's sophisticated, funny, without ever descending into broad gags, postcard humour, or those woeful, juvenile "single entendres" of the Brosnan years.

Connery's gentle, throwaway dropping of the one-liners somehow makes the smart and slick jokes feel like genuine off-the-cuff witticisms. There's no *long pause SEE, THAT WAS A GAG, BA-DA-BOOM* in the delivery. He's amusing himself, and anyone else who cares to come along for the ride. Missed the joke? No big deal, there'll be another one along in a minute, but it's up to you to keep up.

DIAMONDS is also a richer movie than people give it credit for. Lots of characters have their own things going on, often deep, deep in the background. It's not an ensemble film by any means, but there are loads of colourful minor characters. Even characters that only have one or two scenes all have something to them. Jimmy Dean, in particular, has fun with the straight-talking Willard Whyte.

I mentioned earlier about Ken Adam, John Barry and the rest of the Bond crew A Listers who work in this film. No one's favourite Ken Adam Bond production work is DIAMONDS. No one's favourite John Barry Bond score is DIAMONDS. No one's favourite Maurice Binder Bond title sequence is DIAMONDS. Yet they're all here and they all do their usual stellar job. Watch the movie again, there's a lot to love about everybody's work.

Maybe we take these guys' work for granted. Maybe we've been spoilt by them. Like I said, they all do their usual stellar jobs, but maybe in our complacently we've shrugged it all off as "usual", when we should be appreciating it as "stellar". Sometimes smart, solid work is easy to overlook.

The problem may be that DIAMONDS lacks that one standout iconic moment or amazing prop that that most of the early Bonds had (not because everything is mediocre, but because everything is good, of course). Therefore DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER isn't known as "The One where Ursula Andress comes out of the water in the white bikini" or "The One with the gold painted girl" or "The One with the giant volcano lair" or "The One with the ski jump and the union jack parachute". Perhaps that hurts it a little in some people's eyes.

But for me, that's the secret of its genius. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER's main asset is its lead, SEAN CONNERY AS JAMES BOND, and the film plays him like a trump card. And that's how I like it. For me the best Bond films are the ones where Bond is front and centre, driving the action; where the movie is big, but Bond is still the biggest thing in it.

In YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, Connery's previous Bond, Bond became a button-pusher and a passenger, and ultimately got lost somewhere inside that massive set. The problem was not that they made the film big, but that they made Bond small. Big Pond. Small Fish.

The film that followed DIAMONDS, LIVE AND LET DIE, is cheap and nasty and at pains not to expose its new lead to comparison. That's not to say that Roger Moore doesn't do a capable job in LIVE, but the film doesn't exactly put all, or even any, of its eggs in his basket, and what was already a low rent potboiler about a "dope cook-out in the jungle" feels even more lacking in swagger as a result. Small Pond. Small Fish.

DIAMONDS, however, is big. It's bold. It's a showpiece event. The lights of Las Vegas, the heat of the desert, a fortune in diamonds, a pair of sadistic killers, car chases, fist fights, bikini babe bodyguards, a billionaire recluse's empire in the control of a mad man, a laser weapon capable of unimaginable destruction, the entire world held to ransom: DIAMONDS is nothing short of massive. But it's also Connery, and the way the film revolves around him, that gives DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER its strength, its muscle, and that Bond ultra-confidence.

Big Pond. Big Fish.


With thanks to the CommanderBond.net Forums

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