Yes, I shamefacedly admit it: every so often, every few years, especially when there’s a new one to add on, I get the itch to cycle through the James Bond movies. In my defense, I don’t own all of them on DVD and there are a couple that I have never seen: neither Moonraker nor Octopussy exist in my James Bond Universe.
Even when being nominally selective, there are ups and downs. I reached the stage of Diamonds Are Forever last week. It was never one of my favorites, and after watching it again I’ll go on record with my feeling that it is, hands down, the worst movie of Sean Connery’s tenure, and one of the worst in the series.
It’s taken me some time to arrive at that conclusion for a simple reason: the picture does have Good Bits. In fact, it is chock full of good and enormously entertaining bits. The brutal fight in the Art Nouveau elevator, the cliffhanger moment in the crematorium, the claustrophobic sequence in which Bond is buried alive, Bond’s gut-clenching ascension to the top floor of a Vegas skyscraper; and nearly everything to do with the two camp assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, whose antics are considerably toned down from Ian Fleming’s novel (Fleming had a notable taste for sadism).
And och, it’s got a great song.
But somewhere through the second or third viewing you begin to realize that all the good bits don’t add up to an effective whole. Too much of the picture is Just Plain Wrong. The final third, with a silly world-conquering plot tacked on to Fleming’s down-to-earth story about diamond smuggling, is a compete write-off and even, dare I say it, a Bore. It doesn’t help the continuity that by this time Blofeld has been played by three very different actors across three movies, that Felix Leiter has never been played by the same actor twice, and that Bond himself has been played by two. Worse still is the sad fact that Tereza “Tracy” Bond is never mentioned: her assassination at the hands of Blofeld is, after all, the reason Bond is holding a grudge.
Beyond that… it was made in 1971, at a time when the Bond series should have been becoming smarter about the way that it depicted women. Instead, Diamonds Are Forever is probably the most offensively chauvinistic movie in the series. Although Jill St. John as Tiffany Case is shown to possess a nominal sense of cunning, she never has the wit to outsmart Bond. She spends half of her time onscreen nearly naked. Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole is purely a throw-away character, and as such she is literally thrown away after having served her sole purpose of adding more cleavage to the movie. Bambi and Thumper, who at first appear to be remotely menacing, are overpowered with ridiculous ease by Bond, who was given a harder time by one guy in an elevator earlier in the picture.
Worst of all, Sean Connery allows his personal contempt for women to show through. He whips Tiffany Case across the face; early in the picture he strangles a woman with her own bikini top; and in these and other scenes it becomes evident that Connery is enjoying all this, playing himself in a sick wet dream in which any kind of force is justified to keep women in their place.
And so it is that in Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery actually outlives his welcome as James Bond. Watching the picture, you begin to wish that he had never come back to the series, that George Lazenby could have carried on or that Roger Moore, Sir Rog, could have started one early. Would it have made a difference? We’ll never know; but one thing is clear: Diamonds Are Forever proves that it was time for the series to change its tune.