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007 One by One: “Diamonds are Forever”

The Gadgets

True to its brief as a semi-“Goldfinger II,” there are more gadgets and fancy do-dads than ever on hand in “Diamonds are Forever,” including…

The pocket mousetrap that nails a SPECTRE henchmen during the opening. Not exactly high tech even by 1971 standards, it’s nevertheless effective, assuming you believe an enemy is going to search your pockets for weapons. Mel Brooks’s great TV comedy spy, Maxwell Smart, would no doubt have described this as “the old mousetrap in the pocket trick.”
The synthetic fingerprint is a small gift from Q branch for helping to fool Tiffany Case’s handy-dandy fingerprint reader.
Blofeld/Willard’s Whyte’s spiffy metallic elevator comes complete with knock-out gas. Blofeld might have had better luck if he’d just made it cyanide. He also might have tried shooting Bond in the head, just this one time.
Voice modification devices figure in the story when we find out that Blofeld is able to perfectly mimic Willard Whyte’s folksy Texas twang. Later, we find that Q has been monkeying with similar technology, which Bond uses to impersonate Bert Saxby.
Blofelds laser equipped satellite is, of course, part of his mad scheme to utilize the work of a peacenik scientist in order to become the broker of worldwide nuclear superiority.
Q’s slot machine swindling dohickey (aka “an electromagnetic RPM controller”) makes every pull on a Vegas fruit machine a guaranteed winner. Doe’s Q’s MI6 designation include a license to cheat gaming devices?
A moon buggy features prominently in one chase sequence. With the Apollo program at its apex in the late sixties and early seventies, this was a very topical piece of high technology. The buggy used in the film was a highly modified vehicle that gave director Guy Hamilton and the rest of the EON team a great deal of heartache when they realized it was not quite hardy enough for the desert landscapes it was supposed to run across.
The Slumber Inc. crematorium nearly fries Mr. Bond. Yes, in this movie, even the most ancient of practices gets a space-age spin. Production designer Ken Adam was inspired by real-life Las Vegas area mortuaries, which seemed to him not so terribly different from the famously over-the-top wedding chapels in their tacky glory. A gimmicky cremation device that supplies mood music just seemed par for the course.
Willard Whyte/Blofeld’s bathroom-based video surveillance port briefly amuses Bond. What mega-billionaire or supervillian would do without one?
A large water-borne sphere allows James Bond to literally walk on water to Blofeld’s ocean-bound oil rig.
A “bathosub”/tiny submarine is intended as an escape pod for Blofeld, but Bond uses it to turn the tables in memorable fashion.
A cassette tape might not seem like a “gadget” in any normal sense of the word, but it figures prominently as a plot device/macguffin in “Diamonds are Forever” when the tape containing codes to control Blofeld’s satellite is repeatedly replaced – and unreplaced – with one containing a recording of a marching band. Magnetic tape-based computer technology was still evolving in 1971 and seemed very up-to-the-minute. A few years later, nerds around the world would be using cassettes on the some of the earliest home computers.
Bombe surprise, aka, “the old bomb in the Baked Alaska trick” nearly does in a shipboard Bond and Tiffany Case. Fortunately for the free world, 007 is able to hoist the bombe to Mr. Wint’s vulnerable petards.

The Car

Perhaps because he’s been sent stateside, Bond never actually gets to drive his own MI6-issued vehicle in “Diamonds are Forever.” He does, however, make do in fairly spectacular fashion with the 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Fastback he and Tiffany Case rent. The car could be considered a callback to “Goldfinger” as many Americans had their first glimpse of a Mustang when one was driven by Tania Mallet as the vengeful Tilly Masterson.

Article 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Fastback

The Exotic Locales

If you live in the Western United States, Las Vegas might not exactly seem like an exotic locale. However, while Las Vegas of today is far more over-the-top architecturally than it was during the early 1970s, “Diamonds are Forever” catches the town at a fascinating moment in its history.

In 1971, Rat Packers and mobsters still roamed Vegas free-range style, despite the encroachment of the mostly noncriminal Howard Hughes. Also, the first truly absurdist resorts were being built. Chief among them, Circus Circus, a casino so strange and so immense that it must have impressed even Ken Adam and the rest of the production design team responsible for Goldfinger’s lair and SPECTRE’s hollowed-out mountain from “You Only Live Twice.”

“Diamonds are Forever” also includes a brief sojourn in Amsterdam, but Bond never really gets a chance to examine that city’s fabulous underside, unless you count Tiffany Case. Finally, there are some brief glimpses of Los Angeles International Airport, which we suppose could seem exotic to someone.

Outrageous Villain’s Lairs

Billionaire Willard Whyte isn’t actually a villain, but his casino, penthouse, and fabulous desert household is taken over by Blofeld, making it a de facto lair.

As all long-time Vegas habitues are well aware, the Whyte House is a slightly altered version of the Las Vegas Hilton, which was formerly known as the International and is today the LVH. The Penthouse, however, is a pretty clear homage to Auric Goldfinger’s  lodge and display room. The somewhat rustic interior – presumably reflecting Willard Whtye’s taste more than Blofeld’s – features a model of the oil rig and world-domination center we’ll be visiting at the film’s climax. It’s also the first time we see an outrageous villain’s bathroom, with its somewhat rustic wooden toilet seat.

Whyte’s spectacular vacation home, presumably located somewhere out of town, is not so much a creation of Ken Adam and company, but of space age ultra-modernist architect John Lautner, a follower of original futurist Frank Lloyd Wright. The Elrod Residence is actually located hundreds of miles from Las Vegas in an even tonier desert playground, Palm Springs.

The Opening

“Diamonds are Forever” wastes no time at all setting it’s comically brutal tone, as an off-screen Bond throws a Japanese man through a wall demanding to know where Ernst Stavro Blofeld can be found. Next we see an Egyptian criminal playing blackjack in a Cairo casino. A still off-screen Bond responds predictably to the card player’s request: “Hit me.” That’s followed by a full-on Hollywood style glamor shot of Sean Connery approaching a bathing beauty and announcing himself as “Bond, James Bond.” Still, Mr. Bond’s is not out for loving, but information re: Blofeld. Before you know it, he’s very nearly strangling the mysterious and beautiful Marie with her own bikini top. Presumably, he’ll eventually allow her to speak.

Finally, we meet Charles Gray as the third onscreen Blofeld, who informs some incredulous plastic surgeons that a delicate procedure must be performed that very evening. Considering he has a full head of hair and looks nothing like Telly Savalas or Donald Pleasance, it seems like Blofeld likes to keep his cosmetic docs working overtime.

In no time, Bond arrives to wreak havoc. As described in our “License to Kill” section, Bond has his way with a number of henchmen and ends up tying Blofeld to a gurney and apparently doing some kind of harm to him — we’re not sure what — with a large medical device that looks like a giant sunlump. As if that isn’t bad enough, he very deliberately shoves the defenseless criminal into a vat of boiling hot steaming mud, burying him forever. Except, of course, well….that isn’t Blofeld, even if there seems to be an angry Persian kitty about.

The Opening Credits

The cat’s eye dissolves into a diamond, which is then bisected by the silhouette of a woman’s hands. The silhouette hands then separate to frame the diamond, which is then picked up by the hands of a real woman wearing a diamond bracelet, which is then superseded by perhaps the same woman holding a gun. That’s just the first few seconds of another typically ambitious James Bond opening from Maurice Binder. Soon to come is a diamond wearing Persian cat (maybe a little fluffier and cuter than Blofeld’s companion), and lots more of those striking silhouettes. It’s all done in the highest possible style, and it’s easy to see why Steven Spielberg is said to be smitten with this sequence.

The Title Song and Music Score

Bringing back “Goldfinger” belter par excellence Shirley Bassey to sing a song about diamonds instead of gold might have seemed like a retread to some. Moreover, Don Black’s lyrics are really just a darker rewrite of the bouncy 1950s Jule Styne-Leo Robin show tune, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

We don’t care. John Barry’s music is as darkly glorious as ever. Updating the earlier Bond sound with some 1970s R&B touches, including wah-wah guitar, this is spy pop at it’s absolute best. Barry and Bassey would re-team one more time for 1979′s “Moonraker.” We think it’s fair to say it didn’t have remotely the same impact.

As for the “Diamonds are Forever” music score, it’s another winner. It’s a witty and imaginative restatement of the Bond ethos with a comic undercurrent that’s perfect for the silliest of all the Connery Bonds. The late and very great John Barry won 5 Oscars, but he was never even nominated for any of his James Bond work, which was some of his best. Oscar voters are worse snobs than Ian Fleming ever was.

Action Highlights

Another part of the brief in making “Diamonds are Forever” was to raise the level of spectacle well above the relatively down-to-earth hijinks of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Due mostly to budgetary constraints, “Diamonds” isn’t as lavish as “Thunderball” or “You Only Live Twice.” It nevertheless contains plenty of goodies for any action junkie.

The Elevator Fight. Bond pretends to be diamond smuggler Peter Franks and finds himself in a the stickiest of wickets when he is face to face with the real Franks, played by Joe Robinson. This scene is something of an attempt to one-up the classic fight between Bond and Robert Shaw’s Red Grant in “From Russia with Love.” Robinson was no Robert Shaw, but his fight skills are truly impressive and this battle is a worthy, bone-crushing successor to the fight on the Orient Express. Of course, It was Robinson’s/Peter Franks’ bones that got crunched, but that’s what happens when you go mano-a-mano with Mr. Bond.

The Moonbuggy Chase. After evading some astronauts who appear to be walking in moon gravity for some reason, Bond grabs a moon buggy and manages to outrun Willard Whyte’s security team. Eventually, Bond commanders one of the early Honda ATVs Whyte’s men are driving and escapes in his rented Mustang with Tiffany Case. However, it all turns out to be a prelude to…

The Downtown Las Vegas Car Chase. “Bullitt” and “The French Connection” had seriously raised the bar for action movie car chases. “Diamonds are Forever” doesn’t quite reach those heights, but it’s famed car chase benefits from a lot of excitement and a dash of Bondian whimsy. That’s especially so when Bond and Tiffany Case shift their weight and that somehow allows Bond to drive sideways through an extremely narrow alley. The scene was a hit with audiences and the result was numerous absurd car chases in decades to come. The most obvious homage was the Vegas car chase in Doug Liman’s enjoyable “Pulp Fiction” riff, “Go.”

Bond versus Bambi and Thumper. Perhaps playing upon Sean Connery’s visibly advancing age, this scene pits him against two perfectly fit young women who start to thoroughly kick Bond’s MI6-approved derriere. Bond finally turns the tables on them in Willard Whyte’s pool, but we have no idea how.

The Attack on Blofeld’s Oil Rig. Originally meant to be a more spectacular under-and-over water sequence in the spirit of the watery climax of “Thunderball,” the scene in which Felix Leiter leads a helicopter aerial attack sequence off the coast of Baja is not exactly a legend among action fans. The whole thing gets upstaged by a comedy of errors involving a cassette tape and Jill St. John/Tiffany Case’s beautiful backside. Even when Bond manages to take control of a crane and uses Blofeld’s tiny sub as a wrecking ball with Blofeld inside, it’s not terribly satisfying. It might have been better if they’d had the courage to finally kill the baddie once and for all in this scene.

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