Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Diamonds Are Forever’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on April 10th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)!
Despite garnering a reputation as a fan favorite over the decades, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) was not well-received upon its initial release. Unfortunately, the film was enough of a critical and financial disappointment that it briefly left the direction of the franchise in question. This was especially true after George Lazenby gave up his 00 status through what seems to be a combination of choice on his part and the insistence of EON Productions. Thus, producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman needed to find a new James Bond, as well as a course correction for their golden goose of a series. So, what did the producers do? They tried to move in a new direction with a new Bond while retaining what audiences love about the previous entries.
Of course, the top priority was to find a new James Bond. As such, Batman himself, Adam West, was once again presented with the opportunity to play 007. Unsurprisingly though, West declined again. Following that, Burt Reynolds (The Last Movie Star) auditioned for the role but didn’t win it. Around that same time, future Bond Roger Moore was offered the license to kill; but he declined due to scheduling conflicts. Finally, American actor John Gavin (Psycho 1960) won the role and was put under contract to be the new 007. Alas, for Gavin, folks in the film industry — perhaps more than any other art form or business — take comfort in what has worked well in the past.
Unbeknownst to Gavin, the producers had been simultaneously seeking a new Bond while desperately going after the man who originated the role, Connery … Sean Connery (Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade). I can only imagine there was an odd mixture of pride and reluctance for Connery to return to the role which made him a star. However, when it was agreed that he would receive a payday of over a million dollars to reprise the part, the actor happily agreed to renew his standing as a 00. Thankfully, the producers also paid Gavin whatever fee he was asking to buy him out of his contract.
Now that they had their original Bond back in place, EON Productions felt it best to follow a formula to which folks positively responded. In other words, they went back to Goldfinger (1964). Therefore, it was only logical that that film’s director, Guy Hamilton, was brought back to the helm (with Connery’s approval, of course.) Initially, the plan was to adapt Diamonds Are Forever (the fourth Bond novel, which was published in 1956) while making it a sequel of sorts to Goldfinger. See, this movie’s original villain was supposed to be the twin brother of Auric Goldfinger, who would be seeking revenge. I think this would have been the way to go, mainly because Gert Forbe would also portray the identical sibling. However, that idea was ultimately dropped in favor of making the installment in review a very loose follow-up to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Picking up shortly after the events of the previous picture, Diamonds Are Forever finds James Bond 007 (Connery) reinstated at MI-6 with a new mission — one which the world’s most exceptional secret agent finds to be beneath him. Bond’s aforementioned mission is to investigate a diamond smuggling operation with connections to the Las Vegas mob and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. head Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray); the latter of whom 007 is seeking revenge upon. To help him infiltrate the operation, Bond develops a relationship with one of the thieves within it, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John).
I find the majority of entries in this franchise throughout the 60s to be quite solid. Alas, Diamonds Are Forever was a terrible way to kick-off a new decade of James Bond in the 1970s. Quite frankly, I feel this film marks a dramatic drop in quality, particularly regarding the narrative and technical aspects of the film series thus far. Co-screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (Superman: The Movie) estimates that the novel on which Diamonds Are Forever is predicated only provides around 45 minutes of screen time. Having not read the book, I’m not sure if Mankiewicz’s assessment is correct. Assuming it is, though, it would explain while the final film is a bit of a mess. The story here is ridiculous and all over the place; dropping plot threads like a high-roller drops chips in a casino.
The film is on the same technical and tonal level as Batman ‘66. It also looks as cheap as any gaudy, over-the-top show in Vegas. Which, on some level, I suppose is appropriate considering the movie’s setting. Alas, I did not find that lack of filmic quality to be the least bit charming. Then again, the missing standard of quality could have something to do with Connery’s reported salary of $1.25 million. While this sum was enough to get the leading man to return, it meant there had to be significant reductions in other areas of the $7.2 million production budget.
On the upside, while Connery is clearly tired of playing Bond, he ultimately enjoyed making the movie. Diamonds Are Forever would shoot on weeknights. Therefore, during the day, the actor would catch shows on the Vegas Strip or play golf. By the time Connery’s weekends off rolled around, he would “collapse,” according to the actor himself.
Much like Connery’s performance, the rest of the film’s cast is very hit-and-miss. Jill St. John and her character, Tiffany Case, are absolutely grating. Aside from her obvious physical attractiveness, I could never believe Bond would put up with this lady’s company. Then there’s Charles Gray’s performance as Blofeld. You may be familiar with Gray from his role as The Criminologist – An Expert in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). A part in which the actor is comically and perfectly stiff. This stiffness is how Gray approaches every part and that doesn’t work for Blofeld.
Thankfully, there are a few cast members who make certain scenes in Diamonds Are Forever enjoyable. Bruce Glover and Putter Smith, in their respective performances as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, are some of the few highlights of this film for me. Sure, the movie goes out of its way to make it clear that the killer duo are also lovers in a somewhat questionable way. But, I think that’s part of these characters’ charm. Funnily enough, the actors were so convincing that Connery was under the impression these gentlemen were a couple. That is until Connery discovered that Smith was married to a woman and saw Glover flirting with ladies at an after-party. Then there’s country singer and sausage magnate Jimmy Dean as Willard Whyte; a character who I found to be so charismatic, I would have watched him in his solo flick.
Outside of those few performances, this film doesn’t have much to offer. Diamonds Are Forever is a meandering, ridiculous film that rests on all the wrong laurels. In doing so, it essentially takes this series backward a few steps. Thus, Diamonds Are Forever is the very definition of a Franchise Implosion!
You Only Live Twice is Available on Home Video.
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with Live and Let Die (1973!)
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on April 10th!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: