Sean Connery tried to hang it up following "You Only Live Twice," but after George Lazenby filled in for him on "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," he was persuaded to come back one more time in "Diamonds Are Forever." Connery would return again a few years later, of course, in his own production of "Never Say Never Again," a remake of "Thunderball" to which Connery had secured the rights; but without the old Bond music and the old supporting cast, it wasn't quite the same. So, for all intents and purposes, this was Connery's farewell to the regular series. "Diamonds Are Forever" finds the actor almost as good as ever in a film that's a bit sillier than most Bond adventures but probably not as bad as it could have been.
Bond films have always been topical, and this one is no different. At the time of the film's release in 1971, real-life aviation tycoon Howard Hughes was said to have locked himself away in a germ-proof suite high in a tower in downtown Las Vegas. So in this Bond venture, we find a fictional tycoon, Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean), whom nobody ever sees because he's a recluse, squirreling himself away high in a penthouse somewhere in downtown Las Vegas. In this case, though, nobody has seen him lately because he's been kidnapped by the fiendish Ernest Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray), who has taken over Whyte's multinational interests in order to pursue his own scheme for world domination. Since no one has seen Whyte in ages, no one notices when he's gone missing. It helps that Whyte's right-hand man, Bert Saxby (Bruce Cabot), is in Blofeld's employ so no one's the wiser. Turns out, Blofeld is stockpiling diamonds for a gem-encrusted laser satellite that he intends to use to hold the world at ransom. Standard Bond formula.
"Diamonds Are Forever" is a middling entry in the Bond saga. It's a "but" film: OK, but.... Connery is back as the definitive Bond, as I said, but he's a bit older and heavier this time out, not quite the trim, dashing figure of even a few years before. Interestingly, before Connery agreed to return, the producers had decided to make an Americanized version of Bond, with actors Adam West and John Gavin considered for the part. Charles Gray is the third actor to play Blofeld, and he's the least effective. He's an even more exaggerated villain than ever, smarmy, campy, and melodramatic, with an unexplained full head of hair (after the bald pates of Donald Pleasence and Telly Savalas). Jill St. John plays the main Bond lady, Tiffany Case, and she's incredibly beautiful, all the more so as she wears the most revealing costumes throughout the picture of any Bond heroine since Ursula Andress showed up on Dr. No's island in a bikini. But Ms. St. John is one of the most stilted actresses in such a role, too, never really gaining our sympathy.
Lana Wood plays Plenty O'Toole, another one of those pretty young things with a suggestive name who never makes it to the second half of the film. She, also, is nice to look at but awkward in her acting style. Jimmy Dean is fine as the Howard Hughes-type Whyte, but he gets little screen time. A pair of gay hit men, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith), are an intriguing touch, but they are played more for laughs than menace. "Q" (Desmond Llewelyn) and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) show up, of course, but barely. Norman Burton gets a chance at CIA agent Felix Leiter, continuing the tradition of having a different actor play the part in every picture, but he's the dullest Leiter of the series.
Shirley Bassey sings the title song, hoping to renew the kind of enthusiasm she engendered with "Goldfinger," but she has less to work with here. John Barry's familiar music is used again, but sparingly and to little advantage; often, where a scene could use the spice of musical underscoring, there is nothing. And Guy Hamilton ("Goldfinger") returns as the director, but he, too, has a less imaginative script to handle and fails to generate much excitement.
Perhaps the single biggest drawback of the film, though, is its location. After some preliminary segments in South Africa and Holland, the bulk of the story takes place in Las Vegas. The town evokes a loud, gaudy, glitzy atmosphere that rather cheapens the elegance of a Bond movie. When 007 wears a dinner jacket in a ritzy casino in Monte Carlo, he looks ultra suave and sophisticated. When he wears a dinner jacket in a tacky Las Vegas casino, he looks ridiculously out of place. Folks, believe me, there is nothing exotic about Las Vegas, and there is nothing around it but desert. It's simply not the place for the cosmopolitan Mr. Bond.
On the brighter side, however, I would point out a nifty trick with a Mustang and a one-way alley; and Bond's entrance to Whyte's penthouse riding atop an outside elevator, a sequence that will make anyone who shies away from heights a bit uneasy. Finally, some things never change: Blofeld has Bond gassed unconscious, stuffed into a huge pipe, and buried six feet deep in the desert. But don't just shoot him! Bond emerges unrumpled.
MGM's picture size for this DVD release may be the widest of all the Bond pictures: a 2.25:1 ratio. The colors are rendered quite nicely, with good definition and few or no age spots to speak of.
The sound is a monaural typical of the series, maybe a little deeper than most. It gets the job done but will turn no heads.
Among the bonus items on this Special 007 Edition are the usual lineup: An audio commentary with the director, Guy Hamilton, and members of the cast and crew; a thirty-minute documentary, "Inside Diamonds Are Forever," as always narrated by Patrick Macnee; a second, forty-four-minute, documentary, "Cubby Broccoli--The Man Behind Bond," chronicling the life of one of the two main forces behind the Bond franchise; four deleted scenes, rather brief and rather faded; MGM's usual eight-page informational booklet insert; thirty-two scene selections; two theatrical trailers; five TV spots; and three radio spots. English is the only spoken language, but there are French and Spanish subtitles.
"Diamonds Are Forever" sports very few gimmicks or gadgets. There's a voice synthesizer that "Q" develops and a cable-shooting pistol; that's about it, for which I would normally be thankful. But maybe this entry in the series needed something extra to lift it out of the doldrums. The movie may be purchased separately or in a boxed set that also includes "From Russia With Love," "You Only Live Twice," "Moonraker," "For Your Eyes Only," "The Living Daylights," and "The World Is Not Enough."