Diamonds are Forever

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The beginning of the Roger Moore era begins here. Roger Moore doesn’t have the greatest reputation as a Bond but he seems to have his fans. They sure did make a bunch of these movies with him, I would hope for good reason. Almost anything would be a welcome change after the last Connery.

The film starts with a series of assassinations. During a session of the United Nations, a white guy is killed by killer audio feedback. In the Caribbean, a white guy has been tied to a post and killed by a snake bite. And in New Orleans, a white spy is not-at-all-subtly staking out a club called Fillet of Soul when a funeral procession passes, “Who’s funeral is it?” he asks a bystander.


“Yours.” Stab, shove in casket. Continue procession. Cue credit sequence.


The theme music this time is by Paul McCartney and Wings. The song is exotic and brassy and perfect for a Bond film. It’s a great song worthy of a former Beatle. Of course, one cannot help but remember that Bond in “Goldfinger” made a point of taking a pot shot at the Beatles, quipping that they should only be listened to while wearing earmuffs.
The title sequence itself is delightfully sinister. It includes the perquisite naked ladies but has a fire and skulls motif that gives the whole affair a black magic tone. It is a little unusual for James Bond but it is cool.


Our first glimpse of Moore comes as M and Moneypenny visit Bond at home. He is in bed with a young woman when they arrive. He is wearing a digital watch. I know these were exciting and cutting edge at the time. Bond should never be seen wearing a digital watch. Bond should always be stylish never fashionable. I don’t know why I care about this, but I do. I have become a person-who-has-opinions-about-James-Bond.


The tone of this sequence is one of light comedy, nicely masking the exposition. James hides the girl in a coat closet from M. Moneypenny finds the girl and helps Bond hide her. It’ s a dumb farce scene but goddamn if Lois Maxwell doesn’t give it some gravity. This is the first time she’s actually been face-to-face with Bond’s womanizing and you can see it kill her inside, even as she helps Bond with a smile and a wink.


M exposits that the three men killed in the pre-credits were all agents of British Intelligence: Dawes, Hamilton, and Baines. Bond rather liked Baines. They shared the same bootmaker. Bond is being sent to investigate their deaths.
Stupid digital wristwatch aside, Moore as Bond looks a lot more respectable and gentlemanly than Bond has in the past few films. That is not to say that he actually is respectable or a gentleman. As soon as M finishes briefing him and departs, Bond uses his new magnetic wristwatch to unzip the closet girl’s dress. It all seems consensual, and it is sexy in a fun, playful way as opposed to the normal Bond sex creepiness.


Bond’s assignment is to investigate Kananga, a dictator ruling San Monique, a small fictional Caribbean nation. Kananga is played by Yaphet Koto with playful menace. He is currently visiting the United Nations in New York, so that is Bond’s first stop.


In New York Bond liases with yet another new Felix Leiter. This one, played by David Hedison, is a minor revelation. There’s a chemistry between him and Bond that has always been absent before. He comes across as Bond’s American best friend, which I think is supposed to be the point of the character, but has never quite landed up until now.
Before Bond can begin his investigation, someone driving what is described by Leiter as a “white pimpmobile” tries to assasinate Bond. This man shoots Bond’s driver in the head, leaving the car to crash. Bond manages to avoid serious injury and with the help of Felix, traces the car’s owner to a store dealing in voodoo paraphernalia.


Bond finds the pimpmobile parked near the voodoo store, and so he tails it by taxi. However, it turns out that Bond’s taxi driver is part of a chain of seemingly ordinary Black people throughout the city that are all tracking Bond’s movements. It seems as if every Black person in New York is part of a monolithic criminal conspiracy and all their attention is now focused on James Bond.


Bond arrives in Harlem, and enters a Fillet of Soul, the chain restaurant being staked out at the start of the film. He gets seated at a booth that is placed along a wall. This booth swivels, fireplace-secret-door-style, into a hidden lair. Once in the lair he is informed by Tee Hee Johnson, a tall, imposing man with a mechanical vise for a hand, that he is to be introduced to Mr. Big.


While waiting for Mr. Big, Bond meets Solitaire, a beautiful young tarot reader, played by Jane Seymore, who is utterly confident in her ability to divine the fortune from her tarot cards. Bond flirts with her briefly before Mr. Big sweeps in and tells his men to waste the honky. Bond smugly asks whether “waste” is a good thing.


Bond is taken out back to be wasted, but he is saved by a Black CIA agent, thus establishing that, in fact, not all Black people are evil.


Bond now heads to San Monique. As he arrives, he passes Baron Samedi, a voodoo performer in facepaint and top hat, touted as “The man who cannot die”. Samedi puts on an exuberant and slightly sinister show.


This film has moved at a breakneck clip for a Bond film up until this point, but now things slow down enough to make room for some spy shit as Bond sweeps his room for bugs. A deadly snake is slipped into his room and his champagne is left for him by a large man who only speaks in a whisper. This is the assassin driver of the white pimpmobile.


After finding and dispatching the snake, Bond meets in his hotel room Rosie Carver, another Black CIA agent who as part of her cover is posing as “Mrs. Bond.” She is a rookie field agent standing in sharp contrast to Bond’s years of experience. This subtly sells the idea that Moore-As-Bond is a veteran like the character, not a rookie like the actor.
Bond just sort of assumes that Carver will sleep with him. She rebufs his advances and then immediately gets frightened by a hat. It is then implied that she sleeps with Bond.


They meet up with Quarrel Junior. Remember Quarrel? James Bond’s other Black friend? The guy in Dr. No who couldn’t tell the difference between a tank and a dragon who got killed with a flamethrower? Apparently he had a son who serves the exact same narrative purpose as his father.


Bond and Rosie hire Quarrel Jr. to take them to Katanga’s Island base. As they approach, Katanga asks Solitaire to give a reading about how this encounter will play out. The card she reads is “The Lovers” but she tells Katanga that what she sees is “Death.”


Katanga believes that Solitaire has the power but it is implied that deflowering her would depower her. This film is treating her divination as being a real power, which is odd. All of a sudden there exists magic within the world of James Bond. This wholly alters the tone of the proceedings. Even more than “You Only Live Twice”, this film abandons being an espionage thriller, transcending that limited genre, and creating something weirder and more interesting.

It turns out that Rosie is an agent of Katanga, attempting to set up Bond. Bond sees through her act which naturally does not stop him from sleeping with her in the jungle before confronting her regarding her duplicity. However, she is killed by one of Katanga’s traps before she can tell Bond what she knows.

To perform reconnaissance on Katanga, Bond hang glides while smoking a cigar, pulled along by Quarrel’s boat. When he is ready to make his move, he lands, tearing off his pants to reveal a second pair of pants, while reversing his jacket so that he can be properly dressed for the occasion. It is sublimely ridiculous.

Bond makes his way into Katanga’s compound, where he finds Solitaire. He coerces her into sleeping with him. He tells her that the cards say that they must. What he does not tell her is that he has replaced her deck of cards with a deck that contains nothing but copies of “The Lovers”.

After they make love, Solitaire is stunned and appalled at what she has done. She no longer has the power now that she is devirginated. Her whole life has been destroyed. Bond uses this vulnerability to press her for information about Katanga.

Having had her life destroyed, Solitaire seems to have no real choice but to stick with Bond as he escapes the compound. Two fairly fun chase scenes later, Bond escapes San Monique but cannot quite hold onto Solitare, who gets captured. This is a setback for Bond who had, in obtaining the boss’s girl, gained a useful bargaining chip.

Some time afterward, Bond and Felix end up at the New Orleans Filet of Soul. Bond asks to be seated closer to the stage to avoid a secret door booth. He is obliged and they are front and center to watch a woman singing “Live and Let Die”, the film’s theme song.

Despite avoiding the booth, this table is also part of a secret passage, dropping Bond into a lower level when Felix leaves to make a phone call.

Bond is clamped to a chair and interrogated by Mr. Big. The gangster wants to know if Bond has slept with Solitaire. He learns the truth and in the course of the scene, reveals a secret of his own: Mr. Big is Katanga in disguise! I feel foolish admitting it, but I genuinely didn’t see that coming!

Katanga’s villainous plot is elegant in its simplicity: Give a bunch of people in America free heroin.

After Katanga learns the truth about Solitaire, Bond is taken by Tee Hee Johnson to a crocodile farm where heroin in processed. Johnson tells Bond that he loves the crocs despite having lost an arm to one.

Bond is then left alone in the farm on a tiny island surrounded by crocodile-filled swamp. He spies a metal canoe and uses his magno-watch to pull it to him. However, the canoe is firmly tied up! The gimmick has failed.

Moving to plan “B”, Bond instead jumps on the body of one crocodile after another, Pitfall Harry-style, hopping his way to freedom. Then he burns the heroin shack to the ground before taking off on a speedboat and I think I kind of love this movie.

Bond doesn’t make a clean escape. What follows is a truly spectacular car/boat chase that reels in J. W. Pepper, a racist redneck sheriff, blatantly inserted into the film to make the movie itself seem less racist by comparison.
The chase involves boats on rivers, cars on roads, swimming pools, boats jumping over cars, a boats moving on land, a weeding, boat-switching and car-switching, all culminating in a glorious fireball. It is one of the greatest chase scenes I have been fortunate enough to bear witness to.

Bond and Felix jet back to San Monique, I think to burn their poppy fields? Or assassinate Katanga? I’m still not sure why British Intelligence gives a shit about the American drug trade. Fun as this all is, it seems a little small-potatoes for Bond.

At any rate, Bond arrives just as Solitaire is about to be murdered in the voodoo ritual seen at the start of the film, officiated by Baron Samedi. Bond starts shooting people. He seemingly shoots Samedi but what gets shot is apparently a lifelike Samedi mannequin. Bond frees Solitaire, and when Samedi resurfaces he kicks the voodoo man into a coffin full of venomous snakes.

While Bond distracts the bad guys, Leiter and Quarrel blow up some poppy fields. Bond and Solitaire run away from the angry voodoo horde, but end up running straight into Katanga. Having captured Bond at home, Katanga takes pleasure in showing off his wonderful underground lair, complete with monorail and shark tank.


The two prisoners are tied above the shark tank but it isn’t long before Bond uses his watch’s buzzsaw to escape. He quickly turns the tables on Katanga, forcing him to eat a pellet of compressed air, which causes him to gruesomely and cartoonishly explode. It is a bit much.

Having assassinated the leader of a sovereign nation, Bond and Solitaire board a train. Presumably they have left San Monique but it isn’t clear. Aboard the train, Bond teaches Solitaire to play gin rummy.

Tee Hee Johnson boards the train looking to kill Bond. Bond shoves Solitaire into a foldout bed so that the men can trainfight. This is reminiscent of the amazing fight in “From Russian With Love”, but instead of beating the bad guy with savagery, Bond defeats him by disabling his robot arm. He then throws Johnson out of the train.

The danger has passed, but the film cuts away to Baron Samedi, perched on the edge of the train, alive and cackling. The end.

I really enjoyed this film. I feel bad about liking it because whatever other charms it may possess, it is a movie wherein James Bond rapes a woman. It’s a heinous act in an otherwise light film, but eight films into the franchise, I am going into this flick assuming that Bond is a monster and a rapist. Even though the filmmakers do not understand that Bond is a bad guy, I certainly do, and I can enjoy the film as I can enjoy other stories about bad people. That doesn’t excuse the movie and other viewers might have a different experience. Also it is not entirely un-racist.

With that guilty disclaimer out of the way, this is a hell of a movie. It isn’t just enjoyable compared to the previous films in this oftentimes unpleasant franchise, it is is enjoyable in its own right. It creates a goofy, over-the-top, world that James Bond can almost make sense existing within, playful and absurd in largely the right ways.

It only took them eight tries to get the tone right on a James Bond film. This is a good movie following seven ones that were not good. Maybe this first Roger Moore film is the start of something new and exciting.

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The previous film ended with George Lazenby as Bond crying over his dead wife. Lazenby is out and Connery is back in, but that wife-murder seems like an event that needs addressing. And so the film starts with a montage of Bond torturing people in order to find Blofeld. The sequence is played broad, culminating in Bond ripping the bikini top off of a woman and strangling her with it, which is meant to be hilarious, not cruel and ugly. It is clear from the start that Bond-as-Human has been written off as a failed experiment. The filmmakers have returned to Bond-as-hideous-monster. The problem is, the makers of the film seem to be chuckling along with his boys-will-be-boys antics.


While Bond searches, Blofeld is arranging to create a surgically modified doppelganger of himself, a man that appears identical to him in all ways. Of course, Blofeld is now played by Charles Grey, a man with no neck, no facial scar, and plenty of hair, and who previously played a murdered good guy in “You Only Live Twice”. Maybe that guy was secretly a Blofeld doppelganger all along.


Before Blofeld can make his duplicate, Bond arrives and gleefully drowns him in some sludge. Blofeld’s kitty cat cries in distress. And it appears that anticlimatically, that is that. Bond has had his revenge and can move on from the previous film. At no point in this intro sequence is Tracy referenced.


The credits are super weird, prominently featuring Blofeld’s cat and of course diamonds. The song is good, sung by a returning Shirley Bassey, but it sounds weird to my 21st century ear due to the lack of Kanye West. Also, man, we have clearly left the 60’s behind and are now stuck in the 70’s. By which I mean every aspect of this movie looks garish and ugly.


After the credits, we witness a diamond smuggling operation go bad. Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are a pair of bizarre homosexual assassins who have started killing everyone involved in a particular operation. The filmmakers clearly think the notion of gay killers to be a self-evidently hilarious one.


Bond has been tasked to investigate an increase in diamond smuggling which seems pretty penny ante for 007. He is sent to Holland to pose as a smuggler. There, he meets a woman eye-rollingly named Tiffany Case. Somehow that stupid pun name bothers me more than “Pussy Galore” or any of the others.


Bond kills the dude that he is pretending to be while Case watches, and then he swaps the corpse’s wallet for his own. She finds the only piece of ID the man has: James Bond’s Playboy Club membership card. “Oh my God! You just killed James Bond!” James Bond is so famous of an operative, random smugglers in Holland know of him.


Bond’s investigation leads him to Vegas on the same plane as Kidd and Wint. There are all sorts of unfocused, poorly-paced shenanigans that we are given no reason to care about, including a near-miss live cremation and a trip to the circus. At one point, gangsters throw a girl Bond has brought back to his room out of a window so that Case can sleep with him.


Bond’s goals during these antics are completely opaque. He seems to have no plan others than fuck with some random diamond smugglers and fuck some random women and see what happens. One thing that happens is that Bond seems to stumble upon the site where the moon landing was faked, leading to a protracted chase scene with Bond in a stupid-looking moon buggy.


Eventually, Bond concludes that a millionaire named Willard Whyte is the key bad guy, although I honestly cannot follow why. Felix Leiter (yet again recast: this time older and grouchy) has not been convinced that Whyte is a criminal, so Bond sneaks into Whyte’s office at the top of a hotel/casino. Er, or actually he sneaks into Whyte’s ridiculous super-bathroom, complete with telephone, closed-circut television, and computer.


Upon leaving the bathroom, Bond discovers Blofeld, alive and well and still Charles Grey. Actually there are two of them. One is a doppelganger but it is unclear which one is real! Apparently Bond murdered a duplicate earlier?


Blofeld has been posing as Whyte although he looks like what we are apparently asked to believe he as always looked like, despite having access to ridiculously sophisticated face-change technology and despite being the most wanted criminal in the world. Instead he just apparently likes to make lots of copies of himself.


The Blofelds gloat that Bond cannot take action because he would not know which one of the two to kill. Bond responds by kicking Blofeld’s cat and shooting the Blofeld it runs toward in the head. It seems like a clever (albeit cruel) solution but after the the surviving Blofeld draws his gun on Bond a doppelganger cat saunters into the room.
Screenwriting nerds like to talk about “save the cat” moments, which are scenes where the hero performs an action that establishes the noble nature of the hero who might otherwise be unsympathetic to the audience. James Bond goes a different route. The best scene in this movie is the one where the hero kicks a cat as part of gambit that doesn’t even work.


Rather than shoot Bond, Blofeld gasses and delivers him to Kidd and Wint who take his body out to the desert and stick him in a large pipe while he sleeps. Bond survives this because it is not a death trap. It is an inconvenience.
Back in his hotel, Bond uses a Q-supplied voice change device to trick Blofeld via phone into revealing the location of the real Willard Whyte. He turns out to be in his own summer home.


Bond arrives at the summer home to discover Bambi and Thumper, two female killer acrobats who clearly love their job. They kick Bond’s ass right up to the moment where Bond beats them in an act of truly pathetic filmmaking. The acrobats have the upper hand right until the end of the fight when they just sort of relent because Bond needs to win the fight, completely unearned. Bond wins because he is the white imperial alpha male. Bambi and Thumper lose not because they screw up or are outfought, but because the universe in which they reside cannot allow them to live.


Bond finds the real Willard Whyte who is, I guess, a good guy. While he attends to Whyte, Blofeld escapes the casino, dressed in drag for no good reason, while Q uses a gadget to cheat at the slots for no relevant plot reason. This is not a movie concerned with reasons.


One hour and thirty five minutes into this film, the real plot of the movie, which up until now has ostensibly been about diamond smuggling is revealed. Blofeld has used Whyte’s resources and many many smuggled diamonds to construct a diamond-powered orbital death ray, capable of destroying all the world’s nuclear armament. Rather than ransoming the world, Blofeld is opting to auction nuclear supremacy to the highest bidder.


It is worth noting that there has been no reference to SPECTRE in the past two films. Blofeld is now portrayed as a lone mastermind, with resources to be sure, but nothing approaching the scope of the organization he ran for the first five films, with no word of what happened to it. He also has lost his penchant for shooting unexpected people. He’s been reduced to little more than a neckless jerk in a Nehru jacket.


Bond parachutes into Blofeld’s pretty sweet oil rig secret base and immediately surrenders to Blofeld’s men, because most of his endgame plans start with being captured by an enemy who doesn’t want to kill him but instead wants to hang out and gloat. Tiffany Case is lounging on the deck of the oil platform, for no adequately explored reason.


Case, played by Jill St. John, has been a pretty large presence in this film, even though she has no real motivations, no real competencies, and randomly shifting alliances. Despite all of this, St. John is easily the most likeable person in this movie, which perversely makes her seem even more out of place in this bleak, unpleasant film. Her character has negligible effect on the plot and no real reason to be in the film. She exists to wear ugly-but-revealing clothing and have sex with Bond.


On the oil rig, there is a bit of nonsense where Bond and Case both swap out the tape that contains the codes that control the death ray activation codes with a fake, canceling out each other’s efforts. In a real movie, the audience would be led to believe that they had failed to successfully swap them but that there had actually been a double-bluff. But in Diamonds Are Forever, the scheme just flat out fails.


A bunch of helicopters proceed to attack the base. Felix is onboard, so I guess they are CIA? Blofeld tries to escape in what appears to be a tiny submarine, but Bond lifts it with a crane and just starts fucking with the villain like a high school bully, swinging and banging the sub all around. After a bunch of that, he and Case jump off of the rig shortly before the helicopters destroy it and also presumably Blofeld. The bit of business with the tapes was completely unnecessary. All that was needed was to blow up Blofeld’s base with helicopters.


Later, as Bond and Case relax on a cruise ship, the two homosexual killers arrive posing as waiters. Kidd and Wint serve them a meal including a pastry with a bomb inside it, which Wint oh so cleverly calls “la bombe surprise.” Bond recognizes Wint’s terrible aftershave and thus is able to ever so subtly defeat his gay assailants by setting one aflame and literally shoving a bomb up the ass of the other. This is the classy note that the film ends on.


This movie is utter garbage. The plot is incoherent and stupid and the filmmaking is consistently lazy. It is a mean spirited and ugly film that leaves the viewer feeling like they need a bath afterward. Even the set dressing and costuming are unattractive and grungy.


This is Connery’s last canonical Bond appearance and I am ready to see him go. The Bond of this film is a monster again, but he’s no longer the cool ruthless bastard of “Dr. No” or “From Russia With Love” anymore. He’s just a petty bully who gets to be cruel and smirk because the world is built to give him whatever he wants.