Sean Connery’s final Bond film, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) — all rights to poster reside with current holder—was the first I saw that I was old enough to follow (as opposed to being confused by You Only Live Twice). It’s severely flawed, but it’s the one I liked best since Goldfinger and it has a surprisingly interesting Bond girl in Jill St. John’s Tiffany Case (“I was born there—mother was selecting a wedding ring.”). Screenwriter Richard Maibaum conceived it as a direct sequel to Goldfinger — Gert Frobe playing Auric’s twin, a shipping magnate with a laser cannon mounted on one of his vessels, an upgrade of his brother’s Fort Knox-busting laser. Instead of gold smuggling, what gets Bond involved is diamond smuggling; once again, America is the target. In Goldfinger Bond’s vast knowledge of gold shows up his boss; here it’s 007’s knowledge of diamonds.
Of course, the Goldfinger II angle got shot down and we went with Blofeld, apparently free of any ties to SPECTRE, operating an orbital laser using the diamonds to channel sunlight into the ray beam. Bond takes out Blofeld (Charles Gray) in the opening, before that villain can use plastic surgery to create a decoy lookalike. While it makes sense for Bond to hunt his old foe after Blofeld killed Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he doesn’t come off as particularly vengeful; certainly Bond treats Blofeld like any other villain when they meet later, rather than dealing with him as the man who murdered Bond’s wife.
With Blofeld supposedly dead, M assigns 007 to investigate a diamond-smuggling case (Bond protests this is too trivial for MI6, but M says the industry has convinced the government otherwise). Bond replaces one of the couriers in the smuggling ring and accompanied by another courier, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), follows the trail of diamonds to Las Vegas, despite homosexual killers Kidd and Wint (Putter Smith, Bruce Glover) whacking everyone in the chain as soon as the diamonds are passed on. It’s not clear how the murders benefit Blofeld, nor can I figure out what’s really going on in Vegas — is the mob trying to hijack the goods from Blofeld or are they working with him?
The ring appears to be run by billionaire Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean), one of the many, many fictional takes on Howard Hughes over the years. Although Hughes was, among other things, an aviator and aviation mogul and a film-maker, the part of his life that most movies and TV shows borrowed from was his later years, when he sealed himself away from the world reclusively. This makes him a perfect target for Blofeld to impersonate — who looks for a man who’s never seen? Bond finds Whyte locked away in a mountain retreat, guarded by athletic female thugs Bambi and Thumper (Lola Larson, Trina Parks). They kick (literally) the shit out of Bond before he finally gets the upper hand.
Tiffany is even more interesting as a Bond girl. Unlike most of the Connery or early Moore Bond girls she has an agenda and goals of her own: work for organized crime, make a pot of money (it’s not complex, but it’s an agenda). Her final line to Bond isn’t about their relationship, it’s about recovering all those diamonds channeling sunlight into the laser.
For the second and third gay characters in the series (following Klebb in From Russia With Love) we get the more comical murderers Kidd and Wint. These grotesques are fun, but if you’re looking for a positive gay portrayal, they ain’t anywhere near close.
The film has other problems. The car chase (following a bizarre sequence with Bond driving a lunar buggy from an aerospace center) is dull, serving mostly to promote lots of Vegas hotels. There’s a pointless, apparently comical bit where Bond and Tiffany keep trying to steal the tape of computer code that controls the satellite. And Blofeld’s fate (pounded to death inside a one-man sub) is almost anticlimactic.
Overall, though, I enjoyed this one.