This particular Bond film is something of a guilty pleasure for me, because I find it to be lots of fun even though it admittedly has problems. Lots of problems.
In a nutshell, the tone of the movie veers too much into silliness, especially when compared to its immediate predecessor. The storyline can be hard to follow, at times. Personally, Jill St. John does nothing for me, and though her character starts off with lots of potential and promise, in the end she is reduced to nothing more than an airhead wearing a bikini.
And yet, I like this movie. A lot. It’s certainly better and more entertaining than most (though not all) of the Roger Moore films that would follow it. Yes, Connery looks noticeably older and out of shape — hard to believe it had been less than 10 years since he first played Bond — and is saddled with a bad toupee and some horrible wardrobe choices on top of it, but his presence is still the glue that holds the proceedings together.
One great thing about this film is that unlike the overlong OHMSS, which took its time to really get moving, this film starts out fast-paced and never really slows down. In a weird way, this works to the movie’s advantage because you don’t really have time to notice or think about the plot holes and details in the storyline that do not quite make sense.
One thing that is rather noticeable is that the movie never makes any mention of Tracy, Bond’s murdered bride, although it would seem inescapable that she is the reason Bond goes after Blofeld in the pre-credits sequence. (Although people always seem to forget that it was actually Irma Bunt who pulled the trigger, while Blofeld — wearing a neck brace — had been driving the car.)
It almost seems like not mentioning Tracy is deliberate, as if the filmmakers were trying to bury any memory of the previous film, which was not a big success at the box office or popular with audiences at the time of its release. Notice that the very first scene of “Diamonds” takes place in what could be a Japanese setting, meaning you could argue that the movie picks up from the end of “You Only Live Twice” — Bond could be going after Blofeld simply because he got away at the end of that film. (Though in later years, other movies would make references to Tracy.)
And, although this could justifiably be placed on the list of the “silly Bond films” as opposed to the more serious ones, Bond actually does function here as a spy in that his mission is to trace a chain of killings and smugglings to the top, having to play the role of one of the intended patsies in the chain in order to accomplish his mission. He walks something of a dangerous line in that he has to pass himself off as a seasoned smuggler and must get the attention of the people calling the shots while not pissing them off quite enough to just kill him outright.
I mentioned plot holes, and while I don’t want to go into all of them (because this blog would be a mile long if I did), I’ll just touch on one or two of the more glaring ones. At one point, Bond’s tryst with the buxom Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood) is interrupted by gangsters who toss her out a hotel window into a pool far below (with very skillful aim, as Bond points out).
She then turns up dead later in the swimming pool at the home being used by Tiffany Case, the Jill St. John character. Bond explains it away as “Plenty must have stumbled in here looking for you,” but this really makes no sense, as Plenty did not know who Tiffany was or where she was living. A scene apparently was cut that showed Tiffany coming back into the hotel room, soaking wet, seeing Bond and Tiffany in bed and looking in Tiffany’s purse to get her address. So clearly the angry Plenty was planning on a catfight with Tiffany and was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the smugglers came to eliminate Tiffany in order to cover their tracks in the pipeline.
And it’s grating, not to mention silly, that after Bond kills smuggler Peter Franks and switches their wallets, Tiffany starts going on about how he “just killed James Bond — you don’t kill James Bond and sit around waiting for the cops to arrive.” As if the whole world would know who Bond is. He would not be a very effective spy if that were the case.
Though the fight in the elevator that leads to Franks’ death is a great one, almost as good as the train fight in “From Russia with Love,” and just as vicious. If “Diamonds” had maintained this level of energy and tension from start to finish, we might really have been on to something.
There are two other unsatisfying elements in the film I want to touch on before wrapping up: the quality of the action, and Blofeld. As far as the action, the final showdown on the oil rig is lame. As the big finale of a Bond movie, it’s a miserable failure. Part of the problem is that some assistant director accidentally detonated all the explosives sooner than he was supposed to, so then the camera crews had to scurry to film what they could and the filmmakers had to make do with what they had.
But all the action scenes before that point are fine, especially the elevator fight, the car chase through the streets of Vegas and even the silly business with the moon buggy (which comes from a nice bit of sly satire about conspiracy theories at the time that the moon landing had been faked — the reason that Bond stumbles onto a lunar backdrop while escaping from the laboratory in the middle of the Nevada desert).
And finally, we come to Charles Gray as Blofeld, the third actor to portray the character in as many films. He is not very menacing and seems weak and too campy — especially the scene where he dresses in drag while escaping from the casino. (Which brings up another plot hole — Tiffany follows him after seeing him walk by holding his white cat, but how the hell would she know who Blofeld is?) It is hard to believe this is the same cold, ruthless mastermind who so memorably lurked in the shadows in earlier films and killed all those minions who had failed to kill Bond. Very lame.
The real menace in this film, frankly, comes from Wint and Kidd, who are more frightening because they are seemingly so polite and good-natured as they are killing their victims. What makes the finale unsatisfying is the fact that Blofeld’s fate is left unresolved — again, this is the man who killed Bond’s bride, so you would expect a more personal, face-to-face showdown, rather than Bond just toying with the villain while he is trapped in his escape craft hooked to the end of a large crane — but the final bit with Wint and Kidd at the very end at least ends the movie on a satisfying note.
And for all its flaws, this movie is lots of fun, always can be relied upon to snap me out of a bad mood, and works just as pure entertainment. That goes a long way toward redeeming it, in my opinion.
Overall rating: 8 out of 10.