19 Feb 2019

“Diamonds Are Forever” (1971)

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Brett Stevens is reviewing old movies and connecting them to cultural changes on the Alt-Right blog Amerika.

We can see the formula — later modified into the Star Wars formula by adding New Age woo to the technology, intrigue, action, romance, comedy, and tragic hard man with a heart of gold ingredients — slowly drift more toward what was being seen on American television at the time: car chases, showgirls, fast quips, and gadgets.

In this transition, we see exactly how humanity outsmarts itself every time. They look at a few factors and conclude that they know enough to control the outcome, so they amplify those factors and in the process, crush the delicate ecosystem of a good story and replace it with the same paint-by-numbers scripts that people came to their film in order to escape.

Diamonds Are Forever feels like a blockheaded episode of Hawaii Five-O or Magnum, P.I.. Bond shows up, has some funny lines, makes out with a pretty girl, goes to famous and expensive destinations, wrecks some high technology, has a bunch of car chases, then finds the bad guy and blows up his lair, only to watch helplessly as the perpetrator escapes.

Where Dr. No showed us a James Bond who might be in an elite unit, a chaotic and violent individual who indulges deeply in the pleasures of life because he never knows if he will see tomorrow, the Bond that Hollywood produced by consulting its target audience surveys is an American middle manager: cautious, by the numbers and less driven to systematic victory than he is to declare success and go home.

As a result, this film moves like a Cadillac with a trunk full of lead. Bond sits through meetings, follows police procedure style investigations, threatens some people, and finally gets to the bottom of the mystery just in time, but everything happens in slow motion. The scenes cut quickly from one to another because no energy is transferred; they are points on an outline that makes the argument of coherence to the plot toward the audience.

Almost no charisma attaches to Bond, who shows us Sean Connery demonstrating the meaning of “phoning it in” with visible boredom and disgust for this lame, formulaic script in his eyes. He seems to be gritting his teeth when he delivers the lines that are “clever” from an audience manipulation perspective but excruciating for anyone with a brain.

Other actors float in for what are essentially cameos, acting out roles that belong on a résumé and not a screen. They interact superficially with Bond, and the plot ends up being one where characters attach to a motion between scenes in pursuit of some very obvious “mystery,” with everyone coming together at the end. They might as well sing a Broadway number at that point, since nothing else makes any sense.

These films are not meant to be rocket science. They balance action, sentiment, gadgets, and adventure. That mixture works because it is not a formula but a means of telling a story, namely that of an agent deeply devoted to his cause but made personally unstable because of it, leading him to a point of lashing out, after which he recovers his discipline and beats his foe.

If anything, the story of Diamonds Are Forever tells us of a management struggle in which adding in more popular ingredients overwhelmed the need to tell a good yarn, and as a result, these films became banal enough to drive Connery, Moore, and eventually their own audiences away as the clever people in charge kept doing “the right thing” only to find out that they were murdering what had been given them.

In competent hands, this franchise could have gone on forever, but after the 1960s, it never regained control. The Roger Moore movies smoothed out the disaster with a more professional and threatening Bond, but could not overcome the tendency to write scripts by committee and rely on surface drama instead of any inner tension or desire for adventure.

The middle class murders anything it touches. The trap is subtle: at first, they like the new banality, but over time they start to drift away, all without ever being able to articulate why it stopped being satisfying.

RTWT

The Bond films went wrong actually, years earlier, with “Thunderball” (1965), when, strangely, suddenly formula seemed to replace story, and Sean Connery began mailing it in.

I thought myself the Roger Moore films got even worse, possibly because Moore was wrong for the part and wore such awful suits.

Daniel Craig has almost magically revived the Bond franchise simply by adding Will and Brutality to a speeded-up version of the formula. The plots are sillier than ever, and the new movies are all brand new concoctions entirely unrelated to anything Ian Fleming ever wrote, but I find this reincarnated Bond surprisingly watchable.

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Schill McGuffin

I’m puzzled by the assertion that Bond “watch[es] helplessly as the perpetrator escapes” at the climax of Diamonds Are Forever — He pretty deliberately and repeatedly smashes his wife’s murderer’s mini-sub into a wall until it blows up, and I don’t recall any indication that Blofeld survived (that he has numerous “doubles” is an ongoing subplot of the film) until his unnamed cameo death at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only. The epilogue of Diamonds Are Forever, of course, has Bond killing the gay assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, so not even the secondary villains “escape”.



Aggie

I agree. Connery was electric in the first two Bond films and then lost interest, justifiably so, given the dialogs. Moore and Brosnan were too pretty, after all Bond is really by necessity bit of a ruthless bastard. Daniel Craig has brought the vitality and arrogance back – he owns the character now.



steveaz

Good stuff!

As a child I liked Roger Moore as Simon Templer. The cars, the clothes, the Lasses. The brand was authentically European, gilded with the luxurious touches emblematic of the aspirations of mittel-Europe at the time, and on the cusp of becoming a terrific trans-Atlantic brand.

Frankly, I always thought the brand of smirking, askance charm that Moore whips at the ladies in the later James Bond films appeared obliquely sinister.

Like a Tarantula courting a Gecko.



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