(Watch the trailer for the film here.)
Following up on events from the previous installment (1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, reviewed here), the pre credits sequence has Bond (Sean Connery, back after a one film absence) tracking down archfoe/SPECTRE head Ernst Stravo Blofeld ( a very "camp" Charles Gray), presumably for the murder of Bond's wife in the last film, though this isn't stated. Bond, after beating up a few hoods (and nearly strangling a female SPECTRE opertative with her bikini strap!), apparently kills Blofeld.
Loosely (to put it mildly) following the plot of Ian Fleming's 1956 namesake novel, Bond is then assigned by his testy boss M (Bernard Lee) to track down international diamond smugglers whose operations threaten the British ecomony and have already left a trail of bodies across South Africa and Europe. (The latter murders courtesy of the openly gay -and even more campy than Gray's Blofeld- assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, played by Bruce Glover and Putter Smith.) Posing as smuggler Peter Franks, Bond heads to Holland and meets Franks' contact, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John). After disposing of the real Franks in a ferocious, well staged elevator fight sequence (one of the best and most suspenseful movie fights ever shot, next to this one), Bond and Tiffany smuggle the latest boodle of gems to Las Vegas, Nevada. At which point screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz (who added the aforementioned elevator scene to the original story) discard Fleming's novel.
Whereas in the book (available from us here), Bond travels to Vegas (with sidetrips to New York and Miami), and battles Wint and Kidd and their employers, a bunch of hoods called the Spangled Mob, albeit with help from Tiffany, the movie sends Bond off to fantasyland.
After encounters with comic gangsters, CIA buddy Felix Leiter (a miscast Norman Burton; and isn''t Las Vegas outside the agency's jurisdiction?*) and the immortal Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood), Bond traces the gems to recluse billionaire and defense contractor Willard Whyte (country singer/sausage king Jimmy Dean), only to discover that Whyte is just an unwilling front for SPECTRE's latest plot to blackmail the world. (And without giving too much more of the plot away, the function played by the stolen diamonds in SPECTRE's plan, unbeknownst to younger me at the time, is scientifically unfeasible. But it does make for an exciting story anyway.)
So, ok, after darker, more exciting series entries like 1963's From Russia With Love or On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever winds up as a light hearted romp with good pacing but a poorly developed script. Given the various continuity goofs and narrative holes (why does Plenty get murdered, for example?**), plus Jill St. John's uneven portrayal and director Guy Hamilton's insistance on Bond mistreating women (something I picked up on especially after reading Fleming's novels; there, Bond was a lot more respectful of the opposite sex, even if he did selfishly use them sometimes), the film's structure is raggled and choppy. According to the extras on the DVD, quite a lot of editing was done on the flick due to time constraints and on-set foul ups. (Which is why this otherwise great stunt ended the way it did on screen.)
But WHY is this film, flaws and all, so special to me? Check back here for part two of my review, coming soon.
*(In the novel, Leiter had left the CIA following life-changing injuries in 1954's Live And Let Die for the employ of the Pinkerton's Detective Agency and just happened to run into Bond.)
**(Deleted scenes on the DVD includes one showing Plenty stealing Tiffany's purse. It's possible that act provided the motivation for her death.)