Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewellyn
Extras: Commentary Track, 2 Documentaries, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailers, TV and Radio Spots and more

Mike Myers has ruined James Bond for me. Lampooning the spy genre with his Austin Powers persona, Myers forever sabotaged all future attempts to watch a Bond film with a straight face. Myers let the audience in on the same joke with the actors and filmmakers who fleshed out the world’s favorite Cold Warrior: James Bond is a randy little boy loose in a world where he with the best gadgets wins. Messing with the formula was never part of the game plan for producers Harry Saltzman and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, who brought the suave super spy’s exploits to avid moviegoers the world round. After watching MGM Home Entertainment’s exhaustively thorough DVD of 1971’s "Diamonds Are Forever, " however, I got the impression that for everyone involved, this film marked the only time they tinkered with the Bond mythos.

The DVD is nothing less than an almost scholarly tribute to the film and its place within the eighteen film series. The pristine transfer alone would be reason enough to buy the disc. With a <$commentary,commentary track> featuring just about everyone in front of and behind the camera, a documentary about the making of the film and a short biography of Cubby Broccoli, trailers, TV and radio spots and four deleted scenes, I could not imagine a more complete examination.

Marking the return and last "official" appearance of Sean Connery as agent 007, "Diamonds Are Forever" pits Bond against long time nemesis Ernst Stavros Blofeld (Charles Gray, portraying Blofeld as a fussy megalomaniac). What starts as a hunt for diamond smugglers, Bond in due course runs afoul of the American mob, a billionaire recluse (Jimmy Dean sans sausage pitch), a couple of fey assassins (Putter Smith and Bruce Glover) as well as the requisite extortion plot against mankind, this time in the form of a giant orbital laser gun poised at the world superpowers.

As if Bond films are realistic, there is something especially surreal about this positively wacky trek through the neon glitz of Las Vegas, faux moon landscapes, and super-secret hideaways stretching from the desert to the sea. The script by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz (who served as script doctor for "Superman the Movie" evoked a different Bond than the previous films. This time out, Sean played Bond a little older, a little slower. Even "M" seemed weary of Bond’s mythic status: when James professes a lack of knowledge about diamonds, "M" spouts: "Well, at least there’s something you’re not an expert on." He’s even pushed around more than usual, including meeting his physical match during a bout with two rather athletic lasses. All of a sudden, Bond seemed lost in the modern era (circa 1970). He still charmed the ladies, but one sensed that Bond/Connery recognized the unreality of bedding women with names like Tiffany Case or Plenty O’Toole. In fact, the plot only allows Bond to snuggle with Tiffany, perhaps foreshadowing a more chaste, gentler spy or more ominously, a fear of multiple sexual partners.

Everything about "Diamonds Are Forever" is contradictory. Ken Adam’s expansive production design belies the erosion of Bond to human size. Whether trapped in a coffin on its way to the crematorium or locked in fisticuffs inside a tiny elevator, everything large about Bond suddenly became cramped, constricted. Connery, Mankiewicz and director Guy Hamilton, whose "Goldfinger" codified the legend, seemed determined to turn the formula on its ear while professing to bring back the "Bond magic." The witty retorts still stung and there was the sardonic twinkle in his eyes, but there appeared for the first time in Sean’s performances a sense of bemusement at the proceedings. This almost glib stance presaged Roger Moore’s "laugh with us, not at us" approach to the role. The result was probably the most eclectic and, in my estimation, satisfying of all Bond’s exploits.

No doubt engineered by Guy Hamilton and cinematographer Ted Moore, "Diamonds Are Forever" shyed away from the day-glo hues of "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice" and the DVD faithfully replicates that "natural comic book" effect. The 2.35:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> image is so pristine, one would never guess that the film is three decades old. Mastered from a source with nary a blemish or speckle, the transfer offers remarkable depth and clarity. Fleshtones are natural looking and deep, solid blacks bring out the smallest details. Graininess is apparent in some special effects shots, but otherwise the video is free of defects, compression artifacts or <$pixelation,pixelation>.

The <$DD,Dolby Digital> Mono soundtrack demonstrated a surprising level of fidelity. With good dynamic range and a low noise floor, the audio rarely peaks and is bereft of any hiss or crackles. The dual-channel mono decodes well through the center channel, keeping all elements of the soundtrack in proper balance, from gunshots and explosions to Shirley Bassey’s signature vocals of the theme song and, of course, the legendary James Bond theme.

The <$commentary,commentary track> gives equal time to just about everyone involved with the production, but within a forum quite different from "live" recorded commentaries. Audio snippets from director Guy Hamilton, screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, designer Ken Adam, composer John Barry and actors Jill St. John, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Putter Smith, Bruce Glover blend together to give an almost scene for scene analysis of the movie. Not quite as engaging as when the principals huddle in a room and joke with each other about years past, the canned observations and reminiscences provide a fair degree of illumination, especially when glued together with David Naylor’s historical overview of the film. Among the particularly cute anecdotes are Barry’s recounting of how Saltzman criticized the theme song, even though Saltzman was tone-deaf and Mankiewicz telling how Jill St. John wore a $4 phony diamond ring to a party with everyone praising the diamond’s "brilliance." I still don’t buy Hamilton’s solution to the gaffe regarding the car chase.

Narrated by Patrick Macnee, the 30-minute documentary "Inside ’Diamonds Are Forever’" provides an amiable look back at the making of the film. A big kick for me is not only listening to the travails and headaches of creating a movie, but seeing the passage of time on people that, as a child, seemed timeless to me. On-camera interviews include Jill St. John, Lana Wood (a real kick to see her in "real life" and 30 years apart from her "Plenty" sex kitten role), Tom Mankiewicz (whose articulate comments both here and on the <$commentary,commentary track> just makes me drool for the "Superman" DVD), art director Peter Lamont and director Guy Hamilton. Even more illuminating is David Picker, former head of United Artists, documenting how he and the producers convinced Sean Connery to return to the role one more time… with some very generous incentives.

Clocking in at almost an hour, "Cubby Broccoli — The Man Behind Bond" is an affectionate remembrance of the man who brought Bond to the silver screen. Reminiscences from his wife Dana, his daughter Barbara and son-in-law Michael Wilson (Cubby passed the "Bond" baton to Barbara and Michael, who now oversee the franchise with Brosnan as 007) paint a flattering portrait of the man who lived according to his credo that "if you give a dollar, you get back a hundred; if you take a dollar, you lose a thousand." One highlight is that the documentary briefly covers the making of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," with soundbites from the songwriting Sherman brothers and Sally Ann Howes, interspersed with <$PS,LETTERBOXED> clips from the movie. (MGM Home Entertainment, will you PLEASE release an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> DVD of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"?)

Four deleted scenes range from extended scenes with Plenty O’Toole to a cameo appearance by a Rat Packer (I’m not giving away this one; it’ll spoil the laugh). The scenes are in decent shape, with mild color loss. Liner notes accompany each scene to identify place within the storyline and the reason it was cut. In one case, the deleted scene clears up a plot hole that remains in the final version.

Two theatrical trailers, five TV spots and three radio spots cover the marketing aspects of the film. The trailers are <$PS,widescreen> and exhibit good color fidelity. The TV spots are in reasonable shape, but honestly, after the third one, any differences between them were blurred in my perceptions. The radio spots are fun enough, but not memorable.

The "collectible booklet" affords some juicy tidbits, including Cubby Broccoli’s connection with billionaire recluse Howard Hughes and how Hughes’ intervention helped with the Vegas scenes and the car chase down Fremont Street.

"Diamonds" put the heroism of James Bond square in the path of the then-emerging cynicism permeating American film in the 1970s. 30 years and two visits from Mr. Bigglesworth later, we’ve finally found a link to that mortal Bond. So put the club on your Aston Martin, shake your vodka martinis, and take a load off with 007. Now if only I could forget the image of Dr. Evil in family therapy…