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Film

Listen Up...Why 'Diamonds Are Forever' is the worst James Bond film

In the closing moments, between a fistfight and Shirley Bassey’s soaring vocal performance, James Bond is told that Tiffany Case is more concerned with the lost diamonds than she is with her own life. It’s a joke, and not a very funny one, but one that shows how far the films had strayed from the espionage that had soaked through Ian Fleming’s work.

Strangely, the producers did not see it to add a close-up of Sean Connery making a double entendre at the camera, dressing up in a clown costume or raising an arched eyebrow, but rather saved those humiliating gestures for his successor Roger Moore, a man who was arguably the more accomplished – and certainly the more thoughtful – actor of the two.

The closing joke in Diamonds Are Forever warns viewers of the direction the series was about to take during the 1970s, and the central figure – with his deadpan humour and unwavering loyalty to his country’s safety – will be lost in a sea of sight gags, whistle jokes and double-taking pigeons. Indeed, the humour that soaked into Diamonds Are Forever would latch onto the series for the next 18 years until the Shakespearian trained Timothy Dalton cast off the shackles of flippancy for a more reverent approach to the character as Ian Fleming intended.

It’s easy to point the finger at Moore, but Diamonds Are Forever is the bigger culprit, portraying Bond’s great nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld as a dandified dabbler in high society and art. He poses no physical threat to Bond – which is good, considering the Scottish actor’s girth – and walks through the film, laced with only wit to protect him from the bullets Britain intends for him. If he didn’t have a cigarette and a taste for French poetry, there would be nothing to connect him with the Bond baddies of the 1960s: unlike the two Blofeld’s that came before him, Charles Gray’s Blofeld comes with a plumage that overshadows Bond’s. When he talks to the spy, it’s as if he’s meeting up with a family member for a turkey roast at Christmas time, punctuating the niceties with a series of disinterested insights into the jewel trade.

The action has even been toned down, and save for one visceral fight scene in an elevator, there’s nothing of note for the Bond fans that seek taut, thrilling excitement over titillation. The film is guilty of toning down the sex, although there is no shortage of shirtless Connery, thrusting his extended belly into the reaches of the camera.

Where his past performances were sardonic, rough and carried an animal magnetism that appealed to audience members of all persuasions, this time he’s just a wooden match, being neither a spark nor a fire, but an aimless object that’s searching for outside influences to set him alight. He looks lost delivering the stunts and set pieces expected of a Bond – there’s none of the turbo-charged energy from Thunderball – which is all the more embarrassing because his film comes directly after action-heavy On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, starring Australian beefcake George Lazenby.

Connery was barely in his 40s but looked older, and definitely underwhelms as both an actor and a trainer. Connery makes no secret of his boredom with the franchise: Having already quit the role in 1967, the actor was only enticed back into the proceedings when the producers agreed to pay him an obscenely high amount of money, which was promptly donated to Scottish International Education Trust.

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Happy with his lot, the actor struts around with no inclination to deliver anything more to the work than empty catchphrases, and the final result is quite possibly the single worst performance in the entire Bond canon. To Moore’s credit, no matter how old he looked snogging Grace Jones, he never let his personal life dictate the flow of the dense A View To A Kill.

Contrary to popular opinion and rose-tinted perspective, Connery wasn’t the powerhouse actor the British presses proclaimed him to be. By the time he won an Oscar for the awful The Untouchables, he had largely given up acting altogether and simply mouthed the words to the script in his Edinburgh brogue. But he did offer one last performance that was worthy of his fans’ attention in 1983, where he reprised the role of James Bond for the OO7th time.

Rather than return to the comedic schtick of the 1971 effort, Connery imbued a certain realism to the role, celebrating the ageing spirit and the nostalgia the industry had placed on the 1960s. And rather than compete with his younger, more virile performances, Connery saluted them in a film that was laced in subtext, creating the perfect way for him to bow out of the role. Diamonds might not last forever, but Connery’s impact as Bond lasted longer because of Never Say Never Again.

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