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Topic: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

I here present the next instalment of this continuing series of essays about particularly interesting or contentious Bond films. Today's candidate is Diamonds Are Forever...


A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever



By 1971, the James Bond series was in a strange position. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service hadn’t exactly failed, grossing a respectable $750,000,000. Its often said that the public reacted strongly against Lazenby’s arrival as Bond- though put simply, Majesty’s remained the highest-grossing film of the year in the United Kingdom, maintaining the popularity trend established by the epic spectaculars of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. There were even a few prominent media voices who enthusiastically supported Lazenby’s portrayal; Alexander Walker in the Evening Standard declared the new 007 to be “almost as good a James Bond as the man referred to in his film as ‘the other fella’.” Judith Crist in New York, meanwhile, was similarly appreciative of the incoming leading star: "This time around there's less suavity and a no-nonsense muscularity and maleness to the role…” It seemed that Eon Productions’ jittery nerves about replacing Connery might well have been a fuss over nothing. Now all Broccoli and Saltzman needed to do was to persuade Lazenby to sign a mooted seven-film contract, and Bond would be, in Walker’s confident predictions, “all set for the Seventies.”


Of course, this strand of revisionism towards the film’s initial reception in 1969 shouldn’t obscure the fact that some quarters of the press were significantly cooler towards Lazenby. Most harshly, Eon might well have been startled by Tom Milne’s grim declarations in The Observer: “I fervently trust this will be the last of the James Bond films.” Milne’s damning assessment might have been unique in the particularly lethal strength of its hostility but his words caught a prevailing mood, a sensibility that Bond’s time was drawing to a close. This was certainly the view of George Lazenby, who hastily quit the franchise on the advice of his agent, believing that Bond would be outdated and irrelevant in the new age of the liberated, progressive 1970s.


It was true to say that the political and cultural climate had changed since Sean Connery first swaggered onto the screen in 1962. The early Connery films are often cited as symbols of Swinging Sixties cool, but by the turn of the new decade the very assumptions and scenarios on which the cinematic Bond rested were crumbling.  This transformation was occurring with a number of noticeable and radical effects in the sphere of international politics. Following the growth of opposition to the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, the building social discontent with the United States’ approach to the conflict soon blossomed into a succession of wider doubts over the West’s automatic right to assume the moral high ground with regards to superpower relations. The problems of the Vietnam conflagration expanded to act as the trigger for waves of searching self-doubt in the media and on the left-wing of politics, in the UK as well as the US, over whether Western foreign policy with regards to the Soviet Union was the correct approach to take at a basic level.  Perhaps, this thinking went, it was the West that was as much to blame for deteriorating relations as the Soviet leadership. Maybe Soviet ambitions were simply misunderstood, and capitalism and communism ought to enjoy a near equal moral parity. Though I paraphrase here, these attitudes were so significantly widespread that they eventually reached top thinking in the White House. In his memoirs, Henry Kissinger wrote that “Our objective was to purge our foreign policy of all sentimentality…” In other words, the United States ought not to compete with the Soviets but should instead recognise its own failures and limitations and work closely with the Soviet Union, uninformed by patriotic superiority or feelings of prejudice.


In this context, James Bond, staunch defender of Western values, seemed a little passé in a world where the increasingly popular Establishment view was that those same values were no longer worth defending. Similarly, the rise of feminism as a social movement, kick-started by Betty Friedan’s 1964 book The Feminine Mystique, was a cultural pressure that contributed to the feeling that Bond was out of step with the times. With his elite Savile Row tailoring and womanizing, Bond exemplified attitudes being aggressively and extensively attacked as a result of the new left politics of the mid to late 1960s. Tomorrow may never die but James Bond was increasingly feeling like yesterday’s man; “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” to coin a line of dialogue from twenty-four years later, while politically Bond’s outlook could be summarised as an instrument of imperialism, “a relic of the cold war.”


In 1971 Sean Connery made a much-heralded return to the series in Diamonds Are Forever. Trailers at the time crowed that “you’ve been waiting for him…asking for him!” At a point when Bond could well have been played by John Gavin of Psycho fame, or even Michael Gambon, Connery’s return was viewed as a blessed relief by the public, who reacted by helping Diamonds accrue over $116 million dollars in worldwide profits.  While Connery’s revisitation of the Bond persona guaranteed audience familiarity, other elements of the film reflect changing times, and hark forwards to Bond’s next revitalising moment of modernised reinvention in GoldenEye.  For example, the changing political times can be seen in the film’s depiction of Bond’s visit to Las Vegas.


Bond’s mission to Vegas forces him into contact with Willard Whyte, a shy and reclusive figure who skulks in the Whyte House, avoiding confrontation while obsessively recording everything happening around him. The parallels with President Richard Nixon are probably unintentional; more obvious is the unsubtle reference to Howard Hughes, billionaire business owner and a personal friend of Albert R. Broccoli. Lurking behind Whyte’s commercial empire is the evil scheming of Blofeld, hellbent on using a laser-powered satellite against Washington D.C. This unmasking of an apparently benign, rich figure as an insane villain begins a trend that will continue throughout the Bond series, with Drax in Moonraker and Zorin in A View to A Kill future examples of the ‘billionaire industrialist’ trope. Willard Whyte’s presence as an exaggerated satire of American capitalism perhaps indicates Diamonds’ attitudes towards the United States are rooted in a protracted sense of light-hearted mockery, perhaps recognising the cultural criticisms of the nation’s place in the world that had become prevalent in the later years of the 1960s. Elsewhere Bond stumbles upon Blofeld’s associates in the midst of faking the moon landing, a remarkably cynical episode for a series that had depicted the wonder of space travel with awesome spectacle in You Only Live Twice four years earlier. Even the choice of Las Vegas as a location, a city known for gaudy glamour of a type quite different from the lush landscapes of the Alps, the Bahamas and Japan, seems to poke fun by investing the film with a deliberate atmosphere of shabby seediness.  In place of Le Cercle casino, here we have performing elephants and slot machines, while Connery abandons the pleasures of baccarat in order to try his hand at craps. Its all a little lacking in the refined atmosphere of his previous adventures and this could be taken as commentary on the criticisms of the West’s stuttering position as tired and decadent; here is its most durable cultural figure, basking in the somewhat louche glitzy indulgence of it all.


Meanwhile, the Cold War itself is entirely absent. Instead Bond tackles a ring of criminal smugglers, with even Connery protesting that the mission appears to  be beneath his abilities. It is notable that the Soviet Union would not now be featured in any kind of antagonistic role until General Gogol’s appearance as a secondary villain in For Your Eyes Only in 1981. That adventure ends with Roger Moore’s Bond smashing the ATAC device which both sides have been trying to retrieve, declaring with a raised eyebrow: “That’s détente, comrade” in knowing recognition of the doctrine’s eventual failure under the Carter administration. In 1971, though, such policies were considered radical and effective, leading to the Soviet Union’s geopolitical machinations lacking reflection in the plotting of Diamonds(as well as in the construction of the other four Seventies Bond films.)



Finally, Bond’s ally and love interest in the course of his investigations, the redoubtable Tiffany Case played by Jill St John, represents a notably different type of Bond girl. Case is a tough-talking diamond smuggler who answers back to Bond, a woman making her own dangerous way in the activities of a criminal syndicate. As such she is the first Bond girl to operate on the wrong side of the law, and the first not to be dependent on the whims of a paternal or otherwise controlling male figure. For example, Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is bound by the power of her Corsican gangster father, Marc-Ange Draco, who discusses her actions to Bond in uncomfortably archaic terms: “What she needs is a man to dominate her.” Domino in Thunderball is tortured by the brutal Largo. Even Honey Ryder depends on the shells around Dr. No’s deadly island paradise for her income, a symbolic form of command exerted by the villain. In contrast, Tiffany Case represents much more of an independent character and a step forwards for the film series in terms of reacting to social trends, in this case the feminist movement of the 1960s. In this respect Tiffany points the way forward for other capable, determined Bond girls such as the vengeful Melina in For Your Eyes Only, or the skilled and resourceful Natalya in GoldenEye; characters with their own ambitions independent of Bond’s intrusions into their lives.



In conclusion, we can see that Diamonds represents the Bond films in a state of flux, reflecting and reacting to the cultural, social and political trends that swept the Western world in the mid to late 1960s. Combining these changes with the familiar lure of Sean Connery in the title role brought Bond back to the realm of critical and financial triumph, ensuring the continued future success of the series to this day.



Any other thoughts on the context of Diamonds/the plot/Willard Whyte's influences/Tiffany Case/etc...

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

Nice overview, SoD. I'm wondering, though, why you didn't mention the "Goldfinger Mark 2" aspect of the film as ordered by Eon.
The theme of "doubles" or "pairs" runs strongly through DAF, which would be good to hear your comments on.
And (my personal area of fascination, just as Higgins' is his unrequited love for Timothy Dalton) not a word about the music! In LTK that's no loss, but in DAF John Barry is at his best.

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

Thanks. The "Goldfinger mark 2" aspect, especially the original plan to have Gert Frobe star as Goldfinger's demented forgotten brother, has always fascinated me. Despite getting Guy Hamilton to return, his direction (other than the pretty great elevator fight, one of the best fights in the series for my money) is a definite cut below the standard set by GF.

You're right that there are several "doubles" in the film: double Blofelds, double cats, the comedic double of Wint and Kidd, double O Seven...

I think the doubles are supposed to reflect the multiple loyalties and connections that abound in the world of espionage. They also relate to the title of the film as, like the other cases of doubles present, diamonds are themselves multi-faceted. Is this link intentional or not?

DAF is one of Barry's finest scores, alongside YOLT and OHMSS. I particularly enjoy the rich variety of source music on offer when Bond is in Vegas, with Bond Smells A Rat, 007 And Counting, Q's Trick and Airport Source up there with the best of Barry for me. On the other hand though the fight scene motif sprinkled throughout is played a bit too often but that's a minor musical flaw.

Any other thoughts on the DAF ideas/music/plot/production/etc?
,

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

To avoid re-inventing the wheel, have a look at https://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/52688/aj … e-forever/ for more of my thoughts on the music. There's plenty more I've had to say on that here, but that's the most recent.

And if you dig through https://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/44307/su … nd-themes/ you'll find more on the theme of doubles/pairs in DAF,

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

Its an interesting idea the doubles.

"(my personal area of fascination, just as Higgins' is his unrequited love for Timothy Dalton)" ajb007/lol

Over on the LTK thread I started I'm still trying to bring Higgins round on the merits of Dalton. One day...
Sorry for getting your moniker confused on that thread, by the way. A case of quick typing.

Anyone else have any thoughts on the essay/the plot/the political context? As I point out, a chilling coincidence regarding Whyte and the Nixon parallels- especially since Howard Hughes was himself intimately involved in the Watergate scandal in 1974...

As Magda in OP might say...roll up, roll up!
More thoughts always welcome!

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

I think the doubles are supposed to reflect the multiple loyalties and connections that abound in the world of espionage. They also relate to the title of the film as, like the other cases of doubles present, diamonds are themselves multi-faceted. Is this link intentional or not?

I'd say it emerged gradually while the script was being written (the roots of the idea are in the book) and once someone (Mankiewicz?) realized it was there, it was decided to push it a little more.

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

Speaking of the original book, its worth mentioning that the gaudy/tacky/seedy tone of DAF, sneering cynically at the US setting, is actually rather reminiscent of the novels what with Fleming's personal dislike of visiting the nation. Despite this he was still gracious enough to help set up the design of the CIA in 1941...

Even on a superficial level the doubles theme recurs, with the film's logo consisting of multiple fading 'Forevers'.

Talking of the script, I do like a fair amount of ManKiewicz's witty dialogue a la:
Gangster: "I gotta brother."
Bond: "Small world."

Anyone else want to join in with critiquing the essay arguments/plot/etc?

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

And for God's sake, come up with something original.

https://i.postimg.cc/SYKkjdsb/unnamed.jpg

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

I really enjoy your essays, so please continue posting them. But I disagree on several points. The space laser isn't just used on Washington DC, it's used on the USSR and China too. He  then proposes an international auction for global nuclear supremacy, making the cold war very much a theme of the movie.

"This unmasking of an apparently benign, rich figure as an insane villain begins a trend that will continue throughout the Bond series". Really? The unmasking of an apparently benign, rich figure in Bond started back in the 50's in novels like Moonraker and it wasn't new in the films either.

In the first half of DAF I think your comments about Tiffany Case are correct, but sadly she gradually becomes more a helpless bimbo by the end.

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

I think Connery looking tired and slowly disintegrating was also part of what made the yesterday's man thing more interesting aswell.
Always thought he looked bloated and tired and out of shape on this one, more than Moore on any for his.

Lest not forget the hot tub incident.

a reasonable rate of return

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

I agree on Connery. In my opinion he's both the best (DN, FRWL, GF) and the worst (DAF, NSNA) Bond actor.
DAF has some strengths like the lift fight, the henchmen, some really good dialogue, the underused Plenty o'Toole, Tiffany Case in the first hald of the film and the soundtrack. But the bottom line is DAF needed a lot mlre polishing to really shine.

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

I wonder if Bambi and Thumper could've been a throughout the movie thing like a bizarro Mr Wint and Mr Kidd type situation.
Just spitballing.

Agreed. It's a very rough, junky, worthless jewel as it stands with some good things in it. Definitely not Tiffany's material.

a reasonable rate of return

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

I forgot about Thumper and Bambi. They were a good idea that was undone by the silly conclusion where Bond just holds them under water.

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

"This unmasking of an apparently benign, rich figure as an insane villain begins a trend that will continue throughout the Bond series". Really? The unmasking of an apparently benign, rich figure in Bond started back in the 50's in novels like Moonraker and it wasn't new in the films either. "

I think the unique angle here is that the villain pretends to be benign, and his apparent good intentions mask an evil plan. In GF for example, there isn't really any doubt that Goldfinger is the enemy, whereas DAF tries to build some mystery regarding who or what Whyte is and wants. Similarly in Moonraker Drax's shuttle manufacturing company appears friendly but then turns out to be integral to the villainous scheme at work.


"I think Connery looking tired and slowly disintegrating was also part of what made the yesterday's man thing more interesting as well.
Always thought he looked bloated and tired and out of shape on this one, more than Moore on any for his."


This is a major failing of the film. Connery looks better in NSNA than he does in most of DAF.


The Bambi and Thumper fight is the stuff of parody. It ends weakly, and isn't a patch on the elevator skirmish earlier in the film. The Mustang chase starts out well but is spoiled by poor editing and a general lack of tension.


I think the action isn't really the focus here, though, more the smirking humour and comic graces. In this respect DAF paves the way for MR and OP...

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

"The space laser isn't just used on Washington DC, it's used on the USSR and China too. He  then proposes an international auction for global nuclear supremacy"



I'd say this implies that Cold War divisions don't really matter in this instalment, given that the US, USSR and China are all being threatened equally. Compare this to YOLT where its' heavily hinted that Red China are the country paying SPECTRE to steal spaceships, for example. What do others think?



The cynical approach to the United States would have put people in mind of the social criticisms being aired around this time, without actually having to mention Vietnam- a wise choice. Willard Whyte parodying a real person, in the form of Howard Hughes, prefigures similar characters in future such as Carver (based on a certain media mogul) and Greene (based on Blair and Sarkozy.) Is a realpolitik Bond basing its villains directly on real individuals a clever move, or foolish and awkward? Any thoughts?

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

Isn't that something that'd always been done since Fleming pretty much based a lot of his experience on it?
This is just that on a larger scale.

It's foolishly clever on a lot of levels.

a reasonable rate of return

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

"This unmasking of an apparently benign, rich figure as an insane villain begins a trend that will continue throughout the Bond series". Really? The unmasking of an apparently benign, rich figure in Bond started back in the 50's in novels like Moonraker and it wasn't new in the films either. "

I think the unique angle here is that the villain pretends to be benign, and his apparent good intentions mask an evil plan.

As N24 says, that is very much a feature of MR (the novel). Drax pretends to be benign, and his apparent good intentions do mask an evil plan.

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

"As N24 says, that is very much a feature of MR (the novel). Drax pretends to be benign, and his apparent good intentions do mask an evil plan."

Fair point I'll give you that one. The book/film of OHMSS may also count as Blofeld is pretending to simply want to resume the ancestral title of de Bleauchamp.  .

I'd be interested in hearing you expand on the "foolishly clever" idea a tad, Dirty Punker?

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

Well because you can clearly point towards someone if you know who that is but it can also fly under the radar for a lot of people; I wasn't aware of Howard Hughes. It can become an inside joke (like on diamonds) or be used as sort of social commentary in its own way. Sure it's dragged out of proportion by stealth boats or volcano bases but there's some elements that are true to it.

Part of what made that tick more than Sanchez had been for instance in the other thread about realism and such.
It's such a perfect gateway into what exactly is possible.
Reminds me of a thread discussing real life figures that could be Bond villains.

It's creative in a grounded and extravagant way, at the same time.

a reasonable rate of return

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

"It's creative in a grounded and extravagant way, at the same time."


I understand what you mean now. I wonder what Howard Hughes himself thought of DAF in the end...


The point about realism is intriguing. Whyte in DAF comes across as an outright caricature of Hughes' blustering extravagance, the same with Carver's parodic stylings in TND. On the other hand Sanchez and Greene are more understated and realistic in conception. Basing thrillers on real people can backfire sometimes- but I think for the most part Bond has avoided these excesses. Does anyone else care to agree/disagree re villains based on true life figures? Should this trope return in the future or not?


I do think a different aspect of DAF worth criticising is the decision to bring back Blofeld yet at the same time deny the audience the spectacle of a proper final fight to the death a la Blofeld's violent demise in Fleming's YOLT novel.  What do others think of this? Does it smack of tiredness bringing Blofeld back for his third consecutive appearance?

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

Bond films that involve SPECTRE and Blofeld tend to be mixed or just lower than the level the truly great ones were. OHMSS is good but it's the exception to the rule.

If the filmmakers don't overdose on SPECTRE, they overdose on those pesky Soviets and when that doesn't work they scramble to find a new bad guy. The best movies are always the ones which have SPECTRE either work in the shadows or not involve it at all.

Blofeld can be a great villain but it needs a charismatic actor. That's where all the allure of it comes from.
But that makes it very black and white because we're repeating the same aesthetics of one character. It doesn't bring much new to the table if we keep repeating the same trope of a villain, because that's what Blofeld's really become to me.
A category of villain that shares aesthetics with others. Comic book-ey in its own right.

Moonraker I love so much because it gives me the goods but in moderation.
I think it should return and it appears they're doing exactly that with the next one. But I might be speaking too soon.

a reasonable rate of return

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

Nice essay, SOD, but to me you're overthinking things.  DAF was less a reflection of global trends than it was an attempt by the filmmakers to pivot back to "the glory days" after the indifferent (at best) performance of OHMSS.  So back comes Connery (for the largest payment in film history at the time), back comes Hamilton, back comes Ken Adam, back comes glitz, back comes a weapon in space, back comes humor (from the new addition Mankiewicz).  Gone entirely are hard edges and any real sense of danger.

The fact that the finished product of all this engineering was a middling film comes down to mediocre execution.  Connery looked nothing like he had even four years prior.  Hamilton, director of what for many is the prototypical Bond film in GF, doesn't come close to stitching together something as compelling as that.  Ken Adam's sets are nice enough, but there's nothing here that approaches the hollowed-out volcano or even SPECTRE's Paris headquarters (I would argue that the best set is the Elrod House, which Adam merely borrowed from real life).  The glitz in this case does not equal glamour, as it did in, say, Nassau; instead, Las Vegas instills a seediness (which you note) that makes the whole film feel oddly pedestrian despite the outlandish plot.  The weapon in space is rendered so poorly as to be comedic.  And the humor, much of which is in fact quite funny, is so overdone that it almost turns the whole film into a Bond parody.

Analyzing DAF in the context of broader goings-on in the world is an interesting exercise, but I don't buy it.  For example, the Cold War was almost always absent in Bond films, because it was only really ever used as a smokescreen for the real villains (FRWL, YOLT, TSWLM, TLD, GE, etc.).  Only FYEO violates this premise; it features an actual Cold War dynamic.

One thing I entirely agree with you on is the groundbreaking nature of Tiffany as a Bond girl.  In fact, yours is probably the best articulation I have seen on that point.  Very well done.

A couple of other points:
-- Your essays are really thought-provoking and well-written.  That I disagree with a lot of what you wrote about DAF does not change those facts.  So thank you, and please keep them coming.
-- Despite its obvious flaws, I have a soft spot for DAF.  I enjoy it more every time I see it, which is different than thinking it's an objectively good film.

Hilly...you old devil!

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

Sir Hillary Bray wrote:

-- Despite its obvious flaws, I have a soft spot for DAF.  I enjoy it more every time I see it, which is different than thinking it's an objectively good film.

That illicits some type of "good" in a movie though.
It seems to be common behaviour for a lot of fans to see Diamonds like that, I know I'm like that.
Very much a guilty pleasure.

a reasonable rate of return

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

I wonder what Howard Hughes himself thought of DAF in the end...

He liked it. Cubby sent him a copy (remember, no DVD etc in those days) which he watched often.

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Re: A Rare Jewel: An Essay on Diamonds Are Forever

Thanks for the commentary everyone, very interesting.

I agree that parts of DAF resemble a typical "guilty pleasure" movie, almost like cheesy B-picture standards. Whether this is the vibe a Bond film ought to be going for is another question entirely...

"He liked it. Cubby sent him a copy (remember, no DVD etc in those days) which he watched often."

Fair enough. I'm sure of any of us were to inspire a Bond villain, we'd be pretty pleased as well...

"Only FYEO violates this premise; it features an actual Cold War dynamic."

An intriguing premise Sir Hillary. I'd be tempted to argue that OP and TLD count as well owing to their rogue Russian generals, as well as (possibly) GE with its self-reflection on Bond's place in the Cold War's aftermath. Any other thoughts on the geopolitics (or lack of it) here?


"So thank you, and please keep them coming."

Having done a Connery and a Dalton, I've a feeling Roger Moore's tenure could well be next in the sights with these essays...
Again, thanks for all the feedback thus far on these threads. ajb007/smile