Diamonds Are Forever’s 40th anniversary: a star returns


Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and the United Artists studio wanted the seventh film in the James Bond series to emulate Goldfinger. Bring back Ken Adam to design the sets? Check. Have John Barry do the music and have a title song performed by Shirley Bassey? Check. Hire Goldfinger’s director Guy Hamilton to come back? Check.And the most expensive step, offer Sean Connery so much he couldn’t refuse to reprise the role of 007? Check.

It wasn’t that simple, of course. Making Diamonds Are Forever, which premiered 40 years ago this month, wasn’t as easy as taking the direct route from point A to point B.

Broccoli and Saltzman signed American actor John Gavin to play Bond. In their minds, Bond was bigger than any one actor. It was UA, and executive David Picker, who wanted Connery back. And since UA paid the bills, that’s what happened. The financial package included $1.25 million (huge for those days), hefty overtime pay if the movie exceeded its shooting schedule and financing for other Connery film projects.

Saltzman, again being prickly about music matters, didn’t like the title song that Barry wrote with Don Black. The volatile producer wanted to kill the song but cooler heads, particularly Broccoli’s, prevailed.

The script also wasn’t as simple as devising “another Goldfinger.” The 1956 Ian Fleming novel didn’t have a larger-than-life Goldfinger style villain. Richard Maibaum took a literal approach to the idea of “another Goldfinger” with his initial draft, making the villain Auric Goldfinger’s twin brother. Eventually, Broccoli and Saltzman wanted another writer to revamp the material. Broccoli decided the hook should be based on a dream he had of discovering that his old friend, reclusive industrialist Howard Hughes, had been replaced by someone else.

Enter American writer Tom Mankiewicz, devising a story where villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld has taken over the business empire of the Hughes-like Willard Whyte. Mankiewicz shared the screenplay credit with Maibaum in the final film.

Under Mankiewicz, the script took a lighter tone. You can CLICK HERE for a more detailed examination of Mankiewicz’s “revised first draft,” which featured an actual final confrontation between Bond and Blofeld, something that wasn’t filmed. Mankiewicz’s early drafts also had more material from Fleming’s novel that also didn’t make the final cut.

The movie isn’t ranked that highly in survey of HMSS editors, with grades ranging from a high of B to a low of D-Plus, and one of our staff saying it was the start of the “Dark Ages” of the series. Connery, though, generally gets a pass, even though he proclaimed during filming it had the best script in the Bond series up to that time.

Decades later, it’s not unheard of to hear a conversation something like this:

BOND FAN No. 1: I think Diamonds Are Forever is where it started getting goofy, don’t you agree?

BOND FAN No. 2: Yeah, but it’s got Connery!

In any case, the movie was a success financially, earning $116 million at the box office worldwide, more than either 1969′s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or 1967′s You Only Live Twice. But it fell short of Goldfinger’s almost $125 million or Thunderball’s $141.2 million.

It was also the end of an era, the last time Connery would work for Broccoli or Saltzman; when he next donned 007′s shoulder holster more than a decade later, Connery would be starring in a Bond production in competition with the Eon Production series. In any case, Diamonds did well enough to ensure that James Bond would return.

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