Film Review: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Release Date: December 14th, 1971 (West Germany)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Norman Burton, Sid Haig

Eon Productions, United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“If at first you don’t succeed Mr. Kidd…?” – Mr. Wint, “Try, try again, Mr. Wint.” – Mr. Kidd

Sadly, Diamonds Are Forever is closer to the tone and style of the Roger Moore era than the Sean Connery era. Maybe the campiness that would be front and center in the early Roger Moore Bond films wasn’t really because of Moore but were because the films were a product of the 1970s. Connery’s pictures were more serious until this one but all the others came out in the ’60s. And then once Moore got into the ’80s, his films weren’t as cheesy. I blame the ’70s.

Anyway, this is the worst of the Sean Connery James Bond pictures. This is even worse than the unofficial sequel Never Say Never Again. Frankly, this is one of the worst Bond films ever made. But this is James Bond and it is still quite enjoyable and certainly better than the worst films of the Brosnan era.

I love the old school Las Vegas setting in this movie, it just fit the time and the James Bond mythos well. Plus, Bond going to Vegas was probably long overdue, by this point. But I’ve also always had a love for old school Vegas, its setting, its culture and its style.

I also really enjoyed Charles Gray’s take on Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This wasn’t Gray’s first Bond movie but he got to ham it up in a key role and he’s one of those actors that is just great as a villain. This is one of my favorite roles that he’s ever played, alongside the fiendish Mocata from The Devil Rides Out, which also starred Bond alum Christopher Lee (a.k.a. Francisco Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun).

In this picture, we also get Jill St. John, who has the distinction of being the first American Bond Girl, and the Jimmy Dean, country music and breakfast sausage king.

My favorite characters in the film though, are the duo of Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. They plot, they scheme and they get the better of Bond… twice! Granted, they should have outright killed him quickly in both those moments but Bond escaped death and came back to bite them in the ass. They also had a relationship that probably points to them being gay, which was pretty uncommon for a 1971 film that was made for the mainstream.

On a side note: scorpions don’t usually sting people and they typically don’t kill humans, let alone instantaneously.

This film did do some clever stuff too. I liked how Blofeld had decoys and the movie really points out that he has been surgically altering his face this whole time and that it wasn’t just a case of not being able to get Blofeld actors to return to the part.

The biggest issue with this film though is the scale. Following up On Her Majesty’s Secret Service wasn’t an easy task but this film feels smaller, more confined and cheaper. Maybe this has to do with the big salary that Connery needed to come back to the franchise. It was a record setting fee for an actor at the time and it’s possible that it effected the actual production and that the movie had to be made more frugally.

Still, I do love this motion picture. The classic era of Bond from the ’60s through the ’80s is hard to top. These movies are just magic. Even when things don’t work, the films all still have something cool to take away from them. Diamonds Are Forever is no different.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one. But this is actually is closer in tone to the Roger Moore films of the ’70s.

Film Review: You Only Live Twice (1967)

Release Date: June 12th, 1967 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis GIlbert
Written by: Roald Dahl, Harold Jack Bloom
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence

Toho Co Ltd. (assisted on production in Japan), Eon Productions, United Artists, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr. Bond.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people consider this film the one where James Bond movies dipped in quality. I disagree with that, as I love this film and it is one of my favorites in the whole series.

I also connect to this chapter in the series pretty deeply on a nostalgic level, so I may have a bias towards it in that regard.

The thing is, this is where Bond and Blofeld come face to face. I am a huge fan of SPECTRE and their long story arc in the Connery and Lazenby films. I am also a huge fan of Donald Pleasence and he’s f’n great as Blofeld and is my favorite version of the character. This is also the version that would inspire Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

Additionally, I love the Japan elements, especially the ninja army. The scene where the ninjas storm Blofeld’s volcano lair and are dropping from the ceiling with machine guns and swords still looks absolutely incredible. It’s one of my favorite sequences from any James Bond movie.

Being that I am a fan of kaiju movies, especially those put out by Toho Co. Ltd., I love that they were involved in the production of this picture and lent some of their acting talent to Eon. Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, the two Japanese Bond Girls in this film, have been in several Toho productions between Godzilla films and other sci-fi epics put out by Toho. Sadly, no cameo by Godzilla himself.

Another thing I love in this film is the big helicopter battle in the middle of the picture. For the 1960s, it was well shot, the special effects looked good and it was pretty exciting. It still plays well today.

Now the film does have some cheese and I think that’s what seems to be some people’s issue with it.

The whole sequence where Bond has to get a wig and prosthetics to look Japanese is laughably bad and so is the final result, as it just looks like Sean Connery with a bad haircut. I don’t really understand the point of the wig either, as most of the real Japanese men in the film have hairstyles closer to Connery’s natural look. This whole cringe fest is one of those things that would severely upset the overly sensitive audiences of today.

This is the last of the great Sean Connery James Bond films though. He would quit after this picture but come back later, two more times. One for Eon with the film Diamonds Are Forever and once more for another studio for Never Say Never Again, which isn’t an official Bond picture and is really just a shoddy remake of Thunderball.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Release Date: August 14th, 1975
Directed by: Jim Sharman
Written by: Richard O’Brien, Jim Sharman
Based on: The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O’Brien
Music by: Richard Hartley, Richard O’Brien (songs)
Cast: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Jonathan Adams, Peter Hinwood, Meat Loaf, Charles Gray

Michael White Productions, 20th Century Fox, 100 Minutes

Review:

“A mental mind fuck can be nice.” – Frank

The Rocky Horror Picture Show was not initially a good experience for me the first time I saw it. I was dating this girl that was obsessed with it and she took me to a midnight showing of the film. Little did I know that I was going to be in for an insane shitshow where the audience is jumping around and yelling the entire time. Not to mention everyone singing over the film in voices that ranged from Tiny Tim to an industrial shredder. This certainly was not the way to experience this movie for the first time. My girlfriend failed at showing me her greatest love so I then failed at making her mine.

Watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, at home and in private, is a much better way to see the film on a first viewing. While the theater experience is wild and nuts, it is hard to decipher what the hell you are watching with this bizarre picture.

I am not a fan of musicals but the music in this film is at least pretty good and thoroughly entertaining, even if every girl I’ve ever dated has played “Time Warp” a gazillion times to the point where it makes me want to shoot myself in the head.

This film works though. The main reason is because of how fun and weird it is. Plus, Tim Curry,who is already amazing, is on an otherworldly level as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Then again, Curry literally takes over ever single picture he is in. He has massive charm and is fully dedicated to everything he does. So seeing him as a transvestite mad scientist is pretty badass regardless of the narrative context or a film’s overall quality.

I also love the sets and the vibe of the picture. And the cinematography is impressive, especially in regards to the lighting and the use of vivid colors and shadowy contrasts.

While, to me, this isn’t a classic in the way it is for most of the girls I’ve dated since my teen years, it is still a motion picture that is one of a kind. It’s kind of baffling how this even got made and released by a major studio. It has a sort of grindhouse vibe to it and even reminds me of some of the cooler nudie cuties of the 1960s but with less boobies and better music.

But if I want to watch a horror themed sexual extravaganza, I’m more apt to watch Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead.

Film Review: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Also known as: The Devil’s Bride
Release Date: July 20th, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Niké Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Sarah Lawson, Paul Eddington, Rosalyn Landor, Russell Waters, Eddie Powell (uncredited)

Hammer Film Productions, Associated British-Pathé, Seven Arts Productions, 20th Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“The Angel of Death was summoned. He cannot return empty-handed.” – Duc de Richleau

The Devil Rides Out is not a film that is widely recognized today but it is one of my favorite Christopher Lee pictures. It is also in the upper echelon of Hammer Studios gigantic horror catalog.

Lee’s Duc de Richleau is actually one of the coolest characters that he has ever played, which is pretty big considering that he generally played cool characters. For a guy that was Dracula, The Man With the Golden Gun, Count Dooku and Saruman, none of those characters felt as authentically Christopher Lee as this one.

The film also boasts a pretty amazing cast with Charles Gray, a man who has been in several classic James Bond pictures, as the sinister villain of the story. Gray is stellar as the evil Devil worshiping madman hellbent on shaping the world into the Devil’s playground.

Another really cool thing about this movie is that the Devil shows up in physical form. While he simply sits on an altar and disappears at the first sign of trouble, it is still a mesmerizing scene today.

This picture does have its share of hokey effects, like the giant spider and the evil knight on the winged horse but its coolness offsets its flaws. And that is what this is, a cool motion picture.

The film is dark, brooding but still lighthearted and adventurous. It has some good action, fun monsters and the sets are fantastic.

It was also directed by Terence Fisher, who was Hammer’s premier director and a longtime Lee collaborator. His films are considered to be some of Hammer’s greatest and with good reason. The Devil Rides Out isn’t as well known as Fisher’s movies featuring famous monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein or the Mummy but it is one of his absolute best.

Also, the script was written by Richard Matheson, the accomplished novelist who wrote I Am LegendHell House and a slew of old school horror pictures.

The Devil Rides Out is truly the most quintessential Hammer Studios films that doesn’t feature a famous monster. It has a strong and powerful atmosphere, really good cinematography, top notch acting for its genre at its time and is also a lot of fun.

Film Review: The Beast Must Die (1974)

Also known as: Black Werewolf (US video title)
Release Date: April 22nd, 1974 (UK)
Directed by: Paul Annett
Written by: Michael Winder
Based on: a short story by James Blish
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon, Marlene Clark, Charles Gray, Ciaran Madden, Tom Chadbon, Anton Diffring

Amicus Productions, British Lion Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“One of our guests is a werewolf, I know it.” – Tom Newcliffe

While Amicus was never the great British horror studio that Hammer was, it often times utilized Hammer’s top stars and the company did a fine job of filling in the void that started to appear as Hammer cooled down in the 1970s.

Like many Amicus horror pictures, this one features Hammer legend Peter Cushing. He plays his typical role of scientist or doctor or just general boffin type who could be evil or could be the hero. The thing with this film, is it is a whodunit mystery in the same vein as The Orient Express or Clue. However, the killer here is a werewolf.

A group of people, all suspects, are gathered at the house of an eccentric big game hunter played by Calvin Lockhart. The suspects are an interesting cast of characters that features Michael Gambon, Anton Iffring, Charles Grey, Marlene Clark and a couple others. As can be expected, as the film roles on, people get picked off by the wolf.

The Beast Must Die is pretty standard fare for Amicus. I like the premise more than a typical Amicus film but the execution isn’t spectacular. It’s good enough to enjoy on a rainy afternoon but even with an extra twist at the end, the movie is pretty predictable and doesn’t offer up anything too interesting.

It isn’t well shot and it is poorly lit but the acting is better than decent for this kind of picture. However, the music is distracting and overbearing. It is a jazzy almost funk score that was the trend in early to mid-70s British horror, which probably started with Dracula 1972 A.D. It tries to make the film come off as modern and hip but now, over 40 years later, it really dates the movie and does more harm than good. It doesn’t fit the tone or the visual style of the picture either.

The Beast Must Die is good enough to watch if you are into Amicus’ work. It’s not exceptional, it’s not horrible but it does have Peter Cushing, a werewolf and Calvin Lockhart is really entertaining as the rich hunter.