The weakest moment in the Goldfinger movie comes when Goldfinger, for no logical reason, gasses to death an entire room full of mob bosses. This was the only change from the book that didn't make any sense. In the book, Goldfinger kills off his accomplices too, but quite a bit later in the story. The movie begs the question of why Goldfinger would explain his plan to these people if he's just going to kill them a minute later, or why he wasted all that time on the elaborate death for Mr. Solo. Obviously the producers were hoping that we'd be too entertained to ask those questions, and they were right.
Well, Diamonds Are Forever, which I watched again this past weekend, is like an entire movie made up of scenes like that: scenes that either look cool, or sounded cool when they were pitched, but make absolutely no logical sense. Most of the first third of the film has Blofeld's gay killer henchmen, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, bumping off various diamond smugglers in gruesome ways. Some of the killings are pretty funny, some aren't, but most of them don't even try to make sense. The spectacular illogic reaches a climax when the bad guys give Bond "one last chance" to tell them where the diamonds are after they've nearly cremated him alive in a coffin (if you've just shown that you're going to kill him no matter what, what exactly are you going to threaten him with?). Other famous "huh?" moments include Bruce Cabot showing up to kill the Howard Hughes surrogate even though he was never actually told to do so, and, of course, the oil rig "climax" where the producers didn't have time or money to shoot an actual ending, so they just randomly blew shit up. Saltzman and Broccoli cared so little about plot logic that they cut the scene that would have explained why the Lana Wood character ends up dead in Jill St. John's pool, even though they'd already filmed it and it was only like a minute long.
Diamonds Are Forever may not be the worst Bond movie ever, but it's probably the second-dumbest (nothing can compete with Moonraker, which I also find weirdly entertaining). You probably are familiar with the story behind it, how after George Lazenby quit, the producers lined up John Gavin to play James Bond, but United Artists decided that they'd pay Sean Connery literally anything he wanted to be Bond one more time. There was a palpable desperation surrounding this film, because the spy craze was over -- all the Bond ripoffs and clones were gone by 1971 -- the movie business and the audience had changed a lot in the last two years, and the franchise had been showing diminishing returns (You Only Live Twice and even On Her Majesty's Secret Service did well, but each of them did worse than the Bond movie before it) . So the movie that they put together was campy, incoherent, disjointed and sleazy, the product of a team that isn't really sure whether the public will buy what it's selling.
It's also the product of a team determined to re-hash Goldfinger. As the Wikipedia entry recounts, the original idea for Diamonds was to be a literal sequel to Goldfinger with Goldfinger's twin brother as the villain, and with diamonds standing in for gold as the gleamy thing of choice. Even with Blofeld, or rather "Blofeld" (Charlie Gray's campy villain would be far better-liked if they hadn't tried to pretend he was Blofeld; why didn't they just take away the cat and give him a new name?) as the villain, the Goldfinger elements are all over the place: the exposition scene with Bond, M and an old British coot; the Shirley Bassey theme song; the largely American setting; the creatively gruesome methods of killing. And Saltzman and Broccoli brought back Guy Hamilton, the director of Goldfinger. Wanting to keep the series going, they tried their best to learn from their biggest hit. Part of the campy fascination of Diamonds is that it's half Goldfinger pastiche and half elements that the producers kinda sorta thought were popular but didn't really understand; in trying to make Bond more appealing to the American market, they wound up giving the picture a Rat Pack-ish lounge-lizard feel that hadn't been hip in America for years. It's a 1971 movie made by people who have only just managed to update their style to 1965. A movie that casts Jill St. John as the lead in 1971 is several years behind the cinema curve. (Don't get me wrong: I like Jill St. John, and she looks great here as she usually does. But even in the '60s, she was somebody who usually played decorative sidekicks and only got cast in leads when somebody else was unavailable -- as, in fact, happened here; she was supposed to play the smaller bimbo part of Plenty O'Toole, but was promoted, presumably because the producers needed to balance out Connery's salary with somebody who'd work cheap. Saltzman and Broccoli had so little knowledge of how to cast female roles in the '70s that they seriously considered bringing back Ursula Andress for Live and Let Die.)
But that's what I find fun about Diamonds Are Forever; there are few movies that better embody the problems of the old-school movie in the post-Easy Rider era. Only a few years earlier, Bond had been the cutting-edge movie series that everybody in the world tried to copy; now suddenly it's a '60s relic trying to get along in a new world. The fact that the movie never acknowledges that there's anything dated about Bond's act, or that Connery is too old to be doing the same stuff he was doing in the early '60s, is oddly entertaining. Ken Adam's sets look surprisingly tacky; the sexual innuendo is clumsy; the plot makes no sense; it has all the familiar elements of the Bond formula but not a single one of them is executed with any confidence or competence. If the series had just died there or died soon after, it would be a sad movie to watch; since we know that the series was unstoppable, I find it one of the most entertaining bad movies out there, an unintentional fish-out-of-water comedy about an early '60s series stuck in a new world where movies are different, moviegoers are different, and movie studios are different. In many ways, the story of a balding, pudgy James Bond trying to do Goldfinger in 1971 Vegas achieves, unintentionally, what Robert Altman was intentionally trying to do with Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye two years later. A clash of old values with the early '70s world. Oh, and we get to hear Jimmy Dean say "Baja."
Finally, on a Bond tangent: Have you noticed that Saltzman and Broccoli always, almost always, offered the next Bond movie to the last person who had directed it? Terence Young was the Bond house director up until Thunderball; didn't direct Goldfinger because he wasn't available, not because they didn't want him. Peter Hunt, the editor for the first five films (whose presence was sorely missed in the early '70s movies; editor John Glen, who had a similar style, brought back snappy editing for Spy Who Loved Me), directed On Her Majesty's Secret Service and was asked to come back for Diamonds, but didn't. So Guy Hamilton came back to do Diamonds and not only did the two after that, but was initially hired to direct Spy Who Loved Me despite his underwhelming work on the last three films. Then Lewis Gilbert did two in a row, and finally John Glen became the first Bond director who never turned down an offer to direct a Bond movie -- probably because he didn't really have a lot of offers from anyone other than Cubby Broccoli. It was as if nothing a director could do, not even The Man With the Golden Gun or A View to a Kill, could induce Cubby to fire him; it was the same way with writers, since Tom Mankiewicz worked on every Bond movie in the '70s and Richard Maibaum, of course, was almost as much a fixture as Broccoli himself. The series isn't like that quite as much now, but in Broccoli's time, it was like a movie series made by a very small, insular clique. That has its problems, and it's understandable that outsiders -- including would-be Bond directors like Tarantino and Spielberg -- have gotten frustrated at the Broccoli family's refusal to allow newcomers into their treehouse.