Reel Rumbles: “Diamonds Are Forever” vs. “A View to a Kill”
Though Michael G. Wilson wants Daniel Craig to set the record for most appearances as James Bond, as of right now the two most prolific actors to inhabit the role are Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Connery starred in the first five Bond movies for Eon from 1962 through 1967, then returning in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever. Twelve years later, he starred in and co-produced the non-canonical remake of Thunderball, Never Say Never Again, in 1983. He also later reprised the role for EA Games’ video game version of From Russia with Love in 2004, but for all intents and purposes, Diamonds Are Forever was his official farewell. Moore starred in seven official movies for Eon, taking over from Connery in 1973’s Live and Let Die through 1985’s A View to a Kill. In this Reel Rumbles, we take a look at their respective official Eon swan songs.
What makes Diamonds Are Forever an interesting film is that it’s removed from the storytelling aesthetics of the Connery era. Many fans tease that, despite starring Connery, it was really the first of the Moore era, with its emphasis on stunt pieces and Bond as more of a superhero than a spy. At one point, Bond passes off his own Playboy Diner’s Club card to a felled adversary in order to maintain his cover. Tiffany Case freaks out, clearly knowing who James Bond is. That kind of global reputation would not be appropriate for a real spy, but that’s part of the Moore era conceits. In this manner, then, this Reel Rumbles is as much about the beginning and ending of an era as it is about contrasting the final bows from Connery and Moore.
Directly following On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ends with arch-nemesis Blofeld literally getting away with murder, it was decided that Diamonds Are Forever would open with James Bond exacting his revenge. From there, it would be onto a new adventure, allowing audiences who hadn’t warmed to George Lazenby’s solo outing to essentially gloss over its place in the series. By the end of the second act, however, Bond discovers that Blofeld is still alive, and at the top of the diamond smuggling operation he’s been investigating. The first act retains much of the key elements from Ian Fleming’s novel, but the second and third acts are wholly the work of screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz.
For A View to a Kill, screenwriters Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson tossed out the entirety of Fleming’s original short story. In fact, they even shortened Fleming’s original title, “From a View to a Kill.” Instead, their original story has Bond investigating a shady socialite with ties to the KGB and Silicon Valley. Max Zorin has a conspicuous interest in real estate, and Bond unearths his real plan: To destroy Silicon Valley, effectively wiping out the American computer era in its infancy.
The Winner: Without question, the winner here is A View to a Kill. Blofeld’s duplicates, crafted from plastic surgery, make no sense. They’re not even clones; they’re merely superficial copies meant to explain why Blofeld can resurface later in the story. His plot to use a diamond-powered orbital laser to hold parts of the world hostage and instigate World War III just seems lazy. Meanwhile, Zorin’s ambitions are truly threatening, and well ahead of their time. In 1985, I suspect most viewers accepted that the threat rested on the scope of physical destruction being threatened, incapable of appreciating just what was really at stake. Let me put it this way: I wrote this article and shared it with you entirely because Bond stopped Zorin. If he fails, we live in a totally different world today.
Jill St. John plays Tiffany Case, full of sass and oozing sex – just like a Bond Girl should. We believe that she’s a woman whose ambitions are entirely for herself, accustomed to getting her way. Charles Gray has always underwhelmed as Blofeld, coming across more as a self-important car salesman than as an international criminal mastermind. More polarizing is former sausage mogul and country music singer Jimmy Dean as the Howard Hughes-esque recluse, Willard Whyte. The real standouts, though, are Putter Smith and Bruce Glover as Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, respectively. The gay henchmen duo have terrific chemistry together and easily alternate between dark humor and being genuinely threatening.
Roger Moore’s supporting cast in A View to a Kill is much more of a mixed bag. Neither Tanya Roberts nor Grace Jones bring much to their roles as Bond Girls, though at least Jones is believable as a lithe, fit physical specimen. Roberts is simply laughable as a naïve geologist. In his memoir, My Word Is My Bond, Moore only said of Jones that his policy is to not say anything if all he has to say is unkind. Christopher Walken’s performance is surprisingly tame. This was before he began to be cast for the purpose of playing Christopher Walken, so his familiar eccentricities are scarce. We believe he’s mentally imbalanced and threatening, but he lacks the kind of charm that one expects from a Walken villain. The standout, though, is Patrick Macnee as MI-6 operative Tibbet. Though the role is relatively minor, it’s sheer fun to watch Macnee and Moore banter as only old school pros can.
The Winner: Diamonds Are Forever. Only Charles Gray truly disappoints, though some also roll their eyes at Jimmy Dean. Meanwhile, only Patrick Macnee truly sparkles in A View to a Kill.
As far as the main titles go, there’s not even a question. “A View to a Kill” hit #1 on the Billboard charts, whereas “Diamonds Are Forever” stalled at #38 in the U.K. and languished at #57 in the U.S. Despite an erotic vocal performance from Shirley Bassey, “Diamonds Are Forever” is one of the lesser songs in the Bond catalog. “A View to a Kill” may reek of 80s pop/rock and its lyrics make less sense, but it’s undeniably fun.
Both films feature strong scores by John Barry. Perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of his musical attention are Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, whose eerie motif is genuinely haunting. It can be heard on the original album on “Bond Smells a Rat,” and in the 2003 expanded CD on “Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd/Bond to Holland” and again on “Following the Diamonds.” The rest of the score primarily consists of a lounge-style interpretation of the main title song.
Barry’s driving action music for A View to a Kill, punctuated by a harsh electric guitar, imbues the film with the kind of energy that was frankly beyond its cast. “Snow Job,” “Airship to Silicon Valley” and “Golden Gate Fight” are all solid compositions, though one could make the case they’re all essentially variations on the same piece. Barry juxtaposes that theme with a slow, romantic interpretation of the film’s title song (“Bond Meets Stacey” and “Wine with Stacey”).
The Winner: Both are solid scores from Barry, and while “A View to a Kill” is clearly the stronger title song, Diamonds Are Forever benefits more from its music. Much of the film’s personality is derived from the moodiness of its soundtrack, and it’s hard to think of the film without hearing Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint’s unsettling tune.
Despite its often silly nature, Diamonds Are Forever features one of the most exciting, brutal fights in the series: Bond vs. Peter Franks in an ascending cage elevator. Connery and Joe Robinson did much of the work themselves, and they really sell it. There’s also a fairly standard 70s-style car chase through Las Vegas, which features the rather absurd flip of the Mustang Mach 1 from one side to the other (an edit necessitated when they discovered they had shot the car from the wrong side coming out of the alley). This is also the film that features Bond driving a moon buggy as a getaway vehicle. The finale of the film features an air raid on an offshore oil rig, which is actually rather rote by Bond standards.
A View to a Kill opens with a seemingly obligatory ski chase – a staple of the Moore era. Rather than parachuting off a cliff, Bond escapes in a submersible vehicle camouflaged as an iceberg. Over the top, certainly, but somehow a fitting opening to Moore’s final outing. A foot chase up the Eiffel Tower segues into a similarly outrageous car chase through Paris, in which Bond at one point is driving only half a car. It’s played for laughs rather than for kicks, detracting from what could have been a genuinely thrilling sequence. A subsequent driving scene through San Francisco (with Bond riding on a fire truck) also suffers from too many attempts at humor. However, the finale atop the Golden Gate Bridge with Zorin chasing Bond with an ax is as savage as it is exhilarating.
The Winner: A View to a Kill. It sabotages some of its own best material with too many gags, but the payoff in the end is truly worth it. The elevator fight in Diamonds Are Forever is terrific, but the best action sequence in a movie shouldn’t come in the first act.
And the Winner Is…
Actually, this one was a draw, but arbitrarily I’m calling it for Diamonds Are Forever. Both films are flawed, certainly. A View to a Kill has the makings of a solid Bond film. Its premise is the kind of thing that Fleming himself would have imagined had he not passed away in 1964, and anytime Christopher Walken is cast as a psychopath you should already be ahead of the game. Unfortunately, the film never quite seems sure how seriously it wants to be taken and it suffers tremendously from its catatonic cast. Meanwhile, Diamonds Are Forever’s solid cast and bizarre score by John Barry elevate its dubious material into being a movie far more interesting than it really ought to be.
- Discuss Diamonds Are Forever vs. A View to a Kill
- Rank Diamonds Are Forever vs. A View to a Kill on your Flickchart
- Re-Rank Diamonds Are Forever on your Flickchart
- Re-Rank A View to a Kill on your Flickchart
- Rank ALL of the James Bond films on your Flickchart
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