Diamonds Are Forever
After the disappointment of On Her Majesty's..., I expect everyone was as glad as me to see Sean Connery resuming Bond duties, taking the role back from Lazenby for one last Bond film. I had hazy memories of Diamonds Are Forever being - as well as one of the better titled Bonds - one that I'd particularly enjoyed. Sadly, it seems I was getting my Bond films confused: DaF is a pretty dull outing, really.
I'll give the creators some credit: the henchmen are pretty creepy. Mr Kidd and Mr. Wint march around killing off a variety of implausibly trusting truck drivers and smugglers. It's more than can be said for Blofeld, though, who makes a fairly pathetic villain here. There's none of the mastermind threat that he had in earlier films: it seems that in each appearance he moves another step towards Dr Evil...
Most of all it isn't that DaF is bad in any real sense (at least no more bad than other Bonds) but that it's not a lot of fun. Bond just isn't serious or important enough to get away with being boring. Even the quiet bits are supposed to be fun. Lurching between explosions, fights, car-chases, innuendo-laden chitchat and sex scenes Bond films are supposed to rattle along at a pretty relentless pace. Sadly DaF is just a little too slow. The climactic show-down just sees Bond gently bashing Blofeld's submarine against a wall... Even Lazenby had a helicopter-attack-on-mountain-fortress payoff! This one's just too tame. And not even Shirley Bassey can rescue it from that.
Live and Let Die
L&LD can be accused of many things but it's certainly not boring. It's almost as if, face with reinventing Bond in a Roger Moore shape, the producers just decided to throw all sorts of fun at the film and see what stuck.
It obviously cashes in heavily on the then-popular blaxploitation trend (just two years after Shaft!). Too those unfamiliar with those films it might seem more racist than er... anything else: Bond has left genealogists in stuffy British boardrooms behind and is now traipsing through Harlem (and sticking out like a sore thumb). For a large part of the film it does seem worryingly like every single Black character might well be a baddie, which does get a little awkward. Eventually the goodie-baddie balance is restored somewhat so it's definitely not racist, no, not at all, never. Hmm...
Either way, it's a hell of a lot of fun. They just ramped everything up a bit. We have poisonous snakes, revolving walls, super-gadgets, speedboat chases, comic characters. This is perhaps the first Bond film that feels really self-referential - it verges on the edge of pastiche at times - but for the most part it carries it well, staying just the right side of the line.
The 'comic' sheriff was a mistake though: a Southern States, gum-chewing, noisy, moron character played for laughs, it's hard not to wince at each appearence he makes. Mercifully, his role is only brief, and it is intercut with the pretty-awesome speedboat chase. The producers made no such mistake with the villains though: claw-handed henchman Tee-Hee, snake-wielding face-painted Baron Samedi and the mastermind-villain-who-relies-on-Tarot-cards Kananga make a pretty formidable bad-guy line-up. Even if they do repeatedly fall for the classic mistake of explaining their entire plan first and then leaving Bond to die and looking away as he escapes.... But we can't all be perfect.
L&LD ushers in the Moore era which, if I remember rightly, brings with it a fair number of pretty awful films but, in itself, is a pretty mad and fun Bond movie.