In the new thriller “Blood Diamond,” Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou risk life and limb to find a priceless diamond in the midst of a bloody South African civil war. The diamond has been a set piece in more motion pictures than you can shake a stickpin at, and some have been real, well, gems. Here are our picks for top 10 diamond movies.
10. “Africa Screams” (1949)
This Abbott and Costello vehicle finds the bickering twosome embroiled in an African diamond safari when bookseller Buzz (Bud Abbott) convinces a beautiful woman that his pal Stanley (Lou Costello) is a famed explorer who knows the great continent like the back of his hand. Of course he doesn’t, and the bumbling expedition is further hampered by the presence of a gunner who can’t see straight, a pack of hungry cannibals and a guy in a gorilla suit. The movie features some great supporting parts by future Three Stooges alumni Shemp Howard and Joe Besser and boxing/acting brothers Max and Buddy Baer.
9. “Titanic” (1997)
“Blood Diamond” isn’t the first film in which DiCaprio’s gotten mixed up in trouble involving a brilliant gem. The quest for the fictional “Heart of the Ocean” diamond is the launching point of James Cameron’s pop-culture phenomenon “Titanic.” While the enormous diamond is just the MacGuffin in the midst of the doomed romance between Jack (DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) and the spectacular special effects, the movie’s most jaw-dropping moment may well be when the 101-year-old Rose (Gloria Stuart) tosses the priceless jewel into the ocean at the film’s climax.
8. “The Affair of the Necklace” (2001)
A historical costume melodrama set in pre-revolutionary France, “The Affair of the Necklace” stars Hilary Swank as Jeanne St. Remy de Valois (you can call her Jeanne), a woman left broke and bitter by the shifting political landscape. Her scheme to reclaim affluence and position involves a court gigolo, a horny cardinal and a ridiculously enormous diamond necklace intended for Marie Antoinette. The movie is a campy romance novel, notable primarily for its interesting cast (Joely Richardson plays the doomed queen and Christopher Walken steals the show as a kooky count), but why the heck are all these French people speaking with British accents?
7. “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953)
In Howard Hawks’ frothy musical comedy, hourglass queens Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell play Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw, two cabaret singers sailing to Paris aboard a transatlantic cruise ship. While both ladies are looking for love, Lorelei’s affections are more focused on her paramours’ finances, as evidenced by the calamity that ensues when she accepts a diamond tiara from a smitten — and married — older man. The movie is best known for Monroe’s iconic “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” the performance that inspired a thousand drag queens and Madonna.
6. “The Wrong Trousers” (1993)
Arguably Nick Park’s most beloved Wallace and Gromit short, this little chunk of claymation genius finds our heroes forced to take on a boarder to help pay struggling inventor Wallace’s mounting bills. Sadly, their lodger is a conniving penguin who, disguised as a chicken, is the notorious jewel thief Feathers McGraw. Feathers makes use of Wallace’s latest invention, mechanical pants, to aid in a plot to steal a giant diamond from the local museum. Naturally, it’s the long-suffering Gromit who comes to the rescue in this brilliant and hilarious Rube Goldberg-esque film.
5. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984)
The much-debated second Indiana Jones adventure opens with a James Bond-style pre-credits sequence in which the dashing archaeologist (Harrison Ford) attempts to barter with a Chinese gangster for a large diamond. When the deal goes bad, all hell breaks loose: Indy and the gangsters engage in a slapstick hockey match as the diamond is kicked and tossed all around the Shanghai nightclub. If only things had gone smoothly, we might have been spared the shrill, fingernails-on-blackboard screeching of Kate Capshaw throughout the rest of the film.
4. “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) and “Die Another Day” (2002)
“Diamonds” finds 007 (Sean Connery, briefly returning to the role of James Bond after George Lazenby’s sole outing) posing as a smuggler to infiltrate the underworld and discover the whereabouts of a cache of stolen South African diamonds. Bond’s trail leads him to Las Vegas and to jewel thief Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), who helps him uncover a plot to use the stolen gems to power a laser satellite able to pinpoint any target on Earth. Twenty-nine years later, the opening segment of “Die Another Day” finds Pierce Brosnan’s Bond again posing as a diamond smuggler, this time to infiltrate a rogue North Korean unit selling military weapons. When 007’s true identity is discovered, he’s held captive and tortured for 14 months (no wonder Brosnan got canned!). Diamonds again come into play when they’re embedded by an explosion into one villain’s face, the effect of which is referred to as “very expensive acne.”
3. “The Pink Panther” (1963)
In the original Blake Edwards film, the main character is jewel thief Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven), whose theft of the titular diamond (a tiny pink flaw in the gem resembles a leaping panther) is investigated by the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers). The Clouseau part was intended to be a minor supporting role, but, as usual, Sellers stole the show, and subsequent “Panther” sequels centered around his character. In addition, the cartoon panther of the opening titles (set to Henry Mancini’s unforgettable theme) proved so popular that it became the star of a number of theatrical cartoon shorts followed by a long-running Saturday morning animated series.
2. “Marathon Man” (1976)
In this John Schlesinger film, Dustin Hoffman plays Thomas “Babe” Levy, a troubled loner who spends most of his time jogging through Central Park and studying for his graduate degree in history. When his CIA agent brother (Roy Scheider — only in the movies could these two be brothers) is killed, Babe is targeted by Nazi war criminal Dr. Szell (Laurence Olivier). Szell uses his evil skills as a dentist (sans anesthetic) to get information he assumes Babe possesses about the location of a cache of stolen diamonds. The sadistic dentist does eventually get his gems, but not in the manner he’d hoped, and he doesn’t get to enjoy them for long. This taut thriller will leave viewers grateful it’s only a movie.
1. “To Catch a Thief” (1955)
Many more films center around diamond thievery — the 1950 noir classic “The Asphalt Jungle,” the French heist flick “Rififi” (1955), Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), the 1999 Martin Lawrence comedy “Blue Streak,” 1994’s “Ice” (with the not-quite-Brangelina-level wattage of Traci Lords and Zach Galligan as married thieves), Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight” (1998) and “The Great Muppet Caper” (1981), to name just a few. But our favorite remains Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief,” a smart, stylish, sexy caper flick starring Cary Grant as John Robie, a.k.a. the Cat, a reformed jewel thief enjoying a relaxed retirement on the French Riviera. Robie is hired by an insurance company to find out who’s been stealing diamonds and jewelry from wealthy tourists (some suspect Robie’s up to his old tricks) and gets involved with the beautiful but dangerous Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly), an American oil heiress vacationing with her sassy mother. In one amazingly daring (for its time) seduction scene, diamonds are just one of numerous metaphors for Francie’s purported virtue, which (like her necklace), turns out to be mere facade. “You know as well as I do, this necklace is imitation,” Robie says, admitting his jewel-thief past. “But I’m not,” counters Francie as fireworks blaze in the background. Whew.
The thing about the diamond movie is that like the stone itself, it’ll never go out of style. As long as the public remains entranced by the rare and resilient gem, there will be people who will do anything to acquire it. Diamonds are one of only a handful of items on the planet that can inspire such extreme risk-taking. Hence, drama! Harold & Kumar may have had serious munchies, but it’s doubtful they’d have braved explosions and gunfire for some White Castle sliders.
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