Jewellers have a long association with Hollywood. Prestige jewellers began opening branches there in the 1930’s not only to serve the wealthy film stars and producers but also for the influence and recognition their placement of jewellery in the movies themselves would bring. It is quite possible that De Beers also had a hand in squeezing out pearls and emeralds in favour of diamonds as the gemstone most likely to be featured in most films as the preferred gift of a love token.
Somehow diamonds looked their best in the black and white films. I assume the harsh lighting made them really sparkle. From the silent era onwards, actresses made a point of wearing real diamond jewellery on set. This helped publicise the film and it also gave Hollywood reporters something to write about. This seems to be less of a thing these days, and let’s face it – Hollywood doesn’t have the glamour it once had. But diamond jewellery remains prominent in red carpet parades at award ceremonies.
Here is a select listing of movies that featured diamonds either as the main theme or used in interesting ways:
The Master Crook Outwitted by a Child (1914). A diamond is planted on an orphan fruit seller. Perhaps the earliest film involving diamonds? Sounds charming.
You’d Be Surprised (1926). A spoof on the detective mystery genre. A diamond has been stolen and the District Attorney puts a box on the table and turns the lights out so the thief can return it anonymously. But when the lights are turned on the box has been stolen and the DA stabbed to death. Characters are accused without evidence or any logical basis until one is randomly chosen as the murderer, again for no apparent reason. It was the inspiration for the board game Cluedo, or Clue, with characters named Inspector Brown, Mr White etc.
The Big Diamond Robbery (1929). Stars Tom Mix in his last silent film.
She Done Him Wrong (1933). Mae West, as Diamond Lou the saloon singer, literally sparkles with diamonds given to her by the men she’s had in her life, each of them low life petty criminals. The diamonds are her pension plan but she gives them up for a Salvation Army missionary played by Cary Grant, who she ultimately marries. As he places the tiny diamond ring on her finger next to her other massive stones he says “you are my prisoner”. This movie is famous for Mae West’s line “come up and see me sometime”, but the actual words are “why don’t you come up sometime and see me?”
Ninotchka (1939). Greta Garbo is a Soviet diplomat who goes to Paris to sell a diamond tiara confiscated by the state from a duchess. She hopes to raise enough money to buy grain for her starving people.
Lifeboat (1944). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Tallulah Bankhead uses her diamond bracelet as fish bait.
Gilda (1946). Rita Hayworth uses her diamond necklace as a prop during her striptease scene to the tune of “Put the Blame on Mame”.
Crime on their Hands (1948). Not an early Three Stooges short, but quite good. At seventeen minutes it’s about three minutes too long. The Stooges are janitors at a newspaper office who get a phone tip off about a diamond theft. They take it upon themselves to go undercover and solve the crime. Shemp accidentally swallows a diamond hidden in a bowl of candy and the thieves want to cut it out of him. Among the mayhem there is a gorilla, which is always entertaining.
Malice in the Palace (1949). The Three Stooges again. This time hunting the stolen ‘Rootin Tootin Diamond’. Don’t blame me if you watch it.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. Monroe’s character collects diamond jewellery from her gentleman admirers as insurance for a future when she has lost her good looks. She proves not to be materialistic though, when she falls in love with a millionaire without realising who he is.
To Catch a Thief (1955). Cary Grant plays a retired cat burglar who is falsely accused of a spate of thefts on the French Riviera. Grace Kelly is a newly rich heiress attracted to dangerous men, and therefore Grant. She wears no diamonds throughout the movie except in one scene where she seduces him, he identifies the diamonds as paste. Contrasting the authentic with the false is a major theme of this romance.
The Pink Panther (1963). Cat burglar Charles Litton, played by David Niven, attempts to seduce a princess played by Claudia Cardinale in order to steal the Pink Panther diamond. Instead she charms him as she lies on a tiger skin rug sipping champagne and talking delightful nonsense. As a ‘virgin princess’ the tiger links her symbolically to the diamond, a symbol of purity. Peter Sellers plays Inspector Clauseau, a complete failure in the bedroom who becomes a sex symbol when he is falsely accused of being the diamond thief. The later Pink Panther films are more fun, in my opinion.
Marathon Man (1976). Dustin Hoffman throws handfuls of diamonds at a former Nazi death camp commandant (played by Sir Laurence Olivier), saying “you can keep as many as you can eat”.
The Moderns (1988). An underrated film which explores the notions of the fake versus the authentic. Linda Fiorentino, at a bar, exchanges her diamond earring for a glass of whiskey.
Reservoir Dogs (1992). A film about a diamond heist gone wrong. It goes well for Mr Pink, though, who makes off with the diamonds just before the police close in. Directed by Quentin Tarentino who homages everything, it was only a matter of time before diamonds showed up in one of his films.
Schindler’s List (1993). Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, pours out a mound of diamonds on a Nazi’s desk in exchange for the lives of a trainload of Jews.
Die Another Day (2002).
Blood Diamonds (2006). Leonardo De Caprio plays a South African soldier of fortune and diamond smuggler who helps a fisherman recover an enormous pink diamond he hid while working as a slave in a diamond mine in Sierra Leone. For a fisherman, he has an incredibly charmed life. He narrowly avoids having his hands chopped off by the rebel soldiers after they capture his village, but there seems no reason why he should be spared and others punished. He finds the massive diamond and not only manages to hide it but also escapes from the mine unharmed. He gets a job as a porter at a fancy hotel, why he didn’t take that job in the first place and avoid having to fish for a living is not explained. He wades through the movie unharmed, in fact going from strength to strength, as bullets fly around him and everyone he meets suffers and usually dies. Except for members of his immediate family, who come out of the civil war virtually unharmed. It is never explained why merely finding the diamond makes it morally his property instead of the owners of the mine, even if he was working as a slave at the time. That’s Hollywood.
It’s an action adventure film which showcases some of the worst abuses in Sierra Leone during their nasty civil war. It was the film which did more than any other media to bring the problem of conflict diamonds to the public consciousness in the West.