Wednesday 22 June 2011

BlogalongaBond /
On Her Majesty's Secret Service:
George Lazenby Gives Good Fisting

When the Bond franchise was rebooted with 2006's Casino Royale, much was made of the overhaul the series was given: a new actor as a more serious Bond with fewer gadgets, and a bold story in which 007 puts his love for a laydee before his job. What seemed to get forgotten in all the excitement about Daniel Craig's trunks was that the series has had several reboots over the years, the first of which featured all of the aforementioned 'radical' elements, and occurred at roughly the time Craig was busy being born.

With Sean Connery throwing in the toupée (for now) and the Bond films busting the barrier of believability with You Only Live Twice's hollowed out volcano, it was time for change. On Her Majesty's Secret Service took more risks than any Bond film before or since, and it's all the better for it. The first act plays out like a romantic melodrama (interspersed with the odd brutal smackdown) and culminates in a full on montage of fromage which sits oddly in the canon, but from then on it's vintage Bond action all the way to its shattering climax.

Former Bond editor Peter Hunt directs this sixquel with the enthusiasm and verve of a man who's been wanting to do this job for years, Richard Maibaum's scipt dares to be exciting and intelligent, and everybody else from the cast and crew goes above and beyond the call of duty, taking their work as seriously as the film demands. Well, almost everybody.
Australian model George Lazenby may have the line-reading skills of a sideboard - which was unfortunate, given the effort Maibaum put in to give Bond's character some depth - but his physicality and arrogance work in his favour, to the point where you believe he's fighting for his life with every punch. In fact, Lazenby's fight scenes are the most crunchingly savage since that eventful train journey, and we wouldn't see Bond displaying such animal ferocity again for nearly forty years.

There are three short but astonishing scraps in OHMSS's first twenty minutes, the first giving Lazenby the chance to atone for his abysmal introduction, in which he may as well have shouted "G'day, mate! Name's Bond, throw another shrimp on the barbie etc!". Mercifully, the delivery is forgotten as Bond takes on two thugs which such gusto that it's a wonder his arms don't fly off.
He's helped by some avant-garde editing - the fight moves from the beach to the middle of the ocean in two insane cuts - but it's bruising stuff, and is a far better introduction to the new 007 than his cringing verbal greeting.

Less than ten minutes later, Bond is attacked in a hotel room by an enormous man intent on separating his head from his shoulders. This is one of the greatest fights in the entire series, as the two men destroy the room in 48 seconds (and, coincidentally, 48 cuts) of walloping mayhem. You can see Lazenby's face in almost every shot, and he's really going for it, the lack of a stunt double giving the scene wincing realism. Like From Russia With Love's classic train fight, there's no score over this punch-up, so every smash of the furniture and crack of the chops properly hits home.
It's not long before there's another scuffle, this one quite short but remarkable for its absolutely bonkers crash zooms and bizarre sound effects. Each kick and punch sounds like someone pushing a drum machine down a well, and the mental camerawork and close-quarters action pull you right into the fight. I was also pleased that Lazenby follows Connery's lead in this scene by doing his own Kenneth Williams impression:
Sadly The Lazenbox's fight skillz weren't matched by his eye for a good opportunity, and with staggering short-sightedness he decided that Bond couldn't survive beyond the decade in which he had flourished, and ruled himself out of any further appearances as 007. It's probably fair to say that nobody was particularly sad about that, but instead of taking a further risk on another new actor, the producers settled back into the comfy sofa of familiarity by re-hiring Sean Connery to make a final, flabby appearance in the next film.

Commercially, the reboot had failed, but it was an experiment the Bond films would return to, and when they did, it would be the punch in the face that the series was so badly asking for.

The Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo
Haughty, brattish, independent and playful, Tracy is the most complex and respectfully-written Bond girl in the franchise. Diana Rigg plays her to perfection, excelling in the action scenes as much as in the more dialogue-heavy stretches, and it helps that she does most of her own stunts, having kicked plenty of diabolical mastermind behind in TV's The Avengers. She only comes second to Thunderball's Fiona Volpe in the Bond Girl Hall of Fame because in a fight, Fiona would play dirtier.

The winter sports
Shot from the ground by genius skiing cameraman Willy Bogner and from the air by genius aerial cameraman Johnny Jordan, and skilfully marshalled by second unit director and editor John Glen (who would eventually direct five Bond films), OHMSS's amazing snow-bound action scenes are the first and best of Bond's forays onto the slopes. Only a few sloppy back-projection shots spoil the mood, but for the most part these are by far the stand-out moments of the film's action-packed second half. 

The score
John Barry - "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"
John Barry's greatest work? Probably. Best Bond theme ever? Definitely.

Miss Moneypenny
The underrated Lois Maxwell had already spent nearly six films as M's secretary, alternately teasing and mooning over 007, but it was at Bond's wedding to Tracy that she unleashed this astonishing, wordless performance. The complexity of her character is distilled into a couple of dignified tears, a forced smile, a brief wave and the clutching of a hat. Many fans admit to shedding a tear at the death of Mrs Bond, but it's this scene that makes me well up in the name of unrequited love.

The end
Having at last saved Tracy from both Blofeld and herself, and found his own quantum of solace in the arms of an equal partner and a secure future, Bond takes his eye off the ball and loses everything in one devastating second. If there's one scene that exemplifies the risks the filmmakers undertook in the production of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it's this one, and what's almost as tragic as its heartbreaking content is that Broccoli, Saltzman & co totally failed to live up to its promise with successive films.

And finally: The double entendres are by now becoming so regular that the writers have almost stopped bothering with the double bit:

Wearing traditional Scottish dress as part of his cover as Sir Hilary Bray, Bond is dining with a bevy of beauties. Ruby, seated next to him, slips her hands under the table and lifts his kilt in order to write her room number on his inner thigh with lipstick. Bond momentarily loses his train of thought.

Is anything the matter, Sir Hilary?

Just a slight stiffness coming on... in the shoulder.
FACT: The words "in the shoulder" were added at the behest of the BBFC, who for some reason felt that without them, audiences might think Bond was referring to his steadily engorging penis.

BlogalongaBond will return with Diamonds Are Forever

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  1. Thank goodness someone sensible is championing this film. I've always thought it was seriously underrated. And why is Lazenby always such a joke? He's got more oomph than Roger Moore any day of my week!

  2. I admire your clinical dissections of Bond films. In my mind the movies have amalgamated into one long saga in which I recall many scenes but could not say to which particular film each belongs. The 'KA-POW' and 'NNNG' in your review had me thinking for a moment that I had missed a Bond appearance for one of the villains from TV's Batman. You treat the films with great reverence, and too be sure, they are well directed and have fine cinematography, sound and music. Looked at another way Bond Movies are like 'Wish You Were Here' with humour and action thrown in. They end with everyone running about in an aircraft hanger of a set looking for the thingy that must be deactivated before the villain destroys the world.

    I love the Bond films but think of them as pure tongue in cheek entertainment. One thing, there is no doubt about, 12 billion US dollars makes the Bond films the highest grossing film series ever.

  3. Is Pussy Galore a vagaBond?

  4. Brilliant stuff. You pick out all the key ingredients. Love the analysis of Lazenby's fighting and the praise of Barry's score. Also good to see that (single?) entendre contrasted with the emotional ending. Bravo!

  5. Totally agree that that the theme is the series' best. All the better for not trying to shoehorn the film's title into any lyrics (although it might be amusing to hear someone try!)
    The remix by Propellerheads on the David Arnold Shaken and Stirred album is one of my favorites.

  6. My favourite Bond movie. The score was simply breathtaking and the story haunting. Lazenby was a many version of our beloved 007.

  7. In short, the best 007 fim. Y? The best music, the best locations, the best cars, the best acting and the best script. Where else do you hear James Elroy Flecker quoted ( "Master of the world thy dawn..." etc ) and the ending sequence is so brave and unhollywoodised as to be almost unique. Lazenby looks tough and Draco, Blofeld and Tracey are 3d characters. Connery is the best Bond sure but OHMSS is the best film.

  8. Lazenby is brilliant in this film....imagine Diamonds Are Forever as a revenge movie with Lazenby hunting Blofeld down in Vegas.Now that's a movie.

    Fuck it, Quentin Tarantino should make this movie now. Vegas Vendetta starring GEORGE LAZENBY.

  9. BEST BOND MOVIE EVER. Always has been always will be - sorry Daniel but there you have it.

    As to John Barrys score - sensational!
    If you havent already, check out the Propellorheads version in Decksandrumsandrockandroll

  10. And like Geena [although not as impressive] he did his own stunts, as did the glorious Diana Rigg who obviously is Geena Davis soul sista.

    Theres a theme here...

  11. Peter Hunt in one of his Bond OHMSS commentaries describes this film as a love story. With all the phrasing of "Sean Connery IS James Bond" in relation to the YOLT marketing campaign, it's easy to see why audiences didn't readily accept Lazenby in the role. I think OHMSS was the lowest box office performer of the first six films. Despite my affection for the impeccable Connery Bond, it would have been promising had Lazenby continued the series. One of my favorite Bond films, along with YOLT and Goldfinger.