Skip to main content

I’ll have to find something else to do.


On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
(1969)

The one with the other fellow. You know, whatshisname. George Lazenby is rarely on the receiving end of kind words, even by those who rate OHMSS highly. I have no problem with his performance; indeed, far from viewing him as a plank who got lucky I’m doubtful whether the emotional through line of the film would have been as effective with Connery. His Bond demeanour had been so established by this point, it’s difficult to conceive of him suddenly falling in love and revealing his vulnerable side (which is no slight on Connery’s skill as an actor, just recognition of the baggage he brings to the role).


Lazenby comes on fresh-faced (at 29, he was two years younger than Connery when he was cast) and free to show Bond in love. Since Dalton, there have been various attempts to invest Bond, essentially a two-dimensional caricature, with an emotional journey. This has taken the form of seeking revenge, dealing with injury, brooding about his deeds, feeling his age. Yet the series’ high watermark for the secret agent as a character imbued with real feelings is in a film with an actor many dismiss as being “a bit rubbish”. It may not be because of Lazenby that OHMSS is the best Bond film but he’s in no way an impediment to it holding that status.


As to why he made just the solo 007, various possibilities have been floated. That Lazenby’s agent nixed further appearances, that George himself felt that Bond’s shelf life was limited in the era of Easy Rider, that Cubby Broccoli was irritated by the young pup’s arrogance, that the press had written him off as a failure in comparison to Connery and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s certainly the case that OHMSS, although cheaper than the previous two movies, made considerably less money than either (Thunderball went through the roof, You Only Live Twice just over half of that, while OHMSS made only half of YOLT’s gross). But it was profitable, and its success were more comparable to the early Moore outings than to Connery’s.  Additionally, how well OHMSS would have done with anyone in the lead is debatable; it had a complete downer of an ending, and compared to previous installments was light on action (this is not meant as a criticism, far from it, but it may have contributed).


One of the reasons OHMSS stands the test of time so well is surely Peter Hunt’s direction. Hunt had initially sworn off Bond when he didn’t get the directing gig for YOLT, but was tempted back into the editing suite and then got the prize this time out. Hunt’s Bond would be his most prestigious directorial effort, and he wouldn’t return to the series (he would work with future Bond Roger Moore on several films during the 1970s, though). Hunt enlisted cinematographer Michael Reed to give the film a more realistic look than previous Bonds (concordantly, Hunt eschewed the gadgetry that had become a staple ingredient). The result is a Bond film that couldn’t feel more different to its predecessor. The fights and chases have a visceral quality where previously they were plodding and static.


Then there’s John Barry’s score, possibly the pinnacle of the series, and the beautiful, haunting We Have All the Time in the World sung by Louis Armstrong. If we needed convincing that the romance between James and Tracy was the real deal, the song sells it to us completely. Strangely, it doesn’t play out with the credits where it would have been more appropriate than the suddenly intrusive Bond theme (we, and our hero, are mourning after all). The opening titles, which showed scenes and characters from previous adventures, were accompanied by an instrumental track (Barry considered it would be difficult to cram the film’s title into a set of lyrics), which is as recognisable as any Bond song in its own right.


There had been much debate on how to introduce a new face; reference to plastic surgery was considered. Ultimately, the Bond theme announces the secret agent before we see Lazenby, and the action on the beach plays out with Bond in silhouette. The improvised dialogue,

James Bond: This never happened to the other fellow.

is followed by Lazenby breaking the fourth wall as he looks at the audience. In that respect it might be seen as a precursor to meta-reference happy late ‘70s Moore period, but it represents an isolated case within the film as a whole. Some fans have experienced difficulty attempting to render coherent the lack of recognition between (the new faces of) Bond and Blofeld, having met in YOLT. Such a mission seems like a hiding to nothing, as continuity is one of the series’ lowest priorities.


As noted, and in contrast to previous two films, OHMSS does not fuel its plot by transitioning from one set piece to the next. Bond begins wooing Tracy, after preventing her suicide, and any concern with mission priorities is clearly taking a back seat (Operation Bedlam only becomes evident when he drops in on M).  While Bond has a fight or two along the way, an equally action-light shift then occurs both in geography and activity. Bond spends the middle section of the film at Blofeld’s allergy institute, which means that Tracy drops out of the plot completely at this point. It’s a peculiar structure, and no doubt symptomatic of following the book so closely, but it is an effective interlude as long as you find Lazenby palatable and aren’t put off by all the talking.


It’s an astonishing coincidence that Tracy’s dad is someone who can reveal Blofeld’s whereabouts. And later that Bond, having escaped the institute, should bump into Tracy at the crucial moment. The scene is one of those moments you just can’t imagine working with Connery. Bond is bereft and frightened, at the prey of the enemy. And then, his salvation appears. It’s unlike anything else we see in the series, and I think much of that is to do with Lazenby.


Diana Rigg deserves significant credit also, lending sophistication and wit to a role that is quite thinly sketched out (spoilt rich girl who just needs a good man to pull her out of her funk). We only really see her potential in the scene where she converses with Blofeld and reveals her education.


Draco: What she needs is a man to dominate her. A man to make love to he enough to make her love him. A man like you!

What a charming father! See, what Draco really wanted was Connery. Gabriele Ferzetti played Morton in the previous year’s Once Upon a Time in the West and, despite being the head of a crime syndicate and extolling generally odious views (including offering Bond a bribe to take his daughter), he makes him a warm and welcoming figure. Later he even comments, “Spare the rod and spoil the child, huh?

Draco: She likes you, I can see.
James Bond: Just give me the name of your occulist.


Undercover Bond, posing as Sir Hilary Bray, is highly amusing and plays wittily on the Bond machismo. We’ll never know if Lazenby’s original vocalisation was any good, but George Baker’s dubbing is very pleasing, lending the actor a self-mocking manner (it’s particularly funny given how bland Baker’s roles generally are).

Bond/Bray: Frauline, I should warn you. Guns make me nervous.

And,

Bond/Bray: I’m afraid I’ve never had much to do with young ladies.


And the following exchange, as one of the “harem” writes on his leg under the dining table (Ilse Steppart follows in a line of idiosyncratic henchwomen, Rosa Klebb being the most notable up to this point).

Irma Bunt: Is anything ze matter, Sir Hilary?
Bond/Bray: Just a slight stiffness coming on… in the shoulder.


The “Angels of Death” include Catherine Schell, Julie Ege and Joanna Lumley (“Course, I know what he’s allergic to”). Given the best lines, and the most screen time, is Angela Scoular as Ruby.

Blofeld: Do you remember how when you first came here you hated chickens… I have taught you to love chickens. Their flesh, their voice.

This is the closest the series gets to psychedelia, as lights flash over Bond. Although, it echoes the brainwashing undergone by Harry Saltzman’s working class Bond, Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File.


It’s interesting how willing this film is to reconfigure Blofeld; he becomes almost a cult leader here (under the guise of science). Blofeld’s plan is so bafflingly elaborate that picking away at it could unravel the entire film. It’s hard to say quite why the deficiencies in logic never come into focus as a serious problem (possibly because the love story is foregrounded), but it should be noted that it is this adaptation that hews closest of all the films to the Fleming novel (the 10th in the series).


Why specifically does Blofeld need these women to distribute his virus/chemical warfare agent that can sterilise the world’s food supply? What can they do that no one else can? Do they hold certain key positions? If not, couldn’t he pay henchman to do the same thing? Or wicked attractive ladies who would will do it for a fee, bypassing the brainwashing thing? Of course, then we wouldn’t enjoy the conceit of Bond checking in to Blofeld’s Alpine clinic incognito. As for Blofeld’s demands, that he should be able to retire with an amnesty and be recognised as nobility (a count; he’s had his earlobes removed to “prove” his heredity), perhaps this was Fleming’s assumption that secretly everyone wants to be up to be treated/respected like royalty? Whatever the reason, coming from Blofeld it seems like a battier idea than world domination because it’s so small fry.



When it comes, the escape from Blofeld’s institute is thrillingly shot (as is the preceding cable car sequence), ending in the aforementioned reunion with Tracy. And it’s here that the film makes its individuality most evident.

BondI’ll have to find something else to do.
TracyAre you sure, James?
BondI love you, and I know I’ll never find another girl like you. Will you marry me?


Not only is he opting for a monogamous life, but he’s also prepared to turn in his licence to kill. After that, the concluding action requirements almost seem unnecessary; Tracy is captured, Bond is told that Blofeld’s ransom will be paid and he is forbidden to intervene. Bond and Draco to attack Blofeld and rescue Tracy, culminating in a bobsleigh chase. The occasional trad-Bond bad taste jokes seems unnecessary, dictated by formula and thus less necessary to a film that has followed it’s own path (“He had a lot of guts”, notes 007 as a Blofeld goon is consumed by a threshing machine, “He’s branched off” when Blofeld is caught in a tree branch).


Picking a best Blofeld is not an easy task as the performances of the main trio are all so different (if we exclude Max von Sydow and the voice/hand-only performances in From Russia with Love and Thunderball; and John Hollis’ cameo in For Your Eyes Only). Pleasance is most indelible, but gets limited screentime. Savalas is the most personable, less the arch-villain and more the mob boss aspiring to a higher status. While Savalas is very watchable, I probably don’t think of him first when the character’s name comes up. As for Charles Gray, I shall revisit him shortly.


The marriage scene in Portugal is charming, Moneypenny catching Bond’s hat (instead of the bridal bouquet) and Q making a gadget-free appearance. Peter Hunt prepared the ending in such a way that the credits could roll as Bond and Tracy set off on their honeymoon. Then Diamonds are Forever would begin with Blofeld’s drive-by attempt to kill Bond, but hitting Tracy. As it is, the downbeat choice proves heartbreakingly tragic. It’s a surprisingly brave decision and, beyond the one-off presence of its star, underlines the singular and incomparable status of OHMSS.

Bond: It’s all right, it’s quite all right really. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.

So the ‘60s end on an emotional, if not qualitative, downer for Bond. Before pitching into 12 years of eyebrow-raising, the producers managed to woo Connery back for a last stand that would do a curiously accurate job of predicting the decade’s obsessions and excesses. That’s Vegas for you. OHMSS, meanwhile, is unequalled in the Bond canon. Other films have more impressive action, effects, leading and supporting performances, but none of them can match it for heart.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Well, who’s going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?

Enemy of the State (1998)
Enemy of the State is something of an anomaly; a quality conspiracy thriller borne not from any distinct political sensibility on the part of its makers but simple commercial instincts. Of course, the genre has proved highly successful over the years so it's easy to see why big name producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson would have chased that particular gravy boat. Yet they did so for some time without success; by the time the movie was made, Simpson had passed away and Bruckheimer was flying solo. It might be the only major film in the latter's career that, despite the prerequisite gloss and stylish packaging, has something to say. More significant still, 15 years too late, the film's warnings are finally receiving recognition in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, John Patterson levelled the charge that Enemy was one of a number of Hollywood movies that have “been softening us up f…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

You're going to need a nickname, cos I ain't saying that every time.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
(SPOILERS) I had a mercifully good time with Solo: A Star Wars Story, having previously gone from considering it a straight-up terrible idea when first announced, to cautious optimism with the signing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, to abject pessimism with their replacement by little Ronnie Howard, to cautious optimism again with the advent of various trailers and clips. I have numerous caveats, but then that's been par for the course with the series ever since Return of the Jedi, whichever side of good or bad the individual entries end up falling. The biggest barrier to enjoyment, judging by others’ responses, seems to be the central casting of Aiden Ehrenreich; I actually thought he was really good, so the battle for my allegiance was half won right there. No, he isn't Harrison Ford, but he succeeds admirably in making Han Solo a likeable, brash, smug wannabe scoundrel. Less so at being scruffy looking, but you can’t have everything.

It looks as i…

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…