Supposedly Fun

For the love of entertainment

The Bond Movie Series: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

OHMSSHere he is, ladies and gentlemen, the first man to step into Sean Connery’s mighty shoes as 007: George Lazenby. Woo. Here’s a tip: don’t get too comfortable with him. He’s only passing through. Lazenby was a model, which worked for producers because they liked the idea of selecting an unknown to replace Connery (fun fact: one of the other finalists was Timothy Dalton, who took himself out of the running believing that he was too young. He would, of course, assume the Bond mantle twenty years later in The Living Daylights). Lazenby was actually invited to do a screen test based on a commercial he did for Fry’s chocolate, in which he apparently gave the appearance of Bond-ish qualities. While getting himself suited up in Sean Connery drag for his audition, Lazenby went to the man who did Bond’s hair and ran into producer Albert Broccoli, who was impressed with the handsome young man. Finally, during his audition Lazenby accidentally punched a stuntman in the face, leading Broccoli to decide he had gumption and give him the part. Sadly, Lazenby turned out to be kind of a dick. He clashed with producers and costars, enraging them even further by acting not only entitled but like he was too good for the role that was making his name. Before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was even in theaters he was doing interviews about how he believed the very notion of Bond was a dated concept and he really saw himself moving on to bigger, better things in the future. Producers told him to go for it, and they came to a mutual decision to part ways. But don’t feel bad for him, because Lazenby went on to do … um … hang on, I know there was something …

GeorgeLazenby3The irony is that Lazenby’s version of Bond is a little more affable and lighthearted than Sean Connery’s interpretation. Connery was always good with a quip, but he never really gave the impression of being a funny guy. Go figure. Lazenby may have been difficult to work with, but he’s not the worst actor to play 007 by far. You can see producers trending toward the lighter James we would get with Roger Moore. Unlike Moore, who took the series into a campier (uneven) direction, Lazenby wasn’t afraid of playing 007’s unlikable aspects. Because let’s all have a reality check for a second: Bond is kind of an asshole. It’s true. A big part of why Connery was so successful as 007 is that he understood this and didn’t really sugarcoat it. It’s also why Daniel Craig, who also understands it, is his best heir in my impression. Let’s check the evidence. He uses women. He’s cold. He’s calculating. You could argue that these features are necessary for him to do his job, but a douche is a douche. As Kurt Vonnegut so wisely said: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” Lazenby’s Bond also dresses in a more mod style and favors ruffled shirts with his tuxes. Models, eh?

Part of what’s fun about OHMSS is that we get to see a lot of those hard layers come down when he falls hard for his Bond Girl.

OHMSS2On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

This is a serious rarity in the Bond canon: a movie more concerned with story than format. When Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for You Only Live Twice he confessed that he felt incredibly constricted because the studio gave him unbreakable guidelines for the structure of the story and the characters who had to inhabit it. OHMSS still has many of these features, but isn’t slavish to them. There are less action sequences than the previous films, but when they do happen there are actual stakes.

It has been two years since Blofeld (now played by Telly Savalas) escaped at the end of You Only Live Twice and the trail has gone cold, prompting M (Bernard Lee) to remove 007 from the case. Bond is driving down a windy country road when he happens upon beautiful Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg, see “Bond Girl” below) throwing herself into the waves on a beach. He rescues her, then has to rescue her again when two thugs show up wanting to kill her and the man who saved her. She runs off in her car without so much as a thank you. Most people would consider this to be far too much drama but James, who graduated with honors from the School of High Drama Lifestyles, is intrigued.

Turns out she’s the daughter of international crime syndicate leader Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), who brings 007 to him to express his concerns for his daughter’s well-being. He thinks James has just enough spunk to be a proper equal for his daughter and bring her out of her funk. James is resistant, but Draco offers to exchange information about Blofeld’s whereabouts if 007 will spend time with Tracy. Being a clever girl, Tracy flushes out this secret deal immediately. It is only with a direct apology and offer of genuine tenderness that she acquiesces to spending time with James, leading to a montage of the two getting to know each other and doing tender things.

Pulling. It. Off.

Pulling. It. Off.

Of course, James can’t stay on vacation long as Draco gets a tip that a lawyer in Switzerland is acting as the face of Blofeld’s business dealings. An investigation uncovers that the lawyer is dealing with a genealogist on behalf of a client to claim the title of Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp. 007 goes undercover to the client’s Alpine lab as the genealogist, where he finds a veritable harem of women being treated for allergies. Having found himself in his element, James struts around in a kilt and beds at least two patients for information. In a twist surprising exactly no one, it turns out that Blofeld has taken Comte Bleauchamp’s identity (having undergone plastic surgery to remove his own facial scar and assume a characteristic Bleauchamp family trait: no earlobes). The ‘patients,’ meanwhile are being brainwashed so they can return home as agents of biological warfare–unless the United Nations yields to his demands. Before you know it James has escaped and reunited with Tracy, gotten engaged, and Tracy has been kidnapped. It’s a whirlwind, really. James defies M’s orders to team up with Draco and his band of friendly gangsters, saves Tracy, seemingly defeats Blofeld, and marries the girl.

It seems our Bond is headed for a happy ending (and not like the one he got last time). He’s even retiring from MI6 to be with the lady he loves. Alas, it is not to last. As they depart for their honeymoon, the very much alive Blofeld drives by with his Henchman Irma Bunt, who pumps 007’s signature Aston Martin full of lead, killing Tracy. It’s an emotional moment in a series not exactly known for its emotional heft. That’s the power of actually spending time on character and story development (not to mention hiring an actress who can act as well as look pretty). Modern Bond movies tried to do the same thing with Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, but the lasting legacy they were going for was kinda ruined by how crappy Quantum of Solace was.

diana4Notable Event: You mean other than getting married and becoming a widower in one fell swoop? We have our first action sequence set on skis. These will become a trademark of the Roger Moore years, so get ready. We also see M’s house for the first time, which won’t happen again until Casino Royale in 2006. Oh, and we learn that the Bond family creed is “The World is Not Enough.” I wonder where we’re going to hear that phrase again …

Gadget: None! Producers were intentionally getting away from gadgets after complaints that they were taking over (and ruining) the series. This enlightened moment won’t last. When Sean Connery returns for Diamonds Are Forever they’ll revert to the old ways, then gadget usage will really ramp up with Roger Moore.

Ally: Well, there’s that blonde guy who barely speaks and basically just follows 007 around before getting caught by Blofeld and killed. But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even have a name (if he does, I’m too busy not caring to check IMDB). This category goes to Bond’s brief father-in-law Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti). This guy is pretty chill for someone who leads a crime syndicate. Just when you think he’s almost lovable BAM, he punches his daughter in the face. Admittedly, she was refusing to leave Blofeld’s compound with Bond and the place was about to blow, but still. Oof.

Seriously. Wedding jumpsuit.

Seriously. Wedding jumpsuit.

Bond Girl: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Bond Girl so integral to the plot that I’ve already had to talk about her quite a bit: Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg). It actually seems fitting that the lady to finally get into 007’s icy heart is something of a basketcase herself. Growing up with a gangster father was hard on Tracy, even after he shipped her off to boarding school. Eventually she began acting out, getting more and more reckless as the years wore on. She’s basically a good-hearted lady with some baggage problems. Like James (minus the good-hearted part). Now this is a Bond Girl. She’s smart as a whip, actually useful in a fight, and stunningly beautiful. She’s also emotionally vulnerable, funny, and tender. You know what that means? She’s well-rounded. She’s not a cartoon, which happens to a lot of Bond characters. OK, she had a hideously ugly wedding … well, it’s not really a dress because it has pants. Wedding jumpsuit? Just think about that phrase for a second and try not to shudder. I dare you. Anyway, in a very wise move producers decided not to hunt down a beauty queen who can’t speak English this time around. Director Peter Hunt knew it would take a good actress to make Tracy believable and a fitting bride for 007. Diana Rigg, already well known in the UK for her iconic portrayal of Emma Peel in The Avengers was a smart choice. How good is she? Well, once George Lazenby began acting out during filming, Rigg allegedly grew to dislike him so much that there is an enduring rumor she ate garlic before every love scene they had to film. And she still sold the love story for all it was worth. It would be foolish to count her out when creating a top five (or even a top two) list of Bond Girls.

Who loves ya, baby?

Who loves ya, baby?

Supporting Bond Girl: Technically, James sleeps with Ruby (Angela Scoular) and Nancy (Catherine Schell) at the, um, allergy clinic, so they qualify. Technically. But really, aside from a pun about Scottish dick they don’t add much to the story.

Villain: He doesn’t have the over-the-top insanity that Donald Pleasance brought to the role, but Telly Savalas still manages to be a highly effective Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He oozes intelligence and menace without much in the way of theatrics. Maybe I’m biased, though, because I’ve always thought Telly Savalas was kind of a badass. I mean, he’s Kojak. The man is just full of charisma. Anyway, he’s a perfectly appropriate Blofeld for a movie that dialed down the camp. And it’s nice to see Blofeld actually having enough screentime to spread his wings a bit. For the first time we really get the sense that this is the perfect nemesis for 007. Just as tenacious, but smarter. Savalas even has a unique way of smoking that adds to Blofeld’s menacing presence. ::shudder::

IrmaBuntHenchman: No-nonsense German comrade Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) comes from the Rosa Kleb school of villainy. She spends most of her time lording over the, um, allergy clinic in a sweater from the Mrs. Voorhees collection. She rules the place with an iron fist. When Bond has the audacity to escape the, um, clinic, she proves that she isn’t just a glorified schoolmarm. She’s also willing to get her hands dirty. In fact, she’s the one doing the shooting when she and Blofeld decide to crash the di Vicenzo-Bond wedding. Brrr. Incidentally, Bunt is the third henchman in a row to be both female and a redhead. Make of that what you will. Producers originally planned to bring her back in Diamonds Are Forever, but Steppat passed away the same year OHMSS was released.

Theme Song: Well, someone crapped the bed. Didn’t we have a good thing going? Were we moving too fast for you, producers? Did things start to get too serious? Did you get scared and push back? Because this is really a silly mistake. Ludicrous. You got no less than Louis Armstrong to record a song called “We Have All the Time in the World,” then you decided to run an instrumental song during the opening credits instead. Nevermind that it’s a snazzy instrumental song (it is), because you deliberately ignored the rules: when it comes to the theme song, always play your biggest hand in the opening. The producers seem to have been under the mistaken notion that if they played Louis’ song in the credits, they couldn’t use it as a love theme. So we don’t even get to hear the whole song in the movie. It plays during a brief montage of James and Tracy doing lovey-dovey things. Here’s the thing: the song works well in that context. But there’s a grand tradition in Bond movies of repurposing the theme song for different scenes in the movie. There’s no reason they couldn’t have done that here. I suppose it’s possible that they made a conscious decision to call back to Dr. No, which used the instrumental Bond theme during its title sequence. This was the first time they changed actors playing 007, and it does seem that they were trying to build as much excitement around the “relaunch” as possible. But still. Louis Armstrong, in what would prove to be his last major recording. Is it a great song? Not really. It’s fine. But after three seriously awesome Bond songs, this whole situation is a terrific letdown.

diana2Iconic Moment: Is there any question? It’s got to be that terrible moment when James and Tracy leave their wedding thinking they have all the time in the world, only to have it cut cruelly short. Incidentally, there was a nice moment between James and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) just before he left, in which they exchanged a meaningful look before he tossed her his hat–just like he always did in the office. Lois Maxwell played this beautifully. Her Moneypenny isn’t a sad spinster pining for James the way later incarnations are. She always kept her dignity. Anyway, it’s a heartbreaking, important moment in the Bond series.

Grades: Movie: 5/5; Bond Girl: 5/5; Villain: 5/5; Henchman: 4/5; Theme Song: 3/5

Check out more 007 action, as well as ‘Best of’ and ‘Worst of’ lists, on my Bond Project page. Up next: Diamonds Are Forever.

Bonus photos:

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This entry was posted on December 13, 2013 by in James Bond and tagged , , .
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