Sunday, May 10, 2015

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) | Music



It was so important to establish continuity between On Her Majesty's Secret Service and the Connery films that Maurice Binder made that a major focus of his title sequence. He drops in some silhouettes like he did in Thunderball, but they're all just standing, sitting, kneeling, or running generically to nowhere. For the most part, they're only there to create visual interest by breaking up the fairly static composition.

The one exception is the early silhouette of a man hanging from one of the hands on a giant clock face. Time is an important motif in the title sequence. Time is running out, literally, in the form of a giant hourglass that pours images from past movies from one half to the other. That not only supports the movie's assertion that yes, this is part of the same series and these are the same characters that you know and love; it also suggests that the series is ready to move on in its new direction. These images are the past. Let's treasure them, but let's also put them behind us.

And that's a big theme of the movie, too. The entire film is about Bond's moving on. Early on, in his office, he takes out and treasures relics from his past adventures. But by the end of the movie he's resigned from the Secret Service and is embarking on a new life with Tracy. It's only the final seconds of the movie that violently snaps him back to his old life. He'd been trying to reach a place where he had "All the Time in the World," but that's not possible for him. He can try to leave his line of work, but his work is never going to leave him. It's quite a feat to symbolize all that in the title sequence, but Binder does it masterfully.

For the title music, John Barry considered writing a regular song with his usual collaborator Leslie Bricusse, but decided not to, partly because it's awfully hard to fit "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" into lyrics. Barry chose instead to go back to an instrumental theme like he did with the first two Connery films. The theme for OHMSS is one of the best in the series. It's big, it's bombastic, it works great in the action scenes, and it helps viewers believe that even if Connery isn't in this one, they're still in excellent hands and are going to have a great ride.

Not that Barry abandons the official James Bond Theme from the Connery movies. In fact, he uses it more in OHMSS than he had in the last few films. A jazzy, fully orchestrated version of it appears right away in the cold open when we meet the new Bond, letting us know that this is totally the same guy. A tiny bit of it appears again when Bond is exploring his room at Piz Gloria, reminding me of similar scenes in Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

There's also a taste of it when Bond and Draco have their first meeting. Most of the music in that scene is based on "All the Time in the World," the song Barry wrote with lyricist Hal David (who wrote a lot of Burt Bacharach's stuff) as a love theme for the movie. Louis Armstrong sings the song at one point, but the music is also used a lot for softer moments, like showing that Draco has a soft side and genuinely cares about his daughter. But there's one moment in that conversation when Draco says that Tracy "needs a man to dominate her" and the Bond Theme kicks in just for a couple of seconds. I love that the two musical themes are at war with each other in that scene: the Bond Theme representing Bond's old life and "All the Time in the World" representing where he'd like it to go.

When Bond and Draco attack Piz Gloria, the Bond Theme is back in full force. It's as extended a version of that music as we've ever had in the series, lasting the full battle. Some of that is symbolism as he enjoys one last attack on a villain before hanging up his PPK. After all, the attack is as much about rescuing Tracy as it is about stopping Blofeld, so he's still moving towards his desired future. And the Theme even plays as Tracy is kicking butt inside the hotel, so for this moment, she's fully a part of this old life. Which I guess foreshadows that Bond's current and desired lives aren't as separable as he hopes they'll be.

The final use of the Bond Theme supports this idea. After Tracy's death, we get one last taste of "All the Time in the World" as Bond mourns for his wife, but as the credits roll it abruptly shifts into the Bond Theme. The old Bond is back and Blofeld better watch his.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. You Only Live Twice
3. From Russia With Love (John Barry instrumental version)
4. Dr No
5. Thunderball
6. Goldfinger
7. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro vocal version)
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. From Russia With Love
6. You Only Live Twice
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD
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