Friday, May 08, 2015

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

Actors and Allies

I'm old enough to remember when there were just three Bonds and we only acknowledged two of them. Sean Connery and Roger Moore both had long strings of Bond movies and fans identified themselves with one or the other. George Lazenby on the other hand was considered an embarrassment; a failed experiment. He was just some model they brought in to replace Sean Connery. How could they have even considered such an idea? His "performance" was considered awkward and wooden.

Boy were we ever wrong.

Fortunately, fandom has finally come around on Lazenby. First of all, he perfectly looks the part. Of all the men to play Bond so far, Lazenby is closest to Fleming's description in the novels. But more than that, Lazenby nails the attitude that the Bond films were going for at the time. He's confident, he's funny. On his first outing, he's at ease doing things it took Connery four movies to get comfortable with.

I may be overstating Lazenby's achievements somewhat, and I certainly don't mean to downplay Connery's sheer charisma, which is something Lazenby lacks. But it's remarkable what Lazenby does in one film and he deserves credit and praise for it. One thing his Bond absolutely has over Connery's is action, but that's more a feat of the directing than Lazenby's acting (though he's convincing in those scenes). So we should stop for a second and consider director Peter Hunt's contribution to the character of James Bond.

Peter Hunt had been editor on the Bond series from the beginning. When Terence Young all but walked out on the end of Thunderball's production, it was Hunt who soldiered on alone and finished putting the movie together. He was looking forward to a shot at directing and almost left the series when Lewis Gilbert was brought in for You Only Live Twice, but he stayed on for that movie as second unit director and finally got to direct with On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Hunt intentionally left his mark all over the film. That may be why Saltzman and Broccoli never asked him back, but the movie's still an artistic success. The action sequences are way more involved and exciting than the previous films, including an extended car chase and of course the skiing and bobsledding pieces. He also makes interesting choices about how to shoot things. For instance, it would have been easy just to crop Lazenby's head out of shots in the cold open to prolong the reveal of his face, but Hunt doesn't do that. He shoots the whole body, but uses the fading light on the sunset beach to obscure Lazenby's details.

Hunt also employs an early version of what we now call shaky cam and weirdly muted sound effects to give fights a feeling of instability and unease. Not everything he does works perfectly, but OHMSS is one of the most artistically directed films in the series. And even if that's not enough to praise, the action sequences are. OHMSS leaves quite a legacy for the rest of the series and Bond becomes more than just a two-fisted spy with a ruthless aim. He's now a gifted stuntman as well.

Transitioning into some of Bond's allies in this movie, let's talk about him and Moneypenny. They don't have as easy a relationship as and Connery's Bond did. That's mostly because of Connery's magnetism. Lazenby and Lois Maxwell are trying to recreate that, but it feels at times like they're trying too hard. Around Connery, Moneypenny's flirting was all play. She knew that nothing was ever going to happen between them, so she kept it light. But Lazenby keeps trying to raise the stakes with her. He actually asks her out and even gives her a sweet kiss at one point. And she appears to be caving.

One bit of criticism I've heard about OHMSS is how it treats Moneypenny at the wedding. While everyone else is shaking Bond's hand and slapping his back, she's looking on alone and crying. If you buy into the meme that Moneypenny has always hopelessly swooned over Bond, it's a sad, pathetic scene and I understand the criticism. But I like to think of Moneypenny as stronger than that, so I read her reaction to the wedding as sorrow not that he's romantically unavailable, but that he's retiring from the Service and she's losing a friend. M and Q are too stiff-upper-lippy to mourn Bond's resignation, so Moneypenny stands in for all of them. When Bond tosses his hat at her before he leaves, it's not a demeaning consolation prize; it's one last hat rack gag, because they both know he's never going to step into that office again. It's heartbreaking really, and for all the right reasons.

Bond's other big ally in the movie is Tracy's dad, Marc-Ange Draco. I've always liked these older, mentor-like characters for Bond in the movies. They're not so pleasant in the novels, but I enjoy the films when Bond meets someone who reflects what he's probably going to be like in another decade or two. In the novel, Draco is a rapist, but that's left out of the movie version of course and the character is also softened by his deep love not only for his daughter, but also for the memory of his late wife.

The final ally that needs talking about is that nameless blonde guy who helps Bond out once and follows him to Piz Gloria. When he helps Bond, he's stationed at Draco's construction site, so I used to assume he's one of Draco's men. After all, Bond is working the Blofeld investigation unofficially at that point, so why would MI6 give him support? On the other hand, the guy has a British accent, is delivering equipment that's probably too advanced for Draco's organization, and he's based on an MI6 agent from the novel, so I'm not sure what to make of him. I lean towards his being MI6, but you could create explanations for either scenario.

Best Quip

"Just a slight stiffness coming on," explaining the distracted look on his face when Rosie writes on his upper thigh under the table with her lipstick.

Worst Quip

"This never happened to the other fellow." Cute, but it totally throws me out of the movie.


There are very few gadgets in this movie. Two, actually, and one of those is radioactive lint that's never used; just explained by Q to M as a possible way of maybe tracking agents at some point in the future.

The gadget that does get used is the safecracker, which - like Bond's blonde ally above - can be either MI6 or Draco equipment, depending on how you want to read it. I sometime hear questions about why Bond needs such a bulky device when he uses a handheld safecracker in You Only Live Twice, but that's missing the fact that the OHMSS device also includes a scanner/printer. Makes sense to me.

Neither of these gadgets crack my Top Ten, though.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
2. Jet pack (Thunderball)
3. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
4. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)
5. Attaché case (From Russia With Love)
6. Propeller SCUBA tank with built-in spearguns (Thunderball)
7. Rebreather (Thunderball)
8. Camera-tape recorder; mostly because it reminds me of a camera my dad used to use (From Russia With Love)
9. Seagull SCUBA hat (Goldfinger)
10. Book tape-recorder (Thunderball)

Bond's Best Outfit

I dig a properly worn kilt and that jacket is killer. The only part I struggle with is the ruffled collar, but then I remember how much I like Prince and Adam Ant.

Bond's Worst Outfit

Prince would never wear an ascot like that.

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