On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
August 13, 2010 Leave a comment
Year: 1969. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the darkest Bond film of the six to date, took a while to get off the ground. The original closing credits to Goldfinger (1965) listed OHMSS as the next in the series but several factors contributed to delay production for close to three years. Released days before Christmas, Bond 6 squeaked into theaters two weeks shy of the new decade. When peering into the rose tinted rearview mirror, American’s like to think of 1969 as Love, Peace, and Woodstock. In reality it was Charles Manson, Vietnam, and Altamont, the anti-Woodstock. The free show, featuring Ike and Tina, The Jefferson Airplane, and The Rolling Stones degraded into ugly drug fueled violence that climaxed when the Hell’s Angles, hired as security in exchange for all the beer they could drink, killed 18-year-old Meredith Hunter. While many saw the incident as the “death of the 60’s,” in reality the “love generation” had been a zombie only appearing to be alive for some time. Yes, we landed on the moon but for the most part 1969 was one big bummer. The year started with Nixon being sworn into office, as dark an omen as one could imagine. Following the Tet Offensive in January of ‘68, Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, declared Vietnam unwinnable and by July of ’69 the first U.S. troop withdrawals were being made, all but admitting defeat in the misguided “police action.” San Francisco was overrun with homeless drug addled youth, trying to grab onto the Summer of Love two years too late. The Zodiac Killer terrorized the Bay Area and Charles Manson’s family cast a cloud over all of Los Angeles, murdering 8 month pregnant Sharon Tate and 7 others. Many cities still showed scars from race riots and were going bankrupt, crime was up and “white flight” to the suburbs was in full effect. Gone was the New York of Technicolor musicals like Guys & Dolls (1955), replaced by the gritty realism of Midnight Cowboy (1969), the first and only rated X film to ever win an Oscar for Best Picture. (Ed. Note; it wasn’t all bad for New York in ’69 as my beloved Mets and Jets were both crowned World Champs. And who doesn’t love Broadway Joe!)
In fact, Hollywood movies had changed radically in the 18 months since the last Bond film, You Only Live Twice (1967). Thanks to 1967 hits Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate extravagant sets like the $1 million dollar volcano lair of YOLT were out of favor and on-location realism with muted, saturated color was all the rage, as 1969 hits Midnight Cowboy (#3 box-office) and Easy Rider (#4) made clear. (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, far and away the biggest hit in 1969, did resemble the look of John Ford westerns in some ways. However, the violent climax was clearly influenced by Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde.) Thankfully, the new director and new star of this, the sixth Bond film in eight years, didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing.
Film Length: 2 Hours 22 Minutes. The longest Bond film yet by 12 minutes. The longer running time can perhaps be attributed to the fact that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the most faithful adaptation of the Fleming novel up to this point.
Bond Actor: George Lazenby. Prior to starting this project, I always thought of Lazenby as the Pete Best of the Bond series, the guy who was fired before he could reap the benefits of his labor. Turns out, the only actor to play 007 for a single film walked away from the role of a lifetime. When You Only Live Twice debuted in the summer of 1967, the world knew Connery quit Bond and anticipation about his replacement was sky high. Broccoli and Saltzman equated looking for a new Bond to the casting of Scarlett O’Hara.If the search for the first replacement Bond were done today, I have no doubt EON would air “007 Idol” on FOX to milk the high profile search for all it was worth. Lazenby, working as a male model at the time, beat out a reported 400 other actors, including a 22 year old Timothy Dalton, despite his acting credits consisting of nothing more than a few TV ads for chocolate bars. The Australian native served for a stint in the Army before moving to London in 1964. In early 1968 he got a call from his agent who suggested he may make a good 007. To look the part for his audition, Lazenby called Connery’s tailor and purchased a suit designed for the former Bond star that was never picked up. Lazenby then went to Connery barber to get the “Bond haircut.” It turned out that everyone from EON used the same shop and Lazenby bumped into Cubby Broccoli, leading to rumors the producer discovered the new Bond in a barber shop. Untrained in the art of staged combat, Lazenby landed the part when he landed a punch during a fight audition, leaving his sparing partner with a bloody noise. Broccoli like the Aussie’s moxie and he also liked his look; hansom without being pretty with a touch of rough and world-weary thrown in for good measure. Add the natural swagger in his step and clear athletic ability and you’ve got Bond, James Bond. Overnight, Lazenby became not only very famous, but very rich. In fact, the guy who never appeared on the silver screen became the highest paid actor in the world. Broccoli and Saltzman might as well have painted a huge screaming bulls-eye on the back of their new stars nice new suit. As soon as it was announced the unknown Aussie, at 28 years old the youngest actor to play Bond out of the six, was to fill Connery’s big shoes, the knives were out. Lazenby not only had to answer the “Connery question” for reporters from around the world, he also had the Scotsman hung over him on set. The movies director would often ask Lazenby to “Give a look like Sean did in this film” or to “punch him like Sean did in that film.” Adding to his woes, Lazenby was made to feel like a nuisance when he asked questions or chimed in with his two cents. As a card carrying member of hip, swinging London, Lazenby wanted his Bond to be more humane, not an unreasonable request considering the storyline of the film. However, the powers that be knew what they, and the ticket buying public, wanted from Bond, so George, if you could give use some more Sean please, that would be lovely. A combination of inexperience and insecurity lead to what Lazenby later admitted was a bad attitude which lead to bad press. As far as the public were concerned, no one but Sean could be Bond. Add the fact the new stars pissy attitude made him look ungrateful, the on set issues with the director, as well a seven picture deal with a phonebook thick contract and Lazenby felt incredible pressure leading to more outward hostility. He also, like everyone else his age, had seen Easy Rider and felt the anti-heroes of that film, and not James Bond, were the future. When it came time to do press for the films release, the Bond actor showed up for interviews with shoulder length hair and a full beard, a look that EON deemed unacceptable. So it came to pass that days before the release of George Lazenby’s debut film, he announced that his first Bond movie would be his last, catching Broccoli and Saltzman off guard. Infuriated, EON immediately spun the story to make it look like they fired the not-so-big star. Lazenby, who at the time felt that after being Bond he’d have his pick of roles, would later admit he overplayed his hand and made a mistake. Albert R. Broccoli is on the record as saying Lazenby could have been the best Bond had he not quit after just one film. I’m sure at least part of that statement was made to steam Connery, who was now officially on Broccoli’s shit list, but after watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service for this project, it must be said the man from Oz is good, damn good. (Ed. Note: Full disclosure, the wife doesn’t think young George quite pulled it off, especially in the looks department. She feels he lacks the suave and grace of Bond. She also thinks “his ears aren’t right.”)
Director: Peter R. Hunt. Despite never directing a film before, Hunt knew a thing or two about Bond. He edited the first three films, developing what he called “crash cutting” for action scene in Dr. No (1962) and reaching new heights in storytelling and pacing (in my humble opinion) on From Russia With Love (1963). Having worked with the brilliant Terence Young, Hunt took a page from the three-time Bond director’s book when he said “My feeling was always that one should make the films seriously, but never take them seriously.” Amen brother. Before he even shot a frame, Hunt made a direct and deliberate break from the over-produced, over-stylized, set heavy You Only Live Twice. Shooting mostly on location, using Lazenby in lieu of stand-ins for all fights and many of the stunts, and giving the film a more muted color pallet for a gritty, more realistic look; the difference between this film and its predecessor is immediately apparent and quite stunning. In what was likely another reaction to YOLT, Hunt and the screenwriters stuck as close to the Fleming source material as possible. It’s also worth noting that John Glen, in addition to editing the film, directed the second unit which was responsible for much of the stunning ski and bobsled sequences, the show stopping avalanche, and the “ice auto race.” Glen would go on to direct five future Bond films. As good as Hunt was with story and set up, he was not great with actors. According the LA Times (11/17/02) Hunt refused to speak directly to his leading man after a falling out early in the production. Not exactly an ideal working environment for the first time actor. The vibe was so bad on the set that following a visit in Switzerland, Cubby Broccoli decided a throw a party for the entire cast and crew with the hopes of easing the tension. According to the late producer’s widow, every person working on the movie was invited but Lazenby failed to show up. When he finally did appear he was sullen and removed, claiming he wasn’t formally asked to come and declaring that as the star, he needed to be treated with more respect. Instead of clearing the air, the party made things worse. The animosity only grew when Lazenby showed up for the premiere to learn his voice had been dubbed over by actor George Baker for the scenes where 007 was impersonation the Englishman Sir Hilary Bray. Hunt made no apologies sniffing anyone could play the James Bond character as long as they had the right look.
Reported Budget: $7,000,000 estimated, two million less than YOLT. I would love to know if this was because the 1967 film wasn’t as big of a hit as EON would have liked, or if it was a lack of confidence in the first time director/leading man combo. I suspect it was some combination of the two. Regardless, for the first time, Broccoli and Saltzman tightened the purse strings.
Reported Box-office: $22,774,493 (USA) $87,400,000 (Worldwide). It made money. Considering the terrible press, the absents of Connery, and the fact that Bond quit before the flick even opened, I’d say tripling the investment in the U.S. alone ain’t too shabby.
Theme Song: The song heard over the opening titles is a “modern” rendition of John Barry’s beloved instrumental “James Bond Theme” featuring a more keyboard driven melody. Apparently a song with lyrics was written but didn’t make the final cut. One shudders at the thought of trying to work the title of this film organically into a chorus. Barry composed another song for the film (Lyrics Hal David) that did make it in, “We Have All the Time in the World” performed by the immortal Louis Armstrong. The song, cued up 35 minutes into the film, is simply beautiful. So much so that it manages to hold it’s power despite being heard over an embarrassingly dated courtship montage that sees Bond and the object of his affections walking on a beach/ shopping for rings/ riding on horseback/ strolling in a garden and tossing flower petals into a fountain. Really, I’m not making that up. When Armstrong recorded the number he was quite ill and unable to play his horn, but his sublime voice more than makes up for lack of trumpet. Sadly, Satchmo passed a short time later, making “We Have All The Time In The World” the last song the American icon would record.
Opening Titles: Simple but sexy, the titles might be my favorite yet. The women, in complete black silhouette, slip seductively through a hourglass while the men dangle from a huge clock hands; a nod to the passing of time since Bond first hit the screen. As if to hammer the point home, we see scenes from each previous 007 movie slip through the hourglass along with the sands of time. Curiously, none of the scenes featured show a single frame of Connery. I wonder why?
Opening Action Sequence: We start off at Universal Exports LDT London, which doubles as the headquarters for MI6. Q and M are discussing the ongoing SPECTRE problem and wonder aloud, where is that Jimmy B? “The P.M. wants to be informed personally when we find 007” says M in a sly nod to the recasting of Brittan’s favorite spy. Turns out he’s on the coast of Portugal, literally chasing women, this one in a speedy red convertible. We see a man driving a car in extreme close ups; the brim of his hat, his lip holding a fag, his hands on the wheel, and thanks to the music, we know its Bond. He pulls his Aston Martin over when he sees the girl has stopped for a walk on the beach that quickly goes Jeff Buckley. In one of the films many witty uses of irony, Bond saves the girl from her suicide attempt thanks to a rifle scoop, a device typically associated with killing. Bond dramatically pulls the doomed woman from the surf and for the first time is seen in full frame, “Good morning, my name is Bond, James Bond.” It’s a fitting and well executed introduction. Bond is then attacked by two unknown assailants and a jump cut edited fist fight ensues, ending with both baddies knocked out. During the battle, the woman steals Bonds car, races it to hers, and takes off, leaving Bond standing alone on the beach with nothing but her shoes. This is one hell of a way to start a film; a woman just tried to kill herself, a violent fist fight breakouts on a dark desolate beach, and the hero is left like the prince from Cinderella, holding an empty shoe full of questions. I was riveted and the open credits should have rolled then and there but the filmmakers couldn’t handle the tension. They make the tone-deaf decision to crash through the fourth wall having Bond turn to the camera and declare “This never happened to the other fellow.” I understand feeling the need to somehow address the casting change (M’s nod at the top was plenty) and the line reportedly got big laughs in the theater but its pure bullock. Perhaps it would have worked during a more light hearted part of the film (when Bond walks in on the international bevy of beauties at Piz Gloria for instance) but after such an intense, emotional opening, I found the wink to camera inappropriately timed and it sucked me right out of the moment.
Bond’s Mission: M and the Prime Minister of England maybe looking for Commander Bond, but 007 is in no rush to get back to London, preferring instead to hang at his hotel-casino in Portugal. And why not, he’s staying in the “Rain Man suite,” he’s got cards to play, thugs to beat up and suicidal chicks to seduce. A moment to note how incredibly good looking the hotel scenes are. At one point, Bond looks over his balcony to the pool, which fades from day to night, to reveal the neon “Casino” sign waving in the water, cut to Bond strolling to the baccarat table located in an impossibly beautiful purple appointed card room. For a first time director, Hunt shows incredible talent in establishing tone and feel from the get go. He has a flare for the kinds of touches that pull us into the locations that feel real and lived in. Anyway, the next morning Bond grabs his clubs in anticipation of 18 holes when he is rudely kidnapped by four thugs. The baddies take 007 into a David Lynch film featuring a warehouse being swept out by a midget. Bond gets free and runs thought a door which magically transports him out of the dingy warehouse and into an amazing office complete with Victorian furnishings, a sexily dressed woman and a mustachioed, verbose, cigarette smoking villain. “Don’t kill me Mr. Bond, at least until we’ve had a drink.” Ahh, back into Bond territory. Over a martini Marc Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) explains to Bond that the suicidal chick 007’s been banging (to use the parlance of our time) is in fact Contessa Teresa Di Vicenzo AKA Draco’s daughter. Draco needs someone to watch over her as a husband and he feels Bond is the man for the job, a job that pays $1 million. Bond says that’s nice, I don’t need $1 million and by the way, you’re the head of the #2 crime syndicate in Europe and you just kidnapped me, so that’s a rub. And hey, as a criminal, do you have a line on Blofeld’s whereabouts? Perhaps … “If I could find Blofeld I wouldn’t tell Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but I might tell my future son in law.” This is awesome. Bond movies always play up the glamorous side of being a spy, but the profession often requires the good guys to cut deals with unsavory types to get bigger, badder, unsavory types. In this case, Bond is going to get in bed with mob, well, daughter of the mob, to get the bigger fish.
Villain’s Name: Ernst Stavro Blofeld or, as #1 is trying to pass himself off as, Count De Bleuchamp, returns. And as it turns out, Bond cut the deal with Drago not a moment to soon. When James finally makes his way back to London he learns M has taken him off the Blofeld case after two years of zero results; nothing personal, strictly business. MI6 can’t have a double 0’s running around without a killable target. Thankfully, Drago has given 007 a lead on a lawyer in Bern, Switzerland who is working with Blofeld on some kind of scheme. Bond breaks into the lawyer office and learns Blofeld is attempting to obtain the title of Count, as certified by the British College of Arms. Bond relays this information back to M, is put back on the case, and is off to meet Blofeld, posing at the College of Arms genealogical expert, Sir Hilary Bray.
Villain Actor: Telly Savalas “Who loves ya, baby?” Best known as the lollipop sucking TV cop Kojak, the Golden Greek takes over as the head of SPECTRE with sparkling results. Savalas is far and away the best and most dynamic Blofeld yet. When he says “I mean what I say and I’ll do what I claim” you believe him. He’s physically imposing, incredibly smart, and for the first time, a man of action. In the past, Blofeld watched everything on cameras as he sat at a desk. Here, he oversees his operation in person and even participates in the pursuit of an escaping Bond, ON SKIS! Can you even imagine Donald Pleasence riding a chairlift, much less handling a double black diamond? Telly makes Blofeld the diabolical genius he ought to be. My only question, what is it with genius bald white dudes and the need for global domination?
Villain’s Plot: As has become habit, Blofeld once again leans heavily on the “E” bit of SPECTRE as the name of the game is again extortion. This time, #1 is using an allergy treatment center as a cover to create the Omega Sterility Virus. Picture the Pill, the single most important component of the 60’s free love movement, being weaponized. (Taking love and making it hate in another one of those cool ironic twists.) If deployed, Blofeld could render any plant or animal (including humans) infertile, condemning entire species to extension. Even more sinister is his system of deployment; “The Angles of Death” or as we are first introduced to them, “hot allergy suffering women from around the world.” This UN of beauties are on hand to get “cured” via a brainwashing technique that consists of locking the ladies in their room and blinking various colored lights on the ceiling while Telly Savalas smoothly persuades the allergy suffers that they in fact enjoy that which causes the reaction. In the case of Ruby Bartlett (Angela Scoular) chickens are a problem, so when the lights start blinking she goes into a hypnotic state as Telly calmly explains “Before you came here, you hate chickens. But now, you love them. I have taught you to love chickens …” Dear reader, believe when I say that upon hearing the line “I have taught you to love chickens” my Serra Nevada Pale Ale squirted out of my noise clear across the room. Ahhh, but Blofeld’s “cure” is a nasty Trojan horse disguising his true motive, teaching the ladies to love chemical warfare. After the “Angles of Death” are cured and released, all Blofeld needs to trigger his ticking time bombs is his voice, delivered via radio, and the unknowing pawns become weapons of mass destruction. The twist, this time Blofeld’s not after money. In exchange for keeping the virus at bay, #1 is demanding complete amnesty for this and past crimes as well as his desired title, Count De Bleuchamp.
Villain’s Lair: Piz Gloria. The allergy clinic/poison plant is situated 10,000 ft above sea level on Schilthorn Mountain in Murren, Switzerland. Actually a restaurant under construction at the time of shooting, the base of operation, hidden in plan sight, is accessible only by cable-car or helicopter. This is a vast improvement over Blofeld’s volcano from the previous film in several ways. First off, the base is a hell of a lot easier to defend. Just keep the gondola monitored, posted some gunmen on the cliff and the balconies around the joint and Bob’s your uncle. It’s also visually striking. Perched on cliff faces with 360 degree views of the surrounding Alps, every camera angle is a gem. At one point, a helicopter can be seen flying past a window at eye level. The gondola provides not only spectacular visuals but an opportunity for all kinds of high wire combat and reminded me of Where Eagles Dare (1968), a flick I saw as a kid that left a lasting impression. ED NOTE: The attached clip, featuring Richard Burton kicking some Nazi butt, is fairly violent.
It is at this fantastic location that Blofeld and Bond come face to face. Bond arrives via helicopter, posing undercover as Sir Hilary Bray (George Baker), a member of the British College of Arms on hand to authenticate Blofeld’s claim to the title of Count. Miraculously, Blofeld doesn’t recognize his arch-enemy, perhaps because Bond and Blofeld are literally different people than they were before. Or, maybe Bond’s disguise consisting of an upper crust English accent, a pipe, and a hint of homosexuality is as effective as Clark Kent’s spectacles. But I strongly feel the success of Bond’s undercover op. rests with his dinner attire; a Scottish number complete with kilt, knee shocks and sporran; a getup that was never worn by the other fellow.
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Blofeld is not the man he used to be. He’s gotten rid of that nasty scar over his eye but in order to convince the College of Arms of his bloodline he cut off his own earlobes. At one point Blofeld even ditches his ever present white longhaired feline, throwing the cat off his lap when he straps on some skis to chase Bond down the mountain. It’s the last we see of the cat and a short time later when the mountain complex explodes Blofeld escapes but I was left wondering, did his kitty make it out? I love the idea of Blofeld as a more “physical” villain, able to go toe to toe with Bond in both hand to hand combat and alpine sports. #1 even acts as driver to set in motion the most powerful moment in all of the six Bond films up to this point. Which leads us to ….
Badassness of Villain: As outlined above, Savalas is the most physically imposing, intellectual, and all around best Blofeld yet so it follows he’s also the most badass. Yes, he threatens worldwide destruction but at this point that’s par for the course at SPECTRE International Inc. A hint of how much more sadistic Blofeld has become is displayed when Bond is captured. On the way to his holding cell, Bond looks out the window to see his associate, a mysterious blond Draco employee who was caught snooping around Piz Gloria, strung up and hanging off the balcony. Blofeld casually references the grim warning. But that pales in comparison to the unforgettable cold blooded act Blofeld and his aside execute in the final moments of the film.
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Bolfeld’s base is guarded by machine gun totting baddies who apparently stumbled across some swag left over from the 1948 St. Moritz Winter Games; their orange jackets are stamped with the five Olympic Rings. Their skiing skills suggest they need quite a bit more training to make the 1972 Swiss team. The aforementioned aside is Irma Bunt or as she introduces herself to Bond; “Fraulein Irma Bunt, personal secretary to ze Count.” Bunt is a crazy old German with a hysterically thick accent who keeps the girls at the allergy clinic in line. She meets Bond, who she thinks is Sir Hilary Bray, at the train station and is tasked with escorting him to Piz Gloria. As Sir Hilary, Bond and Bunt have several of the best exchanges in the film. When they first meet, Bond says “Bunt, interesting name to a genealogist. It’s a nautical term meaning the baggy or swollen parts of a sail. Nothing personal of course.” On the helicopter flight to the top of the mountain, Bond expresses how he would like to get his feet on the ground. “Not ground. Iccceeeee!” Bunt hisses. And finally, the fem Sir Hilary is unmasked as the horn-dog Bond when 007 sneaks into a young ladies room to find Bunt waiting in bed. Lazenby, with a huge smile on his face exclaims “Fancy meeting you here Fraulein!” However, once Bond is exposed the fun and games end. Bunt chase Bond halfway across Switzerland hell bent on killing the spy. And when she fails, she goes for the consolation prize, acting as the triggerman responsible for killing Tracy AKA Mrs. James Bond. The murder, a drive by happening moments after Bond and his bride tie the knot, is a devastating coda to the darkest, most straightforward Bond film to this point. Even though I knew it was coming the scene hit incredibly hard as I watched it sitting next to my wife.
Bond Girl Actress: Diana Rigg. Known to British audiences as Emma Peel of the “The Avengers,” (Honor Blackman, Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964) was also an alum of the series) is by far the most nuanced and complex actresses yet to be a Bond girl. Not to mention, she’s also quite easy on the eyes. Cue the BBC montage. And as an added bonus, lades and gentlemen, The Kinks!
Rigg is up to the near impossible task of convincing movie goers that this girl is amazing enough for Bond to throwaway his much adored bachelor lifestyle, not to mention his license to kill. Even more impressive, she pulls of the feat of never having to embarrass herself by running around in a bikini or by simply melting to Bond charms. She plays the troubled daughter of a mob kingpin not as the cardboard cutout “poor little rich girl” but as a sophisticated woman with wit, charm, and a dark self destructive streak.
Bond Girl’s Name: Tracy Di Vicenzo AKA Contessa Teresa AKA Mrs. James Bond. Bond first saves the Contessa from drowning in the ocean and later that night from her debts at the baccarat table. Despite this, and a promise to “repay” her debt, the two don’t instantly jump into bed. Bond shows up to her room to be ambushed by one of he father’s men. When 007 returns to his room, he is welcomed by Tracy holding a gun. Bond gets the gun, his gun, and smacks the woman, hard. Not you’re typical courtship, but you buy the two eventually fall for one another. Tracy is able to match wits with Bond and at moments, she’s one step ahead. There is an underlying foreboding to the entre courtship, a feeling that the couple, both of whom run in dangerous, high stakes circles, are doomed from the start. At one point, Bond and Tracy are force to pull over for the night when a snowstorm creates whiteout conditions. Bond pushes the car into a barn and the two engage in romantic witty banter that concludes with Bond’s proposal. It’s a magical night but trouble, IE real life, literally breaks down the door at dawn in the form of Bolfeld and his minions. Luckily, the baddies burst in moments after Bond and Tracy escape out the back. You know, as do they, that this is what it will always be for the couple; no rest, always running. Good thing then that the Contessa can ski like Picabo Street on speed. She also can hold her own in a fight unlike any Bond girl to date. She even gets face time with Blofeld himself, and is able to outwit the criminal mastermind. In short, she’s enough of a rock-star that it’s not out of the question that Bond, James Bond, would fall head over heels and pledge to become a one woman man.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: Teresa is far too classy to be thought of as anything near a floozy. That said, the Contessa is not above using sex and her femininity as a means to an end. Whether she’s playing the spoiled brat (Hot car, gambling with money she doesn’t have) or the self-destructive doomed soul (drowning herself, gambling with money she doesn’t have) she somehow always seems to be in control. Even when she decides to “pay back” her debt to Bond, she strings 007 along before surrendering to his charms in the rock-star worthy bed on the balcony of Bond’s suite. Bond awakes in the morning to find she has checked out, and in deference to Clemenza’s advice, she has taken the gun and left the cannoli; by which I mean she stole Bond Walther PPK and left 2000 franks, her debt to Bond paid in full.
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: The line comes not from our Bond girl but from one of the Angles of Death, the converted chicken lover Ruby Bartlett. Bond, sporting a kilt in the guise of Sir Hilary, is sitting at a dinner table pontificating about royal lineages and what have you when Rudy decides this is the man she wants. While Bond prattles on, Ruby reaches under the table and writes “8,” her room number, on Bond thigh. Later, when Sir Hilary shows up to her room, he drops his kilt to Ruby’s delight as she squeals “It is true!”
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: Right before the hysterical kilt dropping, Bond uses his best snooty English accent to work his way into Ruby’s bed. He is there, as Sir Hilary, to show young Ruby the pictures in his Coats of Arms book. When Ruby asks to turn on the lights so she can “see the pictures” Sir Hilary responds “You’re a picture yourself, and twice as lovely in the firelight.” “I didn’t think you liked girls” Ruby responses “Well I don’t usually, but you’re unusual, that lipstick was an inspiration … and so are you.” “Oh Sir Hilary…” “Call me Hilly.” Now, in and of itself, this pillow talk is not note worthy, but don’t be fooled, these mundane musings are truly pearls. Not an hour after this encounter, Bond has another with a second blond and he used the same exact lines … and scores again! (Cue the Bond theme)
Number of Woman 007 Beds: 3. A high number when you consider Bond is betrothed for a good bit of the film, but it was almost much higher. The three are the lovely Tracy Di Vicenzo, Mrs. Room #8 Ruby Bartlett, and the second blond mentioned above, Nancy (Catherine Schell). The morning after Bond’s two-for, Hilly partakes in some curling with all the angles and triple books his evening, lining up a lady for 8, 9, and 10PM. “The work is really piling up.” Hilly however never gets to makes his rendezvous thanks to getting busted by Fraulein Bunt.
Number of People 007 Kills: 6. Interestingly, Bond doesn’t take advantage of his 00 until well over and hour and half into the film. I suspect this is due to the fact that most of his violent encounters prior are with Draco’s men and the plot would get sticky if Bond was whacking his futures father-in-laws employees. A note about the fighting in this film; most of the combat sequences are presented in a deliberate “jump-cut” quick edit style that features a cut to a different angle every time a punch is landed. It’s an interesting choice and it certainly evokes a feeling of disorientation, much like getting punched in the face, but I found it to be a bit distracting, much like getting punched in the face. It also left me wondering if the chose was made to work around some kind of short coming the inexperience Lazenby might have had when it came to staged combat. Due to the editing we never really “see” a fist fight. I’m reminded of Fred Astaire who insisted that his dance sequences be shot with as few cuts as possible so the audience could see he was in fact doing all the moves, no tricks. Take the few moments to watch this clip from Blue Skies (1946) to see how right Astaire was.
As much as the hand to hand combat scenes disappoint, the skiing scenes are more in the vein of an Astaire sequence; shot and cut in a way where the audiences sees the chase and the sequences are a beauty to behold (Most of the scenes, however, were shot with stunt doubles.) At the end of one of those spectacular ski chase Bond sends two baddies over the side of the largest cliff I’ve seen outside of a Road Runner cartoon. Later Bond recruits Draco and some of his people to raid Blofeld’s mountain base in order to save Tracy. In one of the coolest shots of the film, Bond jumps out of the helicopter and slides across the ice on his belly while taking out a Blofeld guard with a machine gun. He kills one more guard in a hall and then shoots a white lab coat guy who throws some kind of wall eating acid at Bonds head. The acid misses, the dude is killed. There are other chase sequences, one involving Bond and Tracy trying to out ski an avalanche and a heart pounding fist fight between Blofeld and Bond on a bobsled that works as good as any set piece in the Bond films to this point. Blofeld ends up hanging from a tree and appears to be done for but alas, he returns to perform one last dastardly deed.
Most Outrageous Death/s: I was actually stunned watching one of the most violent and graphic deaths of the franchise up to this point. During one of the ski chases Bond and Tracy jump over a ravine that is being carved by a Zamboni size snow blower, I assume to make a bobsled course. One of the Olympic ring sporting baddies doesn’t make the jump and falls into the rotating blades. The snow instantly turns from white to red in an image that brings to mind Steve Buscemi’s demise in Fargo (1996).
Miss. Moneypenny: Oh how I love the always endearing Lois Maxwell. In a humors and subtle nod to the casting change, James enters Moneypenny’s office all kinds of flirty. “Same old James” says Moneypenny who quickly gets a surprise pinch on the bottom from 007, “Only more so!” At Bond’s wedding, Moneypenny cries and shares a knowing moment with her longtime crush. Moneypenny even takes an active role protecting James from himself. After M removes Bond from the Blofeld case, an impulsive and rather pissed-off Jimmy B has Moneypenny write out his resignation letter. Moments later, M calls Bond into his office and dismisses 007 with a curt “request granted.” Bond, shocked at the ease with which MI6 let him go, learns that Moneypenny in fact submitted a request for two weeks leave. Both Bond and M, and all of England for that matter, are in debt to this woman for her quick thinking. Moneypenny is the unsung hero who keeps all these powerful men pointed in the right direction.
M: That’s Admiral M we find out in our best look into Bond’s boss yet. We visit the old man where he lives, a grand stone house outside London that comes complete with a Rolls in the car park. While there, M spends his time mounting butterflies in frames behind glass, a study known as lepidopterology. See. Bond films aren’t all fun and games, you can learn words that will come in handy the next time you watch “Jeopardy.” At Bonds wedding, M has another chance to show his human side when he and his old advisory Draco, the father of the bride, acknowledge their respect for each other.
Q: Outside of a nice cameo at Bonds wedding, Q’s only other scene sees him arguing against his own usefulness when he tells M he feels MI6s “special equipment is obsolete.” Not so sharp Q, you talked yourself out of the movie.
List of Gadgets: It’s an irony of the series that gadgets would take a backseat in this, the first film to not feature Connery, after the actor made his desire to ditch the gimmicky gadgets well known. Q’s argument against the current equipment is he finds it too large, feeling micro devices, such as traceable radioactive pocket lint, is the future. Strange then, that the sole gadget in the film is slightly smaller than a Subzero refrigerator. After Bond breaks into Blofeld’s attorney’s office, he steps out on the balcony to receive delivery of the huge safe cracker via a Draco Construction crane. The oversized device also serves as a photocopier; handy for duping any documents one may find in a safe. The other gadgets are refreshingly low-teck including a mini spy camera and a lock pick Bond fashions from a ruler, a rubber eraser and binder clips. I was also quite impressed at Bond improvisation skills when he ripped the pockets from his trousers to project his hands while he climbs out on a cable.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Some good news for the British tax payer; almost none. In a nod to the lack of destruction Q observes “007 has no respect for government property” when Bond’s hat is crushed.
Other Property Destroyed: Bond gets in a fight that leaves Tracy’s hotel room looking like Keith Moon was the last occupant. It’s not exactly destruction but it’s worth noting Bond steels the corrupt lawyers copy of Playboy. On the sloops Bond splits a ski, forcing him to navigate half of the mountain on a single stick. After shooting it up some, Draco’s men blowup the Piz Gloria. While pursuing Tracy’s red Mercury Cougar Fraulein Bunt’s car flips and explodes sending an ice auto race into chaos. Finally, at the very end of the film, Bond’s car gets shot up. I’m assuming the car is Bond’s private auto because, unlike the Goldfinger Aston Martin, its windscreen is tragically not bulletproof.
Felix Leiter: No CIA support and little help from Her Majesty’s Secrete Service for that matter. Bond is mostly rouge this go around, finding support from Draco in the form of information and man power, including a mysterious blond dude who outside of getting the safe cracker to 007 is mostly bumbling and useless. Kind of like Felix…
Best One Liners/Quips: So many good ones here to choose from, Lazenby delivers the dry one-liners with easy. When Tracy walks away from Bond in disgust, her father tell Bond “she likes you, I can see it” to which Bond responds “You must give me the name of your oculist.” Lazenby is also down right intimidating in a way Connery never really was. After Bond slaps Tracy she cringes telling 007 “you’re hurting me.” Bond responds “I thought that was the idea for tonight.” Ice cold babe. But the winner by a landslide has to be Blofeld’s “I have taught you to love chickens.”
Bond Cars: Aston Martin DBS V8. The dark green auto is not to be confused with the famous tricked out grey DB5 from Goldfinger. Despite the fact that this car seems to be “gadget free” clearly some force is at work that allows Bond and Tracy to drive in deep beach sand. In a nod to the ERA movement, the Bond girl gets a hot ride as well, a red 1969 Ford Mercury Cougar convertible which the skilled Tracy races on an ice covered track while being pursued by a car full of machine gun tooting meanies. In addition to helicopter, gondola and mountain train Bond also takes a trip in horse draw sleigh. Now that never happened to the other fellow.
Bond Timepiece: Rolex Chronograph as IDed by my wife the watch expert and confirmed by Google the everything expert. The watch is silver, has indexes in the place of numerals, and sold for GBP 23,400 ($41,000) at auction in 2003.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: Bond has his trusty Walther PPK as well as a snipers rifle in the glovey. He also has the Sir Hilary disguise consisting of glasses, a pipe, and a preppy overcoat. This brings us to an issue that must be addressed, Bond’s wardrobe. Fashion is a funny thing; while a look maybe hip and cutting edge one year, the same look can feel embarrassingly dated the next. Connery was outfitted mostly in classic suits and tuxedos in the earlier films, looks that never really go out, like a white T-shirt and a pair of basic Levis. Lazenby is a good looking man but he is sadly clad in rejects from Austin Powers’s closet in an effort to make Bond look “now,” now being 1969. Hence, the unfortunate ruffled shirt with his evening tux, the silly kilt get up, and the surprisingly retro cool ski outfit complete with goggles that Johnny Deep brought back as Willy Wonka in 2005. Fans also learn Bond is not above sentimental nostalgia. After quitting HMSS Bond pulls a flask from his desk and reflects upon his time as a double 00 while looking at the white knife belt worn by Honey Rider in Dr. No, Grants fishing wire wristwatch from From Russia With Love, and the pocket size underwater breather from Thunderball (1965). It’s kind of cool to think of Bond holding on to these items. Finally, I’m not sure where this goes so here it is, we learn a little about Commander Bond’s linage when he visits the College of Arms. His family crest, dating back to the 17th century, has the phrase “The World is Not Enough” as part of it’s design. In fact, the college traces the Bond name back to 1387 when his however many times great granddad was a knight of the realm.
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: 7! Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oy, Oy, Oy! Like any self respecting man from down under, Mr. Lazenby can put em back. At the casino he orders a Dom ’57 which he ends up bring to Tracy’s suite along with caviar for two. Draco knows his man’s drink and delivers a martini, shaken, not stirred. The pull from the flask while Bond is cleaning out his desk is one of the most deserved drinks our hero has. It’s more champagne with Draco and Tracy at the bullfight. As Sir Hilly, Bond orders malt whisky and branch water giving me a flashback to my college days in Pennsylvania where bourbon and branch was a drink of chose. Hilly then has some red wine with dinner in a scene that could have come right out of the TV show “Playboy After Dark.” Finally, what to do if you’re being chased by thugs with guns, you have nowhere to escape, and it’s negative 10F outside? Sit and have a beer to warm you’re bones, of course.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: No sooner does Bond settle down at the baccarat table in the posh casino when in walks trouble. Tracy takes an ill advised card on five and ends up loosing 3000 Franks, a sum Bond quickly pays as he leaves the table having seen almost no action. A location note, the royal purple gaming room is in The Casino Estoril in Lisbon, Portugal. This is the very gambling den Ian Fleming visited during WWII which served as the inspiration for “Casino Royale” and the Bond character. Speaking of locations …
List of Locations: I’m pleased to report the locations are used much more effectively then they were in You Only Live Twice. In addition the magnificent Casino Estoril, Portugal supplies the beautiful Guincho Beach for the open and an incredible estate for Bond and Tracy’s wedding as well as the bullfight. On to England, London is the sight of the College of Arms and the scenes for M’s house are shot at Thames Lawn, a riverfront mansion in Marlow. The rest of the film takes place in Switzerland, from the old city capital of Bern (the lawyers office) to the mountain village of Lauterbrunnen. From the moment Bond steps off the train, Lauterbrunnen is exactly what I picture as a Swiss ski town. After watching Bond bob and weave through a crowded winter carnival and run down the towns stone alleyways I wanted to jump on a plane and get myself to the Alps, as it should be after watching a Bond film. The other Swiss Alps location is Murren where the skiing, bobsledding, gondola, Mt. hideout and avalanche scenes were shot. The avalanche, over a mile wide, was real, being set off by film makers blasting dynamite in pre-determined locations on top of the mountain. I would have loved to have been sipping cocktails on a deck overlooking the slops that day.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Bond 2.0 comes equipped with brand spankin’ new powers on both the mental and physical fronts. Bond proves himself to be not only a connoisseur of drink, but of perfume IDing Tracy’s scent with one whiff. While getting “escorted” to Draco’s office Bond takes out all four abductors, manages get a knife off one, and throws the blade into Draco’s wall calendar. “But today is the thirteenth Mr. Bond.” “I’m superstitious.” He also impresses M with his knowledge of lepidopterology and after “reading up on the technical side of heraldry” he is able to fool Blofeld into thinking he’s a genealogist, for a while anyway. For the first time in the series, our hero proves to be a master of disguise. While posing as the upper crust genealogist Bond takes a crack at Curling, falls on his arse, and ends up getting several dates for the evening. Leading us to undoubtedly the most impressive upgrade; the new Alpine package. Not only can 007 2.0 ski, he can shred like Bode Miller after an all night bender. At one point Bond loose a ski and manages to mono stick down the mountain while avoiding machine gun fire, he can leap Swiss chalets in a single bound, and he out skis an avalanche … almost. The final winter Olympic event Bond takes the gold in is the bobsled. Bobsleds in 1969 were not the fiberglass Corvettes we have today but more like glorified toboggans with stunt kite like rope mechanism used for steering. Needless to say, Bond navigates the trenches like champ, and even lands a few punches to Blofeld’s bald head in the bargain. The other fellow never had to do that.
Thoughts on Film: Any film with a train has to have something going for it. Add skiing, gambling, shagging and shooting and you have the makings of a classic Bond. But at the time of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s release, the film met with quite a bit of resistance. The primary issue was Lazenby, or more accurately, the fact the film didn’t star Connery. Over 40 years and six Bonds down the road, the sight of a different man in the tux sipping martinis is not as jarring as it once was but at the time, Sir Sean’s was Bond; all other’s need not apply. Picture replacing Harrison Ford in the Indian Jones series and you get something of an idea of how cemented the image of Connery as Bond was. (Truth be told, fans are still ultra protective of their hero. Remember the uproar over the casting of Daniel Craig? A blond Bond? Heresy!) The man from Oz does indeed bring something different to the party. His 007 is less cocky, more contemplative, and a lot less obvious than his predecessor. Choices big and small made Bond more three dimensional; the quick aside where Jimmy B gobbles down caviar like M&M’s, the subtle slamming of a swing gate into the kidnappers knees at the warehouse, the knowing looks with Mrs. Moneypenny, and the intelligent adult interaction with Diana Rigg are touches Lazenby uses to make Bond more human. But there are also holes, perhaps because Lazenby wasn’t an actor or perhaps because he didn’t quite get 007. In a 2002 LA Times article, Lazenby admits “At the time, I didn’t understand that part of life — the dark side of what killing does, and [Bond] would do it because he had this [dispassionate] quality.” Ultimately, each generation gets the Bond they deserve and Lazenby’s confusion about the violent side of the character indeed made him a Bond for his time. The late 60’s saw the entire world questioning when violence was appropriate, if ever. In addition to a conscience, the plot gives Bond an anti-establishment bend (Bond defies orders and teams up with the mafia) coupled with vulnerability. Add the gritty look of the film, the use of real locations, and the scenes of foreboding that hangs over the entire enterprise and the 1969 release feels like what we have come to think of as a “70’s movie.” At one point, Bond is being chased through a crowded winter carnival by gunmen. He has no weapon of his own, and Lazenby is truly naked and nervous. He hides in the crowd, ducking and weaving as he (and we) feel the baddies closing in. In a quick cut, we see Bond bump into a cackling man in bear suit. 007 is jolted into a state of panic that Connery never experienced. Lazenby escapes the bear and the crowd but he gets no reprieve. He ends up slouching down in a chair, siping on a beer, with the look of a man whose fate is sealed. They are going to find him, and when they do, for the first time perhaps, Bond’s not sure what he will do. At this low point, Bond sees a pair of ice skates attached to stunning pair of legs stop in front of him. As he looks up, the fear melts away. When Bond finally meets Tracy’s eyes, he recognizes he is not only saved, but for the first time in his life, he has a reason to live. James Bond, in that moment, realizes he’s in love. This is heavy lifting for the first time actor and Lazenby is up to the task…almost. This is not to imply the film is not fun, the skiing, the fight in a bell shop, and the sweeping shots of the mountains deliver the fun and action a Bond film demands. But the heart of the film, a point I’ve been skating around this entire time, is Bond’s mature, deep and truly loving relationship with his doomed bride. On the bonus DVD, director Peter Hunt says he felt the film should have ended with the wedding. Indeed, the shot where Bond and Tracy drive off in the Aston Martin has a “credits will now roll” feel. Hunt shot the last three minutes of the film thinking the Tracy shooting would be the pre-credit sequence to the next Bond entry. Thinking along those lines, that follow up film would have been something to see; Bond’s wife is murdered in the opening moments and 007 goes on a Kill Bill like revenge quest to hunt down Blofeld. For whatever reason, perhaps because Lazenby announced he would not return, the tragic death ends this movie. The final shot shows Lazenby holding his dead bride in his arms, behind a cracked windshield, a visually cue announcing Bond can not see what is ahead. Lazbeny confirms he is blinded when he explains “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.” This ending is a devastating punch to the gut. After six films of Bond as the swashbuckling, bullet proof, devil-may-care hero, I can’t imagine 1969 audiences were prepared to see a broken Bond take zero action as the villain drives away. But time has been kind to Mr. Lazenby and his only Bond film, and in some circles, this dark, more serious film is seen as the best in series. It doesn’t quite reach those heights but it is a daring reinvention and Lazenby, giving his unique spin to the character, is far better than I expected. Coming off the disappointing let down that was You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a much need jolt to the system that not only taught me to love chickens, but to love Bond again. Hallelujah!