Entirely subjective opinion stuff and factual science-science by Jacques Stewart.
Have your say in this thread
Should you need a reminder of what’s gone before, you can sit through the titles to this wonderful, wonderful film (those titles appearing whilst 0.07 is on the minuteclicker of your DVDmerliser – one suspects deliberately and if not, then why not?); alternatively, and substantially more unrewarding, put yourself through:-
So, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the film where Bond goes down on one knee on at least four occasions – the gunbarrel, breaking into Draco’s office and flinging knives despite the stated open door policy, lining up the shotgun wedding and the Chinese girl at Piz Gloria whose name, science fact, is Wan Nee.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the long but bothered-to-tell-an-actual-story film in which we see an extremely athletic Bond move from enthusiastic hotheaded puppy of yet-to-mature-temperament to experienced agent by being broken and bereaved and seeing the consequences of his actions laid before him in the cold body of a woman he loved, played by an actor who came in for a huge amount of criticism at the time for having the temerity to be cast as the replacement for a fat archetype but who turns out to own the dramatics of the part utterly, assisted by raised-game writing and direction, a Bond girl who can act, twinkly and charming Italian character actor support, an evident desire to turn out something Flemingy and special, probably to surprise and spite all the critics and some absurd press stories and demonstrate how redundant they all were. Rides around Europe in a lovely Aston Martin. Prickly and at times downright disobedient relationship with the boss, whose home he visits. Theme song by Chris Cornell. Only one of these assertions is untrue; I wonder if you could spot it.
Obviously, received wisdom for a long time was that OHMSS was itself some sort of unit of resistance, because it was somehow terrible. Patently it’s not – the production values are immense, the plot is amusing, the photography is beautiful and for God’s sake everyone they were filming most of it up a mountain not on a Cotswold carpark – but one wonders whether its current revisionism into the motherlode of all that is now perceived as great in the Bond series has swung its beazant too far the other way. The main “issue” is generally taken to be George Lazenby, and the determined naysayers, whilst acknowledging the A++ production values, are fond of speculating “how much better” it might have been with Sean Connery and what a total binbag of old numpties Eon were for filming the books out of sequence. Apologies, that’s “total binbag of old billionaire numpties who make these films patently to spite us all Eon”, to give them their full title.
Well, I dunno. It status of standing slightly alone renders it special; otherwise it would risk just being another SEAN CONNERY film. Additionally, although he was hardly a bloater by 1969, one wonders whether Connery would actually have been up to it. There’s an awful lot of physical activity here, and I can’t help feeling that there’s a determined statement in having series after series of energetic punch-ups in the first half hour – at least three – to contrast specifically with the sight of ConneryBond lumbering around Japan in his jim-jams. Compare the wheezy and rather dull scrap from the previous film that Bond has with Blofeld’s Butch Blond Bodybuilder Boyfriend, played by Daniel Craig, with this Bond tumbling about in the surf or demolishing a hotel room or whirling about in a weird echoey locker room thing. If ConneryBond had been tumbling about in the surf, Greenpeace would have rolled him back to deeper water. ConneryBond was becoming a bit of a passenger in other people’s dastardly schemes, just turning up at the end to set off explosions, so relaxed he hasn’t bothered to change out of his trackie bums. This Bond propels both himself and the plot; all the incidents that occur here are a result of Bond running – in one glorious take – after a girl into the sea, like a young and stupid dog following a ball you’ve only pretended to throw. ConneryBond would have had a bit of an amble down, then realised the water was a bit nippy, hellish on the verrucas, and probably watched her drown, what the hell, he didn’t even bother to find out the name of the girl in the last one. After all it’s only, y’know, skirt.
As for making the books out of sequence, the previous whacked-out vision of rubber space rockets and poisoned string and a billion ninjas and Donald Pleasance touching nice young men on the hip, tended to give the game away that they weren’t really that bothered about making the books at all. That this is a proper adaptation, their finest adaptation and can stand, alone and aloof, a soaring alp to its surrounding foothills of Comedy Mr Fishaaaa on the one side and Comedy Gaybos on the other, strengthens the decision; perhaps only in hindsight but no more than the hindsight that is generally currently to the film’s benefit. As to utterly ignoring the fact that what such persons probably mean is that this one should have been made in 1967, well it wasn’t, so tough and nurr and you smell of old wee and my friend said you touched his front bottom. Additionally, the evident vision and meaning and theory of Bond in 1967 – to stretch it beyond reality with a doughy dollop of weird – would have meant an On Her Majesty’s Secret Service where Blofeld was shooting jetpacked dollybirds out of a hollowed-out alp to spray the world’s sweetcorn with their poison and murder chickens and be generally utterly beastly to the sausage, Agent Campbell is killed by feeding him to Blofeld’s pet Yeti and Tracy is murdered with a laserbeam fired from Irma’s Bunt. Then, in this hellish alternative reality, when they realised they had gone too far and brought the 1969 one “back to Fleming”, we would have had a film where a drunken racist fatso mopes about a bit, hangs about with an Australian bigot (played by “fresh new face of ’69 (not that sort of 69) George Lizzinby, or something”) and then murders an amateur gardener and his wife and falls off a wall. It would have been rubbish. Praise what we have, don’t regret what we could possibly not have ever received.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned George Lazenby’s performance and my impression of the ongoing revision of the popular view of the film still leaves the Unkeen with this to splashwhack us around the debased cheeks. Well, that’s OK – there are bits where he’s not abundantly overgood, generally when thudding out some otherwise decently written one-liners, and bits where he’s fantastic – the confrontation with Tracy in the hotel room, several angry scenes with M, the meeting with Draco, the fear shot through his face in the crowd at Murren, the proposal, the bit when he’s sliding along grim-faced over the ice with his machine-gun blazing and, despairingly, the end – in other words all the dramatic bits that move the story along. It’s when he’s trying to be funny or engage in cheeky banter that the talent comes across as a bit emaciated – Roger Moore he is not – but, promise you, just consider the proper, solid, story elements he has to get his face round and his is a seriously undervalued and utterly, heartbreakingly credible acting performance – so, Pierce Brosnan he is not, either. He would have been great in a really serious follow-up (one that would sadly have made no money at all; we got pink ties, Bambi & Thumper and Widow Twankey instead) but, as I noted above, regrets are the indulgence of the internet, and we don’t have all the time in the world. We only have a 007th minute.
If you actually want some sense and information, buy Charles Helfenstein’s monumental and seminal The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the only making-of book that deserves its own making-of as the phrase “thoroughly researched” undervalues it utterly. Buy it anyway, even if you’ve decided you’re going to kindly indulge my utterly unresearched infantile drivel further.
Before we join the fun at 06.00.00, let’s consider where we are so far. We’ve had the mercifully-otherwise-not-appearing-much Q banging on about atomic dandruff or something that would, and you know it, have actually turned up in the last lunatic endeavour. This is barked magically into the bin labelled “totally and utterly dismissed” by Bernard Lee, an efficient statement of intent set out for us straight away there. I like this film already. We’re introduced to both Moneypenny’s splendid pot of pencils and the concept of Operation Bedlam (a great name for an Operation, up there with Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Let’s Kill Shepherds) and I am liking this film even more now. We had John Barry, more on whom in a mo, strike up with a fun bit of Bond theme as the Aston roars through a village at what may be dawn, but this becomes doubtful later. We had LOADS OF SHAKYCAM I CANNOT SEE WHAT IS GOING ON IN THIS CAR CHASE I HATE THEM I HATE THEM I HATE THEM, blah blah blah and etc, and we had Tracy appear to overtake Bond to his right hand-side only to actually do so on his left THIS EDITING IS A DISGRACE AND IT IS ALL STOLEN FROM BOURNE AND I CAN PRROOOOVE THIS AND I CANNOT TELL WHAT IS GOING ON AND THIS HAS POODUMPED OVER MY WHOLE LIFE BECAUSE I HAVE TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT BOND I AM THE ABOUT-BOND-EVERYTHING-KNOWER AND THIS IS A SENSIBLE USE OF THE ONLY LIFE I WILL EVER LIVE. And etc.
Perving slightly, and still wearing his comfy driving hat, he gives splendid hat in this one, Bond espied our Trace wandering into the sea and Diana Rigg looked unbelievable through a telescope; I should know I’ve been sitting outside her house all week with nightfinder goggles and gaffer tape (this I hasten to add is a joke. It’s been a fortnight in “fact”). Yet more of that Bondy blue-orange thing going on here with her hair contrasted against her dress, within the dress itself and, of course, the fabulously photographed sunrise/sunset/whatever.
I express some doubt there as it’s not abundantly clear what time of day this was occurring. A dawn run through the village becomes much brighter with the choppy-changy chasey bit, and looked a bit like midday when Bond pulls up alongside Tracy’s car. Still bright as he drove down the beach forgetting that the camera’s loose on the back seat, and then back to a bit dark as he took that long, long, wonderful one-shot run down to, and then into, the sea, the sun on the horizon. On the basis that we come to learn that we’re in Portugal, where the coast tends to face west, I’m guessing dusk but this a ) upsets the theory that the events at the hotel casino don’t then take place on the evening of the same day and I’m pretty sure they’re meant to and b ) exposes my ignorance of Portugal, which I can accept because I’ve never been although I understand that the golf courses are wonderful, which confirms my decision never to go.
Anyway, lovely crane shot of Bond carrying her in from the surf – he doesn’t know she’s called Tracy yet, and this may have changed his approach entirely, might instead have done one of those knee-drownings in the shallows he is about to perform, perhaps. Introduced himself in a chipper way – the faithful St Bernard licking her clean, he’s such a good dog – hang on, that’s not Jesus, it’s just a fella – and then Bond came about as close to an execution as he’s been in years and then he done flung an anchor – he used to be in the Navy, y’know, he knows anchors, taught him all about them they did – and then it got fighty and really noisy and Barryblarey and splashy and how on Earth did they manage to get so far into the water and isn’t this great? Violence and beauty. Yeah. That’s it, drown him with your knee, keep pushing down, God that’s really quite brutal. He must be dead. Oh no, back he came with the anchor, particularly spiky one innit? Hold on, those guys were there all along. Why didn’t they try to stop her from killing herself? Hmm. What does her father pay them for? Oh cripes, Bond just went and smacked him in the face with an oar. That’s got to hurt.
This goon was pretty persistent, wasn’t he? What’s the audience currently thinking? Was he SPECTRE? No, can’t be SPECTRE, isn’t wearing the Olympic rings and on reflection it was brave of SPECTRE to associate themselves with an international organisation that [redacted due to being wildly defamatory about Lord Coe and that time he [doubly-redacted because that’s really very rude and he’s done a fantastic job, nonetheless]]. Can’t help feeling that the London 2012 security contract should have gone to SPECTRE rather than G4S; at least SPECTRE seem to have limitless recruits and the last thing they’re going to want to do is call in the army, just in case their real plot is discovered. Additionally, their efficiency is unquestionable and their processes amusing. No ticket? Death, by McHot McApple McPie. Wearing clothing of an unapproved brand? Death, by the thousand sharpened Visa cuts. Cheerily chant that Australia rhymes with Falia? Yes, you can come in. Sing it louder. Curiously appropriate, in context.
0.06.00 – 0.07.00 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
George is looking cross and confused. To achieve George looking cross and confused, Peter Hunt has just whispered in his ear “In developed countries, January’s actually a winter month, y’know”.
Hang on, that Sheila’s nicking me ute. And I’ve gone and left the gun in it: doh, what a Galah! Look at that, she’s opened the car door herself rather than waiting for me to do it. That did happen to the other fella but when it did, he was a tranny. That one didn’t look like a tranny, but one can never tell these days, and the water was pretty cold so the evidence may have shrunk a bit. Oh, I’m so confused. I need a tinny.
The minute gets going with a slightly discordant note as a screeching man flings himself at Bond. This never happened to the other fella. He had screeching girls do that. Why can’t I have girls do that? Bond gives him a hell of a ride, then drops him into some fishnets. Absolutely no comment.
Lovely burbly Aston engine there; she seems like she can handle a big piston. Handy. And she can make tyres squeal on sand, which is a talent one has to look for in a wife, along with being able to make sauce béarnaise and not troubling oneself to live too long so one can get one with some very important knobbage. Blimey, she’s swinging that big end around like a beauty. Look at the Arston on that. Phwoaar.
OK, something I really don’t understand: she is not stealing the Aston Martin but instead preferring to run back to her scarlet (uh-oh) bedpan on wheels. She must be a bit mixed up, the crazy kid. This is the first signal. Well, this and the fully made-up and well-dressed bid for oblivion, anyway.
Well, will you look at that? Look how far we have come in only a few years; it’s Bond now doing the shoe-fetching, not sending his little island helper off to do it for him. The Women’s Lib and Civil Rights movements subtly acknowledged in Bond picking up her clogs; science fact!
George looks knackered. To achieve George looking knackered, Peter Hunt has just had him involved in the most magnificent fight in water and sand, which is good resistance training and makes the thighs burn. He’s also put him in a ruffly dress shirt, the fluffy fronds of which are now heavily laden with seawater, foamy detergent and razor shells. It was always a bit of a risk to have George involved in a fight in water; given that popular myth has him constructed entirely out of balsa, they were afraid he would float away but it turned out OK when they just weighed him down with impossible expectations.
She’s driving off! But this never… oh I get it now.
George looks cross again. To achieve George looking cross again, Peter Hunt has just asked him whether he knows how Christmas trees are grown. George does not know how Christmas trees are grown. George smash!
Now George looks a bit defeated. To achieve George looking a bit defeated, Peter Hunt asks him to think of coming into contact with Pam Shriver’s backhand. Now George looks confused again, as he’s never heard of Pam Shriver and hopes he never will.
“This never happened to the other fella.” You’re right, George, it didn’t, nor did he look at the camera, what’s he looking at the camera for, Oh God, he’s running straight towards it smiling daftly, quick turn on the ing titles before he smacks his head right into it, comeon comeon, here he comes and… phew! Titles. That’s it, run away from us now holding the shoes while we cogitate what you just gone and said. Yeah, OK, fourth wall and all that but a ) it does engage, he’s quite charming about it, at least he Knows. It’s. Only. Pretending. And b ) it’s quite important with this one that the audience is engaged, isn’t it? And c ) oh, it’s only a bit of fun and acknowledges that there is an audience out there who know. And d ) at least it avoids any use of the “he’s had plastic surgery” notion, which would be facile although not as stupid as the proposed further alternative which was “he’s had DNA-replacement therapy”, which is not science fact, it’s science ed and thank Christ they never used an idea as cretinous as that in anything they could be proud of. And e ) it’s patently a homage to Ian Fleming smashing through his own crash-barrier of detachment in this film’s pre-published, largely faithful novelisation by plonking Ursula Andress in Piz Gloria in a paragraph that goes something along the lines of “I wonder if she’s recently been on holiday IN JAMAICA see the film of my book and give me money see the film of my book what do you mean rules against cross-media promotion, oh don’t tire me so with details, old boy, have another vat of scrambled egg and pint of bourbon and sit back in the sunshine and let it do your heart some good. And see the film of my book.”
Would that they had left the acknowledgement at that, but as is now becoming the norm, they had to go a just bit too far and load it up with references with He Who Must Not Be Named, which really undermines poor old George before he could get going. They’ve reassured us enough that we’re watching James Bond – Aston, girl, goons, cracking and weirdly edited fight, thunderous music, widescreen magic – without having to really press the button marked “Instead of actually watching this film, here are some others you may have enjoyed”, which is a curious artistic decision on reflection. Continuity Girl had her work cut out here and, y’know what, she really shouldn’t have bothered.
John Barry. In the last film, John Barry produced a score that had to cope with outer space, mountains, sunsets, rudely-mouthed rockets, fights at Kobe docks, M’s private submarine, Bond “dying”, Charles Graylord, lava flows, hunting seashells, mini-helicopters and a billion ninjas and it all worked, it all worked marvellously, and it demonstrated about as much range as surely any composer could ever be asked to demonstrate (until he outdid himself on Moonraker) and they still went and gave the golden dildo to Thoroughly Modern Millie which is just hopeless old rubbish and isn’t exactly quite as varied, is it? Where were the demands on Elmer Bernstein of giving us ageless and differing and definitive melody for SpaceGoBang in one scene followed by BoringPastoralWeddingThing in the next, and then TheDonaldPleasanceTheatreOfTheAbsurd in the next? Nowhere, that’s where. Accordingly, but wearingly unsurprisingly, “they” don’t appear to have recognised the art of this score either, which is an utter stunner and, again, is called upon to give us driving dirty guitars and amplifiers and horns at their most Barryblaring at the same time as vast, soaring, epically glorious stringy bits and some weird shrieky moments and the very possibly the most charming song in the Bonds (RIP Hal David) (and unfortunately the most charmless with its highpitched infantile rhetoric that demands only two responses being a ) yes, I know how Christmas trees are grown, they’re grown in poo and b ) where’s Josef Fritzl when you need him?). Tracy driving to her father’s birthday treat of ritual slaughter and stroppiness, the Gumbold safe, the helicopter journey through the mountains, the ski chase, the dawn (and this time it is dawn) attack, that ending – and this title sequence, all of them splendid anyway but all of them indelibly marked by the Barry touch, all for the better.
And there’s no SEAN CONNERYness here. As the symbol of a Union that has struck terror into the world and at one time or another tried to take over large parts of it comes into view, I think that’s the point of the story – unions, of all sorts – we’re told it’s Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (and this is still on screen as we get to 0.07 which really cannot be an accident). They haven’t even told us who’s presenting it. They’re putting Fleming right back there at the top of the shop, he’s presenting it, and what a jolly good show that is, as is the show to come. That can’t be accidental either. That’s a rather interesting moment on which to have reached
And there they go, defying our expectations once more. Lulling less intelligent producers and directors into a false sense of parasitic security by producing ever more outlandish spectaculars to compete with the content and tone of You Only Live Twice, because that’s what James Bond is, we get our first juddering reboot here and they went and done gone made a proper film of a tremendous book and left everyone else to lick their wounds as they charged on. “Back to Fleming” could in the wrong hands seem like an admission of defeat, or at least of a winding-in. This vast, ambitious film does much to demonstrate that that’s a load of old beazants.
Obviously, that’s with the benefit of hindsight – history tells us that this wasn’t as popular a film and there were “some ructions”, but it’s hardly by any stretch of the imagination a failure. It’s a rebalance, a sharp (and as it turns out, sour) restatement cutting through the self-indulgent fattiness of You Only Live Twice and although part of me feels it would have been “nice” to continue on down this road, they did happen to pick the one book left that still gave us the developed touchstones of enormous visuals and wild action and lunatic plot (I mean, what really is Blofeld up to here? He’s hypnotised Joanna Lumley to murder a lot of defenceless potatoes unless he gets a title, like Earl or OBE. Hang on, that spells earlobe. Shouldn’ta cut them off then, shouldya? It’s very odd). The other remaining books at the time wouldn’t have achieved quite so much if adapted faithfully. Diamonds are Forever? It has one car chase and an awful lot of hanging around diners and examining the food. Bond has a haircut. Dull. Live and Let Die? Probably would have incited a global race war. Quantum of Solace? Two men sitting around talking. Oh, don’t.
To some extent then, a harder part of me – and it’s quite difficult to express this – is pleased that it didn’t quite come off and they changed tack again, because one suspects the series wouldn’t have lasted. That it’s taken time to be appreciated for its many treasures is great, an entertainment that turned out, if not deliberately, to have been made for the long run rather than the opening weekend and the tie-in flick-knife. This is a quality product to be revered. Much more of this would have diluted its impact.
What follows this 007th minute is, as much as fate would have it as by design, a standalone Bond, a standout Bond for many, but again really exemplifying the change and survive philosophy that keeps it all going. It still has dolly-birds, it still has some wonderfully awful jokes, it still has a final battle that outstays its welcome and therefore it’s not as if they did it all Dogme style just to annoy everyone. It obviously has the singlemost upsetting ending of pretty much any film, other than Transformers which was hugely distressing because you knew there would be at least another one, and the reason it works is not only George Lazenby being better than he’s officially allowed to be, but also Diana Rigg. Albeit she doesn’t really say much in her final scene, prior to this she has been totally super and, whilst the Tracy of the book simply comes across as a greedy, indulged brat and possibly the least appealing of any of Fleming’s heroines (a fantasy murder of a wife being no reflection whatsoever on his own marriage, none at all, God forbid), Diana Rigg rules. The dialogue – especially the poetry – could have failed horribly; she sings it. Telly Savalas I can give or take, not really as nourishingly dog-in-a-hot-car mental as the previous version, although his performance is subtle enough that the oft-repeated criticism about why Blofeld doesn’t recognise Bond is totally floored by the look in his eyes when they do first meet; oh, he knows, and now he has Bond trapped here, in this revolving restaurant of hypnotised jiggerboo. Might as well amuse himself; he’s stuck all the way up here, none of them fancy him because he has no earlobes and that bloody cat’s going down the bobsleigh run face first if it sprays into the bucket of Virus Omega again.
Although they had introduced the new Bond prior to the 007th minute of the film, the 007th minute of OHMSS itself is bold enough to twist the norms; to demonstrate the same, but different. The girl gets away. The address to the audience. The top-billing for Ian Fleming. Until this minute, we were watching the machine-tooled tropes of a Bond film. The 007th minute barrel-rolls us into the waves and tells us we’re in for something new.
I accept, on reflection, that I have imposed interpreted intent into each of the 007th minutes thus far, using them as demonstrative of particular habits of the series. It is, doubtless, a contrived experiment, the results forced to suit the theory. This one, though, this one I’m just not so sure. I think they meant it.
James Bond will return in Diamonds are Forever. Jacques Stewart loves chickens but isn’t sure why.