James Bond Declassified: File #6 - 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' changes everything
Would this have been the best Bond ever with Connery playing the part?
- Critic's Rating A-
- Readers' Rating n/a
JAMES BOND 007 DECLASSIFIED
FILE #6: "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"
This series will trace the cinema history of James Bond, while also examining Ian Fleming's original novels as source material and examining how faithful (or not) the films have been to his work.
Directed by Peter Hunt
Screenplay by Richard Maibaum
Produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli
CHARACTERS / CAST
James Bond / George Lazenby
Countess Tracy di Vicenzo / Diana Rigg
Ernst Stavro Blofeld / Telly Savalas
Marc-Ange Draco / Gabriele Ferzetti
Irma Bunt / Ilse Steppat
Sir Hilary Bray / George Baker
Grunther / Yuri Borienko
Shaun Campbell / Bernard Horsfall
M / Bernard Lee
Q / Desmond Llewellyn
Miss Moneypenny / Lois Maxwell
Ruby / Angela Scoular
Full Orchestra Sting. The familiar "DAH-DAH, dah! DAH-DAH, dah! DAH DAH DAH DAH!"
HARRY SALTZMAN and ALBERT R. BROCCOLI Present
Then the rest of the theme kicks in, swinging and a little bit tweaked, like it's being played on a Moog harpsichord. Lazenby walks in and the gun barrel follows, taking his time, and when he turns suddenly to fire, he drops to one knee. It's him making that moment his with a new move.
The blood drips down, the screen goes black except for the pure vivid sangre red of the completely full gun barrel, and it bounces around the screen until it opens again, full iris out, on a brass plate mounted to the outside of the building in the shadows of Big Ben. "UNIVERSAL EXPORTS (LONDON) LTD"
Inside, M and Q are having a private conversation. This glimpse at a life before Bond walks into a room makes me love the film…
… only part of the reason for this is because of the game that's being played here.
After all, when this came out, everyone knew that Connery wasn't starring in it, and someone new was replacing him. This was not exactly a state secret. But watching the film, there's an automatic ticking clock added if you were a fan of the films before this. Can you imagine the anticipation? So of course, once you're seated, they need to draw out the game a little more. They can't just have Lazenby walk into the room… right?
Besides, Bernard Lee and Desmond Llewellyn were both wonderful dry British character actors, and it's nice to start the movie with the two of them talking about Bond. They're looking for him, and it sounds like it's almost a crisis at this point, with no one really sure where he is.
As the James Bond theme kicks in, we cut to Bond driving along a coastal road, seeing him from the back only. No close-ups yet. We see his hands as he lights a cigarette. We see him take off his sunglasses. He finds the car he's been following parked by the beach, the driver's door hanging open. He stops, takes out a telescope, watches a woman walking by herself on the beach. She kicks off her shoes, then walks out into the water.
Bond drives down to the water's edge and jumps out of the car, and now we finally catch a glimpse of his face as he rips off his tuxedo jacket and goes after her. She struggles as he tries to carry her back to the shore, but finally gives in. He lays her on the sand and revives her.
Lazenby's first line as Bond is, appropriately enough, an introduction. "Good morning. My name's Bond. James Bond. Miss..?"
Before she can answer, someone steps up and puts a gun to the back of his head while someone else puts a knife to her throat. They force Bond into a small boat on the beach, but before they can shoot him, he fights back, and a fist fight breaks out there in the surf. Bond almost drowns his attacker, then goes after the other assailant. He eventually manages to overpower both of them, but not before the woman takes his car and drives it up to where she parked, speeding away in her own car, leaving Bond holding her shoes.
"This never happened to the other fellow," Lazenby quips, kicking off the Maurice Binder title sequence. One of the strangest things about this particular sequence is the way it uses clips from the earlier Bond films. We see Ursula Andress in her famous bikini, we see Pussy Galore and Goldfinger… basically we get a little something from each of the films so far. It's odd because it feels like a summation of everything that's come before, like they're making explicit the switch from one Bond to the next. "That was then, this is now," so to speak.
And as the relatively brief sequence ends...
… we see Bond arriving at a hotel, the same hotel where the red car the woman sped off it appears to be parked. As Bond checks in, he asks about the car, and he's told that it belongs to the Contessa di Vicenzo.
This should have been the biggest James Bond movie of all time.
This was the last great hope for the series to correct its course, I feel when I look at them all in context. This could have put everything right. Replacing Connery didn't have to be a problem for the producers, although it must have been terrifying at the time. Instead, it was an opportunity for them to refine the formula of the franchise even further while proving that James Bond was bigger than any actor.
Even in the early scenes of Bond at the casino, playing baccarat, waiting for the woman to show up, it's obvious that Lazenby is cut from far more posh cloth than Connery was, and it immediately affects the whole dynamic of the series.
When the woman, Teresa, does finally show up, she makes a wager on a baccarat hand and loses, then tells the casino that she has no money. Bond covers her loss, then goes after her as she wanders away, annoyed at having been saved. Diana Rigg was the second major Bond girl to have been recruited from the cult hit TV show "The Avengers," and Rigg is still best known for her work as Emma Peel on that series. Casting her as Teresa was a way of acknowledging right up front that Teresa was an equal to Bond, and in this case, she was better known to audiences than Lazenby was.
When Connery informed the producers during the production of "You Only Live Twice" that he was not going to return, they immediately started looking for a replacement. Their first choice was actually Timothy Dalton, who turned the role down because he felt like he was still too young to play it. They then started making plans to produce "The Man With The Golden Gun" with Roger Moore starring as Bond, but ran into production issues that put the film on hold. When they finally picked Lazenby. They signed him to do one film with an option for as many as seven more, and in doing so, they bet big on the former model as a potential movie star.
The initial encounters between Tracy and Bond are interesting because of how much of a mystery everyone's motivations seem to be. We don't know why Bond was following her. We don't know why he's been out of contact with MI6. We don't know why she was trying to kill herself. We don't know why people keep attacking Bond, like when he goes to Tracy's suite for a late-night rendezvous only to get into a cataclysmic fistfight.
The film feels like a Bond film in every way, though, even in those early moments. The color palette, the score, the production design… it all seems to be a perfect match with what's come before in the series. Rigg is a perfect foil for Lazenby, very upper-crust English but also very hot. While Lazenby exhibits some of the same obvious breeding and sophistication that Moore later personified, he's got a very different physicality. Lazenby moves like a fighter, with a coiled grace. He's also tall enough that he seems like a strong physical presence right away.
Bond and Tracy have the strangest early flirtation here, going from him slapping her around to them sleeping together to her fleeing the hotel before he wakes up. Again, it's hard to guess what's going on in these early scenes, and that's very unique the other films in the Bond series so far. Before now, they've gone out of their way to set things up so the audience knows exactly what Bond wants and what's going on. Here, it's a strong choice keeping us in the dark. It distracts the audience from the oddity of a new Bond because they're just trying to figure out what's happening.
Bond is abducted from the hotel and taken to a warehouse for a meeting, leading to one of the strangest fight scenes in the series, at least in the way it's shot. Peter Hunt seemed more than willing to try new things. Finally, Bond ducks into an office where he comes face to face with Marc-Ange Draco, Tracy's father, allowing the film to finally start to lay out its key puzzle pieces. As Draco talks about his daughter and her mother, John Barry's score weaves in the theme, "We Have All The Time In The World," one of the most melancholy of all the Bond themes. I love this score, and it's one of my favorites from the entire series as a piece of stand-alone music. Lush and tempered with regret, it doesn't feel like a typical Bond score even though it makes good use of several of the motifs that Barry had already used in earlier films.
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Considering how everyone was looking for Bond, M seems decidedly underwhelmed to see him. He orders Bond off of the hunt for Blofeld, saying he's had two years without any results. M won't even discuss it with him. Bond storms out, dictates his letter of resignation to Moneypenny, and then leaves. "Kindly give that to that monument in there," he snarls before going to pack up his office. As he goes through his desk, we see props from each of the earlier films as the themes for "Dr. No," "From Russia With Love," and "Goldfinger" make brief appearances on the soundtrack.
M summons Bond back to his office to tell him his request has been granted. He can barely even look up at Bond to tell him, and Bond walks into Moneypenny's office a little shocked. She tells him to read the letter, and it turns out to be a request for two weeks leave instead of a resignation. "Moneypenny, what would I do without you?" he asks.
"My problem is you never do anything with me," she teases in reply.
As the main theme swells again, we see Tracy driving up to her father's estate in Portugal. It's huge, filled with people and horses, and Tracy's dressed for riding. There's also a bullfighting ring and a bullfight in progress, which is where Tracy finds her father. Draco takes Tracy to introduce her to Bond, and she's unimpressed, even angry to see him. Draco is unphased by her response, though. Tracy learns right away that her father is trying to corner Bond into a deal that involves her, and she tells her father to just give Bond the information without any strings attached. She threatens to vanish completely if he doesn't.
Draco gives Bond the name of a lawyer in Bern, Switzerland, who may have a connection to Blofeld. Tracy sees this as the end of Bond's need to pretend any interest in her, but he goes after her to tell her how wrong she is. When he catches up to her at her car, she's in tears, angry at having been pawned off on him. He convinces her that he really does want to spend time with her, and that leads into a montage with the two of them together, falling in love. It is an unexpectedly tender sequence, and Louis Armstrong's vocal rendition of the main theme is a great one.
At the end of the sequence, Draco is in a car with the two of them, and they are very definitely a team now, with Draco the odd man out. This is what he wanted, but we can see that he's starting to question his decision. They drop Bond off at the office of the lawyer that Draco mentioned, a Grumbold. Bond searches the lawyer's office, using a special machine to crack the safe. Draco and Tracy talk about her new relationship in the car, and she orders him to stay out of it, to let things take their natural course.
There's something fitting about Bond reading a Playboy while he waits for the safe to open. I think Hugh Hefner would have happily admitted that James Bond was the ideal that he aspired to at that point in the magazine's history. I like how the safecracking device is also a portable photocopier, allowing Bond to open the safe and then duplicate everything inside of it. Proof that Bond is a bit of a jerk? He leaves Grumbold his Playboy, but he takes the centerfold. Monster.
Bond takes the evidence he's found to M, proving that there is once again an active trail they can follow. Turns out Blofeld is trying to establish a connection to royalty so he can claim the title Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp. Convincing M to let him back onto the case, Bond then goes to meet Sir Hilary Bray at the London College of Arms, where he is a genealogical specialist. Bond meets with him under the guise of researching his own family name. This is where we get our first glimpse of the Bond family's historical coat of arms and their motto, "The World Is Not Enough." Sir Bray doesn't like being used as a pawn in an espionage game, but Bond tells him it is absolutely necessary. Bray tells Bond that he's going to be meeting with Blofeld soon under very particular circumstances.
Bond steps in instead, posing as Sir Hilary, and he is met at the train station by Irma Bunt, Blofeld's primary henchwoman. Blofeld is living in the Swiss Alps, where he has established a clinic devoted to studying allergies. The only way to reach the clinic is by tram or by helicopter. The place is heavily guarded, and the location is one of the most spectacular in any Bond film. The exterior sequences are just breathtaking. One of the weirdest touches is how Lazenby is dubbed by George Baker when Bond is pretending to by Sir Hilary Bray.
As soon as they've got him checked in, Bunt calls Blofeld, and we see the first iconic shot of him sitting with the white cat in his lap. Bunt explains the set-up and the extra security to "Sir Hilary," and he learns that each room is essentially a cell, with a phone call required to open the door from the inside. Bond spends some time searching his room, then dresses in a formal kilt for dinner.
See that picture at the top of the review? Those women are the patients at the allergy clinic, and at dinner, we see that each of the women is eating the thing they used to be allergic to, and that there are no men at the clinic, meaning everyone is all over Bond from the moment he enters the room. As Sir Hilary, he lectures on the purpose of genealogy, eventually boring all of the women silly. Bunt does her best to discourage any familiarity between Bond and the patients, but one of the women writes her room number on Bond's thigh. Bond gets a tour of some of the lower levels of the complex, which almost appear to be tunnels carved into ice with high-tech secure rooms where Blofeld resides.
Now here's a weird issue. Although Bond has a difference face in this movie, and so does Blofeld, the two characters have already met. So when they meet, both of them using pseudonyms, it makes no sense in the context of the series. Now, in the books, this followed "Thunderball," and in the book, Blofeld has had some plastic surgery done, which would explain why he doesn't look the same. But without any explanation, it just seems strange in the movie. They calmly pretend to be different people, neither of them acknowledging what would seem to be transparently obvious.
Later that night, Bond slips out of his room and goes to meet Ruby in room 8. She is ready to go when he arrives, nude and waiting in her bed, and Bond is happy to take care of things, dropping his kilt and hopping in bed. As a result, Bond is with her at midnight, when the nightly broadcasts take place that are brainwashing all of the women, preparing them for their eventual role in Blofeld's master plan. The actual brainwashing effect is very '60s, very groovy, and Bond realizes he can't help Ruby. He heads back to his own room, only to find another one of the women waiting for him there. Bond has no choice and dives in for round two.
In the morning, Bond's contact watches the clinic from a nearby ski resort and tries to talk Blofeld's men into giving him a ride up to the clinic. Meanwhile, Bond joins the women on the outside walkways for a little curling, and again, it's hard not to be blown away by the locations they used to film the sequences. The view from the top of Piz Gloria is spectacular, as are the women, who make one appointment with Bond after another for liaisons that night.
When Bond goes to meet Ruby again, Bunt is waiting in her bed instead. Bond wakes up and Blofeld is there, ready to wrap things up. He tells Bond how he figured out that he was not Sir Hilary Bray, and then he lays out the plan he's been working on. Blofeld plans to use the women he's been brainwashing to spread bacteriological weapons that will cause total infertility in all plants and animals in an infected area. Blofeld is going to demand ransom from the governments of the world in exchange for him not releasing his weapons.
Bond is put into the engine room of the tram as a holding cell, and he decides to stage his escape, even as the women are being doped by Bunt inside the clinic. When the tram starts up while Bond is trying to escape, he's almost killed, and he narrowly avoids being chewed up by the gears. The women undergo one final brainwashing treatment before they are going to be discharged, and Bond attempts his escape again, going hand over hand along the cable that carries the tram to and from the clinic. It's rough going, but he finally manages to get a secure hold on the tram itself, using it to climb up over the outside of the clinic. He sneaks inside so he can see that each of the women has been given a compact that is actually a two-way transmitter so Blofeld can continue to speak to them every night, as well as an atomizer that is filled with the deadly viral agents that they are to use if ordered by Blofeld.
The women are led away by Bunt, into the tram car, and Bond steals some skis so he can head after them. We're over 90 minutes into the film by this point, and this is the first real action set piece in the film. Thankfully, it's a good one, and John Barry's badass ominous "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" theme makes a great underscore for it. There's a fair amount of rear projection for close-ups, but there's also a lot of great on-location stunt work in the chase, and it is not an easy escape for Bond. Even once he makes it to the village of Lauterbrunnen, Blofeld's henchmen keep coming after him, and he's forced to fight over and over. The women are all shipped out, and Bond's too late to do anything about it. Besides, he's still trying to avoid getting killed, using the crowds to hide from Bunt and the henchmen. Just when it seems like he's cornered, Tracy comes skating by, and she immediately offers to help. They use a fireworks display as a distraction and they go to grab her car.
Bond tries to make a phone call to London, but Bunt and the henchmen are right behind them, and he and Tracy are forced to flee, leading to a dangerous chase down an icy mountain road. Tracy is unphased, adapting quickly to the threat, and she turns out to be a pretty damn great getaway driver. One of the reasons I love this film is because even when we do get a 20 minute action sequence like this, everything seems grounded in reality. It a conscious step back from the comic book excess of "Thunderball" and especially "You Only Live Twice," and it feels like a very intentional decision. For my tastes, it was the right choice, but when the film wasn't the same size hit as its predecessors, the producers took the wrong messages from that, and this was the last quasi-realistic Bond film for a while.
In the aftermath of the chase, Bond and Tracy hide out together in a barn, a huge storm raging outside, and the quiet interlude is one of the most human love scenes in any of the Bond films. Bond is justifiably smitten with Tracy, and it's tearing him up because he realizes how it doesn't make sense for his career. When he says, "I love you," it's a big moment for Bond. After all, this is the guy who was scheduling hourly sex at the clinic, and here he is proposing marriage to Tracy, serious about it, ready to change his life. She's not remotely surprised by it, either, his proposal seeming like a very natural next step in the rapport between them. Even more shocking, he puts her to bed without sleeping with her.
The next morning, Blofeld and his men find their hiding place mere minutes after Bond and Tracy have taken off, leading to another ski chase sequence against some of the most remarkable natural settings the series has ever used. Tracy keeps up with Bond, trading quips even as they avoid machine gun fire, and when they ski into an avalanche area, Blofeld stops, setting off an avalanche that Tracy and Bond get caught in. Before Bond can recover, Blofeld grabs Tracy and takes off with her.
Back in London, Bond paces in M's office, anxious, waiting for word on how the world's governments want to handle Blofeld's demands. He's not asking for money, but rather for respectability. He wants his title approved and he wants amnesty for all past crimes. Bond is furious when M tells him that Blofeld's demands are going to be met, and that it will all be concluded by the next night. M tells Bond to follow orders and stay out of things.
So of course, Bond recruits Draco to help him attack Piz Gloria and the clinic, which is where Blofeld has Tracy held prisoner. When Draco and Bond stage their assault on the clinic, it's one of the best sequences in any Bond film up to that point, beautifully realized and incredibly ambitious. Draco and Bond tear through the facility quickly, and Blofeld realizes all of his work has been undone. Draco takes Tracy and escapes, and it all comes down to Bond versus Blofeld in one last chase down the mountain. The clinic has been destroyed and Blofeld uses a bobsled to try to get away. Bond goes after him, and again, the real-life stuntwork is not just impressively staged, but beautifully photographed so there's a real sense of speed and danger to it. Blofeld uses a grenade to take out Bond's bobsled, but Bond manages to catchup and grab hold of the back of Blofeld's sled. They grapple, hand-to-hand, this final fight very personal, and just when Blofeld thinks he's got Bond, he gets thrown into a forked tree branch, nearly breaking his neck.
The film concludes with the most personal moment in any of the films, with Bond marrying Teresa in Portugal. Moneypenny looks particularly distraught as everyone celebrates. At the end of the wedding, Q wishes Bond well, Draco reminds Tracy to obey her husband, and Bond returns Draco's dowry check. There's a lovely final moment between Bond and Moneypenny, and then the happy couple drives away in their Aston Martin which has been covered in flowers. As they drive away, Bond waves a car past and someone makes a crack about all the flowers. Bond stops to remove some of them from the hood and the windows, and Tracy says that Bond has given her the best wedding present possible: "A future."
They ladle it on thick so that it hurts when the film's final surprise unfolds. Bunt and Blofeld speed by, opening fire on the car. Bond hops in to give chase, and that's when he finds that Tracy's been killed by one of the gunshots.
A policeman pulls up on his motorcycle and finds Bond holding her, quiet tears on his cheeks. "It's all right. It's quite all right, really. She's having a rest. We'll be going on soon." As he raises her lifeless hand, looking at the ring he just placed there, he says, "There's no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world."
No other Bond film has ever ended with that sort of gut punch, and no other moment has ever mattered that much to the character overall. The final shot, of the windshield with the bullet hole in it, is quiet at first, but then kicks into Monty Norman's swinging Bond theme as the cast credits scroll by. It's an odd tonal shift, and one of the film's few real missteps.
JAMES BOND 007 WILL RETURN
"DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER"
This has got to be one of the closest adaptations of a Fleming novel out of the entire franchise. Peter Hunt was reported to carry with him a dog-eared copy of the book as well as a script while shooting, and it makes sense that this is as grounded in reality as it is overall. When Fleming was working on the novel, the producers were in the middle of shooting "Dr. No," and the author was already aware that his vision of the character was not the same as the vision of the producers.
With this film, though, they came close to doing a straight adaptation. The changes that do take place are mainly about keeping the continuity of the series straight. The book features a scene where Bond visits the grave of Vesper Lynd, whose death in "Casino Royale" marked him so deeply, and we learn that this is an annual thing for him. That detail only adds to the need when Bond finally opens up to Tracy, letting her into his life completely. There are some minor differences in location, like when Bond visits M at his home for a Christmas lunch, but nothing that drastically affects character or plot.
In the books, Blofeld only appeared in three novels, and he wasn't considered the most significant villain of Bond's career. In "Thunderball," they never actually come face to face, and in "You Only Live Twice," Bond hunts Blofeld down as revenge for Tracy's death. I'm still unclear as to why they mixed up the order the way they did and why they reconfigured the relationship between Bond and Blofeld. It made for a less satisfying arc overall, with only this film handling things correctly.
More than anything, I am left after each viewing wondering what would have happened if they had told the three stories in the right order and had Connery onboard to star in all three. If you took this exact movie, every detail the same, and dropped Connery into the role, I think this would be considered one of the very best films in the series by everyone. As it is, Lazenby met with such a mixed reaction that it's little wonder the producers went running back to Connery with a giant check in hand for the next film.
Peter Hunt, the film's director, was involved in all five of the earlier films as an editor, and on "Thunderball" and "You Only Live Twice," he also served as a second-unit director. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was the only Bond film he directed, and his career was never particularly distinguished afterwards. It's a shame. He did some nice work here, and perhaps if he'd had Connery playing the lead, people would have been able to see the film for what it was, a serious spy picture with a strong emotional punch.
This also marks the last truly faithful adaptation of one of Fleming's books for a while, and one of the last of the serious grown-up Bond films. I'm glad the book was treated so well, but I wish that had been the rule, not the exception.
James Bond will return...
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