ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

Poffy The Cucumber

This never happened to the other fella…

Bond versus Blofeld, who threatens to wipe out life on Earth – with a virus! (That word, that concept, has taken on different worlds of meaning in 2020!)

In the cold open, the gun barrel graphic moves across screen, and a new Agent 007 bends to one knee to shoot at us!


new bond: lazenby, george lazenby

The end titles of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE promised: “James Bond will return in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”… And this guy shows up! After Sean Connery quit the series (on bad terms with producer Albert Broccoli), 22-year-old Timothy Dalton was offered the role of Bond. He declined. 40-year-old Adam West was also considered – from Batman to Bond! We can’t even envision that now (the fruity BATMAN television series had just ended in 1968, so West’s profile was sky-high), but thankfully, he also declined. BAZOING!

After 29-year-old Australian commercial ad model George Lazenby literally beat down the stunt coordinator in an audition at producer Albert Broccoli’s office, he was contracted for 7 films as the next James Bond. (Coincidentally, 29 was the age of the classic Silver Age Batman!)

The almost 6’2” Lazenby, with the refined Aussie accent and chiseled mannequin cheekbones, must have made Australia proud. But he didn’t foresee himself going further than this one film. We can hear the regret in his voice in interviews – not regret that he turned his back on the franchise, but that his agent advised him that Bond was becoming a dinosaur; that the character’s ethos of sophistication and misogyny was becoming dated in the wake of more grounded films that appealed to the younger, incoming ‘70’s counter-culture generation (THE GRADUATE, EASY RIDER). In one sense, his agent was right, but no one could foresee that both genres could exist side by side. Lazenby also hoped that the producers would, like those other modern films, inject popular music into the soundtrack. So his hippie heart wasn’t in the character. It was just another acting job – actually, his first acting job (on a feature film).

I feel sad for Lazenby. Sad that he was badly advised by the person who was meant to be looking out for his interests; sad that he is endlessly compared to the other Bonds on this one performance, instead of growing into the role; sad at wondering what this man’s life might have been had he stuck to the double-oh.


M, Q, Moneypenny: the backbone of National Security!

M (Bernard Lee), Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) are all crammed into the first scene to give us something familiar to embrace. M wonders where Bond is – CUT TO:

A redhead in a ball gown walks along a beach, clearly intending to drown herself. A shadowed man in a car watches from afar. It’s Bond, but the movie is taking it’s time to reveal him. After he saves her from the dawn surf, he introduces his wet self to her, “My name is Bond, James Bond” – and two men accost them, which Bond beats savagely. The girl flees in her car. Bond looks after her, amused, and with a wink to the camera, says, “This never happened to the other fella!”

A great, self-effacing, self-aware introduction, that slinks into the opening titles, a theme with no lyrics, because ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE was deemed too clunky to try to fit into words; silhouettes of naked females intermingling with scenes from the past Bond movies, to achieve a sense of continuity. (The “movie’s song” would be cued under the romantic montage later: “We Have All The Time In The World,” sung by Louis Armstrong (1901-1971); an ironic title in retrospect, as this would be Armstrong’s last recording before his death.)

It’s the 6th Bond film (from the 10th Bond novel by Ian Fleming, published 1963), and George Lazenby’s first and last Bond.

Bond comes across the redhead at a casino in Monaco, where she bends down at the card table to expose her perfect cleavage, causing Bond to spot her $20,000. Diana Rigg plays Tracy (aka Teresa or Contessa) as the daughter of an Italian mob boss, so her spoiled rotten demeanor accounts for her trying to commit suicide in a ball gown, blowing money which she doesn’t have, and using her body as collateral. (Is Rigg the first Bond Girl with fakes? Or are those naturals just PERFECT?!)

Rigg comes to MAJESTY from another successful spy series – she’s Emma Peel in THE AVENGERS (Seasons 4 to 7); the second Bond girl from that British TV show, the first was Honor Blackman from GOLDFINGER. Rigg kicked butt cutely, and was afforded more sexual respect in AVENGERS, but – as Lazenby would find out – the calcified Bond conventions don’t change overnight, so even though the producers allowed Rigg a level of toughness here (when she fights back against henchmen, or treats Bond with the same one-night-stand callousness that he exhibits toward women), she must still conform to using her sexuality as bribe and payment. Sorry, ladies, that’s how the world turns. Still, there is a very unique, poignant fate that awaits Tracy as a Bond Girl.

Bond is taken to the mob boss Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), who beseeches Bond to marry his wayward daughter Tracy: “What she needs is a man to dominate her; to make love to her enough until she loves him…” He’s either a really progressive father, or it’s still Biblical Times inside Draco’s mansion. He offers Bond one million pounds to pound his daughter into submission. And Bond, principled as he is to Queen and Country, agrees to woo Tracy only if Draco gives him the location of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, SPECTRE’s crime kingpin that Bond has been pursuing since he was a young Connery. That seems like a fair, moral trade.

Bond visits M, who is definitely on the rag. There is a behind-the-scenes story related by Lois Maxwell: “Bernard had been drinking since about 9am. George Lazenby was on a horse and Bernard stuck a glass of wine under its nose. The poor thing reared up and kicked Bernard through some barbed wire.” A vet stitched up Lee’s gashed leg, and he made it back to the set later that day. So his injury was HIS fault, yet we sense a real dismissive hostility in M toward Bond (Really, sir, would you take that tone with Connery?), so do we surmise that Lee was allowing that personal incident to bleed into his professional performance?

M, who sounds like he’s just waiting to get back at Bond for letting a horse kick him, takes him off the Blofeld case, called Operation Bedlam, then shouts at him a little too parentally: “Your license to kill is useless unless one can set up a target!” It’s a shock to us as well. How can Bond be denied from pursuing his sauciest nemesis? Remember when Bond said, “This never happened to the other fella”?…

Bond, flailing for respect at this point, RESIGNS from Her Majesty’s Secret Service!

This never happened to the other fella.

He empties his desk, removing his tiny breather device, his garrote watch, his diving knife and belt – does he actually sit and work here or is it his gadget museum? We might think these gadgets are more connective tissue with the Bond legacy, but it’s more a symbolic act, because director Peter Hunt wanted to eschew the infamous Bond gadgets for a more realistic approach, as per Fleming’s novel. Aficionados assure us that Hunt succeeds more than any director before him.

This never happened to the other fella.

Moneypenny is shattered at Bond’s intent to resign, anxiously wondering whether any of the other double-oh agents will flirt with her auntiness – but M doesn’t accept Bond’s resignation and instead gives him two weeks leave.

Bond uses the time to woo Tracy, in a tiresome panty-cultivating montage that features the movie’s theme song, under Bond and Tracy getting to know each other by being outdoors and pointing at stuff and laughing.

Then the film takes a very strange turn…

Bond is being driven somewhere with Draco and Tracy, as if on their way to some social event, Draco rolling his eyes at Bond and Tracy making googoo eyes at each other. Bond exits, telling Tracy to keep the martinis cold for him. So they are going on ahead and he’s catching up later. Okay. Next he’s cracking a safe, copying documents, meeting with a British fop, Sir Hilary, and the next thing we know – Bond is in the Swiss Alps in the guise of the fop genealogist, Sir Hilary, meeting Blofeld! But is Tracy still keeping those martinis cold? How many days have passed? What happened to her and Draco? Does anyone care we’re in another movie now? Did George Lazenby actually do two Bond movies and squish them together?

Bond’s ancestral coat of arms sports the Latin motto: “The World Is Not Enough” (we slap our thighs in recognition…). As Sir Hilary, he’s investigating the genealogy claim of this secretive scientist up in his Alpine laboratory – a scientist that turns out to be Blofeld!

Telly Savalas is Blofeld! Savalas had a few classic movies under his belt at the time (CAPE FEAR 1962, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, DIRTY DOZEN) but he was not yet KOJAK, to premiere in 1973. Savalas gives a rock-solid performance as a megalomaniac, but there was nothing as chilling as Donald Pleasance playing Blofeld like a fey absent-minded sociopath. I was very sad Pleasence didn’t reprise his role from YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Also, Savalas has lost Blofeld’s oomph Bond gimmick – the scar tearing down the right side of his face. Not only was it icky, it also signified the right side (i.e. the good side) of his humanity was damaged.

This is another strange anomaly, because Bond and Blofeld should know each other (from LIVE TWICE). But both of them here have to slowly figure out who each of them is. And that missing scar! The producers were aware of all these continuity errors – and just ignored them.

With his kilt on, Bond walks into a room full of women. No undies required. Overlorded by a battleaxe (Ilse Steppat as Bunt), these strikingly beautiful women (including a young, unrecognizable Joanna Lumley amongst the harem) are from all over the world and supposedly subjects for Blofeld’s experiments in allergies.

After plonking at least three of them (including Angela Scoular and Catherine Schell), Bond discovers their role in Blofeld’s plan: his Angels of Death, brainwashed to spread his “Virus Omega” which causes total infertility in all livestock, grains – and people (“nothing is born, no seed even begins to sprout”). As Bond discovered, Blofeld could have done just as much damage by making people listen to these shrill girls jabber after sex.

In one sense, movie derails itself in this Alpine ruse; we’ve forgotten all about boo Tracy and bitch M, and anyway, is Bond actually going rogue on leave, or is he on assignment? It’s a muddle. And suddenly – Tracy! Bond escapes Blofeld’s lair, skis down to a village (in the worst rear projection scenes ever committed to an A-list movie!), tries to lose Blofeld’s henchmen in a festival – and Tracy ice-skates up to him out of nowhere, “You’re in trouble, darling – what’s the matter?!” Just like that. It’s like she ran into him in their own neighborhood. No surprise, no “Where the FUCK did you go?!” or “I was holding that goddamed martini for 2 days!” Just immediately slides into HIS world without any preamble. And what is she doing in the Alps?

It’s not like there’s a twist, like she’s there to assassinate Blofeld for her father’s sake, so that he can be Number One. How did this coincidence ever happen? We never find out.

Also – James lies in the straw with Tracy, declaring his love and asking her to marry him – This never happened to the other fella! – but didn’t he just bang three chicks up at the clinic? Not well-adjusted one-night-stands, but exploited, imprisoned, brain-mashed chicks that were desperate for man, therefore Bond exploited their loneliness! I guess those are good qualities in a husband…


At 2 hours, 22 minutes, we feel the length of ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. Written once again by Richard Maibaum, I can see why many Bond fans consider this a closet classic, and it is well-made for the most part, with two major demerits:

1) clusterfuck editing on fight scenes

MAJESTY is Peter Hunt’s directorial debut; he was actually editor on five previous Bond films, which is ironic, considering he let his editor here (John Glen) run wild like an ADHD child. The body of the movie is fine, the fight scenes are atrocious! They are not only cut from so many angles and faster than the eye can follow, but cut to the point where the action is LOST; as an example, cutting to a shot after the punch has connected, but no shots of the actual contact, so we only see the follow-through and not the strike or even the lead-up. Either Hunt couldn’t control Glen, or get enough coverage to make the scenes work. Scarily, John Glen would go on to direct 5 Bond films himself (from 1981’s FOR YOUR EYES ONLY to 1989’s LICENSE TO KILL). But this would be Hunt’s swansong as a Bond director, having attained his Peter Principle – he had risen to the level of his IN-competence.

2) laughable rear projections

In skiing scenes, the stock-car scene and the final bobsled chase scene, Hunt’s practical shots are more than adequate to convey the speed and fear of the chase. He’s got lots of coverage, enough to cut together exciting chase scenes; there are good tracking shots on the skiers, many exterior driving shots, and some very thrilling practical footage of the violent bobsled fight.

And then he keeps cutting to rear projections during closeups. And we fall out of the movie completely, as the backing screen shows the land tilting at hilarious angles, with no bearing whatsoever to the person’s closeup face, at speeds that never match the practical shots. We could blame the editor, but that’s like shouting at an ADHD child.


How did the public take ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE? It was a financial success, yet when worldwide grosses were compared to the previous Connery films, it was not as lucrative. MAJESTY grossed only half as much as Connery’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. And when Connery would return for the next Bond, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, that movie would also be more financially successful than MAJESTY. I know many ladies might have thrilled to this situation – but Lazenby ended up the bitch in a Connery sandwich.

– – – – – SPOILERS – – – – –

Bond marries Tracy!

This never happened to the other fella.

There’s a very sad moment at the wedding where Bond’s eternal flirt, Moneypenny, weeps openly, while looking into his eyes from afar. Which not only proves Lois Maxwell a good actor, but makes me feel bad for all the jokes I made at her expense over the years. Her auntie-love was REAL… It’s quite emotional. And then it gets even more so…

… as Blofeld, still on the loose, does a drive-by on Tracy! A new wife, a new death, a new emotion for Bond. It’s a plot point that comes out of nowhere, for seemingly no reason – I mean, why not give Bond a happy ending? – but it’s played with enough weight that we feel it in our romcom nerve.

This never happened to the other fella.

And then again, maybe it’s a caveat on why Bond should stick to blandly banging in lifeboats…

The end titles promise us: “James Bond will return in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER” – and it’s the other guy again!

END

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ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (Dec 1969) | PG
JAMES BOND #8.
Director: Peter Hunt.
Writers: Ian Fleming, Richard Maibaum, Simon Raven.
Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman.
Music: John Barry.
Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat, Lois Maxwell, George Baker, Bernard Lee, Bernard Horsfall, Desmond Llewelyn, Angela Scoular, Catherine Schell, Joanna Lumley.
RATINGS-06imdb
Word Count: 2,600      No. 1,524
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“All The Time In The World” ♦ Louie Armstrong (from movie)

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