Movies

Published: Thursday March 6, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday March 6, 2014 MYT 8:14:59 AM

In praise of a strong Bond

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has the best soundtrack, pushes James Bond into difficult new places, and the ending is probably in the top 10 best film endings of all time.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has the best soundtrack, pushes James Bond into difficult new places, and the ending is probably in the top 10 best film endings of all time.

George Lazenby lacks the swagger of Sean Connery, but this 1969 black sheep is possibly the best 007 film ever.

ON Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS) had a lot to live up to. As far as the entire world was concerned, Sean Connery was James Bond. And here was some impostor – worse, an impostor from the colonies, George Lazenby, whom nobody had heard of – waltzing in to take his place. It wasn’t right. It wouldn’t do. To rub everyone’s noses in it even further, OHMSS deliberately stuck closely to the book, which meant no audience-pleasing whizz-bang gadgets. And what’s with the bummer of an ending? No wonder the film only took half the amount of You Only Live Twice at the box office.

And yet, I will fight anyone who dares to tell me that they don’t like OHMSS. Because they are flat out wrong. In the 45 years since it was released, it stands out as one of the best 007 films ever. Possibly even the best. It has the best soundtrack. It pushes the character into difficult new places. And that ending: that’s not just a great James Bond ending, it’s probably in the top 10 film endings of all time.

If you’ve never seen OHMSS, you should watch it. If you’ve seen it before, you should watch it again. And if you don’t like it, I’m serious about fighting you.

Bond (George Lazenby) allowed himself one moment to be human when he married Tracey Draco (Diana Rigg), and paid the price for it -- a price hardly acknowledged later in the series.
Bond (George Lazenby) allowed himself one moment to be human when he married Tracey Draco (Diana Rigg), and paid the price for it – a price hardly acknowledged later in the series.

By George!

First things first: We need to talk about George. Lazenby isn’t Connery. He lacks the swagger, the element of constant danger that his predecessor (and successor, since he returned to the role for Diamonds Are Forever) made his own. His voice is a bit all over the place. It doesn’t help that he spends a huge portion of the film pretending to be a bespectacled, milquetoast man called Hilary Bray, nor that he was partially dubbed by English actor and writer, George Baker.

But what Lazenby does have, when he’s allowed, is brute strength. Less slender than Connery, he is better equipped for stunt work, like in the pre-title sequence where he basically bodyslams a baddie into a tent. His awkwardness, too, ends up being his major strength. None of the other Bond actors could do vulnerability very well but, whether intentionally or not, Lazenby is an open sore. He’s ruffled more easily, caught out more. He even displays palpable fear at one point.

And, of course, it helps that his Bond girl is Diana Rigg. Although she didn’t have an awful lot to live up to – all previous Bond girls were more or less content to stand there and blink in bikinis – she’s almost 007’s equal here. She’s spiky and uninterested, and initially uses him more than he does her. So, when tenderness between them grows, it’s tangible. Not permanent – an hour into the film, he’s in bed with someone else – but it’s easily the most committed relationship we’ve seen him in.

All the time in the world

Not to bang on about it too much, but the final few moments of OHMSS are what sent the whole thing into the stratosphere. After defeating Blofeld, Bond rolls around in the snow with a St Bernard for a moment or two. Then, almost immediately afterwards, he’s married. Diana Rigg cries with happiness. They cut the cake. Moneypenny’s heartbroken, but puts on a brave face. They drive away to embark on their honeymoon. They discuss the family they’re going to have. It’s the first ending to a James Bond film that isn’t just sex as a cathartic reaction to death. For once, maybe for the first time ever, he’s actually content.

And then she dies.

That’s how the film ends: with James Bond sobbing and cradling his murdered wife, refusing to believe that she’s really gone.

It’s a sucker punch, and there isn’t a single trace of redemption, no matter how hard you look. There are no quips, no raised eyebrows; just the stark image of a bullet hole in a windscreen. Bond had allowed himself to be human, and he paid the price.

Observations

1. Then, of course, the whole thing was forgotten. As soon as OHMSS ended, Bond would only get increasingly campy. The loss Bond felt at the end of this film wouldn’t be referenced in any meaningful way until Licence To Kill, and then only as particularly oblique subtext. What a wasted opportunity.

2. That’s unless you count For Your Eyes Only, in which Bond lays flowers at Tracy’s grave before dropping Blofeld down a chimney in what’s quite clearly the most abysmal five minutes of the entire Bond franchise.

3. And don’t forget that this is the film with the Gumbold office safecracking scene, possibly the most suspenseful in the series, even if it does come to nothing and 007 spends much of it gurning at boobs.

4. Also: Louis Armstrong’s musical contribution of We Have All The Time In The World. That really can’t be overstated enough, can it?

5. One aspect where I will agree with the OHMSS haters – the opening James Bond theme. It’s rejigged here, and it sounds like a kitten trying to eat a stylophone. Horrible.

6. And fine, you might have a point about all the callbacks. The address to camera at the start. The whistled Goldfinger theme. This wasn’t just a horrible portent of things to come, it actively ground away at the film’s morose heart. – Guardian News & Media

Tags / Keywords: Entertainment, Entertainment, Movies, On Her Majesty s Secret Service, James Bond, 007

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