14 June 2011


James Bond is a Time Lord. This could fit under "Things I Learned From BlogalongaBond" for this month, but it's apt enough to say that George Lazenby's turn as Bond is as markedly different from Connery as any of the successive Doctors are to their immediate predecessor in Doctor Who. I suppose that makes Lazenby the McGann of Bond then, (or Paul McGann the Lazenby of Who), seeing as how his only outing was On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Bond has been hunting Ernst Stavro Blofeld for two years when he encounters the beguiling Contessa Teresa "Tracy" di Vicenzo, whose father might know Blofeld's whereabouts. MI6 relieves him from his mission at this crucial juncture, so he goes undercover as a genealogist, to a mountaintop base where Blofeld appears to be researching allergies. All the while, Bond falls more and more in love with Tracy, and more fixated on stopping SPECTRE once and for all.

After the formulaic gubbins of You Only Live Twice, what's so remarkable about On Her Majesty's Secret Service is how much it strikes out in another direction. Bond is on a mission carried over from the film before, which is a more direct continuation than we expect from this series, and the character is not so much unflappable as quite regularly flapped, due in no small part to George Lazenby's performance. Lazenby doesn't have sizzling sexual chemistry, but he fits the vision of a romantic James Bond better than most.

I find it fairer to say that Lazenby interpreted the character differently, than to say that he simply gave a bad performance. He doesn't give a bad performance. His Bond is more human than any interpretation of the character up until Daniel Craig's turn as 007. If there's anything that makes him look bad in the role, it's the sudden insistence on cravats in the costume and the ludicrous speeding-up of fight sequences. The film's 135 minutes long anyway- surely it would have been better to cut some of the padding later on than simply speeding up the action.

For instance, take the scene in Gumbold's office. Bond breaks in and has a complicated safe-cracking gadget delivered at the window. He sets it up to open up Gumbold's safe and flips open a copy of Playboy. In the time it takes for this amazing all-in-one burglary and photocopying machine to finish the job, you almost wonder if they really sped up those earlier fight scenes just so we'd have time to see Bond crack one out before he cracks the safe. As in all Bond films, the pacing is a little slack, but it's particularly annoying in these scenes.

On the villain front, Blofeld has regenerated into Telly Savalas, making me wonder how on Earth he and Bond recognise each other at all. In fact, it appears that they haven't at first, but meh, I think we're just meant to go with it. You might also suspect that Blofeld has now learned his lesson by recruiting the imperious Irma Bunt as chief henchwoman, lest Bond shag her onto the side of right and good. Then our hero stumbles upon the rooms where they keep the sexy women, and several more notches manifest themselves in Bond's bedpost.

Nevertheless, Savalas makes an unusual Blofeld in just how involved and hands-on he appears. The death toll is massive as far as his arbitrary henchmen, but he's often right there himself, leading a ski chase after his enemy. The action is top-notch, particularly the final assault, via helicopter and bobsled. In general, Peter R. Hunt's direction is very, very good, with some neat camera tricks throughout. There are those who believe that this film would have been the very best of the series if only Sean Connery had been the leading man, but I can't agree. Connery's a fine Bond, but the requirements of this story are that Bond is out of his element, and whatever Connery is, it's not that.

Still, Diana Rigg would not have been any less Bond's equal if it were Connery she were playing against. As Tracy, she gets the most action of any of the Bond girls up to that point. The kind of action where she's standing up and punching people, rather than lying down for 007- she's brilliant. The relationship between her and Bond is entirely believable, because you can believe he'd settle down with her. She's more than capable of fighting her own corner, and the dizzying heights of that romance only make its ending more tragic.

But if we're honest, On Her Majesty's Secret Service has one shocking masterstroke, and that's the conclusion. It's also where Lazenby's performance puts paid to those hazy remembrances of people who haven't watched the film in years. We see James Bond get married, the most surprising thing that the series could have done. There's some lovely stuff at the wedding reception, with M, Q and Moneypenny each getting some properly funny moments. Then Mr. and Mrs. Bond leave, happy.

Rather than finish the film there, or with the couple getting lost at sea and making out, we see the newlyweds stop by the side of the road and Blofeld drives by, peppering the car with bullets. Tracy is shot in the forehead and killed. And when Bond realises, he is, for once, properly winded. He ceases all attempts to give chase or capture Blofeld, and simply cradles Tracy. After the wedding, the last thing you would think a Bond film could accommodate would be a downer ending, and yet this one is pitch perfect- the way it's shot, the way it's performed and the brilliance of its emotional impact.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service ultimately sits in the history of the series as far more than just an odd one out. It broaches uncharted territory for the series, being less of an action-packed and titillating travelogue, and more of a Greek tragedy. And yet there's surprisingly little reassurance that we're in familiar territory, except for returning actors.

It still has its cheesy moments, but it is clearly the most serious of the films we've covered to date. The espionage plot itself becomes secondary to an unforgettable study of the character and his emotions- hopefully the slate won't be wiped entirely clean for Connery's return. And who knows how differently Lazenby's performance might have been remembered if he'd had a chance to consolidate it with a second outing?

#6- Tracy only turns up for Draco's birthday party every year because if he's ever unsure you'll accept a formal invitation, he'll send his men round to kidnap you.

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With Diamonds Are Forever... in July.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post.