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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Lazenby gets the shaft

While browsing my Netflix queue I came across the description for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and was quite surprise to see it classified as one of the best Bond films of all time. Don’t get me wrong, George Lazenby puts Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig to shame, but he was put in a rather awkward situation when asked to play a decidedly toned down Bond.

The sixth Bond film was the first to lack the dominating performance of Sean Connery, and a significant break from the previous installments in what would become one of the most epic and certainly the longest running series in film history.

The film contains plenty of elements that place it squarely within the realm of Ian Flemming. Bond is surrounded by gorgeous women, opulence, and violence. There is more than a sufficient number of action scenes featuring seemingly impossible escapes and these all hold up in comparison to any Bond film, and in truth, to any summer blockbuster. But there are a number of elements lacking. Major Boothroyd, or the man more affectionately known as “Q,” has a decidedly limited role in the film. Bond is working outside the realm of his duties for portions of the film and this seems to have given the writers license to prevent 007 from using a never-ending array of impressive sci-fi gadgets. The gadgetless 1969 Aston Martin DBS featured in the film was later upgraded with a plethora of toys for Roger Moore’s Octopussy in 1983. Lazenby  on the other hand doesn’t even sport a fancy watch. Unless you consider a plain old time piece like your everyday Rolex to be fancy. I suppose this lends a sense of reality to the film, but who goes to see a Bond film for the realism?

Gadgets or no, the action is excellent and Telly Savalas is a fantastic Blofeld. The bobsled bought is simply superb. The visual effects are awful, but the sound effects and the action are spot on.

I will agree that Lazenby is one of the three greatest Bonds of all time, though Pierce Brosnan gives him a run for his money, but I’m not quite sure I’m willing to place him above Roger Moore. In some ways he certainly outclasses the man who played 007 in more official films than any other. He certainly was more suave and in that sense was on par with Connery and Pierce Brosnan but he struggled with the more comedic side of the world’s most famous double agent. Bond is famous for his nasty puns after a kill and Lazenby was required to deliver three significant puns along this line. Four if you include the famous opening line which not only refers to the men he just trounced, but Sean Connery himself. Lazenby epically fails at delivering such zingers as “He had a lot of guts” when a pursuing skier goes through a snowblower. It’s reasonable to assume that he shared his audience’s sentiment that the line was simply too ridiculous given the circumstances, but his is not to judge. After all, Roger Moore expertly delivered the famously awful and frequently misunderstood line “You can never find a cab when you need one” when Christopher Walken’s blimp loses its cabin in “A View to a Kill.” Despite tripping over his decidedly awkward lines Lazenby handles one of the most awkward lines in Bond history rather well. That is the line “This never happened to the other fellow.” While it may be said the line fits loosely within the context of the fight Bond had just finished as the woman he has just saved runs off without him, it is clearly a comedic reference to Connery’s ability to always get the girl, no matter what.

There are a number of references to previous films throughout the movie beginning with Lazenby’s line. The opening credits sequence, which I believe is the only one in a Bond film to blatantly feature nipples, includes scenes from each of the previous films. When Bond begins clearing out his desk after telling Moneypenny he has quit Her Majesty’s Secret Service he pulls a handful of gadgets from previous films from the desk. These nods seem to be the EON Productions studio’s way of softening the blow when audiences realize they’re not watching Connery. In fact, Lazenby’s face is purposefully absent from the opening shots until his introduction as Bond, James Bond, several minutes into the film. This may have been necessary for fans outside of Europe.

Lazenby was the highest paid model in Europe when he was named as heir to the Bond throne following Connery’s decision to turn down a cool $1 million for the film. Despite never working as an actor he steps into the role of the world’s most famous secret agent with the greatest of ease. Lazenby’s presence on-screen exceeds Roger Moore’s and Pierce Brosnan’s and while he doesn’t quite match Connery, he exceeds the Scot in his ability to emote.

Which turned out to be essential for the plot. After all, this is the film in which Bond gets married. And not in a convenient-for-his-cover marriage as seen in “You Only Live Twice.” This is love. The blossoming love affair between Bond and my all time favorite Bond girl, Diana Rigg as Tracy Di Vicenzo, is the reason non-Bond fans consider “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” to be one of the greatest Bond films. The Bond series generally doesn’t sit well with critics and in a sense the series is a bit of a cult classic, albeit a large cult. On the whole the films have a number of quirks that exclude them from classification as high art. But the fact remains the Bond films are exciting, and what little boy doesn’t want to be Bond when he grows up? While the series has a perceived rocky history at the box office, the fact is no Bond since 1974 has grossed under $100,000 worldwide, and the average is over $220,000 per film. Lazenby’s Bond is a slightly cleaner approach, though not as drastic a tangent as “Casino Royale.”

Smart and sassy! She'll keep the old boy in line.

Rigg and Lazenby’s courtship montage is handled magnificently by the editors. It matches the film’s established pace and furthers the story without detracting from the action. It may seem strange for a man to propose marriage after dating a girl for less than a month, but you have to consider, Bond is a man whose had a sufficient sampling of the women the world has to offer. If any man knows what he wants going into a marriage it’s him.

It may seem strange for the world’s most celebrated playboy to settle down, and he even says so early on, but Lazenby pulls it off and makes the relationship believable. The seriousness of the relationship was made most apparent to me shortly after the proposal as Spectre’s Blofeld was closing in hard on the couple by starting an avalanche above their heads. Bond tells Tracy “Let’s head for the trees.” Had it been anyone else but his fiance Bond would have given a strict order to head for the tree line. But here, in a touching, subconscious gesture, he makes it sound like a suggestion between partners. He treats Tracy as an equal, not as one of the countless floozies he’s had to haul around while it was convenient to meet his ends. His playboy style has always been a means to an end and it continues to be so on what he has declared his final mission, but never with Tracy.

Lazenby brings these niceties inline with Bond’s character as no other Bondman could and these scenes setup the depressingly beautiful end of the film, which I will fail to spoil here.

So is “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” “the finest Bond film ever made” as Netflix would have you believe? I have to admit that after quickly reviewing the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton films, and a few of the lesser Connery’s since Easter my rankings have been slightly re-ordered. While I still despise Timothy Dalton’s Bond, “The Living Daylights” is a better film than I remembered and the Roger Moore films have moved up the list. I actually haven’t seen “Quantum of Solace” yet, but I still consider “Casino Royale” to be a good action film but an awful Bond film. Lazenby’s contribution was certainly a good one and I am very disappointed the fool tore up his contract for six more outings as 007, but in the end I think “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” falls somewhere among the best of Moore but behind the classic Connery. The unofficial “Never Say Never Again” is of course right out, and “Diamonds Are Forever” falls short along with “You Only Live Twice” but “From Russia with Love” and “Goldfinger” sit squarely on the top of the pile. “Dr. No” must maintain an honored pedestal simply for being the first, and I have a personal attachment to “Thunderball.”

Dalton is just dying for a blow to the head. That smug jerk. And Craig looks simply lost.

In the end, not bad for an Australian who never acted previously and went on to a string of made-for-TV movies and guest appearances on TV dramas. If you disagree with me or want to know why I can’t stand Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig, or how my opinion of Brosnan changed over the years I’d be more than happy to discuss it with you in the comments. This post is long enough as it is.

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6 Responses

  1. My husband and I are currently watching all the Bond movies in order. I’d only ever seen Casino Royale before we started this, and I really liked Casino Royale. We’re only up to Moonraker or whatever it’s called, but I must say I have not really liked them after the Sean Connery ones. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was decent, but I haven’t liked a single Moore one yet. I’m not holding out much hope for Dalton either, but I think my interest might pick back up once we get to Brosnan. Do you not like Daniel Craig in anything, or just not as Bond?

    • Oh just as Bond. Layer Cake was awesome. Mostly I was upset that Clive Owen was passed over, but Craig just isn’t cool enough to be Bond. I know I mentioned this in the article, but he just doesn’t have that suave debonaire I look for in James Bond. Obviously Casino Royale required a more emotional Bond but I didn’t think Craig came anywhere close to Lazenby in this regard. In following with recent tradition, Royale was a reboot. In my mind it was the reboot of a series that didn’t call for a reboot. Bond has managed to a devoted following as times have changed by continuing to be what he has always been and whatever the market analysis think this is the Bond that will continue to win an audience. Perhaps I should see if Quantam of Solace overcomes these shortfalls, but I won’t hold my breath.

      • Okay, because I think Daniel Craig is a great actor. And having never seen a Bond film before Casino Royale, I guess I didn’t know what he was *supposed* to be like. I did hear that Quantum Solace wasn’t anywhere near as good as Casino Royale, so I haven’t seen it yet, but I probably will once we watch the rest of the films.

  2. Quantam of Solace was just ok. I don’t have a problem with Craig as Bond, but he’s not that impressive. Owen would have been good, although I’d like to see them skewer a little younger and go MIchael Fassbender or Karl Urban.

    • I haven’t seen either of those guys in enough situations to evaluate their potential as Bond, but based on Star Trek I don’t know that Karl Urban could pull it off. I don’t remember him from Bourne Supremacy though. I don’t mind young blood, and would certainly have preferred Owen 10 years ago. I realize I’m an elitist when it comes to my Bond films, but the simple fact is, when you continue a long running series it should maintain a consistent quality. If you don’t think it is marketable any longer than switch to something else. For example, I’m dying to see the Alex Hawke spy thriller series made into films and I could see Karl Urban as Hawke quite easily.

  3. […] finally got around to giving Daniel Craig another shot. For those of you may not recall, I have a deep-seated hatred for Casino Royale and was United Artist’s, excuse me, […]

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