On Her Majesty's Secret Service Review
Everyone’s got their favourite Bond movie.
There’s The Spy Who Loved Me for you. And you. And you lot at the back.
You’ve got Goldfinger over there, sir.
Casino Royale for the newcomers.
And … what’s that you say … A View To A Kill? Get out at once.
Well for me it has always been On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Right from the word go. This was the one that hit me the hardest, thrilled me the most and stayed with me the longest. It was the wildcard. The one in the snow. The film that saw Sean Connery replaced with one-hit wonder George Lazenby. It was the emotional one that took fans by surprise. It was the one that put Bond in a kilt.
Initially unloved, though still reasonably successful on its own terms despite audiences having a difficult time with the fresh Antipodean Bond and the unusually strong and heartfelt story, Peter Hunt’s long and often brutal movie has grown in stature over the years, becoming not only a firm critics’ favourite but the 007 adventure that fans have come to respect the most for its strict adherence to Ian Fleming’s source novel, it’s swing-shift from the flippant, self-aware over-confidence of Connery’s last two big screen swaggers to something far more character-based and realistic, and much less fantastically outlandish. There was a train of thought that went along the lines of James Bond no longer having a valid place in Cinema, post the swinging sixties. With the darker and more violent, more culturally pertinent and revisionist fare that was making such an impact in the breakthrough creative zeitgeist at the end of the Summer of Love – The Planet of the Apes, The Wild Bunch, Bonnie and Clyde, Night of the Living Dead, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly – the simply escapist and disposable yarns of 007 seemed like so much comic-book fluff and male fantasy.
This wasn’t entirely inaccurate, of course. But then one of Bond’s greatest traits is his ability to move with the times, and to reflect the era in which each new incarnation plies his death-dealing, womanising trade. The essentials always remain the same, but the trick is to fit them into a narrative that accepts fresh concepts and attitudes. Roger Moore would embrace the sexy disco decade and become the lethal lounge-lizard Lothario … but Dalton would have to fit into a post-AIDS environment and become far more caring and sharing towards his women, as well as compete against the likes of the high adventure of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Tim Burton’s Batman and the harder edge of Rambo, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. George Lazenby, in a great many ways, had the hardest task of all the 007s. He was the first to take the character on that evolutionary arc out of Connery’s immortal mould … and he had the challenge of doing it right at the height of the character’s popularity as well. And make no mistake, his efforts, in visceral action, psychological insight and emotional curve, were exemplary, groundbreaking and hugely influential not only to the Bond franchise but to many other screen-heroes that would come along afterwards.
For Queen and Country. Oh, and a mountaintop chateau brimming with beautiful babes!
Operation Bedlam is not going well. MI6 cannot find SPECTRE’s big bad boy Blofeld (here played by Telly Savalas) and M (Bernard Lee) isn’t happy with a top agent whose license to kill is useless if he cannot acquire a target. And, equally frustrated at his nemesis vanishing into the ether as his ministerial superiors, Bond is having some intriguing and distracting encounters of his own. Saving the suicidal Contessa Theresa, or Tracy, Di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg) from drowning herself has opened up a can of worms that not even 007 was fully prepared for. The maladjusted woman’s powerful mob-boss of a father, Marc Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), now wants him to marry her …and if a £1 million dowry isn’t incentive enough, then he has a tantalising lead up his sleeve that might speed up the search for Blofeld, too.
Tasty bird? A million quid? Blofeld on a platter?
It’s an offer that even 007 can’t justify refusing.
With Savalas’ mad genius posing as Count Bleuchamp, a noted biochemist specialising in revolutionary allergy cures, and hiding out in a heavily protected “clinic” at the top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps, Bond adopts the guise of an esteemed genealogist working out Blofeld’s lost ancestry and infiltrates the eagle’s nest of Piz Gloria in full Scottish regalia and sporting the identity of the real Baronet Sir Hilary Bray (played by George Baker, who also lends his tonsils to effect Bond’s little known skills for human mimicry). Here, he discovers a heinous plot to use brainwashed girls – Blofeld’s Angels of Death – to spread the livestock and crop destroying Virus Omega around the globe if world governments do not give in to his evil terms. It should be business as usual for 007 … but this time he’s got to get hitched as well!
“This never happened to the other fellow.”
No two ways about it, George Lazenby scores big time with the terrific and franchise-stealing tour de force portrayal of James Bond. Fact.
And he does it without any gadgets or gimmicks.
The former model and chocolate advertising hunk, who had hankered after the role to the point where he even got himself kitted-out at the same Saville Row tailors as Connery and got his haircut by the Scotsman’s barber, just to impress Cubby Broccoli, also had the same rugged but good-looking features as the man he would replace and, if anything, a more imposing build. Vitally, though, the inexperienced actor had not only the charm and confidence that James Bond needed to make women giddy and men strive to emulate, but something that Connery had begun to lose even before he started to film You Only Live Twice – the hunger to actually be James Bond. To this end, his interpretation is dynamic and suavely confident, yet also impetuous and headstrong. He makes for a credible agent who has clearly been on all the missions that we have already seen, with a tough, adaptable vigour that is evidenced by his immediate action in situations that he has no comprehension of, and a definite addiction to adrenaline and danger. In the opening scene, the Contessa roars past his Aston Martin in her Ford Cougar and he is instantly on the case – his professional and his personal instincts kicking-in, and his desires for adventure immediately aroused.
But where his interpretation of 007 wins out over the others is in the fact that, as tough and resilient and adaptable as Bond is, he should not be superhuman. We should always be fearful for his survival. And, after making it off the piste and down into the town, taking out various henchmen along the way, he still cannot shake off the Rosa Klebb-like battleaxe Irma Bunt and her cronies. With nowhere left to run, he grabs a swift toddy, takes a seat, hoiks up the collars of a stolen coat and just prays that his pursuers will pass him by in the crowds of revellers. As they draw closer, Bond, for the first time ever looks afraid and terribly vulnerable. It is a wonderful and electrifying moment. We know that he isn’t going to die, but it is almost as though nobody told Lazenby this. Connery never had reason to totally fear for his life. Oh, there was that potential laser-beam vasectomy in Goldfinger, but Sean’s own bead of nervous sweat was probably a far more powerful weapon, and you could tell that he would come up with something that would stop Gert Frobe’s bullion-buster in his loin-searing tracks. The dead-on confidence of Brosnan never made the blood run cold even when he was getting his spine slowly crushed by Sophie Marceau, and Moore … well, Moore was just too loveable for anybody to really hurt. Even when Craig was having his dangly bits pummelled and was staring death in the blood-weeping eye of Mads Mikkelsen, he was able to fire off a couple of exquisitely timed and monumentally earthy quips. Timothy Dalton, Shakespearean and serious, got himself into a tight spot in License to Kill with that rock-crusher and I suppose that he, after the precedent set by Lazenby, was actually able to provide us with something to get genuinely white-knuckled over. But when Lazenby desperately seeks cover, you really think that his number might be up … because, for the first time in his death-defying career, James Bond has no Plan B left open to him.
He is great with the humour too.
Whereas Connery’s innuendos were wearing thin by this stage and had become quite tiresome in Diamonds, Moore’s would start off groan-inducing and just get worse from that point onwards, Brosnan could barely keep from smirking at them, himself (which actually worked quite well), Craig makes them sound realistic and appropriately laddish, and Dalton just couldn’t deliver them at all, Lazenby plays a few blinders. As a room number is slowly written upon his inner thigh beneath the dinner-table, his spectacular reply to the usually arousal-deflating Irma Bunt who has noticed him suddenly sitting more, ahem, rigid in his seat, is the bonafide classic, “Just a slight stiffness coming on.” What we tend not to notice is his deflective, “in the shoulder,” because we are too awestruck that Richard Maibaum’s screenplay had the audacity to be that bold. He was not a flippant, or as quippant as the actors who bookended him, his one-liners and zingers a fair bit more gentle, convivial and, at times, very much like a note of self-reassurance. For instance, when he is escorted, at gunpoint, to a waiting car outside his hotel and reunited with the big thug he bested the night before, he delivers a fantastic smile of greeting and then the completely disarming “Ahh, how lovely to see you again!” This sort of humour-in-the-face-danger ethic is prime Bond … Lazenby does it with just as much style as, and occasionally even more than all the other actors. And he was the least skilled out of the lot of them!
His easygoing charm is addictive, though. Upon his second meeting with the melancholic Contessa he counters her depressing insinuation that she no longer wants to live with a sublimely modulated, “Oh please ‘stay alive’ … at least for tonight.” There is something of a lost puppy-dog about this, an immediately endearing quality that he shares with no other Bond at all.
It is a bit of a gamble and something that does inevitably take you out of the film, but to make this re-invention as “cosy” as possible, Peter Hunt and Broccoli place many little in-jokes and references to the Connery tenure as possible, providing an amusing strand of DNA between the two evocations of England’s finest. The famous line “This never happened to the other fellow,” as witty as it is, is something of a painfully obvious acknowledgement that the baton has changed hands. The fabulous Maurice Binder title sequence, which skilfully hints at the theme of family heraldry by composing Bond’s own crest of arms out of naked women in silhouette (well, what did you expect?), also incorporates snippets of footage culled from each of the first five outings. But when Bond impulsively resigns from MI6 and begins to clear his desk out of souvenirs from previous missions, finding Honey Ryder’s knife and sheath from Dr. No, the garrotte-watch that made the journey From Russia With Love, and the mini-breathing device from Thunderball, all of which are revealed beneath sly little reminders of their respective main musical themes, we are whisked almost spiritually back to those wild earlier days. Then there is the janitor sweeping up in shipping company office that acts as the front for Draco’s plush suite who is whistling Goldfinger. When Moneypenny asks what he intends to do with his two week leave of absence, it is certainly another gag when the new guy replies that he will spend it “Lazing about … beachcombing.” All these elements can be viewed as so much velvet comforting to appease audience members still unsure who this imposter really is, and yet they have go on to become much loved vignettes and asides in a film that, beyond such concerned studio condescension, is determinedly different in style and character to Connery’s trendsetters.
“It'll take more than cutting off your earlobes, Blofeld, to turn you into a Count.”
The theme of family is keenly felt throughout the story. Naturally, there is Blofeld’s quest to gain nobility, but we also have Draco painfully recalling the past that led to his current predicament with his errant daughter. This entire concept is alien to every other Bond adventure. Not only do we have 007 becoming totally fascinated by a woman he cannot fully understand and use, but he becomes the remedy to her suicidal malaise. Draco, against his better judgement, decides that it would be better to have a member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service in the “family”, so to speak, if it means making Tracy happy. Bond, for the first and only time in the film series – well, unless you count Vesper Lynd spinning his head around in Casino Royale – begins to unearth feelings of attachment and need. Not only for Tracy, whom he ultimately falls in love with, but for MI6, itself. He struggles not to show the hurt that he feels when he thinks that M has accepted his resignation without a single word of regret, and his relief when he discovers that his longstanding and long-suffering boss has actually only signed his request for two weeks leave (courtesy of Lois Maxwell’s quick-witted Miss Moneypenny) … is massively evident. We have always known that James Bond would cease to exist without the Secret Service attempting to hold his leash, but this is the only occasion when we realise just how much this connection means to him. Perhaps to reinforce this departmental “bond”, we even get to see M’s rather opulent home, aptly named Quaterdeck, when 007 pays him a visit and impresses him not only with a Blofeld-baiting strategy, but his knowledge on lepidopterology! Interestingly, we would even get to see inside Bond’s home in Live And Let Die, but the effect was diminished considerably when we discovered that the world-saver was a slave to Formica!
“She needs a man to dominate her. A man like you.”
As Tracy, Diana Rigg gets one of the most important and choicest roles in the Bond girl pantheon. She not only beds 007, she weds him too … and for real, this time, not like that little commando subterfuge to get the orientalised secret agent onto Blofeld’s island in the previous You Only Live Twice. (In which he actually met the arch-fiend, rendering the film chronology of the franchise a little erroneous, since this Blofeld doesn’t recognise him at all. And, no, that disguise wouldn’t fool him for a second, although that tweed frock coat and cape combo did hide from audiences at the time the fact that the impetuous Lazenby had broken his arm on the slopes!)
I love the way that Tracy cuts through all the pretence and waffle and demands that her father give Bond the information that she believes is all he really wants, but is, in fact, actually becoming almost a secondary goal to him, and then when he does, she simply gets up and storms off, leaving both of them crestfallen. Hunt cuts to the poor bull charging, enraged, at the cluster of mocking toreadors in the arena that is hosting his big birthday bash, clearly making the connection between the two headstrong and, ultimately, doomed creatures.
This sequence then brilliantly cuts, via Tracy’s glistening tears to the lover’s montage – a section of growing romance that takes in strolls in the garden, horse rides through the woods, romping on the beach and, incredibly enough, that stroking of a cute puppy … all things that would be hugely corny and gag-inducing in any other action movie, but come across as weirdly irresistible in this – and then, in a wonderful narrative coup, directly into Bond’s almost casual commencement of cracking the safe of Blofeld’s lawyer, Gumbolt, in Switzerland. After a swooning moment of embarrassed pride from Draco, sitting in-between the two lovers in the back of his limo, Bond just gets out of the car and, with a parting tease about joining them later for a martini, heads directly back into 007 spy mode, something that even we have forgotten about in this wholly new dimension of romance. This has been a dazzling sequence that has told us an awful lot about their relationship that has then, almost imperceptibly, slipped back into suspense. The fact that Bond will not now see Tracy again, until the tables are turned and she saves his life in the Swiss hamlet in the lee of Piz Gloria, is another great device in a film that is constantly spinning around and back upon itself, pulling the rug from under you and enveloping you in its extremely clever and witty logic.
Rigg maintains that alluring aloofness that she used to great effect as Emma Peel opposite Patrick Macnee’s urbane John Steed in The Avengers, and also Oliver Reed in The Assassination Bureau. Yet we can sense this psychological frailty that makes her so compelling a foil for the otherwise cocksure Bond. Tracy has fallen afoul of men in the past, but this is because she confounds the strong-willed and the macho by seeing right through them and challenging them to impress her. And something that her father is certainly right about is that the only man who can do that is the very man who will take her to the grave – James Bond.
“Do not kill me, Mr. Bond. At least not until we’ve had a drink.”
Draco is a magnificent character in his own right. He could easily have been the villain that Bond is pursuing in other circumstances, but his allegiance with our hero is something that the series would sort of return to with Topol’s Milos Columbo in For Your Eyes Only – a gangster whose intelligence and hand-picked army come in very handy when Bond is outnumbered and outgunned and in need of the sort of leverage that only those on the wrong side of the law can supply. Ferzetti (winner of two Italian Oscars) plays him with power and dignity, but also with a huge amount of humility and pathos. In the midst of a gun-battle, he assumes the sort of assertive fatherly control that he had found so difficult to do during his daughter’s formative years, leading to all the trouble that she’s found herself in lately … and prompting Draco, after giving her a sock on the chin for her own good, to expound some long-overdue wisdom to one of his minions, “Spare the rod and spoil the child, eh?” It’s a brilliant line delivered perfectly and at just the essential moment.
That awesome Spaghetti Western face of Ferzetti (and stylishly dubbed voice of David de Keyser, of course), who had gained international fame with his performance in Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West, cradles the gruff sentimentality that he feels for his daughter with a shrewd, almost lacquered business-like resignation. His first meeting with 007 runs the risk of ladling on reams of exposition but it moves smoothly thanks to his endearing portrayal of a tough guy with a conscience. Interestingly, Draco, who was once just a bandit from the hills, has acres more nobility than Blofeld, who is descended from fine aristocratic bloodstock. This sequence also features a ghostly rendition of the James Bond theme that eerily illustrates how Bond could well be the perfect suitor and protector for Tracy.
As we shall now see, the way that composer John Barry and director Peter Hunt use the score, with its self-referencing peccadillo is often deeply haunting.
We Have All The Time In The World. And you’ll need it with what was the longest Bond film in the series until Casino Royale came along and pipped it by around four minutes.
OHMSS has the distinction of not having a title song fronting it. After the inaugural Dr. No relentlessly hammered the main Monty Norman/John Barry James Bond theme tune into our heads every five minutes or so, the path was then cleared to make way for a strong and memorable pop song to announce each new espionage yarn – supplying big name voices with a huge cinematic platform and utterly timeless material to bring fortune to both parties and further endorse the wide-ranging fame of the Bond brand. We’d had the big power ballad of Bassy’s Goldfinger and Tom Jones fainting at the high notes for Thunderball, we’d swooned to Matt Monro’s From Russia With Love and melted with the far eastern romance of Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice, but John Barry, with his fifth full score for James Bond, determined to break away from the template he had created to help reinforce the idea that this was a new Bond and a new interpretation of that macho style. His blistering, hard-driving and propulsive main theme for OHMSS may have become a classic, with his overall score the one that Bond and Barry fans have long championed as being his greatest in the series (and the one most often requested for a complete release), but the most memorable aspect of it has always been the beautiful and haunting song We Have All The Time In The World. Composed by Barry, but with lyrics written by the amazingly versatile and prolific Hal David, this reflective, wistful sonnet was the final recorded release of the great Louis Armstrong, whose honey-draped purr sends shivers down the spine. Reaching number three in the UK charts twenty-five years after the film and score album were first released, and a firmly established stalwart as a wedding song, the power and resonance of it is absolutely second-to-none. As a romantic ballad it hauls at the heartstrings, and as a tragic, shell-shocked eulogy it breaks the aforementioned organ completely in two.
His main theme for OHMSS is a stark and unstoppable rhythm that features electric guitars and synthesizers. It sizzles during the pell-mell escape down the snowy mountain, and it provides an energised and relentless battle motif for the climactic siege of Blofeld’s stronghold by a helicopter assault team led by Draco and fronted by an ice-sliding, machinegun-blasting Bond in a snazzy, SAS-style dark blue snow-parka. The song Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?, sung by Nina, is another very clever musical device. When we first hear it, as Bond arrives in the Alps, it is twee and sugar-coated and irritating. However, when we next hear it, as an anxious Bond tries desperately to hide from Bunt and her squad of killers, it becomes the voice of angelic salvation as Tracy, almost Heaven-sent, comes to his rescue. It is a delightful turnaround that raises what was once annoying to a level of blissful, nick-of-time euphoria.
Yet it is probably how Barry slid the love theme in and out of the score that makes the real difference. He was always a genius at doing this, especially with the Bond scores, but he handles We Have All The Time In The World with such care and reverence that this may well have been the occasion that turned him, as a composer, from the jazzy, upbeat material he was mainly known for, towards the deeper, more morose and achingly melancholic work that he would provide for King Kong, The Deep, The Black Hole, Hanover Street, Dances With Wolves and many others. Something about this theme, I think, broke his heart. I love the slow, almost militaristic variation that we hear as Bond is being driven to meet with Draco. It sounds both regal and playful at the same time. Only Barry could come up with such a combination.
Of course, when Irma Bunt sprays bullets from her M16 at the wedding couple on the cliff-top road and, to the immense satisfaction of the vengeful, broke-necked Blofeld, puts one right between Tracy’s eyes, Barry, Hunt and Lazenby create one of the most masterful moments of unexpected Cinema between them, as the theme plays out gently and forlornly, like a dignified musical coda of destiny reminding us that this could never have been, and Bond cradling his dead wife in his arms and speaking with ghostly pain to the stunned motorcycle policeman that “It’s quite all right … she’s just resting,” and Hunt settles upon the symbolic image of the bullet-hole in the windscreen for a moment of lyrical reflection … before we are finally let off the hook with an eruption of the jazzy James Bond Theme.
It is one of the pivotal moments from the entire series. No quips, no gadgets, no patriotism. Bond stripped to his core and laid bare. Nobody expected it in 1969 …and it is still devastating today.
“Thank you, Q … but this time I’ve got the gadgets, and I know how to use them.”
Super-taut editing from John Glen, who would move on to directing the last three of Moore’s Bond outings and both of Dalton’s, is as tight as a clenched garrotte. Pre-empting the blistering, in-yer-face brutality of Jason Bourne, Lazenby’s wild and hugely aggressive set-tos are vicious, fast and hard-hitting. Connery had some great skirmishes that set the bar quite high. His train-carriage tussle with Robert Shaw’s blonde assassin Red Grant is legendary, but he had a smart brawl with a heavy-set oriental henchman in You Only Live Twice and fun duels with the likes of Oddjob and the cross-dressing spy-assassin at the start of Thunderball. Lazenby and Hunt were prepared to take this more gruelling aspect of 007’s indomitable nature to the next level with added speed and kinetics gained from frame-jumping, the amazing athleticism of the performers and intricate fight choreography, and some powerfully over-the-top sound effects to make audiences wince. Lazenby was unbelievably keen and overly enthusiastic in this department – just look at those enormous roundhouses and hammer-fall blows he dishes out – and frequently damaged his stuntman opponents, namely Yori Borienko’s brick-hard Grunther, whose nose he broke during fight screentests. This harsher, more pulverising style was picked-up by Connery for his audacious and teeth-rattling confrontation with gem-smuggler Peter Franks in the confined-space of a Dutch elevator in Diamonds, and although Moore sort of sidestepped this type of down ‘n’ dirty foe-bashing (well, there is that terrific moment in which he unfairly hoofs a kung-fu expert in the mush when he nobly bows down to him in The Man With The Golden Gun) and Dalton may have employed the head-butt to glorious effect in both of his adventures, the more painful, bruising reality of slamming elbows, fists and feet into like-minded opponents wouldn’t resurface with as much vigour until Brosnan tackled Sean Bean in Goldeneye and then Craig become a human wrecking-ball in Casino Royale. But we have Lazenby’s full-blooded approach to thank for the greater impact that the role’s physicality demands today.
“You perverse English. How you love your exercise.”
The fight on the beach that opens the movie is a helter-skelter melee that looks astonishing not least because of its go-for-broke fury, heart-stopping speed and insane moves, but also because of its unusual twilight aura. Bond's lengthy and violent drowning of one attacker revealed our hero's startling new propensity for almost primal ruthlessness. Then the subsequent room-shattering encounter that Bond has with Draco’s seemingly mute goon (played by Irvin Allen, who would also crop in The Spy Who Loved Me) is the first real time that we witness this new brand of all-out aggression. This set-piece was slightly recalled by Arnie’s macho-mud-slinging bout with Bill Duke in Commando, and it leaves you with no doubt at all that this 007 has some serious cojones. Elbows, fists and feet are employed alongside locks, twists and throws and anything else that can be used as an improvised weapon. The follow-up when Bond upstages the gaggle of goons that have escorted him to Draco’s place is massively over-the-top, with tree-felling sound effects that are slammed into full-on, high-intensity mode with warbling echoes that come on like the blood pounding in the tubes of recently caulifowered ears. It is done to purposely amuse, especially when Bond finds that his mysterious host, the honourable crime-lord Draco, has merely had him brought over for a happy chat about Tracy’s love-life. But just look at how Lazenby takes down the trio of guards, lifts the knife from his growling chum from the fracas in the hotel room, locks them all behind the ominous door and then, in a splendid crouch, seems poised to skewer his next opponent with the pilfered blade. It is brilliantly done ... albeit with some of the most earth-shatteringly over-the-top sound effects this side of a Bruce Lee film.
Further rough ‘n’ tumble on the snow-covered edge of a precipice may result in a couple of rather stiff and obvious dummies hurtling over the cliff, but the baddie-dispatching improvisation of a ski make the killings cold, savage and protracted. Later on, there will be people immolated by a flame-thrower, others sent high-diving over high walls by grenades – actually something of a Bondian trademark by now – and getting impaled on some nasty and rather impractical wall ornaments. But in the film’s most infamous moments, a thug falls into the churning blades of a snow-plough and gets picturesquely shredded (“He had lots of guts!”) and another is set ablaze by Irvin Allen, now sporting a flame-thrower for the final assault. This last shot was once one of many cuts and trims that the film received.
Whereas the shadowy figure of SPECTRE’s most devious and globe-troubling threat of Blofeld was given a superbly entertaining persona in the now-comically archetypal guise of Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice (certainly the easiest version to parody), and would sadly lapse into the urbane and not wholly worrying caricature of Charles Grey in Diamonds Are Forever (the cameo from a neck-braced, wheelchair-stricken bald stooge in the pre-credits sequence to For Your Eyes Only is probably better left out of the canon), Savalas gives the villain genuine depth and personality. He may still crave world domination like any self-respecting Bond baddie, but, most importantly, he demands respect and recognition for himself as well. This obsession with uncovering and proving his true lineage and connection to historical nobility is both hugely vain and arrogant, but also somewhat sad and pathetic. The great Blofeld actually wants to be somebody! This is the exact psychological portrait of the bullied schoolboy who doesn’t fit in with the crowd and subsequently grows up with a huge chip on his shoulder and a dangerous axe to grind with practically everybody around him. Savalas plays him as educated, incisive, determined and mocking … but also extremely human and believable. Of course the situation and the conflict is heightened – let’s face it, he is trying to blackmail the world superpowers with germ warfare – but this underlying current of wretched yearning for acceptance is culled from the same gene-pool as the tormented quest for love and acceptance that Frankenstein’s monster went on. Thus, as much of a veritable monster Blofeld undoubtedly is, he is a difficult man to hate.
Savalas could do this sort of thing extraordinarily well. He was a psychopathic rapist in the ranks of The Dirty Dozen and a renegade Cossack commander in Horror Express, yet on both of these more overtly vicious counts he was still dangerously charismatic. His exchanges with Tracy further denote a man who is desperate for attention. He has all of his Angels of Death (amongst them a young Joanna Lumley and Julie Ege, as well as the more exposed Lancashire hotpot of Angela Scoular’s Ruby Bartlett and Space 1999’s shapeshifting alien minx, Catherine Schell) at his brainwashed disposal – and even his ogreish sidekick, Irma Bunt (Ilsa Steppat, who sadly died just after the film's release), if he ever got so desperate for female company – but he forever longs for something more. He doesn’t just want to subjugate and command any woman - he wants a woman to actually want him back. It is a clever incarnation and one that completely and ruthlessly breaks with the traditional one-note motivation of not only the scumbags who came before him, but practically all those who have followed after him.
Plus, this was a villain who was able to fight 007 on the secret agent’s own physical terms. Previously, the megalomaniacs that Bond had come up against had merely sent their legions of goons into battle, but Savalas could bring on the pain with or without his army. His violent climactic confrontation – with guns, grenades and a terminal velocity race down a cresta-run – is a strenuous, lung-bursting affair that represents one of Bond’s most frantic and frustrating finales. Frantic because you simply can’t catch your breath throughout the ordeal, the chase leaving you decidedly shaken and stirred, and frustrating because, in yet another rarity for the franchise, Bond doesn’t get his man. It may look like he does, what with Blofeld’s neck getting crunched into some overhanging branches and his legs doing a spasmodic dangling jitter … but, sadly, we all know better. This Blofeld is determined to have the last laugh.
“Just keep my mind on your driving!”
The reappearance of the Aston Martin (now a DBS and not the DB5 from Goldfinger) was another welcome addition, albeit this time only given screentime during the film’s opening and, even then, the only gadget that it had on offer was a compartmentalised sniper-rifle whose telescopic sight 007 uses to traditionally “spy” upon the mysterious Contessa as she wades into the sea. Otherwise, the movie celebrates the even more nippy and agile Ford Cougar that belongs to Tracy. And the great thing about this is that, in a complete deviation from the well-worn path, it is she that pilots the vehicle all over the show, screeching from one set-piece to another, and gets Bond out of trouble with some high-speed skills. This was yet another inspired spin that OHMSS was able to conjure.
Plunging into the thick of a stock-car rally, the Cougar ploughs through the field and even if the former Avenger, Rigg, is not really controlling the vehicle, you have no trouble at all believing that Tracy is revelling in her whip-crack reactions, sucking her bottom lip in and scything the wheel around with enthusiastic venom. And Just look at how close the stunt extras come to getting flattened by it!
The chases, be they on skis (or just the one ski in Bond’s ever-adaptable case), in a car, or via bobsled are thunderous and gruelling. There is copious back-projection employed during the two ski-chases and the desperate final pursuit down the bobsleigh run, and it is glaringly obvious but, miraculously, never looks at all stupid. In my opinion, this is because they seem to get the speed just about right, and because the style is so dynamic and fast, and the characters' reactions highly plausible. I love the way that Grunther has nothing but disdain for the Blofeldian who cannot control his descent and hurtles into a tree. “Idiot!” he curses with a bout of severe tut-tuttage, reinforcing the fact that he is the former Olympian on the bad team, as the iconic five rings on his jacket testify. In fact, the skiing takes on a huge new dimension when you remember that most of the participants – Blofeld’s machinegun-toting spy-hunters primarily – are sans ski-poles so, really speaking, he should be more forgiving, taking into account the breakneck velocity that they are all travelling downhill with. It is no surprise to learn most of them are, indeed, Olympic skiers.
For the bobsleigh-run, Hunt’s 2nd Unit not only had cameraman John Jordan hanging in a harness beneath a helicopter, filming the metal man-torpedoes blitzing their way down the ice-tunnel, but they also employed his buddy Willy Bogner to be towed, at high speed, behind one so that he could capture the rattling bullets for some blistering in-yer-face close-ups! OHMSS raised the bar for the series’ frequent snowbound set-pieces, though only Rocky Taylor’s gloriously patriotic (and still record holding) leap off the cliff edge in the pre-credits sequence for The Spy Who Loved Me tops its audaciously blithe ignorance of the safety of the stunt-team.
Great cinematography from Michael Reed, who had just done wonders for mid-sixties Hammer Horror and, quite pertinently and prophetically, TV’s The Saint with Roger Moore, gives the film and its locations – Portugal, the Swiss Alps around Murren and particularly the resplendent Schilthorn Mountain that doubled for Piz Gloria, and London – a very lavish and epic scope. The screenplay sizzles and even if some people think that the lengthy middle section in which Bond prances around in a kilt and tends to forget that he has a bride-in-waiting drags on a bit, it still contains witty dialogue and a strong sense of unfolding drama. And with a final hour that is almost constant action, and featuring one of the most heartrending and shocking conclusions in any adventure film, OHMSS is the Bond film that tops the lot. Character, mystery, suspense and genuine romance are the hallmarks of Lazenby’s one and only mission for MI6. It could be argued that the franchise was too afraid of him, and what he had revealed about 007 … and, thus, we had the strained and even quite depressing return of Connery, and then the switch to the tongue-in-cheek, twinkle in the eye, brow-raising antics of Roger Moore. Tactics that now seem to help Lazenby's portrayal stand out all the more.
Only now, with Daniel Craig, are we getting a proper return to the hard-hitting, more emotional and psychological, more vulnerable stance that Lazenby created. The jury is still on just why he never returned for any more Bondage. He maintains that he was given duff gen about being typecast, and that the franchise couldn’t last, but his often irresponsible pranks and attention-seeking attitude – he was a very Brazen Lazenby – during the production didn’t particularly impress Cubby who, almost certainly, longed for the good old days of the tried and trusted Connery. He got his wish, of course … but even he would admit that the result was lacklustre and unsatisfying. In a way, it is best that Lazenby never put on the tuxedo again, because his one shot at the title remains an absolute classic that he never got the chance to sully or tarnish.
OHMSS stands alone in the series, and yet it is the most emotional and well-told of cinematic Bond stories, with a truly outstanding, and deeply affecting interpretation of 007 propelling it like a runaway train.
It is an awesome film that I long to award with the full 10 out of 10.
However, it gets an official 9 … but you know the truth.