Sunday, November 27, 2016

the James Bond movie you probably never saw

There's always a cable network that this month shows a James Bond marathon.  Usually six times.  Last year I caught ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. I don't think I had seen it since it first came out... in 1969. It’s pretty much the forgotten Bond film because it was the only one that starred George Lazenby. He had the misfortune of replacing Sean Connery and for good measure, was not an accomplished actor. He was more of a male model.

At the time he was skewered by the critics and public, and the movie essentially became the Fredo of the series.

But watching it again in retrospect, I have to say it was not that bad. In fact, it was way better than a lot of the later idiotic MOONRAKER and later Bond films. In one, Denise Richards plays a nuclear physicist for Crissakes!

Lazenby was not very good, and it was hard for me to really take him seriously since he looked like a more handsome Soupy Sales, but he sure wasn’t much worse than Timothy Dalton. He tried to have fun with the role, and so what if for one movie James Bond was a little goofy?

But the plot was pretty good. It stayed very true to Ian Fleming’s book and was a lot more realistic than later 007 adventures where he’s on the moon or taking Denise Richards seriously.

Telly Savalas supplied the necessary panache required for a Bond super villain. And also the necessary stupidity to tell Bond his world domination plan and save killing him for later instead of just putting a bullet in his head and going back to stroking his cat.

The Bond Girl was leggy Diana Rigg. And anyone who grew up watching THE AVENGERS in the ‘60s was already madly in love with her.   So this perpetual adolescent was way on board in this most-crucial category. 

The film also featured that great John Barry score with all those familiar kick-ass guitar instrumentals.  (Think about it -- when you go to a James Bond movie you NEVER come in late.  You're ALWAYS there for the beginning and that guitar lick.) 

But the best thing about ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE was that I hadn’t seen it in so long. I’ve probably seen every other Bond movie at least twice. Don’t you notice that when you come across a Bond marathon you always recognize the movie? You don’t always remember which one it is – you go “Oh yeah, the stupid Egypt one” or “the stupid Swiss Chalet” one -- but you watch the action sequence that you’ve seen already nine times. You try not to think how old that Bond girl is today, and you just resign yourself to whoever Bond is at that moment even if it’s not your favorite. (And by the way, although most people claim Sean Connery is their fave, there are a lot of folks who grew up on Roger Moore and prefer his interpretation. I can’t argue with that.) But it was great fun to watch sequences I hadn’t seen in decades. Even though some of the shots were adventures in bad blue screen -- the action, the James Bond theme, and the twenty guys after 007 all in matching uniforms shooting and missing at least 20,000 times (you’d think super villains could afford better marksmen… I mean, how much must those secret hilltop high-tech compounds that commision cost? Explosives alone have to be in the tens of thousands.) it still adds up to a real adrenaline jolt.

And then there’s the ending. I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it or read the book, but suffice it to say this movie does not have your typical Bond in a raft with Carey Lowell wrap-up.

So look for the inevitable Bond marathon coming later this month (or this week). Because ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE stars George Lazenby it’s usually buried in the middle of night. But record it. You might be pleasantly surprised. And you can fast-forward through the miles and miles of commercials. Of all the gadgets that Q has invented, nothing comes close to the DVR.

50 comments:

Matt said...

This is one of my favorite Bond films because of the writing. Bond is not played as perfect. He is shown to be an bit of an alcoholic jackass. Not everything is perfect in his world. If Lazenby could act I think this would be a classic. My favorite Bonds:

6. Roger Moore - Way too old, unbelievable that he could beat up any body and looked like James Bond's butler.
5. Timothy Dalton - not totally his fault. They didn't want him to be a womanizer so was he really Bond or just some other superspy?
4. George Lazenby - Connery would be hard to follow for anyone.
3. Pierce Brosnan - It would have been interesting if he could have had the role earlier instead of being forced to do Remington Steele.
2. Sean Connery - Too perfect and the plots didn't always make sense.
1. Daniel Craig - Closest interpretation to the books. Though Quantum of Solace sucked.

Peter said...

Oh no you didn't! Did you just dismiss Timothy Dalton's Bond?! Sorry but to this day he's still my favourite James Bond and Licence to Kill is still my favourite Bond movie.

Dalton's 007 was ahead of its time. Audiences had had 7 jokey Roger Moore films and they weren't prepared for the sudden tonal shift with a more serious Bond. Daniel Craig has been lauded for making Bond gritty but Dalton did it first, he just didn't get the recognition he deserved. His 007 was lethal and suave. Even just the way he says "I'm more of a problem eliminator" in Licence to Kill is badass.

Brosnan was great but he was let down by some flaky scripts. Apart from the magnificent Tomorrow Never Dies, there was too much of the Roger Moore approach to the writing. And apart from Goldeneye, he also had the misfortune of being lumbered with the most godawful titles. Seriously, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day and Tomorrow Never Dies sound like they put a bunch of words in a bag and then picked them out at random. And all four Brosnan movies had appalling theme songs. Not that the Craig ones have been much better. The last great James Bond song was, yes that's right, Licence to Kill by Gladys Knight. And Carey Lowell is also my favourite Bond girl.

Another thing in favour of the Dalton movies is that they're from the era in which blockbusters still used practical effects. Real explosions, real helicopters, real boats, real buildings blown up. Action movies have been ruined by CGI. Christopher Nolan is the only director who insists on practical in-camera effects and only uses CGI where absolutely necessary.

I say give Licence to Kill another chance, Ken!

Steve Boyko said...

Roger Moore was my Bond... although I did like Timothy Dalton's take on it, as he was more true to the books.

MOONRAKER was indeed a disaster. It was time to go.

My dad was a big Bond fan so I remember him a lot when I see Bond movies. My dad had a personalized license plate : 007.

Fluffy Elmo said...

Easily my favourite Bond film. Lazenby is weak but the great action and Diana Rigg more than make up for it. I also have a 11min remix of the theme on my iPod that is great for skiing or driving. On Her Majesties Secret Service by The Propellerheads if anyone is curious.

Johnny Walker said...

Yes, I think OHMSS is far better regarded today than it was on release. The thing I remember as a kid was Bond breaking the fourth wall ("this never happened to the other guy"), and it kind of killed it for me. I guess I can overlook it now :)

I think you're being a bit harsh on Dalton, though. His films may have been lacking in humour, but he was a great Bond IMO.

I wonder who ranks as the most popular Bond these days? I grew up with Moore, but I have come to prefer Connery.

Kiki said...

I never thought of Conery as an actor, he was not exactly a leading man, more of a bit player before 007 fame and his acting was always lukewarm at best.a bodybuilder and milkman before that, so … Lazenby wasn’t much of a letdown, I thought. The script was okay, but it was mainly Savalas and Rigg who let this one stand out for me.

BA said...

So many beautiful women in one Bond movie...couldn't they have set it on Dr No's island, or some other location where they could wear bikinis??

blinky said...

The original Bond trilogy: Dr No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger should have been the complete set.
Except for the printing money part, esthetically they could have stopped there. The rest of the movies are all B, C and D grade sequels. Most are essentially clones of Dr. No.
Dr. No was the only movie where Bond killed a woman in cold blood.

Daniel said...

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is the only pre-Daniel Craig Bond film that I actually like (totally coincidentally I just finished re-watcthing all four of the Craig films on iTunes and they're still pretty friggin' great). The problem with most of the non-Craig films is that, aside from being way too campy (I really despise camp humor), they're just so unimaginatively directed. Standard camera set-ups. By-the-numbers editing. Flat lighting. "OHMSS" holds up so well, I think, because it's shot and edited in a very modern fashion that still holds up well.

Dhruv said...

Pierce Brosnan was to me the best. Suave, slick, stylish with a glint of mischief in eyes.

He became Bond just in time that India liberalised and opened up, so a lot of new age movie fans still adore him from the first English movie experience. Sadly caught in controversy for selling “paan masala” (a mixture of areca nut, a stimulant, tobacco, betel leaf and spices) here.

John barry was the best in music. "Spacemarch" and "Fire Rescue" being the ultimate soundtracks. David Arnold and Eric Serra were good too.

The best suited and acted character was that of Judi Dench. So good !!!


P.S. Denise Richards actually has a very high I.Q. score. She acts like a dumb bimbo just to blend in with Hollywood folks ;)

gottacook said...

Not only have I seen OHMSS, it's the first James Bond movie I ever saw, when I was 12 or so. I haven't been to one since Never Say Never Again and haven't bothered to catch up with the many I've missed. However, I did see the TV movie Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the early 1980s that featured Lazenby in a cameo as "J.B."

As for Moonraker, I recall seeing a mass-market paperback at the time entitled James Bond and Moonraker - not your usual novelization, as it was evidently a way to cash in on the fact that the Bond movies had strayed so far from the source novels that there was no market for the latter among people who'd enjoyed the movie.

Dixon Steele said...

I rather like Daniel Craig, but Jesus, the last 3 he did were awful! In fact, SPECTRE, was so bad, even Craig publicly slammed it. His first, CASINO ROYALE, is his best and one of the best Bond films period IMHO...

Buttermilk Sky said...

Sorry, Peter, but the dopiest title was NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. Sounds like a June Allyson musical. Probably refers to Connery's decision to walk away from 007 until they offered him enough money to buy his own golf course.

Robert Brauer said...

All this talk about Bond has me thinking about something. Paul McCartney and Wings recorded the theme to "Live and Let Die", and Ringo married Barbara Bach (the Bond girl from "The Spy Who Loved Me"). The connections the two had to the series seem funny given the following line from Goldfinger:

"My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That's just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!"

CarolMR said...

In two James Bond novels Ian Fleming writes that Bond looks like Hoagy Carmichael! I don't think any of the actors playing Bond resembles Carmichael.

Liggie said...

Always wondered how Moore ca. "The Saint" wold have done as Bond.

MikeK.Pa. said...

After FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER, I lost interest in the series. How could you top them for gadgets (the attache case in the first and the Aston Martin in the second); women (Daniela Bianchi is still stunning 50 years later and how could you not like a female pilot named Pussy Galore?); villains (Robert Shaw's Red Grant and Harold Sakata's Oddjob); and adroit lines (To Shaw: ""Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something." Matter of factly about Goldfinger: He's quite mad, you know.")? I got the James Bond attache case as a Christmas gift - the best and coolest I'd ever receive. Sadly, for me, the series went downhill beginning with THUNDERBALL - one of the worst board games I'd ever receive.

Donald Benson said...

NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN was non-canonical. That is, it was made by people who (aside from Connery) had no connection with the original series, but, through legal stuff involving the original screenwriter, had rights to the script of "Thunderball".

Likewise the first CASINO ROYALE. The novel was bought for a TV adaptation before DOCTOR NO was made, and consequently those rights were snapped up by somebody other than the Bond movie people.

OCTOPUSSY was fun and would have been a great exit for Moore. The funny stuff was actually funny and the plot was an interesting change from the usual crazy conquer-the-world scheme. A VIEW TO A KILL was just goofy, and not in good ways.

Interesting that "reboot" has now entered the general vocabulary and audiences accept not only replaced actors in a franchise, but the having the old history erased. Batman and Superman were reborn in the comic books as well as the movies. Spider-Man and the X-Men both reset the clock after three films. Fantastic Four is probably going to get a SECOND reboot. Star Trek managed to be a continuation AND a reboot by messing about with time.

ODJennings said...

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE isn't a great movie but does have the single best death scene in any of the James Bond movies.

The scene where the guy skis into the whirling blades of the giant rotary snow blower and the snow suddenly starts coming out the top colored pink seriously freaked me out when I saw it as a child.

Earl Boebert said...

Thanks a lot, Ken, said once straight and once snarkily :-) Thanks for reminding me of that movie, and thanks (snarkily) for it now being on "very long wait" for the Netflix DVD. Have you considered a Premium Membership to this blog, where we get tipped in advance via email of your recommendations? (Just kidding).

Fred Nerk said...

George Lazenby was offered a 7 movie contract by the Bond producers but turned it down, I think he would have grown into the role quite well. I read somewhere that Oliver Reed got the role after Connery quit and that it was his dream job, it was on the condition he behaved himself but he blew it by being found naked and drunk in a park or something, became the big regret of his career. He would have been an awesome Bond.

Johnny Walker said...

The first two Bonds (and possibly Craig's Casino Royale) stand alone, if you ask me. GOLDFINGER ushered in the campy era -- that many love, admittedly -- and it really became something else with that film. The first two are really quite brutal, even by today's standards -- that Robert Shaw fight on the train is as bone crunching as anything Craig filmed. GOLDFINGER took a dive into bizarro country by comparison, but if you go with it, it's lots of fun, and opens the door to the rest of the franchise.

D. McEwan said...

I don't have to watch for OHMSS in a marathon, as I have a lovely DVD of it, replacing my old VHS copy. I've always considered it one of the best Bond movies. The novel was my favorite of the novels (I read all the Ian Fleming Bond novels, none of the novels by others), and that they followed the novel closely is part of why I love it, though Dame Diana is also a big reason for loving it. It's never been "Forgotten" by me.

I loathe all the Roger Moore Bonds. I'll even take the Timothy Dalton Bonds over any one with Moore. (The second Dalton film, Licence to Kill, is pretty good.) I also dislike all the Pierce Brosnan Bonds. Those are the ones where I can never remember which title goes with which terrible movie. Anyone who loves the Moore Bonds clearly never read or else liked the books. (Rereading the books now, though the misogyny, the casual racism and the snobbery is bothersome, they're still good, well-written, entertaining reads.)

One great aspect of OHMSS you did not mention is the action scene editing. It was the first one directed by Peter Hunt, who had edited all the ones up to then. He found new ways of cutting the action, refining the techniques he'd pioneered in the earlier Bonds, so the editing of the action scenes is what makes them so amazing. If it reads less amazing now it's because in the 45 years since it came out, everyone has pounced on Hunt's editing innovations. Pauline Kael reviewing it made note of its then-amazing action scenes.

One bit from the book not used in the movie I've always missed is when Blofeld kills a guy by having him thrown down a bobsled run without a bobsled. Whether this would actually kill you is debatable, but it's a great idea.

D. McEwan said...

Oh, one other thing in OHMSS's favor: It has Joanna Lumley in it. It's a small role, true, but she's always welcome.

Mike Doran said...

Never Say Never Again was a popular song from (I think) the Thirties.

I heard it in The Fabulous Dorseys, a biopic that Tommy and Jimmy made some time around then; it was apparently part of the band's book.

Years later, on The Waltons, Jon Walmsey and Joe Conley sang it as part of a local variety show.

It starts like this:

I'll never say never again, again
'Cause here I am in love again
Head over heels in love again
With you ...


I've been trying to find it on YouTube; no luck so far.

For all I know it might just be from a June Allyson musical.
Hello Earwig ...

Charles H. Bryan said...

It was not healthy for me to see Diana Rigg and Julie Newmar in those skin tight outfits on tv when I was a kid. How was I ever supposed to recover from that?

Anonymous said...

I won't be a spoiler either but Diana Rigg was more than just a Bond girl in this movie. My favorite Bond movie was the first Casino royale with Sir James Bond (David Niven) and little Jimmy
Bond (Woody Allen) and 007 (Peter Sellers). Janice B.

Allan V said...

Peter, I TOTALLY agree on Timothy Dalton; not only was he seriously underrated as Bond, but IMO, the best pure actor to ever play Bond. He more than held his own in action scenes, often doing his own stunts. He just crackled with intensity in the scenes that called for it, and showed a surprising amount of vulnerability in others. His fake driving scene from THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, where he says (with a sly grin) "Whoever she was, I must have scared the living daylights out of her", is so well acted that it still gives me a chill.

I think that much of the negative reaction to TLD was that audiences had gotten used to the increasing preposterousness of the Bond movies, particularly through the Roger Moore era, and they were caught off guard by a much more serious interpretation that harkened back to the original novels. The lack of implied sex probably bothered some, too. But I really liked him as Bond and was disappointed when I found out he wouldn't be returning for a third movie.

Donald Benson said...

On "Absolutely Fabulous", Lumley's character Patsy makes reference to being a Bond girl. It turns out she made a bondage film and thought that was close enough.

I remember being a little doubtful about Bond heroines -- or Bond villains, for that matter -- who were already famous. It was as Bond movies were set in a different world, and familiar faces from our own were jarring.

Robert Forman said...

The best thing about OHMSS is the song, sung by Louis Armstrong "We Have All The Time In The World". Armstrong was ill and in the twilight of his life at the time, so that bit of irony made the song all the more poignant. Here is a link to a story about recording the song:
http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2014/10/45-years-of-we-have-all-time-in-world.html

John said...

I still say it's arguably the best Bond movie. It's definitely the best non-Connery Bond movie, though. It holds up as a movie of its own, which - let's face it - few post-60s Bond movies actually do, relying instead of repeated tropes and audience familiarity with the character.

John said...

As for Johnny Walker's mentioning of breaking the fourth wall above: "this never happened to the other guy" is a British idiomatic phrase meaning "why does this always happen to me?".

Barry Traylor said...

I have a Friday question for you Ken. I have noticed that during football season the shows that have the misfortune of being on Sunday evening have their shows pushed back much later. What does that do to the ratings of those shows?

Johnny Walker said...

@John: As a very British fellow myself I can honestly say that in 38 years that phrase has not once passed my ears from real life or entertainment. It's clearly a wink to the audience, too. Do you have any examples of a character referring to "the other fellow"?

Johnny Walker said...

Bond is such a rich topic for discussion! Just thinking about it more, I really think Dalton was ahead of his time. Brosnan is very entertaining, but the attempts at modernising Bond in his era have aged very badly. He's a natural successor to Moore, whereas Dalton was the predecessor to Craig. Audiences just weren't ready for a return to subtly and realism after Moore's escapades. It's a shame Dalton didn't get one more film.

norm said...

Does anyone remember that Roger Moore played US western - as a Maverick with James Garner??

tavm said...

For Your Eyes Only was a semi-sequel to that since the Cold Open addresses what happens to "Blofeld" in it. EON no longer had a copyright claim on him so he was dispatched quickly. Roger Moore was touching in that beginning scene and the movie wasn't so comedic as a result. It's probably the best of his Bonds...

Brother Herbert said...

I'm one of those that grew up with Moore as Bond. MOONRAKER was the first one I recall seeing. Two things stood out for me: Richard Kiel as Jaws, and the scene where Bond is trapped inside that spinning contraption - as someone with lifelong vertigo and balance issues, that scene was terrifying to six-year-old me.

In retrospect the last few with Moore bordered on self-parody with his pasty body and dyed hair. Like Charles Bronson in the last ten or so DEATH WISH movies (and their knockoffs), he was just too old to be doing this shit.

Betty said...

Hulu+ currently has 17 James Bond films, if anyone is craving a marathon or a particular one.

Goldfinger is my favorite Bond movie overall, but Live and Let Die is my favorite Roger Moore. When I saw Never Say Never Again, I realized how much more I liked Sean Connery as Bond. When I saw Timothy Dalton, I missed Roger Moore. And I think the worst title ever goes to Octopussy.

Peter said...

Allan V, right on, right on! I love The Living Daylights and I agree on his line delivery there. Also the way he delivered the line after his friend is killed: "Yes, I got the message". Dalton comes from a theatre background, so he was able to invest the character with depth and nuance. The way he dispatches the bad guys in Licence to Kill is especially intense. Saying to one scumbag who tries to bribe Bond in exchange for his life: "You earned it, you keep it, old buddy", he delivers the line with such coldness, it makes Daniel Craig's Bond look like a boy scout.

Licence to Kill is the James Bond film I've watched more than any other. It has all my favourites: my favourite Bond villain, Robert Davi's Franz Sanchez, my favourite Bond girl, Carey Lowell, my favourite Bond theme song, by Gladys Knight, and my favourite action scenes, with a more hard edged and brutal approach to the action. And let's not forget this is was the first major appearance by Benicio Del Toro in a movie and he was fantastic as Sanchez's main henchman.

Brian Phillips said...

I have an odd relationship with OHMSS, because my Mom was a big fan of soundtrack music. I was too young to see the movie and VCRs were not in every home. This Bond film was a very long one, so it wouldn't get shown on broadcast TV, either. This meant that I was very familiar with the score well before I saw the movie. John Barry did a great job on it, too.

I have also heard the scores to The Big Country and Mackenna's Gold and I have yet to see those as well.

Brian Phillips said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Phillips said...

To blinky: Even though it was not Bond that pulled the trigger, he does deliberately lunge his dancing partner in front of a bullet.

Brian Phillips said...

Mike Doran: Here is the song you're looking for:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YghFAHhU2OI

Nat "King" Cole recorded it, too.

MikeN said...

Here is the previous time Ken posted this.
http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2011/12/james-bond-movie-you-probably-never-saw.html

I still think the fourth wall is not broken at the beginning.

Mike Doran said...

Brian Phillips:

Thanx a heep.

I spent much time and effort, burning out what's left of my eyes trying to enter that verdammte URL - and it turns out the video is "no longer available."

Should you decide to try again, please - no URLs.

As my inner Cockney would say - Urls make me 'url.

Thanx anyhoo ...

Mike Doran said...

Disregard previous comment.

See, I didn't know that the song's title was "I'll Never Say Never Again Again".

The possessive at the start made all the difference.

Apologies all around.

Johnny Walker said...

Here's the contentious clip of Lazenby (allegedly) breaking the fourth wall.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IGM36KWmh4

He says: "This never happened to the other fellow" and then looks at the camera :) It irks me less as an adult.

Mystic said...

I think sometimes actors take the blame for weak scripts and directing; Guy Hamilton directed some of the best. I think it's a shame Connery couldn't have made OHMSS because everything else about the film is almost perfect. In the Fleming canon, it came between "Thunderball" and "You Only Live Twice," but due to shooting schedules it was decided to shoot the latter first.

MikeN said...

He doesn't turn towards the camera until after he says it.
DJ McEwan insisted it was before in the previous discussion.
I think it is clearly after, and if memory serves it jumps straight into the opening song.
When I first saw the movie I interpreted it as a wink to the audience, with the character talking about Cinderella.