ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE —–“This never happened to the other fellow.” The youngest of the 007s at 29, George Lazenby, a rugged-looking Australian model with scant prior acting experience, stepped into the enviable position as the new James Bond. But with this 1969 entry, he was in the equally unenviable spot of following the immortal Sean Connery, who was more shaken than stirred after doing the first five. Criticism before, during, and after dogged the film and the cheeky new fellow, but it still racked up the numbers and its rep has grown steadily over the ensuing decades. *
Bond’s dogged pursuit of SPECTRE overlord Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) has him in an alliance with ‘Draco’ (Gabriele Ferzetti), a hearty, less-deranged crime syndicate boss whose deal for helping nail Blofeld is Bond marrying Draco’s handful of a daughter, the gorgeous but troubled ‘Tracy’ (Diana Rigg, no trouble, just gorgeous). Posing as a twitty genealogist, Bond finds Blofeld’s latest lair atop Switzerland’s dramatic Mt.Schilthorn (9,744 feet/2,970 metres), ensconced in the extraordinary ‘Piz Gloria’, with a dozen nubile beauties from different countries, and of course some brutish assistants and foot soldiers, led by the less-than-lovely ‘Frau Irma Bunt’ (Ilse Steppat). Will Bond be somehow talked into quick-like-bunnies cavorting with several of the resident babes? Will there be a big wipeout climax? (one can always hope) Will James Bond get… (gulp) ..married? ‘Ejector seat? You’re joking.’
Directed by Peter Hunt, who’d done the superior editing on the Connery quintet, written by series pillar Richard Maibaum, with another propulsive score from John Barry, it was edited by John Glen. Other than the Swiss Alps, locations were Portugal and London. The script follows Ian Fleming’s 299-page 1963 novel, the 10th in the series, with more fidelity than the other “thanks for the title” adaptations, and goes at being more serious—a relative concept for a Bond lark—especially after the spectacular nonsense of You Only Live Twice. It’s long, at 142 minutes it was the longest in the caboodle until the Craig list began with Casino Royale.
Despite the professionalism and sex appeal of the marvelous Diana Rigg, you don’t buy the love story angle, with its drippy injection of a song to accompany a relationship-building montage (no title tune this time), “We Have All The Time In The World”, sung by Louis Armstrong; the passage is contrived enough to resemble a TV commercial. The finale is a surprise, but it’s not moving in that we don’t believe the poorly written romance. Otherwise, there are the usual obvious puns, and a couple of laugh-out-loud groaners, as when Blofeld tells henchmen during the ski chase “We’ll cut him off at the precipice” and from Bond, after seeing a bad guy fall in front of a snow removal machine, which spews bloody slush into the air: “He had a lot of guts.”
Taking over from Donald Pleasence (last seen in an erupting volcano in You Only Live Twice), Savalas’ Blofeld isn’t very intimidating (contrast this with Telly’s scary ‘Archer Maggot’ from The Dirty Dozen) but he does get to deliver a speech about his newest moneymaking opportunity: “TOTAL Infertility! In plants and animals. Not just disease in a few herds, Mr. Bond. Or the loss of a single crop. But the destruction of a whole strain. Forever! Throughout an entire continent. If my demands are not met, I shall proceed with the systematic extinction of whole species of cereals and livestock all over the world!”
Clearly, he’s crackers, especially since he could have just waited for the real super-villains of Monsanto.
My favorite line has Blofeld cooing to cute Angela Scoular, one of his hypnotized girl-bombs, regarding her particular phobia, “I’ve taught you to love chickens, to love their flesh, their voice.” Gotta use that someday…
The movie takes a good while to get going, but the action scenes pile on in the second half and are staged and cut for maximum impact. The stunt crews, editing and camera work in the ski chase (new to the series) and the bobsled pursuit are grade-A. The fisticuffs have some muscle behind them—Lazenby moves well and looks viably able to dish it out, and as usual the sound effects are on target.
Rigg adds class, Steppat’s Frau Bunt is a chilly Reich’y presence, the fights and chases are cool, Barry’s moog & brass driven theme, a new one for a new Bond, is a hummable adrenaline perk, and then, well…there’s George. At a disadvantage from having to learn on the job, he’s certainly not bad, and his voice is decent, but expression-wise, he’s awkward, pretty square and flat. He comes off pleasant, but neither exciting or sexy. The title sequence and a few other scenes do their bit to link him with the earlier 007 exploits, to establish a bridge from Sean, and again, he manages the action business quite well.
Though it made money–they all do—critical and fan response on release was qualified. It aged well, though, and now the current take on it often goes way overboard praising it as “one of the best in the series”. Yes, it is quite a bit better than most that followed, but it can’t touch the fun of Moore’s topper, The Spy Who Loved Me, and just isn’t in the same league as the first four Connery’s or the first four Craig’s. All in, A- for effort, solid B for results. Made for $7,000,000, it came in 12th place back in ’69, ultimately grossing $82,000,000. With Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, George Baker, Bernard Horsfall, Desmond Llewelyn, Yuri Borienko, Catherine Schell, Julie Ege.
* Lazenby famously went from humble to arrogant and blew off his chance to continue with the character; his acting career promptly went into molasses-drive. He did manage a fine performance for Peter Bogdanovich in 1979s excellent Saint Jack, and comes off refreshingly honest about himself in interviews. Check his entry in the Internet Movie Data Base for a plethora of George quotes. Live and let die, Mr. Bond….
** In German films since 1947, Ilse Steppat, the deep-voiced actress who so effectively plays villain Irma Bunt had her first, and sadly, only English-language role here. She died of a heart attack a few days after the film was released, just 52. Ungainly and made to look as butch and frumpy as possible to joust with 007, as a young woman Ilse was rather striking.
*** Peter Hunt as a film editor was hot stuff; along with the Sean Bond’s, he aced Sink The Bismarck!, Damn The Defiant and The Ipcress File. His trademark “jump cut” technique punched the exploits over with groundbreaking elan: the fight sequence on the Orient Express in From Russia With Love used 59 cuts in 115 seconds. After this, his subsequent output as director was just fair, including Gold, Shout At The Devil and Death Hunt. He commented on the series: “My feeling was always that one should make the films seriously, but never take them seriously.”
True. I remember full well that time I asked a hot date if she wanted to play baccarat. She said “are they a new group?” and I choked on the vodka in my martini, coughing up the olive, which somersaulted with pinpoint accuracy onto her braces. But let’s forget last week and move forward…
Speaking of slick, OHMSS editor Glen would go on to edit the two best Roger Moore installments, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, before moving up to full director of five more in the series. Like Hunt, he was more skillful in editing action than at directing actors. Glen was also the second-unit honcho on this one, so those rip-snorting action sequences really belong to him—and his 28 odds-defying stunt folk.