Tony Fyler gives respect to the Lazenby Bond.
Let’s make no bones about one thing: the plot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is weird. Arch-criminal and in some ways, Bond’s Moriarty, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played in this outing by Telly ‘Better Known as Kojak’ Savalas) aims to sterilize the world’s food supply by spreading a virus. Mad enough for you? OK, let’s double down – he plans to do this using ‘Angels of Death’ – twelve beautiful women from around the world, who’ve all been brainwashed while secluded in an alpine clinic for allergies and phobias. We’d like to think that this is the first time a Hay Fever cure was ever used as a devilish device to endanger life on a grand scale, though clearly, given the wave of anti-vaccination hysteria sweeping through the US in 2015 on the grounds that ‘it causes autism’ (it doesn’t), it would not be the last. Clearly, more people than you’d ever imagine think the plot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is not only plausible but positively documentary.
More than the thoroughly demented plot, Blofeld’s motivations for doing this seem not so much like using a hammer to crack a walnut as like extracting DNA from an insect trapped in amber, cloning a mammoth, growing it to full size and marching it down a Swiss, snow-covered mountain… to crack a walnut. He’s willing to endanger the food supply of the whole world for amnesty for his past crimes, and an aristocratic inheritance – essentially, a legitimization and retirement plan. Bear in mind, he’s had to develop a virus, develop reliable brainwashing techniques, establish himself as an expert in phobias and allergies, and buy and run an allergy research centre, all to legitimize the threat he brings to bear, for the sake of a clean criminal record and a European coronet. Mad, mad, mad.
But let’s be honest – no-one watches Bond movies for the intense gritty believability of their plots. You watch Bond movies for the action sequences, the suave misogyny, the gadgets, the witty repartee which borders on the psychotic and above all the personality of Bond himself. That being the case, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service actually has quite the attache case of goodies to offer.
Firstly, the guest cast includes some fantastic names giving above-average Bond movie performances. Chief Bond girl this time out – Diana ‘Emma Peel’ Rigg as Countess Tracy di Vincenzo, thank you very much, following in the footsteps of Honor ‘Cathy Gale’ Blackman as the unspeakably named Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. Telly Savalas as Blofeld too does great work here, making Blofeld entirely amoral, but rather more human and three-dimensional than he appeared in other encounters. Were the plot not quite so unhinged, you could look at Telly Savalas in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and think ‘I believe you head up a vast international crime syndicate.’ Sadly for Savalas, he got one of Blofeld’s more banana-dribbling schemes to sell, but nevertheless, he does good work in giving the piece a real, cold-hearted human being as its driving source of menace.
Then there are the action sequences. Well, alright, there’s really, for the most part, the big ski down Piz Gloria, a scene, which when ripped off for an advertising campaign in the UK, sold an insane amount of fairly unappealing chocolate during the 70s. The scene itself is almost as mad as the movie’s plot, but in terms of the swishing drama and the focused camerawork (underpinned by what is generally regarded as one of the best Bond scores in the series), it still delivers a high rate of thrills per second. There are plenty of other chase scenes and some solid fighting too, but in terms of classic Bond moments, you think OHMSS, you think of the big ski.
Then there’s the theme. We Have All The Time In The World, by none other than Louis Armstrong. Not only the only ‘Bond theme’ of its era to make absolutely no reference to the title of the movie it was trying to sell, but without fear of contradiction we can say it’s the only Bond theme that’s regularly played at weddings to this day – which when you consider what happens to the woman who marries Bond in this movie, is more than a little macabre.
Oh yes, did we mention that? This is Bond, the human being. Not Bond the alcoholic high-functioning sociopath, not Bond the damaged, not Bond the soulless materialist – Bond, getting married to one of the many women to fall into bed with him. Granted, she’s assassinated shortly after the ‘I do’s’ are said, but still – this is a new departure for Bond.
All of which leads us on to the thing that makes OHMSS unique – the performance of Ozzie Bond George Lazenby. Lazenby is often thought of as ‘that guy.’ The one-off Bond. The ‘worst’ Bond. No-one ever seems to take into account the weight of the responsibility on his shoulders in the movie. The only movie Bond spy-fans had known till then was Sean Connery. Hairy, compact, dynamic, Scottish Humphrey Bogart Bond – and very popular he was too. Lazenby had done precious little in front of cameras that didn’t involve posing and selling things, but suddenly he found himself cast as inheritor to the Connery legacy. What he gave was a performance which only doesn’t feel like Bond if all you’ve known of Bond is Sean Connery. For all his performance has been criticized, it’s actually one of the most naturalistic of all the Bonds, precisely because it appears to be a life lived, rather than a pose struck, or a sardonic line delivered. For all Connery’s dripping machismo, and Roger Moore’s stylized sophistication, Lazenby plays the role as a real human being with special skills and a sense of right and wrong, rather than as a superspy, or a morally dubious anti-hero.
This is what people often forget about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Lazenby, not Moore, was the Patrick Troughton of Bonds, the one tasked with the job of making sure that Bond could, in effect, by played by anyone other than Connery, despite the powerhouse performance that Connery used to make the part his own. If Lazenby had been unconvincing in the role, it’s unlikely Roger Moore could have followed, and Bond on film would have been stuck in Sean Connery’s timeline. Some might think that would have been a good thing, but fans of later Bonds would have been robbed of decades of movies had Lazenby not delivered a new take, a new way to be Bond, while still being Bond. Yes, the plot is a banana and crisp sandwich of a thing, mad on every conceivable level, but Lazenby’s new take on the role – more fluid, more throwaway funny, rather than fix the camera with a stare and deliver the line funny, more altogether lithe and action-capable than Bond had been before – helped ensure that other actors would come to the role and try to make it their own, rather than being forced to offer increasingly unbelievable carbon copies of the Connery performance. For that, for a killer guest cast and a superlative soundtrack, as well, of course, as for a rather more faithful rendition of the Ian Fleming original novel, fans of other Bonds besides Connery owe On Her Majesty’s Secret Service an enormous debt of respect.
George Robert Lazenby, we at WarpedFactor salute you.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk
James Bond will return next Thursday...