On Her Majesty's Secret Service Reviews
When it came to make the 6th James Bond film OHMSS, Fleming's 10th Bond novel, EON Productions (Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Saltzman) had what is most probably the biggest challenge of the series now 50 year history, replacing Sean Connery. Connery who had decided the previous film the 5th Bond film You Only Live Twice was to be his last. Connery had grown disillusioned with the role and felt uncomfortable with the exposure that came with playing Ian Fleming's super spy. This is not to say that Connery went out on a high, after 4 films of looking the part and applying himself most capably to the role, Connery returned in 1967 out of shape and clearly not fussed about whether he looked credibly like James Bond 007 of the previous adventures. Connery's almost contempt for the role resulted in the weakest entry so far of the series and appeared a former shadow of himself, yes we had great cinematography, Ken Adam's incredible set design and of course Barry's best score to date but as was to be the case in the 70's and the 80's these ingredients don't always add up to a truly great Bond film.
Peter Hunt who previously served as editor on the 5 films before was promoted to director, Hunt decided that he wanted his film to dispense with the gadgets and rely faithfully to Fleming's text that the previous later films had started to drift away from after From Russia With Love's fairly accurate adaptation, once again Richard Maibaum who had worked on all the scripts with the exception of the previous film. Maibaum managing to pretty much include everything in Fleming's text, if there are flaws, the fact the film is out of order with novels with YOLT being set after the events of Majesty's and Blofeld not recognising Bond despite meeting each other in previous film is a bit of a continuity error. Hunt also utilised Simon Raven to pep up some of the dialogue between Diana Rigg's Tracy & Telly Savalas' Blofeld, Raven added a more intellectual slant having them both quote from James Elroy Flecker.
Although the issue of who was going to play James Bond was the biggest factor, who would replace the world famous universally accepted Connery in the role? Interestingly enough Broccoli offered the role to one Timothy Dalton, Dalton would turn down the role claiming to be too young and not wanting to follow Connery but would eventually accept Cubby's invitation 18 years later and play Bond in 1987's The Living Daylights and 1989's Licence To Kill. Eventually Broccoli and Saltzman would give the role to virtual unknown, Australian George Lazenby, Lazenby had done some advertising work and was most famous for being the Fry's guy. He had got himself a Connery haircut and one of the suits that the first Bond had not taken from his tailor and turned up for his audition with the 2 producers. Lazenby then admitted to Hunt after taking the role that he was not an actor, Hunt shocked said "look you've just persuaded two of the most ruthless people I know you are, you're an actor". Hunt promised if he kept it a secret he'd make him James Bond.
Hunt having already been provided with a screenplay loyal to the source by Maibaum also surrounded himself with gifted actors, Diana Rigg who was most famous for playing Emma Peel was cast in the pivotal role of Theresa di Vicenzo (Tracy) and Telly Savalas as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Hunt also employed his neighbour George Baker in the role of Sir Hilary Bray a Professor at the London College of Arms who assists Bond. Italian actor Gabriele Ferzetti as Marc-Ange Draco head of the Union Corse, a major crime syndicate as well as being Tracy's father. A number of dubbing took place in common place of the earlier Bond films, Fezeretti was dubbed by un-credited voice by David de Keyser and Baker dubbed Lazenby when Hunt felt his voice was not convincing enough while impersonating Bray during the Piz Gloria segment of the film.
It is fair to say that the series owes a great debt to Terence Young the director of the Dr No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball for establishing the character, making Connery look the part and delivering a great introduction. Although for my money it is Hunt's film which stands out as the most crafted entry of the series, whereas the previous entries seemed just like continuations for the most part not a criticism but OHMSS feels like a complete film, short of the gimmicks and full emotional resonance. The film has aged particularly well. Moments like fade from night to day using the Hotel sign reflection in the swimming pool earlier in the film that Bond is staying at in Estoril, Portugal, show a real style and panache not seen in the series before, some question Hunt's choice of speeding up the film in the opening fight of the film but it makes for a thrilling sequence accompanied by an excellent Barry cue. Hunt aided by the film's editor, future series director John Glen who also contributed some 2nd unit work on the film, delivers the most action packed and thrilling sequences of the series.. It would not be till 2006's Casino Royale that the series would come near to matching it. Hunt investing the film with one true downer and the kind emotional wallop not seen till Daniel Craig's debut although even his 3rd entry 2012's Skyfall falls short of Hunt's one and only entry. It seems a great shame he never got a chance to direct another Bond, especially when you consider the journeyman hacks who have directed more, his approach and the style somewhat ahead of its time
John Barry who's scored all the films since From Russia With Love was given free rein to produce a score and to experiment. Barry who had recently won an Oscar for his masterful score to The Lion In The Winter, (incidentally featuring Timothy Dalton) had started to use a earlier type of synthesizer, the Moog in his composing and wanted to utilise this new technology. Also it was deemed that the title was a bit of mouthful for a song the decision was taken for Barry for the first time since Dr No opened with Barry's arrangement of Monty Norman's James Bond theme that an instrumental would play over the opening credits of the film and then provide a song for use in the film as the romantic theme. Barry always stepping up to the plate with aplomb and affording the series nothing but quality work excelled with Majesty's. Not only is without doubt the finest Bond score, it also ranks as some of Barry's finest work full stop as well as pretty much being the best action adventure score ever. Some have tried but never equaled it's pure exhilaration, the infectious toe tapping genius is astounding, as well as producing the best action cues of the series, Barry also provided the most heart breaking song for Bond in the shape of his collaboration with Burt Bacharach's regular lyricist Hal David with the romantic theme, the Louis Armstrong sung "We Have All The Time In The World".
Armstrong who provided in a state of ill health the vocal, this being one of his last pieces of work before his death in 1971, despite his condition it's almost impossible to imagine anyone else singing it, his voice just matching the lyrics and Barry's emotional arrangement, the song which never was a hit at the time eventually became a top 3 chart hit in the UK in 1994 when Guinness licensed the song for one of their most memorable adverts. The song has been covered numerous times but never matching the original's sense of world weariness captured by Armstrong in his twilight years.
It has been since the release of OHMSS a common opinion that if Connery had played Bond instead of the Australian Lazenby that the 6th James Bond film would have been undoubtedly been the best film of the series, despite the fact some people actually believe it to be anyway with or without the Scot. It's obviously taken as a given that Connery still seen as the best 007 would have been terrific in the film. Not even taking into account that Connery was utterly uninterested in the previous film his planned last EON entry. The Bond in OHMSS is a far more emotional Bond, showing vulnerability, Connery for all his drop dead cool reading never played the character with much depth, to be honest the role didn't really require it. It's up for debate that Connery would have aced the part had it been made earlier as originally intended, although I'm inclined to think that Connery who'd never been an actor with a huge amount of range wouldn't have seemed right as Bond in the film. Whatever your opinion this is likely to be debated forever, one of those biggest what if moments of the series.
Though it seems that Broccoli and Saltzman never really had the faith in Lazenby that they understandably had in the well-established Connery; appearing on the poster as starring George Lazenby not George Lazenby as James Bond. The opening credits also included sequences from the previous Connery entries, giving off the idea that it was business as usual and that despite the actor being new he was to be seen as a Connery clone and not someone delivering his own interpretation of the character although Lazenby is nowhere as bad in the role as history might suggest.
I think it seems unfair to suggest that the only reason the film is so good is because Hunt surrounded Lazenby with the best cast of any Bond film was serviced with the finest script of the series and the score and all the ingredients were top notch. While Lazenby doesn't offer the confidence that Connery exuded in the role or brought anything as unique as Moore, Dalton or Craig bought to the role, for someone who was clearly not an experienced screen actor and at times feels occasionally awkward in some scenes, he looks the part. He certainly is the most convincing in the hand to hand combat sequences until Craig took on the role. He predates the more emotional Bond that Dalton and Craig incorporated into their interpretations and genuinely feels vulnerable and heartbroken when it's required. Although it's impossible to know, he may well have grown into the role with other entries but his fate is pretty much his own doing. Taking his agents advice and believing that this character was on the way out and that the likes of Easy Rider was the future of cinema and that Bond would be obsolete within a few years, he announced he was quitting the role. It's hard to feel sorry for him he'd also thrown his ego around on set, upset some of the cast and convinced Broccoli he was not ready for the stardom it afforded despite feeling he was a star before the public had declared him one, they never did, the actor trading off being Bond for the rest of his career but never becoming a big star in his own right.
Though fans of the film decry the missed opportunity of a follow up film that would have picked up after the emotional ending of OHMSS, an entry which would have seen Lazneby's Bond go out for revenge, it may well have changed the face of the series and Lazenby could have gone on to make more entries, it can be speculated but it's reception saw Broccoli and Saltzman go back to Connery a with huge financial reward to return one last time to the role. The result was a more audience friendly addition that ignored the tone established in the previous film with the first Bond returning looking almost unrecognisable in the role.
OHMSS is also the one film in the series that has probably gone under some of the worst treatment perpetrated on a Bond film, the most significant example being the 1976 CBS broadcast of the film, deciding to premier the film to coincide with the Winter Olympics the decision was taken to re-edit the film and show in a different sequence and in two parts, starting the film half way through with Bond being pursued by Blofeld's men after escaping Piz Gloria. This version also had a rather clumsy narration as it flipped back and forth showing sequences in flashback form, completely altering the pace and destroying the narrative flow of what was the most loyal Fleming adaption of the series. The film was shown eventually in its proper version but the damage had been done. If this wasn't enough, although a number of the films have gone under edits for content while being shown on TV and being made available in home formats, none of them had actually had complete sequences edited out, the most significant and a particular fan favourite, the Gumbold safe cracking sequence. The scene comes after Bond is dropped off by Tracy and Draco after his leave has ended and we witness Bond retrieve the information that leads to him tracking down Blofeld. This segment is not only a great example of 007 using his detecting skills as well as being a significant plot point but is sound tracked by a particularly tense cue by Barry unavailable on the original vinyl LP release of the film's score, made available much later on an extended edition on CD. The sequence along with others was reinserted when the ultimate edition DVD's were released and now on the new Blu ray version of the film, without doubt the best treatment of the film to date.
Despite the treatment and the usual ignorant reception some give the film as it doesn't have any of the more recognised actors in the role, quality will out eventually. Considering its reception when it was released and it did have a minority of good reviews at the time, the film is now recognised by a number of the fan base and critics as the best film of the series. As someone who has always been a fan from the moment I saw it on TV as a small boy my appreciation for the film has grown as I've grown older and now like some I regard it the series highlight and Lazenby's involvement does nothing to devalue that. Christopher Nolan declared it his favourite Bond film and then in 2010 paid it the biggest tribute by paying homage with a thrilling sequence i his film Inception that echoes the Piz Gloria big battle sequence of the film. In light of the reboot of the series the film continues to gain appreciation. While Connery and Craig remain the best actors of the series neither has been furnished with the ingredients that OHMSS was, it does seem ironic the one entry only Bond of the series is furnished with best direction, the best script and the best score amongst it's attributes but On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the closet the series has got to masterpiece status. It's not perfect no Bond film is and yes maybe a Dalton or Craig capable actor would have better served the material but that takes nothing away from it's it's ability to endure and be rediscovered, the critics might take the default option of Goldfinger but Lazenby's one and only entry is in another league.
The runtime for this movie was dragged out, but other than that, On Her Majesty's Secret Service has really exciting action scenes and is probably the most visually stunning Bond movie.