Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I saw On Her Majesty's Secret Service over a month ago but I haven't written about it yet because I have a new job and I moved to a new town and I haven't really gotten into a writing routine. Hopefully, I can get my act together soon and start writing regularly again and finish up the James Bond series by the end of the year. That means four more James Bond movies (Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, For Your Eyes Only, and Goldeneye) and one more book, the collection that includes "Octopussy" and "The Living Daylights."

And the local library in my new town (Palmdale, California – it's like Las Vegas without the Strip) has the comic strip version of Goldfinger from the 1960s. I hope to review that.

And don't forget: the 2006 movie version of Casino Royale with Daniel Craig opens Nov. 17. Daniel Craig doesn't bother me at all. They're playing poker instead of baccarat. That bothers me. I will be there and I will review Casino Royale for the fourth time, but I expect it will be more like Die Another Day than You Only Live Twice. (Pray to the Movie God it's not like Moonraker. Only the Godzilla series could survive two movies as bad as that.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Movie

Sean Connery IS James Bond. Roger Moore Is James Bond. Pierce Brosnan is James Bond. Timothy Dalton is James Bond having a bad day.

Which brings us to George Lazenby.

Even though it's been a while since I saw it, I remember On Her Majesty's Secret Service vividly. It's a lot of fun. Lots of skiing. James Bond is Australian. Pretty girls. (including Patsy Stone from "Absolutely Fabulous" and the shape-changing girl from "Space:1999." And Emma Peel.) James Bond wearing a dress. (A kilt actually. He's an Australian pretending to be Scottish. Kind of like Mel Gibson without the homophobia and the anti-Semitism.) The villain is Telly Savalas. A lot of talk about heraldry. Great theme song. (It's an instrumental, so you can't sing it. But I did write some lyrics for this movie. The thing is, you have to sing them to the tune of "The Man With The Golden Gun.")

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
George Lazenby makes me nervous
His voice changes several times
And the word "service" never rhymes.

One Her Majesty's Secret Service
I'm glad I'm not a Swiss tourist
What is Joanna Lumley doing here
I advise you to steer clear.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The villain is Telly Savalas
And 007 is doing fine
with the chick from "Space: 1999."

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The cafeteria is serving asparagus
James Bond and Emma Peel will get married
just before Emma Peel is buried

So what’s not to love about this movie?

Well, it's kind of weird. The film on its own isn't weird. But in the context of the early Bond films, and appearing in sequence as it does between two Sean Connery films, it's a little out-of-place. It doesn't feel quite right in a number of ways.

It has the familiar James Bond music, the great credit sequence, and all the other James Bond movie ingredients – action, guns, gadgets girls. (No sharks and no piranhas this time around.)

Remember what I said about Never Say Never Again? It isn't a James Bond film so much as a movie with James Bond in it.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service has a similar dissonant ring. It is a James Bond film. And it has a perfectly acceptable actor playing James Bond. But it still isn't quite right.

Why? Because it's the only James Bond film where he develops as a character, where he seems to be about to move on to a new phase of life, but his future is shattered at the end when his wife is killed by Kojak. (Blofeld, I mean.)

It's more like a James Bond art film.

Most Bond films are very predictable, as Bond gets involved with putting a stop to some weird, unbelievable scheme, shoots people, gets beaten up, meets some chicks, displays an amazing proficiency with a gaggle of gadgets and beats the bad guy at the end every time.

All this happens in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. But there's a little more to it. At the beginning of the film he meets Emma Peel, the troubled daughter of the head of the Corsican Mafia. (I suspect she thinks her father killed JFK.) Bond and Emma fall in love.

Later in the film, she helps him escape from Blofeld. She even gets captured by Blofeld! (This last part doesn't happen in the book.)

Emma Peel and Bond get married at the end of the film. And then Blofeld kills her within a few hours of the ceremony. (For the most part, the movie follows the book pretty closely.)

So it really is the only Bond film where anything really happens to him.

It might be less noticeable, scarcely worthy of attention, if Sean Connery or Roger Moore had played Bond. Both men played Bond seven times, we had plenty of performances to get used to both of them, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would have just seemed "a little unusual" the way that, for example, Octopussy is a "little unusual."

But On Her Majesty's Secret Service has George Lazneby. I am not going to say bad things about George Lazenby as James Bond. He is a fine James Bond. He is eager to do his job for crown and country, he is efficient, he does what has to be done.

He is not Sean Connery. He is not Roger Moore. He is different. That's all.

But he was only in this one movie. And he falls in love, gets married, and his bride is killed. And that just doesn't happen to James Bond. Not our James Bond. A James Bond. The James Bond in this movie.

George Lazenby is a James Bond.

Way back when I started writing these essays, I mentioned the 1967 film version of Casino Royale, in which David Niven is James Bond. In this film, the real James Bond is upset about the people who are being assigned the James Bond name and the number of 007. By the end of the film, nearly everyone is James Bond. This includes, but is not limited to, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Barbara Bouchet, Amanda Pettet, Ursula Andress, and Daliah Lavi.

I love this concept. In the James Bond films, it's not just a different actor playing the same guy. It's a bunch of different guys assuming the identity of James Bond because it's a practice of the British Secret Service.

The Sean Connery James Bond was a big Scottish guy with a dry wit who got kinda bored with the job. Then there was an Australian fellow who took over the job, but he didn't do it very long. He fell in love (unexpectedly) and then went on a mission where he underestimated or didn't really understand the cruel efficiency and vindictiveness of some of the people he was dealing with. Distracted by his new life as a married man, he was unable to protect her, and he blamed himself for her death. For whatever reason, he was unable to pursue Blofeld to extract his revenge.

In the next film, Diamonds Are Forever, the Sean Connery James Bond returns. He is pursuing Blofeld. This Bond probably feels kind of responsible. He left the service kind of abruptly and didn't really make it clear to his superiors and his successor just how dangerous Blofeld really is. He finishes off Blofeld (he thinks) and retires for good, clearing the way for the Roger Moore James Bond.

Blofeld does return, though, in For Your Eyes Only. (He is not named because of a legal dispute that I'll go into when I review For Your Eyes Only, hopefully in day or two. But you can tell it's him because of the Persian cat.) The Roger Moore James Bond is leaving a wreath on the tombstone of Teresa Bond. This imperils my theory a bit. But I suspect it can be explained away pretty easily. If the George Lazenby James Bond was killed or incapacitated, it is not at all hard to imagine a bond between the Bonds to look after her grave and remember him by remembering her. (He doesn’t have a stone because there can not be a stone for James Bond, get me?)

One more little bit of implied evidence? When Roger Moore James Bond kills Blofeld (by dumping him into a smokestack), he has a smile of satisfaction that seems very inappropriate for someone who has just killed his wife’s killer. He doesn't really look that sad about Teresa being dead, a bit grim, yes. He certainly doesn't look like he's killing his wife's murderer. (He should be gritting his teeth and saying, "Take that, you bloody bastard!") But Roger Moore's satisfied smile seems (to me anyway) an entirely suitable reaction for a member of this exclusive club, the men who have been James Bond. By avenging Theresa, he avenges his predecessor, he avenges James Bond, the identity, as well as every man who has been James Bond. (And the Roger Moore James Bond may also be gloating a bit because he disposed of Blofeld when the Sean Connery Blofeld couldn't do it.)

But I love On Her Majesty's Secret Service anyway. It was one of the reasons why the 1960s were so great, and why James Bond was one of the great things about the 1960s. George Lazenby can be proud that he played James Bond once and he pulled it off admirably.

(And he shouldn't feel bad that he couldn't get Blofeld. Blofeld is hard to kill. After all, Sean Connery couldn't get him. And he had five tries!)

For more information, see these Wikipedia entries on George Lazenby and On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Next: For Your Eyes Only as a Harold Pinter play.


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