But as I engage in yet another round of ranking the Bonds (and this one I'm doing publicly!!), I'm compelled to keep an open mind. And in the context of a rigorous re-watching of the canon, intellectual honesty compels me to admit: I'm not so certain anymore.
Oh, I still love this movie. It could have starred Pauly Shore and still have been in my top 5...that's how good I think the underlying elements are. And I'm not saying that it's not #1 for me anymore at least not yet.
But as I re-watched OHMSS this time around, I realized that my previous analysis had not gone deep enough. And instead of just judging the quality of Lazenby, the was also another fundamental question that I had never really addressed: the changes made to the movie itself because of the presence of Lazenby.
For example, in the teaser, we famously have Bond not get the girl, and Lazenby turns to the screen and says to the audience, "This never happened to the other fella."
Now, I don't mind this "breaking of the fourth wall" that much. It was a one-time thing, never repeated for other new Bonds, and it is funny. But I know fans who despise that moment with a fiery passion, and I understand where they're coming from.
But whatever your position on the joke, it would not have been necessary had this been a Connery film. And perhaps it wouldn't have been necessary had the producers felt more confidence that their new no-name would be quickly accepted as Bond. And, had they not had to take time out for that moment, there might have been time to have the teaser make a little more sense (e.g., why do Draco's men attack Bond when he just saved Tracy's life?).
We see the same thing in scene where Bond "resigns" and is cleaning out his desk. We're treated to a cheesy scene of Lazenby admiring mementos of previous missions (Bond keeps trophies? Really?) as snatches of previous soundtracks play. It's about as subtle as a sledgehammer, as the producers shout at the top of their lungs, "LOOK!! THIS GUY IS REALLY JAMES BOND!!" This is really unnecessary, and merely calls attention to the fact of Lazenby again. That's not Lazenby's fault--it's got nothing to do with his performance--but it is a change that was made because of his presence, and it hurts the final film, albeit only a bit. (Can I just say how thankful I am that they dropped this shtick after this? Imagine Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye sitting at his desk looking at 16 movies worth of souvenirs...)
The film has a bunch of little moments like this, like Maurice Binder's opening credits sequence being given mostly over to flashbacks from prior Bond flicks. It's as if the producers don't believe the public will accept a new actor as Bond , and so keep trying to reassure us that this IS Bond. But the efforts, often clumsy, actually end up being counter-productive, taking the audience out of the movie.
As to Lazenby himself, well, that's the 64 billion dollar question. He's NOT as bad as some people claim, although that's not to say that he's actually good. There are some scenes where his delivery is truly cringe-worthy (especially in the one-liners and asides, most of which sound as if they were dubbed), and some scenes where he's acceptable. He is quite good in the action scenes. Perhaps it's just a matter of being lulled by 2 hours of exposure, but by OHMSS's end, you almost forget the Lazenby question, and just accept the man as Bond. And frankly, at the film's shattering finale, well, I find his performance quite touching.
It's fashionable for Lazenby defenders to say "he would have grown into the role." Leaving aside the question of whether the lead in a multi-million dollar film franchise is the right spot for on-the-job training, I'm sure it's possible he could have matured as an actor, although a glance at his post-OHMSS resume doesn't look like he was a diamond in the rough suddenly shining through.
But we shouldn't be too harsh on Lazenby. It's not his fault the producers made the frankly insane move to replace international superstar Sean Connery with an Australian model with no acting experience whatsoever. And whatever else you can say about him, it's clear that he is trying, and giving his best effort...something that couldn't always be said about better actors at points during their tenure as Bond.
As to the movie itself, OHMSS represents one of the franchise's periodic retrenchments. One film seems to go too far away from the roots, so the next movie plays as a "back to basics" Bond, deemphasizing the gadgets and sci-fi and giving us more hard core spying. Think Moonraker/For Your Eyes Only, Die Another Day/Casino Royale (2006). And of course, after the bloat and indifference of You Only Live Twice, they came back with On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
After a movie that was Fleming in name only, they went for what many believe to be his best Bond novel, brought back Richard Maibaum to do the screenplay. The result is one of the tightest, most faithful adaptations imaginable. No changing of the ultimate villains or amping up the threat (well, maybe a tiny bit)--this pretty much is the story from Fleming's OHMSS, with a little tinkering here and there to make it more cinematic. Some of the one-liners feel very forced (although that may be more a matter of delivery and direction than of writing), but otherwise the dialogue is sparkling. Especially Blofeld (for once).
There was one major difference between the book and movie. In the book, Bond was going to resign because M insisted on keeping him on Operation Bedlam, the search for Blofeld. But that sounds a little unheroic for 007, so Maibaum reversed it--Bond wanted to keep up the hunt for Blofeld, and M said no. They probably would have done that the same way even if Connery had still been on board.
Otherwise, the two plots are damned close: Bond meets and rescues Teresa, meets her gangster father, romances and rehabilitates her, gets a lead on Blofeld, poses as Sir Hilary Bray at Piz Gloria, escapes and alerts M to the plan, uses Draco's men to raid Piz Gloria, Blofeld escapes on a bobsled, Bond marries Tracy, and they have a tragically short honeymoon.
But what sounds simple on paper depends an awful lot on the execution. Long-time series editor Peter Hunt took over the directorial reigns this time, and brought along his knowledge of how to shape and pace scenes. Watch how the movie moves. Establishing shots are never too long. Unlike many directors of the day, Hunt (working with editor John Glen, a name we'll be hearing again) never lingers on a shot more than is necessary. It's hardly as sharp cutting as, say, the Bourne movies; but it terms of hopping to another scene or different camera angles, it's much quicker than most contemporary films, and as a result the longest Bond film never feels long. Hunt keeps our eyes and brains engaged by keeping things moving.
The music is also glorious. Aside from The James Bond Theme in Dr. No, it's the only all-instrumental Bond theme, something unlikely to be repeated in this day and age given marketing concerns. But the theme is brilliant, exciting and memorable, and is used exquisitely throughout the film. And it sticks in your head...after re-watching OHMSS, I'll find myself humming it for days on end. I'm not one who bemoans the lack of Oscar recognition for Bond films, and it's not like John Barry needed another Oscar...but I don't understand how his score wasn't even nominated.
The beginning of the movie could have used a little tightening/explaining. Like the teaser, it's unclear why Draco's goombas keep attacking Bond, especially after he rescues her (do they attack every man she meets? No wonder she's cranky and disturbed...). But other than that? Maybe Bond/Bray's antics in Piz Gloria should have been trimmed a bit. Otherwise, I wouldn't cut a frame.
Having Bond pose as Bray was fine, especially as it gave is a great kilt joke. But it resulted in a disastrous decision. For some reason, this deception required Bond to sound exactly like Hilary Bray. And since Lazenby couldn't do the accent, they had the actor who played Bray (George Baker) dub Lazenby's lines during the impersonation. The problem with that is, it creates a twenty minute hole in the movie where we don't even hear our lead actor's voice!! Once again, this is a decision that takes us out of the movie, and out of our belief in Lazenby as Bond. If Lazenby couldn't do the accent, they should have re-written the bit somehow so the accent wasn't required--have it so none of Blofeld's men had actually talked to Bray, or have Bond play Bray's top assistant, or just say the hell with it and play it without accent. It's distracting and pointless, and once again shows a profound lack of confidence in Lazenby.
And while we're at Piz Gloria, let's just throw up our hands and admit it--there's no way to make sense of the fact that Blofeld doesn't recognize Bond. None. So save the effort. In the novel, they've never met face to face before this point. But in the movies, we just saw them freaking meet in YOLT. Now, this isn't like Doctor Who, these cats haven't regenerated into new bodies (that one's for you, Siskoid). They are new actors playing the same roles. It would be like Samantha not recognizing Darrin when Dick Sargent took over. Even if we accept that Blofeld might have had plastic surgery after YOLT, Bond hasn't (and if he somehow, for some reason, did, what--did he undo it for Diamonds Are Forever???). It's a cock-up, pure and simple, a consequence of following the book faithfully despite the books not being filmed in order. It can't be explained, just move along, nothing to see here.
One funny thing, that a lot of people miss, is that it wasn't Bond's fault that Blofeld tumbled onto him. It was Sir Hilary Bray who told Bond that the Bleuchamps' tombs were in Augsburg. Check out the look on Lazenby's face when Blofeld declares, "Sir Hilary Bray would have known."
As villainous plots go, Blofeld's got a cool scheme going down, but once again he's been taking STUPID pills. First, not killing Bond right away, as per usual, was nuts. And the reason given is particularly stupid: "You'll be very useful in convincing the authorities that I mean what I say, and I'll do what I claim." Uhhh, since the authorities are willing to accede to Blofeld's demands almost instantly without Bond being captive, it's hard to see how keeping him around would help.
Secondly, Blofeld hasn't learned about the deadline problem. In Thundeball, he gave the U.S. and Britain SEVEN days to pay up the ransom. Here, he's slightly less generous, but only slightly. The timeline is not exactly clear. But in M tells Bond the deadline is "midnight the day after tomorrow." And it must have taken Bond at least a day to get back to London after being buried in the avalanche, if not more. So Blofeld has once again given the authorities more than enough time (at least 4 days!), plenty of time for someone to launch an assault. Dumb.
Third, Blofeld again repeats a Thunderball mistake, by staying in Piz Gloria. Even if he believes Bond dead (and since Tracy survived, that's a pretty foolish assumption), since MI-6 sent Bond there, they know where he is. So after he broadcasts his demands, if there is to be an assualt, it's going to be at Piz Gloria. Why, in heaven's name, do you stay there, keep all of your broadcasting equipment there, and your big map with names and locations of all your Typhoid Marys?? Why not head off to an unknown location?? Extra-dumb.
A fair number of fans rag on Telly Savalas as Blofeld. I'm not sure why, unless memories of Kojak somehow influence their opinions. But an entire generation or two have come along who have never even seen Kojak, so it's a pretty unfair comparison. And honestly, his performance is not at all Kojak-like. So if you're a Savalas-as-Blofeld hater, I urge you to re-watch his performance through fresh eyes. He's not the twisted homunculus played by Donald Pleasence, nor the preening aristocrat of Charles Gray. I think he plays it just right, a balance of sophistication and menace, a arrogant man whose vanity has turned not to blackmailing the world, but on securing amnesty and a title of nobility for himself. I'm going to go out on a limb here and declare Telly the best Blofeld.
Diana Rigg. Tracy Bond. To me, she is always the woman. She eclipses and predominates all other Bond Girls. For the second movie in a row, Bond gets married, only this time it's for real. Diana Rigg is the second Avengers Girl to be a Bond Girl (special note: even though Joanna Lumley wasn't officially a Bond Girl, she was one of the patients at the clinic, and later starred in The New Avengers). Her performance is luminous--perhaps too much so, as she outshines her co-star by a ways. But her full character arc, along with her acting chops, make for an unforgettable performance, and her sudden arrival to rescue Bond during "The Chase" is indelibly imprinted in my memory as one of the best moments ever in a Bond movie. And for a non-agent, she handles herself damn well, out driving and outfighting Blofeld's goons. She is beautiful and smart and resourceful and looks great in whatever she wears and...limb time again. If I had to pick one--and only one--Bond Girl to spend the rest of my life with on a desert isle, I wouldn't have to think...it would be Tracy. Except she's dead, you bastards.
"The Chase" dominates the second half of the movie, and deservedly so. Over half an hour is spent chronicling 007's escape from Piz Gloria. And it's done brilliantly. They keep things from getting boring by constantly changing what's going on--Look! Bond is on one ski now!! Look, Bond is strangling a goon with a ski!! Look, Bond's hiding in a shed full of bells (?). Look, Bond's trying to hide out in a village during a goofy winter carnival!!
Hunt (and yes, Lazenby) do a great job of portraying Bond's isolation and desperation in this hunt...it's claustrophobic and scary. For the first time in several movies, you really believe that Bond and his mission are in jeopardy, that maybe the bad guys will win. And just when things seem bleakest--Tracy arrives, and we take off in a new direction--driving!! Look, Bond's getting shot at in a phone booth!! Look, Tracy's out driving Blofeld's goons. Look, we're in a freakin' ice-NASCAR race!!
Break for mushy stuff!! Romance!! Proposals!! Love making!! And then, when (somehow) Blofeld tracks them to that barn, the chase is on again. But this time, Blofeld cheats!! He sets off on avalanche (he even sends three of his goons down there to chase Bond and Tracy, knowing that he's going to kill them. Not quite a Blofeld Kill, but damned cold, nonetheless). And with a crafty combination of stock footage, models, stunt people and editing, Hunt gives us a terrifying avalanche scene, the best I've ever seen in a film. So endeth The Chase...but what a thrill-ride.
The raid on Piz Gloria is almost anti-climactic after that, but it does give Gabriele Ferzetti another chance to shine as Draco. Another in a line of charismatic guest stars, Draco falls into the Columbo group--the likable rogue, the criminal who Bond can be allies with. Throw in his well-played relationship with Tracy, and you have another memorable "guest star" to join the likes of Tanaka and Kerim Bay. It's too bad that we never saw him again--don't you think that he would be tearing up the world to find Blofeld after this movie??
And the wedding...perfectly done. Seeing putative enemies M and Draco reminisce like old friends is worth the price of admission alone. Q didn't have a lot to do, but his scene with Bond at the end is near perfect, friendship expressed through mock crankiness. And Moneypenny--ah, Lois, I know I said YOLT was your finest hour, but this was your ultra-finest two minutes. Your performance throughout the movie helps sell us Lazenby as Bond, and your tears at the wedding...well, I'm only human.
You know, when I started out, I was expressing some reservations about placing this movie as high as I had. But darn it, this is one great movie, one I can never tire of re-watching. The great clearly and obviously outweighs the less great in my judgment. That being said, I'm a little more aware this time of the flaws of the film. Some muddled storytelling early on, some padding at Piz Gloria, and The Lazenby Question (both his performance and the things the producers did to undercut our suspension of disbelief) all ding the movie, however slightly. So this time around, I'm not prepared to declare this the Best Bond Film, at least not yet. But I'm not prepared to say that it's not, either.
And you know what? The goddamned ending made me cry again this time. Lousy bastards...
SNELL'S RANDOM NOTES AND QUESTIONS:
**Q doesn't give Bond any gadgets this movie, and in shows. In YOLT, Bond had a portable safe-cracker, about the size of an iPod, and it opened the safe in about 15 seconds. In this movie, the device is huge, and takes forever. Plus, the big gadget is...ta dah...a photocopier!! Draco's tech guys are obviously far behind Q branch...
**Coolest thing ever: Bond sliding on his belly down the curling rink, blasting away.
**Who, exactly, is Campbell? The character is never named on screen. He's helping Bond in Bern, when Bond is on leave. He's using Draco construction equipment, and M had called off Operation Bedlam. So he's one of Draco's men, right? But he's shadowing Bond, presumably to lend him aid, at Piz Gloria. That's on an official MI-6 mission, so that would seem to imply he's a British agent. Why would Draco be involved here? Another bit of non-clarity from the picture...
**Viewed from the 21st century, you can't but think: "Man, this would have been a lot easier for Bond if he just had a damned cell phone." Also, what, you can't find a freakin' phone in all of Switzerland?!? The barn Bond and Tracy spend the night in is clearly not abandoned--there are horses stabled there--so there must be someone nearby, and there must be a phone. Right?
**Can you imagine the UN Security Council meetings in the Bond Universe? "At the top of today's agenda is the latest Blofeld threat." A huge collective sigh comes from the Council members...
**In the book, Blofeld's plan was specific to England...in the movie, he has ladies from all over the world. But he gives them all the same specific instructions--check your radios at midnight every night. But since they were all over the world, they all would have had different midnights...was Blofeld radio transmitting 24/7?
**I contend that this was not a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. operation. The group does get name dropped once earlier, but is never mentioned again. Everything Blofeld does seems to be a personal mission. His extortion demands, amnesty and a title, certainly wouldn't have gone over well with the rest of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. ("what's our cut, again?"). In the book, it is explicitly S.P.E.C.T.R.E., and we never find out what Blofeld's demands were to be...
**Again, we need Dr. Evil's #2 here. Blofeld has found a way to cure every food allergy known to man. Why have villainous "virus omega" schemes, when you can just go legit and make billions??
**Bond's family motto: The World Is Not Enough. Straight from the book, that is. Obviously, more on TWINE in the future...
This needs to be said: WORST BOND POSTER EVER!!
**Bond has an office? With a desk and everything?? Really??
**If any woman ever wants to get me to do something for her, she just has to wear this outfit:
**"Your Royal Highnesses?" Did any members of British royalty attend this wedding?? The Queen?!? The wedding of the daughter of the head of the Union Course?? And the media attention involved might very well permanently blow the covers of Bond, M, etc.
**Sadly, while Bond does get his revenge (sort of) against Blofeld, in the movies he never gets Irma Bunt (at least that we see). In the books, he kills her in YOLT...
**Bond Score: 3. Tracy (sigh), Ruby, and Nancy. I'm tempted to say 4, because you just know that Bunt took advantage of him while he was knocked out...still, that leaves us with a cumulative Bond Score of 23!!
With tears in my eyes and a quaver in my voice, I remind you:
Be there, won't you?