30Hz Bl-g Of [In]human Bond[age] Writing

Of [In]human Bond[age] #7: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Pleads the 4th

Bond[age] #7: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Pleads the 4th

This is the seventh essay in a 23-part series about the James Bond cinemas co-produced by Sundog Lit. I encourage everyone to venture over to Sundog to read other essays, comment and join in what we hope to be an extended conversation about not only the films themselves, but cinematic trends, political and other external influences on the series’ tone and direction. The entire collection of essays, live tweet digests and other Bond nonsense is housed on the #Bond_age_ website.

Of [In]human Bond[age] #7: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Pleads the 4th

On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster

I originally embarked on this voyage to watch and discuss all 23 James Bond movies because I wanted to look more closely at the temporality of the Bond adventures. A theme inspired by a moment in Skyfall when Daniel Craig retrieves the Aston Martin DB5 from storage, a car with which his Bond has had no prior relationship. Having had six different actors play the role with eleven different directors behind the camera, how did the series adjust from one actor to the next? Natural shifts in style and substance brought upon by external market influences and cinematic trends? How did filmmaking decisions attempt to explain the continuity from film to film? Or, conversely, did the filmmakers try to explain it at all?

Part 1: Unveiling the First New Bond

After Sean Connery quit the role of James Bond, Saltzman and Broccoli offered the role to then 22-year-old Timothy Dalton. Dalton declined, considering himself too young for the role. Lazenby meanwhile had moved to London in 1963, the year Dr. No was released. He became a used car salesman and then a male model before landing a commercial spot. In the Bond documentary Everything or Nothing, Lazenby said “I had nothing on my mind, night and day, except getting that job.” He purchased a Savile Row suit and a Rolex identical to James Bond’s and got his hair cut by Connery’s barber. Some stories suggest Lazenby met Cubby Broccoli at the barbershop and Broccoli liked the cut of his jib. Others suggest he snuck past the EON Productions secretary and once through the door introduced himself by saying “I heard you’re looking for James Bond.” Either way he willed himself into contention and survived the four-month Bond search. The picture below shows the five finalists for the role. (Don’t you just feel damn sorry for the other four gentlemen? Also, how did they get that far??)

the five finalists to replace Sean Connery

Broccoli and Saltzman were often slaves to public opinion, or at the very least, their perception of public opinion, often overcompensating to relative success or failure. Connery had been such a success in the Bond role that they intended to repeat that success by casting another relative unknown, a move they would certainly regret, both due to Lazenby’s off-screen personality and lackluster box office return. They never needed to express their regret publicly; Lazenby abandoned his seven-picture deal before the release of the film (he felt that the Bond series was a dinosaur that couldn’t survive the progressive 1970’s). The further course-correction undertaken after the relative “failure” of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, however, speaks volumes.

I’d circled On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on my calendar because this would be the first film in which I could really focus on how the series shifted from one actor to the next (and back again, but that’s a chat for next week). Before watching the film for the first time in twenty years I did a little research about how Lazenby had been marketed. At the end of his tenure, Connery had been synonymous with Bond. The posters for You Only Live Twice put the phrase “Sean Connery is Bond” as large as the title itself. Advance posters for OHMSS, on the other hand,completely obscured Bond’s face in a portrait surrounded by eight bikini-clad women. (When in doubt, go back to the staples: guns and girls.)

On Her Majesty's Secret Service advance

The primary theatrical poster returns to the Bond basics. It boasts “FAR UP! FAR OUT! FAR MORE! James Bond 007 is back!” (See poster above.) A tuxedo-clad Lazenby postures with a gun on skis. Diana Rigg’s cleavage on full display (also on skis). Telly Savalas fires upward at him from a bobsled (spoiler!). Helicopters. Explosions. Skiers with assault rifles. The style of the poster itself is standard hyperbolic artwork (exceptionally so considering Secret Service is a return to a more character- and narrative-driven Bond film) consistent with the last Connery posters for the spectacle films You Only Live Twice and Thunderball. Lazenby’s name appears small and at the bottom alongside Rigg and Savalas. Rigg would have been the biggest star in the film because of her role as Emma Peel on the Avengers. Other than the foreign film roles Lazenby had lied about on his resume, his only prior acting experience had been a Big Fry Chocolate commercial. On these new posters, as opposed to the You Only Live Twice Connery poster, the James Bond character is the only attraction, just as it was on the first Dr. No posters where Sean Connery’s name is barely visible and the movie is billed as “Ian Fleming’s Dr. No.”

Ian Fleming's Dr. No

But even after fans were lured back by the Bond name and whiz-bang marketing, they still had to be convinced that Lazenby could be the face of the franchise. The series had reached a critical point. How would the filmmakers approach On Her Majesty’s Secret Service knowing they not only had to make a great movie, but also set the table for Bond’s future with an actor not named Sean Connery?

The Formula Adopts a Variable

Daniel Craig Aston Martin

Self-awareness has been an expected and almost necessary part of the modern Bond formula. As I suggested in my introductory essay to the series, Skyfall is remarkable because it succeeds at being both a quality movie and at hauling the requisite Bond baggage from the 22-prior films (whether it is a great Bond movie is up for debate). Fans love to be rewarded for their loyalty with knowing winks. In order for the movie to succeed on its own merit, however, those knowing winks cannot interrupt or detract from the narrative itself lest they seem cloying or pandering. Director Sam Mendes included dozens of sly references to past Bond films in Skyfall but only one called attention to itself as nothing more than a nod to the past – that DB5 resurrection (apparently from carbon storage due to its pristine condition).

What screenwriter Richard Maibaum and director Peter R. Hunt depict in the pre-credit sequence of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service lays bare their concept for the series A.C. (after Connery). After Bond rescues a girl from the surf and fights off two would-be assailants, the girl drives away without a word leaving Bond stranded on the beach. Lazenby as James Bond then turns toward the camera and says, “This never happened to the other fellow.”

On one hand, the line is an easy joke, a quick one-liner in the wake of violence – a Bond series staple. On the other, the line is a profound statement of awareness. James Bond talked through the camera to the audience. He’s saying I know that you know I’m not Sean Connery and I want you to know that I know you know I’m not Sean Connery. It’s a brilliant filmmaking decision, one of the most daring in the entire 007 series. That said, as a cinematic tool, it wasn’t a new concept. The popular contemporary films Alfie (1966) and best picture-winner Tom Jones (1963) would have already established this filmmaking trick in the public consciousness, albeit in the comedy genre. Breaking the fourth wall has a long history in comedy, going back to Groucho Marx who regularly used asides and fourth wall tricks in the Marx Bros. comedies of the 1930s. While the Bond films use humor to palletize violence and sex, they cannot themselves be considered comedic. The moment is brief, but bold, and lingers for only a second before the film cuts to the traditional silhouettes of the Bond title sequence, which is, in itself, a montage of scenes from old Bond films without the appearance of James Bond himself.

Many fans take offense to this moment. They complain that it’s not a “Bond moment.” But I’m going to call this suggestion into question. It is absolutely a Bond moment. Because from this moment forward, Bond, to varying degrees, is linked to the self-referential awareness of itself as a series of films depicting events in the career of one 00-agent. If you, as the viewer, accept George Lazenby and Sean Connery as the same character then you are also a willing conspirator. The Roger Moore films stray temporarily from acknowledging the past before incorporating a number of references to the Sean Connery films (and a brief mention of his dead wife) in The Spy Who Loved Me. Like EON’s rebellion against the serious Bond film, against a James Bond with feelings, against James Bond movies too close to the source material, the temporary absence of self-awareness is also a knee-jerk reaction to the relative failure of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and an attempt to fully reboot the series. The modern James Bonds (Brosnan and Craig), however, bathe in self-awareness and in the tropes of Bond’s past. Audiences, for better or worse, crave this two-way communication. Do a simple Google search for “Skyfall Bond references” to find dozens of fan-made lists chronicling the self-referential moments contained within the film.

Furthermore, consider the scene in OHMSS that takes place when Bond resigns his post. As 007 cleans out his desk, he removes a number of items from his desk drawer, mementos of sorts: Honey Rider’s knife from Dr. No, the watch from From Russia With Love and the underwater breather from Thunderball. Even the janitor in the MI-6 offices is whistling the Goldfinger theme. Of course, these items aren’t mementos for James Bond – they belong to the audience (because Bond would consider such things frivolous). They’re tchotchkes we’ve collected and catalogued along our cinema travelogue. It’s an assault of references that are all again planted to remind everyone watching that George Lazenby isn’t Sean Connery, but he is James Bond. (He’s same character and he remembers the same things you do! Really. Honestly. We promise. Look. Here’s the stuff that belonged to the Sean Connery Bond that you, I mean, he, kept as souvenirs from his prior exploits!)

Part 2: Precocious Timelines


Not only does OHMSS introduce self-awareness into the Bond formula but the sixth Bond film also poses the first temporal anomaly in the series that suggests we cannot consider the Bond series to be linear. In You Only Live Twice Bond finally squares off against Ernst Stavro Blofeld face to face in what the Fleming books considered the climax of the Blofeld plot. Bond goes undercover as genealogist Sir Hilary Bray. Blofeld intends to lay claim to the title “Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp” – Bleuchamp being the French form of the Blofeld family name. Had Bond actually met Blofeld previously this undercover scheme would not have been possible. Had they met before they also wouldn’t have required a scene of formal introductions in OHMSS.

Film and Television

If the Bond franchise existed only on-screen, this kind of anomaly would be inexplicable. What we have, however, is a series that existed first on the page and was then translated to the screen in an order determined by budgetary constraints and perceived marketability. The curious thing about this is that the filmmakers in charge of OHMSS (Richard Maibaum and Peter Hunt being the most influential creative contributors) chose, on this one particular occasion to create a Bond movie that remained very true to the source material. So true, in fact, that they even chose not to alter the pre-existing on-screen relationship between Bond and Blofeld.

If I were prone to wild conjecture (perhaps just this once) I’d suggest that as the editor of the first three Bond films and second unit director for the subsequent two, Hunt had formed a few strong opinions about the direction the franchise should take. And he was determined to follow through when he was finally offered the directorial job on OHMSS, his directorial debut. That said, whatever his reasoning, it can’t be discounted. It boils down to this. Blofeld didn’t know Bond, and therefore, OHMSS must, logically, take place before You Only Live Twice in the Bond chronology.

Return for a second to the drawer Bond empties out in his office. He removed trinkets from Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball and the janitor whistles the theme from Goldfinger, but the movie recalls nothing from You Only Live Twice. This omission is either a convenient oversight or a deliberate choice. I suggest the latter, albeit with one caveat. In the opening credit sequence that I mentioned earlier – the one containing clips from the prior Bond movies flowing through an hourglass – contains fleeting moments from You Only Live Twice. I excuse this because the clips are played entirely for the viewer and likely weren’t a choice made by Maibaum or Hunt, but rather from above, from EON Productions and Saltzman and Broccoli. Since the typical opening sequence contains silhouettes of naked women writhing to a suggestive theme song (something that doesn’t really happen on screen), it shouldn’t be difficult to write this off as something outside and unrelated to the Bond spacetime.

When he turned to the camera and uttered that one little phrase at the beginning of his sixth adventure, James Bond turned the franchise upside down. No matter your opinion of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a standalone film, it must be conceded that the film serves as a fascinating turning point in the series. Not only is it the first time the Bond role changes hands, but it is also a distinct departure in tone, style and substance from the movies that immediately preceded it. That many fans now consider it to be an upper-echelon Bond entry (meanwhile others wildly disagree) makes for a fascinating discussion about the value of hindsight and OHMSS’ lingering repercussions, both as a result of its perceived box office failure and the introduction of self awareness, a brand new variable to the tried and true formula. A strong case could be made that Daniel Craig’s Bond films have become a spiritual successor to Lazenby’s only outing. Consider the serious tone, the more personal look at the emotion and motivation behind 007’s actions. Also, lest we forget that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service introduced the tchotchkes that Bond must now carry around with him and scatter throughout his missions for our viewing edification. You can be quite sure that the contents of Daniel Craig’s Bond baggage fills far more than just a tiny little desk drawer.

30Hz Bl-g Cinema Life @ 30Hz

A Short History of Brave New Bonds

We recently renegotiated our relationship with our living room furniture. Mostly we just moved a bookcase, but it looks like a drastic change. The bookcase was essentially a room divider and swapping it from one side of the room to the other flipped everything on its head. This move also had the effect of making more of my books visible. Two books in particular now stand out in the room that had previously been obscured by the other bookcase.

A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I can’t exactly put my finger on why these two books are linked, other than their newfound visibility in the room, but it seems like there’s something portentous there. There has to be right?

One is about a brave, new “World” and one seeks to explain nearly everything in this old, damn world. One has the word “world” in the title and the other has a big ass picture of the world. We’re told that there are no such things as simple coincidence and so I must infer meaning in the supposed coincidence. I’m more than willing to conjecture wildly, as I think I’ve established in prior posts on this damned bl-g. So, let’s do that.

I’ve reached a point in my adulthood that the things to which I clung to as a young man are fading. I’m not even speaking here of nostalgia. Nostalgia is a chronic virus that can never truly be escaped. Every time we long for a measure of our youth, of the way things used to be, that’s nostalgia chipping away at your heart with a tiny, but painful, rock hammer. I’m thinking again about identity. (Yes, again.) I’m thinking about the way we face the world, the ways in which we divide our personalities to conquer the days and weeks and months that slip the cracks in our trembling hands.

I’ve got James Bond on the mind lately, if you hadn’t noticed (#Bond_age_ project going in full swing now) and so the imagery from the title-sequence from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service sticks in my head as I discuss the passing of “time.”

Of course, if you’ve seen OHMSS lately you’ll recall the final line from the film, uttered by James Bond (George Lazenby) as he watches he newly wedded wife die in his arms, murdered by Blofeld’s assassins. “There’s no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.”

If you haven’t seen this film, it’s a profoundly moving scene in the context of a Bond film. James Bond. He who supposedly has no personal feelings but love for queen and country, mourns. Lazenby is not an actor per say (he’d only done one chocolate commercial prior to this fleeing gig as Bond) but the way he plays this role — happy accident or not — speaks to how we mourn the inevitable passage of our own time and our own worlds. With distance. Bond is out of body here, removed from the horror he’s experiencing. The repetition of the time motif in OHMSS sets this James Bond movie apart from all the rest and thus, perhaps, makes this moment that much more powerful.

Does it speak to me because there’s a timelessness to James Bond? A timelessness that this scene interrupts? 50 years after Dr. No, James Bond is still jumping motorcycles onto trains. At the same time isn’t that why many of us are fans of 007? Interminable youth? Yet, here we are in OHMSS taking that notion and just stomping all over it. In terms of Bond, OHMSS should have represented a “brave, new world.” The first new Bond. A new, more personal direction in the series. But audiences did not warm to new Bond. They didn’t take to the more somber, personal tone of the film.

Isn’t that natural? To avoid our reality? I’m getting a little glum here. And I apologize. But I’m spewing notes and ideas culled from the intersection of James Bond, Bill Bryson and Aldous Huxley. Something weird was bound to happen. The producers of the Bond series of films immediately abandoned the James Bond burdened by feelings and retreated to pure escapism. They brought back Sean Connery (at GREAT expense) and ventured forward, undaunted by the brave, frightening new world of the 1970’s. Audiences agreed. They flocked back to Bond, making Diamonds Are Forever (a certifiable stinker of a motion picture) a great success compared to the lackluster return from the much better OHMSS.

So, with all that said, I’m looking at these things in front of me and I’m noticing a change in myself. For the first time in many years. I’ve always feared the moment that I took stock of my life and said, “Well, that’s what it is.” But just recently I looked around and said that very same thing. House. Wife. Two kids. But I wasn’t afraid of recognizing limbo. I wasn’t afraid, not right now anyway. Because I’m looking at everything and I’m thinking “I have all the time in the world” with equal measure James Bond-inspired melancholy and hope.

Are you ready for the deus ex machina wrap up of this mindless ramble? Here goes.

I’m looking forward, but not with pervasive fear. And now that I’ve come to terms with where I am in this world. I indeed see the potential of the time I have, the “brave, new world” at my fingertips. Nothing will ever be the same, but, at the time time, my short history of nearly everything suggests that I don’t necessarily want it to be. I’ve struggled with mental health and doubt and misplaced anxiety. I want not to do that again. I want to embrace time. Because as James Bond has taught us, the time we have left is all the time in our world. I might slip back into depression, succumb to my fears and anxieties tomorrow. I never really know. But I never did. I just know that I’d always prefer to watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service rather than Diamonds Are Forever. And that, clearly, means something.