James Bond, for a good portion of the franchises early days, was considered as offensive as Fifty Shades of Gray would be considered today. PG.
DIRECTOR: Peter R. Hunt
So I had seen The Blues Brothers so many times that I had to wait nearly two decades before watching it again to see if it still held up. The problem is that I am always in some state of rewatching a Bond movie. I get through the whole franchise and then I start again. This might have been the longest gap of nearly two years between watching You Only Live Twice and getting back to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, only that isn't exactly true either. I watched most of the movie, got interrupted and never came back for two years. How can I fairly even enjoy a movie properly that I've seen so many times?
On Her Majesty's Secret Service used to be my favorite Bond movie because I'm a snob who has a film blog and makes students write on film blogs. I loved the idea that the Lazenby entry was the best in the franchise because it was George Goshdern Lazenby and I'm a unique little butterfly in a sea of nerdy caterpillars. Then Casino Royale came out and I couldn't deny that Daniel Craig's first entry was absolutely stunning. Then I thought about and understood that From Russia With Love is an amazing movie and my entire world fell apart. Heck, if it wasn't for the fact that The Living Daylights had Timothy Dalton's Bond, that would even rank higher. But I loved this movie and this time didn't hold up. So what can I say about what changed my feelings about this movie? Is it the fact that I had seen it so many times? Was it because my pause in the franchise threw off my groove? (MY GROOVE! Beware the groove.) I don't know, but I suppose it is like knowing a record so well that you are probably now authorized to comment on it. I'm going to partially destroy something I love because I'm in a rare place where I can be more distanced from the film. I watched it without it being precious and that is a rare opportunity.
1969 was a super confusing time for the Bond franchise. It so wanted to be the Goldfinger days. By the time that Goldfinger came around, the formula was set. The look was the same. The casting was the same. I'd love for Topher Grace to spend some times editing the first five Bond movies into one cohesive storyline because the look of those movies is identical. I'm not going to look it up, but I think Guy Hamilton had his hands all over those movies. Also, the Broccoli and Saltzman knew that they had a hit franchise that was busting the banks worldwide and they weren't going to mess with success any more than they had to. But 1969 looked very different from 1963. The world was changing and it was getting more and more Austin Powers-y. Sean Connery had very publicly left the role after Broccoli and Saltzman had doubled down on saying "Sean Connery IS James Bond." So they had a choice: Go the old way or embrace the new. They made the mistake of trying to do both. On Her Majesty's Secret Service has the fundamental problem of just dipping a toe in the water when it comes to making changes. The lead actor was switched and was just trainwrecking media interviews and there was no getting around that. But the movie just tried incorporating the upcoming decade through some aesthetics and that really doesn't feel like the movie is confident with itself.
The big success with the movie -and there are a few -is the casting of Diana Rigg as Tracy. Some people might point to Honor Blackman as the most powerful leading lady, but I think that might have to do more with her character's provocative name rather than any kind of actual screen presence. (Okay, she does a darn fine job, but nothing compared to Diana Rigg. Also, do I call her "Dame Diana Rigg" if she hadn't been given the title yet?) Diana Rigg is what every Bond girl should be. The story is fundamentally about her. She has many of the primary conflicts and relationships with the story. Perhaps the message that producers and studio heads get from Diana Rigg is that you just need a female James Bond, and that's cool, but she has investment in the story simply beyond her life being at stake. She plants herself in Bond's story because she has planted herself in Bond's life. That is an interesting approach. The other Bond girls tend to bleed together because they are often caught up in a circumstance beyond their control. Tracy chooses to be involved in the conflict and that makes it interesting. The reason that Tracy isn't often thought as the prototypical Bond girl is that she is paired with George Lazenby, of whom I have been too forgiving for too long. There was a lot of stuff going on back then, but much of it came with George Lazenby's ego. I kind of think that Bill Murray wishes he was George Lazenby because Lazenby's reaction to celebrity is underground and a level of creepy that few would understand. Long and short, I don't know how much George Lazenby allows himself to be directed. The guy isn't awful, but he by no means carries the scenes he's in. It often seems like he is on a track, being led around from plot point to plot point because the script says he must go on.
There's also something remarkably lazy about On Her Majesty's Secret Service. There are so many shortcuts that really hurt my head in terms of "what were they thinking" because there is so much that is good about this film. The score depends way too much on Monty Norman's version of the James Bond theme. I don't know if the producers really wanted to stretch that nothing had happened in terms of Connery leaving, but I would have loved a new orchestration of the score rather than the same canned music on repeat. I'm speaking of the final battle and that scene is just a mess. On top of that, and I'm really yelling at far too many older action movies, is the speeding up of film for dramatic effect. It's a bad choice and my heart hurts because of it. A film on fast forward isn't exciting; it's a bad special effect. The nostalgia also tries taking over the movie. From Maurice "Kinda Pervy" Binder's opening credit sequence to Bond's nostalgic desk of trinkets to the constant references to how much knowledge that Bond has about cool stuff, it just seems like the producers are terrified of losing the cash cow and are fearful of doing something different.
I still love Bond and I still love this Bond movie. It's just not as much an obsession as it once was and I can really acknowledge some weaknesses. This won't be the last viewing of this movie. I'll probably get through the franchise again within a decade and I'll start all over again, probably when it is beamed directly into my head.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.