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Celebrate the 27th James Bond film with the 6th James Bond film

No Time to Die indeed

On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Diana Rigg and George Lazenby as the happily married, though not for long, Bonds.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Diana Rigg and George Lazenby as the happily married, though not for long, Bonds.

To celebrate the release of the 27th James Bond film, might I humbly suggest that some time before or after you make time for No Time to Die, that you spend 142 minutes in the service of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the sixth and finest installment the series has to offer, give or take an Angel of Death.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Peter Hunt cut his teeth as an associate editor on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s monumental The Life and Death of Col. Blimp. He went on to edit the first four Sean Connery interpretations and, as a reward of sorts, was handed the directorial reins on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, his one and only stint behind the camera on a 007 production. Sean Connery chose to sit this Bond out, leaving producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman scrambling to find a replacement. Hunt recalls seeing 400 actors for the part. Rather than reinvent the wheel, the unanimous decision was that the new Bond be cut in Connery’s mold. (Broccoli and Bond creator Ian Fleming must be twirling in their respective graves at the thought of a blue-eyed, blond-haired plug ugly as their architect of cool.)

Imagine that you’re a 28-year-old Australian who sold cars before moving to London to make cash as a male model, about to make his big screen debut as the replacement to, at the time, the most recognizable movie character on the planet. Legend has it that George Lazenby was discovered by Broccoli in the barber shop of London’s Dorchester Hotel. To hear Lazanby tell it, it was his agent who tipped him to the casting call ahead of time. A visit to Connery’s tailor was followed by a haircut at Connery’s barbershop. Broccoli took one look at the guy in the chair behind him and saw in Lazenby the outward appearance of a successful businessman, the type needed to play the part of a spy with a license to kill.

It was intended to be the fourth Bond picture, but scheduling conflicts and a warm, relatively snowless Swiss winter pushed You Only Live Twice to the front burner. At the time, Hunt was acting as production assistant on another Broccoli production, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and it was there that he and regular 007 writer Richard Maibaum began working on the script. Hunt got more “Bang Bang” for his buck by recruiting much of the second unit crew in the service of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Cinematographer Michael Reed was filming the credit sequence for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when Hunt asked him if he’d consider shooting the next Bond picture. Hunt and the producers chose to follow in the spirit of Ian Fleming’s original. That meant a merciful move away from the gadgetry that even by that point in the series’ history had become a staple. The move also dictated a departure from high key lighting and the spacious super sets designed by Ken Adam.

Not since Shemp succeeded Curly had an audience clamored so for a successor. Hunt relied on extreme closeups and behind the back silhouettes to withhold Lazenby’s identity for a good portion of the mandatory pre-credit sequence. And with rare exceptions, Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, “Tracy” for short (Diana Rigg), is presented as Bond’s equal. A signature “gun barrel sequence” opens all of the Eon Productions — Bond as seen through the contracting shaft of an opposing triggerman’s .38 calibre. The first time Bond lays eyes on Tracy is through a rifle scope. We begin with yet another variation on the ending of A Star is Born — Bond remembering the Maine as he saves Tracy from a watery grave. There are a few jarring rear screen inserts of Lazenby and a quick riddance of the irremissible bookended reading of 007’s name. Lazenby’s “This never happened to the other fellow” is one of those rare instances when piercing the fourth-wall was as essential as a shaken, not stirred martini. With that out of the way, it’s time for Maurice Binder’s credits to roll.

It was one of the rare instances when the actress cast as the love interest was clearly a bigger star than the guy playing Bond — her work on TV’s The Avengers was making her a household name — but a “Bond girl” getting the best of Bond even before the credits rolled? When Andrew Sarris called it, “Commercially the least successful of the Bonds, but emotionally the most effective,” I’m thinking he had Diana Rigg in mind. Next to the powerhouse editing, it’s her performance that imbues the film with its passionate intensity. I’m not professing to be an expert on the subject, but having seen all but the last two 007 adventures, it seems to me that a stronger female character has yet to make the leap from Bond girl to Bond woman with more independence and strength of character than Rigg’s Tracy. The script even called for her to propose to James, but Hunt “thought that Bond should always be the stronger character.” (He also 86’d the idea of Bond crying as, spoiler alert, Tracy lay dying.)

With Tracy absent from sight for a large part of the middle section, campy psychedelics are engaged to dress up The Angels of Death — a dozen brainwashed dolls drawn from across the globe, their thought patterns set on sterilising the world’s food supply. With his best work (The Dirty Dozen) behind him, and the road ahead paved with Italian horror and lollipops, baby Telly Savalas makes an adequate villain as Blofeld. But at times, his character plays like parody, a laughably awful offshoot of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine that’s out of place in these surroundings. Even before Kojak, there was something laughable about the actor’s ability to stretch his limited range of expression across so many roles.

Were it up to me, the nighttime ski chase down Piz Gloria would be a staple in every film school editing class in the land. Hunt eyeballs the action scenes as only an experienced editor could, resulting in a smooth, uninterrupted flow of action. For a spell, the producers’ prized possession appeared to be their editors; the quickest way to earn a director’s credit on a Bond picture was through the editing suite. Hunt set the tone for many Bond films that followed. It was also the first of three Bond films to be edited by John Glen, the man who currently holds the record for directing five films in the franchise.

Critics complained at the time of its release that Lazenby hadn’t paid his dues. His only work in front of a moving picture camera had been on television commercials; of course he didn’t pay his dues. Lazenby’s no Connery, but damn if he isn’t a few cuts above Roger Moore. But the film took longer than usual to turn a profit, and an example had to be made. Lazenby did not return as James Bond in Diamonds are Forever.

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On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Diana Rigg and George Lazenby as the happily married, though not for long, Bonds.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Diana Rigg and George Lazenby as the happily married, though not for long, Bonds.

To celebrate the release of the 27th James Bond film, might I humbly suggest that some time before or after you make time for No Time to Die, that you spend 142 minutes in the service of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the sixth and finest installment the series has to offer, give or take an Angel of Death.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Peter Hunt cut his teeth as an associate editor on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s monumental The Life and Death of Col. Blimp. He went on to edit the first four Sean Connery interpretations and, as a reward of sorts, was handed the directorial reins on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, his one and only stint behind the camera on a 007 production. Sean Connery chose to sit this Bond out, leaving producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman scrambling to find a replacement. Hunt recalls seeing 400 actors for the part. Rather than reinvent the wheel, the unanimous decision was that the new Bond be cut in Connery’s mold. (Broccoli and Bond creator Ian Fleming must be twirling in their respective graves at the thought of a blue-eyed, blond-haired plug ugly as their architect of cool.)

Imagine that you’re a 28-year-old Australian who sold cars before moving to London to make cash as a male model, about to make his big screen debut as the replacement to, at the time, the most recognizable movie character on the planet. Legend has it that George Lazenby was discovered by Broccoli in the barber shop of London’s Dorchester Hotel. To hear Lazanby tell it, it was his agent who tipped him to the casting call ahead of time. A visit to Connery’s tailor was followed by a haircut at Connery’s barbershop. Broccoli took one look at the guy in the chair behind him and saw in Lazenby the outward appearance of a successful businessman, the type needed to play the part of a spy with a license to kill.

It was intended to be the fourth Bond picture, but scheduling conflicts and a warm, relatively snowless Swiss winter pushed You Only Live Twice to the front burner. At the time, Hunt was acting as production assistant on another Broccoli production, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and it was there that he and regular 007 writer Richard Maibaum began working on the script. Hunt got more “Bang Bang” for his buck by recruiting much of the second unit crew in the service of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Cinematographer Michael Reed was filming the credit sequence for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when Hunt asked him if he’d consider shooting the next Bond picture. Hunt and the producers chose to follow in the spirit of Ian Fleming’s original. That meant a merciful move away from the gadgetry that even by that point in the series’ history had become a staple. The move also dictated a departure from high key lighting and the spacious super sets designed by Ken Adam.

Not since Shemp succeeded Curly had an audience clamored so for a successor. Hunt relied on extreme closeups and behind the back silhouettes to withhold Lazenby’s identity for a good portion of the mandatory pre-credit sequence. And with rare exceptions, Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, “Tracy” for short (Diana Rigg), is presented as Bond’s equal. A signature “gun barrel sequence” opens all of the Eon Productions — Bond as seen through the contracting shaft of an opposing triggerman’s .38 calibre. The first time Bond lays eyes on Tracy is through a rifle scope. We begin with yet another variation on the ending of A Star is Born — Bond remembering the Maine as he saves Tracy from a watery grave. There are a few jarring rear screen inserts of Lazenby and a quick riddance of the irremissible bookended reading of 007’s name. Lazenby’s “This never happened to the other fellow” is one of those rare instances when piercing the fourth-wall was as essential as a shaken, not stirred martini. With that out of the way, it’s time for Maurice Binder’s credits to roll.

It was one of the rare instances when the actress cast as the love interest was clearly a bigger star than the guy playing Bond — her work on TV’s The Avengers was making her a household name — but a “Bond girl” getting the best of Bond even before the credits rolled? When Andrew Sarris called it, “Commercially the least successful of the Bonds, but emotionally the most effective,” I’m thinking he had Diana Rigg in mind. Next to the powerhouse editing, it’s her performance that imbues the film with its passionate intensity. I’m not professing to be an expert on the subject, but having seen all but the last two 007 adventures, it seems to me that a stronger female character has yet to make the leap from Bond girl to Bond woman with more independence and strength of character than Rigg’s Tracy. The script even called for her to propose to James, but Hunt “thought that Bond should always be the stronger character.” (He also 86’d the idea of Bond crying as, spoiler alert, Tracy lay dying.)

With Tracy absent from sight for a large part of the middle section, campy psychedelics are engaged to dress up The Angels of Death — a dozen brainwashed dolls drawn from across the globe, their thought patterns set on sterilising the world’s food supply. With his best work (The Dirty Dozen) behind him, and the road ahead paved with Italian horror and lollipops, baby Telly Savalas makes an adequate villain as Blofeld. But at times, his character plays like parody, a laughably awful offshoot of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine that’s out of place in these surroundings. Even before Kojak, there was something laughable about the actor’s ability to stretch his limited range of expression across so many roles.

Were it up to me, the nighttime ski chase down Piz Gloria would be a staple in every film school editing class in the land. Hunt eyeballs the action scenes as only an experienced editor could, resulting in a smooth, uninterrupted flow of action. For a spell, the producers’ prized possession appeared to be their editors; the quickest way to earn a director’s credit on a Bond picture was through the editing suite. Hunt set the tone for many Bond films that followed. It was also the first of three Bond films to be edited by John Glen, the man who currently holds the record for directing five films in the franchise.

Critics complained at the time of its release that Lazenby hadn’t paid his dues. His only work in front of a moving picture camera had been on television commercials; of course he didn’t pay his dues. Lazenby’s no Connery, but damn if he isn’t a few cuts above Roger Moore. But the film took longer than usual to turn a profit, and an example had to be made. Lazenby did not return as James Bond in Diamonds are Forever.

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