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The countdown continues! It’s #9 in The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever! series. The Top Ten Bond Movies...Ever? It doesn’t get much more subjective than this. Or much more fun! Come and join international bestselling author Mark Williams on a James Bond odyssey as he continues to explore the phenomenon that is James Bond, this time with the Bond film that made # 9 on the list: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever! # 10: Thunderball is available now! Watch out for The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever! # 8: Live And Let Die coming soon to an ebook retailer near you!
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© 2016 Mark Williams
all rights reserved
Published by Odyssey.
This never happened to the other fellow
The name’s Lazenby – Sean’s Suit Lazenby
Will work for food
Good staff are hard to find
The Director’s Cut
Who loves ya, baby?
Vive La Difference!
Bondian beyond Bond
Shaken, stirred, neat or on the rocks – Just so long as it’s alcohol
Guns and Girls
A trip down memory lane
They have all the time in the world
My other girlfriend’s Playmate of the Month
The search for Piz Gloria
Sexy bananas and crochet lessons
Bond’s meat and two veg
It’s all downhill from here
This department is not interested in your personal problems
A poetic interlude
Do you, James 007 ‘Licenced To Kill’ Bond, Take This Woman...
The book vs. the film
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When it comes to love it or hate it movies, it doesn’t get much more divisive than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
It’s probably caused more arguments than any other film made. Is it the best Bond movie ever, or the devil’s spawn, beside which even the hapless A View To A Kill can be considered tolerable?
Come to that, is it really a Bond film at all?
Seriously, if we changed the names of the key characters Bond and Blofeld, and the MI6 characters M, Q and Moneypenny, would it even be a Bond film?
Where are the death-defying stunts? The pool of sharks? The falling from an airplane without a parachute? The impossible-to-escape-from grisly fate that the captured Bond escapes from anyway?
And where’s the Bond title theme song?
Come to that, where’s James Bond himself? Sean Connery?
Who is this imposter from Down Under muscling in on the role that belongs to, and only to, Scotland’s finest actor? And how did said imposter get to wear a kilt and play the Scot when Connery did not?
And yet, after indeterminable pondering and more rewinds and replays than any film should have to endure, I finally slotted On Her Majesty’s Secret Service at a respectable number nine on my list of The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever!
That’s pretty impressive. Just eight films rated higher. So what gives?
It’s a good question.
On the one hand we have my favourite Avenger, Diana Rigg, in a film with one of the most powerful love songs ever, holding the show together for the new Bond face, and with what at the time was no doubt wonderfully exotic Swiss mountain scenery.
On the other hand we have a story that lacked the pace and punch of the earlier Bond films, and that had abandoned the de rigeur madman set to take over the world or die trying, for a rather mundane threat to kill cows, involving the lollipop-sucking bald-headed detective Kojak with his ears pinned back, obsessing over his family tree.
As for the gadgets... What gadgets?!
The venerable Q makes a couple of fleeting appearances, but there’s not en ejector seat, Geiger-counter watch or jet-pack to be seen. All the Bond bang and bluster we had come to expect in a Bond movie had been set aside in favour of telling the story Fleming told in the book.
Which is fine for the books. But this is not what we go to the big screen to see when it says James Bond on the ticket. And the box-office takings screamed their protest at this flagrant breach of the Bond producers’ unwritten contract with cinema-goers.
There was never a Bond film like this before, and there would never be again.
Bottom line is, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a love story that just happens to be about James Bond, and just happens to have Bond arch-villain Blofeld hanging around, and just happens to have the other key members of the Bond cast putting in a token appearance.
And yet here it is at #9 on my list. And no, not because of some adolescent infatuation with Diana Rigg. It was by no means Diana Rigg’s finest role. Give me the wonderful Mrs. Emma Peel alongside fellow Avenger John Steed any day of the week.
But what On Her Majesty’s Secret Service does is to reveal a human side of the James Bond character we had never been exposed to before, and likely never will be again.
As for the ending...
Whatever we may think of the rest of the film, this has to be the best ending to any of the Bond movies.
And when you throw in Louis Armstrong and that song...
Was there a dry eye anywhere in the house?
The macho boys might have been explaining to wives and girlfriends they were in tears over how bad Lazenby had been, but seriously, this wasn’t just the most powerful Bond ending of the series. This was up there with the most powerful film endings of all time.
For that ending alone, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service warrants a place in The Ten Best Bond Movies...Ever!
Lazenby never stood a chance.
Roger Moore must have thanked his lucky stars that he was already contracted elsewhere when the offer came, and someone else landed the poisoned chalice job of being the first successor to Sean Connery.
By the time Moore finally took the reigns he had already established himself as an action hero, first in the TV series The Saint, and then in the TV series The Persuaders, alongside Tony Curtis.
Roger Moore was a name. And by the time Live and Let Die was released the public were in absolutely no doubt that Sean Connery was finished with the Bond role. Connery himself had said so.
Although of course one should never say never again.
But for the public, the Connery Bond era was over, and the Lazenby interlude meant Roger Moore was onto a winner simply because George Lazenby had been so bad.
Or had he?
In fact, history has been kind to Lazenby.
Forget the laughter that met his appointment to the role, and the despair that met his final performance. For all the bad press at the time, retrospective reviews have ranged from sympathetic to outright adulation.
Many a critic has, with hindsight, called On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the finest Bond film ever made. At Bond conventions Lazenby is mobbed by adoring fans, and in 2012 a poll of Bond fans by 007 Magazine has On Her Majesty’s Secret Service voted the best Bond film of all time.
You couldn’t make it up.
When George Lazenby accepted the role, Sean Connery still had another Bond film to make. It was purely Connery’s commitment to other films at the time that meant the new Bond made an appearance before the old Bond had properly bowed out.
A more experienced actor might have recognized the hopelessness of the situation. But Lazenby wasn’t an experienced actor.
In fact, he wasn’t an actor at all. He was a used-car salesman from Australia with a pretty face, a pretty walk, and no theatrical baggage.
Or acting skills.
The producers had taken an executive decision to have an unknown name to succeed Connery. In part because their preferred successor to Connery, Roger Moore, was not available. In part, perhaps, because they realized an established actor would baulk at the idea of stepping into Connery’s shoes and being unfavourably compared. In part because the producers understood that for the paying audiences an established actor would come with his own baggage and expectations. So an unknown actor was the choice.
And George Lazenby was about as unknown as you could get.
The British TV series Minder (George Cole, Dennis Waterman) had yet to be made, else Lazenby would surely have acquired the nickname Arthur Daley to smear his post-Bond prospects still further. New South Wales born Lazenby had moved from Australia to London in 1963 and worked as a used-car salesman in Finchley.
Presumably Lazenby had worked on his Australian accent (how else would an Australian be understood in Finchley?) and would move on to selling new cars in London’s plush Park Lane where no doubt he refined his accent to the point where he could, when the time came, pass for a British secret agent.
But back in 1963 the idea that Lazenby might appear in any film, let alone take on one of the most iconic roles in cinematic history, was inconceivable.
As a kid Lazenby hadn’t been first in the queue when Lady Luck was dishing out the winning tickets. The young Lazenby had been spent serious time in hospital and emerged with only half a kidney. But fate looked more kindly on Lazenby once he arrived in Britain.
First a talent scout spotted Lazenby’s good looks and winning smile and convinced him to jack in the car showroom job for a life as a model.
It paid off, if you’ll forgive the pun, handsomely. In 1966 Lazenby was named Model of the Year, and went on to become the face of Big Fry Chocolate, raking in 25,000 British pounds a year – a serious sum of money in those days.
Then came the news Connery was quitting the Bond role.
Over 400 actors auditioned to be the new 007, and Lazenby had his eye on the trophy too. By a remarkable stroke of luck, or possibly some clever behind the scenes detective work, Lazenby just happened to be in the same London Mayfair hairdresser’s salon that Albert Broccoli frequented, at the same time Broccoli was there.
Not that Broccoli offered him the role there and then, but seeing Lazenby in the Big Fry ads had Broccoli asking him to audition.
Legend has it Lazenby turned up dressed in classic Bond style, wearing a Rolex and a Saville Row suit actually made for, but uncollected by, Connery. And Lazenby oozed macho sexuality.
But could he do the action scenes? What would some half-kidneyed used-car salesman come male model know about action scenes? Could Lazenby roll with a punch, shoot a villain while downhill skiing backwards with a vodka martini in his other hand and out-swim a hungry shark, or would he try sell the bad guy a Volvo and throw in a free bar of Fry’s Chocolate Cream to seal the deal?
In fact it was Lazenby’s action-scene audition that got him the job.
During a trial fight scene, Lazenby accidentally punched the stuntman, former wrestler Yuri Borienko (who also played Blofeld’s henchman Gunther in the film), breaking his nose.
This was good enough for director Peter R. Hunt.
As Hunt put it, “I am not saying (Lazenby) is an actor. There is a great deal of difference between an actor and a film star.” Luckily for Lazenby what both the director and producers wanted was a film star.
Acting ability? Just so long as he could remember his lines. This was a James Bond action film after all, not Love Story.
No, hold on... How much time in the world have we got?
In fact Lazenby proved a very competent actor on screen. Could Connery have carried off that stunning ending to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with such raw emotion?
What Lazenby lacked was the acting ability off-screen.
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