Most Bond movies begin with some sort of excitement. We see 007 engaged in saving the day, a villain perpetrating some disaster on the world, or some poor girl added as another notch to his bed post.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the first Bond picture without Sean Connery, begins differently. It’s dusk and Bond is driving down a road all alone and pulls over next to the beach. He pulls out the scope from his rifle to use as a telescope and sees a beautiful woman walking along the beach. He watches her as she walks through the sand, puts her hands through her hair and heads toward the water. There she is, another target in his sight, literally. But it takes a sinister turn, she’s walking into the ocean still wearing her clothes (a ridiculous butterfly gown that would be on any worst dressed list) intent on ending it forever. He rushes to save her and carts her body onto the sand, for a change carrying a woman not to bed, but to safety. He pants over her body, his tuxedo shirt now transparent with water and clinging to his muscled body. “I’m Bond, James Bond,” he says. And then he as attacked by three goons and he beats the crap of them in the water as the woman escapes. Yes, it becomes like all the other movies very quickly.
But all the differences of this 1963 offering are evident in this opening. It is getting darker both literally (it takes place at twilight — before that meant “vampires”) and figuratively. This movie has a decidedly dastardly point of view and the first thing we see is a suicide, or at least an attempt. That is not something that was in Connery’s universe of martinis, card games, and good time girls.
And there is the love interest. We see this woman again and again. Played by Diana Rigg in one of the best “Bond girl” performances ever, she plays a troubled daughter of an underworld crime figure who wants to pay Bond to marry her and take her off his hands. That is some twisted nonsense.
Then the other important part of the opening: George Lazenby. Oh, George. The first time we see his face is when he introduces himself in a wink to the audience that everything has changed. Lazenby and Connery look similar, but they are remarkably different. Connery’s sexuality was forceful, always throwing the woman down and making her submit to his advances (which they always did). Lazenby is more open than Connery and his bond has a sex appeal that is more inherent. He is the hero and alpha male with the broad chest and chiseled features that everyone is biologically predisposed to just lust for. He doesn’t have to force anyone, because the moment they see him, they want to sleep with him. His physicality is also exploited with that see-through shirt and again later when he wears a puffy shirt (hello, Seinfeld) and a kilt. He is a secure man and that secures his prey.
Yes, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the best Bond movie for all of these reasons. The darkness doesn’t end with the beginning and neither does the love affair. It’s the first movie in the series where Bond is after the same woman the whole time and ends up marrying her. But just as he is at his happiest, she’s murdered by the villains (spoiler alert!). The venom just under the surface is unrelenting and it refuses to let us be complacent in the fantasy that a spy’s life is all victory and panache.
But there is plenty of panache, and to balance out the darkness there is so much light that today it verges on camp (which I think every classic movie needs a little bit of). Bond tracks down his old nemesis Blofeld (played here by Telly Savalas) to Switzerland where he has gathered women from all over the world under the auspices of having a beauty pageant. Of course he is really hypnotizing them at night so that they’ll destroy the world’s food supply. Bond gets into the compound by posing as a scientist working with Blofeld. But how can they have this rooster in the hen house? He poses as a gay scientist so that he can be left alone with the women and get into their knickers under the watchful gaze of their evil chaperone, Irma Bunt, a lady as vicious as her name. He is so secure, he doesn’t care if people think he’s gay and, in his kilt, again does not mind being the object of sexual admiration.
OHMSS has everything you expect in a Bond movie — car chases, an amazing ski chase through an Alpine festival, Joanna Lumley ages before she starred in Absolutely Fabulous — but what makes it the best are its differences. This doesn’t end with James bond saving MI6 like the other movies, it ends with him joining forces with his lover’s gangster father to rescue her from Blofeld. He’s disobeying orders for love!
Where have we seen all those things? Oh, in all the subsequent Bond movies. Of all the other men to play the role, I say Daniel Craig owes the most to Lazenby. Craig combines the metrosexual obsession with the beauty of the male physique with an inner brooding darkness. Everything they say about OHMSS are the hooks of Daniel Craig’s revolutionary Bond: going against his bosses, check; killed lover, check; quietly fixed lower jaw, check; going back to the original Fleming material, check. Except it’s not that revolutionary because Lazenby did it first and did it with fun. He did it with a campy wink to let us know that he was in on the fun too. His movie will always be the best because his Bond has everything – and he looks amazing in a wet tuxedo shirt.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: United Artists]
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