Christmas With 007: ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (United Artists 1969)


cracked rear viewer

(Okay, so technically ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE isn’t a Christmas Movie. But neither is DIE HARD, though many consider it to be because it’s set during the holiday season. Well, so is this film, and it’s as close as you’ll get to a James Bond Christmas Movie, so I’m gonna go with that!)

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE was the first Bond film to not star Sean Connery . Instead, newcomer George Lazenby was given the plum role of 007. Lazenby was a model whose claim to fame was a British TV commercial for a chocolate bar; despite having virtually zero acting experience, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli offered him an audition and gave him the part. Critics of the time derided Lazenby’s performance, more due to the fact that he wasn’t Sean Connery than anything else. Looking back on the film, he isn’t bad at all; he handles the…

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Italian Horror Showcase: Who Saw Her Die (dir by Aldo Lado)


Did you know that today is World James Bond Day?

It certainly is!  Today is the 55th anniversary of Dr. No and therefore, it’s the day when we celebrate all things Bond!

Now, it may seem strange to start a review of a classic giallo like 1972’s Who Saw Her Die? by talking about the James Bond franchise but the two do have something in common.

George Lazenby.

George Lazenby was the Australian model who was selected to replace Sean Connery in the role of 007.  It was Lazenby’s first big break and it also nearly destroyed his career.  Lazenby played the role only once, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Though many modern critics have come to recognize that film as one of the best installments in the franchise, contemporary critics were far less impressed.  After the disappointing reception of OHMSS, it was announced that Lazenby would be leaving the role and, in Diamonds Are Forever, Connery returned to the role.

What happened?  Why did George Lazenby exit one of the biggest film franchises in the world?  In my research, I’ve come across several different theories.  Some say that Lazenby voluntarily quit because he either wasn’t happy with the direction of the franchise or he didn’t get want to get typecast.  Others say that Lazenby was fired from the role because he was difficult to work with and was viewed as being a diva.  Others have said that Lazenby was viewed as being too stiff of an actor to continue in the role of James Bond.

Obviously, I can’t say whether Lazaneby was difficult to work with or not.  Nor can I even begin to speculate on what he thought of the franchise’s direction.  But, as far as this idea that Lazenby wasn’t a good actor goes … well, all I can say is have you even seen Who Saw Her Die?

As you can probably tell from the trailer, Who Saw Her Die? might as well take place on a totally different planet from the Bond films.  Who Saw Her Die? is an atmospheric and, at times, nightmarish giallo.  A murderer of children — complete with black gloves and a black veil, because this is a giallo film, after all — is stalking Venice.  When the daughter of architect Franco Serpieri (George Lazenby) is murdered, Franco and his ex-wife (Anita Strinberg) search for the murderer and discover a connection to a previous murder that occurred, years before, at a French ski resort.

It’s a dark and disturbing film, perhaps the most emotionally intense giallo film that I’ve ever seen.  A year before Nicolas Roeg did the same thing with Don’t Look Now, director Aldo Lado captures Venice as a city of both great beauty and great decay.  Every scene features the ominous shadow of death hanging over it and, after the murder of Roberta Serpieri (Nicolette Elmi), the viewer is painfully aware that everyone that we see is a potential child murderer.  Is it the artist?  Is it the priest?  Or is it some random passerby?  This film keeps you guessing.

And holding the entire film together is George Lazenby.  At the time, I’m sure that some said it was a step down to go from playing James Bond to appearing in a low-budget Italian thriller but Lazenby gives such an emotional and empathetic performance that it should silence anyone who has ever said that Lazenby was a stiff actor.  It’s not just that Franco wants justice for his daughter.  It’s also that he’s haunted by his own guilt.  Franco abandoned his daughter, leaving her on the streets of Venice, so that he could get laid.  If he had been with there, the killer never would have targeted her.  As played by Lazenby, Franco is motivated not just by rage but also by a need to redeem himself.  He is equally matched by Anita Strindberg, who perfectly captures the raw pain and rage of a mother who has lost her child.  Perhaps the film’s strongest moment features Franco and his ex-wife making love after their daughter’s funeral.  The scenes of their love-making  are intercut with scenes of them crying in bed afterwards, a technique that, a year later, Nicolas Roeg would also use for Don’t Look Now‘s famous sex scene.  Together, Stindberg and Lazenby make Who Saw Her Die? into the rare whodunit where you care as much about the future of the characters as you do the solution to the mystery.

Who Saw Her Die? is an excellent and powerful giallo and proof that George Lazenby was more than just someone who once played James Bond.

George Lazenby (center) in Who Saw Her Die?

6 James Bond Films That Should Have Been Nominated For Best Picture


James Bond and Jaws

Other than a few song nominations (and wins) and the occasional technical mentions, the Academy has tended to snub the James Bond franchise.

However, I love the Bond films so here are 6 times that I think 007’s latest adventure should have been nominated for best picture!

From Russia With Love

  1. From Russia With Love (1963)

I not only think that From Russia With Love should have been nominated for best picture, I also think that it should have won.  This film featured Sean Connery at his best and it’s one of the few Bond films to work not only as an adventure but as a romance as well.

Skyfall

2. Skyfall (2012)

I’m not a huge fan of Daniel Craig’s interpretation of the character.  If Connery was Killer Bond and Roger Moore was Charming Bond, Craig often seems to be Whiny Bond.  That said, Skyfall was not only one of the best Bond films but one of the best films of 2012 as well.

The Spy Who Loved Me

3. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Nobody does it better!  Not only was this Roger Moore’s best Bond film but it’s a wonderful piece of pop art.

on_her_majestys_secret_service1

4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

This is one of the most underrated of all of the Bond films.  Ignore all the gossip over how George Lazenby came to play James Bond and you’ll discover that it is a Skyfall for the 60s.

goldfinger-movie-poster-1964-1010189635

5. Goldfinger (1964)

“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”  Goldfinger is over the top perfection.

LiveandLetDie

6. Live and Let Die (1973)

Live and Let Die will probably never be acclaimed as the other Bond films but I don’t care.  I love it.  It’s the closest the Bond franchise ever came to achieving the anything-goes insanity of a classic grindhouse film.

Will a James Bond film ever receive a best picture nomination?  Normally, I’d say no.  But Mad Max: Fury Road changed the rules (for the better).  Given the right Bond, the right director, the right story, and the right year, who knows what could happen?

 

 

James Bond Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. by Peter Hunt)


By the time Sean Connery was done with You Only Live Twice, he grew tired of being Bond. After all, he’d played the role since 1962 and the ‘70s were on their way. Five movies would do that to you. After that film was done (or near the end of filming it), Connery made it known that he was done with the character and wouldn’t be returning for another installment. Imagine the impact of that. That’s like Daniel Radcliffe having said “You know what? Potter is a tosser and I’ve had it.”, Leaving right after the Order of the Phoenix. That’s not an easy role to fill.

This was the challenge that Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman faced in getting On Her Majesty’s Secret Service made. Before watching the movie, I watched one of the documentaries on the casting. It turns out that among the individuals that they wanted to play Bond, Timothy Dalton was offered the role. However, since he was only about 22 at the time, he felt he was too young to play the suave secret agent. The producers eventually went with George Lazenby, who was famous in Australia for commercials, but had the look they were shooting for.

To help push the changes, the marketing team concentrated on everything being “different” and “new”. The idea was that you were still getting James Bond and everything within his universe, but that the kind of Bond you were getting was something awesome. This is evidenced in the trailer and many of the promotion materials.

Broccoli and Saltzman did a search for a leading lady that would be able to support Lazenby. To this end, they recruited The Avengers star Diana Rigg. Her role as Emma Peel (which was later played by Uma Thurman in the box office adaptation) was well-known, and was used as the basis of her ability to work on an action / drama piece like Bond 6. Her character, Countess Teresa di Vicenzo remains one of the best Bond Girls on film (to me, anyway), because of how cold she is from the start of the film. he same could be said of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, but then again, Lazenby’s Bond is somewhat different from Connery’s. Additionally, Savalas’ Blofeld came across as very dynamic, and between the two, they help to keep the story exciting when Lazenby’s talking lulls others (like the women at his dinner table) to sleep. I don’t think it’s Lazenby’s fault too much. All of the other Bonds either starred in films, like Daniel Craig or television shows, like Moore and Brosnan. For someone who just came off of commercials, Lazenby did a better than expected job, but after 5 Connery films, it’s a hell of a feat to try to take that place in people’s minds.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the story of how James Bond sought out Ernst Starvo Blofeld  and managed to fall so head over heels in love that he got married. That’s basically it. In between, there’s beautiful snow in Switzerland, but OHMSS is at it’s heart very much a love story. It should also be noted that as this is the first film without Connery, there’s a lot of references to Connery’s tenure as Bond and some of these are smile inducing. Right from the start, when Lazenby’s Bond tries to save the countess from drowning herself, he gets caught up in a fight. By the time he’s able to defeat the thugs, she’s run off. No running into his arms, no “Oh..James!” embrace. All of this leads him to look at the camera and exclaim that this type of thing “never happened to the other fellow”. I liked that, I have to admit. There’s also an interesting scene where Bond decides to resign from MI6 and packs his suitcase. The items that he takes out of this drawer are ones from the first 3 films, complete with the musical cues to match them. Much of the first half of the movie works on paying homage to what was done before while trying to get everyone situated with Lazenby.

The movie moves from the beach to where he finds the Countess. After a little 60s coercion (“Talk!” *smack*), She reveals who she is and spends the evening with him, but by the next morning, she’s run off. That morning, on leaving the hotel, he’s kidnapped and is taken to the Countess’ father. The father explains to Bond that like Merida in Pixar’s Brave, Teresa is a bit spirited and that she should be wed. He even goes so far to offer Bond a million dollars, but Bond states that he enjoys the Bachelor’s taste of freedom, but does decide to follow through if the father can provide information on the whereabouts of Blofeld. This leads Bond to an office and an elaborate safe cracking sequence, the results of which give him information on genealogy. Impersonating the person who’s office he was in, he manages to sneak into an establishment in Switzerland that studies about allergies and how to cure them (but may be doing more nefarious deeds).

One cute part about the genealogy is that we’re shown the Bond Family Crest, which comes complete with the family motto “Orbis Non-Suffici”, which translates into “The World is Not Enough” This would later become the title of a future Brosnan film.

We come to find that what Blofeld really is doing is that he’s brainwashing the women he has at the center for use in planting biological weapons around the world. After an escape on skis and a snowy car chase, Bond is eventually able to stop Blofeld and his henchwoman (or at least wound him, anyway). This all leads up to one of the best endings ever devised for a Bond film, because it catches you completely off guard. If there’s any reason to keep this film on your shelf to watch, it’s because it was daring enough to avoid giving the audience the Bond ending you always see, with him heading off with the girl for one that’s ultimately more emotional and/or meaningful. To date, I feel that only Craig’s Casino Royale (which in essence owes a lot to OHMSS) comes close to actually providing something similar. It only falters in that Royale has Bond’s loss focusing him on the notion that he can’t have anyone in his life out of a lack of trust. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service gives the better reason that Bond simply has too many enemies in his life to warrant the connections others have, which makes him almost a sad character in a way.

Lazenby’s performance as Bond is a mix of hit and miss. From an action point of view, I thought he was pretty good. From an acting point of view, he played it a little too much by the book for me, which made me think that he wasn’t really the most exciting Bond there was. He didn’t have Timothy Dalton’s sense of darkness, Roger Moore’s wit, Brosnan’s narcissism or Craig’s coldness. He was just a guy who knew a lot and could punch you in the face if the need arose. Where Lazenby excelled were his interactions with Rigg. As a love story, OHMSS works just fine. As a Bond film, it’s like drinking coffee without any milk in it. You’re still given the same flavor, but it doesn’t quite taste the same. Perhaps this is why he didn’t stick around for Diamonds are Forever, which the producers did have him in mind for.

Musically, John Barry was back on board, and having to come up with something that defined the “New Bond”, he came up with an entirely new theme song. The music for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is actually pretty damn good, and actually serves to became as much of an Official Theme as “007”, used in From Russia With Love – which actually happens to be my 2nd favorite Bond theme next to “A View to a Kill”.

Tomorrow, the Shattered Lens tackles Connery’s return to form in Diamonds are Forever. Below is the vocal theme for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “All the time in the World” by Louis Armstrong. Enjoy.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: One Million Years B.C. (directed by Don Chaffey)


So, last night, I was talking Oscar fashion over on twitter and, at one point, I somehow ended up promising that if I was ever nominated for an Oscar, I would wear an outfit based the fur bikini that Raquel Welch wore in the 1966 film One Million Years B.C.  Well, everyone seemed to think that this was a pretty good idea on my part but it made me realize that I’ve never actually seen this movie.  As I was already planning on going to Fry’s to buy the Criterion edition of Fish Tank, I decided to buy One Million Years B.C. as well.  When I returned home, I kinda watched it.

I say “kinda” because One Million Years B.C. is probably one of the most draggy movies ever made and my mind wandered considerably whenever there wasn’t a dinosaur on-screen.  The movie opens with a really pompous sounding narrator who explains 1) that One Million Years B.C. was a long time ago and 2) not much else.  I mean, honestly, Mr. Narrator, I could have figured out we were dealing with prehistory just from the fact that there’s a bunch of dinosaurs wandering around.  Anyway, the movie itself is about a caveman (played by a nicely rugged actor named John Richardson) who is exiled from his own savage tribe but who eventually ends up with Raquel Welch’s tribe.  But then his new tribe gets sick of him and decides to exile him as well.  This time, Welch goes off with him and they eventually join Richardson’s old tribe which then goes to war with Welch’s old tribe and then finally, a volcano explodes.  Oh, and there’s a lot of dinosaurs wandering around as well.  On rare occasions, they attack the cave people but, for the most part, they just put out the same aloof vibe as my cat does right after he eats.

Most of the film’s dinosaurs were created through stop motion animation and they’re fun to watch.  However, for me, what truly made the film was a giant turtle that pops up about 30 minutes in.  It’s trying to make its way back to the ocean and, for its trouble, a bunch of little cave people insist on throwing spears at it.  But the turtle just kinda looks back at them and shrugs.  What a cool turtle!

There’s a certain type of viewer — and we all know the type — who will complain that One Million Years B.C. commits the sin of 1) having dinosaurs existing at the same time of cavemen and 2) having all the different dinosaurs living together at the exact same time.  And to those people, I think it’s high time that everyone just finally says, “Shut the fuck up.”  I mean, seriously, instead of nitpicking every little cinematic detail, why don’t you concentrate on losing some weight before you drop dead of a heart attack? 

Just a suggestion.

Oddly enough, this film has a weird connection to the James Bond film series in that, on the basis of their work here, both John Richardson (who also starred in Mario Bava’s classic Black Sunday) and Raquel Welch came close to being cast in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  However, the roles ended up going to George Lazenby and Diana Rigg instead.  (Welch was also nearly cast as a Bond girl in Diamonds are Forever.)   Though neither Welch nor Richardson ever became a part of the 007 franchise, Robert Brown (who plays Richardson’s father here) later played the role of M in a handful of Bond films.