M would be livid. Moneypenny would be going mad with the worry. Q would be desperately trawling price comparison sites for more comprehensive insurance cover. Because surely the only feasible reason I could be running late on a BlogalongaBond assignment is that I’d accidentally hit self destruct on my brand new motor in the middle of nowhere; or outside a casino.
There’s no doubt that my future with the service will be questioned. M wouldn’t need to peruse my file to remember the You Only Live Twice debacle, during
which I claimed to rely on instinct and memory rather than hard facts and intel
gathered firsthand. Hopefully Moneypenny would still be on my side enough to
slip something in the old man’s drink or wear a particularly distracting low
cut top to work on the day of my possible dismissal.
Maybe I can appease my spymasters with the fruits of my month long labour though. Everyone knows that Diamonds are Forever was a kneejerk and commercially driven reaction to the failed reboot that was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Cubby Broccoli and co were so terrified that Lazenby’s one and only outing as 007 had turned the world off of its favourite secret agent that they ditched any aspect of the previous film’s refreshing and engaging miserable and morbid direction, in favour of gags and girls with plenty of girth in the chest. Sean Connery was somehow tempted back for a short term fix. And it was his decision to front the silliness of the 1971 film that set the trajectory for the camp and altogether more comedic Moore years.
Why did he agree to come back? It’s the defining question of this film and sets the future of the franchise after it. Oh what might have been! After You Only Live Twice seemed to reach a peak of grandiose sets and sensational space age plots, the Scotsman appeared to walk away on a point of principle. The films were heading away from the Bond he had always played. Mr Connery seemed to think that to take it all too far would be betraying the character. And he was getting older, fatter, slower etc.
To find out, once and for all, why he turned his back on those earlier reasons, I set off in search of the first official screen 007. I tried all his usual haunts; casinos in Monte Carlo, beaches in the Bahamas, coves in Jamaica and gypsy camps in Istanbul. I eventually tracked him down a couple of days ago in the Highlands of his beloved Scotland, after wading through ten miles of private forest to the edge of his personal loch. I found him standing in a kilt on a small jetty, petting a strange creature that promptly ducked beneath the crisp and clear waters at the sound of my approach.
After making some noises I didn’t really understand, Mr Connery agreed to answer a few of my brief questions:
Why did you agree to return as James Bond in Diamonds are Forever?
I did it for the money.
Did you approve of the new style to the Bond films introduced by Diamonds
I did it for the money.
Did Guy Hamilton’s return as director, after the success of Goldfinger,
encourage you to sign up?
I did it for the money.
Would you say there are any genuinely funny moments in the film?
I did it for the money.
How would you respond to critics that have said your performance is lazy and uninterested? For example in the PTS and the scene where diamond smuggling is explained. Were you bored? Most men would find that astonishing.
I did it for the money.
What did you make of yet another version of Blofeld? Have you seen The Incredible Suit’s spot on analysis of the disappointment of the character? Did Charles Gray do a good job?
He did it for the money. I’ll talk to this suit fellow for the right price. My guards are going to take you away now.
Thanks for talking to me.
I did it for your money.
Despite my sloppy performance in covering Diamonds are Forever, I’m not sure if I’ll be BlogalongaBonding in August. I’m told that someone has already cleared my desk at headquarters and that Moneypenny shed a dignified tear. The internet connection here at the hospital will only be available to me until I’m
discharged and I sold my house to pay for this interview.
*for legal reasons I should say Sean is lovely really and we had a splendid chat. He did it for artistic integrity or something, definitely not money.
**for further legal reasons I should say I never spoke to Sean Connery (in this reality) and I don’t work for any secret agencies (officially).
*** Also Shirley Bassey’s theme song is excellent.
“FAR UP! FAR OUT! FAR MORE!” reads the poster. As a youngster I would have scoffed at this. I would act superior to my friends whenever a Bond film happened to be on TV. I would dazzle them with my knowledge of the films. And if I was ever asked what the worst film in the entire series was I would always reply – “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, obviously”.
Why was this? There was only really one reason; George Lazenby. It was his only Bond film, he did less than everyone else and therefore it was the worst. OHMSS (as I shall refer to it from now on) was an unwelcome aberration before the jolly rebirth provided by Roger Moore. As I grew up I was taught to love and treasure Roger’s cheeky eyebrows. But now, just as You Only Live Twice has slipped since childhood from one of my favourites towards the bottom of the pile, OHMSS is one of the very best in my personal Bond canon.
This is because the dated but charming slogan on the poster was spot on for a change; you really do get far more from OHMSS than any other Bond film. Not in every department of course; the range of locations is European and perhaps ordinary by modern standards, the gadgetry is minimum and the action less frequent than some would like. But for Bond fanatics, particularly those familiar with the Bond of Fleming’s books, this is the most faithful adaptation. A film with a storyline that really lets us get to know a little of the man behind the agent, the icon and the image.
As the excellent review from Kinnemaniac (which says everything I’m going to say more amusingly and precisely) points out, it is perhaps inevitable that diehard fans pounced on the instalment least popular with the general public. OHMSS is rarely picked for Bank Holiday TV schedules like other outings from Connery and Moore. Again as Kinnemaniac points out though, OHMSS attempts a tone not seen in the franchise again until the Dalton films and then properly in Casino Royale with Daniel Craig’s Eva Green love interest. Indeed perhaps Lazenby has Craig to thank for a new generation falling with renewed vigour for his solitary outing as 007.
Producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman no doubt fretted over replacing Sean Connery. For cinemagoers of the sixties he was THE embodiment of James Bond. Unlike audiences of today they were unaccustomed to the regular replacement of the actor playing Britain’s top secret agent now and again. The way in which they chose to tackle the casting and the whole creative process of the sixth Bond outing was bold and experimental.
Lazenby was nothing more than an Australian model, director Peter Hunt had been an editor for the early films. Or perhaps OHMSS was a safer bet than it appears. Saltzman and Broccoli might have gone back to the books through caution rather than ambition, and the whole project delayed the business of thinking about Bond’s future properly until Connery could be lured back for Diamonds are Forever. In any case the special features of my Ultimate Edition DVD reveal the bitchy arguments and distrust on set that never looked likely to form harmonious or long lasting foundations, despite frequent praise for Lazenby’s surprising ability.
Lazenby of course unavoidably remains the film’s defining feature. Nowadays I am more than happy to overlook his occasionally dodgy acting. The reason many fans of the books take to him is that he simply looks like James Bond. Rather than acting out aspects of his character, he is simply being Bond and our selective imaginations can iron out the creases in his portrayal. Re-watching OHMSS this time I noticed just how good Lazenby’s acting is on occasion though. He pulls off subtle little looks as well as the more obvious love scenes.
You hope to discover something new each time you watch a film and I found out that I like OHMSS best when Diana Rigg is on screen as Tracy with this viewing. I knew I loved the opening scene with Peter Hunt’s teasing direction of a mysterious driver, John Barry’s sublime soundtrack to the seaside action and Lazenby’s fourth wall breaching line; “this never happened to the other fellow”. And indeed I rank the scenes until Bond heads off to Piz Gloria in the Swiss Alps (surely the only base of villainy to match YOLT’s volcano?) as some of my favourites in the whole franchise. But then things simmer down with Bond undercover as Sir Hilary Bray. There’s occasional hilarity, an interestingly un-mysterious Blofeld and lots of girls, but not that same look at Bond as a man in love. When Rigg turned up again my interest was ignited again and turned up a couple notches.
Lazenby and Rigg’s chemistry is important, indeed vital for Bond’s first true love story, but the main reason I enjoy her presence on screen is because of what it does to the story. And the creative execution of the storytellers must be praised when talking about OHMSS. It’s evident for Bondians familiar with the whole series that the reins are looser here. They are telling a story rather than following a formula.
The two key architects are John Barry and Peter Hunt. I’ve already mentioned my admiration for the scene that introduces us to Tracy and reveals Lazenby as Bond. It just might be my personal favourite out of all the films. But aside from my preferences it’s the perfect illustration of Barry’s musical talent and Hunt’s ahead of his time direction.
The OHMSS soundtrack was one of the first that I bought. Its got a brilliant title theme, along with a gorgeous mix of thrilling synthesised ski chase accompaniments and romantic themes inspired by the sublime We Have All the Time in the World by Louis Armstrong. And then there’s Hunt’s evident ambition as both an editor and director.
Supposedly Lazenby got the role as Bond after he demonstrated his aptitude for fight scenes. The punch ups in OHMSS swing between the comical and the innovatively magnificent. Long before the creators of the Bourne films would claim that Craig’s Bond copies their style, Hunt and Lazenby filmed frantically paced and edited brawls in hotel rooms and the froth and spray of Portuguese waves. There may be the odd inadvertently funny grunt or strange bit of camerawork but Lazenby’s exciting physical Bond foreshadows Craig’s by almost forty years. If Hunt were working today his action scenes would be hailed as visceral and hard hitting. But back then change wasn’t embraced.
Even this fresh, frenzied approach to fisticuffs came back to underlining OHMSS’s USP; Bond is a man! He may still be a dapper chap with a trio of ladies actually making appointments to pull his trigger but now and then he’ll need to smother a man into submission rather than K.O. him with a single swipe. And his heart is as prone to silly somersaults as the rest of us male apes. Haters of Lazenby’s emotional depths though will not have long to wait for Bond to haul his armour back on. Within two years he’ll be protected by a 70s haircut, pink tie and drawling Scottish accent.
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