Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Double Oh...6: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

On Her Majesty's Secret Service Preamble:  I actually have seen this one before, although only recently.  Well, "recently" compared to any other non Daniel Craig Bond film I should note.  Here's what I had to say about it December 31, 2009:
I’ve never seen this before, can you believe it. I’m not really much of a Bond connoisseur, though I like Bond films quite a bit, and you know, this might just be one of my top three favourites. People like to piss on George Lazenby but he does a remarkably good job for a credit-less actor in his first film role. The chemistry between him and Diana Rigg is painfully lacking though, however it certainly sparks between him and Joanna Lumley (Rigg and Lumley in the same film, I must be dreaming). Curiously the rhythm of this film is not all that different from the recent Casino Royale.
I think my view on the Bond-Tracy dynamic was skewed by my having heard about Diana Rigg's apparent dislike of Lazenby, and how she would sabotage their kissing scenes by eating garlic or onions beforehand.  I  also for some reason wrote that thinking Joanna Lumley was Ruby Bartlett, when it's quite clear she's not Joanna Lumley (it's Angela Scoular).  I think I liked it even better this time around than the first.

Villains: I wrote Draco, Tracy's father, down as a bad guy for he's a business man and head of a large European crime syndicate, but by the end he's quite clearly not so bad afterall, at least not anymore.  Back when "M" was in the field, he was a chief adversary and the two reminisce at Bond's funeral in a very charming moment.
  Frauline Bundt's is yet another of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s stern taskwomen, a severe German with little sense of humour.  She has a den of fembots (I suppose it's wrong to use Austin Powers terminology in writing about Bond, it's like the snake eating its own tail) whom we're first introduced to in a swinging, rotating lounge, all a little man starved as they've apparently been cooped up in the Bleuchamp clinical allergy research facility.
  Bleuchamp (Telly Sevalis) is a thinly veiled disguise of Ernst Blofeld, but for some reason is keen to have his familial title recognized.   His study of allergies, all with remarkably beautiful women, is merely a cover, as he plots bacterial Warfare causing infertility in plants, animals and people.  The fembots, brainwashed through nightly "treatment" sessions, are to act as unknowing agents of distribution.  Blofeld is by far the focal villain of the piece, and beyond Bundt's minimal role as attractive-lady-wrangler, there's no other notable hencment to speak of.  In fact, surprisingly (after Blofeld's last appearance), he's very active in his pursuit of Bond, chasing him down mountains like an Olympic-level slalomnist (that's a word isn't it?) and later in a bobsled pursuit (which is just as ridiculously entertaining as it sounds), he's a master sledder.  I really wasn't expecting this out of old Ernst.
  The curious thing is it's like Blofeld and Bond have never met when Bond's cover is blown.  There's obviously either a quasi-acknowledgement that each new Bond is a bit of a reboot of the series, or that there's an actual identity being passed along from one person to the next.  Either that or, as Matt Myra of the Nerdist Podcast postulated, he's a Time Lord. Whereas with Blofeld, it was quite clearly acknowledged that he had surgery to change his appearance.

Bond Girls:
Diana Rigg, the legendary Emma Peel from the Avengers, plays Contessa Teresa "Tracy" di Vicenzo.  She's the daughter of the aforementioned Draco, a crime boss, and she's long had a rebellious spirit.  She married a count, inheriting a title and little else.  She roams Europe getting in and out of trouble, largely on her own wits, but frequently with the help of strangers.  Rigg is dynamite, and absolutely stunning.  Credit to the wardrobe department, as she's flat-out stylish in every scene.  Rigg throughout never tries to be sexy, she just kind of always is. Strong, confident, resourceful, but also capable of softness.  She turns out to be a hell of a driver (as it seems Bond is often driven around by women).
  There's a wonderful moment where Bond, on the run from Bundt and Blofeld's goon squad, he sits woefully rinkside in a busy Swiss resort village, and there's a great moment of weakness, of being penned in, trapped, hopeless.  It's not like Bond to have these moments, and you know he's capable of pulling himself up and getting out of it, but for a moment there, he allows the darkness in.  Then Tracy skates up, like a sunbeam glistening off gold.  Lazenby could have sold it better, but the moment itself, he knows he's saved, and he falls in love.  He's been rescued by women before, but at the moment he needed it, she was there to pick him up.
  Of course there's a whole sequence of courtship earlier in the film which seems thrown away for the second act in which James, in disguise as a genealogist, is knee-deep in a rich variety of attractive women, and is set to bed as many of them as he can squeeze into an evening.  What he does for queen and country.  One of the women is Ruby Bartlett, a sassy, delightfully forward, flirtatious and joyously verbose Englishwoman who seems even more of a sex addict than Bond.

Theme/Credits: This is one fucknuts credit sequence.  I mean, I understand the whole "time" thing is a theme, tying in with the Louis Armstrong-sung "We Have All The Time In The World", and the hourglass, pouring down images from previous Bond films signifying that Connery's time is up (as I suppose is the whole "hanging off a clock" thing) and leaving it open for a new Bond...but at the same time, I don't think the producers realized what a backlash they were going to have when replacing Connery, and reminding the audience of past glories, in hindsight, probably not the best idea.
  Though there were silhouetted nudes prior to this, these are the most flagrant silhouetted nudes, with the small-breasted, perky-nippled figures quite prominently displayed in profile, very little left to the imagination.
  The theme that plays over is a smashing John Barry score, having a tinge of Roy Budd influence peeking in (especially in his opening sequence, harpsichord rehash of the main Bond theme).
  "We Have All The Time In The World" is a curious smash of Barry's larger-than-life orchestral composition and Armstrongs more reserved, down-to-Earth, soulful vocals.  It doesn't quite work, but it's not terrible either.  The montage it plays over is... well it's not very macho, but it's nice.

Bond: Taller, leaner, stronger, Lazenby while perhaps over-gesticulating when fighting looks more impressie and powerful than Connery (looks like a better kisser too).  He was perhaps not as handsome as Connery, nor was he as effortlessly capable of delivering the witticisms he makes after fights or someone's death (something Moore specializes in). he did certainly carried a great casual demeanour and you could see him easing into the character and defining the role as the film went on.  Lazenby's Bond is the template for Daniel Craig's Bond, exceptionally tough, but capable of emotional vulnerability.
  The little Bond-ian traits already established such as the baccarat playing, eating food that's handy (after a fight or prowl), and even his less desireable trait of slapping a woman if he needs to be "persuasive".  There's a lot of Bond still left here, despite the change in face.
  As the film starts, he's been on the hunt for Blofeld for 2 yrs with no results.   He quits petulantly when taken off the case, but Moneypenny changes his memo to 2 weeks leave, to the relief of all involved.
  His title of "Commander" is emphasized, moreso than seemingly ever before before, as well when Bond meets Sir Hilary Bray, the genealogist he's to portray, he learns a little of his own background, including his ancestor Thomas Bond's  coat of arms baring the mantra "The World is Not Enough".
  More care is put into his cover as the genealogist, and into showing Bond's capability of committing to a role in the face much distraction, a facet of Bond that Connery never really even tried to pull off.  In this case Lazenby puts together a great Clark Kent routine.  It's too bad  Lazenby quit the role, I think he could have owned it his own way, much like Craig does now.

Movie:   I have a weakness for films with snowy settings.  I don't know why.  As a kid I always thought the Hoth sequence in Empire Strikes Back was the epitome of cool.  Perhaps it was growing up in a climate covered in snow for at least half the year, it's familiar.  This film, with its key sets and action sequences set in the Swiss Alps, just sings to me.  I love Blofeld's mountain-top compound and the escape sequence of Bond being trapped in the gear room of the cable car lift is an utterly fantastic moment of derring do and danger.  The slalem chases, both of them, are still amazing to watch, and one leads to "grisliest death in a Bond movie" contender #1: Snowplow.  I had forgotten just how heartbreaking the ending is, and it's an absolutely devastating thing of beauty, despite the almost silly shot of Blofeld, Bundt and henchmen seemingly joyriding in a car together.
  First-time director Peter Hunt (though he was editor and second line director on previous films) shows some filmmaking chops, nailing the action and fight sequences, even making the often campy back-screen studio inserts work.  Late in the film there's a great shot of Bond looking solemnly out M's window, with the image of Blofeld's men digging Tracy out of the avalanche projected on the window.  There's little arty flourishes like this that show some actual thought put into the filmmaking side of things that seemed largely ignored in previous installments.
  2 things that don't work: the "this never happened to the other fellow" quip that precedes the opening credits and the abrupt tonal shift at the end when the Bond theme queues over Bond cradling Tracy's lifeless body.  Not deal breakers by any means, just bad ideas in concept and execution.

Q gadgets: Radioactive lint, with Q noting miniaturization is the new trend in super-spydom.  However Q and his mini-gadgets don't come into play.  It's like the filmmakers, for a chage, are aware how the Bond tropes they've established are sometimes a hindrance to effective storytelling.

Classification (out of 01.0): 00.9