Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 009 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a unique position in the Bond series. It comes at the end of the 1960s, right before Bond became a creature of the 1970s. It is also the only Bond with a one-time Bond. At one point, this film would have been considered the bottom of the barrel by the public, but over time it has risen in estimation. Here it sits at No. 009 of 0023.

Plot Quality: Had we done these ratings twenty years ago, OHMSS would have been near the bottom of the list. The film was seen as a mistake, a wrong turn in the series done by an actor with no business trying to replace Sean Connery. But over time, perceptions have changed. A great many people now recognize that Lazenby wasn’t as bad as he seemed when the wounds of Connery quitting were still so raw. And with the benefit of hindsight, the plot doesn’t seem as weak as it once did either. In fact, comparing this film to what was to come over the next ten years, this film actually comes across as quite solid.
The story opens with Bond saving Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, aka Tracy, from trying to kill herself. She invites Bond back to her hotel room. The following morning, Bond gets kidnapped by Tracy’s father, Marc-Ange Draco, who just happens to be the head of a huge European crime syndicate. Draco offers Bond one million pounds if he will marry Tracy. Bond refuses, but says he will continue to romance Tracy if Draco tells him the whereabouts of Blofeld. Draco directs Bond to Switzerland, where Bond steals information from a law firm which tells him that Blofeld is trying to claim a title: “Comt Balthazar de Bleuchamp.”

To prove his claim, Blofeld wants Sir Hilary Bray of the London College of Arms to come investigate. Bond now impersonates Sir Hilary to get close to Blofeld and he travels to an allergy research institute Blofeld is running in the Swiss Alps. There he meets a group of women who are being treated for allergies (it actually seems to be more aversion than allergies). Bond passes himself off as Sir Hilary while simultaneously suggesting to the women that he’s gay. He then proceeds to fool around with several of the women as he discovers that Blofeld’s secret plan is to send these women back to where they came from, brainwashed so they will release bacteriological warfare agents which will destroy food sources.
Bond tries to trick Blofeld into leaving Switzerland because he apparently can’t arrest him there. When Blofeld refuses, Bond’s identity is discovered and Blofeld’s agents chase him through Switzerland. Tracy just happens to be nearby and saves Bond, but then gets captured. Bond returns to London where he learns that Blofeld has demanded ransom to keep from releasing the bacterial agents, and the world has decided to pay. There will be no attack on Blofeld and no attempt to rescue Tracy.

Bond then contacts Draco, who attacks Blofeld’s chalet along with Bond and his men. They free Tracy and injure Blofeld. Bond and Tracy then return to Portugal, where they marry. As they leave the wedding, Blofeld drives up next to Bond’s Aston Martin and pumps it full of bullet holes. He kills Tracy and the movie ends.

As I said, this film has a growing legion of fans. What they are responding to is the feel of the film. This film was made in 1969 and thus is the last film made in the same vein as the Connery films before it: same film quality, same acting styles, similar dialog, similar types of action, similar costumes. By comparison, each of the films that follow will be creatures of the 1970s and will become increasingly ridiculous. It is, therefore, easy to see this film as being of roughly similar quality to the early Connery films. That is what has gotten the film ranked as high as it has.
But I don’t see this film going any higher. And the reason is that ultimately, this film is seriously flawed. Seriously, are we really supposed to believe that Blofeld won’t recognize the mortal enemy he’s seen repeatedly in the past just because Bond wears glasses and calls himself “Sir Hilary”? And since when has Bond ever worried about needing a warrant before he could take down a bad guy? He’s 007, licensed to kill, not licensed to make arrests with the permission of local authorities only.

Further, how silly is the idea of using these women to release bacteriological agents. Wouldn’t it make more sense to send dozens of trained SPECTRE agents all over the world than it does to send supposedly hypnotized women, each of whom can be found very quickly because each will have a visit to Switzerland on their passports and each of whom will have bragged about being at Blofeld’s institute. Hell, put Blofeld’s picture on the tube and ask anyone who has seen him to call the cops. These women would call in unless Blofeld could somehow activate them first. Also, it’s not clear why Bond pretends to be gay. Is this meant to confuse Blofeld or is it meant to confuse the women he finds? “Well, he sure looks like Bond, but he says he’s gay, so it can’t be him.”

Each of these ideas sound like they are potentially interesting ideas on paper, but none of them were developed before they were thrown into the film, and the result is a film which leaves you wondering why the heck no one seems capable of spotting the obvious things right before their noses. This is why OHMSS has peaked at number 0010. From hereon out, the rest of the films simply hold together too well for this one to rise any higher.
Bond Quality: This was George Lazenby’s only time as Bond, and Lazenby doesn’t have what it takes. He’s far too stiff in the role to be taken seriously and he never projects the ability to handle the level of violence Bond needs either. Even worse, the director sabotages him. For example, at one point, he mentions how “this never happened to the other guy,” a reference to Connery, which jarringly breaks the wall with the audience and reminds them that Lazenby is a replacement. At another point, while Bond is robbing a safe, he actually stops to look at a porno magazine... something that would never interest Bond, and then he even steals the magazine. Apparently, this Bond plays with himself. They also had him fall in love with his Bond girl (and far too easily at that), which again goes against the character. This was too much to be dumped on the plate of an actor who never seemed to take the role seriously enough to begin with.
The Bond Girl: Best. Bond. Girl. Ever. At least, that’s what a lot of people say. Tracy (Diane Rigg) is not my favorite, but she’s close. And she is without a doubt the strength of this film. Her screen presence is compelling enough to make up for Lazenby’s lack of chemistry. She’s an excellent foil too for her father and then for Blofeld, even as Lazenby is not. She is a definite highlight and for the only time ever in a Bond film, her Bond girl outshines Bond himself.

Villain Quality: Who loves ya, baby? The villain here is Kojak as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Casting Telly Savalas as Blofeld was actually a good call. He brings both a real maniacal twist to the role and a serious level of menace, which fits with the insane plan he’s concocted. He is both larger-than-life and yet believable. In many ways, Savalas was the 1960’s version of Christopher Walken and he made any film he was in better. Between Savalas and Rigg, this film has a strong cast.
Savalas’s plan is to brainwash a group of women who have come to his institute to be treated for allergies (or really aversions) to various foods. These women will be sent back to their homes with germ warfare agents which they will release upon command to contaminate local food sources. That contamination will then spread until the country’s entire food supply is destroyed. He plans to use this to blackmail the world.

Ultimately, this plan is rather silly. While it’s possible such biowarfare agents could be invented, and that would be fertile ground for blackmail, a chick-based deliver system is not the recommended way to release this. But then, this never really seems to be the point to the movie. In this instance, Blofeld’s plot actually feels like a MacGuffin intended solely to give Blofeld and Bond a reason to play cat and mouse in the Swiss Alps. Even his desire to claim the title feels like a pretext to give Bond a way in... the real Blofeld couldn’t care less about such an honor, and neither do you. Nevertheless, as MacGuffins, these things work to give the veneer of a purpose to the film, even if the audience doesn’t really take it seriously.

To sum this one up, the film is not nearly as bad as it seemed when people were still upset about the casting of Lazenby. Comparing it to what was to come over the next ten years, and then some, this one at least felt like one of the early Connery films. Thus, it has moved up in many people’s estimation and I think a ranking of No. 0010 is appropriate. But the film is seriously flawed and simply doesn’t have what it takes to rise above the better films above it, and it may actually fall again a bit over time, probably below Skyfall and Quantum of Solace. In the meantime, it has peeked at No. 009 of 0023.

67 comments:

Backthrow said...

Wait, wasn't SKYFALL #10? So shouldn't OHMSS be #9? Or, more accurately, at #3 or #2, which is where it really belongs? You seriously have got to be joking, Andrew, or have been drinking too much spiked eggnog, to rank YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and especially LIVE AND LET DIE, above OHMSS. More later, but for now, I must slumber...

shawn said...

I liked Lazenby, and think that he didn't get a fair shake. Outside of Live and Let Die he is much better than Moore, who would be next after Connery's brief return. (I guess you could say Moore is less).

Like you said, Rigg and Savalas are in top form and the story isn't near as silly as many that would come to pass later.

As to Backthrow, clearly the lack of sleep has rendered his decision making processes a little off. I mean You Only Live Twice as Connery as Bond, in Japan chasing hot Asian women, flying a miniature helicopter and attacking a secret base in a volcano with Ninjas in tow. What's not to love?

AndrewPrice said...

Yes, should be No. 009. Fixed.

No. 2 or 3? That's crazy. I can't imagine one in ten thousand people thinking this film belonged that high. Honestly, it's probably a stretch putting it this high. This is the forgotten Bond... the one that gets left by people who do Bond-a-thons.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I agree. I like Lazenby and he didn't get a fair shake, but he also decided he didn't want to continue the role -- so it wasn't like he got tossed off the set. He made his own bed.

We'll talk more about You Only Live Twice when the time comes, but it's become hip of late to knock that film. If you read the BH series, you would have seen a lot of people crap on that one and instead say that the Dalton ones are "clearly the best in the series." That strikes me as just contrarianism. You Only Live Twice may not be up to the classic standards of the other Connery films, but it's still a solid film with all the elements Bond needs. It's in the Top 5 as a money maker (with a huge drop off starting at six). There isn't a Bond-a-thon in the world which doesn't put it in prime time along with the other Connery's. And even casual fans can tell you the plot. That earns it a high place on this list.

PikeBishop said...

I always like how this one was bookended with "For Your Eyes Only." In the opening Bond disposes of Blofeld finally and visits Teresa's grave. He is even blessed by a priest as he leaves. Nice Coda

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I think there's actually a reason for that, as you will see soon enough. For Your Eyes Only was essentially a reboot and that opening was the declaration that they were throwing away the silliness that had taken over the franchise.

Tennessee Jed said...

George "Effing" Lazenby. Condemned to a career of, mainly, t.v. guest star spots. I was surprised to see him turn up as Confederate Brigadier James Pettigrew in the film Gettysburg. Did a pretty good job, too. Honestly, I don't get too excited about specific rankings. But honestly, while Lazenby suffered from the "replace Connery" impossible and thankless task, He was pretty damned forgettble. His "Q" rating is just not there. Dianna Rigg is great, although as a child of the 50's and 60's, she gets a lot of her good will due to the original Avengers series. The snow is good backdrop for a Bond film. I can't get too concerned about the flaws (like Blofeld not rcognizing Bond.) The film series is fantayland to begin with.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Even fantasy land should try to minimize the plot holes.

As for Lazenby, he was largely forgettable and I think that if Moore had been better, this film never would have crept up the ratings. But Moore helped Lazenby a lot. And I think what Lazenby has working for him ultimately was that this was his only shot at the role. So it is easy to imagine that he would have improved.

Snow is a good backdrop for Bond.

Kelly said...

I saw that at BH as well. There were a group of people who got off on going against the crowd and they were really smug about it.

AndrewPrice said...

Kelly, To be clear, it's not disagreements that are the problem. Films are largely a matter of taste and taste is subjective, so it's kind of stupid to argue about whose taste is right. The problem I saw at BH, and see at other places, is the smugness. Disliking what the majority likes and liking things the public does not stops being a matter of taste and instead becomes a matter of feeling superior. Critics do this all the time. They reveled in liking unwatchable films, not because the films were really hidden gems, but because it lets them say, "I see something you peons don't and that makes me special." That was my sense of what was going on with that group at BH.

Anonymous said...

I'm generally with Backthrow on this. OHMSS is ranked way too low.

Connery made a few good Bond movies, but You only Live Twice is silly and stupid and has no business being ranked above this one. Bond as a Japanese man, with a Lloyd Christmas haircut raiding a hollowed out Volcano and chasing Blofeld on a monorail. Please stop. Everyone loves Connery, but as good as he is, he can't save Diamonds are Forever or You Only Live Twice. They are terrible. Frankly, Dr. No is no great film either. A armored car mistaken as a dragon, a secret lair, and a metal handed villain. It's a good one and the first one, but Bond hadn't hit his stride yet with that one. No Roger Moore movie can be watched without shaking the head in disgust. Dalton and Brosnan need not be mentioned at all (though Dalton is much better than Brosnan as Bond). That leaves 3 Connery films, 3 Craig films and the 1 Lazenby film.

Of those 7 films, OHMSS and Thunderball are the two I choose to watch when they appear on TV. No bond movie prior to Craig's films have fight scenes that rival this one. Lazenby doesn't use silly gadgets. He uses his fists. I prefer that. Diana Rigg is quite fetching and Telly Savalas isn't a cat petting loon. He is one tough dude who actually has Bond frightened in that ice rink scene. The stunts are good. The scenery is nice. The music is great. Yeah, the plot has a few holes, but they don't take you out of the movie. Btw, Wikipedia's summary argues that Blofeld was seeking legitimacy as a count, blackmailing the world in order to receive amnesty, and wanting to retire to private life unmolested. That's not a half bad plot. Regardless, for me, this is a top 3 movie for sure man. I am one of the one in ten thousand.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, I'm glad you enjoy it. I like it, but there's just no objective way this film can go any higher, and I do think it will sink again over time.

PDBronco said...

Probably number 004 on my list. I thought Lazenby actually did a good job as Bond - and probably would have grown into the role quite well (better than Moore did). And yes, the "That never happened to the other guy!" comment was a break in the wall, but I think it was a good nod to the audience - as well as the scene where Bond is packing up his desk and you have a combination of mementos and theme music from the earlier movies.

Did Bond fall in love with Tracy quickly? Yes, but that can happen with a soul mate. Plus it was Diana Frakin' Riggs! Who wouldn't fall in love with her instantly!

As for Blofeld not recognizing Bond... Obviously "Blofeld" is like the Dread Pirate Roberts - it's only a title, not one person! The only way Bond recognizes Bolfeld is that MI-6's (or is it 5? I never can remember) intelligence is more up-to-date.

AndrewPrice said...

PDBronco, Diane Riggs is hard to beat, that's for sure.

Blofeld being a title only doesn't work. This Bond hates him viscerally. Hating whoever holds a title would be like hating whoever is the CEO of Coke. The movie is deeply flawed. It's still likable, but there's no escaping that.

SciFiTerry said...

I like this one a lot personally, but your rating is more than fair. I would actually drop it below QoS and Skyfall. As much as I've come to enjoy it, the plot is flatout stupid, Lazenby is stiff, and you need to swallow more disbelief here than in 90% of the rest of the franchise. The public rejected the film and still views it as a bit of a joke. And judging by the way people do often exclude this one from television marathons or show it at 2:00 am along with Dalton's first film, there still isn't much taste for this film.

My two cents.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Terry. Like I said, I can't see this film going any higher. This wasn't a popular film and still isn't a popular film. I also can't call this a hidden gem, because it's not. It's silly and full of holes. It has no iconic moments. To the contrary, it's main villain is a guy who get mocked as the ridiculous end of the series. It's main selling point (the marriage) is something that people roll their eyes or cringe at and which never comes up again except in a scene that throws away what has come before. Lazenby never took the role seriously and he ran off immediately afterwards. They were even upset that he refused to play along to publicize the film. There are few memorable moments. And honestly, if Connery had done this one, I suspect people would have called it his worst (except for Diamonds Are Forever) and slammed the ridiculousness of it.

All that said, it has found a small but loyal audience and they've saved it from the bottom. But the films above it are iconic and important to the franchise for one reason or another, they hold together better, and they are all much more popular. So I simply don't see how this can go higher. And like you, I think that if we do this again in 20 years, you will see at leastQoS move above this one.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, PDBronco, To be clear, I have no problem with you (or anyone else) liking this better than some of the above. Tastes very. At the end of the series, I'm going to rank these according to my personal favorites as well and I think you'll see a very different list.

What I'm trying to do with this series is rank these as objectively as possible within the franchise according to (1) the quality of the various parts -- Bond, villain, plot, Bond girl, (2) the movie's popularity and continuing staying power, and (3) how iconic the film is.

ScottDS said...

I saw most of the older Bond films for the first time 6 or 7 years ago and I liked this one, not as much as some but better than a couple others. Of course, I knew the history of it going in. Not only was it Lazenby's debut, but it was the directorial debut of Peter Hunt who had edited all of the previous Bond films.

One wonders what Connery would've done with this one, especially since the next film begins with Connery hunting down Blofeld (presumably for killing Tracy in this one).

And you're right - the plot is more or less an excuse to see Bond and Blofeld match wits. (The plots are usually MacGuffins but it's not always as obvious.)

This film does feature one of John Barry's best Bond scores, too!

tryanmax said...

I only saw this for the first time lately, and after a lifetime of hearing how awful it was, I was actually extremely impressed by how good it was. Ridiculous in many ways, yes, but not the train wreck I was promised. That alone might account for it's rising popularity. I will agree, though, that it doesn't need to rise into the Top 5. (One can always quibble a notch or two.) Frankly, aside from some poor directorial decisions, I thought Lazenby made a pretty decent Bond. I think he would have been served well by additional outings had they been afforded to him.

BTW, I FIXED your picture.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's the really interesting question: what would have happened if Connery had taken the role. It's hard to tell, but I think he would have played it about the same only substituting his own personality. And I think people would have called this "a film too far" for Connery.

As for the plots being MacCuffins, I don't think that's accurate at all. This is one of the only times I can think of where the plot wasn't the actual focal point of the film which drove events.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Nice! :)

Yep, this one is nowhere near as bad as people think. It's taken a lot of flack based on momentum. I think that as people have come to realize that this wasn't as bad as it seemed and that most of the Moore films were worse (something people didn't seem to get until Craig), OHMSS has moved up the rankings.

On Lazenby, I think he was adequate in the role, but hardly good. But he does have potential. His acting here is very similar to Moore in Live and Let Die, and Moore evolved quickly... in the wrong direction, but still. So Lazenby probably would have grown fairly quickly. Though, I suspect that if his second film was Diamonds Are Forever, that would have been the end of him.

Backthrow said...

Actual reasons why the fans (if not necessarily the general public) like OHMSS:

1.) It's about the closest any of the films got to its source novel, and the few changes made were improvements. Blofeld's band of hypnotized playmates notwithstanding, fans like the attempt to somewhat ground Bond, after the more-fanciful excesses of YOLT, and especially the over-reliance on gadgetry in the previous three films. Bond uses exactly one special gizmo in OHMSS, the safe-cracking xerox machine, and if you think about it, that isn't ostensibly from Q-branch... Bond is on leave at this point, is getting help in his extracurricular spying from crime boss Draco (his future father-in-law), and the case is delivered from the construction site across the street (Draco Construction)... so that's a Draco gadget (either developed by his own people, or stolen). Pretty neat.

2.) Probably the best soundtrack ever for a Bond film. John Barry's masterpiece (even if the recurring James Bond Theme and excellent title track to GOLDFINGER are the two most popular pieces of Bond music, ever). It was his own favorite of his Bond scores, too.

3.) Some of the best action scenes in the series, and there are lots of them, possibly more action set-pieces than in any other film, to help bolster newbie Lazenby. While each film at the time was striving to be bigger than the last, I'm pretty sure we would've gotten one or two less action scenes if Connery had returned for this. We certainly got less in DAF.

4.) Arguably the best Bond girl in the series, Diana Rigg (I find it interesting that a lot of people, not just here, tend to add an 's' to the end of her last name... I wonder why that is?), certainly the most important, since her death is referred to (or alluded to) in DAF, TSWLM, FYEO and probably a couple more. Like the extra helpings of action, she's another element added to bolster Lazenby --get worldwide sensation Emma Peel to be Mrs. Bond; if Connery had returned, I doubt Tracy would've been cast with someone of Rigg's personality or acting ability... we most likely would have gotten another Daniela Bianchi or Claudine Auger, easy on the eyes, but more serviceable than great/memorable.

5.) A somewhat stiff, inexperienced Lazenby still easily trumps a bored/balding Connery (YOLT, DAF, NSNA), a smug/prissy/lightweight Moore (all his films), a cranky/constipated Dalton, and empty suit Brosnan. Lazenby's a good fighter, and performs the tender scenes remarkably well... the latter of which I think were actually outside of Connery's acting skill-set, at least in the Bond films.

6.) Among the very best-directed of the Bond films, possibly the best-directed, by first-timer Peter Hunt (former editor on all the previous films). Hunt not directing any more Bonds was as big a blow (or bigger) to the series as Lazenby opting out of further films. Hunt nearly directed both TSWLM and FYEO (working on treatments for both), but apparently clashed with Broccoli, who wanted silly Bond when Hunt wanted straight-up Bond. So he went off and made GOLD, the semi-silly SHOUT AT THE DEVIL and DEATH HUNT, instead.

7.) The look/tone/scenery/editing style, consistent with the films preceding it (a.k.a. Andrew's explanation, which sells fans' appreciation a bit short; it's not as shallow a reason as that, nor the sole reason, nor even the primary reason, as I've outlined above).

I list these reasons not just because it's what I happen to think, but from what I've seen, repeatedly, for years on various film boards, Bond-themed boards/threads, fanzine articles, blogs, YouTube videos, etc.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, Bond is a property whose fan base reaches far beyond the geeks you speak of. It is popular with millions and millions of people worldwide. That is how a film like Skyfall makes a billion dollars and why films like the Austin Powers series can be a hit with the public -- because huge swaths of the public are fans. Those are the fan I am talking about, not the nerd base. If I was writing for the nerds, I would be providing spec sheets on his gadgets, ripping the films apart for every deviation from the books, or angrily denouncing my friends for lack of purity. I'm not interested in that because this isn't a James Bond geek site. What I'm talking about here are the fan base generally. And in that regard, there is still very little love for this film. This is the film the networks leave out when they do their marathons (because of lack of ratings), this is the film that never gets shown independently (because of lack of ratings), and this is the film that gets some of the fewest votes at places like IMDB because few people care about it. And when they do polls about which actor was the best Bond, Lazenby scores poorly, just as he did in this Fox News 2012 poll:

63% Connery
14% Craig
12% Brosnan
10% Moore
1.1% Dalton
0.53% Lazenby

That is hardly an endorsement of Lazenby or this film.

Backthrow said...

A recent appraisal of OHMSS from director Steven Soderbergh... I agree on some points, disagree on others, but it's an interesting read, regardless. Also, I liked how Christopher Nolan sort of referenced OHMSS a bit in INCEPTION.

Backthrow said...

Andrew,

Their loss.

AndrewPrice said...

Probably.

But there is something else that is worthy of notice. All the geek stuff I've seen (and even the Soderbergh) article you link, talk in terms of the potential of the film: "If only they had done this differently." When you start playing that game, then every film potentially becomes genius. If you want to examine films, you need to look at what was created, not what might have been created. And in that regard, the greater the unfilled potential, the worse it speaks to the film actually.

In this case, I think the film was hurt by initial ill will. But it has recovered enough to end up this high. But it is far from a perfect or great film and I think trying to go higher than this is wishful thinking which will be rejected by an overwhelming number of fans. The films above this are just more iconic, more complete, and better loved.

tryanmax said...

OHMSS certainly deserves a positive PR campaign, as it is objectively better than most Bond films.

Kelly said...

There is a fan magazine, "James Bond 007 Magazine" or something like that. They actually list this as "the greatest Bond film ever," based on some fan poll. But think about that. If you were going to introduce someone to the franchise for the first time, is this really the film you would use to do it? I can't imagine picking this one. Maybe Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, Thunderball or Casino Royal. Those would be the films I would use.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Absolutely, hence I have ranked at No. 9, ahead of 14 other films. I can assure you that 20 years ago, it would have been at the bottom. So it's not like I'm disrespecting the film. As I've said several times, I just don't see how it can go higher -- and certainly not into the Top 5.

AndrewPrice said...

Kelly, That's a good way to look at it. And I agree. I would never use OHMSS to introduce anyone to the franchise.

Tennessee Jed said...

Backthrow - you will note I spelled her name correctly. There are a couple of reasons. First, I am old enough to know exactly who she is. And, secondly, I think the surname Riggs is much more common. You are old enough to know (I'm guessing) that Keith Richards was Keith Richard when the Stones first stormed the states :)

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - I don't disagree that even in fantasy, it is nice to have as much as possible grounded in reality. My point is, we all had to go wink,wink to Clark Kent fooling Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White with a pair of glasses, and a faux-mild manner. Also, the whole notion of a secret agent who is "known" but still useful is a bit of a stretch. But then, in reality, Dr. No would have executed Bond immediately, thus ending the series in the first film. I probably am just saying, yeah it is a definite flaw, but one I was able to quickly put out of mind. It was not too big of a distraction.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That would have been a short series indeed. LOL!

I agree, there is always a certain amount of wink wink that takes place with films. The less the better though, and here it would have helped if they had at least come up with an explanation. "Are you sure he never got a good look at you, Bond?" "Yes, I'm sure." Would have helped.

I think the problem is here that it's obvious he should recognize him, and then Blofeld acts like he kind of knows who Bond is, but then kind of doesn't, and it's never clear if they are just playing cat and mouse or it Blofeld really doesn't know. That makes the whole time he's at the institute rather awkward to watch because it's not clear how you should be taking it.

To me, that's when these wink wink things become hard to ignore when they interfere with how you're supposed to understand what is going on.

tryanmax said...

I've got it! When you have massive plastic surgery to alter your appearance, not only do you look different to other people, but other people look different to you. It's one of the lesser known side effects.

AndrewPrice said...

Lollipop poisoning. ;-)

I think that most like either (1) Bond was meant to be in disguise and they just didn't make it clear enough that he did look differently or (2) Blofeld knew and he was humoring Bond because he couldn't be arrested and they just didn't spell that out.

Backthrow said...

Andrew,

The fans I was talking about were fans of the specific film, not necessarily the fans of the overall series... and yeah, maybe the former mainly fall into the nerd/geek class, and are minor compared to the overall audience, but I brought it up only because, in your article, you brought them up, saying, quote:

"As I said, this film has a growing legion of fans. What they are responding to is the feel of the film. This film was made in 1969 and thus is the last film made in the same vein as the Connery films before it: same film quality, same acting styles, similar dialog, similar types of action, similar costumes", unquote.

The fact that the fanbase is growing (your words --and to what extent they are growing, or if it steadily continues to gain more fans today, who can tell?), says something, too. I know the entire article isn't about them or their view, but since you made the above assertion, I think my points were valid, within that narrow sphere. If they don't matter at all, why bring them up at all, and rather focus entirely on what the broader audience thinks, exclusively (plus your own opinion)? Who cares what the nerds think?

The rest of the public, apparently, doesn't even care much about those qualities about it, hence low ratings, 'forgotten Bond' status, etc. Personally, I think the programmers avoid it mainly due to it's length, and that it's a one-off. The Connerys, Moores and Brosnans get more play regardless, because they each have a healthy set of films, and thus, a 'brand' (apart from being 007): cool '60s Connery Bond, goofy 70s/80s Moore Bond, somethingsomething '90s Brosnan Bond... and the Craigs are still relatively fresh and ongoing, so they're still the hot new thing. That automatically makes OHMSS the outlier.

Another big reason why OHMSS has gotten the bad rap (and the subsequent rising in status in recent years), apart from Lazenby's inexperience and boneheaded career decisions, is something that has been largely forgotten today. Unlike any of the other Bond films, when it debuted on network TV in the 1970s, the network actually did a radical re-cut of the film, turning a lot of scenes (like the ski chase) into flashbacks and such, and had another actor dub in narration by Bond of the events taking place on-screen to sew this jumbled version together. When OHMSS played in theaters in 1969/1970, it was far from a flop, being one of the bigger moneymakers of that year (but not the biggest)... however, anyone who saw the film between then and its debut on home video (and play on WTBS, in its proper form) in the 1980s, saw this bastardized version, and that perception stuck. Whatever is considered lacking in the original film was made that much worse.

Though this hatchet job hasn't been seen by most people in over 30+ years, it still hangs over the film like a ghost. It's one of the reasons why a lot of people, like Tryanmax, go in assuming it's going to be terrible, and then are surprised that it isn't, even if they don't end up loving it. Not that they necessarily know about the old butchered version at all (they probably don't, this far off), but it's one of the things that's fed a general bad reputation the film has gotten over many, many years.

John Jameson said...

Last time Blofeld saw Bond, he had rugged features, a receding hairline, a Scottish accent and a lisp - no wonder he didn't recognise him.

AndrewPrice said...

John, LOL! I can see where that would confuse him. :)

Michael K said...

I don't any other Bond girl who could quote poetry or literature like Tracy did.

Thy dawn, O Master of the World, thy dawn;
For thee the sunlight creeps across the lawn,
For thee the ships are drawn down to the waves,
For thee the markets throng with myriad slaves,
For thee the hammer on the anvil rings,
For thee the poet of beguilement sings.

Rigg easily beats the B grade actresses and models turned actress wanna be's who tended to be Bond Girls.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I'm not talking about hardcore fans. They are a totally different creature and aren't relevant to the things we talk about here for a great many reasons -- in particular because hardcore fans live in bubbles and all that entails. If I ever need to talk about those people, it will be clear who I mean.

When I say "fans," what I'm talking about is the portion of the general public who consider themselves fans, whether they ever visit a James Bond website or not. Nothing more, nothing less. And in that regard, there is a growing legion of people who do want to see this film, who will talk it up, and who do enjoy it. And what they are reacting to for the most part is (1) the feel of the film and (2) the fact it's not as bad as they were told. The hardcore fans, sure, they've got different reasons for liking this film. But as I said, I'm not talking about them.

In terms of the hacked up version, that could well be hanging over the film too. But even putting that aside, the film has serious problems. The plot continues some of the sins from YOLT, only it does so with a new actor. As Soderbergh points out, the editors did him no favors by cutting off the ends of each line and by leaving in about 10 minutes too much pointless film. The writers clearly wrote for Connery, even though Lazenby wasn't Connery and didn't have the same delivery. And the plot is full of holes and ultimately is more In Like Flint (two years earlier) than James Bond. Those are negatives.

Does the film overcome them? Largely. Enough to get it this high in the rankings. But at this point, the competition becomes a lot stiffer.

AndrewPrice said...

Micheal, There were a couple great Bond girls, but yeah, a lot of them were grade-B actresses at best. A lot of people list Rigg as their favorite.

Backthrow said...

I'll have to agree to disagree on your assertion of who are "fans" versus who are "hard-core fans", and who likes what for which reason, and leave it at that. I will note that when I talk about what fans say on forums and such, I'm not going by Bond fan sites so much (that'd be pretty easy and lazy), but general film forums and blogs (like this one), when the subject of Bond films come up.

Yours is an interesting list, that I largely agree with, though a bit odd in that it's as though it's trying to be a personal likes/dislikes list, and at the same time, a "what the general public thinks" list. Unless that's somehow one in the same, it makes for a strange dichotomy.

Anyway, I'll try to post later on what I like about OHMSS, and its flaws.

AndrewPrice said...

Whatever.

Kelly said...

I've followed the entire series and I have never seen Andrew mix his own personal likes or dislikes with his discussions. He's very much stuck with pointing out good and bad things with the characters and the plots, flaws and holes. When he has talked about iconic images or public response, he's pointed out how they've been spun off in the culture or he's pointed to box office returns, critic reception, and IMDB ratings. To say he is mixing his likes and dislikes in as a proxy for "what the general public thinks" is dishonest.

I also have yet to see a response to the poll Andrew linked to.

Backthrow said...

LOL, thanks for the enthusiastic vote of confidence, Andrew, most appreciated! :)

AndrewPrice said...

I'm going to be gone for a while guys because I need to take care of a few things. I'll be back later. :)

Backthrow said...

Kelly,

My comment wasn't intended as a slur or "gotcha" against Andrew, just something thought I observed and that I wondered about. If it came across as the former, or I'm dead wrong, my apologies to him and to you.

As for polls on such things (FoxNews or otherwise), I simply don't care about them enough to argue their merits. It's like if they asked the question, "What's your favorite color?", and Blue came in at 76%, while whatever I liked came in last, at a measly 5%... what am I supposed to do, yell, "Damn you, survey sampling! Orange was supposed to come out on top! Blue?!? Wrong, wrong, wrong!! I hate you all!!!", or "Jeez, almost everyone seems to love Blue, and some of the other hues to a lesser extent, and has a much lesser regard for Orange... Gads, I must some kind of bubble-bound freak; maybe I should seriously re-assess my likes and dislikes, and yield to the majority. They're right, I'm wrong. I know that now...". Yup, silly, in either case.

I like Lazenby. I like Connery (at his best) and Craig, more. I like OHMSS (warts and all), as a film, and as a Bond film, more than most of the others in the series, including some with both Connery and Craig. I actually don't know what I'd put at #1 myself, since I pretty much consider FRWL, GF and OHMSS the "triple crown" of the series, with TB and Craig's CR very close behind.

Whether "most fans", or the general public, share that view of OHMSS, or the opposite, is irrelevant to me, unless they simply write it off, without giving it a try sometime, in which case, I feel sorry for them... but, again, that's their loss; it doesn't diminish my personal enjoyment of it. Like anyone else, sometimes my likes dovetail with the masses, sometimes not. The same with professional film critics (Ebert, Reed, Roeper, A.O. Scott, etc), except I think a lot less of them, LOL.

I'm glad Andrew thinks enough of OHMSS to place it as high as he has on his list. I also think a few films which he'll be placing higher is pretty wacky, by my lights, but I'll be interested to see where he puts them all. I'm just reacting to it, which is why I'm here, after all. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, No problem. For the record, I am trying very hard to avoid injecting my own tastes into the list. As you will see when we are finished, my list of favorites is rather different than this list. What I'm trying to do here is assess the overall impact/value, for lack of a better word, of these films within the franchise. Hence, I look at the film quality itself to see how the villain ranks, how Bond does, how the Bond girl does, and how well the plot holds together. I'm also looking at things like box office, continuing interest, how iconic each film was, and whether there is historical importance to the film. And my goal is to present a list that most fans would agree with as the way these should be ranked.

The question above actually captures it perfectly -- if you were going to introduce someone to this franchise, what order would you pick.

As an interesting aside, while picking exact spots is very difficult, there are definitely bands into which these films fall pretty easily -- A, B, C, D and F films.

In terms of polls and critics and the such, I'm certainly not saying we need to agree with them -- I rarely do. But those things are solid evidence of what the public thinks, and this list is meant to try to capture a generalized view of the series, so the public is important. And let me add that while the public isn't always right, fans are no different. There is no right and wrong when it comes to taste.

That's why the whole focus of this site has been on things I've found within films rather than just my review of films I like. To me, it's much more interesting to talk about how a film could be improved or a critical mistake or a moment of brilliance than it is to just say, "I really liked/hated it." That's why I avoid discussing my taste as much as possible (though I have been asked to do some film rankings, which I'll do next year).

Rustbelt said...

"I used to be Bond, James Bond. Now I'm in movies, bad movies." (Fast forward to 1:00:58)

Well, I'm here late and Backthrow pretty much hit the nail on everything I was going to say. A few things, though:

-First, on Bond not recognizing Blofeld...as Backthrow noted, they're really following the book here. In the print series, SPECTRE is a minor group. In OHMSS, it's only the group's second appearance. In the first one, Thunderball, Bond and Blofeld never saw each other. That's why they don't recognize each other in this story. In the movie series, SPECTRE is often used as a substitute (DN, FRWL) for SMERSH ("Smiet Spionam," or "Death to Spies"), the USSR's execution branch. Basically, the filmmakers ignored the movies and carefully followed the text.

-Second, Connery in this one? Geez...One thing I'm really getting tired of is hearing the devout Conneryists claim that any Bond movie would be better with Connery in it. Please, the guy has the acting range of an ant hill. If it weren't for "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," I never would've guessed he- like Jack Nicholson and Anthony Hopkins- had any other character to play besides himself. (FTR, Connery wanted to play Henry Jones, Sr. as a James Bond type, until Grand Emperor Spielberg told him, 'my way or the highway, bud.") Which leads me to...

-Third, this movie can actually make audiences wonder if Bond will win. I recently read a good article on this film. When Bond escapes and ends up in the crowd (and Tracy rescues him), the filmmakers do a good job as showing Bond as vulnerable and Lazenby does a terrific job of displaying that vulnerability. Connery, based on everything I've seen him in, was incapable of this. And this, IMO, actually undermines his Bond films. If the hero is flawless and invulnerable, what tension can there possibly be? it makes the villains look weak and the plot move by the numbers. ("Enter the Dragon" is guilty of this, too.)
As an example, in 'Star Wars,' Luke Skywalker starts off as cocky and inexperienced in the first two films. These flaws make it possible that he could lose the fight. In 'Jedi,' he falls victim to temptation, or at least comes close. He's not invulnerable, and the outcome could still be in doubt, thus creating tension, suspense, and making the villains credible.
Connery either had the range of MST3K repeat offender John Agar and couldn't do this, or his ego is just so massive that refused to play anything other than a flawless hero character- and other elements of his movies suffer for it.
I have to give credit for the filmmakers adding this element. Story-wise, it helps a lot.

Further note, Savalas' Blofeld has been very influential. Not only is he the best in the role, (he actually runs his organization and doesn't spend all day stroking his cat), but he's been referenced by other actors. I believe Clancy Brown cited this performance as the inspiration for his version of Lex Luthor in the "Superman Animated Series' back in the '90's.

BTW, Andrew, my partner Science and I - along with our shadowy third man, Logic- will be sending you a bill for the ice we had to use on our chins today. Our jaws hit the floor after realizing how high YOLT could possibly rank.

Backthrow said...

Rustbelt,

Interesting points (and not just because you gave me props at the beginning, LOL).

True about Blofeld not recognizing Bond being from the order of the books, but I do recognize that as a flaw in the film, though not as big as some point out.

One, it's only an issue if you're watching the films in release order, which many people (indeed, many of the Bond-a-thons on TV) don't do.

Two, the Bond filmmakers, especially in the 1960s, weren't all that concerned with continuity, apart from a few bits shared between DR. NO and FRWL, and Bond doing variations of tossing his hat onto the hat rack in Moneypenny's office. Witness, for instance, the Incredible Metamorphic Felix Leiter, never the same guy twice, in those days; ditto Blofeld. Though Blofeld was the threat (or puppet-master) in most of them, it was almost as though each new 007 adventure was starting from scratch (albeit with 007 a seasoned agent in each), with little or no connection to the last adventure, apart from the usual appearances of M, Moneypenny and Q.

Three, what Tennessee Jed mentioned earlier... the 'Why-Clark-without-your-glasses-you-look-just-like-Superman' conceit. You just go with it. One could geekishly argue that, besides growing a foot or more in height, losing his scar and German accent and getting a completely new face since his solo escape at the end of YOLT, Blofeld might've assumed that Bond had perished in the volcanic climax of the last adventure. After all, Bond swam out to safety through that sea cave entrance where the poison gas was said to be, plus all the lava and explosions. Did Blofeld see that successful escape happen? In OHMSS, M tells Bond he's failed to get Blofeld through two years of 'Operation Bedlam', which is useless when you can't set up the target, so he's taking him off the case. Did Blofeld even know Bond was after him? I'm over-thinking this, I know, but still... LOL.

[continued]

Backthrow said...

I'm not as down on Connery as you, on this stuff (Connery=Agar? Harsh!); apart from his charisma, he does have some range, though on the narrow side (similar to the Duke, and Clint Eastwood, who are both great, but are hardly chameleons). He's been good in films such as WOMAN OF STRAW, MARNIE, THE HILL, THE ANDERSON TAPES and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, but they're not much of a stretch from his better turns as 007 (maybe he's radically different in A FINE MADNESS and THE OFFENSE, but I haven't caught up with those yet). He was less vulnerable than Lazenby's Bond, but I liked how he'd get mussed-up by Red Grant and Oddjob, for instance, so he'd earn some of his heroic triumph through sweat and pain, unlike a lot of Moore's blow-dried efforts, though it's true that the outcome is never really in doubt when Connery is Bond (and Lee in ENTER THE DRAGON).

That said, I agree that simply switching out Lazenby for Connery in the film we got wouldn't necessarily have made Everything All Better, as some claim. They may have fed Lazenby some Connery-like lines, but the vulnerability wouldn't be there with Connery, and the intimate scenes with Rigg, I think, might just come across as Sean shagging his latest bird, only one with a larger vocabulary than usual. But if Connery had stayed on for OHMSS (or if they had made it after TB --or after GF-- as originally planned), it would have been tailored completely to his particular strengths, and thus a different film, losing some of the things I really like about the OHMSS we did get.

Lazenby hiding in the crowd (after clobbering a couple of SPECTRE goons and stealing a coat), while the enemy is closing in (the scenes shot and edited to match his growing disorientation and paranoia)... and then Tracy appears, is just magic. One of my favorite bits in the film.

I actually like YOLT a lot; it's in my Top Ten, it's fun junk, but it's also a mess (partly because OHMSS was pushed back, due to logistical problems at the time). But I'm saving specifics for when its time comes in the rankings, and if Andrew doesn't already cover them all in the article. But no way would I place it above OHMSS in any normal ranking of the films based on overall quality, despite some of the strengths it does have.

Backthrow said...

Oh, and Andrew, thanks much for the clarification on your aims with presenting the list in the way that you are doing it. I really was misunderstanding it before now. I was reading it all this time as a personal list that was somehow reconciling (or combining) your opinions of each film with what the average audiences think of them, case-by-case, not realizing you had a (potentially) different, personal ranking waiting in the wings. I think what threw me off were things like (in the case of LTK), "this didn't feel like a Bond film to me", though that one might've been in the comments section, I forget.

tryanmax said...

One thing I meant to state earlier about OHMSS is that it has some excellent action sequences. I feel bad that so many people automatically dismiss this one on reputation b/c they are missing out on those. If we were judging Bond films on action sequences alone, I think this could easily be in the top 5, maybe even 3.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, LOL! MST3k did another film too, an Italian film that uses almost the entire cast of From Russia With Love and Thunderball, only without Connery. Awful!

On Connery, I have to disagree. Connery has provided a lot of great characters outside of the Bond franchise: Outland, Hunt for Red October, The Untouchables, Indiana Jones, Highlander, The Presidio just to name a few. And the impulse to ask how Connery would have handled a film is because it's the best way to compare film to film to see how another actor would do - you take the guy who is recognized as the best and you ask how the others stack up.

Also, I don't disagree that the chase scene with Lazenby is a good one, but Connery's Bond was never invincible. He fell for any trap involving a woman. He was often simply out muscled and he needed to be saved at times by others around him. He gets captured in every film pretty much.

LOL! Send the invoice to our accounting department. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, the Bond filmmakers, especially in the 1960s, weren't all that concerned with continuity

This is a serious pet peeve of mine throughout Hollywood. How fricken hard is it to change a line of dialog here or there and maintain continuity. Drives me crazy.

You're welcome on the list. And yep, there will be a personal list to compare it to later.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, This one does have good action, and that is surprisingly rare in Bond films.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I'll elaborate on my claim with this: it is extremely rare that the chase scene in an older film will get my pulse up. This one did.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, For being an action franchise, there are very few chases or fights that really feel all that special or exciting. It's kind of interesting really. I suspect the fact you know Bond can't die is the problem.

Anonymous said...

It's settled then. Thunderball, From Russia With Love, OHMSS, Casino Royale and Goldfinger are the only really good Bond Films.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, I think the Bond films sit in waves. There are truly classic/excellent films. Then you have good films. Then you have a series of decent films. Then it gets shady. I would say that most of the franchise falls into the decent and above range with 12/13 falling into the good and above category, and probably around 5/6 falling into the excellent category.

Backthrow said...

Yup, and even the very worst of the films still have some good bits in them, here and there. A stunt, a line, a location, a gadget, a side character.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, Agreed. Even the worst films in the franchise have their moments.

Glenn said...

Quite a discussion on what has always been considered a "lesser" of the Bond films. Interesting. My 2 cents worth.

I started reading the Bond books in high school, in order, as they came out, way back when ...

We haven't got to Goldfinger yet, but it is one of those rare occurrences when the movie was actually better than the book ... but that can wait for now.

I've always meant to re-read all the books, but have never got around to it, so my memory is a little vague. However, as I recall, OHMSS was my favorite of all the books. Not sure why, but it probably had to do with the shock of the ending with Bond's bride being killed so quickly.

Thus I was really looking forward to the movie. Disappointed with Connery missing in action, but you know, I still really liked the movie. I watched all the Bond films again, in order, a couple of years ago just after the first Craig film came out, and again, I still enjoyed OHMSS despite all the flaws. Not perfect, but a decent action film that had more depth then most films of this type.

You know, I really didn't mind Lazenby in the role and kinda liked the "this never happened to the other guy" opening. After all, these are just movies, not real life (umm, right?). Sure, he was a bit stiff, but as mentioned by others, he played the vulnerable parts, when required, well enough to the point where I can't imagine Connery in the role in this specific film.

As mentioned by others, the action sequences are top notch and who really cares about the plot holes except the nerds. Rigg is certainly great as Bond's bride to be as it would take a very strong presence to get Bond to fall in love. The villain is one of the best of all the films and the supporting players are also top notch.

And we can't forget the great John Barry soundtrack, but more than that, it includes one of the great film love songs, "We Have All The Time In The World" sung beautifully by Louis Armstrong.

For me, it all works and just edging into the top ten is about right.

So I wonder, where would OHMSS be ranked if it was the FIRST Bond film. No DN, GF, FRWL ... no Sean Connery. No preconceived notion as to what a Bond film should be. Would it have led to more Bond films? Or would it have killed the franchise right off the bat? Was George Lazenby's performance good enough to carry forward?

Since we know Cary Grant turned down the role of James Bond because he only wanted to do the one movie, then we know they were planning a franchise from the beginning. However, in this fantasy world, let's say they went with the unknown Lazenby, but he bailed out after OHMSS.

Something to think about (or not).

AndrewPrice said...

Glenn, All very fair points. And that is a great question: if they had started the franchise with this film, would this film have been enough to develop the franchise or would it have killed it? Obviously, it's impossible to say for sure, but I tend to think that very few of the Bond films could have started the franchise. Personally, I don't think this film is one of those.

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, the invoice is on its way. :)

In all honesty, I don't dislike Connery as an actor. Granted, I still think he only has one character, but he plays that character well. I just get tired of all the Connery snobs who say that everything under the sun- OHMSS, TWINE, Predator, Rocky III, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, peanut butter- would just be better with Sean in it. The man had his strengths, but also limitations. And I think Lazenby could've grown well in the role and as an actor if he'd stayed with the series. (He's stated his reason for leaving was absolutely terrible advice from his then-agent. He's added that he's always regretted the move.) Maybe the calamities of the 70's could've been avoided...

Oh, and the MST3K film you're thinking of is "Operation Double 007." (Also known as "OK, Connery" and "Operation Kid Brother.") Not only does it star several Bond series regulars (M, Moneypenny, the hot chick from FRWL, Number 2), it stars NEIL Connery- brother of Sean- as the lead character. (Hence the 'kid brother' alternate title.) It seems being a plastic surgeon with the ability to hypnotize and read lips are the perfect abilities for a secret agent. (His voice, however, was overdubbed with an American accent.)
For a more thorough review of Sean and Neil's careers, here's the SOL crew's take: LINK.

And you what? Bond villains all stink. Joel puts 'em all to shame.

And one final thought on OHMSS: I'm glad there was less emphasis on gadgets. In the 60's, it was almost like Q was saying, "here's the gadgets. You, the audience, now need only guess the plot by figuring out where these fit in!" Seems kind of cheap that British filmmakers would steal one of Toho Studio's top kaiju movie cliches and try to pass it off as their own.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, Too late. You said bad things about Connery... we can't be friends anymore. ;-P

And to be fair, Breakin' 2 would have been better with Connery, but not Breakin.

In all seriousness, we'll never know about Lazenby. I think the biggest problem he would have faced is that the franchise was about to go stupid for a decade.

Yes, Operation Double 007! What a TURD!!

In truth, I'm not a fan of the gadgets either. They are too plot-specific and too fantasy-prone. That's one thing I really liked about Skyfall, when Q tells him they don't do gadgets anymore.

Anonymous said...

I really like this film. Have to be in the right mood to sit through it all in one go, it can work just fine in several sittings as it has a broad time frame and is somewhat episodic. I do think From Russia With Love is the very best Bond film, and then this one and Skyfall are next.

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