“Thy dawn, O master of the world, thy dawn….”: ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE AT 50 (a repost)

Fifty years ago today, on December 18, 1969, the sixth James Bond movie opened. Its initial reception was mixed, partly because the Bond mania of the 60s was simmering down, and partly because it was the first time that Sean Connery had not starred as Agent 007, in favor of complete unknown newcomer George Lazenby. While I didn’t see the movie until an ABC telecast sometime in the early 80s, I liked it from that very first viewing and it very quickly shot up my personal rankings until by the time I was fifteen or sixteen I was willing to crown it as my favorite Bond movie of all time. And while certain opinions that we have in our youth shift as we learn and grow, some do not…and for me, this is one of the opinions that stuck. To this day, almost 19 movies later, OHMSS has never been equaled.

I wrote the following essay almost nine years ago and repost it here without a single word changed, except to fix a broken link.

Sometimes I change my mind about movies. Sometimes I don’t. Some movies meant a lot to me, years ago, but have dropped away to the point that I’ve forgotten about them. Other movies, though, have stayed with me forever. One of those is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the sixth James Bond film, which I have regarded since I was a teenager as the best Bond film ever made. In fact, I consider it one of my favorite films of all time, in any genre.

My long examination of the film, with lots of screencaps, after the page break.

Released in 1969, OHMSS came out when the Bond-mania of the 1960s was starting to wane. Films like Goldfinger and Thunderball had been enormous hits, but now, Sean Connery had left the role of Bond and a complete unknown named George Lazenby was cast as his replacement. All this is well known, and over the years, Lazenby’s performance in OHMSS has been reliably controversial. To this day, there are Bond fans who loathe his performance, and to this day, there are fans who not only think he did a fine job, but that he really doesn’t stand in Sean Connery’s shadow at all. (I am in the latter camp.)

Narratively speaking, OHMSS is one of the strongest films in the series. Its script, by Richard Maibaum, is outstanding, with lots of wit and fine dialogue that rarely seems as far-fetched as Bond dialogue can sometimes get. The story, though, does present problems for people who are interested in continuity.

The problem comes from the fact that Eon Productions (the producers of the Bond series) did not adapt the Ian Fleming novels to the screen in the order that they were written. The first Bond film is Dr. No; the first novel is Casino Royale. The Bond films of the 1960s, excepting Goldfinger, all feature Bond squaring off against the minions of SPECTRE, culminating in You Only Live Twice when he finally meets Ernst Stavro Blofeld face to face. However, in the novels, it’s in OHMSS that Bond meets Blofeld. The problem then is why Bond and Blofeld don’t recognize each other in the OHMSS film when they come face to face. There are lots of possible fictional explanations for this, and the original idea was to have Bond undergoing plastic surgery to explain his new resemblance to George Lazenby. The producers chose not to do this…and yet, in the next film, Diamonds are Forever, they would use the plastic surgery idea to explain why Blofeld in that film now looks like Charles Gray. (Without, of course, explaining why it is that Bond now no longer looks like George Lazenby but like Sean Connery again.)

In watching OHMSS recently, I came to realize that the Bond films that are the best tend to be the ones that most deviate from the standard Bond “formula”. That certainly holds true with OHMSS. The film starts with Bond, already on assignment in Portugal. But, as M notes in the film’s very first scene, no one with MI6 has any idea where Bond is, and his current assignment is becoming politically problematic: “Number 10 is making ugly noises about Operation Bedlam.” Operation Bedlam, we later learn, is the search for Blofeld, who is presumably on the run following his failed scheme in You Only Live Twice. So already Bond is on thin ice with his superiors; he is failing at an assignment; he’s been on a single assignment for two years.

That last is important, because time is a recurring motif all through the film. Bond’s relationship with time is a constant underlying theme, made explicit in Maurice Binder’s typically-brilliant opening titles sequence. Clocks and hourglasses figure prominently in the title sequence. Now, timers and clocks are a constant trope of spy fiction and thriller films, what with heroes defusing bombs or whatnot as the digital timer ticks off the last few seconds before disaster is to strike. But there is something different about time in OHMSS: even as Bond is up against the same kinds of time constraints that he’s always faced before, we get a real sense that he’s weary of the whole thing and desires a different kind of relationship with time.

So Bond is in Portugal, driving along, when a woman in a red car passes him on a lonely seaside road. Bond, of course, gives chase, and comes to a beach where the woman parks her car and goes down to the water, where she starts to wade out. Bond spies her through the telescopic sight of his rifle, and it’s thus that we get our first close-up of Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, better known as Tracy.

Tracy – played by Diana Rigg – already looks sad and lost in this shot, as Bond watches her wander into the water. He quickly realizes that she intends to let the tide carry her out; he is watching a suicide attempt, so he intercedes, bringing her back in from the water and introducing himself – “Good morning! My name’s Bond. James Bond.” Here we see Lazenby’s face for the first time; up until now, the film has teased us with shots of his head from behind, closeups of his lips as he lights a cigarette, and the like.

Two goons show up here, to take Tracy away. Of course, Bond has no idea who this girl is, or who her two “protectors” are, but the goons apparently intend to kill Bond, so there’s a fight. It’s a pretty kinetic fight, and all of the fights in OHMSS are pretty kinetic – and with good reason, as director Peter Hunt has literally sped them up in the editing room. I’m not sure why he chose to do this – some fans speculate that Lazenby was an awful screen fighter, and the sped-up fights are a ploy to conceal this – but it doesn’t matter. This is another facet of OHMSS that can divide fans. Some are distracted by the quickened fight scenes; others – myself included – simply accept it as a stylistic choice in a film that has a lot of style going for it.

Anyhow, Bond dispatches the goons, but the girl has already fled, jumping back in her car and driving away. Bond is left alone on the beach, holding her shoe, whereupon he breaks the fourth wall to tell us, “This never happened to the other fellow.” Cut to opening title sequence.

When we return, Bond is still in Portugal, and checks into a hotel, where he notices a red Cougar parked outside that he is informed belongs to a lady. He takes his room, and looks down on the pool, whereupon there’s a wonderful transition shot from day to night as this shot…

…fades into this one, while a slow tune for jazz flute plays in the background.

I love that second shot; the pool seems deserted but the reversed “Casino” logo is disrupted by ripples a couple of times. This isn’t the kind of shot one typically sees in a Bond film.

Over the next twenty minutes or so, the film’s story continues to unfold slowly, and in a way that seemingly has absolutely nothing to do with spy intrigue. Bond goes to the casino to play baccarat (the traditional card game of the Bond films, until Casino Royale replaced it with poker). An elegantly-dressed woman enters the game, places a huge bet, and promptly loses – but she has no money. Bond recognizes her: she is the woman whom he saved on the beach the night before. Detecting her streak of self-destructive behavior, Bond bails her out for twenty thousand francs and then has a brief conversation with her over champagne, where she is quite blunt about how she is to repay her debt to him: she gives him her room number and says, “I hope it’ll be worth it.” She is cool and businesslike; when Bond calls her “Contessa Teresa”, she replies, “Teresa was a saint. I’m known as Tracy.”

Bond is already intrigued by this woman who is proving somewhat resistant to his charms, by her mysterious background, and by the fact that she has goons following her around. One attacks him when he enters her room; after dispatching the goon, Bond figures that the tryst isn’t happening and goes back to his room, which is where she’s waiting. She pulls his own gun on him, but now he is having none of this: he demands to know who the men following her are, and when she claims ignorance, he slaps her and says, “I can be much more persuasive, Contessa.” Ahhh, the freewheeling sexism of the early Bond films – not a quality of the Bond series that I’ve missed, but it’s worth noting that Tracy proves equal to the moment, lifting her gaze to fiercely meet Bond’s as she says, “Whatever else I may be, I’m not a liar.”

Here, at this moment, is when the film score gives us the first hint that this girl is different, because this is where we first hear the film’s love theme. After some more discussion during which Tracy still resists Bond’s efforts to figure out who she is and why she is acting the way she is (“The only thing you need know about me, Mr. Bond, is that I pay my debts”), Bond and Tracy do, in fact, sleep together, but when he awakes the next morning, he finds that she is gone not just from his room but from the hotel entirely…but not before leaving two chips for ten thousand francs in his bedstand. “Paid in full,” Bond notes – and we never learn just how she came up with that money.

Here, Bond is again greeted by the goons following Tracy, who have him at gunpoint (with his own gun – Bond was a bit careless in not noticing that it was missing). The goons take him on a long drive to a shipping company headquarters, where Bond meets the man behind these guys. Is he a villain? Maybe, at first glance – he is Marc-ange Draco, the head of a crime syndicate called the Union Corse – but more relevant, he is Tracy’s father. It is he who fills in some of the blanks, telling the story of Tracy’s birth and her sad life which has led her to behave self-destructively. Draco’s big idea, though, is that Tracy’s need can be filled by…a man. A man like Bond. This, too, is eerily sexist, and Bond seems to see through this whole notion, refusing Draco’s offer of a dowry of one million pounds in gold.

But here, about a half hour into the movie, is when the film finally steers its course back into the espionage arena, because Bond senses an opportunity here. He knows that Draco, as head of a huge crime syndicate, may well have information on the whereabouts of Ernst Stavro Blofeld; he implies to Draco that while he won’t take Draco’s money, he might consider marrying Tracy if Draco tells him where Blofeld is. Draco, for his part, says “If I did know [where Blofeld is], I would not tell Her Majesty’s secret service. But I might tell my future son-in-law.” Bond gets his first break in the case in years, returns to London to report to M on what he’s learned…and the formula reversals continue.

M takes Bond off the case without even hearing his new lead. “You’ve had two years to run him down,” M points out. “The license to kill is useless unless one can set up a target.”

Bond has been chasing Blofeld for two years, and the little bit we’ve seen of that chase has taken its time unfolding – but M has just decided that Bond is out of time, and Bond angrily decides that he’s had enough of the whole thing and decides to resign. He dictates his resignation letter to Moneypenny and goes to clean out his desk (allowing a few brief glimpses of gadgets from Bond-films past), before M calls him back to accept his request. Bond thinks he’s out of a job, but Moneypenny has changed the letter to a request for two weeks’ leave, so Bond heads out again…this time to return to Draco to get his information. Bond has been freed of his time constraint for finding Blofeld, since there really can’t be any doubt that he intends to continue the chase.

(In a charming bit, M expresses his gratitude to Moneypenny for changing Bond’s resignation letter as well, saying “What would I do without you, Miss Moneypenny? Thank you!”)

The film’s relaxed pace continues, as Bond returns to Portugal to meet with Draco at his country estate. Tracy is there as well, and is disgusted to find Bond there; she clearly regards him as just another in a long line of men who have come along who were interested in one thing alone from her. Funny thing is, we know Bond’s history, and this might well not be off the mark – only Tracy is, for the first time, different for Bond. Tracy susses out the crappy deal between Draco and Bond (“No woman would waste this excellent champagne discussing a business deal unless she herself happened to be part of the arrangement”), and basically forces her father to give Bond the information he wants without going through with the whole marriage idea. Draco relents, telling Bond that there may be a connection between Blofeld and a lawyer in Bern, Switzerland; then Tracy gets up from the table and storms away after saying, “And now Mr. Bond need have no further interest in me.”

Bond, however, disagrees, and goes after her. Meeting her by her car, he finds that Tracy is in tears. Why? I suppose it’s because she’s sick of this kind of thing. She doesn’t want to be someone’s prize or payment, and she doesn’t want to pay her own debts anymore, either. When Bond catches up to her, though, he does something interesting: he doesn’t crack wise, or make it obvious that his next goal is to make love to her. In the first real gesture of intimacy we have ever really seen from James Bond, he brushes the tears from her cheeks, and then takes Tracy into his arms.

Our slow pacing continues, as what comes next is an honest-to-goodness love montage, complete with love song (“We Have All the Time In the World”, sung by Louis Armstrong), which at first might seem terribly out of place in a James Bond film, but which works here, because the film has taken its time in setting it up. We’re only vaguely aware that Bond is on the job at all; the whole first third of the film is given to him meeting this strange, wounded woman and finding himself under her spell. The title of the song used makes it all clear that Bond has finally found a woman with whom he wishes to relate outside of his job, because as a spy “on Her Majesty’s secret service”, Bond never has all the time in the world. His world is a world of ticking time bombs, of stopping villains before it’s too late, of passing moments of physical pleasure that must be set aside quickly so that he can move on to the next threat. Now, he’s getting his first hint of a world where one doesn’t have to worry about time.

The film never states it outright, and I have no idea if George Lazenby intended it (aside from the one scene, later in the film, where the subject sort of comes up), but his portrayal of Bond really does seem to convey a certain feeling of weariness about the whole business. Lazenby’s Bond is competent, skilled, brave, and witty – but he also seems just a bit tired of it all. It’s in little touches, really – would a Bond who is really invested in things fail to notice that his gun wasn’t where he’d left it? If he’s on assignment, would he really be heading out for a round of golf? It’s not that Bond is “phoning it in”, not at all, but it’s as if the thought is starting to form in the back of his mind that maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t want to be 007 for his entire life.

As the montage ends, though, Bond is back in the world of spying and being up against time. He has to infiltrate the office of a lawyer named Gumbold and search for any connection he can find to Blofeld, while Gumbold is off at lunch. For a simple office break-in, this scene is surprisingly tense, because of the time limit. Gumbold emerges from his office and walks down the hall, curtly informing the desk attendant that “I’ll be back in an hour.” Gumbold’s shoes click on the marble floor of the office building with such precision (we’re in Switzerland, after all) that it sounds like the ticking of a clock. Bond arrives, and goes to work, using the only real gadget in the movie: a safe-cracker that also comes with a built-in photocopier. This is hoisted up to the balcony of Gumbold’s office from the construction site next door – Bond has a man there – and then Bond has to simply wait for the machine to do its job. Meanwhile, John Barry’s suspenseful music churns in the background, first slowly and then picking up steam as the hour ticks past. You can watch the entire scene here; it’s like a thriller-within-a-thriller. I love the bit where Bond settles in, looking bored while he waits for the safe cracker to do its thing; it’s also hilarious the way Bond finds Gumbold’s issue of Playboy, tucked into a newspaper.

Of course, Bond finds something: letters from a “Count de Bleuchamp”, who is apparently seeking to establish himself as reigning Count of the Bleuchamp family. Bond takes this information to M – visiting him at his home – and indicates that “Bleuchamp” is the French form of “Blofeld”. The reversal here is interesting: Bond is briefing M, not the other way around.

What unfolds next is more in traditional keeping with Bond films, as the intrigue takes over as Bond, posing as an expert in heraldry and genealogy, heads to Switzerland to find out if this “Bleuchamp” is Blofeld or not. Of course, he is, with the whole works: a new scheme involving his posing as a doctor who cures allergies, the young women who are his patients (but who are really unwitting pawns of his, via mind control), and a fortress perched atop a Swiss Alp.

Of course, what commands Bond’s attention almost immediately is Blofeld’s allergy patients:

There’s a funny scene where Bond is trying to seduce one of the girls at the moment the mind-control stuff in her room starts up: swirling red lights, odd music, and Blofeld’s voice coming over the loudspeaker to address this girl who is mortally afraid of…chickens. Bond’s expression of “WTF?!” is perfect as we hear Blofeld’s voice intoning things like “You love chickens. You love their feathers.”

Even so, all of this continues to unfold quite slowly, and the film actually is free of action entirely from the fight in Tracy’s hotel room fifteen minutes into the picture until Bond’s capture by Blofeld over an hour in. OHMSS allows its story to unfold, and the slackening of the pace makes it all the more tense later on when Bond finds himself once again battling the clock. There is a fine scene, after Bond has been found out by Blofeld, where Bond must escape from the gear room of the cable cars that provide the only access to the mountain hideaway; then Bond lurks about as Blofeld’s “allergy patients” – beautiful girls, all of them – are given their final hypnotic briefing on how things will go now. The girls are each given an atomizer, theoretically filled with perfume, but which are actually filled with a toxin that, according to Blofeld, will cause widespread infertility in crops and livestock. The girls will be hypnotically instructed as to when to release the toxin.

Now, Bond is up against the clock, and makes his escape from Piz Gloria (the mountain hideaway), on skis. It’s surprising to note that, aside from a couple of brief fistfights, this is the first action set piece since the teaser sequence, and it comes well over an hour into what was for years the longest of all the Bond films. (Casino Royale was actually longer.) The ski chase in OHMSS is, for me, still the best ski chase ever filmed for a Bond movie (subsequent skiing scenes would appear in The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, A View to a Kill, and The World Is Not Enough). It relies fairly heavily on rear projection during the closeups, but the entire sequence is edited together wonderfully, with the main theme from the film making its first reappearance since the title sequence.

What’s great about the ski chase is that Bond has to work for it. So many Bond chases in other films make it look easy for him, but here, Bond is constantly having to re-escape. At one point, he loses one ski; at another, he has to lie in wait for his pursuers to come upon him, which results in a couple of fights atop a thousand-foot-high cliff. Bond makes it down the mountain, to the charming Swiss village in the valley where there’s all manner of Christmas celebration and ice skating and happy people all over the place…and yet, the bad guys are there too, and Bond can’t get away. This is all pretty fascinating: many times in the series, we see Bond evade pursuers by putting a big crowd of people between them and himself. Here, though, it doesn’t work, and we become aware, through a series of quick cuts from the crowd to the pursuers to Bond back to the crowd and back again, that Bond is really, genuinely afraid. It’s not often at all in the 007 movies that we get to see Bond feel fear.

And, in keeping with the film’s reversal of quite a few formulas, Bond doesn’t escape on his own. He is rescued, by an unlikely heroine:

Tracy is there. She’s followed Bond to Switzerland, based on information from her father, and now she’s found him. She gets Bond out of that village, albeit not without being seen by the bad guys, who again give chase. With Tracy driving, Bond is the passenger in a high speed chase that takes us into a demolition derby.

And after that, they drive away, straight into a snowstorm that forces them to take shelter in someone’s barn. This scene is the emotional heart of the film, because Bond and Tracy don’t just do what Bond and any other girl would do when trapped in a barn during a snowstorm. They actually talk first, and they talk about something: their relationship with each other. Bond can’t tell her what really went on up at Piz Gloria, because he’s still an agent; Tracy says that they’ll just have to keep doing things the way they are. “Tracy, an agent shouldn’t be concerned with anyone but himself,” Bond says…and the way George Lazenby delivers the line makes absolutely clear that as true as it may be, Bond is sick of it. “I’ll find something else to do,” he says. This is as startling an admission as you’ll hear from James Bond. Tracy asks if he’s sure, and he is: “I love you, and I know I’ll never find another girl like you.” And thus does James Bond get engaged.

This scene is the scene in the film; if this scene doesn’t work, pretty much the entire film is sunk, because the entire subtext of the film is that James Bond is tired, he’s vulnerable, and he wants to do something else. Lazenby sells this scene so well that it’s almost heartbreaking, and as I’ve said for years, I defy any of Lazenby’s detractors to claim in seriousness that Sean Connery would have done this scene any better. (Frankly, as much as I love Sean Connery, I’m not sure he wouldn’t have done this seen worse. In his Bond films, he never presents a single hint of genuine vulnerability in his portrayal of 007. Which isn’t to say that Connery couldn’t do “vulnerable”, because clearly in his acting career we see that he could, but in playing Bond, he didn’t, and I’m not sure he would have done so here.)

The next morning, Blofeld and lackeys arrive at the barn, only to find that Bond and Tracy have already left, and are skiing away. There’s another ski chase – this one taking place by day instead of night – and again, it’s a close affair that ends when Blofeld uses a flare to set off an avalanche. Thus he captures Tracy, but assumes that Bond is dead (“A grave deep enough to prevent even 007 from escaping!”). Of course, Bond isn’t dead, but he is despondent that he has failed: Blofeld’s plan is alive, and the woman he loves is now his prisoner.

Back in London, Bond paces in M’s office as M is notified by his superiors that the United Nations plans to give Blofeld what he wants: a full pardon for all crimes as head of SPECTRE and full recognition of his title as “Count de Bleuchamp”. M seems oddly accepting of this, while Bond is thinking that if they can get to Piz Gloria before Blofeld’s deadline, they can destroy his center of communications and thus keep him from ever being able to psychologically order his patients all over the world to release his toxin. M refuses to go along with it, assuming that all Bond wants to do is save Tracy: “This department is not concerned with your personal problems.” Bond retorts, “This department owes her a debt. She saved my life.” Bond still fails to persuade M to allow an attack on Piz Gloria, so Bond organizes one anyway…using Draco and his men.

This brings us to the film’s final action setpiece, the aerial attack led by Bond and Draco in helicopters against Blofeld’s headquarters. As the choppers approach, Draco has to convince the Swiss authorities that they are a Red Cross flight. As Blofeld and his men listen in on the radio transmissions, Tracy recognizes her father’s voice, realizes that the game is afoot, and starts using her feminine whiles to appeal to Blofeld, thus keeping him distracted and not realizing that he’s about to be attacked until the guns start shooting.

From here out, it’s pretty standard Bond film set-piece fare: explosions and gunfire, close fights, and so on. Bond slides on his stomach across the ice of a curling board, dispatching lots of bad guys in the process; meanwhile, Tracy has to fend off several goons on her own, further establishing her credentials as Bond’s genuine equal. At no point in the film, really, is Tracy ever a helpless damsel in distress, screaming “James!” as Bond tries to rescue her; instead, a number of times she rescues him. Anyhow, Draco’s men rout Blofeld’s, and plant explosives to destroy Piz Gloria. Bond manages to find Blofeld’s map of where his “angels of death” are all located, and is taking photos of the locations when Blofeld fires on him and then runs away. Bond gives chase, leading to a bobsled chase with Bond trying to catch Blofeld as Piz Gloria explodes behind him.

The chase ends with Blofeld being snagged by the neck in a tree; apparently Bond assumes that Blofeld is dead, which is ironic because that is the same mistake that Blofeld (and others) are always making about Bond, and this time it will have disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, Bond goes off to live happily ever after: we see him purchasing Tracy’s wedding ring, and then putting it on her finger and wiping away her tears of happiness in a reprise of his gesture from the bullfight. Bond says his goodbyes to M and Q; he gives Draco back the one million pound dowry (“Her price is above rubies…or even, your million pounds!”, and then, after tossing his hat one last time to a crying Moneypenny, drives off into his new life with his bride.

It’s about here that I usually start to lose it, when watching this movie. There are lots of movies with sad endings, and I count among them many of my favorite movies. This one, as well. But when I stop and think on it a moment, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is unique among movies with sad endings in that every time I watch the film, I desperately want the ending to not be sad. Just…this…once.

What happens is this: Bond pulls over on the side of a road that’s overlooking the sea, so he can pull some of the flowers off the car. He and Tracy enjoy some playful newlywed banter. Another car comes along…and it’s driven by Blofeld. In the backseat is Irma Bunt, his chief lackey; and in her hands is a machine gun. She sprays Bond’s car with bullets as he speeds past.

“It’s Blofeld!” Bond shouts, as he jumps back into the car. “It’s Blo–” he starts to say to Tracy, when he looks at her…and sees the single bullet wound in her forehead. Tracy is dead. Her body slumps into his lap as a policeman pulls up alongside on a motorcycle. Bond looks up at the policeman, and with the dazed calm of a person whose brain hasn’t yet caught up to what’s just happened, he says, “It’s all right, really, she’s just having a rest. We’ll be moving on soon…there’s no hurry, you see, we have all the time in the world.” Here Lazenby’s voice cracks as he leans down over her, kisses her forehead, and then buries his head as he begins to sob. John Barry’s instrumental arrangement of “We Have All the Time in the World” plays through these last few seconds. The music is heartbreaking, and reaches its final chord as we fade to the film’s final shot: the bullet hole in the windshield of James Bond’s Aston Martin.

Then, as the credits roll, the “James Bond Theme” smashes in, obliterating the mood from the beautiful melody of “We Have All…”. I’ve heard film music fans over the years argue that this is a mistake on the part of the filmmakers, and that the film should have used “We Have All…” as the end title, but I don’t agree – because it fits perfectly with the themes of the film. Time, Bond’s weariness as a secret agent, all of it is brutally illustrated by the drastic musical switch in moods at the end of OHMSS. As soon as the Bond theme starts, it is as if Bond is being told, “No, you don’t have all the time in the world. That was it. That was all the time you got…and now, like it or not, you’re back in the only world you’ve ever known.” Time is the relentless enemy of us all, and not even James Bond can stand in its way. No one has all the time in the world.

I don’t think it’s anything peculiar to John Barry’s arrangement of the Bond theme in this picture, as opposed to just the connotation of hearing that theme after what’s just happened, but I don’t think you’ll find another instance in the entire Bond series of the James Bond Theme sounding so bitter, so cold. The Bond Theme is a cultural icon, after nearly fifty years of these movies, that musically symbolizes thrills and coolness, but at the end of OHMSS, it’s anything but cool or thrilling. It’s angry, it’s sullen, and it’s unwelcome. We don’t want to hear it…and yet, the film forces it upon us, as it has forced cold, unblinking loneliness upon James Bond, at the moment when he thought himself to be free of it all.

I’ve occasionally wondered what might have been, had George Lazenby stuck around as Bond. I’m genuinely unsure, really. I think his performance in OHMSS is terribly underrated, and that he would have been just fine had he continued in the role. But also, the Bond films were about to undergo a significant transition into campy scripts and gonzo plots. Connery returned for the next one, Diamonds are Forever, in which Blofeld is again the villain – but that film doesn’t make a single mention of the fact that Blofeld killed Bond’s wife, and Bond never even seems angry with Blofeld, just mildly disgusted as he is with any villain. And then Connery would leave, to have the role go to Roger Moore, who would then be saddled with the silliest scripts of all the Bonds (and yet, Moore, too, had his moments when he made Bond cold and ruthless, moments that are often forgotten or overlooked by people who tar the Moore era with the cloth of camp). It’s interesting, though, that Moore’s best Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, opens with Bond visiting Tracy’s grave.

And now that James Bond has been rebooted with Casino Royale and continued with Quantum of Solace, what to make of it all? Will they just go for straight-up remakes of some of the earlier films? Will Daniel Craig’s Bond have to fall in love with a new Tracy, all over again? Who knows…but it doesn’t matter, really. We’ve already got On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Even if we don’t have all the time in the world.

ADDENDUM, 12/18/2019: Obviously since I’ve written this there have been two more Daniel Craig Bond films, SKYFALL and SPECTRE, both of which I enjoy greatly and both of which have enormous charms. Neither is OHMSS, of course, but those two films do continue the Craig era’s willingness to openly explore the emotional life of James Bond, with SPECTRE containing specific elements that do seem to call back to the 1969 film. I eagerly await the arrival of NO TIME TO DIE in 2020 to see where Daniel Craig’s 007 ends up.

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