Monday, 19 October 2015

007 - On Her Majesty's Secret Service

We observe James Bond. We watch him wade into danger and delight in his triumph. Bond is separate from both the audience and the language of the films he inhabits. Sean Connery is a caged animal, trapped and colliding with the film's edges, desperate to be free. Peter Hunt's On Her Majesty's Secret Service takes a different tack. The cool distance we've been trained to expect isn't there.

Hunt opens Bond up to the audience with visual compositions designed to reflect and comment upon the secret agent's psychological state. These intentions are most apparent in the film's beautifully compiled fight scenes, each one a flurry of propulsive, fragmented information. Lulls and outright absences simulate the feeling of being under attack and knowing your life is in danger.

A climatic battle between Bond and Telly Savalas' barrel-chested Blofeld is a cascade of frenetic energy, power swinging back-and-forth between the two foes. The soundtrack is an unbroken track of wheezing and struggling, a consistent thread of sound that instinctively organises the unfolding visuals.

Hunt's emphatic approach to the material is complimented by George Lazenby's unsure, at times bolshie, performance. The actor is able to communicate an underlining uncertainty that his predecessor never had. Connery was dangerous but immune. Lazenby's deadliness is born of exertion, he isn't just clobbering stuntmen. Human failing is stressed, he doesn't defeat heavies with a well-placed strike, he brawls.

Lazenby invests his Bond with an emotional vulnerability, an essential quality if we are to believe that 007 has fallen in love. After a few run-ins with Diana Rigg's suicidal Tracy di Vicenzo, Bond is contracted by her father Marc-Ange Draco to, basically, fuck her out of her stupor. In return the secret agent expects fresh information concerning Blofeld's whereabouts. During the first stage of this courtship Bond gets to rescue Tracy a number of times, to her obvious chagrin.

Although intrigued, it's unclear if Bond is truly interested in the relationship or just playing the part until he can run down Draco's leads. Seconded in Blofeld's Piz Gloria estate Bond still cats about with the glamorous female patients, apparently out of equal parts arrogance and boredom. Tracy is out of sight and out of mind. It's important then that when she does return to the film it's at a dramatically crucial moment.

Bond is tired, injured and pursued. He's lost his gun, his nerves are shot. For the first time on film 007 is visibly scared. The action pile-up he's just dragged himself through has taken its toll. He's cold and encircled, seconds away from forcing some suicidal confrontation. Then Tracy appears. Bond falls in love on the spot. He's never needed anybody so much. His expression is a mixture of surprise and awe. Tracy rescues and reinvigorates Bond, becoming the rare (only?) person he considers an equal in the process.

Lazenby's performance drips appreciation. As the couple speed away in Tracy's Mercury Cougar he can't help pecking her on the cheek, an incessant, affectionate little prod, as if he's trying to prove to himself that she's real. It's difficult to imagine the terminally cool Connery allowing himself to be this vulnerable or this sincere. His Bond runs on contempt. He may give Tracy an affectionate pat on the arse but he won't be catching feelings. Conversely, Lazenby's take is human, romantic even. Far closer to Ian Fleming's essentially chivalrous character than Connery's magnetic bounder.

1 comment:

Colin said...

Great review and a good explanation of why Lazenby is my favorite Bond.