R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema: Total Bond-age, Part 3: The Two Bonds

“This never happened to the other fella”

Bond had become bigger than ever after the one-two punch of Goldfinger and Thunderball. In less than four years Bond was one of the most recognizable characters in the history of cinema. Goldfinger had caused a phenomenon that sparked books, T-shirts, toys, bathrobes and countless other merchandise. Thunderball was equally successful with the movie-going public and actually made more at the box office than its now legendary predecessor. The challenge for Bond producers was to make an even more successful film than even these two juggernauts. Added to this was the pressure of competing with more and more Bond knockoffs and other spy films. The Harry Palmer series starring Michael Cane, the James Coburn lead Flint series, and the Matt Helm films starring Dean Martin all were taking a piece of the pie. Even a rival Bond film, Casino Royale had begun production to try and give audiences an alternative Bond experience. To try and combat all this competition, Bond producers had to make Bond even bigger than before. Bond would again have to traverse the globe but also take his adventure into space. Bond also for the first time would have to deviate from Ian Fleming.

You Only Live Twice Starring Sean Connery and Donald Pleasance. Directed by Lewis Gilbert.

The fifth Bond adventure opens with an amazing special effects sequence. A Russian space capsule is captured by a huge, menacing spacecraft that seems to swallow it whole. The Russian Cosmonaut working outside the capsule at the time is left drifting out to deep space, and to his death. The scene then changes to James making love to a beautiful woman in a Hong Kong bedroom, but seconds later there is a mind boggling twist. A nightmare for the avid female Bond fans attending its premiere on June 12, 1967, 007 is killed in cold blood by a Chinese assassin. Audiences are still in shock as they watch Bond’s funeral at sea.

But the plot thickens, after being ceremoniously dumped into the sea his body is taken in by a submarine. To the delight of the audience Bond is then resuscitated and makes a full recovery even before the opening credits role. You Only Live Twice is decidedly different from many of its predecessors. Playing to many stereotypes of the Cold War, You Only Live Twice has both the United States and Russia on the brink of nuclear war as each of them are losing spacecraft and each blaming the other. The British Secret Service suspects a third party is instigating the tensions from Japan.

With Bond supposedly dead, MI6 can easily send him to infiltrate Japan to try and discover the root of the mysterious space hijackings. Bond teams with the Japanese Secret Service, and after many near deaths and a fantastic ninja battle, 007 discovers the culprit in this insidious plot, SPECTRE. Her Majesty’s number one Secret Serviceman finally comes face to face with the man who has been hounding him from behind the scenes since the beginning, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. A tremendous battle takes place within the confines of SPECTRE’s base of operations, a hollowed out Volcano. Once again Bond has the task of saving the world and his women, and trying to make it all look as if he has not even broken a sweat.

A novel seen as not bold enough for the big screen, You Only Live Twice was the first Bond film to be a creation of its screenwriters instead of the Bond originator, Ian Fleming. Bond’s adventure starts on a fantastical note with the space high jacking, and stays on that high all the way to a climactic volcanic showdown between SPECTRE and the Bond-lead Japanese Secret Service. Using Japan as the backdrop for the film proves to be ingenious as the island nation is a foreign maze of traps and exotic dangers. The aforementioned ninja battle is a treat for fans of Asian cinema as Bond only barely escapes sword after sword.

Another bright spot for the movie is Donald Pleasance’s portrayal of Blofeld. Seeing the villain solely from the neck down in previous Bond entries, the sight of Blofeld’s scarred face is both menacing and sad. Pleasance became one of the iconic villains in Bond lore, and also set the standard for others who have played Blofeld since then. Ken Adams’s set design again is a marvel in this Bond installment. Blofeld’s volcano fortress apparently cost more than the entire budget for Dr. No, and one can see every penny of it. The set may also represent what was wrong with this film.

Bond films had gotten so big and so spectacular that they had seemed to have lost something of themselves. Gone almost completely were the spy films of espionage and intrigue, and in their place were gadgets and huge battles. For example most Bond films would introduce a gadget in the beginning of the film and then forget about it until the right time. Toward the end of the film Bond would be in some sort of dire peril, and only then was the gadget used to save his skin. Even better are the times when Bond uses a gadget to get out a situation it was not intended for. In the film Die Another Day in the middle of a battle between super spy cars, Bond flips his car over. The film’s obligatory henchman, Zao, a brutal North Korean with diamonds implanted in his face, shoots a rocket at 007 to finish him off. To escape certain death, James opens the sunroof of the car, and fires the ejector seat, flipping the car back over and barely escaping the incoming missile.

On the soundtrack, the moment elicits the fanfare Bond theme, and gives Die Another Day one of its best moments. You Only Live Twice does not have a moment like this. In stead of a sequence where Bond must use his wits with the new gadget given to him, perennial MI6 gadget man Q introduces Bond to a new mini spy helicopter, and then immediately 007 is attacked and he must dispatch his attackers with it. None of this stopped You Only Live Twice from being a huge hit. Audiences once again flocked to see 007 and made it the second highest grossing film of 1967. Critical notices were not kind to the film, but whatever problems may have existed on screen with the film, Bond had even bigger problems behind the camera.

Even with all the competing spy films surrounding the Bond franchise, 007 was still the top of the heap. Bond was making more than any of its competitors, but all were not happy. Sean Connery, who had portrayed the character from the beginning of the franchise, wanted out. The deals made by other actors in competing films were actually making them more money than he was playing Bond. Also with paparazzi swarming about Connery constantly, the strain was eventually too much. The man people had come to know as 007 James Bond wanted out for good, and the next chapter in the Bond franchise would have to be written with another actor playing the greatest secret agent in the world.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service starring George Lazenby and Diana Rigg. Directed by Peter Hunt

Bond would have to go back to basics for its next film. Bond producers and director Peter Hunt decided to tone down everything for the next installment. The production design, gadgets, and even Bond himself would be less fantastic. For perhaps Ian Fleming’s greatest Bond novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond would have to be more human. The producers chose fellow InsidePulse columnist Michaelangelo Mcullar’s favorite Bond, George Lazenby, to follow Sean Connery.

Staying very close to the Fleming novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service begins with Bond saving a drowning girl from a suicide attempt and then being attacked. From there film reveals that the suicidal girl is heiress Comtesse Teresa Di Vincenzo. Known as Tracy to those close to her, this character is much different from “Bond Girls” of the past. She resists Bond’s charms and when they do sleep together, her motives are not the lustful fantasy of Honey Rider and Tiffany Case.

Bond discovers he can use contacts of Tracy’s father (a very wealthy and powerful man who is not always on the right side of the law) to find his arch-enemy, Blofeld, who is still at large. Bond finds Blofeld in the Swiss Alps, where the SPECTRE chief has constructed a new base of operations at the peak of a mountaintop. Blofeld’s new plot is to brainwash young girls to spread deadly germ warfare, and to ransom the world for the antidote. After Bond is caught by his enemies, he makes a daring and romantic escape with the help of Tracy. In the escape attempt, Tracy then becomes the captive of SPECTRE. Bond then regroups with the help of Tracy’s father to rescue her in an action packed frontal assault on Blofeld’s fortress that ends in a climactic bobsled chase. The film ends with Bond’s marriage to Tracy and its inevitable conclusion.

In the pantheon of Bond films, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has every right to be considered right along with the likes of Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me. Everything required for a good Bond feature, this one has in spades. The action in the film has a brutal style with quick cuts and fast pacing. The score for the film is exceptional with both the main theme and love theme by Louis Armstrong being as memorable as any in the series’ cannon this side of Goldfinger. The Bond villain, Blofeld, portrayed by Telly Sevalas is a menacing, sophisticated villain. Sevalas also plays Blofeld as having more ability physically to compete with Bond. This is in stark contrast to Pleasance’s Blofeld who seemed more calculating, but absolutely frail physically.

Diana Rigg pulls in what is perhaps the best performance by a female in the history of the franchise. Riggs performance is such that you believe that Bond would fall in love with Tracy so hard that he would have no alternative but to marry her. Lastly Lazenby’s Bond is off putting to those wanting Sean Connery’s swagger at first, but the actor seems to grow more comfortably in the role as the film proceeds. Lazenby’s Bond drops Connery’s usual casual attitude toward women and violence in favor of a more human approach. He wins the audience over with his ernest charm. One has trouble picturing Connery’s Bond settling down to one woman. Lazenby’s performance makes you believe Bond would want only Tracy for the rest of his life. It is because of both of these leads that the end of the film is so heartbreaking.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was not a successful film in the way that its forerunners were. All blame was squarely placed on Lazenby, and after squabbling with the press and film makers, the actor was out as Bond. This was unfortunate as Lazenby gives such a fine performance as 007, giving the character his own voice and a depth of emotion that was never equaled by any other bond. This did not seem to matter to anyone as Lazenby did not return to the role. Bond had come a long way since its literary inception, but now it had hit a stumbling block. Who could carry the Bond mantle, now entering the 1970’s? Bond would have to bounce back, but who would take the rains to do so? The climate for spy pictures had changed, but would Bond have to change also? Regardless these two entries are a both interesting looks into what the Bond pictures had evolved into. Bond would just have to evolve further to keep up the pace with the rest of the world.