Favorite Xmas Scene Theatre: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
It wouldn’t be Christmas without bringing up my favorite James Bond film. As THE FUTURIST! reminds us, December 18 marked the 40th anniversary of the release of ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, everybody’s beloved oddjob-man out of the series, featuring the sole appearance of George Lazenby as 007. I’ve gone on record here before about this singular entry in the Bond series, coming at the tail end of the 1960’s, reflecting that year’s darker tinge to the fading psychedelic glow from the Summer Of Love. From my previous OHMSS post:
Major kudos must go to Peter Hunt for sticking close to the novel, yet giving the film all the exotic glamour the series was known for. His handling of the obligatory “M” and Moneypenny scenes is terrific, with Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell getting a chance to flesh out their usual stock parts. I also love the introductory conversation between Bond and the gangster Draco (straight from the book and well-played by Gabrielle Ferzetti), with even Lazenby pulling his weight. Richard Maibum’s script is smart and solid, sticking close to Fleming’s narrative. I also dig the most risque line of the series up to that point: “Just a slight stiffness coming on.” OHMSS is also the most seasonal Bond outing, with a palatable Christmas ambiance that gives the movie a wintery texture missing from the others. Aptly, this is the last time that the films would have that defining 1960’s Panavision style courtesy of cinematographer Michael Reed.
Next to Peter Hunt’s audacious direction, the most original of the series, the key ingredient to OHMSS is John Barry. Unarguably his finest Bond score, Barry outdoes even himself with an epic soundtrack filled with lyrical melodies and rousing action cues, utilizing disparate sonics from Louis Armstrong to Moog synthesizers (even the opening gunbarrel theme is performed on a synth). There’s even a wonderfully cheesy children’s song, “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Born?” that’s a yuletide favorite of mine and Craig Kennedy…And for the first time, Maurice Binder’s famous main titles would play without a pop vocal as the producers wisely let Barry come up with a magnificent instrumental theme driven by fuzz guitars and brassy horns. Preceded by George Lazenby’s great ice-breaking line, “This never happened to the other fella,” the credit sequence is a perfect example of the brave experimentation that characterized the film. The theme is also perfectly used in the “Escape From Piz Gloria” ski chase that IMHO is still the greatest shot and edited action sequence in the series.
And I stand by that claim. Even Pauline Kael was bowled over by this kinetic ski chase that stands as the action peak of OHMSS, especially since the film keeps Bond trapped and disguised in Piz Gloria for a long section. So the escape acts as a cathartic release for 007 and the audience. Despite some obvious process shots, it’s a thrilling sequence with audacious ski stunts and of course, John Barry’s best James Bond soundtrack.