Tag Archives: Ian Fleming

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, Peter R. Hunt)

There’s a lot of good stuff in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, some of it really good. Director Hunt and editor John Glen have a great time with the fight scenes. The film opens with a hurried, though a playful introduction to George Lazenby in the title role, then moves immediately into one of the frantic fight scenes. There’s a lot of sped up film in Majesty, but it only ever works for the fight scenes. Glen cuts out extra frames, forcing the viewer to hurry up. It’s awesome.

Otherwise, technically, the film is somewhat uneven. Hunt’s direction isn’t bad and he clearly likes shooting the exteriors, but they’re the only time (other than those fight scenes) there’s much energy. Cinematographer Michael Reed has a questionable handling of day for night shooting, a technique the film needs a lot and Reed never gets it right. Some excellent music from John Barry, some not so excellent music.

So, overall, uneven technically.

As for the story, again, uneven. Lazenby finds himself romancing Diana Rigg, sort of against his will, in his question to destroy villain Telly Savalas. Savalas comes off as campy, not villainous. Lazenby might bring some camp to the Bond role, but he combines it with actual charm and likability. Not so for Savalas. He’s often just silly.

Rigg’s great. The movie underutilizes her, ignores her, but she’s still great. She even makes it through some of the more misogynistic dialogue (directed at her, not from her).

Majesty is also a little weird with its willingness to make Lazenby’s Bond such a shallow pig. Getting distracted from a mission to look at “Playboy” magazine, for example, doesn’t seem particularly responsible for a secret agent. The plot keeps him away from the MI6 regulars (Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn) for much of the film. In a lot of ways, Majesty feels like a spoof of itself.

Still, the action’s good–save Reed’s “nighttime” photography and Glen giving up on doing anything interesting with the editing in the last quarter–and the film moves. It’s occasionally excellent, usually decent.

Then it closes with a tone deaf, way too long ending and Majesty collapses.

It’s unfortunate. It should be better. Most of the necessary pieces to make it better–to make it good–are readily available in cast and crew.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peter R. Hunt; screenplay by Simon Raven and Richard Maibaum, based on the novel by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Michael Reed; edited by John Glen; music by John Barry; production designer, Syd Cain; produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; released by United Artists.

Starring George Lazenby (James Bond), Diana Rigg (Tracy), Telly Savalas (Blofeld), Gabriele Ferzetti (Draco), Ilse Steppat (Irma Bunt), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Bernard Lee (M), George Baker (Sir Hilary Bray), Angela Scoular (Ruby) and Desmond Llewelyn (Q).


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In Service of Nothing (2015, Tyler Gibb)

In Service of Nothing doesn’t have a writer credit, which is unfortunate. Even though the narration is occasionally too heavy-handed, it still has its effect moments.

Nothing is an unlicensed James Bond “potential” short film. Director Gibb does it as a pre-visualization, which lets him get away with a lot. The unfinished format conditions the viewer’s expectations, all of it extremely gently. Likewise, the way Bond himself transitions–from Sean Connery to an older, balder Connery–is also gentle. There’s a lot less detail after the opening in the sixties, but it works.

The short runs about ten minutes, which is good. There’s only so much despondent old man Bond one can take. Christopher Gee voices old man Bond and does well. It’s a Connery impression mixed with an actual performance.

It’s a great mix of concept and constraint. Gibb and company tell a quintessential, impossible 007 story.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Tyler Gibb; based on a character created by Ian Fleming; produced by Adi Shankar.

Starring Christopher Gee (James Bond).

You Only Live Twice (1967, Lewis Gilbert)

My wife walked out on You Only Live Twice. She got up and left about forty minutes in. I finished it because I figured forty minutes was halfway and I could make it. It was tough.

The film’s memorable because of the beginning, where James Bond dies. It’s an interesting scene, even though it’s never explained. The ninjas are sort of memorable, but not specifically, because it’s a lame scene.

What stunned me about the film was how sexist it is. For a James Bond movie to be stunningly sexist, it has to be really sexist. The lack of distinguishable personalities for the two female leads–who, incidentally, were both in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Then there’s the scene where Bond’s Japanese counterpart makes a nasty remark about Moneypenny and Bond doesn’t defend her as a colleague. Also, there’s a lengthy sequence about Bond refusing his mission because he doesn’t think he’s going to get a pretty fake wife.

There are some cool sets at the end. It’s amazing how big Pinewood is–I can’t think of any other film, except maybe Eyes Wide Shut, making the studio seem so big.

Sean Connery’s bored.

Lewis Gilbert’s direction is lousy. I got excited when I saw Gilbert’s name too; he must have learned subtlety later in his career.

The music’s okay.

The action sequence with the helicopter is good.

The plot lacks any movement, with Bond hanging out in Japan the entire runtime.

It’s boring me even to talk about it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Gilbert; screenplay by Roald Dahl and Harold Jack Bloom, based on the novel by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Freddie Young; music by John Barry; production designer, Ken Adam; produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; released by United Artists.

Starring Sean Connery (James Bond), Wakabayashi Akiko (Aki), Hama Mie (Kissy Suzuki), Tamba Tetsuro (Tiger Tanaka), Shimada Teru (Mr. Osato), Karin Dor (Helga Brandt), Donald Pleasence (Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Charles Gray (Dikko Henderson) and Chin Tsai (Ling).


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Silver Blaze (1937, Thomas Bentley)

Given Sherlock Holmes is an English creation, I thought Silver Blaze would be a solid, thoughtful portrayal of the Empire’s most famous son. He’s still the most famous, right? But it isn’t. Silver Blaze actually follows the Marx Brothers rule of giving the romantic leads more to do. Here it’s Judy Gunn and Arthur Macrae. He’s a wealthy young man with a gambling problem, she’s the young heiress who loves him (and forgives that gambling problem once she finds out about it). The romance isn’t compelling, nor are their troubles, but they’re film standards. It’s exactly what one would expect from a couple of their position. The unexpected diversion is the lengthy sequence laying out the scene of the crime before it happens. It goes on and on–and all of it is wasted time, as Holmes’s eventual solution reveals.

But these scenes are at least interesting. Is Macrae the killer, will Gunn accept him, will they find happiness? Those three questions are infinitely more interesting than what Holmes does in the film. And the long scene with the trainer’s household is good stuff. The British approach to Holmes, however, appears to turn him into a serial hero–complete with a supervillain (Lyn Harding) who has a secret hide-out. It’s Sherlock Holmes for kiddies, the Saturday morning crowd, which is fine if it’s how the entire film’s set-up… but Silver Blaze doesn’t start out so insipid.

There are some fantastic sequences from the filmmaking standpoint. The British filmmakers of the 1930s had a definite style and Silver Blaze does feature some of it. The scenes on the moor–though obviously on a set, it’s detailed in such a way to defy the viewer to disbelieve it. Unfortunately, the location scenes poorly mesh with the studio-shot outdoors scenes and it gives Blaze a frequently disjointed feel. There are also some great camera moves, which make up for director Bentley’s overuse of the indoors long shot–the actors having no idea what to do with their hands, particularly Ian Fleming as Dr. Watson (but the awkward hands are the least of Fleming’s performance’s problems). But there’s good sound design too, which is nice and effective… until it all comes apart.

Once Silver Blaze solves the original story and gets to the added elements (Harding as Professor Moriarty), it goes to pieces. With the exception of Sherlock Holmes making untoward comments to his housekeeper, there’s nothing good in the last ten minutes of the film–and a lot happens in the last ten minutes.

As Holmes, Arthur Wontner is middling. He can deliver the lines, but he never seems very smart. And he gets real annoying with all the catchphrases, which are the script’s fault, but something about Wontner’s delivery makes them even more annoying. Fleming is useless as Watson. Harding’s performance seems to be the basis for the Hamburgler. The supporting cast is mediocre, but generally fine.

The film’s compelling as a seventy-minute diversion–though I suppose if one knows the solution to the crime, there isn’t much to see. It’s never terrible until the end, when it just keeps getting worse and worse.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Thomas Bentley; screenplay by H. Fowler Mear and Arthur Macrae, based on the story by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Sydney Blythe; edited by Michael C. Chorlton and Alan Smith; produced by Julius Hagen; released by Associated British Picture Corporation.

Starring Arthur Wontner (Sherlock Holmes), Ian Fleming (Dr. Watson), Lyn Harding (Prof. Moriarty), John Turnbull (Inspector Lestrade), Robert Horton (Col. Ross), Lawrence Grossmith (Sir Henry Baskerville), Judy Gunn (Diana Baskerville), Arthur Macrae (Jack Trevor), Arthur Goullet (Col. Moran), Martin Walker (James Straker), Eve Gray (Mrs. Straker), Gilbert Davis (Miles Stanford), Minnie Rayner (Mrs. Hudson), D.J. Williams (Silas Brown) and Ralph Truman (Bert Prince).


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