Tag Archives: Blofeld

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

Summary: In which Blofeld plans to hold the world to ransom with an infertility virus via pretty girls, while Bond proves he’s a Time Lord, breaks the fourth wall, pretends to be a gay genealogist, and gets married.

And widowed.

images-1 Alex: Let me deal with each of the points above in order.

Once again we’re back to SPECTRE doing evil things, but this time Bond deals exclusively with Blofeld. In the course of trying to bring Blofeld down in the interests of “of course I would”, Bond discovers that Blofeld is running a not-for-profit centre dealing with severe allergies. Which sounds surprisingly philanthropic until it’s revealed (partly via a very acid-trip/hypnotism colour sequence) that the patients have all been tasked with spreading a nasty virus that will render anything it comes near – including humans – infertile somehow. Exactly how? No idea. But it will, honest! Unless the UN grants him… immunity!! (Wha-?)

All of the patients are very pretty young girls. This allows for some gratuitous shots of women in crazy/skimpy clothing, lounging around. It reminded me a lot of Castle Anthrax.

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Bond, however, is not Bond. Or rather, he is Bond but his face has changed, not that anyone notices. Connery hung up the Walther PPK after five films and Broccoli et al went with George Lazenby instead: an Australian who, before this, had only ever done chocolate commercials. And the first sight I got of him this time, all I could think was: Look at that chin! You could hurt someone with that chin. The prologue introduces both main protagonists, as Bond gets into a high-speed car-flirtation with a woman who then tries to walk into the ocean. He rescues her, ends up getting decked by thugs, and then – after defeating them – she’s gone. At which point Bond picks up her shoes, comments “This never happened to the other fellow” and looks straight at the camera. I’m honestly not sure what I think of this level of meta in my Bond. It’s a bit weird, frankly, and is matched by the “all the girls I’ve loved before (and the villains who’ve failed to stop me)” montage in the credits immediately after – and the souvenirs, matched with appropriate musical stings, that Bond finds in his desk when he’s back in London. (Bond has a desk! Who knew?)

Lazenby often gets panned in the “who’s your favourite Bond” discussions and look, this is not the greatest Bond film. But I don’t think that’s entirely Lazenby’s fault. In fact, when Bond is facing off against Blofeld – now played imagesby Telly Savalas – I think Lazenby is excellent. Despite being in a kilt (another thing that never happened to the other fellow. Also, I don’t think Connery would have been shown flicking through a Playboy and nicking the centrefold). It’s not Lazenby’s fault that the script is a bit weak; the montage of riding horses through dappled light is utterly eye-rolling, despite the presence of Diana Rigg, and would not have been improved by Connery (or, dare I say, Daniel Craig). Plus, I’m not sure whether it’s because of Lazenby or changing expectations of film-making, but I think the fight scenes were slightly more realistic and definitely more aggressive than in most of the previous five films.

I’d like to point out right here that Bond and Blofeld met in the last film, so the idea that Bond could try to fool him by posing as someone else – even a gay genealogist with the College of Heraldry – is ludicrous, unless we accept that You Only Live Twice is retconned out of continuity?

Anyway, Blofeld wants his position as the real count de Bleuville accepted, which is how Bond gets into his clinic, by posing as the genealogist who will investigate his claim. (He has his own coat of arms investigated to brush up on heraldry. His family’s motto? “The world is not enough.”) This leads to ‘amusing’ scenes of boring pretty young ladies absolutely stupid with discussion of lions couchant and bezants. Did I mention that one of these young ladies is Joanna Lumley?

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Speaking of ladies, so far I’ve only hinted at the primary Bond Girl in this film, and she’s the most famous of these first six: Diana Rigg. She also has a sensible name! – Tracy.  And Tracy is a match for Bond – ruthless, somewhat careless about sex (by traditional standards – she sleeps with him partly because she thinks she ‘owes’ him after he stumps for her at the card table), stubborn and independent… well, that’s what she’d be like today. She doesn’t entirely get to be that here, not least because her father – second only to Blofeld in European crime but still very much a frustrated and concerned father – decides to bribe Bond to woo her, because “what she needs is a man to dominate her.” To his credit, Bond protests that what she actually needs is therapy… but in return for Blofeld’s location, he will indeed get more involved with her. Of course it all ends up gooey and sentimental and they fall in love, and they get married at the end of the movie. There are royalty present, apparently. Moneypenny cries.

And then, as they leave on honeymoon, Blofeld – who should be dead – drives past, and his 2IC shoots at the car, and Tracy dies. Tracy, the Bond girl least involved in Bond’s machinations to this point, is killed not in a fight or as a hostage or a statement of ruthlessness, but because the villain can’t aim properly. I hate this ending so much.

Racial issues: there’s only two non-white characters, by my reckoning; an Asian woman who only appears briefly, and a black man working for Tracy’s father, who fights well but only gets to grunt, never speak.

Louis’ version is lovely, but having only known Iggy from his Stooges days and then doing insurance ads… well, this is a revelation.

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James: The credit girls have improbably pointy boobs in this film.  The cast seem to be wearing too much foundation, but perhaps that’s just the high-res scans and retouching of the  original films.  I enjoyed the ski scenes and everyone loves a mountain top fortress.  The plot and script is the weakest of all the film so far.  Lazenby isn’t good, but I’m not sure he’s as bad as he gets portrayed either.  Not a gadget to mention in this film.  2 Martinis.

You only Live Twice

This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

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Summary: in which Bond dies, resurrects, and foils SPECTRE’s attempts to start a war between the US and USSR by eating their spacecraft. Also, he becomes a Japanese man. And gets married.

Alex: I love this theme song.

Once again, this movie sees James Bond become a science fictional film. The opening sequence is of Gemini 16, an American spacecraft, with its astronauts preparing for EVA. And then oh no! it gets swallowed by another spacecraft which appeared from nowhere! The USSR is, of course, blamed; the UK politely dissents with this assessment, but the US ignore their Anglo cousins.

Cut to credits. (And the revelation that the screenplay was written by Roald Dahl!)

I’ve made the point before about so much of Bond being set outside of England, and it’s only today that I realised that of course Bond is part of MI6 – the international arm of the British secret service. So of course he’s in exotic locales. This time, it’s Japan, and when Moneypenny throws Bond a book of Instant Japanese, he primly reminds her that he took Oriental Languages at Cambridge… which is, I think, one of the first time we get any information about Bond’s background. It’s interesting to think that after five films we know so little about our hero: no knowledge of his family background, his interests (aside from drinking and womanising)… nada. Apparently the Mystery Man was genuinely thought to be intriguing enough that it wasn’t necessary.

For an ambiguously SFnal film, Japan of the 1960s is an intriguing setting. Tokyo as a city is shown to be a place of, on the one hand, neon lights, while on the other traditional sumo wrestling. This dichotomy of future/past is repeated throughout. There are more security cameras than in the previous four films together, I think, and the head of Japanese security – “Tiger” – has cool round screens for showing scenes. He also has a private train and is disappointed that M doesn’t. The head of Osato Chemicals – the ostensible villain – has electric shutters and an X-ray machine in his desk.

On the other hand, there’s sumo wrestling and ninjas. In fact, there’s a remarkable amount of (Anglo-mediated) Japanese culture in this film, including a fake marriage ceremony that was both irrelevant to the plot and slowed the pace to a dead stop. I wonder whether this was because the opportunity of showcasing Japanese rituals was deemed worth it – and, indeed, exotic enough that it would work for 60s viewers? Screening “the Other” often has cachet, I know. From a gender perspective traditional Japan is suggested to be deeply sexist: Tiger gravely tells Bond that in Japan, “men always come first. Women always come second”… while four women in their underwear are washing them (“never do for yourself what someone else can,” or words to that effect). So that’s a thing.

There’s nothing really new about the gender politics here. The two Japanese women with whom Bond works are highly competent, but/and both fall in love with him. On reflection this makes Bond remarkably cold, since he’s making movies on the second – Kissy –  just a week or so after Aki, for whom he seemed quite affectionate, has been killed. There’s also a female villain (number 11), whom he maybe sleeps with but certainly appears to have used his magical powers on, but then she does actually try to kill him. She’s a distinctly confused character, actually, and I was quite disappointed that they didn’t make her entirely straightforward (like Rosa in From Russia with Love). Also, Bond comments that Japanese girls “taste different” from their English counterparts. Er… wha??

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The race element is present here, also. The absolutely worst moment is that Bond “becomes Japanese” in order to… I’m not sure what. He proceeds to train as a ninja, so maybe the appearance is really important? Basically he gets a bad haircut, has it dyed black, and gets some prosthetics on his eyes. It’s unconvincing. It is also, happily, the only case of yellow-face, so that’s positive. In terms of deaths, of the main characters only Aki – non-white and female – dies. I really expected Tiger to die, too, but happily he survives. And in looking up the cast I discovered that Tetsuro Tamba started acting in 1953, and had his last role in 2006. In that time, he was had 265 roles! By comparison, Connery’s credits go from 1954 to 2012, and come to 93.

Finally, it’s important to note that it turns out to be SPECTRE behind the eating-spacecraft thing; they’ve done it to a Russian craft, too, and their express purpose is to instigate a war between the US and USSR. Quite why… I’m not sure. Hoping to be

images-1the phoenix rising from the ashes and taking over the world? Because mayhem is its own reward? But that’s almost beside the point when we actually get the great reveal: Number 1 is Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played by Donald Pleasance), and he introduces himself to James Bond. So we see his face. And, as almost always with a Bond villain, he is disfigured: his right hand is damaged somehow (and is thus literally sinister), and he also has scarring around one eye. Nothing like making an obvious play on the whole physical/moral connection, is there? I can’t help but be a bit sad that the mystery has gone out from Number 1. Being faceless is far more intriguing than being scarred, in an Ultimate Villain. (I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that a Supervillain Organisation that relies on its ultimate boss for such instructions as “lower the shutters” when the rocket is about to take off has some serious management issues.)

James: It was a little incongruous when the ninja had to use explosives to break through the obviously chicken wire and plastic roof over the volcano lair, but otherwise quite an enjoyable film.  Also, what’s not to love about Little Nellie, the helicopter with rockets, flame thrower, machine guns and aerial land mines which can fit in 4 stylish Louis Vuitton suitcases and be brought in at a moments notice by Q.  For the movie nerds, I’m not sure the blu-ray transfer was quite as magical as some of the earlier films, but perhaps the novelty has worn off.  3 Martinis.