All the Time in the World

45th anniversary of OHMSS: The fascination of the unique in a world of serial

The sixth Bond film ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE has since its appearance altered from a bizarre disappointment to a fan favorite. Even top directors like Steven Soderbergh or Christopher Nolan declared their passion for this film. Soderbergh said"For me there's no question that cinematically is the best Bond film and the only one worth watching for reasons other than pure entertainment. Shot to shot, this movie is beautiful in a way none of the other Bond films are." (See Soderberghs blog Extension 765) For Nolan, the film was one of the inspirations for INCEPTION"Especially 'On Her Majesty’s Secret Service', which is a wonderful balance of action and romanticism. I guess this is my 007 film." (See here

About Bonds love, my love and certain parallels to Hitchcocks VERTIGO:

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE VHS CoverMy personal relationship with OHMSS is somewhat similar to the public eye. I met it first in a video store, with the adjacent VHS cover. Despite the fairly official-looking lettering 'James Bond 007' I regarded the film at that time as some knock-off or TV movie, and did not take it seriously. Later I became a fan and got all the novels and films. In the case of OHMSS, I managed to read the novel by Ian Fleming before seeing the movie. With the typical effect that I was disappointed by the adaptation. Over the years the film rose from the lower third of the list slowly to number one. Today it unfolds from the first shot and the first note a special magic that reaches no other Bond film.

20 years before LICENCE TO KILL and 39 before QUANTUM OF SOLACE , for the first time a director made a Bond that is more than just another typical genre contribution. And doing so without dropping characteristical ingredients, glamour and larger than life fantasy worlds. And at a time when the audience demanded exuberant 007 shows. Actually EON wanted to realize OHMSS in 1965, but then they could agree with Kevin McClory about a Thunderball film. Then they didn't want a "Thunderball on skis," and so it was only the sixth movie. 

Backlighting as visualization
of a subliminal menace
I see the production circumstances as a great stroke of luck, because during the Connery-bondmania the tragic end would probably have been omitted, perhaps even the wedding. In the seventies, however, the novel would been relegated entirely to a loose template for an ironic spectacle. To exactly the right time came the perfect director. Peter Hunt had the experience in craftsmanship, the talent and ambition.

The result is a quite faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming's best novel. What I appreciate both in the book and the film, is the touch of melancholy that is felt throughout the whole story. But it never forces itself into the foreground. In the foreground are the elements that make Bond: Action, super villains in hideouts with crazy schedules, beautiful women and landscapes, casinos and Martinis. 

The melancholy is often served with irony. In one of my favorite scenes, Bond strays alone and cold across a Christmas market, while a quite kitschy Christmas song is played, and Bond collides with a man in a polar bear costume.


The Living and the Dead, the novel of which Hitchcocks VERTIGO was based
The original novel to VERTIGO
The story reminds partly of Alfred Hitchcocks VERTIGO of 1958, respectively the original novel D'entre les morts of 1954. Whether Ian Fleming was actually inspired by the book or the film, I do not know. In VERTIGO (by the way my favorite Hitch), John Ferguson is asked by a friend to take care of his apparently suicidal wife Madeleine. Ferguson observes a suicide attempt of her in which she tries to drown herself. He rescues her and falls in love with her. 

In OHMSS, Bond is asked by Draco to take care of the suicidal Tracy. He observes a suicide attempt in which she tried to drown herself just like Madeleine in the sea. In both films, the death of the hero's beloved appears in the end all the more tragic and ironic as he saves her first and then, as she does not want to die anymore, he loses her.  

A View To A Suicide

In VERTIGOFerguson later meets a woman who is very similar to Madeleine (and it turns out it's really her). History seems to fatally repeat itself. In the Fleming novel, the rescue of Tracy and falling in love with her takes place in Royale-les-Eaux, where in the novel Casino Royale Bonds love Vesper comitted suicide. So there is also a certain dark déjà vu here. 

In Peter Hunt's film version there is not such an aspect. But it does appear 30 years later in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGHBond meets a woman here with whom he falls in love, and he must kill her at the end. Allusions to Tracy and OHMSS are there in variety - beginning with the title - as well as to VERTIGO: Bond follows Elektra an old tower up.

Even a man-against-man persecution on city rooftops was originally part of the script of OHMSS - the famous Phidian-chase, which was to end with a spectacular train crash. But it was cut out due to the length of the film. But at least Peter Hunt allowed himself a Hitchcock-like cameo.

The Good, the Bad, and Lazenby

As a fan of a film, one tends to ignore certain weaknesses, or to reconstrue them into strengths. One of the obvious weaknesses here is George Robert Lazenby. Certainly Lazenby ain't Marlon Brando. A more experienced actor would certainly have put more subtext and ambiguity into his acting. But with his straightforward way, Lazenbys Bond appears not yet corrupted by the spy business. The more one feels with him at the end. 

Me in front of the jeweler in Lisbon
I used to think that OHMSS with Sean Connery would have been the absolute über-Bond. But I don't think so anymore. Connery had an impressive career, but he didn't a really great romance in my opinion. He appears too idiosyncratic for something like that; he is not the man who would give up everything for a woman.

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE is definitely a film in which I always recognize new details and points of view, and that touches me every time I watch it. Maybe you feel the same.

Book recommendation: 
Charles Helfenstein: The Making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Where many other books on Bond only 
scratch at the glittering surface and peddle the usual half-truths, Helfenstein's book is a true in-depth research. A book by a fan for fans. 

Spies Llc 2009 
€ 53.73 

Other posts about OHMSS:
Unter portugiesischer Sonne - The OHMSS locations in Portugal
Mittersill Castle - Inspiration for Blofelds alpine hideout

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