12 days into December and as luck would have it, we happen upon door 12 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films. And it’s about time that a namesake of mine turned up
His name’s Bond.
There have been 24 official Bond films made (and a few unofficial ones too), and, as far as I’m aware, only one has any element of Christmas in it (if we ignore the insanely named Dr Christmas Jones from 1999s The World Is Not Enough). I’m happy to stand corrected – there are enough Bond films to merit an Advent Calendar of their very own and even though I’ve seen them all, I’m not about to re-watch them all again just to establish their respective Christmasishness.
But I know, from memory, that one of them is fairly Christmassy.
And that one is 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Everyone has their own favourite Bond. Connery, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig all have their advocates.
Few, however, would champion the cause of George Lazenby.
And for very good reason.
He is, easily, the weakest of all the Bonds.
There are many moments in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when Lazenby’s performance is shaky and uncertain. The rest of his performance is much worse than that.
As the first person to take the role on the big screen other than Connery, Lazenby had big shoes to fill and, metaphorically speaking, tiny feet.
Somehow though, the worst of all the Bonds is in arguably the best of all the Bond films.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is absolutely brilliant in spite of its leading man.
There are plenty of ridiculous infuriating moments that threaten to derail the whole thing. There’s the weird ‘reveal’ of the new Bond in the opening sequence, during which Lazenby breaks the fourth wall, after his car is stolen, and whines that “this never happened to the other fella’.
There’s also the ridiculous dubbing of another actor’s voice over Lazenby when Bond goes undercover, because apparently Lazenby couldn’t ‘do a different voice’.
The story too, is reasonably hard to follow and really, if properly scrutinised, doesn’t make all that much sense.
But Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat make for compelling bad guys as Ernst Stavros Blofeld and Irma Bunt respectively.
And to be fair to Lazenby, he does the action sequences pretty well.
The score too, is exceptional. Of course there is the usual Bond theme music and that is all well and good, but significant elements of the film are underpinned by Louis Armstrong’s We Have All The Time In The World. It doesn’t sound like it should be on a Bond soundtrack, but it works for this film.
The thing that makes this the most compelling of the Bond films though, is strangely enough the least ‘Bondish’ element.
Which is the love story.
And more pertinently, who he falls in love with.
Diana Rigg’s ‘Tracy di Vincenzo’ is quite probably the best ‘Bond girl’ ever, precisely because she is nothing like the archetypal Bond girl. She is a fully formed character, with a melancholic air underpinning her performance. That Bond would ever fall in love might normally stretch credibility, that he would fall in love with Tracy seems beyond any doubt from the moment we meet her.
Rigg is not actually on screen for a large percentage of the film but she personifies everything that is good about it and elevates it far above being ‘just another Bond film’.
If you’ve seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, you’ll know the ending is bleak, much darker than is usual for the franchise.
Still, it is in the final scene that Lazenby earns forgiveness for all that has gone before in terms of his own performance. I defy anyone to watch him deliver his closing lines without welling up at least a bit.
Score for Christmasishness
The first hints of Christmas occur around 45 mins into the film when Bond arrives in the snow-covered alps. Snow, in itself, is not a sufficient determiner of Christmasishness, or clearly many more Bond films would join the list, but Christmasishness is confirmed about an hour in, when Bond, in the guise of ‘Sir Hilary Bray’ while residing in Blofeld’s ‘allergy clinic’ is invited to spend Christmas there. We see our first Christmas decoration at 1 hour 15 and when Bond’s secret identity is uncovered by Blofeld a few moments later, we see a large Christmas tree. Christmas presents even form an integral part of Blofeld’s masterplan (a masterplan as preposterous as the best of the Bond franchise).
We hear Christmas music in the background as two henchmen are sent tumbling over a cliff to their brutal and untimely (but still very festive) deaths.
There’s a very much a Christmas carnival air about the alpine town that Bond hides out in on escaping Blofeld’s clutches – indeed it’s rather reminiscent of a those German Christmas markets that pop in all the major towns and cities at this time of year.
In all just under half the events of the film appear to be set at Christmas time and much of the major action takes place against a snow covered backdrop. Definitely a Christmas(ish) film in my book.