Bright Lights Film Journal

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Re-Viewing a Bond Masterwork

“We have all the time in the world”

A cult audience was [. . .] recruited when the National Film Theatre ran a season of Bond films in 1980. Of all the films shown, George Lazenby’s performance as Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the least successful Bond film in commercial terms, was the only one to be singled out for special appreciation: it received a standing ovation as the audience applauded itself from having “seen” what the mass audiences had “missed.”
– Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott, Bond and Beyond1

Apparently – despite the popularity of the franchise – many still overlook one of the greatest Bond films ever made. Thus I find myself compelled to highlight and defend one of the definitive cult films, one thus far neglected from critical thought. This essay is an attempt to uncover the depths of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the last James Bond film of the 1960s, and the first (and only) in this period not to star Sean Connery. I wish to open up possible directions for reading the film as a way to offer an appreciation for its attention and thought, with particular consideration to its timing and its genre uniqueness as a Bond Film. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service typifies the Bond film by resisting the typical Bond film – it is its own distinctive Bond film; but, by standing so distinctly apart, it also punctures its own text, bringing into relief within it every Bond film. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service co-exists with the other Bond films, but it also serves as a disruption of the “Bond Film” formula.

In Barthesian terms (not necessary, but fun), what On Her Majesty’s Secret Service arouses within me is “what I add to the [Bond Film] and what is nonetheless already there.2 I hope to articulate what has triggered my interest in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and what has overwhelmed my love of the Bond Film as a generic convention. Through a series of close readings of particular moments, I hope not to offer a definitive reading of the film, but rather to reveal the many potential openings and lines of flight the film offers for fans and critics to explore its themes and ideas further. Perhaps these musings will help bring such a unique film further into public consciousness, as more than just “that George Lazenby Bond film.” So, mostly, this essay is a response to any suggestion – such as the one stated above – that only self-important cultists could or would want to appreciate On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And even if that does remain the case, I am content to live with my unique appreciation for the film, a movie which is quite stunning, quite provocative, and quite unforgettable. In what is, I suppose, an inadvertent attempt to “applaud [my]self,” I hope to show here the possibilities for what others may have “missed” in the film, for I believe these qualities – outlined below – to be considerable.

“UNIVERSAL EXPORTS”

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service opens like the typical Bond film – the gun barrel surveying the white landscape, finding its target. John Barry’s legendary score (or was it Monty Norman’s?3) plays again. Bond, as expected, as though in a constant state of repetition, turns to fire at his audience. In post-Freudian terms (not nearly as fun as Barthes), he is object of the gaze only to the extent that he can overpower it. Red drips down and engulfs the screen – we cannot see Bond outside the lens of his violence. Cut to: the first shot of the film proper. We see the sign “UNIVERSAL EXPORTS / (LONDON) LTD” outside the building where Bond works – the cover corporation for “Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” But of course, it does not say “Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” just as the film itself really isn’t On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond must threaten to quit his agency, and eventually agrees to two weeks leave, before he is allowed to fulfill the film’s premise (a premise, we find out later, that remains unfulfilled) – hunt down and kill the definitive Bond Villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (anyone who would deny the power of Blofeld’s mystique – and his cat – would do well just to consult Dr. Evil). The first shot of the film is a lie, just like the title itself. Her Majesty both is and is not there, in the “UNIVERSAL EXPORTS.” “James Bond,” of course, is a Universal Export – perhaps, in the 1960s, Britain’s key universal export. The parenthetical “(LONDON)” on the plaque – the “LimiTeD” parenthetical aside beneath the main phrase – suggests that his specific point of origin is only secondary to his international appeal. “He is from London (by the way), but he is first and foremost a Universal star.” Drawing to a close by this time, the 1960s offered Bond his biggest stature as an international phenomenon. The box-office success enjoyed by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan in the decades to follow still pales in comparison to the Titanic-like cultural explosion previously set in motion by Dr. No (1962), Goldfinger (1964), and Thunderball (1965). Bond is the export universally accepted.

“(LONDON) LTD”

I am drawn, though, beyond the sign, too – more precisely, to behind the sign – the metal of the plaque reflects double-decker buses and Big Ben – the two cinematic clichés of “London” – behind the ” (LONDON) LTD” engraved on the plaque, as though “LONDON (LTD)” is not “London” enough to establish London as the setting of the film, or as the origin of Bond. Reflected too is the film’s director, Peter Hunt, who is in the scene and walks past the sign. The director may wish to position the film as a reflection of himself, but it is he, not the film, that is reflected. He is an insignificant bystander here. His reflection positions him as both inside and outside the film. The film is as much his as he is the film’s. As for the text itself, he can only walk by. He is another parenthetical aside, “LTD.” to a reflection.

“Radioactive lint”

Finally, we cut inside the Universal Exports building. We are confronted and comforted by the staples of the Bond Film. His boss, M (Bernard Lee), appears in his office, awaiting word of Bond’s whereabouts. Lee’s face evokes not only the backbone of the Bond films in the 1960s and 1970s, but also that other distinctively British tale of international espionage and intrigue, The Third Man (1949), in which he played a prominent role. M, meanwhile, is accompanied in his office by Q (played by the greatest Bond Film constant of all, Desmond Llewelyn), the source of Bond’s gadgets, including Goldfinger‘s Aston Martin DB5 and You Only Live Twice‘s mini-helicopter. But Q’s presence here is both sincere and ironic – he appears to assure Bond fans that nothing has changed (only the actor playing Bond), but he also tries to sell M on the idea of using “radioactive lint” as a means of getting a “location fix” on individuals out in the field. The absurdity of radioactive lint – the only “gadget” Q introduces in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – heightens the absurdity of most gadgets in the Bond Film, like the laughable tiny, pen-sized airtank that sustains Bond under water for several minutes in Thunderball. (Classic Bond anecdote – “How long can you last under water with that thing?” British naval officers supposedly asked Thunderball producers, in a moment of genuine awe and suspension of disbelief. “Well,” they responded, “How long can you hold your breath?”). The famous Bond gadgets stand out so prominently in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service precisely because they are so irrelevant here, reduced to radioactive lint. M does not care about radioactive lint; he wants a “location fix” instead on 007. A “location fix” on 007 is absolutely necessary in the wake of Connery’s departure. And, is it of any importance here that M first refers to Bond not as a name but as a number? As one agent among many, 007’s place with Her Majesty’s Secret Service is secure between 006 and 008, regardless of the name that fills the role of that number – as in, the difference between “James Bond” and some other British agent is secondary to 007 in the way that the difference between “Sean Connery” and “George Lazenby” is secondary to the role they fill on the screen. M also refers to 0010 in the same sentence as 007 – names here are clearly deemphasized (in a scene, of course, featuring “Q” and “M”). 007 first and foremost works for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, not for James Bond, and it is only by leaving the secret service that he can fulfill James Bond’s personal mission of finding Blofeld. M’s inquiring, meanwhile, leads him to page another staple of the Bond Film, Miss Moneypenny – “same old Moneypenny” (played by Lois Maxwell, who is surpassed only by Llewelyn in number of film appearances). In these opening moments, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service stands apart from the Bond Film by so prominently foregrounding all the standard Bond Film background figures in place of Bond.

“Bond . . . James Bond”

Cut to: Bond’s sports car, speeding off in some street and some corner in some randomly European town. Monaco, perhaps. How do we know Bond is driving? Because Barry’s score plays up to encode it. It is Bond’s theme, no one else’s. These stereotypes of Bond continue through this scene. Bond drives quickly and violently on a road by a steep cliff. His vehicle is approached by a beautiful woman in a red car. She honks for him to move, before passing him. He begins to speed up, momentarily, but she is too far ahead of him. He slows down and concedes. This moment quotes a driving scene in Goldfinger, where Bond is hassled by a beautiful young woman along a steep cliff in the Alps. The difference, however, is that in the earlier film Bond slashes her tires when she tries to pass with one of the gadgets in his DB5, then pretends to be coming to her rescue after she pulls over. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, however, Bond is beaten. Thus, Bond has met his match – a woman not afraid to bully him and beat him at his own game – driving. All of this, meanwhile, is classic Bond – fast cars, thrilling music, attractive women, and danger – without, ironically, Bond, whose face we’ve yet to see.

As Bond slows down, he goes to light a cigarette – another Bond motif. The film zooms in on his mouth as the cigarette is lit, so that his face is not yet revealed. The music continues. The perfect mise-en-scene orchestration of Bond’s lighting of the cigarette with the James Bond theme playing on the soundtrack is so precise as to suggest that this Bond is in fact more “James Bond” than James Bond himself – hyperreal Bond. The opening of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service marks the iconography of James Bond; this opening also marks the void of James Bond. Not only have we yet to see his face, but the whole opening of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – M, Q, Moneypenny, the cars, the women, the cigarettes – is more Bond than Bond. At this point, one is tempted to say that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is almost too typical of the Bond Film. Because all the staples of the Bond franchise fall in line, something is clearly out of place here.

A chin, perhaps? It is the chin that pricks my interest here. We see the close-up of the lit cigarette and Bond’s chin. There is a deep cleft in the chin – a deep fissure that one may not even catch the first or second time, but it is there. It declares, subtly, perhaps, that this is not Sean Connery – this is not quite James Bond. But it is James Bond. It’s a cleft that is arguably the most distinctive feature on George Lazenby’s face. Perhaps the intended or unintended inclusion of the cleft in the close-up of the mouth serves to prepare us for the first traumatic moment of Lazenby’s face, which will appear in another couple of minutes, when he will declare and authenticate himself as – yes – “Bond. James Bond,” echoing that first uttering by Sean Connery, which also authenticated the first full frame of his face in Dr. No. But Lazenby’s chin prepares us for the moment when we do finally see his whole face, and we are drawn again to that cleft – not only because it is so bloody distinctive, but because we’ve seen it before – just a few minutes earlier – and it comforts us in a moment when the shock of the new James Bond, all of him, is just too much to otherwise bear.

Then there is the bowler hat he wears while driving in the car. Even though we can’t see Bond, we can see his silhouette from behind. That bowler hat catches me, too. Not because it’s a Bond staple, but because it really isn’t. Yes, Bond always wore it while he’s walking across the screen and turns to fire at his gaze, but that’s about it. Connery may have worn it on some occasions, such as in From Russia with Love, but not often. Yet this Bond has it on his head, as though to authenticate a Bond that didn’t necessarily exist. Then he takes off his sunglasses and places it on the passenger seat, next to a book. What is the significance of that? Why would the film make a point of showing a close-up of sunglasses and an open book, which isn’t even readable? This moment captures my attention – like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – mostly because it seems so irresolvable, so unexplainable, so out of place with what surrounds it on both sides. Is it a book of maps? It also appears so. I’d like to think that this points us to a point – James Bond using a map. A man defined by endless, spectacular car chases through elaborate, complicated foreign cities, who can’t possibly know his way around that well, but who never stops in the middle of the action for directions or to check a map. Of course, his DB5 in Goldfinger had something of a map (a tracking device actually) already installed in it, but this is a new James Bond – a gadgetless James Bond who is going to have to be content – we just learned – with radioactive lint. I’d like to think that this is the new James Bond – a man unafraid to double-check his directions. But then again, I don’t know for sure that it is a book of maps – but it sure looks like it.

When Bond finally catches up to the woman, the woman we know will play a prominent figure in the film, he stops at a distance and watches her through his rifle scope. We cut to his point-of-view. We see that Bond has, literally, got her in his sights, complete with crosshairs. This shot, of course, echoes the first shot of the film, though – in contrast to Bond – she is unaware, and unable to fire back. She is the object, to be sure, of his gaze, if one chooses to use such a term. She is also, by implication of the rifle scope, the object of his violence. He will not verbally or physically hurt her over the course of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But this woman, Tracy, as we will uncover two hours later, awaits a horribly violent encounter – more horrifying, heartbreaking than that of any Bond girl before or since. It will not be an act of violence brought on by James Bond, but it will be a direct result of the everyday danger he himself will eventually bring into her life. This shot, meanwhile, of Tracy in Bond’s crosshairs, foreshadows that he will, in some respects and despite his great affection for her, end up being responsible for her death. The rifle scope evokes the violence his life will bring to her. This is, of course, ironic given that, a few seconds later, they meet because Bond intervenes with her suicide attempt, in a move that is at least more sincere than Bond’s “rescue” in Goldfinger above.

“This never happened to the other fellow”

As if this rescue was not sufficient to establish the link between the two of them, two anonymous gunmen show up out of nowhere to take Tracy away and kill Bond. Needless to say, Bond finds a way to defeat both of them. After this sequence, Bond turns to Tracy, almost certainly expecting some form of gratitude. But she is again gone. She has run away and sped off in her car. In comfort, he holds her shoes that she left behind – as though in a twisting of the Cinderella myth – and watches in shock. He turns, not quite to the camera but dangerously close, after he remarks to himself (and to us): “This never happened to the other fellow.”

The film is thus punctured in one of several moments of blatant intertextuality. The text pushes us outside itself by dragging us further in, asking us to join in on the silliness of such a statement. Yes, Sean Connery always got the girl. This is – no doubt – played for a laugh. But why would we laugh? We recognize the reference, of course, but there is more. Do we laugh because we agree that Connery would always get the girl, and thus we know that nobody, not even Lazenby, could live up to his predecessor? Do we laugh because it is a laughably absurd thing to say in the middle of a (relatively) serious narrative? Or do we laugh because we need to release the tension? George Lazenby is the new James Bond, and we don’t yet know how he’ll handle it, and we are nervous as a result. Or, if we come to the film already knowing – as we do today – that this was his only Bond film, that this was Lazenby’s only shot (even Timothy Dalton got one sequel), and therefore, we know already he must have failed, must have somehow been inadequate as James Bond, we are perhaps nervous of that moment we fear is coming when we say to ourselves, “yeah, he wasn’t any good.”

But that moment doesn’t come; it never comes, except at the end, when we say he wasn’t really all that bad. No Connery, perhaps, but we weren’t expecting another Connery. Jeremy Black points out the obvious – Lazenby is “an actor who failed to match, let alone supplant, Connery.”4 Black misses the equally obvious – Lazenby isn’t trying to match or supplant Connery; he mentions the “other fellow,” but it is Lazenby who really is the “other fellow” (i.e., not Connery), and acknowledges as much. We have conceded, even in 2005, that Connery will always be Bond and vice versa. Perhaps, we are tempted to laugh because we are released from that tension. We can relax because Lazenby won’t bomb as Bond, and though he won’t be Connery – not with that chin – we don’t really expect him to be Connery, either. Just like today, when we don’t expect Brosnan to be Connery, either.

But there is more than a laugh. That this never happened to the other guy evokes more. What else “never happened to the other fellow”? Only one film as Bond? A pre-credit sequence that doesn’t feature some defining, spectacular stunt? A spectacular explosion? A pre-credit sequence as much about his bosses and their secretary as about him? How about a pre-credit sequence with as much screen time devoted to his chin as to his face? How about a pre-credit sequence that is most definable and distinctive not because of anything about Bond’s presence in particular, but because of his notable absence? All of these firsts are true. All around, this is a pre-credit sequence – one of the hallmarks of the Bond film – that indeed “never happened to the other fellow.” And that he didn’t get the girl, either, foreshadows the end of the film. For the first time in a Bond film, Bond won’t get the girl. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the type of Bond film that never has happened, nor would ever happen, to any of the other fellows.

Mrs. Bond

It does not require much here to draw out that Tracy is the definitive Bond Girl. That much should be obvious – she is, after all, Mrs. Bond, and thus as much not a Bond girl and she is a Bond girl. She is also played by Ms. Emma Peel, Diana Rigg, and thus immediately comes into the film always already as big as Bond. Moreover, this casting decision was “largely occasioned by Eon Production’s nervousness over George Lazenby’s replacement of Sean Connery in the role of Bond.”5 So, in that sense, she is a Bond girl who is always already bigger than Bond. Through the act of marriage, of course, she drops the title of Bond girl, punctures the fabric of the Bond Film by briefly negating the existence of a Bond girl and removing the bachelor status from the quintessential ’60s cinematic bachelor. But she isn’t merely his wife, she is his equal. She beats him at his own game of racing, passing him easily by, and – in some respects – Bond never catches up. He is always carrying her shoes and chasing behind – that is, always carrying the trace of her – until the end of the film, when he is still ultimately alone. If I could point to one Bond moment in particular – it is Tracy who saves Bond as much as the other way around. About halfway into the film, Bond escapes Blofeld’s mountain fortress and descends to the crowded village below, trailed by the villain’s henchmen. Bond gets lost in the crowd, but cannot find a way out of the village, Blofeld’s men all around him. He goes to the skating rink, deeper into the crowd, before finally sitting down in a moment of resignation. Bond curls into himself. He brushes up the collar of his jacket to hide his face. He can neither talk nor seduce nor shoot nor drive his way out of trouble – he is beaten, awaiting his inevitable recapture. I can think of a million incredible escapes that Bond performs in the Bond Film, but it is this moment that strikes me exactly because he cannot escape, not on his own. As he stares down at the ice, two legs skate into his line of vision. To be sure, it is the Bond Girl as object again, introduced as a pair of legs. Bond looks up and sees Tracy. She smiles at Bond, and he realizes she is his only hope. It is difficult to imagine what emotion strikes Bond more here – the joy of seeing her again after a long absence or the joy of his escape. In any case, she provides him with a car and drives Bond out of trouble, at least for the night. The escape is not that easy, of course – they are chased, and eventually end up in the middle of a demolition derby (which strikes me, certainly, as an ironic – maybe even, literalizing – take on the Bond car chase). But, eventually, Tracy’s driving, just as in the beginning of the film, wins out. She even demands a thank-you.

This, I think, is why Tracy strikes me as the definitive Bond Girl. We can talk of wedding rings and murder, and perhaps get just as far – but this is the Tracy I always think of, the Tracy that saves Bond, the Tracy that becomes the object only insofar as she represents not his object of desire but of necessity, the Tracy that towers over him in his most humbled, defeated, vulnerable moment, in any Bond Film. It is that image of Tracy, Bond’s point of view as he looks up and sees her for the first time since they said goodbye much earlier in the film, sees the glow of her appearance and the promise of the hope she once meant to him – it is that image that I always expected, I like to think (of course), was the one that haunted a grieving Bond in his sleep, long after she was gone to him – that glow, that smile – the way we think of a past love in their most perfect moment, that most illuminated image, long after they’re gone.

A second beginning –

The beginning of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – like all Bond films – carries particular potency as a microcosm for the entire film in part because there are two openings – the pre-credit sequence reviewed above, which introduces Lazenby and Tracy, and the credit sequence that follows Lazenby’s self-reflexive declaration (and prediction of the fate that lies ahead of him). Moreover, the credit sequence – perhaps an easier sequence to read metaphorically because it is so blatantly abstract – turns against the pre-credit sequence. If the opening was to establish Lazenby as the new Bond, to establish him as the “other fellow,” the credit sequence serves as a memorial for the Connery Bond, for the ’60s Bond. After Lazenby runs into the position of the camera at the end of the earlier sequence, the camera does a reverse cut into the credit sequence. Lazenby, who was running toward the camera, commanding attention as the New Bond, is just as quickly running away from the camera – now a black outline against a blue backdrop (and still chasing Tracy). Just as quickly as Lazenby had come to lay claim to being Bond, he is now running away from the responsibility. Perhaps this reminds one of the narrative and thematic audacities of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which leave the new actor humbled and humiliated by the end of the film, and thus replaced by Connery again in the next Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Lazenby is also running into and then past a giant hourglass, draining sand from top to bottom. It would seem to be Lazenby again, asking us to move on, to accept the passage of time. As Lazenby runs off screen right, the hourglass takes center stage. It is now the British Union Jack draining through the hourglass. Could it be another reminder – like the double-decker buses and Big Ben – of the very British British secret agent? Could it be the passage of the Union Jack to time as well – that is, Bond as an increasingly universal (thus increasingly less British) film phenomenon? There’s also the passage of Connery to Lazenby – that is, of the Scottish actor to the Aussie one. The Union Jack is passing in time here in part because it is no longer a citizen of the United Kingdom – no longer Her Majesty‘s royal subject – playing the part of Bond.

“We have all the time in the world”

And then the hourglass remains – even after the introduction of the film’s title – clearly the central motif of the sequence. It slides over and exits screen left as a second hourglass returns to the center. Simultaneously, the face of a clock drifts into the frame – Lazenby is hanging onto the minute hand as it drops down past the nine and to the six. It is an evocation of Harold Lloyd – it is also time moving backwards. If there is one thing one can say with some certainty about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – if there is a fairly stable reading for me to impose onto the film itself – it is that this Bond movie is always foregrounding time – “We Have All the Time in the World,” Louis Armstrong sings later in the film. “We have all the time in the world,” Bond says to Teresa shortly after their marriage. And then, “it’s quite alright,” Bond tells the police officer at the end of the film, while holding his dead wife’s head in his lap, “we have all the time in the world.” In part by the reversal of the clock, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is also attempting to reverse time. It has “all the time in the world” precisely because the film is attempting to negate time, to live forever in the ’60s.

“I suspect they’re trying to kill me.”

In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “the producers felt it necessary to refer to and attempt to ‘send up’ the Connery performance.”6 Soon images are draining down the hourglass, images from Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice. Needless to say, they are images of Bond women and Bond villains – they are not of Bond himself. Suddenly, it is Connery who is evoked by the mere presence of his absence. Later in the film, after Bond returns to the Universal Exports, the cycle of these memories will return. Lazenby, thinking he just quit, goes to Bond’s office and cleans out his desk. (How bizarre, too? Bond apparently has his own office; not bad for a field agent. Apparently, these things never did happen to the other fellow, but then again, the other fellow didn’t have his own office.) While cleaning out his desk, Lazenby very conveniently pulls out all the famous devices of the earlier Bond films – Honey Rider’s knife in Dr. No, Grant’s killer watch from From Russia with Love, and the infamous air tank from Thunderball. (Would it serve any useful purpose here to point out the absurdity that Bond just happens to keep the all these things in his desk?) Like the credit sequence, these moments suggest the memorializing of the ’60s Bond even with the erasure of Connery. This latter sequence even goes one step further – by having Lazenby recall Bond’s fondest memories, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service asks the audience not only to accept Lazenby as the new Bond, but also accept the implied revision that Lazenby, not Connery, was in the earlier films. It is more than an attempt to authenticate Lazenby as the successor to Connery; it is an attempt to have Lazenby replace Connery from the beginning. In the film’s attempt to move the franchise beyond Connery, to “refer to and attempt to send up [his] performance,” the film comes dangerously close to negating Connery. The credit sequence evokes warm memories of the earlier Bond, but also – by default – suggests that Connery was not integral to the success of the films.

The Bond Memorial

While On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is attempting to position the past Bond films as passing through the hourglass – foregrounding the ’60s Bond as coming and going – and thus attempting presumably to clean the slate for another era of Bond movies, the film is also foregrounding the memorialization of the ’60s Bond. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service officially marks the passing of the ’60s Bond by holding onto, and preserving the images and mementoes from, Bond’s past journey. The film wants Bond to always be going backwards on the clock – to insure the continued success of Bond, sure, but also to repeat it. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service marks the end of the ’60s by asking us to look over it once again, and again, and again. In this film, Bond is always trying to manipulate time. For much of the film, Bond impersonates a genealogist to infiltrate Blofeld’s lair. The job of a genealogist, of course, is to document the history of a family name, to reconstruct the family tree, just as it is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘s job to document the history of Bond. Yet Bond fails as the genealogist in a key plot point – he is revealed as a fake by Blofeld in part because Bond does not know the historical facts a genealogist clearly would. Moreover, when Bond meets his future father-in-law, he playfully throws a knife past the elder’s head and impales it on a calendar on the wall. The knife lands directly on the fourteenth. “But,” the man notes, “today is the thirteenth.” “I’m superstitious,” responds Bond. Here again, he attempts to distort time. To present something temporal that is not. Even after his wife dies, Bond still insists that they have all the time in the world. They still have time, despite her death. Time is something that Bond and the film obsess over, perhaps because they know all too well how easily it slips away. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is trying to go back and replicate the success of Goldfinger; Lazenby is trying to go back and replicate the success of Connery. They hold on so tightly because Bond lost Connery, and Lazenby lost his wife. Both the actor and the franchise must have all the time in the world, and if they cannot, they will attempt to turn back the clock. The act of documentation, the act of memorialization, is an attempt not merely to preserve time but to stop it.

“Always Historicize!”

So why is time so important to this film? Connery’s nostalgic absence, of course. Yet, if the show must go on, why constantly return to the first act? By cinematically presenting the legacy of Connery – the legacy of the ’60s Bond – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is also preserving it, and by preserving it, the film demands we go over it again and again, returning to it again and again. The film stops the Bond franchise – asks it not to go on, as the ending will also perhaps reveal. But, if the film is stopping time (attempting to stop, anyway, which is all one could ever expect), is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service also attempting to historicize itself? Does the film – by reifying the ’60s Bond as its own concealed, hermetically sealed franchise – also reify its time period? If we are meant to constantly relive the ’60s Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, perhaps we are also asked to constantly relive the ’60s. Fredric Jameson famously demands that we “always historicize,”7 and if others can evoke Freud, perhaps I can momentarily evoke The Political Unconscious (which is really just another way to think of dreams):

To imagine that, sheltered from the omnipresence of history and the implacable influence of the social, there already exists a realm of freedom [. . .] is only to strengthen the grip of Necessity over all such blind zones in which the individual subject seeks refuge, in pursuit of a purely individual, a merely psychological, project of salvation. The only effective liberation from such a constraint begins with the recognition that there is nothing that is not social and historical – indeed, that everything is “in the last analysis” political.8

If we think of the ’60s, is it too clichéd to think of Vietnam? I do not offer an in-depth historical reading of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service here. That would be antithetical to the project I outlined at the beginning. Suffice it to say that every time I watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, every time I arrive at the darkness, the mean-spiritedness, the finality of death (which can only be replayed but never negated), which awaits the viewer at the end of the film, and thus haunts the entire film, haunts the timing of the movie, I cannot also help but think that this is the “End of the Sixties.” This is, so far as I know, the end of innocence – for Bond, too, it seems. Can I move outside the fact that this film was made at the end of 1968 and into 1969? That is, just after the assassinations of Kennedy and King, and during the Tet Offensive – the moment when the Vietnam War permanently changed, when – by all accounts – America gave up on the hope of Camelot and success in Southeast Asia and has never looked back. I cannot get outside this in the film. It may be too easy to say that the Bond films turned dark when the Sixties turned dark, but that nonetheless seems to be what happened.

Marital “Bliss”

So Bond rescues the girl; Bond marries the girl. It is a traumatic shock, which invigorates the entire franchise. It may be a bliss moment, if only momentarily. In Pleasure of the Text, Roland Barthes describes bliss as that moment just beyond pleasure, that first moment when we joyously encounter something we’ve never encountered before:

Text of bliss: that text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts (perhaps to the point of a certain boredom), unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with language.9

These moments may have once brought me to bliss, but to speak of “bliss” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is to negate it, to reduce it to my words, when the enjoyment exists only outside this essay, in that moment when the power of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service first hit me. But, of course, I cannot go back to that first moment, and so I must revisit the film, over and over again, just as the reverse clock demands that I do. Yet I hope to relive that moment of bliss, nonetheless, because I am he who “enjoys the consistency of his selfhood (that is his pleasure) and seek its loss (that is his bliss).”10 I enjoy the “Bond Film” only insofar as it loses itself, and thus I go back to George Lazenby.

And so I go back to the wedding and the murder, the two inconceivable Bond moments that anchor the inconceivable (and thus, irreplaceable, even definitive) Bond Film – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I go back to that moment when a defeated Bond holds the head of his dead wife in his lap, as their honeymoon car sits on a cliff that evokes the cliff upon which they first met. When he buries his face in her hair and bridal gown, I am reminded of the vulnerable moment when he buried his head in his own jacket, then unknowingly awaiting Tracy’s rescue. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service thus offers two powerful moments of a Bond not merely trapped or contained but defeated. He has lost. And, unlike that earlier moment of vulnerability, no one will arrive this time to relieve him of the pain. He is alone. The film ends then with a wounded, humiliated, ineffective James Bond – he couldn’t save the girl, even with “all the time in the world.” So the film cuts away from him – there’s nothing left to look at but grief. And the final image of the film – the bullet hole in the windshield – serves as a bookend to the opening “shot” of the film. Usually Bond shoots at the screen – and that’s that. The audience receives the thrill of repetition and reassurance offered by that iconic moment. But the wounded screen that closes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service reminds us that sometimes there are consequences to Bond’s actions. That sometimes the violence of the Bond Film is permanent. The bullet that went through the windshield went through Tracy’s skull. Bond’s violence is thus Tracy’s. Bond’s violence does kill, does produce loss.

“James Bond Will Return in Diamonds Are Forever”

Blofeld wins, again, and leads the execution of Bond’s wife to boot. Bond’s rifle scope fulfills the task it was born to fulfill – mark another for death. Blofeld is of course not killed. The Bond villain wins in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Another bliss moment? The conquering of Bond. He cannot simply turn and shoot the camera, to make the gaze go away. The bullet hole in the car window, the mark of his dead wife, serves as a bookend to the opening “shot” of the film – blood congealing in the gun barrel. Bond can fire back at those who gaze upon him, but he will not bring back his wife – he will only puncture and tear the screen. He must accept his fate, at least until the next film, when Connery returns to supplant Lazenby (was it all just a dream? His? Ours?) and reassert Bond’s rightful place as victor. But even this is complicated by Blofeld, always, always, Blofeld. When Blofeld returns again – along with Connery – in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), it is Blofeld who attempts to last forever – he is cloned repeatedly, perhaps ad infinitum, as though the latter film understands the importance of Blofeld, and playfully highlights his franchise reincarnation in the form of no less than four different actors in five different films (Anthony Dawson, Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, Charles Gray). Does it even matter that the actor who plays Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever was the same guy who played a completely different role in You Only Live Twice, the first of the Blofeld Trilogy? Does it even matter that the actor who played Blofeld in From Russia with Love and Thunderball also played a different villain in Dr. No? Does it even matter that Savalas is the only American actor to play the distinctly European Blofeld? Does it even matter in Diamonds Are Forever that Blofeld suddenly has hair? Blofeld is the objet that sustains the Bond franchise of the 1960s – he is always there, the villain who commands all villains, in From Russia with Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond may have broken Blofeld’s neck at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but he cannot die. To die means to cast the whole franchise into chaos – to deny Bond his true desire. And, I am tempted to add, when Bond does finally kill the last of the Blofelds at the end of Diamonds Are Forever, Bond kills his own franchise as he knew it. Diamonds Are Forever is not only the last appearance of Blofeld but the last appearance of Sean Connery, as though they both leave together, knowing they are inextricably linked in the films, one with the other. Sure, Connery returned in Never Say Never Again, but that film was outside the “official” Bond franchise – outside the “Cubby Broccoli” franchise – an attempt by others with the rights to one Bond novel to copy the success of the franchise. But, of course, the “validity” of Never Say Never Again is a false debate. What matters is that Never Say Never Again is a remake. A remake of Thunderball, no less. Thus, even attempts to extend the ’60s Bond to the 1980s, to extend the persona life of Connery, to offer an alternative to 1983’s Octopussy (thus – one could say – to deconstruct the Master Narrative encoded in the Roger Moore continuation of the 1960s and 1970s Bond), is really just an attempt at returning to and preserving the ’60s – to replay the ’60s Bond over and over again (the stunt casting of Connery suggests nothing less). Never Say Never Again is a concession of the need to prolong yet again the final confrontation with Blofeld, for it is the prolonging that is desired – not the confrontation, at least not the final confrontation. Once Blofeld is killed, the ’60s Bond (Connery, that is) has no purpose to his life. The definitive Bond Film – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – understood this. Blofeld must survive (even let him triumph once in a while); he must always be there for Bond. Blofeld, Bond says in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “is something of a must for me.” Blofeld is “something,” a something that transcends any one actor; he must remain a “must.” And thus it is more important for Bond’s wife to die than for Blofeld to. If, as Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott suggest, the death of Tracy “return[s] Bond to the centre of a promised romance in the next film,”11 then I would add that it is the romance of Blofeld he returns to more than anyone else. Bond’s marriage can be a ruse, just like Lazenby’s single performance – a distraction from the serious business of (forever) chasing Blofeld. But a new decade means a new villain and a new Bond. Roger Moore will arrive and puncture the franchise yet again. But it’s the old chase that draws me back – the ending cycle of Bond and Blofeld, Blofeld and Bond, throughout the ’60s (is it of note that Dr. Evil evokes both Dr. No and Blofeld – that his persona constantly oscillates between the two, never quite fully embodying either yet always recalling both? Dr. No and Blofeld, of course, are the beginning [Dr. No] and the end [the Blofeld Trilogy] of the ’60s Bond. Dr. Evil, thus, is always hovering within the ’60s). Even when the Bond Film doesn’t quite work at moments throughout the ’60s, it is still Bond and Blofeld chasing one another, completing their symbiotic relationship – a relation that reaches its most perfect point at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They have chased one another, they have wounded one another, and – most importantly – they promise to engage yet again.

That fractured screen again – the impotence of Bond shooting at the screen (undaunted, Blofeld continues to have him in his sights) – Caption – “James Bond will return in Diamonds Are Forever” – Forever.

  1. Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott, Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero (New York: Methuen, 1987), 260. []
  2. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 55. []
  3. Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall say who wrote the famous Bond theme is “still being debated” – Pfeiffer and Worrall, The Essential Bond (New York: Harper, 1998), 20. []
  4. Jeremy Black, The Politics of James Bond: From Fleming’s Novels to the Big Screen (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001), 124. []
  5. Bennett and Woollacott, 197. []
  6. Ibid, 159. []
  7. Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially-Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1981), 9. []
  8. Ibid, 20. []
  9. Barthes, Roland, The Pleasure of the Text trans. by Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975), 14. []
  10. Ibid. []
  11. Bennett and Woollacott, 228. []