Book Review – THE MAKING OF ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (2009) by Charles Helfenstein

THE MAKING OF ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (2009) *****
by Charles Helfenstein
Published by Spies LLC, 18 December 2009, 292pp
© Charles Helfenstein, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-9844126-0-0

Blurb: Step back in time to the late 1960s, when Sean Connery resigned from playing James Bond, producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli decided to gamble and doubled down with an untested director and an unknown star and came up with the crown jewels: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Based on years of research, hundreds of interviews, and exclusive access to the archives of author Ian Fleming, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, and director Peter Hunt, this inside look features never-before-published script details, storyboards, production documents, interviews, memos, marketing material, call sheets, and hundreds of rare, behind-the-scenes photographs of the cast and crew, including sequences and entire sets not seen in the film. From novel to script to screen, this book details the incredible journey of making the most unique entry in the James Bond film series, the longest running, most successful film franchise in history. This is not the white-washed “authorized” story, but the real story.

Comment: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is unique in many ways in the James Bond movie canon. It was the first film in which the part of Bond was recast – Sean Connery having bowed out after five films with Australian model George Lazenby taking over; it would prove to be Lazenby’s one and only performance as Bond; it would be Peter Hunt’s one and only film as director; it would be the only film in which Bond has a serious relationship and gets married. Released at the very end of the 1960s, there were rumblings that Bond may no longer be in vogue as the late 60s cultural revolution pushed cinema audiences to young and hip movies like Easy Rider. These factors led to the film getting a mixed reaction from critics and audiences. Another factor was that the Connery Bonds had become bigger and bigger and more outlandish and OHMSS was a back to basics approach, eschewing the gadgets and became the closest adaptation of one of Ian Fleming’s source novels in the series (director Hunt would always have a copy of the book with him during filming). The film, as well as Lazenby’s performance, has been re-assessed over the years and is now regarded as one of the very best in the series. Charles Helfenstein’s account of the making of OHMSS is an outstanding piece of research taking us from the novel to the scripting process to pre-production to casting to production to post-production and marketing to release and critical reception. It makes for a fascinating journey and tells the story of a director with a determined vision, a new star who was something of a maverick and a production team that put itself on the line to produce the best possible output. Helfenstein has drawn on his own interviews with cast and crew as well as archived information. The book is also packed with production photographs, trade ads, posters, lobby cards and details of marketing products. There is some detailed analysis of the various screenplays developed over a period of five years, including false starts. There is also detail of initial outlines for Diamonds Are Forever, written before Lazenby decided to withdraw from future Bonds. The result is a book that is a must for Bond fans and any movie scholar.

Film Review – THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: THE FIFTEEN YEARS LATER AFFAIR (1983)

THE RETURN OF THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: THE FIFTEEN YEARS LATER AFFAIR (TV) (1983, USA) **½
Action, Crime, Thriller
dist. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS); pr co. Richard Sloan Productions / Viacom Productions; d. Ray Austin; w. Michael Sloan (based on the TV series created by Sam Rolfe); exec pr. Michael Sloan; pr. Nigel Watts; ph. Fred J. Koenekamp (DeLuxe. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1); m. Gerald Fried; th m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. George Jay Nicholson; ad. Herman F. Zimmerman; set d. Charles Pierce; cos. Robert B. Harris, Barbara Siebert; m/up. Mike Moschella, Jean Austin; sd. Dale Johnson, William Randall, Jim Cook (Mono (Glen Glenn Sound)); sfx. Cliff Wenger; st. Ben Jensen; rel. 5 April 1983 (USA), 21 April 1984 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 96m.

cast: Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo), David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin), Patrick Macnee (Sir John Raleigh), Tom Mason (Benjamin Kowalski), Gayle Hunnicutt (Andrea Markovitch), Geoffrey Lewis (Janus), Anthony Zerbe (Justin Sepheran), Keenan Wynn (Piers Castillian), Simon Williams (Nigel Pennington-Smythe), John Harkins (Alexi Kemp), Jan Tríska (Vaselievich), Susan Woollen (Janice Friday), Carolyn Seymour (Actress), George Lazenby (J.B.), Judith Chapman (Z-65), Dick Durock (Guiedo), Lois De Banzie (Delquist), Randi Brooks (The Model), Jack Somack (The Tailor), Eddie Baker (Salesman).

The criminal organization THRUSH steals the A-bomb H957 and demands $350,000,000 to be delivered within 72 hours by their former antagonist Solo. So U.N.C.L.E. has to reactivate the super agents Solo (Vaughn) and Kuryakin (McCallum) after they were 15 years out of business. Equipped in the usual 007 fashion they start to seek the villains. This is a reunion with tongue firmly placed in cheek. The movie seems to push more into James Bond territory with its references (including Lazenby’s cameo as “J.B.” driving an Aston Martin DB5) and its big finale (which is well-staged for a TV budget). Vaughn and McCallum slip back easily into their roles and although the film gets off to a fairly ropey and hammy start (notably Hunnicutt’s overly forced Russian accent), it settles down into a slick, but light entertainment. the script is a mix of awful dialogue, in-jokes and knowing winks at the audience. A true guilty pleasure.

Film Review – THE MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975)

THE MAN FROM HONG KONG British Quad poster George LazenbyTHE MAN FROM HONG KONG (Australia/Hong Kong, 1975) **½
      Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox (USA) / Rank Film Distributors (UK); Production Company: Golden Harvest Company / The Movie Company Pty. Ltd.; Release Date: 31 July 1975 (Hong Kong), August 1975 (USA), October 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: began October 1974; Running Time: 111m; Colour: Eastmancolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith; Writer: Brian Trenchard-Smith; Executive Producer: David Hannay, Andre Morgan; Producer: Raymond Chow, John Fraser; Associate Producer: Michael Falloon; Director of Photography: Russell Boyd; Music Composer: Noel Quinlan; Film Editor: Peter Cheung, Ron Williams; Production Designer: David Copping; Art Director: David Copping, Chin Sam; Costumes: Sheng-Hsi Chu, Bruce Finlayson; Make-up: Rina Hofmanis, Yung-Hui Tu; Sound: Shao-Lung Chou, Julian Ellingworth, Peter Fenton, Tomash Pokorry; Special Effects: Dan Tyler, Gary Walker, Li Wing; Visual Effects: Roger Cowland; Stunt Co-ordinator: Peter Armstrong; Martial Arts Choreographer: Sammo Kam-Bo Hung.
      Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu (Inspector Fang Sing Leng), George Lazenby (Jack Wilton), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Morrie Grosse), Roger Ward (Bob Taylor), Rosalind Speirs (Caroline Thorne), Grant Page (Assassin), Rebecca Gilling (Angelica), Frank Thring (Willard), Sammo Kam-Bo Hung (Win Chan (as Hung Kam Po)), Deryck Barnes (Veterinarian), Bill Hunter (Peterson), Ian Jamieson (The Drug Courier), Elaine Wong (Chinese Girl), John Orcsik (Charles), Geoffrey Brown (Thug (as Geoff Brown)), Kevin Broadribb (Thug), Brian Trenchard-Smith (Thug), Peter Armstrong (Bodyguard), Rangi Nikora (Bodyguard), Bob Hicks (Bodyguard).
      Synopsis: Hong Kong cop and martial artist Wang Yu travels to Sydney to extradite a drug dealer, but when the hood is assassinated on his way to court, everyone suspects Lazenby, an untouchable crime lord.
      Comment: In this martial arts action thriller, Wang Yu is a Hong Kong inspector working with the Australian police to bring down local drug lord Lazenby. Plenty of neatly choreographed cartoon-like kung fu action with fantastic stunts and some interesting camerawork liven up the this otherwise thinly plotted and poorly acted tale. Good use of Hong Kong, Ayres Rock and Sydney locations. Theme song “Sky High” became a hit for Jigsaw. Wang Yu was dubbed by Roy Chiao. Originally intended as a vehicle for Bruce Lee. US title: THE DRAGON FLIES.

Film Review – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969; UK; Technicolor; 142m) ∗∗∗∗½  d. Peter R. Hunt; w. Richard Maibaum; ph. Michael Reed; m. John Barry.  Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat, Angela Scoular, Lois Maxwell, Catherine Schell, George Baker, Bernard Lee, Bernard Horsfall, Desmond Llewelyn. James Bond woos a mob boss’s daughter and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Blofeld’s allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world. Savaged on release, this is actually one of the very best Bond films and a great movie in its own right. The story sticks closely to Ian Fleming’s source novel and has more heart than any other in the series. Lazenby may lack Connery’s charisma as Bond but he manages to conjure both a toughness and vulnerability that makes the character more human. Savalas makes an excellent Blofeld, whilst Rigg delivers one of the strongest female lead performances. Gorgeous photography, a classic John Barry score and superbly choreographed action sequences make this close to perfection. [PG]