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Monday, January 24, 2022

50's Family Under Siege


The Family Secret (1951) Has Plenty To Hide

A Santana Picture for Columbia release, one of a handful Humphrey Bogart's company produced, but he did not star in. Columbia had gone deep into business with independents, Variety pointing out extent in 7/25/51 report: "Of about 55 pix slated for release during 1951-52, over 20 will be made by other than the lot's salaried producers." Columbia's deal with most indies was straightforward. The company would supply half of financing and guarantee the other half loaned by banks, for which they'd get half of profits after recovery of investment, plus a distribution fee. Stanley Kramer and Sam Katzman supplied most of A's and B's, respectively, while balance of outside product came from Edward Small, Louis de Rochemont, Harold Hecht-Burt Lancaster, and Santana. Peers that impressed Bogart were used for The Family Secret, thus John Derek from Knock On Any Door, and Lee J. Cobb, late of Sirocco, these also of Santana label. The Family Secret might have fit Bogart as lawyer dad with a son who's committed murder, but the piece was fairly enclosed, its outcome foregone thanks to Code requirement.

Still, Family's situation is one that compels, and that doubtless drew Bogart and producing Robert Lord to what was essentially a Playhouse 90 before that anthology took up mantle of such dramatics on TV. John Derek was a pompadour heartthrob Columbia groomed in the wake of breakout in Knock On Any Door, Bogart having given him that break, but Variety pointed out his character in The Family Secret as "unsympathetic." Cobb is understated and most effective in concerned father mode. There are swipes at television and too-loud swing music, plus Derek's best girl, Jody Lawrance, driving a hot rod. Young folk were still of Andy Hardy's generation circa 1951, change being just around a rock and rolling corner. We don't linger on collateral damage Derek's belated confession brings on, but it's considerable, and audiences were probably as annoyed by PCA cow-towing then as latter-day watchers would be now. The Family Secret collected a modest $283K in domestic rentals, and Bogart would sell his share in the negative to Columbia a few years after, along with kit-caboodle of Santana interests. The Family Secret is available in a very nice On-Demand DVD.

Monday, January 17, 2022

What a Sleeper Was in 1949


The Window Goes Places New To Noir

From a simple pair of scissors do sleepers sometimes awake. RKO did a crackerjack job making a hit of what they spent a mere $696K to create. Fact the merchandise was so good was a help, The Window adapted from a Cornell Woolrich story. He had, would continue to, supply grist for noir and thriller wheels. Let go the fact that Woolrich himself had so rough a road to hoe. Read his life and wonder how he managed so much that was fine in short stories and novellas. I’m starting to wonder if there was a curse upon ones that wrote for pulps. Money wasn’t so good, certainly not enough, as neither was fame, but where would movies have been without the Cornell Woolrichs in back of them? The Window is murder through witnessing eyes of a boy who otherwise cries wolf and so is disbelieved. It defined for 1949 a word-of-mouth must see. More profit came of The Window than RKO realized for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or The Big Steal of the same year.

“Sleeper” as byword for something discovered by a public instead of foisted upon them by publicity was a term promiscuously used, before and since 1949. Surrounding seasons had seen the label attached to Jungle Patrol, The Doctor and the Girl, The Return of October, and The Lawless, so easy to see it was wishful thinking, as who recalls those, except possibly The Lawless (1950), which slept indeed as patrons spent elsewhere. I’m betting Terry Turner ran promotion for The Window, as result bespoke his genius. Ads and pub used the scissors, a motif central to the film’s killing that propels action (Ruth Roman the user). A weapon as central image juiced merchandising for Twelve Angry Men and of course Psycho in years after, shorthand always for violence and suspense to be got for buying your ticket in.

Anomaly … well, maybe not as this was RKO after Howard Hughes took over … saw The Window getting a sneak preview at the RKO-Hillcrest Theatre in Los Angeles on June 1, 1948, nearly a year before the film was released. Hughes had a habit of holding product back until he had an opportunity to vet each offering personally. Based on his erratic schedule and indifference to distribution policy as set by underlings, this meant many a feature sat on shelves indefinitely. I sometimes wonder if there are RKO movies yet that we haven’t seen. The Window at its 6/1/48 unveil, a totally unknown quantity for which the title tipped off nothing, got huzzahs from its cold-call audience, “patrons were sitting on the edge of their seats all the way, and frequent gasps at the crucial moments and the rousing applause they gave at the finish proves what an emotional wallop this picture has,” this from The Radio Flash as reported by staffer Perry Lieber on 6/4/48, The Window noted also for “a compactness which adds vastly to the film’s intense quality.” This sleeper wouldn’t wake for nearly a year, even as favorable buzz spread from that first sneak at Hillcrest. Why wait to release what everyone knew early on was powerful product? Only Hughes knew, and he wasn’t talking.

Novelty inherent was letting a small boy be central to the threat, as in nobody buys his story … except the killers, a conceit not softened as these two (Roman and Paul Stewart) are intent on getting rid of little Bobby Driscoll by quickest means however foul. Bobby had been a moppet for Disney, lately in Song of the South, So Dear To My Heart, being sung to by Roy Rogers in Fun and Fancy Free. To put him amidst gritty environ of New York tenements, his life in the balance (literally … there are rooftop, high-set perils), this a scary depart from rules 40’s viewership were used to. The Window sold what really was novelty for its time. Parents play clueless support, unresponsive to the boy’s warning, as are police, the child utterly alone in trying to save his own life and bring murderers to account.

The Window
is genuinely suspenseful in a modern sense for the bold set-up, surprising, or maybe not so much, for attitude of those who would nurture at a time when upbringing was a job conducted very different from what we now expect or would support. Where father says “punish,” he often as not means a whipping, or, as a friendly police officer jokes, a “shellacking like my old man used to give me.” Kids getting tough love from Dad, with Mom approval, was accepted practice in an era where corporal discipline held sway. Yes, it was common to send a child to his/her room without supper. Here it is Bobby banished to bed without lunch or the evening meal. I worried as much for what pop Arthur Kennedy might do as whatever Ruth Roman/Paul Stewart had in mind. Latter pair have abducted the boy at one point and hustle him roughly into a cab, the driver thinking nothing of it … just parenting as usual as he sees it. Cop on the beat that Driscoll yells to is moved not at all by his plea for rescue, warning instead of the tanning he’ll get later for disobeying what appears to be his parents, but of course are not. As Lillian Gish said later in Night of the Hunter, it surely was a hard world for little things.

I wonder if seeing The Window obliged parents to go gentler with offspring. Were children traumatized by having seen it? Something tells me fewer than what might be imagined, as youth were undoubtedly tougher then. Something about Driscoll’s character tells us he will think his way out of the trap, as surprisingly, pleasingly, he kills off lethal pursuer that is Paul Stewart, and will all but get a key to the city for his job well done. Suppose Disney regretted the loan of Bobby Driscoll to RKO for such intense workout? And yet The Window may have OK’ed Bobby shooting a pirate full in the face for a following year’s go at Treasure Island via Disney/RKO, a scene so graphic it had to be trimmed from a 1975 reissue to enable a G rating. I don’t know when a child’s fear was so utilized to sell a film than with The Window. Ads really exploit Driscoll’s terror and the menace Ruth Roman and Paul Stewart represent. This could almost be a horror movie were merchandising to be believed. I picture children, ones timid enough, keeping away or being forbade to go, and yet audiences, if we accept modern speculation re the era, were ready to embrace stronger mix by 1949, as The Window scored well in a year when most RKO releases lost money, a year in fact where most of industry outlay lost money.

The Window
borrowed a semi-doc leaf from Fox’s book, at least to extent of shoot in Gotham which put RKO crew on site during November-December 1947. Though story was set in sweltering summer, Ann noticed as we watched that Bobby Driscoll, and some of other kids, wore long sleeves, which now I understand in view of chilly days they worked. Realism push for American films was meant in part to bring us in line with street scenes as captured by Italians and others of the continent. Director Tetzlaff, formerly of behind camera work going back to silents, was for telling The Window on visual terms, while others of the crew were lately off RKO Pathe’s newsreel division, that unit having been sold to Warners. This all enabled stark look of backgrounds to much enhance conviction, the postwar cycle getting closer to life, if on melodrama terms, than studio-bound output had. You could better believe far-fetched tales, pulpy ones even, where told on streets we might recognize from daily commute.

The Window as location made and detail of those behind it are described in welcome detail by Richard Koszarski in his recent Keep ‘Em In The East: Kazan, Kubrick, and the Postwar New York Film Renaissance (Columbia University Press), a latest in the author’s splendid series of books revolved around filmmaking in the Northeast (Paramount Astoria, Fort Lee companies etc.). Nobody beats Koszarski when it comes to this kind of research and result. His work sure enlivened the Window watch for me. Older transfers of The Window were serviceable, improved at least from C&C 16mm prepared for syndication in 1956 when the RKO library went first to television. Warners has lately issued a Blu-Ray to bring out more of values The Window had, but were hidden, since first-runs. It is a revelation to up-tick regard for the film and make fresh viewing a must.

NOTE AT RIGHT: Bobby Driscoll appears in person to greet attendees at Cleveland's RKO Palace.

Monday, January 10, 2022

A Would-Be Precode "Bat"


Miss Pinkerton (1933) Is Blondell as Lead Sleuth

Old house mystery gets near horrific preserve of Doctor X, utilizing sets, if not two-colors, of that also 1932 Warners release. Joan Blondell issues screams (are they really hers?) to make Fay Wray's sound like bird calling, and there's enough skulking figures to put Cat and The Canary in the shade. So for all this, shouldn't Miss Pinkerton play better? Unfortunately, it's a precode that misses --- they can't all burn off the roof --- but for 66 minutes it lasts, Miss P gets by as half-heart reprise of The Bat, and by the same author, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Starring Joan Blondell may be a best current reason to watch, this an occasion (there weren't so many) when she was the clear lead and men for once (in this case, George Brent), had to be her sidekick. Precode aspects are muted; the thing could have been done verbatim three years later without losing anything other than JB shucking her nurse's uniform for bed in an opening reel. In fact, the yarn was remade as The Nurse's Secret in 1941, with Lee Patrick in the Blondell part, this one coming near the end of a WB row of nurse-solves-murder B's.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Would DEVOTION Please Ones Devoted to the Brontes?


Literary History As Warners Would Have It

Show of hands for Bronte Society members! There are many, worldwide, more than belong to any movie fan clutch. The Brontes go back past 170 years. Still you’d think they were alive for reverence they inspire. Charlotte (Jane Eyre), Emily (Wuthering Heights), support members (Anne, tragic brother Branwell) remain objects of feverish research and veneration. Think what we do picks nits? Try going against a Bronte scholar and see how long you last. I lately finished a terrific book called The Bronte Myth, by Lucasta Miller, who tells us for 288 pages how fascination for the family never ended, scarcely paused, after last of siblings Charlotte packed off to eternity (1855). The author reviews various films spun off Bronte output, the 1944 Jane Eyre (but oddly not the 1934 version with Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive), Wuthering Heights (1939), and most notorious to her thinking, Devotion, the Warners Bronte bio, finished in 1943 but not released until 1946. We know the latter for Ida Lupino playing Emily, Olivia DeHavilland as Charlotte, and Nancy Coleman as Anne, Arthur Kennedy being Branwell. We can enjoy Devotion or not for having less at stake re accuracy, less that is unless one regards this literary family as sacred figures, which for many they very much are.

Lucasta Miller says Devotion “twisted the facts without aspiring to any form of higher truth … submerged the sisters in a bath of romantic and wildly inaccurate slush …” Not unexpectedly, I am here to defend Devotion, having re-visited it twice in as many weeks, and ready to take up cudgels in Warner’s defense. 
Firstly, too much bow to historic characters will stultify your movie. Ticket buyers are seldom there to deepen knowledge, especially of schoolbook sort. And what were the Brontes to a mass audience in 1946? Devotion’s theatrical trailer does not even mention them, and neither did posters. There had been popularity of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre on screen, but interest was for romance and stars, not source novelists. If these sisters can’t be ginned up for the sake of drama and conflict, why tell their saga at all? Simple enough to plug Brontes into Warners’ narrative formula, and let fans have it or leave it. Purists would revile whatever Hollywood attempted along these lines, piling vitriol on liberties necessarily taken. Devotion was held from release for three years. Stills had shown up in 1943 fan publications, so those who cared knew the Bronte story was waiting in wings. Critics remembered too and laid for Devotion until finally it floated in upon postwar waves. “A three-year-old strip of damp bark off Warners’ wartime backlog,” said James Agee, who amusingly called it “Little Women on an overcast day.”

Thackeray Played by Greenstreet? I Can Buy It

Here was where mainstream critics showed off cultivation by sticking pins in poor donkey that was Devotion, a movie meant to be nothing other than triangle fireworks spun off combo of Ida Lupino and Olivia De Havilland, “strange sisters” squabbling over dubious prize that was Paul Henried, while possibly sinister Sydney Greenstreet observes. These people were going to play to their personas no matter what, so being Bronte sisters was good as essay of the Andrews sisters so far as image-conscious actresses thought. Did anyone ask Lupino-DeHavilland-Coleman if they read or studied the triumvirate? They’d no doubt reply yes, but I’ll guess investigation went no further than scripts driven by WB messenger to their respective digs or agent office. As to “Fat Man” Sydney Greenstreet (you wonder how such billing jabbed this distinguished player, time after humiliating time), there was forever expectation he’d be up to Casper Gutman tricks again, The Maltese Falcon having encased him in casting concrete. Greenstreet portrays William Makepeace Thackeray for a mid-point extended cameo to lend humor/color to otherwise solemn Devotion proceedings, yet publicity/ads saw him purely on Gutman terms (“the “Friend” … they couldn’t fool him --- they couldn’t trust him!”). Such was bolt and key to confine Gold Age contract talent. You had to pay into Devotion to enjoy what was a delightful departure from norm the Thackeray part was for Greenstreet.

has resonance and Bronte-relevance few could have seen coming in 1946. Charlotte and Emily of the real-life clan had long been co-opted by a nascent feminist movement that gathered steam for decades to precede and follow Devotion. These were role model women for many, and even Warners knew it needed dynamic and respected stars to play them. Heroines for the sisterhood came no better picked than Ida Lupino and Olivia DeHavilland, as fates turned out. Lupino after Devotion would begin a directing career unique to actresses hitherto limited to acting. She’d not live long enough to enjoy huzzahs of Blu-Ray box sets and celebration as a history maker, but make history she did, so yes, put her to equal stature with Emily Bronte, that is whenever we are finally ready to assign movies respect equal to literature (a day not yet arrived). Regard too Olivia DeHavilland, the rebel slave who broke contract chains at Warners, did her walkout, took it to courts, beat the Brothers soundly. Did Charlotte Bronte on her best day show such spunk? Devotion can be viewed in terms of two modern women staging and winning struggles not unlike the Brontes might have done given greater advantage than was possible in a first half of the nineteenth century. If you’re going to pitch Devotion to a current audience, pitch it this way.

Everything relative to the Bronte’s “Haworth” village was mocked-up by Warner in-studio recreation, what with indoor moors, a parsonage constructed within stage walls, inside plus exterior, little of Haworth done outdoors save one shot of a carriage driven off. This was reality of war years, but so artfully done that lovers of artifice (Me! Me!) might prefer it to a real thing. Besides, the real Haworth of so long ago was more a nightmare than real ones to disturb sleep. The place was rotten with disease, mostly “consumption” (TB), life expectancy an appalling twenty-four years. 40% of children were dead by age six. The water which people drank seeped through graves with dead barely laid beneath heavy stones. Paterfamilias Bronte as vicar sometimes conducted eight funerals in a single day. An honest Bronte depiction would have been better produced by Val Lewton (a swell idea actually). The Bronte parsonage was fronted by a cemetery choked to capacity, while the back opened to spooky moors that inspired Emily to write Wuthering Heights. She was understood, at least remembered, as a mystic driven more by supernatural force than creative impulse to inspire the radical book that Wuthering Heights proved to be.

Nothing To Suggest Period Setting Here

Chicago Goes Whole-Hog With Saucy Sell

For that matter, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre proved hot stuff for its time, many convinced that proper young women should not pen such violent emotion. Jane Eyre proved to be the big seller in its day however, Charlotte received by London literary circles, embraced by notables, though one hostess noted her “shattered” teeth, chill reminder that in those dental-deprived days, precious few held onto healthy mouths for long. But then that was case also for many stars of a Hollywood to come, lovely teeth yes, but too often not their own. Devotion takes expected course in letting Charlotte/Emily succumb to varied loves and be disappointed by them, just like in the movies. What drove WB more than history was their own successful string of sister showdowns that so far encompassed In This Our Life and The Hard Way, DeHavilland having starred on one, Lupino in the other. Maybe it was parted sneer that made Warners give Lupino billing over DeHavilland, Paul Henried also as object of rivalry, DeHavilland placed third, a sorry spot for someone who’d served Warners well for over ten years. Should she not have placed first, if not alongside Lupino over the title? Maybe that’s what made Olivia cuss so colorfully in a blooper from Devotion that WB ran for Christmas parties in 1946.

Lupino gets also the big “entrance” scene so that we know from a start that Emily will be our focus, even as Charlotte dominates for a second half, plus getting most daring of content, being kissed forcibly by Henried (“You are fortunate, Miss Charlotte, that I am not a woman beater”) and Victor Francen as married mentor at a girl’s academy who steers Charlotte into a carnival’s tunnel of love. Director Curtis Bernhardt said years later that he liked doing Devotion because he was “interested” in the Brontes, which may well have separated him from most others present, while Nancy Coleman recalled from years forward that Lupino and DeHavilland got along well after initial clashing, to a point where they called afternoon teas to recognize shared Britishness (OdeH parents were of Brit origin and Lupino was raised there). Coleman, being American, was not invited to the teas, but did not care. Extras did however, and so staged their own teas specifically to invite Nancy and get the snob stars’ goat. What a beehive, or hornet nest, was Classic Era picture-making. Devotion can be had from Warner Archive, could use a fresh transfer, someday perhaps to High-Def, though I can’t imagine it being high on Warners’ priority list.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Another James Bond Christmas


007 Peaks with On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Resolved: To not watch the last five minutes of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service ever again. And to cover eyes where clips show up on You Tube. Some say James Bond ended with this one. I would not have agreed before, but now sort of do. In a world of my choosing, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would finish with 007 and Tracy headed off for their honeymoon, followed by the title, James Bond Will Not Be Back. Come back for what? Diamonds Are Forever, then a flock with Roger Moore, downhill further from there? Seems to me the series summitted with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They would not come near its quality again. A strong opinion I know as later Bonds remain enjoyable, but this one … well, it is the best, as in Bond and Beyond, whatever hype pumped later Bonds. I wonder how many rose so high as OHMSS by estimation of 007 fans, plus casual viewers not necessarily disposed to the now sixty-year cycle. George Lazenby is easy getting used to today where he was not in 1969. I boycotted On Her Majesty’s Secret Service then because it had him instead of Connery, a foolish gesture on my part. It was the mid-80’s before a visiting collector brought down his 16mm scope print and schooled me. Initial pass on OHMSS had indeed been a gross error.

Lazenby is entrenched enough in my affection to push an imagined Sean Connery right out of qualification. I don’t think the latter would have done so effectively this stage of Bond as Lazenby so effortlessly did. I say effortlessly because GL got through the picture, by his own reckoning, on sheer nerve, confident he had the goods and not needing more than a single take, so the actor said. And all the more remarkably … he wasn’t even an actor then, but a male model and TV commercial pitchman. Never mind Daniel Craig playing the “young, inexperienced” Bond in Casino Royale. Lazenby did that to nines when he was but 28, all the better because he really was inexperienced … and as Lazenby admitted, quite immature. Here was ideal, if inadvertent, casting. No one, including, and especially, Connery, could have touched what George Lazenby achieved here. Never had we, or would we, empathize so with James Bond. He is vulnerable in an earnest, believable way, not as fashionable dark wanderings Craig and self-consciously edgy writers later imposed. Lazenby took it on the chin from high-trained co-stars who let him know daily how green he was, so yes, he responded on arrogant, defensive terms. At 28, I dare say I would have behaved worse. Lazenby recalls well the mistakes he made. It doesn’t take much prodding for him to recite them.

Becoming Bond
(2017) was a pleasing profile that told his story, hilarious at times. George certainly does not take himself seriously, whatever his conduct fifty-two years ago. There’s a You Tube interview with Diana Rigg, circa six-seven years back, where she said he was “ill-equipped’ to act, that “I was there to steer him through and give it some gravitas.” Problems with Lazenby were not forgot, at least by her. “He was really difficult … throwing his weight around … He was definitely the architect of his own demise as a film star.” Rigg acknowledged that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was by now a better regarded film, although she did not find it necessarily so in hindsight. What’s interesting is the fact she was relied upon to coach Lazenby, at least to a point where she lost patience with him. The same seems to have happened with director Peter Hunt, who ultimately communicated with his James Bond through intermediaries. After more than a half-century, it’s hard to know fully what went on, most principals and crew since gone, accounts a veritable Rashomon of mixed memories.

If Lazenby failed to appreciate his role at the time, there was Sean Connery who had come to a same impasse, having dropped out after a contracted five and not willing to re-up for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It was said that Saltzman and Broccoli were still on planes to-from Connery’s home just three weeks ahead of a start date, begging him still to come aboard and spare them having to use a neophyte. Tally of Bonds and how each felt toward the role is instructive: Connery grew to resent limits 007 placed upon him, Lazenby let it slip away through miscommunication and poor judgment, Roger Moore saw a good thing, was comfortable within the Bond family, and did outside pictures successfully. Timothy Dalton may have had mixed emotions, but was replaced before he could much express them. Pierce Brosnan loved Bond since a lad and longed to play him, would still be doing so today had makers let him, was bitter to be turned out. Daniel Craig seemed morose toward the part from a start, certainly played the character in that mode. It got tedious well before he announced quitting. I suspect five, let alone seven Bonds (as Moore did) would be enough to tax any actor’s endurance, especially with risk and general discomfort always a factor, like boys coming home every day from play with skinned knees or sprains. How long would it take to get over the novelty of being James Bond? And how much pay would you need to carry on doing something you had grown to dread?

This Is Cinerama? It Might As Well Be For Scenery and Movement OHMSS Captures

It always struck me that James Bond was sort of a reprieve for Cinerama’s discarded travelogue format. No series took us so far afield, each a virtual trip around the world as it were. As stories got flimsier and more repetitive, the sights were hopped up to compensate; just think of places you would see even if there wasn’t much by way of story to look at, James Bond a must to watch on very wide screens so as to drink in miracles of nature and man’s enhancement of it. From twenty-five in the series so far, only five are not anamorphic, which imagine what damage seventies and eighties television, then early VHS tape, inflicted upon visuals. 007 would do or die upon narrative and cropped action alone for this long haul, relieved only when new-introduced laser discs rescued the group from full-frame oblivion. Now we have the lot on 4K, accessible via streaming, and to watch them on a large enough home screen gives an almost three-panel effect as with Cinerama when it opened windows to the world. Even a blandest Bond can look spectacular where proper presentation fills the void.

Sharp Reproof From M Causes Hypersensitive 007 To Resign

Who was James Bond by 1969? He was, by public accord, Sean Connery, free by then to do Shalako, The Red Tent, and The Molly Maguires, not ten cents of boxoffice between them. We saw Shalako in 1968 and wondered if Sean had gone off his nut. This was progress from 007? You Only Live Twice had been dry-gulched by Casino Royale, the latter so poor it might have turned viewers off Bond for keeps, at least those fooled into thinking it was part of the official series. Worse were YOLT receipts down from expectation Thunderball created, and now came On Her Majesty’s Secret Service crippled by the absence of Connery. The “spy craze” was meanwhile come and gone, most pretenders to Bond washed ashore and forgot. Less imitative, but knife-pointed at ethos of 007, was espionage told on harsh terms, drab and hopeless means by which any man ekes a living, particularly in the UK where austerity seemed not to have relaxed, at least so far as this new wave of spy downers told it. These cared little to compete with Bond, were in fact designed as anti-Bond, each a corrective to fantasy he represented. Some of us sat for The Deadly Affair in 1967 (on a combo with a Hammer at the Liberty), and yes, it did seem deadly then, years needed for me to grow into it. Same for the Harry Palmer group and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

Bond's Own Office Is No Lap of Luxury

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
took these into account by letting Bond be more the public servant taking sharp orders from M and even quitting his job in pique, this segment among most fascinating in all annals of 007. For a first and only time, we see Bond retreat from M’s office to his own, a four-wall nothing with passed down furniture, a corner file cabinet, and a nondescript bulletin board. Bond/Lazenby has come here to clear out his desk, collect effects, call 007 a day. We sense fully that luxury lifestyle has been mere pose, a means of getting close to the action and enemies. And yet Bond gambles on his own time at a posh hotel, and always wins. This was case, in fact, for a first scene where the master spy was introduced, Connery as 007 in Dr. No. He wins enough there to surely surpass whatever salary the British government tenders, and I often wondered why Bond did not chuck the Service altogether and become a pro gambler. Surely it would be more remunerative, less dangerous at the least. Majesty’s spartan office brings Bond very much in line with Harry Palmer, who was always spoiling for a raise or being belittled by bosses. We’d not expect Sean Connery to occupy a space like this even for a moment, but George Lazenby? Yes, that makes sense, him a beginner Bond not fully in command of his impulse and emotion, a Bond still being tested. It anticipates too the serious involvement to come with Tracy, and a marriage that will result. I don’t think we could have believed any of this from Connery.

Raise The Limit? I Have No Objection.

All This For a Night's Recreation ... So Why Be a Secret Agent?

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
can be treasured for supplying insight to what for this one occasion would be an alternate Bond, not merely an alternate actor playing him. Talk about bosses living high as drones go humble, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has Bond calling on M at his palatial home, “Quarterdeck,” with its ship’s bell at the door to herald arrivals. Don’t know if 007 called ahead, but he is not received like a guest, M occupied with his butterfly collection, making no effort to welcome his employee (what, no drink offered, nor invitation to sit among a roomful of plush furniture?). M lives like a country squire --- did he inherit wealth? --- because surely the Navy did not retire him to such elegance. I never had the impression that James Bond was highly paid. Chances are his salary level was not much above Harry Palmer’s. Wish we could have seen more of James Bond’s own residence during the Connery/Lazenby era, that is, the sixties. I bet it would have been little more than the flat lived in by the two government investigators looking into 1963's Children of the Damned. Now there was stripped down truth of what daily life looked like in sixties Britain, at least as I imagine it.

Here Is Where M Lives ...

... He Collects Butterflies.

Bond Enters Into What Must Have Been Unaccustomed Splendor For Him.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
to surprise of few fell way short of what You Only Live Twice earned, $9.1 million in domestic rentals less than half of what YOLT took. Worldwide total of $24.8 million was still profitable, but it was a longer haul getting there, according to Eon chief Michael Wilson in a look-back. Both Diamonds Are Forever and Live and Let Die would dwarf Majesty’s boxoffice as well, leading to diminished stature for OHMSS that would last decades. Rediscovery and reevaluation came slowly. A Bond fan could be a rebel Bond fan for choosing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a best of 007. You Tube is rife with modern-day appreciations, virtually all from fans who were not there for 1969 dates but came to OHMSS via television or other home formats. One fifty-minute YT discussion has two who saw the film together as teenagers for the first time … on laser disc. They even hold up the record album-like sleeve. Varied comments over You Tube output describe “problematic” aspects of OHMSS, it being “filled with moments that are unacceptable now.” Still they like it, if somewhat skittish for saying so. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service might indeed be the Bond to modernly command a most dedicated following, fine by me as it increasingly plays finest of the so-far bunch.
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