The festive season is now upon us, so that means it’s time to eat, drink, be merry – and watch some classic Christmas movies. When you think of what constitutes a seasonal flick, what springs to mind? For most people, it tends to be the usual festive fare – Miracle On 34th Street, A Muppet Christmas Carol, Home Alone, It’s A Wonderful Life, and the rest. Controversially, it was recently declared on social media that classic 80’s actioner Die Hard is NOT a Christmas film, and just happens to be set around the Christmas vacation. As a James Bond fan, arguably we have the best (and to date, the only) festive entry into the series, set around the holidays – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
In America and certainly here in the UK, if you’re of a certain age then you’ll be familiar with the tradition of network TV screening the James Bond films during the holidays. Thanks to the popularity of VOD and streaming, a Bond film on the box may no longer be appointment-to-view-tv, but from a fan’s perspective it’s always special to settle down with the family and watch a classic 007 flick, especially at Christmas-time. Which is why we gently suggest 007 reasons why On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the ideal Christmas Bond film. Warning: spoiler alerts! However the film celebrates its 50th anniversary next year so if you’ve not seen it, please do!
001 – Alpine Setting
When one thinks of a winter setting, snow often springs to mind, and it’s this which makes the alpine scenes in OHMSS especially Christmassy. The film boasts one of the long running series’ best ski chase scenes; something which fans hoped would return in Daniel Craig’s most recent outing, Spectre, but sadly the much anticipated sequence didn’t quite play out as audiences had hoped. It’s during these icy scenes at the film’s mid-way point that Bond (George Lazenby) faces an avalanche of action as he and his allies face a race against time to thwart Blofeld’s (Telly Savalas) nefarious plot to bring to an end all strains of life through his Virus Omega, spread by his very own “Angels of Death”. Not the cheeriest way to spend Christmas, but at least Bond’s arch-nemesis has bothered to put up a festive tree with tinsel and colourful lights! Also, during the scene when Bond escapes Piz Gloria and is on the run from Blofeld’s henchmen, the townspeople below are wrapped up in celebrating the festive season as images of ice skating, German (or rather Swiss) markets and frivolities abound. It’s visual markers such as these which show that the Christmas season resonates through the film, even though it is not directly related to the plot and becomes a character all of its own.
002 – Classic Themes, part 1 – “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?”
There is a certain group of James Bond fans who are of the opinion that “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?” may be the worst song in all of Bond history. To be fair, despite the insipid lyrics, it is very festive, catchy and memorable. Written and arranged by John Barry with lyrics by Hal David, the song was recorded by Danish actress and singer Nina van Pallandt (one half of 1950’s/60’s husband and wife singing duo, Nina & Frederik), backed by a children’s choir. This song serves to provide the main festive marker of the film. It is heard first when Bond, posing as Genealogist Sir Hilary Bray, arrives in Piz Gloria and is used again to somewhat sinister effect when Bond and Tracy are in danger.
003 – Classic Themes, part 2: – “We Have All The Time In The World”
Conversely, one of the best Bond themes must surely be the legendary Louis Armstrong track, “We Have All The Time In The World” which accompanies the lovely courtship scenes between Bond and Tracy. It captures the raw emotion and romance as the couple learn to love one another and come to forge more than just a marriage of convenience. The song is simply iconic and will forever be associated with the film. However, the song also has a bittersweet edge as the title is taken from the last words spoken by Bond both in the book and in the film, plus it was one of the last to be recorded by Armstrong before he sadly passed away in 1971. The song evokes the image of a couple who have lived and loved for all eternity, and with all their hardship behind them, still have a wealth of experiences ahead of them.
004 – John Barry’s Score
Aside from the movie’s classic theme tunes, the score is exceptionally notable for featuring a more electronic sound, filled with Moog synthesisers on a scale previously unheard of in Bond. Arguably, used in the wrong way electronic scores can sound cold and alienating, but the genius of John Barry ensures this is one of the most iconic scores in all of the Bond series. Composed, arranged and conducted by John Barry, key parts of the wordless theme can be heard throughout the film and capture your ears evoking all the right emotions. In 1997, the track was covered by British electronic duo Propellerheads for their album, “Decksanddrumsandrockandroll”. This cover version also featured on David Arnold’s own 1997 album, “Shaken and Stirred”, featuring a whole host of covers from a range of legendary artists such as Iggy Pop, Pulp and Martin Fry.
005 – Director Peter Hunt
Arguably, Peter Hunt was one of the most influential editors and directors to work on the James Bond series and in British film. Hunt is of the generation of filmmakers born in the 1920s and 1930s who saw active military service and often got started in the film industry through their experience through the Armed Forces. Hunt started his career as an assistant editor at no less than Alexander Korda’s London Films, working his way up through the ranks. He served as editor on the first Bond film, Dr. No in 1962 and developed his own unique style, which he called “crash cutting”, the influence of which can be seen in modern action films to this day. This technique ensured Hunt put his own style on each film he worked on and to this extent, helped to develop the distinctive look we know and recognise when we watch a Bond film today.
006 – Bond’s Leading Lady – Diana Rigg
The importance of Tracy in terms of Bond’s timeline cannot be underestimated. Arguably, the character of Vesper Lynd who we see in Casino Royale may cast a long shadow across the list of ladies Bond has loved and lost during the series 56 year run, but Theresa Di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg) is the first woman with whom Bond believes he can settle down and start a family. Tracy is uniquely placed to help Bond on his quest – she is the daughter of Marc-Ange Draco (played by Gabriele Ferzetti) the head of an international crime syndicate, and to Bond is seen as a way to gain an insider’s knowledge to his arch nemesis’ whereabouts. Through the mix of the music, script and instant chemistry between Rigg and Lazenby, the romance that develops between Bond and Tracy appears natural, palpable and helps reinforce the warm feelings of the festive season.
007 – The Name’s Lazenby, George Lazenby
OHMSS stands out among the Bond canon in many ways but is perhaps most famous for being the only one to star George Lazenby as Bond. The Australian ex-knitwear and Fry’s Chocolate model famously bagged the role by supposedly getting an English haircut, having an English suit made, and charming his way past the receptionist and into the offices of Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli. Incidentally, his recent semi-autobiographical film, Becoming Bond, makes for a very interesting watch. Always one to rebel, rather than sign on for several more 007 films, when shooting was over the cracks in his relationship with the Bond big wigs started to appear. For Lazenby, enough was enough and he soon quit the role, paving the way for Sean Connery to don the tuxedo one last time (officially) as 007 in Diamonds Are Forever. With Lazenby’s solo outing, the film was critically panned upon its release and today can be seen as something of a “Marmite” Bond film, with fans either loving it or hating it. Personally, it is in this reviewer’s top five Bond films. Lazenby has a palpable on-screen chemistry with his female co-star and as 007, exudes a magnetic charm that seems to channel Connery himself, whilst putting his own stamp on the role. As such, for this particular outing, he is the only actor to lead this film.