BY RICHARD CROWTHER



 

PART THREE

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE

(Note:  All timings quoted refer to the PAL releases, unless otherwise stated)

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE - 1969

For many, the single greatest entry in the entire Bond canon, this is a film graced with almost peerless cinematography, courtesy of Hammer stalwart Michael Reed; stunning direction, from Peter Hunt; and what is probably the finest score in the series, supplied by the incomparable John Barry. George Lazenby makes the character his own, in his only crack at the role, Diana Rigg proves to be the ultimate “Bond girl”, and the rest of the cast all provide sterling support. Indeed, the final result is a slick, sumptuous, exquisitely executed film from start to finish.

Before we look at the many home video releases of this masterpiece of action cinema, however, let’s look at the censorship history of the film. Despite being a viscerally violent and erotically charged film, the only change the BBFC insisted upon when On Her Majesty's Secret Service was originally submitted was the addition of some dialogue. After Bond says “I feel a slight stiffness coming on” the words “…in the shoulder” were added, so as to lessen the overtly sexual nature of the line as it originally stood. You’ll note that the added dialogue is heard over a cutaway shot, to smooth over the alteration. Thankfully, and rather cleverly, this cutaway actually deflects one attention away from the additional dialogue, thus retaining the impact and humour in the joke as it was originally conceived. Peter Hunt was no fool.

Now, onto the myriad edits and alternate cuts this film has been subjected to and released in over the years. For a long time, the only version commercially available was a pan-and-scan atrocity missing a variety of sequences, ranging from the incidental, to the downright vital, including the entire sequence in which Bond breaks into Gumbold’s safe, and a short sequence in which Campbell tries to gain entry to Piz Gloria via a cable car, only to be turned back by one of Blofeld’s henchmen. These sequences, along with the opening scene of film, with M and Q, were also missing from quite a number of theatrical prints.

During the mid-nineties On Her Majesty's Secret Service sneaked out on to the home video market once more, in a 25th Anniversary Edition that was to eclipse all previous releases (and, as it would turn out, all subsequent editions, too). Fully uncut for the first time, this print contained all the shots and sequences missing from earlier releases, as well as a 3-minute long trailer, that depicted footage and alternative angles that did not make the final cut of the movie. A thing of beauty, MGM clearly knew what a special property they had on their hands, since this was the only film in the range that was released in its own VHS box set, containing not only the lovely-looking and clean-sounding, widescreen print of the film, complete with aforementioned trailer, but also two glossy art cards, one containing a reproduction of one of the many posters for the film, another of Lazenby in suitably action-packed pose, and a reduction of 007 Magazine’s commemorative issue devoted entirely to the film. It was, in essence, the Ultimate Edition of its day.

Sadly, upon its appearance on DVD, things began to take a down turn. Firstly, and perhaps least significantly, the longer trailer was missing, and a shorter one (by one minute) was included instead, minus most of the unique and rare footage that made the VHS version so valuable. Quite why the longer trailer wasn’t included as well is a mystery.

However, worse was to come. The film itself was shorn of around twenty-five seconds worth of footage, including a shot of the shadow of a cable car passing over the mountainside, just before a cut to Campbell scaling the mountain (which has been reinserted on the UE, just after the line "Perhaps you'd like to teach me?", at 72'19"), approximately ten seconds worth of footage from the stock car race, and a line in the subsequent sequence as Bond and Tracy leave the race-track (the line "I told you that crowd would discourage them" should be delivered over an interior shot of Bond and Tracy in the car, as can be seen in the UE at 103'58". The previous DVD version had it delivered over an exterior shot of the car - which should play out without the dialogue - with the interior shot being omitted entirely) Finally, Blofeld's line "Tracy, don't be so proud. Your father's own business is not entirely within the law. His brotherhood also have exotic ways of keeping a closed shop" was cut short after "the law." The line can be heard in full in the UE, at 116'36". Also, the cue John Barry wrote to cover the safe-cracking scene, whilst starting in the same place as the uncut VHS edition, was incorrectly cued on the SE, and starts five seconds into the piece, cutting off the opening notes. This has also been corrected for the UE (though the scene itself has other, far more serious, problems, as we shall see below).

The SE was also framed slightly less generously than the VHS, altering the composition, though not to any damaging degree. In the final analysis, it was something of a disappointment all round, when compared with the video.

And so to the Ultimate Edition. With framing more akin to the VHS, and a superbly cleaned up picture, this was very nearly perfect, but for a few, important factors. Firstly, the new colour timing during the opening beach scene leans far too heavily towards the blue end of the spectrum. The scene in question is clearly set at dawn, with subtle, gold and pink hues (a fact confirmed upon viewing a theatrical print, which had much the same feel to the sequence), but now looks like it was shot day-for-night. Likewise a later shot of Draco’s fleet of helicopters, as they fly towards Piz Gloria at 115’ 48”; once an extraordinarily beautiful, almost romantic, shot, with the helicopters silhouetted against the dawn sky, the same shot now plays out in the UE in distinctly less remarkable fashion, with the sky looking dull in comparison.

 

Comparative OnHer Majesty's Secret Service screen-grabs

TOP: Region 1 Special Editions  (2000)         BOTTOM: Region 2 Ultimate Editions  (2006)

Note: the Ultimate edition screengrabs have been re-sized to match the width of the SE grabs, but they are all in their original aspect ratios.

 
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

Secondly, no mono track is included, and the surround track significantly changes the mix to the extent that many scenes (the beach scene and the safe-cracking scene among them) lose much of their impact, due to a baffling decision to dial down the music in many instances, in favour of intrusive sound effects. Add to this, the disturbing re-dubbing of many of the original sound effects throughout the film (for example, the gunshots during the final battle at Piz Gloria, and later when Irma opens fire on Bond’s car at the end of the movie) sound distractingly different to how they sounded in the mono track. The jump cut employed at the end of the safe-breaking scene, when the clock clicks onto the hour to mark the end of Gumbold’s lunch hour, appears to have been digitally tidied up somewhat, to make the edit slightly smoother.

PART FOUR - THE ROGER MOORE MOVIES
 

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