Life Just Bounces don't you get worried at all. (A weblog of music and otrogenerica)

Monday, 4 January 2010

In search of the arthouse James Bond

i'm not particularly a big James Bond fan, but if pressed to name a favourite in the series it would have to be On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's got proper emotional resonance (Bond is human and vulnerable - three-dimensional, in fact - rather than just the usual cartoonishly unstoppable force of nature); the criminally underrated George Lazenby, a better Bond than at least three of the ones that came after him, and far more appropriate to the tone of the material than Connery's knowing smirk would have been; meta-humour ("This never happened to the other fellow", complains Lazenby at one point); Telly Savalas as Blofeld; the stunning visuals (Piz Gloria, Saas Fee); and the best overall score of any of the films, courtesy of an on-fire John Barry and including Louis Armstrong's last recorded song before his death, "We Have All the Time in the World", with lyrics by Hal David. This post on the IMDb boards does a pretty good job of elaborating on its dopeness.

Anyway, i just found out about US TV network ABC's "unusual" airing of the film in 1976. It was shown in the channel's 2-hr Monday Night Movie slot; but ABC execs soon came up against the problem of how to fit a 142-minute movie into a 120-minute time slot and still have room for 30 minutes of advertising.

Their solution was to cut the movie into two sections to be aired over two consecutive weeks. Since this would still only fill one hour per section, they then elected to rearrange the order of a lot of the movie's scenes. The first part was deemed rather slow for ABC execs, so the thrilling ski chase scene, usually in the middle of the film, is brought to the very beginning. (This was also, believe it or not, considered a good tie-in to the '76 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, to which ABC had broadcasting rights). It then cuts back and forth between the ski chase scene, several scenes that immediately follow it, and the movie's actual beginning.

Potentially jarring continuity cracks are papered over with some bizarre overdubbed narration ostensibly read by 'Bond himself', but performed by a probably non-British actor affecting a slightly dodgy English accent (you can hear some at this page). After a while, the unusual editing disappears as abruptly as it arrived, and the movie resumes its normal chronology (the second part has no edits at all). This edit was only ever broadcast twice; the second time was in 1980, when both parts were combined into one unholy three-hour block.

To the Bond aficionado this probably sounds like hideous mutilation. However, as i mentioned, i'm not a Bond aficionado; i'm only a mild Bond appreciator at best, but i am a massive fan of errata, obscurities and weirditude, and to me the ABC OHMSS edit sounds like it could be an inadvertent arthouse masterpiece.

The $64,000 question is, has anybody got a copy of this pioneering "Broadcaster's Cut"? The page with the narration snippets above informs that you can get a DVD copy by donating to the website of another Bond fan, but regrettably this site doesn't seem to exist any more. Hypothetically i would pay at least as much as for a brand-new DVD copy of the available (authentic) OHMSS. Anyone?

mp3: Louis Armstrong — "We Have All the Time in the World" (YSI)
mp3: Propellerheads — "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (YSI)


Joseph J Howe said...

bentley's rhythm ace - on her majesty's secret whistle's+Secret+Whistle

tomasz. said...

i seriously don't understand how i could've forgotten about the awesome nature of Bentley's Rhythm Ace.