10 Most Embarrassing Tonal Shifts In James Bond Movies
Ian Fleming’s Bond novels are straightforward fare- Bond is a licenced killer for the Queen, and he goes about his...
Ian Fleming’s Bond novels are straightforward fare- Bond is a licenced killer for the Queen, and he goes about his work without so much as the flicker of a smile. His villains might be grotesques, and his women the stuff of schoolboy fantasy, but a certain hard-headed tone is consistent throughout.
When the novels were transferred to the big screen, this approach lingered for the first few movies, but disappeared almost entirely as the film-makers sought ways to keep 007 fresh and relevant. Many of the films that owe least to Fleming are tonally all over the place, lurching from moments of brutal violence to sight gags to suspense and drama often in the space of minutes.
This kaleidoscopic style became one of the series’ hallmarks, but it also led to some embarrassing tonal shifts, as these ten scenes demonstrate:
10. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: You Love Chickens
Now rightly regarded as one of the best Bond movies, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was never an easy sell. This is the only Bond movie to star Australian pub quiz answer George Lazenby, although for a good portion of the movie he’s dubbed by another actor as part of Bond’s ‘disguise’ (as with all Bond movie disguises, it’s rubbish) and it’s the only Bond movie where Bond gets legally married (spoiler warning: something bad happens to his wife). For all these potential sticking points, it’s one of the more believable entries in the series, with a character-driven narrative and a grittily violent tone that falters only once- and when it does, embarrassment ensues.
007 has tracked his nemesis Blofeld to an allergy clinic atop the Swiss Alps. Posing as the uptight English baronet Sir Hillary Bray, Bond discovers that the Blofe’ has assembled a bevy of beautiful girls from every corner of the globe. His stated goal is to cure them of their various allergies, but there’s something more sinister afoot, as our hero discovers on one of his nightly wanderings. After a fantastically dull sequence in which he fashions a rudimentary lock pick out of a bit of rubber and a broken ruler (they cut the scene where he makes a gun out of some loo roll and a twig) Bond/Bray sneaks into one of the girls’ rooms and does sex with her. Then, without warning, a psychedelic optical effect descends on the lovers and Blofeld’s voice is piped in through hidden speakers. This is Telly Savalas’ Blofeld, so the following lines of dialogue are delivered with the sultry cadence of a man who lists ‘crooner’ on his CV. To wit:
“Do you remember when you first came here…how you hated chickens? How you were sick when you even saw one? But all that is over now, for I have shown you foolish it was. And your cure is nearly done. I have taught you to love chickens, to love their flesh, their voice. Yes, your cure is nearly done, and soon you will go home to look after the chickens, which you love so much.”
Now, there’s a legitimate reason for Blofeld to be muttering darkly about chickens- he intends his brainwashed girls to spread a deadly new strain of foot and mouth disease across the world. Nonetheless, there’s probably no animal in the kingdom stupider than a chicken. Merely invoking the word brings to mind a world of mad associations- chicken drumsticks, chicken nuggets, chicken tonight, Chicken Run, headless chickens and so on forever- that undercut the serious tone the film-makers were clearly aiming for.
I could imagine the scene working very well in the original Casino Royale from 1967, where daft s**t happens every .5 seconds, but it stands out like a sore chicken in the midst of a relatively straightforward Bond movie like this. That’s probably why it seems so egregiously jarring- there are far sillier things in other Bond movies, but this is the only one to feature a harrowing finale where Bond mourns his dead wife. Spoiler alert, btw. And please don’t think of the chickens during that scene.