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A review of In the Secret Service of James Bond by Stefan Zürcher

By: Brian Smith
Published:
2023-12-20
In the Secret Service of James Bond Stefan Zurcher
Stefan Zürcher is James Bond’s real-life Hannes Oberhauser – a Bernese Oberlander who has been looking after the snow action in the 007 movies for almost fifty years.

Stefan Zürcher is one of the few people to have worked on films starring all the actors to have played James Bond. He began his career in the movies ever since his father called him to tell him, ‘They’re looking for crazy skiers,’ for the shooting of On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1968 starring George Lazenby as Ian Fleming's 007. He credits the incoming second unit director John Glen (also the film’s editor), with being able to incorporate Willy Bogner’s ground-breaking ski action into the final movie.

The book is a film-by-film overview of Zürcher’s career, mostly about his work on the productions rather than an autobiography. Following his Bond debut his credits have included The Last Valley, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, and Cabaret (as second assistant director). On other movies he served variously as location manager, unit manager and/or stunt performer.

Eight years after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he was reunited with John Glen and Willy Bogner to film the skiing action which precedes the parachute jump in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). He doubled for Michael Billington in the ski action whose death scene looks very realistic. The technique for falling down dead was honed on the Robert Redford film Downhill Racer. ‘Previously, ski falls in movies,’ explains Zürcher, ‘were done with the skier flailing his arms and letting himself fall – which always looked staged.’ Zürcher not only performed the manoeuvre but understood how it would work in the editing process.

Although he never worked on a Sean Connery Bond film, he did work with the Scottish screen legend on Fred Zinnemann’s Five Days One Summer. He also played golf with Connery in their down time. He noted that contrary to misconceptions, Connery took a keen interest in the Bond franchise and was interested to hear about Zürcher’s work on The Spy Who Loved Me.

The book includes the eight Bond films he worked on, although in her witty introduction Barbara Broccoli correctly mentions nine, as Zürcher technically worked on For Your Eyes Only (1981), location scouting around Cortina d’Ampezzo. However, he could not take part in filming due to other commitments.

There are some great stories from the creation of the pre-title sequence for A View to a Kill (1985), a highly original ski sequence that also involved snowmobiles and Bond’s escape on a makeshift snowboard. The Living Daylights (1987) presented different challenges with a sequence set on a frozen lake, although nothing compared to the pre-title action on GoldenEye (1995) which required precision calculations for the heart-stopping moment Bond rides a motorcycle off a cliff and his subsequent vertical freefall to catch the Pilatus plane. Zürcher returned to Bond for The World Is Not Enough (1999) and, most recently, Spectre (2015).

Written with Roland Schäefli, this is a wonderful account of Zürcher’s experiences in the movie business, and a unique insight into a different aspect of film production. It is original, informative, entertaining and packed with behind-the-scenes photos. In The Secret Service Of James Bond deserves a place on your Bond bookshelf.


Review by Brian Smith. Copyright © 2023 From Sweden with Love. All rights reserved.

Editor's Note:
Available editions of In The Secret Service Of James Bond:

>English hardcover edition
>German hardcover edition

Read our interview with Stefan Zürcher here.

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