Friday, February 21, 2014

#1,285. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Directed By: Peter Hunt

Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas

Tag line: "Far up! Far out! Far more! James Bond 007 is back!"

Trivia: This is the only Bond movie to be directed by Peter Hunt, who served as an editor and 2nd unit director on the previous films in the series

There are some who believe 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service might have been the best of the Bond series had Sean Connery starred in it (after You Only Live Twice, Connery decided he’d had enough, and refused to return). Personally, I think this is a bit unfair, because while Connery undoubtedly set the standard for James Bond, the Australian-born George Lazenby, though not the greatest actor, does a decent job stepping into his shoes.

After thwarting the suicide attempt of the Countess Tracy Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), James Bond (Lazenby) finds himself in the good graces of her father, renowned criminal Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti). Hoping he can tame the Countess’s wild ways, Draco offers Bond a deal: in exchange for marrying Tracy, he will provide Bond with information on the whereabouts of Ernst Blofeld (Telly Savalas), the top man at SPECTRE. After spending a lot of time with Tracy (with whom he’s fallen in love), Bond heads to Switzerland, where Blofeld is running an allergy research center high atop the tallest mountain in the Swiss Alps. Posing as Genealogy expert Sir Hilary Bray, Bond gains access to Blofeld’s mountain headquarters, where he uncovers a fiendish plot that, if successful, could lead to the destruction of the world’s food supply.

Hoping to establish some normalcy after Connery’s departure, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service opens not with Bond, but with series regulars Bernard Lee (as “M), Desmond Llewellyn (“Q”) and Lois Maxwell (“Moneypenny”) carrying on business as usual at MI6 Headquarters. Then, following an action-packed scene that introduces us to the “new Bond” (once he’s subdued the bad guys, Lazenby looks directly into the camera and, with tongue firmly in cheek, says “This never happened to the other guy”), we’re treated to yet another visually impressive opening credits sequence, which features clips from the first five Bond pictures (minus Connery, obviously). As fun as these nods to the past are, the film’s best homage occurs when Bond, who has threatened to resign, is cleaning out his desk and comes across souvenirs from his previous adventures (the knife & belt from Dr. No, the breathing device from Thunderball), the theme music from each movie playing as he admires them.

Along with its introduction of a new James Bond, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is also a return of sorts to the franchise’s roots, with 007 relying more on his fists (a la Dr. No) than on gadgets and gizmos (in fact, “Q” doesn’t provide Bond with a single trinket throughout the entire film). As for the ladies (yet another staple of the series), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a nice selection, most of which are patients at Blofeld’s Swiss-based allergy clinic (including a young Joanna Lumley in her first credited big-screen appearance). But as far as “official” Bond girls are concerned, there’s only one: Countess Tracy Vicenzo, who would become (for a moment, anyway) the single most important woman 007 ever encountered, and the girl who finally captured his heart (the love scenes between Lazenby and Rigg are considerably more intimate than any we’d seen in the previous films).

Of course, it wouldn’t be Bond without action, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has plenty of it. Lazenby shows off his skills at hand-to-hand combat, doing so several times throughout the movie, but the real thrills occur in the film’s second half, which is practically wall-to-wall action (along with a couple of tense moments on skis, Bond and Tracy are involved in a high-speed pursuit that ultimately crashes, both literally and figuratively, a stock car race). The final confrontation, a siege that leads to an electrifying bobsled chase, is also a highlight.

While Lazenby may have lacked Connery’s charisma, he did manage to make the role his own in this brief stint as 007 (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service marked the only time he’d play the part). Perhaps it’s true that, had Connery continued, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would have been one of the best, if not the best, films in the series. But as it stands, even with Lazenby, it’s a damn fine entry all the same.

1 comment:

John DeBoer said...

I think I mentioned this in another post, but I consider this to be the best, after From Russia With Love, Bond film. Lazenby gets unfairly criticized, in my view. I thought he made a great Bond, and better than the ones who followed. The John Barry theme song, "We Have All the Time in the World," is a beautiful instrumental, later sung by Louis Armstrong.