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

The general consensus is that 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would have been the best Bond film had Sean Connery been the star. 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 absolutely set the standard for the character, Australian-born George Lazenby does a fine job stepping into his shoes.

Having thwarted 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 to tame his daughter’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 time with Tracy, and falling in love with her, Bond heads to Switzerland, where Blofeld has been operating an allergy research center high atop the tallest mountain of the Swiss Alps. Posing as Genealogy expert Sir Hilary Bray, Bond gains access to Blofeld’s headquarters, where he uncovers a fiendish plot that, if successful, could lead to the total destruction of the world’s food supply!

To ease the transition from Connery to Lazenby, 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. This is followed by an action-packed sequence that introduces us to the “new Bond”. Once he has subdued the bad guys, Lazenby looks directly into the camera and, with tongue firmly in cheek, says “This never happened to the other guy”.

From there, we enter familiar territory, with a visually impressive opening credits sequence that features clips from the first five Bond pictures (minus Connery, obviously). As fun as this nod to the past is, 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, etc., with the theme music from each movie playing as he admires the trinkets.

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 piece of equipment this time out. As for the ladies (yet another staple of the series), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has plenty. Most are patients at Blofeld’s Swiss-based allergy clinic, including a young Joanna Lumley in her first credited big-screen appearance. As far as “official” Bond girls are concerned, however, there’s only one: Countess Tracy Vicenzo, who would become the single most important woman that 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 had 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 displays his prowess 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. Sadly, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service marked the only time he would 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, in the series. But as it stands, with Lazenby, it’s a damn fine entry all the same.

1 comment:

John 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.