Monday, November 4, 2013

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

The sixth 007 epic is unique for a few reasons.  First off, it was the debut for a new actor in the role, Australian model George Lazenby making his acting debut.  Second, it was really the last time an entire Fleming novel would be adapted as later movies would use the title and some story elements.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a really, really fantastic entry in the series with good acting (Lazenby does pretty well for himself all things considered), some amazing action and a killer score from John Barry.  It's a fun, pacy thrill ride.  Let's take a closer look.
  • This film was actually a pretty big risk in many ways.  Not only were they replacing Sean Connery, more or less the biggest star in the world at the time to the point where he was identified as Bond, they were also doing a more scaled down, down to earth story.  Though to be fair, scaled down and more down to earth have different definitions when applied to this franchise.  It essentially means the explosions are a little smaller and the plot is a little less out there.
  • As with the intro of Timothy Dalton, Lazenby is given a really nice movie star intro, we only see bits and pieces of the man in a nice nod to Dr. No until it's time for him to deliver his introductory line.  It's a well done bit of business and I have to say that there are few better ways to intro your new Bond than to have him rescue Diana Rigg from a suicide attempt and then promptly get into a huge fist fight with a couple of goons.
  • The action here and in the rest of the movie are top notch.  John Glen did the editing for this one as well as some later films before directing and adding to that, former editor for the first few films Peter Hunt is at the helm for this outing.  He guides the film along quite nicely, keeping things moving for the entire 142 minute running time which until Skyfall was the longest a Bond film had been.
  • While the main title sequence has a great title tune, I always felt it was a little amusing just how hard the film pounded it into your head that Lazenby was the new Bond.  I know Connery was iconic thanks to the role but it seems like they went all out must in case there were a few boobs who weren't going to go for it.   Still, the clips from the previous five films are nice to see and I especially like the touch of not having Connery appear in any of them.
  •  Lazenby, as I said, makes a pretty damn good Bond, even more so when you stop to think that he had never really acted before.  Sure, he's basically doing Connery's shtick but that;s understandable given the circumstances.  He's charming enough, handles the action quite well and even though he doesn't knock the humorous aspects out of the ballpark, they never really revolve around him enough to make this a deal breaker.
  • Really, the only thing holding him back is a lack of experience and if he had stuck around for a few more films, I'm sure that would have been taken care of.  Damn shame he didn't.
  • Diana Rigg does very good work as Tracy, our troubled Bond Girl for the evening.  Best known for her role as Emma Peel on the Avengers TV show, she has a surprisingly tough role as far as things go.  She has to be cool, vulnerable, tough, sexy, romantic and even cool, and all in one bit of acting.  I'm probably not doing her enough justice, she does a hell of a job!
  • The plot of the film is nicely set up as the first third of the film is Bond and Tracy interacting with her mobster father Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) getting involved as well as a potential father-in-law.  I really like how this subplot plays out as Bond basically uses the guy to get to SPECTRE chief Blofeld who got away in the last film and is back for more here.  The romantic stuff is set aside for the middle of the film as Bond goes to Switzerland after the bad guy but eventually, Tracy comes back into the picture and it all dovetails rather nicely to a tragic, yet satisfying conclusion.  It follows the novel pretty closely.
  • Ferzetti is quite good, giving an easygoing and charming performance.
  • Also good is Telly Savalas as Blofeld.  An unconventional choice for the role (I'd imagine the two main reasons for him getting were the role were star power and a lack of hair), he nevertheless is a nicely imposing villain and his obligatory exposition scenes are nicely done.  He also unintentionally gives the audience a little throwback to Donald Pleasence's performance as the character.  In the previous film, Blofeld takes a throwing star to the wrist before he escapes.  A creative fellow (such as myself, he said as humbly as possible) could deduce there was some nerve damage as Savalas had a rather noticeably withered index finger on his left hand.  Yeah, it's a stretch but what the hell?
  • Really, the only flaw the film has is the romantic montage that comes up about thirty five minutes into the film.  I'm fine with giving Bond a little more depth but it's a little too sappy for my tastes.  Still, it does lead to a wonderfully tense scene as Bond breaks into a lawyer's office to get info on a lead Draco has given him.  The film even keeps the romance angle alive with Tracy telling her father she loves Bond but he does not love here, and to give it time.  It's a nice bit, especially since she will be out of the film for better part of the next hour.
  • I like the little bit where Bond just casually reads an issue of Playboy while the safe cracking machine (the only gadget in the film) he is using works on a safe.  The payoff of him stealing the centerfold is an amusing capper to the scene.
  • The main bulk of the plot in Switzerland unfolds quite nicely with Bond posing as a genealogy expert who is supposed to meet with Blofeld in order to verify his claim to a barony.  It's a quite amusing little entry point as Bond ends up at an isolated resort (ostensibly a clinic for allergies) where Blofeld is actually planning to brainwash a bunch of beautiful women and have them distribute a virus that will destroy the ecosystems of the major world powers.  As goofy as that sounds, the film never lets it get out of hand, leaving most of it to Blofeld talking about what will happen.  It keeps the film's tone in check, though there are one or two little moments that nearly don't work.
  • The film is at its best here as Bond sneaks out of his room and roams around the resort, bedding a few girls here and there and discovering Blofeld's plan.  After the plot has been explained, we get a nice long stretch of suspense and action as Bond escapes from a prison cell, is nearly taken out by a cable car and finally escapes the resort in a fantastic ski chase.  There's also a nice fight in a shed full of bells that's quite well done.
  • I like how Tracy is brought back into the film, she rescues Bond as he tries to evade SPECTRE guards in a village nearby.  After a good car chase complete with Rigg throwing out some fun one-liners, we get the culminating of the romance subplot as Bond finally falls in love with Tracy and asks her to marry him in a nicely understated bit that doesn't feel forced.  I like that it is only after she saves his life that he falls for her, a nice touch.
  • The plot lines are melded into one after another good ski chase that sees Tracy being captured and Bond rescuing her in a nice "storming the fortress" sequence as Draco and his men assist Bond in obliterating the resort with heliuco0pter, explosives and machine guns.,  Especially fun is Bond;s entrance into the fray, sliding into the battle on his belly, firing a machine gun.  Also great is the bit where Rigg suddenly goes into "Emma Peel" mode to kick the crap out of a bad guy.
  • The bobsled showdown with Bond and Blofeld is another great action scene with a fantastic ending.
  • The wedding ending is quite well done, not too sappy but effective.  The tragic end to the film works well as Tracy is killed by Blofeld as he and his henchwoman pass them on the side of the road.  It's a daring move considering the series but it's what happens in the book and in both cases, it's quite effective.  No foreshadowing (even if you read the book, I'd imagine you would guess they wouldn't end the film like that), just a solid gut punch of en ending.
 On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a great film, nicely paced and acted with some great action and only one or two little moments that don't quite work.  Overall, it's quite simply one of the best films in the series.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.