Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ten Statements About....ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

"My good."
“This never happened to the other fellow."

1) Let’s get this out of the way....George Lazenby is actually quite good.  He’s the most energetic Bond we’ve had (which makes sense, given he was 28 at the time), handles himself extremely well in the fight scenes, and even manages to create a delivery that gives us some continuity between him and Connery.  Plus he is handed the most emotional arc of any Bond, including a devastating final scene, and acquits himself handily.  

2) Especially after the excesses of You Only Live Twice, the refreshing thing about this film is how naturalistic it is.  The only real gimmick Bond has is that cumbersome electronic safe cracker device that requires a big ol’ crane to transport, and the science fiction-y plot Blofeld has put together is certainly within the realm of believable science (Hell, it makes this iteration of Blofeld the first bio-terrorist in the movies).  In a way, an argument could be made that this is the first ‘soft reboot’ Bond film that sought to give the franchise a new direction.

3) Since you could see Broccoli thinking Lazenby’s inexperience as an actor being a liability, he stocks the film with lots of veteran actors...and none is as great as Diana Rigg as Tracy.  Rigg is stunningly gorgeous, proved that she had the proper physicality for the Bond franchise in The Avengers, and had the acting nuance to convince us that this was a woman Bond could not live without.  The rumor has always been that she and Lazenby hated each other, but you’d never know it from what’s on the screen.
"I had briefly considered going undercover as a
lollipop-sucking cop, Mr. Bond..." 

4) I am not as big a fan of Telly Savalas’ Blofeld as some people, but he is the best Blofeld for this movie.  He matches Lazenby’s energy and has a refreshingly hands-on approach when it comes to maintaining the security of Piz Gloria.  If Blofeld had been played more as a delegator like Donald Pleasance or Charles Grey did in their performances, the film would have been lacking a formidable opponent.

5) ...but then, one of the things I really like is how the roles of Mastermind and Henchmen are kind of switched.  Even though Blofeld is the main villain, he oversees his soldiers, is on the frontline for all the chase scenes, and even drives the car for when he enacts his special revenge on Bond while Ilse Steppat’s Irma Blunt seems to do all the supervisory work.  It’s a subtle but effective little bit.

6) Peter Hunt, who was the editor of the previous Bond films, got to direct this as a thank you from Broccoli--and it’s a shame he didn’t have a much, much bigger career as a director because he does an amazing job.  He chooses to shoot with naturalistic light whenever possible, taking full advantage of the gorgeous Swiss scenery.  His choice to create thematic motifs for every character results in some striking shots.  Hunt’s choices results in one of the most unique and distinct looking Bond films.

7) I really enjoyed Gabriele Ferzetti as Tracy’s father Draco--and so did Richard Maibaum, apparently, as he returns to this type of ‘honorably criminal’ supporting character in For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.  Draco also has echoes of one of my favorite Bond supporting character, From Russia With Love’s Ali Karim-Bey.  Maibaum utilizes Draco just enough for us to appreciate him, allowing him to be a valuable resource at times without letting him overstay his welcome.

8) And while we’re on the subject of Maibaum, this is the last time in a long time where the movie faithfully resembles the novel.  Hell, it’s perhaps the most faithful adaptation of all outside of the previously mentioned From Russia With Love.

9)  Boy....the women who are Blofeld’s patient....yeah.  I find it amusing that amongst all these gorgeous women--which includes amongst its number Joanna Lumley (who will solidify the whole Bond/Avengers connection by going on to be Purdy in The New Avengers) and Catherine Schell--the one who makes the most impact is the daffy, energetic Angela Scoular as Ruby.  She may not be the sexiest woman in that group, but she’s the most fun.

10) I know it really existed, but the chalet that becomes Piz Gloria is one of the best villain hideouts in the series (you’ll notice that Ken Adams’ name is absent from the credits)...and not the least because it provides some wonderful vistas and sunrises for Hunt to shoot.

Overall...a film that does not deserve it’s reputation as second rate Bond  (earned probably due to the hideously bad two-part television edit ABC showed for decades), it’s actually a unique and engrossing film which ranks as one of the series’ best.

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