Bond-ed for Life ~ On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

1

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it.  So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond woos a mob boss’s daughter and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Blofeld’s allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world.

Stars: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Director: Peter R. Hunt

Rated: PG

Running Length: 142 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  When Sean Connery decided to hang up his suit and turn in the keys to the Bond Aston Martin after five films, the producers of the James Bond franchise were faced with a difficult task.  Connery had so firmly put his stamp on Bond…could they recast the role in a way that would allow the series to live on while still aiming to please the Connery devotees?  The answer was a qualified yes. 

Though other actors were considered (including future Bonds Roger Moore and a too-young Timothy Dalton) the part went to Australian model Lazenby who bore more than a passing resemblance to Connery.  A more athletic looking secret agent, Lazenby fit the role quite nicely…though I found him slightly less filled with the bravura machismo that Connery exuded. 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the absolute best Bond entries, in my opinion, because rather than feeling like another chapter in the same book of Bond stories the movie comes across as an entirely new novel.  The previous Bond movies had enjoyable material that would often leave loose ends flailing about but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a clear beginning, middle, and end and that makes for an enjoy able viewing experience.

I also felt the movie introduced us to our first real match for Bond.  Rigg is sensational as the daughter of a mostly benign crime lord that catches the eye of 007.  Headstrong, independent, and lively…Rigg makes Tracy into someone that we actually want to see Bond end up with.  Though she conveniently disappears during the middle half of the film, she makes a strong return for the final hour of action.

Directed by longtime Bond editor Hunt, I didn’t always enjoy some of the more common film techniques of the era employed here.  A few of the fight sequences are shot at a higher frame rate so it looks like you mistakenly sat on your fast forward button.  Also, some of Lazenby’s action sequences look a bit over rehearsed and that robs the scenes of some spontaneity.

Savalas becomes another actor taking a stab at bad guy Blofeld (after Donald Pleasence cut such a nice swath in You Only Live Twice) and he’s nicely restrained even ensconced in a neat little hideout in the Swiss Alps.  It’s a pity that gruff Ilse Steppat passed away a week after the film was released…her Irma Bunt is a wonderful addition to the wicked henchwoman gallery.

With plenty of elaborate action sequences and wonderful use of John Barry’s score (though it doesn’t have a theme song with lyrics, I’ve always appreciated the rich instrumental track that plays over the opening credits), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of my all time favorite Bond films.  In it we get to see a more personal side of Bond…and the risky ending pays off with repeated viewings.  Don’t be put off by Lazenby’s one appearance on Bond…it’s a mighty fine film and up there with the best.