Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

July 15, 2010

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – U.K., 1969

James Bond films have always required viewers to suspend disbelief at least a little bit. Fair enough. I suppose that just comes with the genre. However, there is a moment in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that requires a lot more than usual. Picture this if you can. Bond (George Lazenby), wearing glasses and smoking a long pipe, sits directly across from his arch enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and Blofeld doesn’t recognize him! This is a man whose organization designed masks of Bond’s face and used the men wearing it as human targets in From Russia with Love, whose associate captured Bond and almost sliced him in half with a rather powerful laser beam in Goldfinger, and whose number one henchman sat directly across from him at a card table in Thunderball. Furthermore, in You Only Live Twice, Blofeld himself captured Bond. Sure, Bond had been made to look Japanese in that movie, but the disguise hadn’t fooled him then, so why is the Clark Kent look fooling him now?

And yet perhaps none of us will immediately recognize Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and not simply because it is not Sean Connery on the screen in front of us. Bond just seems different. He’s more violent, he shows fear in a way that we haven’t seen in previous films, he reads Playboy on the job, and he does a lot more than make harmless flirtatious remarks to Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). Bond even notices the differences before we do. In the film’s opening scene, he rescues a young countess named Tracy Di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) from committing suicide and fights off two men who have been sent to kill him. Instead of being overwhelmed by Bond’s acts of bravado, the woman runs off and drives away, leaving Bond to look straight at the viewers and say, “This never happened to the other fellow.” That’s true, but viewers shouldn’t fret. This Bond will catch up eventually.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service takes place two years after You Only Live Twice, and during those two years, Bond has been working tirelessly on “Operation Bedlam,” a cryptic way of saying, “Find Blofeld.” During this intensely personal investigation, he still finds time to woo, or at least to attempt to, the countess, an action that for some reason keeps putting his life in danger, first from a rather strong individual who just happens to be in her hotel room, and later from that same man and the two other goons he brings with him. The three men turn out to be working for the countess’s father, Draco, who is also the leader of the second-biggest criminal organization in the world. Draco offers Bond a deal: marry Tracy in exchange for information that could help him locate Blofeld (this time played by Telly Savalas). Talk about an offer he can’t refuse. Eventually, the information Bond gets leads him to a fortress on top of a high mountain in Switzerland, where he finds Blofeld has hatched another scheme in his ongoing mad quest for power.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has many things going for it. Like most of the previous five Bond films, the nightmare scenario in the film is one that many people believed to be entirely possible at the time of the film’s release, and this is important, for it helps make the threat in the film somewhat plausible and not merely science fiction, which is what it might be portrayed as nowadays. In addition, the connection between Bond and Tricia develops at a believable pace – going from attraction, to initial interest, to the sudden realization that they are indeed a lot alike – thanks in large part to Rigg’s very credible performance. I also like how much the film devotes to Blofeld. Unlike previous films, which either hid him from view or introduced him in a clumsy way, thereby making him more of a comic figure than a menacing one, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service allows us to see just how deadly the man is and to understand just what he is after. There is indeed an ultimate goal after all. If the film has one major fault, it is this: In an effort to make the film as exciting as it can be, the film’s fight scenes have either been sped up slightly or overly edited. The effect of this is that the scenes are less authentic than they would be if we able to see the reactions of the people that Bond fights with.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would eventually be the only Bond film to star George Lazenby, yet it’s clear that it was meant to be the beginning of a new edgier Bond. Perhaps that’s why the film leaves Bond emotionally scarred. To his credit, Lazenby does a good job of expressing Bond’s updated personality, and it’s interesting to speculate as to where the role would have gone had he continued to play it. While On Her Majesty’s Secret Service lacks Goldfinger’s level of intensity, it adds a degree of emotion to Bond that was not in that film, and this is a very welcome addition, for it humanizes Bond a bit more. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a strong addition to the Bond series. (on DVD)

3 and a half stars

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