25 April 2009

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

What The Heck is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?
By Kristin Battestella

In this crazy Bond adventure I’ve found myself on, I had to stop and think about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I thought I had seen every Bond picture at least once, but honest to goodness I cannot recall ever having seen George Lazenby’s one off 1969 turn as James Bond before my recent viewing. That is not a good sign.

007 James Bond (Lazenby) mingles with crime lord Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) and his complicated daughter Contessa Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) and attempts to find the whereabouts of SPECTRE mastermind Ernst Blofeld (Telly Savalas). When M (Bernard Lee) wants to take Bond off the Blofeld case, Bond turns in his resignation. M accepts, for unbeknownst to Bond, secretary Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) changed the request to two weeks leave. While romancing Tracy, Bond travels to Switzerland as Sir Hilary Bray and infiltrates Blofeld’s Piz Gloria clinic. Can Bond stop the Angels of Death being brainwashed by Blofeld, save the world, and marry the woman he loves?

Any fan or even layman to the series knows the circumstances around this black sheep of an outing. The once outlawed Never Say Never Again has become more socially accepted as a legitimate Bond picture than the EON sanctioned On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Right from the opening, Lazenby’s debut is too different from the first five Connery pictures. Here Bond doesn’t really do anything cool in the pre credits sequence; in fact, where most openers have Bond with a Babe, this one loses the girl! Maurice Binder’s title animation is also unique: highlights from the previous films scroll through a martini glass motif-and we have an instrumental theme, too. What gives? Would there have been such drastic differences in look and feel if Sean Connery had reprised his role as producers initially hoped? It’s as if everyone is trying too hard to make On Her Majesty’s Secret Service a Bond picture while at the same time trying to distance it all from Connery’s tenure. Yes, Connery is only one incarnation of Bond, but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service changes too much from what the introductory films have established. Bond leaving MI6, settling down to get married? Lazenby’s in a kilt and Scotsman Connery never was- and there’s no attempt at a Highland rasp, either. Do you need more proof that even the producers love this one less? Well, they went back to Conner for Diamonds Are Forever, didn’t they?

Make no mistake; I have no love lost over Sean Connery. Australian George Lazenby, however, is no Bond. He seems too dorky or not the right build to be a secret agent. No suavity and some very wooden delivery; Sometimes in his hat and glasses, I would forget that this guy was Bond, James Bond. Instead of being a new, younger, more serious character, Lazenby’s Bond looks as if he’s been transported from a 1945 black and white picture to 1969 color and he can’t keep up with it all. Allegedly, he’s dubbed in some scenes, and Lazenby didn’t even get along with director Peter R. Hunt or leading lady Diana Rigg. No wonder he hasn’t done much else before or since.

Thankfully, Diana Rigg (The Avengers) takes her role as Contessa Tracy di Vicenzo far better. She’s charming and cosmopolitan enough for 007, even if she’s a little too English to be an exotic Contessa. The serious romance with Bond is a bit much, but we like Tracy as a counterpart to Bond and feel for her tragic fate. Unfortunately, what is going on with Telly Savalas (Kojak) and his brainwashing Blofeld? ‘You love the chickens…’ what a stupid cover! By time we get to the meat of Rigg and Savalas’ parts, I really just don’t care. It’s also sad that the strides made by this Blofeld and Mrs. Bond are also wiped away for Connery’s return in Diamonds Are Forever. Fans of the franchise, however, can watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as part two of the Blofeld show begun in You Only Live Twice. Again, when the villain trumps the Bond, generally, it’s not that good of a Bond picture.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - 2-Disc Ultimate EditionAt two and a half hours, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is too long and seems much longer than it is. The action is weak, even compared to hokey sequences in the previous five films. Skiing away from the begoggled bald Blofeld! Bond staples M, Q, and Moneypenny also don’t have much to do, and surprisingly, there are very little gadgets here. One time director Peter R. Hunt attempts to make a relevant, serious picture for a dissident Vietnam era audience, but eh; On Her Majesty’s Secret Service misses the mark. 

Nevertheless, appreciators of Lazenby’s lone performance and Bond completists will eat up the forthcoming bluray set. Some aficionados swear by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and that’s fine-there’s a Bond for everyone I suppose. Collectors can certainly find the DVD individually or stuck in the middle of a set. It’s a little annoying to me that the sets don’t go in chronological order or aren’t just packaged per Bond. This forces fans to pay really ridiculous prices for films they aren’t interested in-and it looks like we’ll have to do it all over again with the bluray releases. Ergo, I wouldn’t pay extra for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service if I didn’t have to. Along with Moonraker, I’ve seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service one time too many.


Anonymous said...

What a poorly written review! You need to read some books!

If you'd actually read Ian Fleming's OHMSS, you'd see that it is the one that most closely follows the novel.

It is consistently voted one of the best in the series by James Bond fans worldwide. The soundtrack is recognised as on the of the best ever and was recently in the all time Top 10 on Classic FM

Kristin Battestella said...

Hey there,

I read quite a lot of books actually, just not the Bond series.

I did research that OHMSS is an accurate adaptation of its source novel. My point is that the previous films establish too many liberties with the written material, so by time they tried to take OHMSS in a truer direction, too many unBondlike (as the film public knew it) styles were taken.

Recently a lot of people have come around to liking this one, which I do discuss in my Casino Royale review.

Feel free to sign in and comment again as I dare more Bond!