Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Film Review: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 18 December 1969
  • Genre: Action, Romance
  • Director: Peter R. Hunt
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
  • Writer: Richard Maibaum

The Bond: George Lazenby. An unknown actor and model from Australia. (Fun Fact: He's the only Bond actor, to date, not from the British Isles.) While Lazenby handles the emotional turns required by the script quite well, he lacks assertiveness in many of his other scenes, and there are a few moments where his world-famous one-liners were obviously -- and poorly -- dubbed in post. All things considered, I would have to call Lazenby my least-favourite Bond actor, but I can't say I hate him as an actor. 3 out of 5.

The Girl: Countess Teresa "Tracy" di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg, The Avengers). Daughter of mob leader Marc-Ange Draco. One of my favourite Bond girls, I really appreciate her personality strength and assertiveness, evident in her self-destructive tendencies early on. Marries James Bond, only to be shot and killed by Irma Bunt5 out of 5.

Other Allies: Marc-Ange Draco (Gabrielle Ferzetti), leader of a Corsican mafia. Wants Bond to marry his daughter Tracy in order to knock some sense into her after her suicide attempts. His desires to desires to keep her daughter under control might, out of context, appear uncomfortable to viewers from a younger generation. 3 out of 5.

Shaun Campbell (Bernard Horsfall), Bond's accomplice in Switzerland, doesn't do much before he is captured and killed offscreen by Blofeld. He does have a scene, which is more poignant in the book, where he is captured and brought to Bond, who must deny knowledge of his partner to keep his own cover. 2 out of 5.

The Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Salavas, from Kojak). The change to Telly Salavas results in a villain with more of a presence. Survives, despite Bond's best efforts. 5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat), Blofeld's wife. Not much to say about her except for a rather unfortunate tangent down in the Novel section. 3 out of 5.

The Locations: Portugal, England, and Switzerland.  Fin Fact: In real life, Blofeld's mountain base is a revolving restaurant named Piz Gloria, and is located atop the Schilthorn mountain in central Switzerland.

The Gadgets: Not much to speak of. In the lawyer's office, Bond uses a clunky, huge safecracker-plus-document copier, which stands out compared to other, svelter safecrackers used in You Only Live Twice and Moonraker. 1 out of 5.

The Theme Song: The third instrumental Bond theme, this time composed by John Barry. There's also a second, unofficial theme, "We Have All The Time In The World" by Louis Armstrong, which plays during Bond and Tracy's dating montage. 5 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: The motifs include clocks, hourglasses, and footage from the previous Bond films. Interesting concept -- it ties into the aforementioned Armstrong song -- but the poor production values take me out of it. 3 out of 5.

The Novel: This outing was, once again, a faithful transition from print to screen. One point of note was that the book of OHMSS was followed by You Only Live Twice, where Bond avenges Tracy's death by killing Blofeld as well as his wife. However, this didn't happen in the movies because Irma Bunt's actress, Ilse Steppat, died days after the premiere of the OHMSS movie. Why she couldn't have been replaced is suspicious, considering the fact that this was after the movie where both the protagonist and antagonist had their actors replaced. But, as it stands, this is one unfortunate truth Bond fans have had to live with.

The Plot: Our movie starts on a beach in Portugal, where Bond rescues a woman, Tracy di Vicenzo, from drowning herself in the ocean, and fights off some random attackers before she drives off. Cue opening credits. Bond follows her to a casino, where she plays baccarat without the money to pay her bets, only to have him bail her out, and they spend the night together. The next day, Bond checks out with an armed escort which takes him to meet her father, mob boss Marc-Ange Draco. He makes a deal: he'll pay Bond £1 million if he marries his daughter, but Bond re-negotiates the offer for some intel on Blofeld. Back at MI6, Bond announces to M his intention to resign from Her Majesty's Secret Service, but M meets him halfway and gives him two weeks' leave.

Bond embarks on a dating montage with Tracy, then swings by a lawyer's office in Bern to nab some documents relating to Blofeld. Turns out he's investigating his claim as Count Balthazar de Bleuchamp, so Bond impersonates a genealogist and visits his supposed allergy clinic on top of a mountain in Switzerland. His time is spent investigating Blofeld's family tree, getting tail with the patients, and discovering their hypnotherapy treatments. But his true identity is discovered (apparently, he tried to get Blofeld out of the country so he could be arrested), and Blofeld issues his ultimatum face-to-face with Bond. The plot: trick the patients into dispersing viral agents back home, killing entire strains of plants and animals. The price: immunity from all past crimes, and recognition of his title. And he told this to Bond so the British and UN authorities would believe him. Well played, my good sir.

But Bond manages to flee the compound, and a ski chase ensues. Reaching a village at the foot of the mountain, he tries to shake his tail, when who should he meet but Tracy. They flee via car and manage to shake their pursuants just as a snowstorm hits, and are forced to hunker down in a barn for the night, where Bond proposes marriage to Tracy. The chase resumes in the morning, but this time Blofeld is on hand to trigger an avalanche. Tracy is engulfed, only to be rescued and abducted by his crew, but Bond escapes. M refuses to send reinforcements to take down Blofeld's operation, so Bond asks Draco for help. They raid the clinic, rescuing Tracy and disabling the evil plot. Bond chases the villain on bobsleds; he sticks the villain up in a tree, left for dead. The movie ends with Bond marrying Tracy... except Blofeld is alive, and he and his wife do a drive-by on the newlyweds, killing Tracy. You are now free to turn off your TV.

I applaud On Her Majesty's Secret Service for trying something new with its plot. Bond's conviction to take down Blofeld is a personally-driven goal, as he wants to finish the job he's spent the better part of a decade working on. And his relationship with the girl is a serious romance instead of the usual throwaway pleasure, thus making their marriage - and her death - that much more poignant. On the technical side of things, this film has dated less gracefully than other early entries in the Bond series; undercranking is frequent, and some of Bond's one-liners were very obviously dubbed in post. But all in all, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a hidden gem in its franchise; it's a shame it hasn't gotten as much exposure in the TV marathons and such. Maybe it's because of the Bond actor, I don't know. But guess what - we've got Connery back for our next outing! 5 out of 5

The Call: 85% (B+)

IchigoRyu will return in
Diamonds Are Forever

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