Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dir. Peter R. Hunt
****1/2

When asked what my favorite James Bond film is I vacillate between Goldfinger and the little-known On Her Majesty’s Secret Service from 1969.  It’s a shame that it is so little known, because it’s a gem in a series that is very much ‘hit and miss’.  With 2012’s Skyfall still fresh in my mind, I suddenly felt compelled to revisit this film.  Daniel Craig’s James Bond is often lauded for its departure from the tired formula exhausted by the other films in the series.  I admit, they have been a departure, but it’s been one that has resulted in the series taking on an uncanny resemblance to the Bourne films, which begs the question: is it still a Bond film that they’ve made?
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service I’m sure felt like a departure when it was first released in 1969.  First of all, it was the first franchised Bond film in which James Bond was not played by Sean Connery.  For this film, George Lazenby, an unknown Australian was chosen to fill those massive shoes.  From an appearance standpoint, Lazenby certainly looked the part—he is quite dashing, and his dimpled smile exhibits a lot of confidence requisite of James Bond. He also approached the role with a lot of enthusiasm.  One great departure that occurs in this film is that Bond appears in disguise for a large chunk of the picture, even utilizing an even more posh accent than we’re used to.  Lazenby, you can tell, despite his voice being dubbed, really enjoyed these scenes, as did I.  One thing I was reminded of while re-watching this film is just how fun James Bond films can be.  Ever since the 1980s Bond of Timothy Dalton, the movies have become increasingly more heavy-handed.  The Daniel Craig outings as Bond have a seriousness to them that makes it an almost unnerving experience to watch.  I had a lot of fun watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service—Lazenby gives a very light performance, playing the most philandering Bond of the series while rattling off some of the best one-liners any of the films has to offer.  There’s one in particular I’m surprised got by the censors in 1969!  See if you can find it.
While lacking in gadgetry, this Bond film boasts a series of spectacular chase scenes, including cars, skis, and even bobsleds.  It has a slew of beautiful women—Diana Rigg in particular, who despite playing Bond’s foil early on in the film, becomes his most significant affair of the entire series.  For those unaware, this is the Bond film in which James Bond gets married, and as preposterous as that sounds, the way it is approached in this film makes it appear not only legitimate, but also natural and romantic.
          The villain in this film is the quintessential Bond villain—Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the elite international crime syndicate SPECTRE.  Blofeld has been played by a host of different actors, and this time is played with much panache by Hollywood veteran actor, Telly Savalas.  In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Blofeld is no longer restricted to the confines of his plush swivel chair, mechanically stroking his unnamed and ubiquitous white cat—no, he can now be seen taking an active part in the most dangerous of chase scenes, even leading his gang of murderous henchman.  For his personal encounters with Bond, he is given eloquently preconceived dialogue, the kind of which one can only dream about delivering in retrospect, after hours of mulling over those perfect phrases that one wishes could have been uttered, while at the same time smoking cigarettes with the most unique grip I’ve seen.
            If you’re looking for a true surprise from this franchise, and haven’t seen this film already, then I highly recommend it!  It’s the second longest Bond film in the series, but it engages you, and the time flies by.  The ending, which I won’t disclose, achieves a sad sort of poignancy you wouldn’t think possible from a Bond movie.  This is only possible from a film that really makes you care for the characters as you do in this movie.  For that reason, Diana Rigg may very well be the ultimate Bond Girl.  She manages to effectively turn both James Bond and the franchise on its head, making it one of the most memorable Bond films, and one of the best. 
     
 

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