Sunday, March 10, 2013

"50 Years of Bond" Retrospective - #6: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

With You Only Live Twice concluded, Sean Connery had reached the end of his five picture deal with EON. He planned on retiring from the character, but that was not the case. He would come back in the future release Diamonds Are Forever, but in the middle of all that, new talent had emerged for the role. Australian actor George Lazenby hadn’t hit it big in the business, but he screen tested for, and eventually won the role of Bond. Compared to the likes of Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan, Lazenby is the most under the radar. Some even forget who he was, due to the fact that this was first and only Bond film he’d ever starred in. Every other actor, even Timothy Dalton, played the character at least twice. This made me think he must be so bad that he almost ruined the movie. In actuality, he’s responsible for one of the best Bond movies yet.

Bond continues his search for SPECTRE number one, Blofeld. He has a lead on the whereabouts of the fiend, but there’s one catch: the leader of a European crime syndicate will only give him the information in exchange that Bond marries the man’s daughter, who he had saved earlier in the film. The trail eventually leads Bond to the Swiss mountains, where he discovers a plot involving hypnotizing allergy patients, and sterilizing the world’s food supplies if his demands to be granted the title of Count De Bleuchamp are not met.

It was decided early on that the film would follow the original novel more closely than many of the other films had done, and the story they came up with is quite good. It’s got the action, the suspense, the intelligence, it even gives us the impossible. James Bond has some actual depth now?! *GASP*!  For the first time, I feel like the SPECTRE storyline is becoming interesting, admittedly late in the game, but I’ll take it. The action and suspense are just as good as ever, with perhaps the only exciting toboggan sequence you’ll ever see.

The talent is pretty good throughout. For what had me thinking Lazenby would be the worst Bond, I think he’s the most underappreciated of the bunch. This is the Bond I had been waiting to see. He still has that charisma that made Connery work so well, but he also manages to nail more subtle emotional mannerisms. Chief among this come from his relationship with Contessa Teresea, played by Diana Rigg, who is one of the best Bond girls to date, and certainly one of the most alluring. The thing that I really love is that these two actually have some great chemistry, and that makes their story work big time. Blofeld is also entertaining as the villain once more, although the switch from Donald Pleasance to Telly Savalas is a little odd.

This is the movie that I think should have followed up Goldfinger. It’s not quite as good as that, but it’s close. However, OHMSS does not escape its flaws. I think the film runs too long, occasionally hitting some pacing issues. On top of that, I think the twist in the story at the end of the film was a cruel decision, and not even cruel in a way that works. It’s simply cruel in the traditional sense. Then again, a similar twist of cruelty occurred in Casino Royale decades later, so maybe I’m getting too worked up about that.

All in all, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a great film. It’s just a shame Lazenby never came back for another go. He had apparently been so at odds with producer Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli that he would never play the character more than once, but there was apparently more to it than simply that, and the consensus on the film may not have helped either. Critical opinions of him had been mixed initially, and even though reviews of the film have improved in hindsight, opinions of Lazenby have still been polarizing. Love him or hate him, Lazenby was done, and it was time for Connery to return, where we would finally see the end of the SPECTRE saga… THANK. GOD!

****1/2 / *****

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