Saturday, 18 June 2011

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Following the very elaborate story and settings of YOLT, OHMSS is a far more down-to-earth story. This is perhaps quite surprising given that in 1969 mankind is landing on the moon, yet it was the previous film which was concerned with the space-race. Bond is on the trail of Blofeld once again, whose plan for extortion this time involves drugged/brainwashed women who will be commanded to release a deadly virus from a perfume bottle at various global destinations, unless the US meet his demands.

Casting George Lazenby as 007 must have felt like a bit of a gamble at the time (perhaps because he looks like the King!). It was his first feature film; he was an Australian playing a British agent; and perhaps crucially, he was the first “different” James Bond. This last point obviously gave the powers-that-be the heebie-jeebies! We see select scenes from the previous films projected over the film titles, a mish-mash of John Barry’s themes while 007 looks at some of his gadgets from previous missions, and of course “This never happened to the other guy!”.

They needn’t have worried, Lazenby fills the role with aplomb; he not only slips into the role with ease, he manages (along with a succinct plot) to recreate what was so great about Sean’s 007 in the very first two movies. He relies far more on his own ability for fast-thinking; for making optimal use of his surroundings; and of course for shagging around. We can only guess at how the series would have progressed if Lazenby had signed on for more films; would he have held on to his “infinite resource and sagacity” (as my old headmaster used to say); or would he have fallen victim to the increasing gadgetisation which seems to be the trend when one actor stays around too long? One thing is for sure, few 00 agents would have been brave enough to pull this off:

Nor was this the only gem in his wardrobe; he also possesses some quite tight shirts! With these tight shirts he is only two hairy man-nipples away from a Roger Moore film!

Diana Rigg is good as Tracy, the only woman to make an honest man out of James Bond; well for about 5 minutes anyway; and when he’s not shagging his way around Blofeld’s institute for allergy sufferers. In fact his charisma is such that Bond can seduce two women with exactly the same line! At least at no point do you feel that he is forcing himself on any of the women as Sean sometimes seemed to do. Far from being just another Bond Girl, Tracy is very much her own woman; of course, driving fast cars, gambling, and threatening to kill random secret agents are just the kind of things 007 finds attractive in women! It is not a stand-out performance from Rigg, but she does bring believability to her character. Tracy isn't any old shell-collecting - climb a mountain in my bikini - swoon all over Bond kinda gal, she is a definite character in her own right; and with that in mind Rigg is great.

Where Donald Pleasance created an icon, it is Telly Savalas that really gets to take Blofeld out of the (volcano?) garage and really open him up. His understated menace is a great foil for Bond’s self-assurance. When Bond thinks that he is in control and Blofeld doesn’t suspect him, Telly reminds him who’s boss and that he hasn’t gone soft despite being surrounded with beautiful women all the time. His cool is diminished slightly during the skiing scenes, which to my mind were a little reminiscent of the sped-up boat chase at the end of Thunderball; but Telly would be a hard act to follow (especially having killed Mrs Bond!) How would Charles Gray cope?

From seemingly being worried at casting a new James Bond, the movie turned out to be a very memorable adventure, and perhaps one of the better Bond films that stands the test of time. The stunning Alpine location helps the film feel more exotic yet realistic (compared to the fantastic yet brilliant sets in YOLT). It seems to me that as soon as the gadgets are cut out and 007 gets back to basics, the better the films are. My only disappointment is that there wasn’t so much furniture fighting in OHMSS!

                                    Secret Alpine base discovered by 007 and Les Dennis!

Order of Preference so far: