On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 07/20/04 02:25:38

"The One With George In It"
5 stars (Awesome)

Poor George Lazenby. Ask anyone with a casual knowledge of James Bond and they'll dismiss him as 'the rubbish Bond' and 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' as the 'worst Bond film ever' More fool them however, as anyone who truly knows Bond will tell you that 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' is actually one of the best ever.

We get a self-aware pre-credit sequence where Bond rescues Tracy (Diana Rigg) from a group of thugs. Bond's face is kept hidden from us, until he chirps his famous introduction. After rescuing Tracy he receives no thanks however as she drives away, leaving Lazenby to remark ruefully to camera "This never happened to the other fellow...".

The credits, led by a storming instrumental piece (Louis Armstrong's wonderful 'We Have All The Time In The World' comes forty minutes in) take us to two years after 'You Only Live Twice'. Bond has failed to track down Blofeld and is relieved of the case. Taking a holiday he's contacted by Tracy's father and Italian underworld boss Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti). He knows what Bond's done for Tracy and wants him to marry her. Bond agrees to try in exchange for information on the whereabouts of Blofeld.

Perhaps the reason that 'OHMSS' gets dismissed so easily is because it rarely fits the formula of a Bond film. The first forty minutes, there's little plot, no villian and we see Bond romancing Tracy. When Bond has a chance to bed Tracy, he sees she's upset and instead of comforting her physically, asks her if she wants to talk about it. It's hard to imagine Sean Connery doing something like this. When the plot does hit its stride however, it has more then enough to fight for the title of Best Bond Ever. Peter Hunt clearly knows his Bond and how to film a Bond action sequence. Blofeld's Switzerland hideaway is a fantastic location, with stunning scenery allowing Hunt to have magnificent ski pursuits and a brutal punch-up on a tobogan run. Hunt delivers the action with bags of style and tongue-in-cheek panache. We can only dream about what he could have done with the lumpy 'Diamonds Are Forever'.

Those who dismiss 'OHMSS' as boring have clearly forgotten that the entire second half is almost entirely action, that incorporates stock cars and avalanches and everything inbetween. There's rarely a Bond film that is so action-packed.

But then it is easy to dismiss a Bond film when it's got George Lazenby in. And how does he fare? Not bad at all actually. Firstly he looks entirely credible when he's called upon to fight. Take alook at one of the 3 punch ups in the first 20 minutes and it could easily be Connery in his place. He plays Bond as a too cocky charmer, but never smug and always heartfelt. Take a look at the scene where he goes from threatening Tracy to bedding her in a matter of minutes and you realise that Roger Moore couldn't have done it better. And he does more acting in the last five minutes than any other Bond has ever done in their entire run in the role.

Once you get over the rather dis-concerting feeling that you're watching Bond, but it's not Connery, you settle with him quickly.
He's sometimes wooden, sometimes awkward but essentially he nails the part and makes Bond human again. It would have been very interesting to see how he would have developed the part. A true shame he never got the chance.

Rigg is also excellent as Tracy, and it's easy to believe that she's the only woman Bond has ever truly loved. You never thought you'd see a Bond film where he proposed? You do here and it's entirely convincing. The playing of Lazenby and Rigg is superb and gives the film a real human and tender centre.

The regulars all get a chance to shine too, particularly Lee and Maxwell (Llwelyn gets rather sidelined) and it's refreshing to see them outside work for a change. And of course it was all change for the villain as well. As Blofeld, Telly Savalas has none of Donald Pleasance's icy charm, but seems far more capable of ripping someone's heart out. He plays Blofeld as a thuggish psycho and is much more effective than Charles Grey ever was. The only puzzling thing is why when Bond and Blofeld first meet again they go through a pretence of not knowing each other.

And there's the second reason 'OHMSS' is so memorable: the ending. For a film that already strays away from much of the typical Bond formula, here's another first: a Bond film that makes you cry. For an audience raised on charming and funny endings with high-octane thrils, here was something shocking and very different. It's impossible to imagine the effect of seeing it at the time and stands as one of the series very best moments.

'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' stands out as one of the best because it took risks. A risk of lead actor, a risk of narrative and a risk of ending. It could have killed the series and in a way it did. Sadly, there would never be a Bond film quite like it or prepared to take the same risks again, and 'Diamonds Are Forever' rather glibly ignored its legacy. Generally it was strictly formula from now on and what the series needs now is a similiar risk-taking effort. It's quite sad to watch 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' and here's two reasons. Lazenby should have made more and it represented the end of Bond's golden era. With the exception of 'Thunderball' the Bond films had been sterling efforts - 'From Russia With Love', 'Goldfinger', 'You Only Live Twice' and now 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'. Five star masterpieces all, and the Bonds would never have a run like it again.

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