January 22, 2011

Film Review - "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"

James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service

'My name's Bond. James Bond.'

"My name's Bond. James Bond."

George Lazenby stars as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service

 First of all, forget everything you've heard about On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Then try to see this film with fresh, unbiased eyes and see what you've been missing.

 Let's face it, the James Bond movies have never been known for deep, complex emotion. They've also maintained a rock-solid air of sophistication. Until this film.

 One of the many ways this breaks the pattern is obviously Aussie George Lazenby as Bond himself. As a former model and having no previous acting experience, he does a great job filling the impossibly big shoes of Sean Connery. For the film's final scene, Lazenby said he read the final scene in Ian Fleming's original novel and was able to express the emotion needed for that scene. He matches the emotional needs of the script, which puts much more emphasis on Bond's fears and humility.

 Another way the film breaks tradition is cinematography, most notably the scene where Bond returns to bed at Piz Gloria, and encounters Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) hiding under the sheets instead of the "Angel of Death" he bedded. Right after, a rather psychedelic visual follows, and Bond is captured. The Sixties are alive and well.

 As I mentioned, this is one of the more emotionally-driven Bond films. Bond and Tracy (Diana Rigg)'s chase through Murren and Grindelwald, as well as a local carnival and ice rink, illustrates Bond's fear and fallibility, in stark contrast to the other films up to that time. The mere thought of Bond getting married is a step out of the usual, though the film's ending tragically brings Bond's marital status (as well as his usual infallibility) back to the series' status quo.

 As a story, this is one of the more faithful Bond films in relation to the original novel. Other films, of course, changed origins and backstories, renamed or added characters, and especially downplayed what would be perceived today as political incorrectness (Live and Let Die being one of the prime examples of that). Since the films are far better known than the novels, there isn't as much as an uproar over the changes made for film as other film adaptations of books. Most agree the changes to downplay the novels' racism are for the better.

 Action and the exotic locales are in top form here. Switzerland and Piz Gloria illustrate the story's beauty as well as its loneliness and confusion, with Piz Gloria and the Swiss Alps adding isolation and the chase through the carnival adding much chaos for Bond. The ski chase with Bond and Blofeld's henchmen is pretty unforgettable, especially when one of the bad guys falls into a snow machine and makes red snow.

 All in all, does On Her Majesty's Secret Service really feel like a Bond film? Yes and no. There's enough of the usual features of a Bond film to not feel totally different, but the emotion makes it stand out, though it tends to alienate more of the hardcore Bond fans than it impresses, similar to Licence to Kill and its emotionally-driven plotline.

 I should mention that everyone who's seen this film will feel absolutely sorry for Miss Moneypenny at the wedding. I even captured the shot. Awwww...

Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) at Bond's wedding.

 I personally liked this because it takes a risk in terms of what should and what shouldn't go into a Bond film. George Lazenby does well despite the challenge in the role, and makes James Bond both sympathetic and humanly flawed.

Bond (George Lazenby) and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell)

Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti)

Bond (George Lazenby) meets the Angels of Death.

Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat)

Bond and Tracy (Diana Rigg)

Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas)

Tracy (Diana Rigg) steps up to the plate.

Don't let the ending get you down. After all, it is just a movie. But what a movie!

Film Review - "Thunderball"

James Bond in Thunderball

James Bond in Thunderball

 Imagine you're about to walk onto a stage. The performer before you has received overwhelming applause and a loving reception, and this heightens your nervousness. Now then, let's imagine this scenario in terms of the James Bond series. The act who is about to come onstage is Thunderball, and the act before who has won the great admiration and popularity is none other than Goldfinger.

 The James Bond series flew to new heights with Goldfinger, thus becoming the "tough act to follow" for the following installment, 1965's Thunderball.

 James Bond heads to the Bahamas to get back two warheads that have been stolen by none other than SPECTRE, which holds NATO (probably the only organization in the early Bond films that's not become hilariously out-of-date) hostage for £100,000,000 (cue inflation joke from Austin Powers). Soon enough, he encounters main Bond Girl for this film Dominique "Domino" Derval (Claudine Auger), whom Bond uses to get to her "guardian", SPECTRE Number Two Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi).

 Like any Bond film, there's a scene with M (Bernard Lee), one with Q (Desmond Llewelyn), and one with Bond's CIA equivalent Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter), who has a bit of a bigger role in this film. Leiter also had a good chunk in Dr. No, and would figure prominently in Licence to Kill.

 The locales, of course, are shot beautifully. It's also pretty awesome when Bond uses his Bell Rocket Belt to make his escape in the pre-title sequence. The character of Fiona Volpe proves to be just as wily as Bond, seeing right through Bond's ruse and managing to have him tied up before he regains consciousness. Luciana Paluzzi is probably one of the only foreign-born Bond girls not to have her voice dubbed by another actress. Her voice, of course, adds to the allure that for a short time traps Bond.

 You're probably wondering about what my opinion is on the "shot in the back" scene when Bond turns Fiona in time for her to be shot by her own bodyguard. Personally, the scene makes it clear that Bond sees the shooter, and in my eyes he purposely kills two birds with one stone.

 For me, the only notable thing about this film that seemed to drag on was the final underwater fight between the Coast Guard and Largo's henchmen. Still though, Thunderball is by no means a terrible Bond film, or even a film in general. There are certainly worse Bond films out there (*cough* A View to a Kill *cough*), and not watching Goldfinger before this one will probably help your opinion on this film. Sean Connery continues his winning streak here as Bond, though I'm more of a Roger Moore fan overall (not because he and I have the same last name, that's a total coincidence). 

 So by all means, check it out, even if you're totally biased against it because of Goldfinger. What this film doesn't accomplish, You Only Live Twice does, so enjoy it for what it is. Like I said, there are worse Bond films out there.


Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Anthony Dawson)

Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) and Bond (Sean Connery)

M (Bernard Lee) at Whitehall

Francois (Paul Stassino) and Domino (Claudine Auger) Derval

Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi)

Q (Desmond Llewelyn) demonstrates the latest gadgets.

Domino(Claudine Auger) and Largo (Adolfo Celi)