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!

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