Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

After five turns as James Bond, Sean Connery finally said, “No more” (for now). Producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli turned to an unknown Australian model with no acting experience named George Lazenby to fill Connery’s shoes. His performance was universally blasted at the time, but in retrospect, it’s okay. Lazenby lacks the movie-star charisma of the other Bond actors, but he’s excellent at the physical action — probably even better than Connery. He doesn’t hold the screen the way Connery (or even Roger Moore, regarded as a lightweight) did as Bond, and James Bond really needs to be the coolest guy in the room.

One of the best directed and edited films in the 007 series, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE suffers not just from Lazenby’s dramatic deficiencies, but also its early pacing. At 142 minutes, it’s the second longest Bond film (after CASINO ROYALE) and feels it, notably the interminable scenes with Bond and the girls at Piz Gloria. On the other hand, pretty much everything from Bond’s escape from Piz Gloria to the end is great: a cable car escape, a ski chase, an amazing car chase, an avalanche, a bobsled chase and the Bond series’ most downbeat conclusion.

Bond, having failed to secure megalomaniac Ernst Stavro Blofeld while destroying his operation at the end of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, has spent the last two years tracking him. His boss M (Bernard Lee) takes Bond off the case at the same time 007 begins a romance with the reckless Contessa Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), perhaps at the instigation of her gangster father Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti).

Bond and Tracy fall in love, and he considers marriage. Through Draco’s connections, Bond gets a line on Blofeld (Telly Savalas), who has opened an allergy-research clinic atop Piz Gloria in the Swiss Alps. The clinic is, of course, a front for Blofeld’s latest world-domination plot, which involves brainwashing beautiful young women from different countries into releasing a virus that could destroy the human race.

Nitpicking a James Bond plot is besides the point, though it’s hard to ignore the fact that Blofeld doesn’t recognize Bond, posing as a genealogist named Sir Hilary Bray, as the agent who blew up his volcano two years earlier. The story’s biggest hangup is Hunt’s insistence on including a treacly BUTCH CASSIDY-style romantic montage with Bond and Tracy mooning over each other while Louis Armstrong sings John Barry and Hal David’s “We Have All the Time in the World.”

Speaking of Barry, his sixth consecutive Bond score is among his best, and OHMSS’ technical and production credits are impeccable. Except the poor process photography. Why the early Bonds had such poor process work is a mystery. Despite all the great stuff in the film, OHMSS’ box office, while high, was lower than YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE’s. Lazenby decided to stop after one Bond film (his career never recovered), and a $1 million salary lured Connery into returning for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.

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