I’m up to a quarter of the way through this run, and so we have another pivotal 007 film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I had actually seen this one, so it’s not so much about first impressions this time. What I did recall was that it was very good, so I was looking forward to revisiting the strange reputation of OHMSS as “the good Bond film with the bad Bond”.
Spoiler warning. Look, as with the earlier posts, I’m going to assume you’ve seen this too and are now ready for some stupid half-baked opinions about the film.
Wherein we have to get used to the idea of George Lazenby. He’s in pursuit of a particular woman in a car chase, but for some reason she decides to take a long walk into the sea, but he “rescues” her, in the meantime fighting off two assailants. Said woman manages to get back to her car and races off, and the New Bond breaks the fourth wall and drops possibly the corniest line uttered in a Bond film up to then. Let’s be honest, we’re not off to a great start.
The titles are in the usual style with Britannia and an hourglass theme, although they make a point of showing scenes from the previous films just to emphasise the point that the New Bond is just the Old Bond (even though he’s not).
By the way, the OHMSS theme is the strongest movie-specific motif yet. The idea that the opening song needed the title in it caused issues, lyric-wise, so Barry was wise to just keep it an instrumental. (It even worked well as a Big-Beat anthem when adapted by The Propellerheads during the 90s.)
But during the movie we also get one of the best Bond movie songs as well, Louis Armstrong’s last recording “We Have All The Time In The World”, which could well be the alternative title for the film.
The film is split between the beaches of Portugal and the high Alps of Switzerland, making a striking contrast in scenery as the film gallops along. The alpine Piz Gloria marks one of the coolest (no pun intended) sekrit bases in the series to date, as with the tomfoolery in alpine villages, racetracks, and barns.
After the opening, Bond finally catches up with the impetuous Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, played by the great Diana Rigg. Bond puts the suave on at the hotel with Tracy, who at first thinks of it as a mere transaction, taking some time to warm to the idea as the story unfolds. It’s a one-in-a-kind role which echoes through later films through subtle references, and how it ends might explain why Bond is generally IDGAF at times.
The Contessa checks out of the hotel early, but as Bond runs out after her, he’s kidnapped by some goons who take him to a villa.
Surprise! The goons belong to Tracy’s dad, the head of the slightly less megalomanic crime syndicate, the Union Corse. But rather than being mad, Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) is impressed by Bond’s behaviour towards Tracy and is quite keen to set them up, to get her back on the straight and narrow. While Bond is amenable to the idea, he refuses Draco’s generous dowry offer in preference for a lead to the ever elusive Blofeld.
Draco turns out to be more help to Bond than MI6, as he helps find Bond a way to Blofeld, and when the agency abandons the case, it’s Draco who provides the materiel and the muscle to destroy Piz Gloria for good. Even though it may just be to see the Commander and the Contessa actually get married. But maybe there’s also the motivation to stop Blofeld from destroying the world’s agriculture and for the Union to throw some mud in SPECTRE’s eye.
Once again SPECTRE mastermind Blofeld appears in full here, played by the imperious Telly Savalas, who doesn’t drop a beat. He’s assisted by Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) as the obergruppenfrauline who keeps things in line at the eyrie and, later on, effectively delivers the decisive blow.
Their plot this time is the fairly standard over-the-top SPECTRE extortion scheme – using their alpine fortress to develop strains of omega viruses that could potentially wipe out any particular species of livestock or plant, meanwhile recruiting and inculcating the Angels of Death *metal riff* from around the world to act as vectors.
Bond infiltrates the base undercover as Sir Hilary Bray, a College of Arms geneologist who is meant to verify Blofeld’s claim on the title Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp. The cover gets blown partially because he can’t help rooting some of the Angels of Death. *metal riff*
I can’t help but ponder Blofeld’s thought process – “I reckoned you were that arsehole who keeps fucking with my shit, but I couldn’t confirm it until you started macking out again”. At least if the script had kept the plastic surgery idea (heck, the idea was used for a villain in Thunderbull) it mightn’t have been so ludicrous.
The gadgets get dialled back a bit, and the usual purveyor Desmond Llewellyn’s Q does appear but he’s basically light relief. About as mad as it gets is at the Bern lawyer’s office, Bond does make use of a multi-function printer-copier-fax-safecracking device as he finds out about the Bray connection.
Lots of schnapps.
The Angels of Death *metal riff* were perhaps a little bit too horny. Sure they were high on the hill like a lonely goatherd but Blofeld must’ve been putting something else in their food along with the antihistamines or whatever. (Also, checking my references, I totally missed that Joanna Lumley was amongst them.)
And I’ll not say that the farce was Lazenby. Having mentioned this to a friend on Twitter, he pointed out that Connery might not have pulled off particular scenes quite so well, particularly the finale, and I think that’s true.
Well, OK, there is one thing that is farcical for Lazenby: The decision to turn down a seven-film contract, at his agent’s urging that spy movies would go out of style and he may get typecast. While not as good a Bond debut as Connery in Dr. No, there’s enough going on here that he might’ve become as entrenched in the role as Roger Moore did when he got the chance. There’s also the fact that the conventions of the series had been established and it would take more than one duff performance to wreck it completely – but then, this is also a very unconventional 007 film in ways aside from the new actor.
The skiing scenes are some of the most striking in the whole series and setting up future icecapades (most notably in the classic opening to The Spy Who Loved Me), accounting for the fact that the stunt photography had to push the envelope. It looks a bit dated in parts, with the back-projection cuts looking rather disjointed, but in a time where drones and sports cameras were non-existent, the wide shots get the point across.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service takes a while to get its bearings as it sets up the romance and the espionage threads of the plot. But once Bond’s cover is blown and he needs to escpae from the gear room, it’s action packed until the end, only pausing for breath in the barn, before it goes back to going hell-for-leather, until the wedding. I think it’s paced marvellously, a match for From Russia With Love, if not even better.
It also proved decisively that the series could move beyond Connery as the lead. Sean does get another shot or two, so next up I’ll see if he was just doing Diamonds for the cheque. George Lazenby is easy enough to knock, as it’s true he doesn’t quite have the panache of the other fellow – but he’s not terrible either. He’s given one of the series’ final scenes that isn’t about canoodling in a lifeboat, and he nails it.
And, you know, I reckon losing Tracy would break my heart too.
I’m giving it 18 cowbells out of 20.