This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Friday, January 15, 2010

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

"This never happened to the other fellow."
-James Bond-007



A brief recap for the few who may be unfamiliar with the world of James Bond. In 1953, Ian Fleming, a British journalist who had retired to Jamaica, wrote a novel entitled Casino Royale. This novel introduced the character of James Bond (code name: 007). The book was successful enough to allow Fleming to write more Bond stories. One year after its publication, CBS made a television adaptation of the novel for its anthology series Climax. Despite the appearance of cinema legend Peter Lorre as the villain Le Chiffre, the show was less than memorable.

Still, Fleming's Bond novels continued to sell well and further attempts were made to obtain the film rights to them. Those rights were sold in 1961 (the year JFK declared the Bond books among his favorites) to producers Albert Broccoli & Harry Saltzman. With financing from United Artists, the pair made Dr. No (1962), which was a delightful thriller in spite of its modest budget. The icing on the cake here was the pivitol casting of then-unknown Sean Connery as Bond. The film's success naturally warranted followups- From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967).

It was after the filming of Twice that Connery began to grow weary of his close identification with Bond. Hence, his departure from the role prompted a long, hard search for the right replacement. Ideal choices such as future 007 Roger Moore were unavailable. Eventually, Broccoli & Saltzman selected an Austraiian salesman/model named George Lazenby who, unlike Connery, had no prior acting experience. Nevertheless, his good looks & impressive work in action scenes convinced the producers that he was the man for the job.

The new Bond was introduced in the 6th Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which is noteworthy in the Bond canon as, in it, Bond, after tracking his nemesis Blofeld (Telly Savalas) to Switzerland where he intends to unleash his plans for bacteriological warfare on the world should the United Nations deny him a pardon for his past crimes, ends his seemingly perpetual bachelorhood by marrying a beautiful Spanish contessa, and then tragically losing her. This film is actually closer to its namesake novel than many of the other Bond films. Although he's sometimes a bit too low-key, Lazenby puts in an admirable performance as Bond, inspite of his lack of acting experience. His work in the piviotal final scene in which Bond grieves over the body of his dead wife (played by Diana Rigg) is especially good.

The best moments of the movie, though, are the beautifully crafted ski chase sequences. Set to John Barry's great musical score, they never fail to get the adrenaline pumping with each viewing. One of the most common complaints against this film resides in the moment in which Blofeld meets with Bond, who is posing as a genealogist who goes to Blofeld's Switzerland retreat to research the validity of Blofeld's request to be granted the title of count. They don't seem to recognize each other even though they met in the previous film. In fairness, though, Fleming had written OHMSS prior to YOLT so the fact that Blofeld doesn't recognize his nemesis at this moment in the film is actually faithful to the novel even if it isn't so much in terms of movie-to-movie continuity.

Unfortunately, what went on during the making of this film led to much of the general public dismissing it. A major factor which contributed to this was Lazenby's hasty decision to only play 007 in this film, believing the series wouldn't last much longer in the wake of classic 60s films such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Easy Rider(1969). Hence, this film is the 'odd picture out' in the Bond series with Lazenby the only Bond actor not to enjoy above the title billing.

This behind-the-scenes drama led to Connery returning to the role once more in the next film Diamonds are Forever (1971) before Moore began his Bond career with the eighth 007 pic Live and Let Die (1973). As for Lazenby, he has found success as a businessman who occasionally dabbles into acting, but, despite a nice send up of his 007 role in Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), his acting legacy has been basically as the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question.

2 comments:

  1. whatever the details or facts...James Bond will always be remembered and everyone will know where "shaken, not stirred" came from ;)

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  2. Great review on the Bond franchise. Sean Connery was the ideal Bond; rugged, intelligent, just like a stereotypical British agent (like Fleming). Once again, a great job, Rob.

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