July 16, 2007

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Grade: 61/100

Director: Peter R. Hunt
Stars: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas

What it's about. Immortal British spy James Bond (George Lazenby) is again after arch-villain Blofeld (Telly Savalas), who now concentrates his activities on brainwashing hot young twentysomethings into agents of germ warfare. A subplot involves Bond's inevitably successful conquest of yummy Diana Rigg, the daughter of crime lord/good guy Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti).

How others will see it. Anyone who thinks that the last ten or so Bond films have been any good should see this film to have an eye-opener. While not quite on the same level as the initial Sean Connery Bond movies, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) is clearly superior to the warmed-over action formulas that have passed for Bond movies since the mid-1970s.

For one thing, the one-liners are better. And the romances and flirtations appear a little closer to genuine. The action scenes aren't quite convincing, especially the ski scenes, but the script is engaging. It also helps that Lazenby has the Aryan look suitable for an infallible superspy, although I liked the Bond character better when the viewer felt he was damned lucky to make it through each and every scrap. This was a characteristic that Connery had, but was ironed out in his replacements by the Bond series producers.

How I felt about it. George Lazenby makes his one and only appearance as James Bond in this film. Inquiring minds want to know why. The most popular theory is that Lazenby thought that the "hippie generation" made Bond culturally obsolete. In any event, Lazenby, whose prior acting experience consisted of being a male model, has undoubtedly regretted losing the eternally lucrative Bond franchise, which he might have kept for fifteen years.

It has occurred to me that although the Bond franchise has lumbered on for 45 years now, none of the actors that played Bond has died, unless the surreal and non-Broccoli Casino Royale (1967) is included. This only confirms the inability of James Bond to die, even through the usual fate of a diminished box office.

Of course, the story On Her Majesty's Secret Service is ridiculous. It just so happens that all of Blofeld's brainwashed subjects are attractive, gregarious young women. Yet he has no interest in them aside from their eventual ability to unleash biological agents upon his command. He is obsessed with becoming a Count, which seems frivolous compared to his dream of ruling the world.

Bond causes substantial damage to his plans, including the deaths of many anonymous bad guy employees, yet after Bond is subdued by a landslide, Blofeld deliberately allows Bond to escape, and even gives him an additional motive for an assault on his mountaintop fortress by kidnapping his girlfriend. Whom Blofeld wants to marry, despite potentially having his pick from a flock of brainwashed, fun-loving groupies. And after Bond foils his mad scheme yet again, Blofeld takes it out on Diana Rigg instead. Go figure.