Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in the UK and the US on December 19, 1969
Directed by Peter Hunt
Written by Richard Maibaum
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat, George Baker, Angela Scoular, Louis Maxwell, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Catherine Schell, Yuri Borienko, Bernard Horsfall, Joanna Lumley
With Sean Connery ending his reign—temporarily—as MI6 super spy James Bond after five films, it was time for the filmmakers to find someone to replace him. And that someone was advertising model George Lazenby, who stepped into Connery’s shoes for his one and only appearance as 007, in this Peter Hunt-directed entry based on the Ian Fleming novel of the same name. And out of all the Bond films that have been released—from Dr. No to Spectre—I would say this one has garnered the most debate among fans and casual viewers alike. Do we like newcomer Lazenby, or don’t we? Is this the best Bond film of the series, or one of the worst?
First, the story. After saving a woman—a contessa named Tracy—from a suicide drowning, Bond continues on to his hotel, where by chance the two cross paths again. The next morning, after waking from their bedroom rendezvous, Bond discovers the contessa has left; some thugs then take him to meet her father, Draco, the head of a crime syndicate. Draco wants Bond to marry the troubled Tracy, but Bond will only agree to romance her…if Draco will use his influence to help locate SPECTRE nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond’s quest soon takes him from Portugal to London, and then to Switzerland, where he discovers Blofeld’s worldwide ransom plot, and finds himself falling in love with Tracy.
Oh, if only Connery had hung on for just one more film! For years I’ve considered this one of the lesser Bonds, and wondered how much more entertaining it might’ve been if Connery had starred, and if Terence Young—who’d helmed Dr. No, From Russia, with Love, and Thunderball—had returned to direct. But after this viewing, I wondered: if Lazenby had fulfilled his seven-film contract, would he have improved his skills as an actor over time, and become comfortable in the role? Would we have become used to him, like we did with Roger Moore, and even grown to like him as 007?
Though he was hamstrung from the start—he was new, he was inexperienced, and he wasn’t Connery—I thought Lazenby did just fine, as did first-time director Hunt, whose widescreen camerawork was simply outstanding. However, what really made the film such a treat for me this time around was the screen story and the cinematography. Richard Maibaum’s script stuck close to the source novel, giving us a serious, more realistic film that was thankfully light on the overboard gadgets and gimmickry, while the cinematography took full advantage of the breathtaking beauty of the majestic Swiss Alps and Blofeld’s unique mountaintop retreat, Piz Gloria.
Of course, another positive was the lovely Diana Rigg, playing the part of Tracy, who was smart, sassy, confident, and quite fun…the perfect Bond Girl, and maybe even something more. I thought she and Lazenby made for a great team, particularly during a chase sequence in and around a snowy Swiss hamlet, which to me was both exciting and romantic. And what about Telly Savalas, playing the top dog of SPECTRE? Though he was skilled as an actor in the part, I wish continuity had carried over from You Only Live Twice and Donald Pleasance had reprised his role; to me, he looked and acted more like the Blofeld I’d always imagined than Savalas did.
I have my Dad to thank for introducing me to the Bond films back in the ’70s, and we watched a lot of them on Sunday nights on ABC…but this one I never saw until years and years later, I’m guessing on home video. Why, I don’t know, but perhaps it was my innocent young mind considering anything not Connery or Moore not worthy of my time. But where do I stand now? I’d say On Her Majesty’s Secret Service ranks among the best, and is essential viewing for any Bond fan, especially for that ending you won’t see coming. And as for the ‘who made for the better Bond’ debate? In the long run, with Lazenby having starred in just this one outing, it’s still and will always be Connery for me. (8/10)