28 June 2019

"To unfold all the precious things love has in store": On Her Majesty's Secret Service

This was the first George Lazenby film of my Bondathon. Of course, it's also my last because it's the only one he ever did. I've never seen this one; we must have never grabbed it off the VHS shelf at the library when I was a kid (or maybe it wasn't even on it to behind with).

George Lazenby turns out to be pretty good. He's not playing Connery's character, but why should he be? He's a little more suave, and comes across as hotheaded in, say, the scene where he tries to resign, rather than brutal like Daniel Craig or early Connery. Sometimes the quips land, sometimes they don't, but never do they come across as smugly as Roger Moore's bon mots. He's good at the obligatory Bond flirting (the bit where he seduces two different women sequentially using the same lines is hilarious). Where Lazenby does really well is the romance with Diana Rigg's Tracy di Vicenzo. The two have a real attraction, and a real relationship; you can see why Bond would really fall in love with her. The scene where they take refuge together in a barn during a blizzard is genuinely sweet-- and utterly impossible to imagine Connery's Bond pulling off. Yet Lazenby does it and remains recognizably Bond.

Jon Pertwee would be jealous.

Diana Rigg is great as Tracy, of course. A lot of time, women are shown to be "worthy" of Bond by making them like him in some way: violent and action-based. Melina in For Your Eyes Only and Agent XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me are both like this, and both among the better "Bond girls." But Tracy is different. She's not a secret agent like XXX, nor even a amateur like Melina, but like Bond, she knows what she wants when it comes to pleasure and takes it, and is good under pressure, and is a little bit damaged. The two suit each other well, in both action sequences-- the whole snow chase in Switzerland-- and in quieter moments-- like when she makes her gangster father hand over the location of Blofeld to Bond. Her rebuttals and intelligence when interacting with Blofeld also really show her off at her best. And the montage of her and Bond getting to know each other was charming. Of course, it helps that she's played by Diana Rigg, one of the most beautiful actresses and cutting actresses there ever was.

I liked her casino outfit a lot (pictured here), but her wedding dress (below right) was also great.

Of course if you're doing this all in book order, you know Tracy is doomed; we saw her gravestone in For Your Eyes Only. It still works even if you know this, I think, and possibly even works better. Of course Bond can't be happy; we learned that back in Casino Royale. The wedding scene itself is great, with Moneypenny crying up a storm, Q adopting a fatherly sort of attitude, and Tracy's father trying to convince her to be an obedient wife. It's spirited-- but you know it has to end badly, and indeed it does, in a scene that's heartbreaking for how broken Lazenby shows Bond to be. It's a real shame that he quit, and that the next film chronologically (Diamonds Are Forever) ignores these events completely, because the idea of a broken Bond played by Lazenby hunting down Blofeld is fantastic.

Outside of the romance, it's a solid Bond film, too. As often happens, the film improves somewhat on Fleming's weird plotting. In the book, Bond has been search for Blofeld for sometime without success; he asks Tracy's father for help, who reveals Blofeld is in Switzerland, but the Secret Service are unable to follow up on that lead. Then, coincidentally, the College of Arms tells the Secret Service they've heard from Blofeld in Switzerland. Here, Tracy's father gives Bond the name of Blofeld's lawyer, Bond sneaks in to access his legal correspondence in a nice sequence, and in there, Bond discovers that Blofeld is corresponding with the College of Arms under a pseudonym. The film also gives more of a reason why Bond needs the Corsican mafia's help to take down Blofeld at the end, and increases the stakes of Blofeld's plot (which in the novel is just against Britain's food supply, not the world's).

The action sequences are good-- there are a number of genuinely tense standouts, like Bond's escape from the mountaintop chalet via a cable. I do wish there hadn't been such over-the-top punching sound effects dubbed on throughout, which make some fights that could be grim much less so. The film, like the best Bond, manages to meld in goofiness appropriately; we go from this very tense part where Bond has to hide from Blofeld's people, to him and Tracy accidentally smashing into a Christmas-day stock car race. The opening on the beach, where Bond stops Tracy from committing suicide, is beautifully shot, too. Like the best Bonds, it manages to be expansive in scope without being ridiculous.

Other Notes:
  • I liked the touch that the first non-Connery Bond film featured clips from all the Connery films in its title sequence.
  • On the other hand, it amused me that the book that established Bond was of Scottish heritage was the first film where he was not played by a Scot. He wears a kilt anyway, though! (Lazenby looks good in a kilt.) This Bond feels a bit more fashion-forward than Connery's and Moore's, a lot of frilly shirts and such.
  • If we believe all the Eon-produced Bond films take place in a single continuity, Diamonds Are Forever has to precede OHMSS, even though it was made later, doesn't it? Nothing about Bond's demeanor in Diamonds is really consistent with the idea that Blofeld killed his wife. If you make that shift, then OHMSS becomes Blofeld's last appearance until Bond kills him in For Your Eyes Only.
  • Telly Savalas plays Blofeld here. I spent the whole film wondering what I knew him from; he played the detective in Gene Roddenberry's high school sex black comedy, Pretty Maids All in a Row. I liked him. He has a sort of glint of humor in his eye, like he knows the whole thing's ridiculous, and that's why he loves it. His two scenes with Bond (one where they are playing nice, one where they are not) are excellent.
  • George Baker is in this! He's one of those mainstays of 1970s British television (he's in Doctor Who and I, Claudius), and he was actually in my previous Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond impersonates Baker's character for a while, and apparently Baker dubbed Lazenby for those scenes, because Lazenby didn't do a good George Baker imitation. I learned this from Wikipedia; I wouldn't have noticed from the film itself.
  • Joanna Lumley plays one of Blofeld's "Angels of Death"; like Diana Rigg she co-starred in The Avengers with Patrick Macnee, and she also played the thirteenth Doctor in The Curse of Fatal Death. Alas, I didn't notice her here.
  • More skiing! But this one adds bobsledding, which is awesome.

Film Rankings (So Far):
  1. Casino Royale
  2. Dr. No
  3. From Russia with Love
  4. For Your Eyes Only 
  5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
  6. Thunderball
  7. Goldfinger
  8. The Spy Who Loved Me
  9. Moonraker
  10. Never Say Never Again
  11. A View to a Kill
  12. Live and Let Die 
  13. Diamonds Are Forever

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