Director Peter Hunt
Stars George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn & Lois Maxwell
Things You Might Like
- Return to Fleming’s Bond
- Physical presence of Lazenby and naturalistic fights
- The attack on Blofeld’s mountain retreat
- The tragic arc of Bond and Tracey
- Crisp late sixties visuals, sounds and fashions
Things You Might Not Like
- Change. No-one likes change
- Annoying continuity with series
- Lazy rear projection skiing
Not the best Bond film made, but the greatest movie featuring 007. OHMSS is an epic and intelligent tragedy wrapped in slick franchise tropes.
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There’s no such thing as a standalone entry in the Bond franchise, each seeps into the other either by design or default. Yet On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS) does its absolute best to rise above the tide of the series and lay down its mark as an independently wonderful piece of cinema. One of the reasons it is able to do this is of course the singular appearance of George Lazenby as Bond, an occurrence that has fascinated the “what-ifs” of Bond cultists since 1969.
Lazenby’s Bond is not so much his own creation as Ian Fleming’s; his mannerisms and quirks are closer to the source novels than Connery’s incarnation became. The best comparison within the cinematic series is to the quiet espionage game of From Russia With Love or the cat-and-mouse of Goldfinger. Lazenby is a much greater physical presence than his predecessor, making his fight scenes more brutal and naturalistic. His is a Bond that uses his adrenaline to overcome opponents, rather than relying on confidence and bravado. There is an overwhelming sense that this Bond can be defeated, a characteristic that mirrors the tragic arc of the man himself; chased by goons down a mountain, Lazenby’s Bond hides in a crowd and fears for his life. Despite this, his charm and sophistication remain intact – the two pillars that support the gentleman spy.
Lazenby’s success is also down to the imaginative direction of Peter Hunt, also making his only series appearance. Hunt captures the decade that made Bond an icon in glorious blue and white, occasionally tainted by the red of a pulverised enemy or defeated ally. Costumes and sets are refined and beautifully tailored; from Bond’s suits and kilted disguise down to individualised styles of the Angels of Death. Even the anonymous henchmen’s orange tops mark them out as villains but for once not do not make them look like target practise. The score, with its classic wordless title theme, similarly catches the mood of the times and of the film; refreshed, vibrant and daring.
The film sets every scene with care, framing characters against sunsets and cloudless skies. Yet the dawn helicopter raid on Blofeld’s mountain base is an energetic, exciting and close-run conclusion. These days often credited for inspiring Inception’s wintery assault, the original is a how-to of action set-pieces and beats any competition from volcanic bases or gold reserves with ease.
Despite these advancements, OHMSS suffers from the same rear projection that many sixties films had to contend with. It’s a huge shame that these weren’t handled with the same care as the rest of the film as the downhill shots of Bond and Tracey look barely horizontal with the action, let alone on the same mountain.
Leaps from one snowy mountain to the next can be forgiven but the glaring lack of continuity between instalments is criminal. Having finally faced Blofeld at the climax of You Only Live Twice (YOLT), we are now meant to believe the SPECTRE head has a terrible memory for faces. This issue only occurred due to filming the novels out of sequence after Thunderball’s legal wrangling and hard-to-find snowy locations, but a snippet of sense should have arisen in the script. Something as simple as setting the film between Thunderball and YOLT would have done, let alone the reported idea of giving Bond plastic surgery.
The frustrations of OHMSS are nothing compared to its successes, of which the greatest has to be the risky decision to retain the novel’s coda. James and Tracey’s story is the emotional and dramatic core of the film, neatly interlocking with Bond’s official mission and the plot he uncovers. Their romance is initially a business deal that Tracey nullifies, yet grows in to a relationship of love and respect. The chemistry between Lazenby and the wild but vulnerable Diana Rigg is played note perfect, evolving as the two alternate between saviour and sacrament. Pulling the MI6 staff in for the wedding scene works to boost the drama of the final scenes, the dependable Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn and Lois Maxwell flourishing in extended roles. Indeed it is Maxwell’s Moneypenny that first saves Bond’s career then has to wave him farewell, years of unrequited love distilled to the catching of a bowler hat.
OHMSS is an exilerating two hours of stunning visuals, rousing scoring and roaring attacks; yet most of all it is a human tragedy. Characters we already know are giving more depth than ever before, non so much as James Bond himself. This is a one-off Bond in more ways than one, equal to the best in the series but also success far beyond the franchise. Not the best Bond film made, but the greatest movie featuring 007.
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