The films you may not have seen that are definitely worth a look…
Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Tell Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti
Directed by: Peter Hunt / Written by: Richard Maibaum (with additional dialogue by Simon Raven)
What’s it about?
Whilst on the trail of SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld, James Bond finds himself falling for the alluring and beautiful, yet troubled, Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo. But first Bond must obtain information from the Contessa’s father, Draco, leading to an undercover assignment in Switzerland – his mission: to prevent Blofeld from unleashing germ warfare on an unsuspecting world…
I was originally planning to feature On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as part of the GBUK Film Classics reviews but thought that perhaps the more casual viewers of Bond films (or new Bond fans introduced via last year’s mega hit, Skyfall) may not be all that familiar with some of the earlier screen adventures of the iconic super spy.
Largely dismissed upon its original theatrical release, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has in the decades since gained the recognition it fully deserves as one of the best Bond films (many even consider it to be THE best). The incredibly popular Sean Connery was always going to be a tough act to follow but George Lazenby proved to be a worthy, albeit brief, successor in a film that brings the character closer to Ian Fleming’s literary creation whilst retaining some of the charm and likeability that Connery had brought to the role.
Based on Ian Fleming’s novel, OHMSS is a very personal film for Bond and the first time we’re given a deeper insight into his character as he falls for the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (aka “Tracy”), played by Diana Rigg. Rigg, fresh from her popular stint as Emma Peel (alongside Patrick Macnee’s John Steed) in classic and often quirky British TV series The Avengers, is by far the best screen Bond girl. Far more than the archetypical damsel in distress or just mere eye candy, yes she’s beautiful, but Tracy is a strong and feisty character with dimension and a vulnerable quality that Bond finds endearing, all brought to life by a wonderful and immensely talented actress. She’s the sort of character we don’t really see again until Vesper (Eva Green) steals Bond’s heart in Casino Royale (2006).
It’d be fair to say that producers “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman will have been nervous about casting a new James Bond but with George Lazenby they needn’t have fretted too much (although they would later, Lazenby wouldn’t return for Diamonds Are Forever). The Australian model, whose only acting experience at that point was in a Fry’s chocolate commercial, proved he could deliver on the screenplay’s more layered approach to Ian Fleming’s character (Lazenby has his detractors but I feel he’s a good fit for the role in this film). No doubt in a conscious effort to prove that Lazenby could hold his own against comparisons to Sean Connery, the film’s fight scenes are particularly brutal with the blows of Bond’s fists literally sending his opponents flying into the air and across the screen (just watch the film’s opening scenes and you’ll know what I mean).
Telly Savalas is the villain of the piece – SPECTRE boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld, whose plans this time around involve germ warfare. Donald Pleasance was an enjoyably maniacal (albeit a tad cheesy) Blofeld in You Only Live Twice but Savalas is a much stronger and more formidable presence in this film. He is aided by evil henchwoman Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat).
Despite Bond’s courtship of Tracy, Bond’s infiltration of Blofeld’s compound in the Swiss Alps, under the guise of academic Sir Hillary Bray (where Lazenby was dubbed by George Baker), allows for him to – naturally – use his charm on Blofeld’s striking ‘angels of death’ – all for Queen and Country of course (I tried, but sadly failed, to resist a Roger Moore-esque raise of the eyebrow as I typed that out)! Blofeld’s plot to utilise germ warfare is not as daft as it sounds and plays out rather well. It’s less outlandish than a lure hidden beneath a crater and a testament to what Saltzman and Broccoli wanted to achieve with OHMSS by bringing Bond back to his roots.
Director Peter Hunt, having served as an editor on prior Bond outings, successfully fuses together all of the disparate elements of a classic Bond film, from the striking locations (this time Portugal and Switzerland) and epic visuals to the special effects and exemplary stunt work (much of which Lazenby strove to perform himself) that bring the exhilarating action sequences (including gripping high altitude ski pursuits and thrilling car chases) to life.
Composer John Barry provides yet another exciting, rousing score (arguably one of his best and noteworthy for there being no title song) that – as with many other Bond films – is the icing on the cake.
Why you should watch it
It’s a Bond film that has all the elements the audience would expect but with a larger focus on characterisation.
Having escaped Blofeld’s clutches, Bond is pursued into a Swiss village where he finds Tracy. The pair flee in Tracy’s car as Blofeld’s men continue to give chase…
Did you know?
The search for the next James Bond involved testing over 400 actors, amongst them a young Timothy Dalton. Dalton would of course be issued his Walther PPK in 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence to Kill.
Watch it if you like…
Casino Royale (2006), Goldfinger
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Have you seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Share your thoughts below!
Also on Geek Blogger UK: GBUK Film Classics: From Russia With Love