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Movie Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Directed by Peter Hunt
Written by Richard Maibaum based on the novel by Ian Fleming
United Artists, 1969

George Lazenby would become the second James Bond, the youngest (at 29), and have the briefest career as the superspy after this picture would be considered a flop (it’s a misleading perception). Peter Hunt would become the fourth Bond director; he had been involved with many of the previous adventures as an editor and second unit director.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is in many ways the least recognized Bond film. All the Connery and Moore Bonds have famous movie titles to even a casual fan. We can probably look at Lazenby as the reason for this, but it’s a shame because of the first seven films, this is one of the better ones. Lazenby is no Connery, this is for sure. But as I watched this, Lazenby grew on me, and Peter Hunt’s direction in his only crack at directing Bond is top notch. The story is also one of the better ones.

In the opening, Bond is trying to save a Contessa Teresa Di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) from drowning herself, and soon is fighting off bad guys. He runs into her later, and we find out her dad is a shady businessman named Marc Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti). He might have information on SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld (in this film, played by Telly Savalas, who is the best of the Blofelds), if Bond will promise to marry his daughter.

Bond doesn’t go along at first, going back to headquarters and being told by M (Bernard Lee, a perfect 6-for-6, along with Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny) that he’s off the case looking for Blofeld. Bond turns in his resignation, only accepted as a two-week hiatus, and during this hiatus, decides to go along with Draco’s idea to marry his daughter and get the information he needs about Blofeld. Blofeld is posing as a Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp. Bond must pose as a genealogist looking to verify Bleuchamp’s ancestry and possible ascension to a count, the ruse accepted by Blofeld and soon Bond is off to Switzerland and a new lair with a new SPECTRE scheme.

Here, Bond runs into another mannish Bond villaness, Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat), who helps Blofeld with his latest work, hypnotizing beautiful women who think they are getting cures for allergies but are, without their knowledge, actually going to administer some horrible master plan.

Lazenby might not be the best Bond, but he’s quite serviceable. Some say he’s closer to the Fleming idea of Bond, but I still would have liked to have seen Connery in this movie. It probably would be considered better than even Goldfinger if that were the case, because the story is engaging and Peter Hunt is one hell of an action director, complete with the master editing by future Bond director John Glen.

And, oh by the way, Telly Savalas is the best of the Blofelds, this can’t be in much dispute. His Blofeld actually gets his hands dirty, instead of absently stroking a cat the whole time. But it brings into question why exactly the Bond franchise couldn’t keep anyone in not only central roles but side roles; Blofeld would be portrayed by three different actors if you don’t include the ones who never showed their face, the US CIA agent Felix Leiter would be taken on by four different guys, not to mention Bond himself, who despite being played by Connery in the next film, would be played by four non-consecutive performers in the time period between 1967 and 1973.

One thing I wondered about, though. It must be easy to suspend your disbelief when two different actors are playing rivals from the previous film, and the bad guy doesn’t recognize the good guy, even though in You Only Live Twice, Bond (Connery) and Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) come face-to-face. Even though Bond is no longer wearing a disguise when he meets Blofeld in this picture, Blofeld only becomes wise to the ruse after Bond slips up.

Now that I’ve seen this after Diamonds Are Forever, it’s apparent as to why Bond is so urgently looking for Blofeld in that picture. In fact, there are a couple of things that make more sense now, even though it doesn’t necessarily make that one great. But OHMSS is very good. Check it out if you haven’t.

Follows: You Only Live Twice

Next: Diamonds Are Forever

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