Monday, December 08, 2008

A temporary 'Bond'

I'm sitting here on a cool night, watching one of my favorite, and underrated, films, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."

Got the idea to screen the picture after my pal and Gibbs High teacher Dean Harned mentioned that he'd watched it today during his planning period. He said it was engrossing enough that his intern, Dustin Mynatt, sat down and watched a good chunk of the film with him.

Nobody agrees with me, but I contend that this is one of the best installments in the venerable James Bond franchise.

Long story made short, this film was released in 1969, following Sean Connery's departure from the series. Producers hired Australian model George Lazenby to play 007 in the film adaptation of Ian Fleming's best novel.

It's Lazenby's inexperience as an actor that is the biggest knock against this fine movie. I'll get into that in a minute, but that's basically a minor sidestory in an otherwise excellent James Bond story.

Sticking close to the plot of the novel, the producers wisely reeled in the overblown fantasy of the previous film ("You Only Live Twice") in favor of a more down-to-earth tale. Bond "resigns" from Her Majesty's government to track down SPECTRE chief Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Along the way the playboy Bond falls in love with a beautiful countess (played by the classy Diana Rigg) and, shock of all shocks, actually marries her.

Lazenby is indeed a weak link. His lack of experience is painfully obvious in several of the key love scenes as well as the film's signature, shocking finale. But he does OK with the all the little things that make the role what it should be, and probably would have been an excellent James Bond in time, had the role not gotten to his head.

Rigg's Tracy Draco is the best so-called "Bond girl" of the series because her character was written as a three-dimensional woman rather than a beautiful bimbo. The montage of her and Bond's courtship, backed by the hauntingly beautiful Louis Armstrong song "We Have All the Time in the World" (his last recording) is one of the finest moments of the series.

The on-location scenes in Switzerland are breathtaking. For once, Blofeld's plan to wreak havoc on the world is (mostly) believable. It was a fine film. Had Sean Connery returned for this outing it would have been the best of the series.

As it is, though, it's still a memorable James Bond movie and, one could argue, the last of the "classic Flemingesque 007 adventures" along the lines of "Dr. No" and "From Russia with Love."

If your only exposure to Her Majesty's favorite secret agent is through the later pictures, or if you're a longtime fan, give "OHMSS" a look. George Lazenby's license to kill might have been temporary, but time has proven that this film's "Bond" is a strong pull indeed.

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