For Fresh Eyes Only: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
I’ve loved seeing Sean Connery’s take on the character of James Bond, but after five movies, I’m happy to move on and see what somebody else brings to the character (I’m going to pretend that the last installment of this series didn’t happen, and that this was my first time witnessing a new actor in the role, ok, thank you). I now know that Sean Connery does return to the role once more, and that this is George Lazenby’s one and only chance with the character. I don’t know the backstage politics behind these decisions, but it’s a real shame, because Lazenby’s terrific, and this is easily the best Bond since Goldfinger. It’s more than a new face that makes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feel so fresh, though. A good tragic love story with one of the most interesting Bond girls yet, riveting action scenes that had me literally on the edge of my seat, more interesting wrinkles in the SPECTRE story, and yet another general large step up in the filmmaking department.
That “general step up” is most notable right at the beginning of the film. After the classic opening gunshot sequence (which I’ve yet to comment on, it’s cool), we join the new Bond in the middle of tailing a car. They stop at a beach and out steps Tracy (Diana Riggs), who keeps on stepping right into the ocean before Bond pulls her back and gets into a fight with some goons that turns into one of the larger fights of the film. The scene sets a hell of a tone, one of mystery and action. Not just because of the context, but because of the stunning way that it’s shot. There’s a beautiful warm blue, bordering on purple, tone in the sky that persists throughout the fight. It sets a high mark that I don’t think any other scene reaches, but it’s so dreamy and it left enough of an impression that it’s one of the biggest things sticking out in my mind. Plus, it ends in a great laugh line referencing Lazenby’s takeover: “This never happened to the other fella.”
The other most memorable aspect of the movie is Diana Riggs. Her performance as the cagey character is remarkable. Her and Lazenby play off each other very well, and you can somehow easily buy their bizarre relationship built off deceit and troubling abuse played for laughs. It ain’t all perfect; I’m very much ready for this aspect of the character to go away. They’re actually so good together that I was hurt by the twist, and I’m a little mad that I won’t get to see Lazenby get his revenge. I imagine this is something I’ll just have to get used to as I haven’t been able to quite pull together yet whether or not 007 is a single man played by different actors or a codename applied to different spies. Please don’t tell me if there is an actual answer.
The Cat Man, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) is back and more dastardly than ever. His insanely convoluted plan to acquire... something... involves actually curing a bunch of beautiful women of their food allergies while slowly brainwashing them into unknowingly carrying around a makeup box containing a liquid that when dispersed will cause worldwide infertility in all living things. Multiple steps could have been cut from this plan to make it far less likely to be thwarted by a single guy with skis, but it’s silly and I like it. And it’s the catalyst that leads to more than half of the film being set in the gorgeous Swiss mountains.
The mountains are used to great effect for the film’s action scenes. While I’d say that the individual fights are notably less interesting than those found in You Only Live Twice, the massive setpieces are so good that I didn’t mind one bit. The snowy car chase that leads into a real car race nearby is thrilling and shows a real sense of speed with less noticeable shots of the interior clearly filmed on a stage. The ski chase down an avalanching mountain was jaw-dropping. I don’t know how those effects were pulled off, it being the ‘60s though I would not be surprised if a film production team actually blew up a mountain to film for their dumb movie. My personal favorite action moment was the stealthy climb on the mountaintop cable car cables. I had a real growing sense of anxiety as the gondola wheel got closer and closer to Bond’s fingertips, one of a few truly startling moments in the film that took my breath away, such as when Bunt appeared in the bed or when the henchman falls about seven hundred thousand feet off of the side of the mountain.
As I mentioned before, I really wish I could see Lazenby’s Bond’s future adventures. I have little to no interest in seeing Connery one last time before the actual one last time. But we’ll see. Maybe he suddenly got less visibly bored with the character once somebody else had it for approximately one second. Seems to fit with what little I’ve heard about his actual personality. The answer to that hypothetical is for you to know and me to find out I guess, and find out I shall.
Marcus Irving will return in For Fresh Eyes Only: Diamonds Are Forever.