James agrees to court Teresa (Tracy) di Vicenzo, the daughter of Marc-Ange Draco, the head of a major European crime group, in exchange for information on the location of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond finds Blofeld operating under an assumed name, and using an allergy clinic as a front to hypnotize a group of women in order to poison the world’s food supply.
(Before I dive in on the rest of this one, I actually feel inclined to give a spoiler warning on this 48-year-old movie. This movie has a significant moment that I don’t want to ruin. I knew it going in, and it still really works, but I wish I could have experienced it for the first time while watching this movie.)
Bond, James Bond:
Australian George Lazenby begins and ends his very short stay with the James Bond franchise and he is mostly great. He looks the part, both incredibly suave in his suits, but also throughout fight sequences. The action in this movie is frequently just brutal, thanks, in large part, to Lazenby’s ability to throw a punch and his body around. With each fist fight, I found myself increasingly grateful that I was not one of the extras interacting with Bond, on the off-chance that the punch was a little too close. And, as I already mentioned, he looks good in a suit, which is basically a requirement for the character, but also unsurprising, considering he was found by the Eon group while he was a model.
His vocal performance does leave a bit to be desired. This was Lazenby’s acting debut, and it shows. Although it is never as bad as Connery’s phoned-in performance during You Only Live Twice, it is not an entirely convincing or entertaining performance. I think you put early Connery in this movie, or even Craig, it is widely considered to be the best Bond movie (I may need to be convinced that it isn’t, even with a lackluster performance). Instead, we get a really, really strong film with a performance that never quite clicks on the right levels. This is particularly true when you consider we are supposed to believe that James is truly falling in love with someone, enough to the point that he would want to leave MI6 (the love confession works, but nothing beforehand does), and the film’s closing moments hit hard, but not as hard as they could, had Lazenby’s delivery been even marginally stronger.
It would have been nice to watch how his character responds to the end of this movie, and to watch him (presumably) come into his own as this character, but, because his agent was convinced these movies would not work in the ’70s (which, depending on what you think of Roger Moore, he might have been kind of right), this is Lazenby’s only Bond film. It’s a really strong one to be in, but, it’s a shame that his one performance falls just short in such significant ways.
As for Bond as a character, this is easily the most I have liked him since From Russia with Love. There are some odd character beats (he sleeps with a couple of women, despite falling in love, but I guess “spy work” is an almost sufficient defense), and a moment where he strikes Tracy that seems a little needless (she had been holding him at gunpoint, but she was disarmed) but compared to rapey Bond or racist Bond, this is an easy guy to like.
Returning to the franchise’s Dr. No roots, this film’s opening song is an instrumental piece composed by John Barry, and it’s effortlessly cool. From the staccato start to the slow sleuthy bass, to the horns that provide the main feel of the song, everything about this song just bleeds intensity and suaveness. Barry is as much a part of these early Bonds as the actors, with his scores creating the tension needed throughout the first seven films, and whose orchestrations led to some really great title songs, including Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice (whose ranking was only brought down because of some lackluster lyrics) and now this. This is my third favorite of all 24 Bond songs, only bested by two songs that accompany Roger Moore movies.
Blofeld returns, this time portrayed by Telly Savalas, and I prefer Savalas’ performance to Pleasance’s. Pleasance is certainly is easier to picture, with his weird eye scar, but Savalas is threatening with every word that he delivers, and every smirk that he sends James’ way. Although his plan is significantly less threatening here (threatening to poison the world’s food supply, in order to be granted amnesty for all of his previous crimes) than causing nuclear war in order to create a new world power, Savalas himself is significantly more threatening than Pleasance, so makes a more lasting impression, at least as an actual character, instead of a physical image. Although physical quirks help other future Bond characters stand out (Jaws comes to mind), with a villain as significant as Blofeld, a terrifying performance is more important than a particular look.
This movie also sees James seemingly defeat Blofeld. He throws him up into a tree branch, apparently snapping his neck (the line “he branched off” is one of the few times this movie’s dialogue just fails). But Blofeld gets the last laugh in this. You’ll see.
So there are technically quite a few girls in this movie, but there is only one really worth talking about, so I am going to gloss over the bulk of them, and actually talk about another predominantly in the henchperson section. Blofeld is running a fake allergy clinic in order to hypnotize a group of attractive women. Only one of them, Ruby (played by Angela Scoular) gets very much to do, which is mostly to seduce James and inadvertently introduce him to the hypnosis plot. It’s fine, she’s fine, but she isn’t the story here.
The story is Diana Rigg as Tracy di Vicenzo. I am very willing to say that most of the reason I love this movie so deeply is tied to Tracy’s character and Rigg’s performance. The women so far in this franchise have been portrayed as mind-bendingly stupid (Helga Brant, Tatiana Romanova), simple eye candy (Honey Ryder), or turncoat saved by James’ sex (ugh, Pussy Galore). Tracy is none of these things. She is deeply intelligent (much smarter than James), and also incredibly independent. She quickly understands her father’s plan to marry her off to James, telling him that as a guest, James should get what he came for (information on Blofeld’s location) without having to do something in return. She also is quickly witty and relaxed in chase sequences, going toe-to-toe with James, who frequently kisses her on the cheek while she is leading Blofeld’s man on a chase with a remarkable finesse and calm. Rigg also does her part to convincingly portray Tracy falling in love with James (even if the film chooses to do it via dialogue-less montage), with small smiles or deep love shown in her eyes. You can understand why James would be willing to throw away his entire life to spend the rest of his life with this woman. She’s the best woman James could ever hope to meet.
SPOILERS BELOW THIS PICTURE
The fact that Blofeld murders her a few hours after she and James get married is absolutely brutal. The movie spends just enough time with the two of them after leaving their reception, as they plan their futures together, and clearly, clearly love each other (even with Lazenby’s delivery issues) that when we see her bleeding forehead through a bullet hole in the windshield, it is just heartwrenching. I’m getting a little emotional remembering this moment because as an audience member, I fell in love with Tracy. She is everything that James needs, someone who can go toe-to-toe with him but also require him to be at his best, and the fact that they get to spend so little time together, because of Blofeld’s need to win, just destroys me. The film’s choice to end with the below image makes it hit even harder. This movie was physically brutal from start to finish and ends on the most emotionally brutal moment I could imagine. It’s truly remarkable.
Blofeld only has one noteworthy henchperson here, and that’s Irma Bunt, played by Ilse Steppat. She’s fine But with Blofeld and Tracy, she just doesn’t really get enough to do to stand out.
James has a blonde buddy, whose name is apparently Shaun (thanks, Wikipedia). He’s just always kind of around and then eventually dies. He doesn’t need to exist.
The MI6 group does finally get a bit more to do other than their typical quick exchanges. M, still Bernard Lee, has to lay down the law with James on a couple occasions, and it’s honestly refreshing. James is failing at his job, and for M to remove him from a mission because of it, gives more tension to their relationship than any other one of the preceding films even begins to suggest. Moneypenny (still Lois Maxwell) seems genuinely touched when James gives her a small kiss after effectively saving his job (changing James’ resignation to a request for leave), and then heartbroken when James gets married (even though she still can, and always will be able to, do better than James). Tears came to my eyes upon her reaction to James throwing her his hat after the wedding. Maxwell finally gets a chance to do something other than sitting behind a desk and trade flirtations with James, and she absolutely nails it.
Desmond Llewelyn as Q is still my favorite character in this franchise, as he detests James more than I do. Even at his wedding, he seems permanently annoyed with James, which brings me so much joy. After James throws Moneypenny his hat, Q storms onscreen, complaining that Bond never had respect for government property. It’s a nice break from the emotional Moneypenny and the wreck of an ending the movie is about to put you through, and I was very grateful for it.
All three of these characters finally get something to do, and it’s easily the most I’ve loved all of them.
This is not a gadget-heavy movie, at least nothing mind-blowingly cool or particularly novel. The most noteworthy thing is a gadget that we do not even see in action, and that’s radioactive lint, and it’s only noteworthy because Q finds it noteworthy and is trying to make M care about it, and I love Q and will defend him to my death.
Miscellaneous Spy Business:
-This movie, similar to Dr. No, takes its time to reveal James. The final reveal is not nearly as cool as Connery’s, but I still appreciate the effort.
-What I don’t appreciate is Lazenby saying “This never happened to the other fellow” and staring at the camera right before the opening credits. We understand that it’s a different guy. Don’t shove this down our throat. It absolutely ruins an otherwise impressive cold open.
-One of Tracy’s first lines to James is an annoyed “Why do you always insist on saving me, Mr. Bond?” and she is so cool. RIP Tracy.
-Tracy also tells James that she always pays her debts. Wrong house, Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg has played some dope women).
-At one point, a janitor is humming “Goldfinger.” Okay.
-The falling in love montage is set to one of Louis Armstrong’s final songs, which was written for this movie. It’s pleasant enough.
-We find out that James’ family motto is “The World is Not Enough.” Sounds like a movie title. *cough*
-The lighting during the hypnosis scene is really captivating, and I don’t blame people for getting hypnotized because of it.
-The ’60s editing becomes frustrating again in this one, with some of the action sequences having jarring-enough cuts that it takes me out of the tension in the moment.
-As bad as Lazenby’s delivery is through most of this movie, the scene where he officially confesses that he loves Tracy really does work. I trashed a lot of his performance, but he came through when the emotional arc of the film needed him to, and I do want to give him credit for that.
-A guy got chopped to death by a snow-clearing machine, and the resulting gore is surprisingly graphic, even for a movie that is this physically brutal.
-Tracy is even sarcastic and witty with Blofeld but then is able to effectively distract him when she realizes that James and her father are on their way to rescue her. God, she was so cool. I’m still hurt.
Y’all, this movie is great. My only real issue with this movie is how long some of the action sequences go on, especially when the end of the movie is basically action set piece after action set piece after action set piece, with some solid character development thrown in. But I’ll gladly deal with a second or third downhill chase to watch James believably fall for a girl, and go against a legitimate foe, all at the same time. Basically, everything in this movie works, with no real asterisks (except maybe some of Lazenby’s line deliveries, but at least he is trying here). This is my favorite so far, by a solid margin. 0010. This is my third ten, so I’m realizing that I might need to reassess my scores at the end of this adventure, even if I’m not expecting another 10 for a long, long while.
TJ Hizer Will Return With: Diamonds are Forever, with a returning Sean Connery
References Film's Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Her_Majesty%27s_Secret_Service_(film) George Lazenby Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Lazenby John Barry Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Barry_(composer)#James_Bond_series Photo Credits Cover Photo https://tjatthemovies.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/f421d-ohmss2bon2bher2bmajesty2527s2bsecret2bservice2bus2bposte2bhalf2bsheet.jpg Lazenby in a suit http://www.star-telegram.com/entertainment/tv/mebhhs/picture149666659/alternates/FREE_640/George%20Lazenby-Parliament%20Building Blofeld https://i1.wp.com/www.filminquiry.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Blofeld4.jpg?fit=770%2C385&ssl=1 Tracy http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/jamesbond/images/9/99/Tracy_Bond_%28Diana_Rigg%29_-_Profile.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20130506231349 Bullethole http://madfilm.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/JB6.png MI6 at the wedding https://tjatthemovies.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/27fc7-wedding2bm252c2bq2band2bpenny.jpg Fourth Wall Break http://thejamesbondsocialmediaproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/vlcsnap-2012-03-17-16h55m07s94.png Olenna https://hips.hearstapps.com/hmg-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/images/olenna-tyrell-quotes-1501620454.jpg?crop=1.00xw:0.744xh;0,0.0900xh&resize=768:* Hypnosis Lighting https://fa707ec5abab9620c91c-e087a9513984a31bae18dd7ef8b1f502.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/6418525_on-her-majestys-secret-service-the-james_63eaefea_m.jpg?bg=443644