Tuesday, July 10, 2012

007 James Bond Marathon: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Based on Ian Fleming’s novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the story of James Bond trying to stop Blofeld from sterilizing the world’s food supply in retaliation for everything that he had lost. During his mission, Bond falls for a countess who would have him re-think his womanizing ways. Directed by Peter R. Hunt and screenplay by Richard Maimbaum with additional dialogue by Hunt and Simon Raven. The film marks a change of pace in the Bond franchise as Sean Connery retires the Bond role as the part went to a then-newcomer in George Lazenby in his only appearance as Bond. Also starring Diana Rigg, Gabriele Ferzetti, Telly Savalas, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, and Bernard Lee as M. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a majestic and thrilling film from Peter R. Hunt.

While on holiday, James Bond comes across an adventurous woman by the name of Countess Teresa “Tracy” di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg) who was nearly captured by thugs in a beach. After meeting her again at a hotel he’s staying at, Bond learns she’s the daughter of a European crime syndicate head in Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) who is concerned for his daughter’s wild streak. Draco offers Bond money to marry Tracy while he’ll help Bond find the whereabouts of Ernst Stavros Blofeld (Telly Savalas) whom Bond has been searching for. After being rejected by M for an assignment to find Blofeld, Bond goes to Portugal for Draco’s birthday where he meets Tracy as the two begin a courtship.

Still on a leave from his work, Draco and Bond’s aide Shaun Campbell (Bernard Horsfall) help Bond get into the offices of a Swiss lawyer named Gumbold (James Bree) who had letters to find out that Blofeld has been corresponding with a genealogist in Hilary Bray (George Baker) as Bond decides to pose as Bray for a meeting with Blofeld. Going to Switzerland in Blofeld’s secret institute, Bond as Bray learns what Blofeld is planning to do as it involves 10 women under hypnosis to release dangerous bacteria on the world. Bond is eventually caught by Blofeld and his henchwoman Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) have him imprisoned to get their plans going. Yet, Bond manages to escape where he gets some help from Tracy who is at Switzerland for some fun.

With the relationship between he and Tracy becoming serious, Bond still has to evade Blofeld and his henchmen where things go wrong forcing Tracy to be captured. After M reveals what his superiors plan to do with Blofeld in his desire for a title, Bond decides to go on a rogue mission to save Tracy with help from Draco to stop Blofeld from harming the world.

The film is another story of James Bond trying to stop SPECTRE’s chief Blofeld from harming the world with bacterial warfare to sterilize the world’s food supply in hopes to attain a hefty ransom and a title. Bond also has to aid a crime head whose daughter falls for Bond as she would make Bond re-think about his womanizing ways. It’s a story that has simple plot but its presentation is far grander than what is expected in Bond. Notably as he has to face off against Blofeld for the second time whose deeds are ambitious in its planning as all he wants isn’t just money but a whole lot more than that. This prompts Bond to stop him as the stakes are much bigger as well as the fact that he’s got a lot against him including the British Secret Service who feels he’s gone far enough in this mission to stop Blofeld.

The screenplay by Richard Maimbaum is incredible for the massive scale of the story and the way the characters are presented. Notably Tracy di Vincenzo as she is this woman with a wild streak who can drive very fast, ski with great skill, and isn’t willing to be a damsel in distress as she is a Bond girl that is very complex but also flawed as she is also a character lost in her spoiled lifestyle. Still, she becomes an ally for Bond when she arrives in Switzerland unexpectedly proving herself to be quite tough as well as charming. Then there’s Blofeld who is given more to do as he’s a man that is truly extravagant in his lifestyle and his schemes. Under the guise of a fake count, it adds to the larger-than-life persona that is Blofeld who serves as a formidable opponent for Bond.

Peter R. Hunt’s direction is definitely vast in scope from the locations set in Portugal and Switzerland to the scale of the production that he’s created. Hunt’s direction definitely plays to the ambitious take on the story with wide location shots as well as creating suspense for key scenes such as Bond in Piz Gloria on the Swiss Alps. Though parts of that section do go on a bit long since there’s not much action that occurs in order for Bond to investigate and deal with Blofeld’s Angels of Death. It’s part of Hunt’s idea to create a Bond film that can live up to the epic though it succeeds mostly in terms of what Hunt wanted to tell.

Part of the film’s success in balancing the action and suspense is the romantic element as it’s the one of the few films where Bond gets to fall for a woman whom he might be able to spend the rest of his life with. Through these gorgeous montages, Hunt is able to build up the romance while establishing what Bond has to do for this crime syndicate head who is helping him find Blofeld. Though Tracy knows what her father is doing, she eventually grows to love Bond and helps him as their relationship adds a new dynamic to the story. Notably the film’s often talked-about ending that is one of the greatest in how the Bond story continues. It’s an ending that is heartbreaking to watch because of what Bond could’ve gained but ends up losing as the result is a truly emotional moment that is presented with great care. The overall work that Hunt creates is a spectacular but also mesmerizing for making James Bond more human in terms of the things he is facing.

Cinematographer Michael Reed does excellent work with the photography for some of the film‘s stylized lighting colors in some of its interior settings while playing up to the beauty of the locations with more naturalistic lighting in their daytime scenes. Editor John Glen does great work with the editing by utilizing rhythmic jump-cuts for the fight and action scenes including the famous stock car sequence as well as a wonderful montage for the romantic scenes. Production designer Syd Cain, with set decorator Peter Lamont and art director Robert W. Laing, does amazing work with the set pieces such as Draco‘s home base as well as the institute that Blofeld runs filled with lots of lavish decorations to play up his extravagant personality. Costume designer Marjory Cornelius does wonderful work with the costumes from the clothes that Blofeld wears to the lavish clothes his Angels of Death wear along with the more posh clothing of Tracy.

Special effects work by John Stears is superb for the few effects-driven scenes such as the ski chases and other scenes set in the Alps. Sound recorders Gordon K. McCallum and John W. Mitchell do nice work with the sound such as the way Blofeld‘s voice is recorded in a hypnotic trance for his Angels of Death to hear at night. The film’s score by John Barry is brilliant for its thrilling orchestral themes to play up the action that occurs in the film as well as somber pieces for the romance. The song We Have All The Time In the World written by Barry with lyricist Hal David and sung by Louis Armstrong is among one of the best songs of the James Bond catalog as it serves as an effective piece for Bond and Tracy’s love for each other.

The film’s cast is phenomenal for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable appearances from James Bree as the Swiss layer Gumbold, Virginia North as Draco’s aide Olympe, Bernard Horsfall as Bond’s assistant Shaun Campbell, George Baker as genealogist Hilary Bray, Ilse Steppat as Blofeld’s cunning henchwoman Irma Bunt, and as a few members of the Angels of Death, Joanna Lumley, Catherina von Schell, and Angela Scoular. Bond regulars Desmond Llewelyn and Lois Maxwell are very good in their respective roles as the witty Q and the humorous Miss Moneypenny while Bernard Lee is excellent in his role as Bond’s superior M.

Gabriele Ferzetti is wonderful as Tracy’s father Marc-Ange Draco who helps Bond in finding Blofeld as well as coming to him to tame his daughter Tracy. Telly Savalas is great as Blofeld by displaying a sense of charm to the character as well as a physicality to make him more of a force for Bond to face. Diana Rigg is incredible as Countess Teresa “Tracy” di Vincenzo by displaying a sense of grace and vulnerability to a woman lost in her lifestyle as she finds comfort in a man like James Bond. Finally there’s George Lazenby as James Bond where Lazenby brings a bit of wit and charm to his role as well as a physicality where he can be the badass and a lover. While there’s parts of Lazenby’s performance that isn’t perfect such as his attempt to be Bray, Lazenby does enough to create a compelling performance of Agent 007.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a marvelous film from Peter R. Hunt that features strong performances from George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, and Gabriele Ferzetti. The film is definitely one of the great Bond films in terms of its ambition and a story that is engaging for the way Bond is portrayed. Though it may not live up to some of the great films that starred Sean Connery, it is still a film that has enough adventure and suspense for fans to enjoy. In the end, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a superb film from Peter R. Hunt.

© thevoid99 2012


Chris said...

I love the Bond series, just didn’t gravitate towards this Bond movie. Hats off for humanizing the character, and the ending was surprising, but there was something unmanly about the girl behind the wheel in the car chase.

I need to rewatch, I may have dismissed it too easily, and now that I'm older I might appreciate that it's a more subtle Bond movie. I love the L Armstrong song “We have all the time in the world” from soundtrack.

thevoid99 said...

Well, I think having the girl drive a car was to make the Bond Girl more gutsy.

I do love that song as well, heard the My Bloody Valentine cover? It's a gorgeous cover.

Chris said...

@thevoid99: I like that cover, thanks for sharing info