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MGM Studios DVD presents
"This never happened to the other fellow."
DVD ReviewIt's easy to separate On His Majesty's Secret Service from the other movies in the James Bond series and not just because George Lazenby is the star. There is a different style, a different feel to the tale of Bond's hunt for the infamous villian Blofeld. In this movie, Bond resigns from the service (not really), impersonates a nerdy Scotsman (well, not really) and gets married (yes, really). Commentary from the director, Peter Hunt, talks about his conscious decision to de-emphasize the gadgetry of the Bond movies, to focus more on the characters and stick closely to the original novel. The story is taken from one of Ian Fleming's more popular Bond books and many say it is the best of the novels.
In my opinion, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is not one of the best Bond books by Fleming, yet it does give this movie a stronger story line than the some of the films to follow..However, there is a jarring plot shift as we move from tracking Blofeld to uncovering his diabolical plot. I believe there was a serious error in storytelling to turn what had been a very interesting bounty hunt for a notorious figure into another battle for the very life of the planet. And this, because Blofeld wanted to be recognized as the true inheritor of his family name? I think more preparation in the early parts of the movie for the absurd plot twist at the end might have smoothed things over dramatically or, I personally, wish they had dropped the whole thing and focused on the battle of wills between Bond and Blofeld—with the love of Tracy as the prize. Everything that is good about the movie could have stayed, perhaps been intensified and all we would have lost was a rather silly plot device.
Large amounts of ink and computer data has been spent in discussing the relative merits of George Lazenby's performance as James Bond. When one finds out in the extras that Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot were originally slated for the roles that later went to Lazenby and Diana Rigg, there is just a moment of disappointment. The thought also crosses the mind that it would have been quite perfect to put Connery in this film and then have Roger Moore in the sillier Diamonds Are Forever. But, this is not to completely diminish the performance of either Lazenby or Rigg in the finally realized film. Both are sufficient, if unexciting, and work well together to paint a side of Bond that no other film has touched. The producers and actors seemed to labor under a great deal of pressure in making this film with an unproven quantity in Lazenby as the star. There was so much scrutiny of every controversy that it is amazing the film is as good as it is. OHMSS has a special place in the Bond canon and many are advocates of it being the best of the series.
Lazenby is obviously not a trained actor and suffers in comparison both to Connery and to his fellow actors in this film. I feel that Diana Rigg is very purposely restrained in her performance to avoid overwhelming her more wooden co-star. However, in the action sequences Lazenby is fine and turns in the most physical performance of any Bond actor. The pressure on him must have been tremendous working day in and day out with people whose very lives and careers were on the line with this film. There are some telling moments in both the commentary and interviews both about the way that Lazenby got the role, how he handled his position as the star of the movie and how ultimately he lost the role to a returned Sean Connery in the next film.
Telly Savalas as Blofeld is an odd duck. There never really is a menace to his character that I know Savalas can achieve. His performance as Maggot in The Dirty Dozen two years before is infinitely more menacing in one scene than in his whole performance here. I think this is another aspect that plays up the goofiness of the plot that Bond has to foil at the end. Even in other Bond films where the conclusion is somewhat absurd, the villain needs to make it work. There was just a brutal, inhuman nuance that was lost somewhere in this characterization of Blofeld.
Diana Rigg is a fine actress and, in a role that is right for her, a delight. But, in this film I think she is miscast and must share some of Lazenby's burden. She is written as a tempestuous Corsican princess and her icy anger is just not quite right. She is certainly attractive and has moments that truly separate her performance from the average "Bond" girl. I might have preferred her as an equal to Bond as an agent, such as Triple X in The Spy Who Loved Me. The producers had to imagine in casting this actress, who played the formidable Mrs. Peel on The Avengers and was seemingly versed in the genre, could compensate in some ways for the inexperience of her co-star. One fact that is lost in all the discussion of Lazenby's rawness as a film actor is the reality that despite Rigg's popular run on television, she was not a veteran screen actor, only having appearied in two films prior to OHMSS. It is also interesting to note that Rigg has never really made a great film, the one exception being her performance in a supporting role in The Hospital with George C. Scott.
However, this film set a standard for action and that is ultimately its most winning aspect. OHMSS may be the greatest action film of the sixties. The skiing, the bobsledding and the car racing sequence are all marvelous created and fantastically filmed. The sequence where Blofeld launches the flare and brings the avalanche down on Bond and Tracy is fantastic stuff! The helicopter assault on Bloefeld's mountain hideout ranks with some of the great war/spy films of the era such as The Eagle's Nest and The Guns of Navarone. All comes across remarkably well in the DVD version and make for a really exciting viewing experience. OHMSS contains simply amazing stunt and camera work. The DVD's extras detail some of the techniques used to capture the images and are a great addition to the disc. There is no doubt that, to a man, the crew from the director down to the individual doubles and stunt men consider this film to be their best work.
Ultimately, the blame for this movie's failing must lie with the direction and the writing. Peter Hunt tried to make the "best Bond movie possible." He emphasized his focus on the story from the novel and the character of Bond. It is that character and the weak characters that surround him that bring this movie down from what it could have been. What is left is an eccentric story and some terrific action scenes.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Considering its age, the image transfer of this film is one of the best parts of the DVD. The picture is crisp and detailed but, this transfer not being anamorphic, loses some of the richness that characterizes that quality. However, many of the stylistic details make it a pleasure to watch, for example, the washed out dawn of the opening fight sequence and the stark, majestic beauty of the Swiss Alps later in the film.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Very uneven transfer hampers viewing this film. The dialogue was often muffled until made louder, but then the sound effects were very loud. The digital mono was not very exciting, but as this is what there was to work with, there's nothing really lost.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
11 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Peter Hunt and Crew
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsIf pinned down to select which Bond movies I would take to my secret mountain hideaway, I would have to say that this film ranks somewhere in the lower middle of the series. Among thrillers of the late sixties, it ranks somewhat higher, but ultimately I would opt for a Richard Burton or Michael Caine movie. OHMSS is good despite the uncharismatic performances of the stars—this only leads to the suspicion that with better stars and a light edit to the script, this could have been one of the great thrillers of the decade. As it is, it is an interesting curio of a film—George Lazenby as the "different" James Bond who ultimately became "the other fellow" he refers to in the film.
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