On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

<strong class="MovieTitle">On Her Majesty’s Secret Service</strong> (1969)

(Second viewing, On Blu Ray, September 2018) As far as Bond movies go, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a weird one. It has quite a bit running against it, but substantial assets as well. It’s the one that introduced snowy mountain fortresses (and subsequent downhill chase sequence) to the Bond lexicon. It’s the one that, at least until 2006’s Casino Royale, had the most character development for Bond, whether we wanted it or not. It’s the one that, even more than Thunderball, stepped up the frequency and intensity of the action sequences that became part of the Bond formula. It’s the one that stuck most closely to the original Fleming text, once again whether we wanted it or not. It’s the one with the best Blofeld, with Terry Savalas in fine form as an evil mastermind unafraid to take up guns and get down with the killing. It’s the one with the best direction of the early Bond movies (thanks to Peter R. Hunt), perhaps all the way to Skyfall—it’s sometimes visually interesting in its presentation, which is more than can be said for the unobtrusive style preferred by other Bond directors. It’s the one with the nice instrumental title tune that’s been remade so well by Propellerheads. On the other hand, it’s the one with the sucker-punch of a downer ending, the one that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the movies. It’s the only one with George Lazenby as Bond—he’s not exactly a bad Bond, but he doesn’t have the je-ne-sais quoi that the best Bonds have: the suaveness of Connery, the debonairness of Moore, or the brute force of Craig. It’s the one that compounds a decent villain plot with an over-the-top brainwashing fillip that makes the entire thing feel silly. It’s the one with the cutest early Bond Girl (Diana Riggs) but also the most mystifying, popping up at random intervals doing things solely to help move the plot forward. It’s the one that messes with the film formula, not quite going for the gadgets and not quite respecting how M and Moneypenny are best used. Some are fond of praising this film over the others and I can certainly see their point, but the truth is that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is distinguished because it stands alongside the other Bond movies—I’m not sure it would have done as well as a purely standalone film. It does feel a bit long at times, and rather arbitrary in far too many respects—the opening sequence alone piles up the coincidences to an untenable height. Even though this isn’t the most popular Bond movie, you can see its influence on later films of the series and most clearly on the Craig cycle—Skyfall was just as upsetting in the way it played with the formula, and the lesson here is that you get to do these off-Bonds once every generation. My take is that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is just as good a Bond as the others … but it cannot be evaluated along the same criteria as the ones immediately preceding and following it.

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