Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my little series of blog entries where I watch a DVD in my collection and just rant on it.  Today, we get to the first James Bond film, and it's the most controversial one.  We're looking at On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  This review is originally dated June 12, 2012.

When I first started my DVD collection, I swore I would build a bit of a James Bond collection. A fairly modest collection...just my favourite of each actor playing Bond. Since George Lazenby only did one – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – I kind of knew which Lazenby Bond film I’d be picking up.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the most divisive films in the James Bond canon. You either love it or you don’t. And the deciding factor is what you think of Lazenby’s portrayal of James Bond. Lazenby was originally a male model, and playing James Bond was his first real acting gig. Some say his inexperience as an actor was detrimental to the film...others say it was an asset because, just like Lazenby, Bond is out of his element and in over his head. I think Lazenby was pretty good, which means I’m one of the ones who loves On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Too bad Lazenby got some bad advice and decided to ditch the franchise after one film...he would have been fantastic if he got more time to settle into the role.

So let’s take a look at the film.

In our classic James Bond pre-credit sequence, Bond saves a young woman from committing suicide by drowning herself in the ocean. But, before Bond can talk to her and find out why she’d do such a thing, he gets in a fight with two thugs. As the leading lady runs away, leaving Bond alone, Bond looks into the camera and remarks, “This never happened to the other fella,” a reference to the previous Bond, Sean Connery. The next night, Bond runs into her in a casino, and learns her name, the Contessa Teresa di something-Italian-I-never-caught. But she goes by “Tracy.” She makes a ridiculously large bet in the casino that she can’t cover, so Bond covers it for her. Tracy invites Bond back to her room, but waiting for Bond is one of those thugs from the beach that tried to kill him. When Bond finally finds Tracy, they sit and talk, and eventually, do what Bond does when he’s alone with a woman.

The next morning, Bond is abducted by the thugs he’s been fighting off the whole time. They take him to see their boss, Draco, who’s the head of the largest crime syndicate in Europe. Tracy is Draco’s daughter, and Tracy has been showing all the signs of what we in the 21st Century call "depression." However, Draco’s men (the thugs) have been observing Bond’s interactions with Tracy, and figure Bond has been good for Tracy. Draco asks Bond to romance his daughter, bring her out of this funk, and he even offers a 1-million pound dowry should Bond marry Tracy. (Actually, Draco pretty much uses the 1960s terms for "I want you to screw her brains out.") Bond, however, makes a counter-offer. Bond’s current mission is to track down Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the international terrorist organization SPECTRE. The trail’s gone cold, and instead of a dowry, Bond asks Draco to use his underworld connections to find Blofeld’s whereabouts. Draco agrees, and Bond is to be formally introduced to Tracy at Draco’s birthday party next week.

Bond goes back to England, and M takes Bond of the Blofeld case because, well, Bond hasn’t been able to get the job done in two years. Bond dictates his letter of resignation to Moneypenny, but that cheeky Moneypenney rewords Bond’s letter of resignation to be a request for 2-weeks leave. With 2-weeks off, Bond heads back to Spain for Draco’s birthday party, and to see what info Draco has dug up.

Turns out, as the week went by, Tracy found out about the arrangement that Draco and Bond made, and needless to say, she’s pissed off about being used as a bargaining chip. She tells her father to cough up the information and end this stupid game, or she’ll walk out of her father’s life forever. Draco reveals that all he’s managed to dig up is recent correspondence between Blofeld and a law firm in Switzerland. Now that this is done, Tracy storms off to the parking lot in a huff, but Bond pursues her. In the parking lot, Bond reveals that his feelings for Tracy are genuine and to please, give him a chance. So, Tracy and Bond begin a whirlwind romance in a montage set to the Louis Armstrong classic We Have All The Time In The World.

Fun trivia fact: when in Japan, I bought a CD compiling all the James Bond theme songs, and I’d listen to endlessly walking around the streets of Kumagaya. We Have All The Time In The World is now forever tied to the cherry blossoms in my mind.

So Bond breaks into that Swiss law firm and finds some correspondence between the law firm and the British College of Arms. Blofeld is hiding out in Switzerland under the name de Bleauchamp, and is trying to lay claim to the title Count de Bleauchamp. Bond takes this information back to M and gets reassigned the Blofeld case. Blofeld’s contact at the College of Arms has been Sir Hillary Bray, and Blofeld has now summoned Bray to his compound for further research to secure Blofeld’s claim to the title. The plan is for Bond to go undercover as Bray, and infiltrate Blofeld’s compound.

We then get treated to a scene where Bond meets with the real Bray to brush up on his knowledge of genealogy, and be better equipped to impersonate Bray. Thanks to this scene, we get the title of a future James Bond movie. Bray started doing some research on the Bond family, and found a 14th century knight by the name of Sir Thomas Bond. Bray reveals that Thomas Bond lived by the motto “Orbis Non Suficit,” which translates to, “The World is Not Enough.”

So now Bond, disguised as Bray, is whisked off to Blofeld’s compound high in the Swiss Alps. Blofeld’s compound is played by the Piz Gloria, which, at the time, was the world’s highest revolving restaurant. In the movie, it’s a clinic for allergy research, and Blofeld has him set up as the world’s leading allergist. He’s treating a wide variety of nubile young women for their allergies, and of course, they’re all quite randy after being stranded on a mountaintop with no men around. Bond tries to keep up the pretence, but he soon starts sneaking out of his room at night to seduce young women.

I should take a moment to mention that Bond eventually gets to meet Blofeld face-to-face. Blofeld is played by Telly Sevalis, who gained fame in the 1970s playing the detective Kojack. Fun trivia fact: the creators of Superman: The Animated Series based their portrayal of Lex Luthor on Sevalis’s portrayal of Blofeld. They felt the “cultured thug” vibe that Sevalis gave Blofeld was perfect for Luthor. Hell, look at the animation model and look at Sevalis. They even made Lex Luthor look like Sevalis!

As Bond continues seducing all the young women, he soon discovers that this allergy treatment also involves a strong psychological component. Blofeld is brainwashing the ladies, but for what? As this goes on, Bond occasionally tries to convince Blofeld to leave his compound and go to some dusty archives to verify documents that could verify Blofeld’s claim to the title Count de Bleauchamp. Outside of neutral Switzerland, Bond’s fellow agents could quickly detain Blofeld. The jig is soon up, as a trap is laid for Bond during one of his midnight rendezvous. As Blofeld gloats to Bond about Bond's capture, Blofeld points out that the real Bray is too gentlemanly to boink another woman every night. And, Bond got the locations of some of those dusty archives wrong...a rookie mistake for a professional genealogist. Blofeld reveals his evil plot: his allergy medications are actually a biological weapon to cripple the world’s food supply, and he’s brainwashing the women to deliver the weapon to the world. With this, he could hold the world hostage. They lock Bond away, but Bond escapes.

And the next half-hour is a chase scene as Bond flees from Blofeld’s men. Bond eventually makes his way to a winter carnival in the village at the base of the mountain. Things look dire for Bond. He’s outnumbered. He’s outgunned. He’s got nowhere to run. For his last option, he sits down on a bench and hopes he can hide in the crowed. Bond looks up and sees...Tracy, who followed Bond to Switzerland and has been hiding out in this village. With Tracy’s help, Bond is finally able to escape. They hole up in an old barn for the night, and in there, Bond realizes that he is hopelessly in love with Tracy, and proposes marriage. She says yes.

The next morning, Tracy and Bond resume fleeing from Blofeld, but Blofeld sets off an avalanche which smothers Tracy and Bond. Blofeld’s men capture Tracy, and Bond is left for dead.

But Bond escapes and returns to HQ in England. He gives his report to M, just as Blofeld makes his demands: full amnesty, pardons for his past crimes, and his title of Count. Bond implores M to take a strike force to Switzerland, take out Blofeld’s fortress and biological weapon factory, and rescue Tracy, but M says the government has deemed the mission too risky. So, Bond gets Draco on the phone, and assembles a mafia-paid-for army of mercenaries to do the job.

We then get the classic Bond film climax of the army storming the enemy compound. Tracy is rescued, the compound is destroyed, and Blofeld and Bond have a bobsled chase. Yes, a bobsled chase. It ends with Blofeld getting impaled on a tree.

With evil vanquished, it’s time for a wedding! Bond and Tracy get married in a lavish affair, and they drive off to live happily ever after. And, here comes the ending which makes this Bond film great. When they stop at the side of the road to remove some of the wedding decorations, Blofeld drives by and sprays the car with bullets. When Bond gets back in the car, he sees that Tracy has been killed by Blofeld. The film ends as Bond cradles the body of his dead wife, softly weeping to himself.

And that’s what makes this film great. It’s got a lot of emotion in it. It’s definitely the most romantic of the Bond films, as we watch the romance between Bond and Tracy. It’s neat to see that there’s not a lot of gadgets in it. It’s only the sixth bond film, and the 1960s weren’t done yet, but they were already trying to do a gritty reboot of the franchise with the new actor on board. It is kind of funny, though, in this post Austin Powers world. I swear, Lazenby is wearing Austin Power’s suits in several scenes. Got to remember, that was the style back then.

But yeah. I think it was one of the best Bond films.

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