100 films I haven’t seen: ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’

Every month when Netflix, Hulu and Amazon release the titles of films coming to and leaving the services, I swear that a dozen or so James Bond titles are always on the “addition” section.” So are “Apocalypse Now” and “Apocalypse Now: Redux.” I don’t think they’re ever leaving streaming services, perhaps there’s just some deal that they have to be mentioned. “James Bond will return in… You Can Always Stream These Films.”

Film 10: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’

My excuse for not seeing it: I really got into James Bond films in high school. Specific Bond films. Here’s my preferred Bond canon:

Sean Connery films

“Casino Royale” (2006)

“Skyfall”

“Goldeneye”

That’s it. I don’t care for Roger Moore’s films, and the Timothy Dalton films bore me. Pierce Brosnon’s films quickly went too far over the top (but I do love his Bond). But I never bothered with “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” George Lazenby’s sole outing as Bond. It seemed like an aberration, a one-off between Connery leaving after “You Only Live Twice” and returning (for the first time) in “Diamonds Are Forever.” Comic readers are familiar with a “fill-in issue,” a random issue inserted into a run to help keep things on schedule. That’s what “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” always struck me as.

But for the record, “We’ve Got All the Time in the World” has always been one of my favorite songs from the Bond series.

Thoughts after watching it: “OHMSS” has gotten a lot of praise since it’s initial release to a lukewarm response. Having watched it, it feels like it’s probably the best legit film out of the 1960s Bond oeuvre (but not the best Bond film, if that makes sense).

I’ve heard people say that if Connery had starred in “OHMSS,” it would be considered the best Bond film, hands down. My only problem with that is I can’t picture Connery’s Bond in place of Lazenby. Lazenby is by no means a good actor, but he brings a bit of uncertainty and humanity that I don’t think Connery could have pulled off. The sexism of Connery and Bond is so entwined that it’s hard to imagine him developing real feelings for a character like Diana Rigg’s Tracy.

For Connery’s Bond, women are disposable conquests, and his character generally begins and ends the films in the same place, a thin veneer of glibness and social niceties barely concealing a brutish core. Lazenby’s Bond actually has a story arc and shows some growth. When he loses Tracy after their marriage, he seems legitimately lost and in pain. It’s hard to imagine Connery pulling off that level of vulnerability. You would expect him to pick up a gun and fire back at Blofeld and Irma Blunt, maybe getting off a one-liner as he did so. In the film itself, the death of Bond’s wife doesn’t strike me as the “fridging,” though the opening of “Diamonds Are Forever” certainly retroactively makes it that. But if you take “OHMSS” as a stand-alone spy film, it shows the weight and consequences of Bond’s life without a neat ending. It was surprisingly similar to the ending of the same year’s “Easy Rider.” It’s interesting that a big studio film and a groundbreaking independent film would end up with such a similar story beat.

I also love the setting, with Blofeld’s lair in Switzerland providing an exotic location that isn’t tropical. The film takes place at Christmas, which I hadn’t known, which made it a perfect fit for a December write-up. “OHMSS” needs to be mentioned more alongside “Die Hard” when people mention their favorite offbeat Christmas movies.

Finally, director Peter R. Hunt’s work on the fight scenes is pretty incredible. He had edited the Bond films up to that point, and his use of kinetic editing during the action makes “OHMSS” feel ahead of its time by a few decades.

Random thoughts: “OHMSS” is the best cinematic use of bobsledding outside of “Cool Runnings.” Also, Joanna Lumley as a Bond girl? Why didn’t I realize that?

Movies it inspired me to check out: Not a whole lot. I’d be interested to revisit “Inception,” which clearly drew some inspiration from “OHMSS.” I suppose at some point I should also give the Moore and Dalton films another viewing.

 

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