More noise than signal

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

There’s a very simple test to see if someone has gone off the deep end to a mental state from which there is no return. Ask them what their favourite Bond film is, and it the reply comes back, “Why, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, of course!” they are no longer perceiving the same reality that the rest of us are, and should be taken away to a safe place without sharp edges for their own protection.

Plotwise, this time around Bond has spent the past three years trying and failing to track down Blofeld. In accordance with Thunderball‘s precedent, he picks up the trail by going off-duty. When taking a brief break, he stumbles across the strong-willed Tracy Di Vicenzo, in which Bond may have met his match. Falling in love with her brings into play her father, mob boss Draco who happens to have a lead on Blofeld’s lawyer. From there it’s a short investigation to Blofeld’s new base of operation in the Alps where he’s putting the finishing touches on another evil plan for our old buddy Bond to stop.

Well, I say our old buddy Bond, but of course the most radical and obvious difference between this and all that have gone before it is that Sean Connery has left the Bond building, and George Lazenby has picked up the tuxedo and Walther PPK.

Now, there really is an awful lot wrong with OHMSS. Quite a staggering amount, honestly. I almost don’t know where to start, but I suppose the biggest failing, and the most critical is the insane casting of Lazenby. I suppose I can see the idea behind casting an unknown for the role, someone that carried no baggage or audience pre-conceptions into the franchise. Seems reasonable, but is this really the best that space year 1969 could offer us?

From the first scenes, this guy manages to be the exact opposite of Connery’s portrayal. Perhaps that’s intentional, but if so it’s boneheaded. Connery prowled through his tenure, always seeming a moment away from jumping on his target, be that villain or woman. This guy flounces. Connery’s physicality meant it was normally quite believable that he could punch people’s faces in. This guy… not so much, flailing around with wild haymakers that double as windmill impersonations. Connery developed a laid back charm combined with the odd believable moments of anger at stress points. This guy’s actually in danger of making Roger Moore look like a great actor by comparison.

This guy sucks. Really badly. George Lazenby simply isn’t Bond, in any believable way. Every other actor has brought something interesting to the role, which might not have been successful but at least something was attempted. This guy’s only brought his absence of talent.

There doesn’t seem to be much point writing anything else. A Bond film with a stiff, unlikable, unconvincing lead actor has already had the legs cut from under it, but in the interests of hitting my word quota let’s crash on.

The other risk, of sorts, the movie takes is to stick closely to Fleming’s original novel, after the radical departures of the previous few films. This isn’t automatically a bad thing. Many would welcome it. However they are sticking so closely to the novel that it’s caused baffling plot holes that make everyone seem like they have some kind of brain damage.

This is supposed to happen, in what would pass for chronological continuity for the franchise, before the events of You Only Live Twice. However, given that we are never told this during the film, we can only assume that everyone has suffered short term memory loss. Blofeld and Bond meet and have pleasant chats without recognising each other, despite last year’s volcano based spot of bother in YOLT.

Oh, and while we’re mentioning it, Blofeld’s being played by a different actor too, with Terry Savalas’s shiny head replacing Donald Pleaseance’s shiny head. And of course, he’s playing the character in a completely different way, because continuity is for chumps. This version is more than happy to strap on a set of skis to give chase to an escaping Bond, despite establishing him quite effectively over, well, all the prior films in the series as a man behind the curtains, pulling strings in the shadows rather than a front line warrior.

His plot turns out to revolve around a threat to┬ásterillse the world’s food supply, unless his demands are met. Why? Doesn’t Blofeld need food, or has he become a more literal SPECTRE? What happens if his bluff is called? Kill the world? Brilliant! Great plan, you bald twat.

It takes us well over half the film to get even a sniff of Blofeld. While an investigation heavy front end didn’t do too badly by Dr. No, here it’s a curious mix of investigation and fawning over Diana Rigg’s Tracy, a relationship with all the fireworks, drama and interest of a damp Thursday afternoon in Stafford. The next half”s not much better either, reducing to an hour of dreadfully back projected skiing shots that did not once come close to being interesting.

The defence of OHMSS most often comes in the form of an appeal to dramatic sensibilities. I could conceivably see that the less fantastic plot along with the only semblance of character development since the first film, and if you’ll excuse the spoiler, (if you can have spoilers for a film over forty years old) sudden death of the first woman Bond has been goodly enough to treat as someone with more utility than a sweatsock should add up to something that’s substantially deeper and more affecting than you’ve become used to in the series.

The problem with this scenario is that it only occurs in an alternate dimension where every single element of the film is much, much better than the one that you can witness using your human eyes and ears. Sure, if the films had been shot in the order they’re supposed to be in, it’d have fewer baffling, inexplicable character interactions. If Lazenby had as much more charisma, as much as, say, a small pepper pot, there might have been some interest in his life and emotions. If there was anything remotely interesting going on, I’m sure we’d be interested in it.

But this is a fantasy version of the film, cast by unicorns and shot on rainbows. The one that you can buy on DVD is a wretched, mis-shapen lump of a film, shuffling around dragging its haunches across the floor, whining pathetically, begging for a bullet to be put into its damaged brain. I’d happily oblige it.

So, I don’t rate this film very highly. And I haven’t even mentioned breaking the fourth wall! Let’s just say that those cinematic bricklayers spent a very long time building up that wall, and it serves us in good stead to leave it up, because when you start knocking walls down, the roof tends to cave in.