Directed by Peter R. Hunt

Written by Richard Maibaum, based on the novel by Ian Fleming

Starring George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Bernard Lee

No film in the five-decade-spanning James Bond franchise can ever be tagged as a unilaterally great film. The purposeful, traditional cliches, stereotypes and quips shaken and stirred with equal parts misogynistic sex and oft-unbelievable action make sure of that. Bond himself, whether he’s Connery or Moore or Brosnan is not a great character, but a shallow silhouette of a human being with no clear agenda stated save for one: to enjoy his heterosexual right.

With Sean Connery’s initial 1962 embarkation into the role of Bond with Dr. No, he created a character for the ages; often copied – legitimate as well as comical – and an indelible image on our cultural psyche. Tall, dark and handsome in his impeccable black tuxedo, issuing quips to women of all ages, races and nationalities unable to resist his charms and always a fluttering eyelash away from sharing his bed (or boat, or train cab, or in the midst of a heated gunfight), and effortlessly outdriving, outgunning and outsmarting myriad faceless goons with flawless efficiency and unfaltering cool.

And while the ultimate fighter, lover and genius had been rolled into one suit to the delight of the Cold War filmgoer, there could only be so much entertainment within the contrived dialogue and repetition of Connery’s Bond, despite the occasional great spy story (1963’s From Russia With Love) and inconceivably, wonderfully over-the-top action (Thunderball from 1965’s final underwater battle).

Not wanting to be typecast as such a cookie-cutter character (anybody who has seen Connery in The Untouchables and The Name of the Rose knows the man has range), the Scotsman alerted the world during the filming of 1967’s You Only Live Twice that it would be his last stint as 007.

Already ready with the next money-making Fleming adaptation, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman approached near panic over the potentially dangerous recasting of a cinematic god.

Enter George Lazenby, 27-year-old Australian model who aside from never having acting a day in his life was spotted by director Peter Hunt in a commercial in which he hoisted large fry boxes. Having fought for the role among a plethora of better-suited men, legend has it that Lazenby cemented the part by breaking the nose of his trainer during a fist-fight scene rehearsal, after which Broccoli guffawed, “You’re the guy.”

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, not just because of Lazenby but due to the tireless efforts of screenwriter Richard Maibaum and director Hunt to remain doggedly true to the script, against all odds became a film that will always be the most bizarre and beautiful of the franchise – and yes, also the greatest – as well as the darkest and most emotional before the revamped Daniel Craig era.

From the beginning, with Lazenby’s slow introduction and his stylish, face-paced and decidedly un-Connery beachfront scuffle, one knows that this Bond film is going in a different direction.

Diana Rigg, before she was a Dame and during the tail end of her stint as Emma Peel, plays a troubled contessa whom Bond meets at the film’s beginning, when he saves her from an apparent drowning suicide. He meets up with her again at at a baccarat table in a Portuguese casino and it becomes clear that this particular woman is no mere Bond girl, even to Bond.

The film segues into its seminal, and most memorable hour, in which Bond infiltrates yet another stronghold of his SPECTRE nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (cue-balled Telly Savalas, taking Donald Pleasence’s leave from You Only Live Twice), this time a beautiful modern castle perched precariously on top of the Piz Gloria in the Swiss Alps. Here, where Bond finds out Blofeld’s next diabolical plot is to hypnotize a bevy of allergy-afflicted women in the hopes of unleashing them back to their countries where they will release sterilizing nerve agents that will render the world unable to reproduce (or something like that; it really doesn’t matter), Lazenby gets a chance to really shine, disguised as a frumpy, kilt-wearing Swiss lawyer.

He quickly discovers Blofeld’s plot whilst also infiltrating the beds of several of the afflicted women, the last of which leads him to be captured. Following some remarkable ski chases – definitely the most remarkable action cinematography of its kind – Bond escapes from Blofeld’s castle and meets up again with the irrepressible countess. After fleeing from Blofeld’s orange tracksuit-wearing henchmen, they hide out in a Swiss barn where Bond … proposes.

There are obviously many scenes in OHMSS that were unlike anything witnessed in a Bond picture. Earlier in the film Bond, upon hearing he was removed from his Blofeld assignment, gets angry with M and resigns his commission. And in the Swiss barn, Bond, unthinkably, falls in love and gets married, followed by a lavish wedding in which both M and Q dress in bright colors and Miss Moneypenny can’t stop crying.

Before this, in several fight sequences, including a flight through a Swiss village celebrating Christmas and the culminating bobsled chase between Bond and Blofeld Bond actually looks frightened in many close-up shots. Bond showing hurt pride at his boss? Bond unsure of himself? Bond falling victim to the emotion of love? Very out of place – and yet, refreshing. United Artists took a chance with these unheard of Bond themes, and, for most critics now in retrospect, crafted a Bond film that was as believable as it was entertaining.

But it’s the very last sequence of OHMSS that is the most unforgettable, and the most original. No film in the franchise to this day has ever been so shockingly violent, so boldly dark in any sequence.

Lazenby’s Bond and Hunt’s OHMSS are two decidedly abnormal and, maybe for that reason, overlooked talents that together created a great film, made greater in its originality. To add to this, the various and repeated themes of the James Bond films are hardly heard, overtaken by two very remarkable themes composed by John Barry. The title theme, a memorable, transcendent beat, is echoed in the composition of 2006’s Casino Royale, another film that went for reinvention (although Craig was, if anything, more a resuscitation.) Along with the theme, OHMSS features one of the most appropriately beautiful love themes, the orchestral medley of “We Have All The Time in the World”, used whenever Diana Rigg and Lazenby seem to lock eyes.

Back in 1969, several facets and several faces went into creating a new Bond for the cinema. Although it was short-lived (Lazenby, obviously, would never be Bond again, and the Connery took back his mantle with Diamonds are Forever two years later. Roger Moore would lovably farce up the franchise until another subtle reinvention, the dark brooding Timothy Dalton as Bond in 1987’s The Living Daylights. And after a six-year hiatus, when Bond was deemed dead in the Nineties, killed the same way as hair-metal music, Goldeneye in 1995 turned another page before 2002’s Die Another Daye effectively turned the franchise into coma patient in need of a defibrillator) OHMSS will always be the first and most starkly original of the Bond films.

Images courtesy of blogs.coventrytelegraph.net, klast.net, commanderbond.net and goulburnpost.com.

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