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On Her Majesty's Secret Service(1969)
When his usual intelligence sources fail, James Bond (Agent 007) goes to Portugal to enlists the aid of crime boss Draco to track down Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the evil SPECTRE organization. The trail leads to the mountains of Switzerland, where Bond goes undercover in Blofeld's hi-tech headquarters. There he encounters a bevy of seductive women, but none are more beautiful than Draco's own daughter, Tracy, who wins 007 over with her fervent independence, caustic wit and love of adventure. Bond pledges his eternal devotion to her, but there are more immediate concerns: Blofeld is poised to unleash horrific germ warfare weaponry that will endanger every living thing on earth. Bond's adventures hurl him through artillery-laden ski pursuits, and a dramatic avalanche drive.
For more about On Her Majesty's Secret Service and the On Her Majesty's Secret Service Blu-ray release, see On Her Majesty's Secret Service Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on October 5, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat, Bernard Lee
Director: Peter R. Hunt
» See full cast & crew
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Blu-ray Review
Lazenby's lone 007 outing features the saddest Bond ending ever.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 5, 2012
The gadgets. The guns. The girls. The exotic locales and sexy cars. The white-knuckle action sequences. The suave flirting and cheeky double entendres. He's been played by six actors—Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig—but there's only one Bond, James Bond. Every man wants to be him, and every woman wants to be with him. (Some men too, I'm sure.) He's the epitome of super-spy cool, and for fifty years now—fifty years!—he's been an indelible part of our pop-culture consciousness. In terms of universal recognition, Bond is right up there with Mickey Mouse and Darth Vader and Superman. Everyone knows his name, knows he likes his martinis "shaken, not stirred," and knows his favorite pistol is the compact Walther PPK. You're probably even humming or whistling the iconic 007 theme song to yourself right now, and if you aren't, I guarantee it'll worm its way into your brain sometime in the next five minutes. Instantly, more like. Admit it, it's playing on a loop in your head right now. Bond isn't just a franchise, it's a revered institution. Yes, there have been a few duds along the way, but over the span of twenty-two films—soon to be twenty-three, with the upcoming Skyfall—the series has defined the international espionage sub- genre, all the while reflecting the cultural and political changes of its times. Sure, in one sense, these are just action movies—popcorn entertainments—but for their fans, these films are the height of cinematic escapism.
Claiming he was "fed up to here with the whole Bond bit," Sean Connery (temporarily) retired from the role after the fifth film, 1967's You Only Live Twice, leaving series producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli in the lurch. For the new 007, they eventually settled on George Lazenby, an inexperienced actor and model whose most visible work up until that time was an English commercial for a chocolate bar. Lazenby's only turn as Bond would be 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which would have him struggling to fill Connery's Savile Row suit in the eyes of contemporary viewers, but ultimately delivering a take on the character that was arguably more empathetic and emotionally involved than his predecessor's. Along with the new lead, On Her Majesty's Secret Service—directed by Peter Hunt—is a noticeable departure in style and tone, less concerned with gadgetry and more focused on the character of Bond himself.
Unlike most of the previous films, On Her Majesty's Secret Service sticks quite closely to Ian Fleming's source material. The new 007 is introduced rescuing Contessa "Tracy" di Vicenzo (The Avengers' Diana Rigg), who's trying to drown herself in the ocean but also pursued by a bunch of thugs, whom Bond promptly dispatches, after which he turns to the camera to break the fourth wall and says, "that never happened to the other fella." It's the only wink-wink-look-it's-a-different-actor moment, as the film actually tries to establish a narrative continuity with the previous films. I say tries because it doesn't necessary succeed. The antagonist here is once again Ernst Blofeld—played by Telly Savalas, taking over for Donald Pleasance—but although the megalomaniacal evil genius and Bond met face-to-face in You Only Live Twice, the baddie doesn't recognize 007 here. Perhaps he's thrown off by the recasting too.
To find out Blofeld's location, Bond makes a deal with Tracy's mob-boss father, Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti): In exchange for the cat-stroking super-villain's whereabouts, Bond agrees to woo the depressed Tracy. Of course, in the process of faking a romance—and we get a longish dating/shopping/traipsing through beautiful locales montage—Bond falls in love with her for real, giving the film its emotional backbone. Lazenby's Bond is just as suave as Connery's, but he's more vulnerable, and there are times when we doubt 007's ability to make it out alive, something we never question in the other films.
The first half of Her Majesty's Secret Service moves a little slow, but the pace and intrigue pick up when Bond goes undercover as a famed genealogist to infiltrate Blomfeld's mountaintop base in the Swiss Alps, where he's conducting hypnotherapy—aka, brainwashing—sessions on a group of twelve international young lovelies he calls his "Angels of Death." As usual, Blofeld has a diabolical scheme in play, and this time it involves a method of rendering the world's plants and animals infertile through biological warfare. The film's ski-chalet vibe is perfect for 1969, and yes, there are several snowy action sequences, including an ice rink demolition derby, a bobsled chase—which is as crazy and fantastic as it sounds—and Bond outrunning a massive avalanche. I won't give away what happens in the end, but let's just say it makes for one of the saddest Bond denouements ever.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Blu-ray, Video Quality
As with the other vintage Bond titles, On Her Majesty's Secret Service's Lowry Digital restoration has left the film looking better than ever, especially on Blu-ray, where it's been given a gorgeous 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation. For starters, the print is now practically spotless, with no significant damage whatsoever—at most you might notice an occasional vertical scratch or catch a few errant white specks—and the image hasn't been digitally manipulated beyond recognition. I suspect there's some slight noise reduction at play in some sequences, but natural 35mm film grain is still visible throughout and I didn't spot any overt edge enhancement. In terms of clarity, I'd Her Majesty's Secret Service actually bests most of the Brosnan-era films. I'm not sure if amounts to sharper glass or what, but the anamorphic lensing here is crisp and clean, revealing lots of fine detail in the actors' faces and costumes. And I love the film's late-1960s-ski-chalet color palette, with its bright whites, intense sky blues, and vivid snow-wear. Black levels are sufficiently deep and strong contrast often carves out a tight, dimensional-looking picture. The encode handles it all well, with no banding, splotchy colors, or macroblocking. Overall, it's a terrific improvement over the already-decent DVD.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Blu-ray, Audio Quality
A bit of trivia: On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the first Bond film to be shot with stereo sound. Here, that original 2.0 mix has been effectively expanded into a full, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Don't worry, purists, the multi-channel broadening has been tastefully accomplished—no stagy new sound effects have been thrown in here—and the addition of surround speakers and subwoofer output definitely adds to the immersive qualities of the film. What benefits most is John Barry's excellent score—one of the best in the series, with a instrumental Moog synth-driven intro theme—which now fills a room in a way that a stereo mix never could. (The Louis Armstrong-sung love song, "We Have All the Time in the World," sounds great too.) Of course, effects and ambience are spread into the rears as well. Ocean noise. The clop of a horse behind you. Cars zipping between channels. Skiers blasting down the mountain. Pulsing helicopter blades. Fireworks bursting realistically in the air. The huge roar of the avalanche, which rumbled my sub enough to knock over a few stray discs I had sitting on top. Dialogue throughout remains clear and easy to understand, and the disc comes with several dub and subtitle options; see above for details.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
M16 Commentary: A patchwork track hosted by The Ian Fleming Foundation's John Cork, who introduces interviews featuring director Peter Hunt and various members of the cast and crew.
Declassified: M16 Vault
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
On Her Majesty's Secret Service is an odd duck, the lone Bond film featuring George Lazenby, who had the unenviable task of following the inimitable Sean Connery. While the film's first half is a little slow, I love the late 1960s ski-chalet vibe, the gorgeous "Angels of Death," and the emphasis on Bond's character rather than the gadgetry and action that had started to define the series. Even without Connery, On Her Majesty's Secret Service belongs in the top tier of the franchise. It's an enjoyable—and emotionally potent—adventure that's aged charmingly over the years, and I'm kind of sad we never got to see Lazenby have at least one more shot at the role. The film's new Blu-ray presentation is all-around excellent—with a crisp new image and lossless audio—and although the special features have remained the same since the DVD edition, I think fans will find this disc is worth the double-dip. The film is available in the Bond 50 set, but a standalone release can currently be found at Best Buy, where it's a timed exclusive.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Other Editions
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