Friday, November 16, 2012

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

First, the elephant. Lazenby is not bad. He is, in some ways, quite good. He really nails one of my favorite aspects of the Bond persona, his understated cool. There is an unfortunate smirkiness to some of his performance, especially in the front half of the film, but I have no doubt that he would have grown into a great Bond if he'd stuck around. (Also, when they make the movie about Bond movies, he will obviously have to be played by Clive Owen.) One thing that Lazenby is absolutely, unquestionably terrible at is the quipping, though. They give him a couple unfortunate puns and they land with a real thud.

With regards to the film as a whole, pacing remains an issue. The first half kind of drags, but the second half more than makes up for it with just a ton of action, probably the most per capita action of any of the films so far if you only count the second half. Too much setup with Tracy and then Bond putting together whatever pieces there are to be put together before we finally get to the centerpiece of the film, Blofeld's new hideout up in the Alps. But it's a pretty cool set, all icicles and gleaming surfaces. Blofeld does not skimp.

Telly Savalas' performance as Blofeld is way, way tuned down from Donald Pleasance's bugfuckery. I prefer Pleasance's take, honestly, because he gave Blofeld a totally outsized persona, whereas Savalas is very much a human-sized villain. It probably couldn't be helped, because the script calls for Blofeld to actually do a bunch of stunt work, so he can't just be a weird, cat-head molesting whackjob. On the plus side, Savalas does smoke his cigarettes really weird, like all pointed up in the air, so there is that.

Yes, Diana Rigg is good. Great even. Her chemistry with Lazenby is pretty lousy, but oh well. She's the first Bond girl who is something approaching the co-lead of the film, and she only has one really dumb moment on the bad end of some sexism (it doesn't, surprisingly, come at the hands of Bond, but instead comes from her father. He punches her, right in the face. Yes, this happens occasionally in early Bond films. Ladypunching.)

The action in the second half of the film is, like I said, really excellent. We have our first appearance of the ubiquitous "Bond on skis" film which is repeated again with Bond and Tracy. There's a demolition derby scene (yeah, that happens, and it's kind of dumb but also kind of cool) and the final boss battle revolves around a bobsled chase (it's pretty dodgily edited but still, Bond and Blofeld in bobsleds.)

The theme at the beginning of the movie isn't a sung theme like it had been for the past three movies. The sung theme is Louis Armstrong's "We Have All The Time In The World" and it's pretty good but it doesn't show up until later. In any case, the opening credits theme is instrumental, it's not the Bond Theme, and it's really good. They play it a lot during the movie and it's a little strange that it never really entered Bond's regular repertoire as far as I know.

Racist/sexist - Surprisingly little of either, a very refreshing change. I know some of what's coming in the next two films, so I know that neither state of affairs is long for this world, but this is a very nice little respite.

The clothes they stick Lazenby in are weird and elaborate and kind of stupid. There's a long scene in the middle where he meets an entire harem of Blofeld's brainwashed girls where he's dressed in a dress kilt outfit the whole time, and it is a really dumb look. Plus ruffles. Multiple suits with ruffles. This is, like, pirate Bond and, you know, seriously. (Whenever you see pictures of Lazenby as Bond it's usually in his ruffley tuxedo.)

Bond beds three women. Besides Tracy, he nails two of Blofeld's harem girls in rapid succession, and the movie makes it pretty clear that these girls are starved for some male attention. It could have been anyone, really, but they got Bond and so be it.

I think it's not out of the question that you could assign this as someone's first Bond movie, with the caveat that you are dealing with the odd-man-out performance of the entire franchise. You've got the three major parts of the story (Bond, the girl, and the villain) playing major roles, you've got cool sets and cool action. It's kind of psychedelic so you can enjoy it as a solid Austin Powers precursor. This may be my favorite of the first 6, with the understanding that the second half of the movie is way better than the first, so I may be overrating it as a whole.

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