It's the 40th anniversary of the release of the official sixth film installment of the James Bond 007 series, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
If anybody's kept up with my Twitter badge, you already know the background story behind the production of this atypical Bond thriller. (For those who don't, go here.)
(Above: The original movie trailer.)
On it's own merits, OHMSS holds up quite well after all these years. The plot, thanks to director Peter Hunt and screenwriter Richard Maibaum, is actually a tight (with minor alterations) adaptation of the original 1963 Ian Fleming novel (available here), there's a genuine attempt to create actual human characters instead of cartoon figures (even the villain gets a believable motavation this time), and the stunts and action scenes are still among the most excitingly shot (despite one or two sloppy matte jobs) sequences ever done in cinema, let alone the Bond films. Plus, composer John Barry, using the then-new Moog synthesizer and a little help from Louis Armstrong, creates one of the most memorable film scores of the series.
The plot: Bond (George Lazenby) has spent two years searching for SPECTRE chief Ernst Starvo Blofeld after the events of 1967's You Only Live Twice film (covered here) and is ready to resign when his boss M pulls him off the assignment. A chance encounter with Tracy Draco (Diana Rigg) leads to information about Blofeld's whereabouts from Tracy's father Marc-Ange (Gabriele Ferzetti), the head of the Mafia-like "Union Corse". Meanwhile, Bond falls in love with the troubled Tracy.
With Marc-Ange Draco's assistance, Bond, posing as a heraldity expert, tracks down Blofeld, now disguised as French Count de Beauchamp (Telly Savalas), in a heavily guarded mountaintop fortress in the Swiss Alps, who seeks to establish his title as a legitimate count. But what is Blofeld/de Beauchamp really up to? And why are twelve stunning looking women (hey, it is a Bond film) from various countries all around the world, patients in the villain's "allergy clinic", important to his plans? When Bond finds out the truth, that's when the fun really begins! With Tracy's help, and those aformentioned classic action sequences, Bond seemingly saves the day. But an unexpected turn of events results in the most shocking ending ever seen in a Bond film.
Lazenby may be no Sean Connery but he manages to give a sincere performance. Until 2006's Casino Royale, this is the last Bond film to have an actual mature conversation between Bond and a female character (Rigg is sublime as Tracy) and Lazenby rises to the challenge. He's also solid in the action department. The supporting cast is good too; the surly Savalas might not quite be like the Blofeld of the novel (who was more urbane and less proactive and looked an awful lot like Ian Fleming's second cousin, actor Christopher Lee) but he's suitably nasty and slightly sympathetic (this Blofeld just wants respect). Actress Ilse Steppat is a riot as Blofeld's repellant "assistant" Irma Bunt. And series regulars Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) and Desmond Llewelyn (Q) all get a moment or two to shine.
The film is available at the library in two different DVDs. The single 2000 release (go here) features audio commentary by director Peter Hunt (who passed away in 2002) and various cast and crew members, and a documentary, "Inside On Her Majesty's Secret Service", detailing the production of the film, narrated by Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) and trailers. The 2006 double disc release, available as part of The Ultimate James Bond Collection (reserve it here) keeps all these extras and adds vintage promo films shot at the time on the location filming in Swizterland, the exciting stock car sequence (the 2006 disc of the film includes previously cut footage from that sequence as well as an extended scene between Rigg and Salavas) and the press watching a scene being filmed. There's also interview footage of Lazenby shot before, during and after the production, along with a 2002 postscript. Overall, the double disc edition is the one to watch!