“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969)

[http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064757/]

James Bond (George Lazenby) is on the trail of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), now hiding in an exclusive clinic in Switzerland. Blofeld's latest scheme is a world-wide blackmail plot, assisted by a number of lovely ladies under Blofeld's hypnotic control. Complicating matters is the mutual attraction Bond feels toward Tracy di Vicenso (Diana Rigg), daughter of the head of the Union Corse crime syndicate.

Description: James Bond is on the hunt for Ernst Stavro Blofeld, tracing him to an exclusive clinic in Switzerland.

James Bond: Allergy vaccines? Bacteria. Bacteriological Warfare.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld: With a difference. Our big breakthrough since last summer has been the confection of a certain… Virus Omega.

James Bond: Infertility.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld: TOTAL Infertility! In plants and animals. Not just disease in a few herds, Mr. Bond. Or the loss of a single crop. But the destruction of a whole strain. Forever! Throughout an entire continent. If my demands are not met, I shall proceed with the systematic extinction of whole species of cereals and livestock all over the world!

The release vector for this infertility virus is the unique part: the clinic was described as a last-chance resort for women with food and related allergies. Part of their treatment used hypnosis to reinforce their feelings toward the objects of their allergies, a state Blofeld used to condition them to obedience. (In the original novel, they are told that the virus or related pathogen is a secret that will enhance the breed, to alleviate any possible fears or worries on the part of the women.) Each was given a portion of the virus and instructions on when to activate a radio to receive their orders to release it.

Lacking assistance from his superiors, Bond turns to the Union Corse for help in assaulting the clinic and stopping Blofeld. The raid is a success but Blofeld manages to escape. Bond marries Tracy, but their honeymoon is cut short when Blofeld attacks their car after the wedding: Bond survives but Tracy is killed, setting the stage for Bond's quest for vengeance over the next several films.

Commentary: When first released, it suffered from the inevitable comparison between Lazenby and Connery, which is unfortunate in that almost no one could fill Sean Connery's place. In many regards, though, this was an excellent Bond film. It is one of the early Bond films so it closely follows the original novel, more closely than even its predecessors with the changes helping the film: Blofeld's blackmail scheme in the novel was only against Britain in the novel but here its global, for instance.

As in the original novel, the hypnosis aspects are well done. The first induction seen, performed at a time when the subjects are half-asleep and totally vulnerable, is quite believable; the second, at the farewell party, appears to be drug-assisted (note that Irma Blunt does not drink as the rest of the woman have) although not stated as such and would not be necessary, given the their constant hypnotic conditioning and reinforcement.

Recommendation: Definitely recommended. This is one of the best Bond films (of the early films, I put it third behind "From Russia With Love" and "Doctor No") in a number of ways: the way it emphasizes the core elements of Bond, the down-to-earth action and fight scenes, the little bits of casual humor ("This never happened to the other guy."), the lovely outdoor sequences, the romance (a rarity for Bond films.) Plus, the presence of Diana Rigg as the tempestuous Tracy as the perfect woman for Bond.

Addenda:

  • Given the multi-national aspect of the women at the clinic, not all spoke English. Fortunately, one of them, Catherina Von Schell, was multi-lingual and assisted with the translations. She was also the woman who shows up in Bond's room after his assignation with Rose. Schell would later appear as the alien Maia in the second season of "Space: 1999".
  • It is also difficult to believe the movie only cost $7M to produce and took in over $64M. In these times, I would expect the costs to be at least 50x that cost, and the box office similar.

Trivia:

  • It was the only film that George Lazenby starred in as Bond (he turned down a multi-film contract.)
  • It was the only film in which Bond was actually married (instead of being under cover as in "You Only Live Twice".)
  • It was the only Bond film (after the first) without a true title song, using instead "We Have All the Time in the World" midway through the film.
  • It was the first Bond film to use slow motion photography and flashbacks.
  • It was the only Bond film shot and staged entirely in Europe.
  • During the ice skating sequences, a double was used for Diana Rigg because she didn't know how to ice skate.
  • Most of the major members of "The Avengers" TV series would appear in a Bond film, but Joanna Lumley was the only one to appear before appearing the series, appearing as one of the women in the clinic. Lumley also assisted with dubbing the English voices for the foreign actresses.
  • This was Ilse Steppat's (Irma Bunt) first and only English speaking role: she died of a heart attack a week after the movie premiered. Her career in German and European productions lasted over 20 years.

References:

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