For some strange reason, I’d thought I’d already reviewed this most interesting entry in the long running James Bond film series, but nope, I hadn’t. It’s my favorite film in the franchise for a few reasons and had an ending that’s brilliant for its being completely unexpected for a series known for its figurative “happy endings.” Granted, the film received automatic hatred for decades thanks to it not being a Sean Connery Bond, and some overly harsh criticism of George Lazenby as 007 even though his performance is quite good. Having first seen it as a kid on network TV as a heavily edited version presented out of order and split into two parts over two weeks (WABC was the big and only Bond channel here in NYC for years, so we were stuck with their awful recut versions), I fell right into the story and Lazenby’s more sensitive take on the character despite the clumsy reworked hack job. Okay, okay, Diana Rigg also was a big draw, as I was a huge fan of The Avengers TV series (which REALLY needs a North American Blu-Ray set!) and her always thrilling Emma Peel character.
The film begins with an opening sequence where Lazenby breaks the fourth wall for a sly, self-deprecating joke (I didn’t quite get it as a kid, but later views made it hilarious). On one level, the film is Bond business as usual as he rescues a lovely lady (Diana Rigg), later meets her in a casino, is invited up to her hotel room and is attacked by some guy who means him harm. Soon after this incident, Bond gets waylaid by some thugs who cart him off to meet crime lord Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti). We soon find out that the lovely lady in question is Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, Draco’s depressed daughter who keeps trying to do herself in after the death of her mother. Draco makes Bond a surprising offer: marry the Contessa and get a small fortune for his troubles. 007 declines the odd offer but decides to keep a good eye on Tracy for his own reasons: he’s indeed fallen hard for her and there’s a link to Hans Stavros Blofeld (Telly Savalas!) that needs further exploring with Draco’s assistance.
The Tracy/Bond bonding becomes the major point of the film, but it’s not a Bond film without its assorted diversions major to minor. The overarching story is of SPECTRE cooking up the wild idea of having a dozen gorgeous “Angels of Death” spread the Virus Omega, a deadly crop and animal sterilizing virus around the globe unless a very hefty ransom is paid, he’s labeled with a ridiculous official title and not charged at all for any of his previous (and failed) world domination misdeeds. Posing (somewhat badly) as genealogist Sir Hilary Bray, Bond manages to infiltrate the mountain retreat posing as a clinical allergy-research institute and have his eye-rolling way with a few of the ladies (Angela Scoular, Catherine Schell) before he’s discovered.
Bond escapes (in a great action sequence) and is saved at the last minute by Tracy (who drives like a pro racer, which is a good thing for 007). Lazenby’s performance is quite enjoyable here because he humanizes his Bond into a more likable but still flawed character. He argues with his superiors, disobeys orders to let Blofeld be because his ransom demands will be met and is generally that pain in the rear Connery’s disrespectful 007 was to his employers who somehow seem to know no matter what they say, Bond will go off anyway and do what he pleases because that endgame always plays out the same way each time. OHMSS upends those familiar elements in the most direct and powerful manner possible.
(thanks, Ralph Buskey!)
I won’t spoil the rest of the film for those who’ve yet to see it other than to say the couple end up in Blofeld’s clutches, there’s another escape and excellent chase scene, it’s assumed Blofeld gets bumped off and there’s a big wedding after all (a happy moment except for Lois Maxwell’s poor Miss Moneypenny, I’d say). Also of note is while the film has a few fun gadgets thanks to Q branch, it’s not as reliant on them as with other 007 adventures. They’re there, mind you – they just aren’t as majorly flashy as you might expect. I’d say Bond’s bacon is saved more by his lady love than his borrowed and never returned in working order tech wizardry.
As for the villains, despite his rather unusual ransom plot, Savalas makes a fun enough (and quite athletic) Blofeld, but for my two cents, it’s all Ilse Steppat’s show, period. Her no-nonsense Irma Bunt character outstrips Blofeld on the purely evil front and while her part is smaller, it’s she who has the most important impact on the story. It’s a shame the actress passed away shortly after the film premiered as I’d bet a shiny new penny that she’d have been a bit on the burgeoning convention scene during the 1970’s.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, this surprise (well, surprise for me because it popped into my head when I finally woke up and was done so quickly despite me being laid up) post is suddenly part of Moon in Gemini’s Winter in July Blogathon, so go pop on over there (Hi, Debbie!) starting July 13 through the 15th for more snowbound or just plain chilly reading thrills. Me? I’m going to go take a rest for a bit and recuperate before bouncing back with some backlog game and movie reviews. Some mojo is back and I’m going to take advantage of that while it lasts.