James Bond
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Ultimate Edition 2-Disc DVD Set

Starring: George Lazenby
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: PG
Available 17 July 2006

Attempting to track down SPECTRE leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld, James Bond encounters the intriguing Tracy Di Vicenzo. Can it be that 007 has found a woman he would like to settle down with? First the agent must go undercover in the treacherous Swiss Alps to prevent Blofeld from realising a germ warfare plot that could kill millions...

Everyone remembers this movie as "the one with George Lazenby". The fact that the actor only played Bond once is usually taken to be an indication that he wasn't very good. Setting aside such prejudice, however, Lazenby proves that he can handle both the action (including some pretty visceral fight sequences, captured by editor John Glen) and the acting. Though he cannot quite shake off his Australian accent, he brings sufficient depth and range to the role to pull off that crucial final moment of grief. Can you imagine Roger Moore or even Sean Connery playing that scene with such conviction? I don't think so.

However, the trailers on disc 2, which describe Lazenby as "the different Bond from the same stable", hint at a lack of confidence on the part of the studio back in 1969. There was evidently a fear that the movie-going public might not accept any actor but Connery. Perhaps this very lack of confidence in turn influenced the audience, creating a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. In any event, the punters were indeed not ready to countenance a new Bond, and Lazenby was sacrificed to the swingometer that is public opinion. A similar thing happened to Timothy Dalton during the '80s and the phenomenon is already making life difficult for the next even-numbered Bond actor, Daniel Craig. Nevertheless, Lazenby allowed Roger Moore the opportunity for acceptance by setting a precedent.

So much attention has been devoted over the years to the relative merits of Lazenby that few have commented upon the disappointment that is Telly Savalas's Blofeld. Savalas conveys neither the sinister menace of Donald Pleasence (in You Only Live Twice) or the sophistication of Charles Gray (in Diamonds Are Forever). It is left to Ilse Steppat, as the creepy Irma Bunt, to provide most of the real villainy.

In other areas, however, this movie delivers in spades. Just as Thunderball gave us the first underwater Bond action, OHMSS is the pioneer of snow stunts. Ski expert Willy Bogner, acting as both choreographer and cameraman, sets the standard that would be followed in films such as The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only and The World is Not Enough. The secrets behind the stunning aerial photography of OHMSS's alpine action sequences are revealed in a contemporary documentary, Above it All, which is also included on disc 2.

Connecting all the spectacular set pieces is one of the stronger Bond movie plots. This was the last film (until perhaps 2006's Casino Royale) to closely resemble the Fleming novel upon which it is based. It is also one of the least fantastical, with very few gadgets in evidence. Subsequent movies would continue the process started in You Only Live Twice, of retaining only a few character names and situations from the Fleming novel in question.

Another pinnacle attained here is one of John Barry's finest musical scores. This includes the memorable instrumental main theme. There's a good reason why the Propellerheads remix of this tune was chosen as the single from David Arnold's Shaken and Stirred album - and that's because the original is so good!

Further aural pleasure can be found in four vintage "open-ended" radio interviews. We get to hear from Lazenby, his leading lady Diana Rigg, Savalas and director Peter Hunt, though most of what they have to say is, understandably, for the purpose of promoting the movie. New to DVD are the 1969 promotional films Shot on Ice and Swiss Movement, and footage from casting sessions and the movie's press launch in Portugal (though these were not available for review).

All in all, sterling service from those awfully nice Sony people.

Richard McGinlay

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