On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) REVIEW
Directed by Peter Hunt
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Saltzman
Screenplay by Richard Maibaum
Based on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming
Starring George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat
Music by John Barry
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George who? During the filming of You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery announced his retirement from the role of British Secret Service Agent, James Bond 007. He had had enough of the role and wanted to do other projects. So as pre-production began on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the call was put out. Hundreds, if not thousands, auctioned for the lead role and if wasn’t until an Australian model by the name of George Lazenby, walked through the door, that the producers found their man.
After two years of searching, James Bond manages to track down and confront his arch-nemesis and SPECTRE number One, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Blofeld plans to unleash biological-warfare on the entire world by introducing sterility spores into the world’s agricultural supplies. Bond meets his match in a beautiful, intelligent but ultimately damaged woman, Tracy di Vicenzo, whom he rescued from an attempted suicide. Through Tracy’s father, Bond gains entry into Blofeld’s Mountain stronghold to foil his plans to destroy the world. With ski chases and action aplenty, a James Bond adventure has never been better.
Plot wise, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a very solid entry. Being the most faithful to the novel of the same name helps. Bond has been after Blofeld for two years now and after coming off You Only Live Twice, my major complaint is why doesn’t Blofeld recognise Bond? They were face-to-face in the previous film, yet here its all forgotten. During production of Thunderball, producers were intending OHMSS to be the next film, however severe weather conditions meant You Only Live Twice was chosen instead.
It is wise to consider this film a standalone film…or maybe just think of it that Bond had plastic surgery. Don’t laugh at me, it was actually something being tossed around during production to account for the new look to Bond. Obviously it never stuck around, but not using it does cause the issue of forgotten identity. Still I refuse to hold this against the film itself. The movie is virtually perfect and Blofeld not recognising Bond is something I can look past.
Bond and Tracy’s relationship in this film proves to be a really big subplot. At first you could be forgiven for Tracy just being the first of many Bond girls to come, and yes there are many others, but she stays around for the entire length of the film, as the relationship continues to grow. What is really smart here, is that Blofeld takes Tracy to his stronghold for the final act of the film where she proves just how smart and strong she really is. The character of Tracy is integral to film and proves to be the only girl Bond has ever proposed marriage to.
The act of marriage itself was taken a little hard by critics back in the day, but now it just flows so perfectly, and is looked back now as one of the high points of the franchise. The best part is, the romantic scenes between the two in no way feel forced. The actors appear to get along, on and off screen.
Everyone in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is there for genuine reasons. The familiar briefing of Q’s gadgets took a hit as the director wanted a more grounded 007 film, and it shows with only a single gadget used throughout. Although Q does make a few appearances, he has a very different chemistry with Lazenby than he does with Connery. Here, there is more respect shown, and Lazenby even has a more ‘friendly’ feel with Moneypenny. It is much more intermit, with the final scenes really proving to be a beautiful moment between the two.
As already mentioned, George Lazenby took over the lead of James Bond. Hearing how he was cast is quite marvellous. After hearing the role was up for grabs, George went to the same tailor as Sean Connery to get a suit. Then went off to the same barber and had his hair cut the same way as Connery. While there, one of the producers was also there and overheard. Using lots of skill, George managed to get into an interview and eventually got his big chance when screen testing involved him preforming a fight scene. George Lazenby wasn’t skilled in pulling punches for the effect on camera, and punched one of the stuntmen out with one punch. It was this moment on that George was given the role and the rest is history.
Unfortunately behind the scenes, George admits that he was a bit of a brat claiming often, he was the star of the film and let that go to his head. He was young and new to the new found fame, and quickly this went to his head. In truth though, none of this comes across on screen. George has the confidence one should have as Bond. He is ruthless as proven in his fight scenes, and carries himself on screen like he owns it. And own it he does. George Lazenby is by far the greatest depiction of James Bond (personal opinion) on screen. I understand that Sean Connery is the preferred choice for the secret agent, but for this film, for what is asked. And for all the physical and emotional demands asked of the actor, Lazenby sells it. Hands down. If only he had stuck around for a second time, I do believe his time as Bond would be looked back on with great fondness.
Every James Bond needs a leading lady and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service delivers on all fronts here. Hot off the heels starring in The Avengers (tv series), Diana Rigg was brought onto the cast and was a welcomed addition. Producers and director said they needed an actress able to portray all different types of emotions, and since Lazenby hadn’t acted before, they needed someone that could help sell the scenes. Lucky for all, Diana Rigg is utterly brilliant as Tracy di Vicenzo. From her introduction in the pre-credit scene, Diana sells us on the idea right away that something is a little off with Tracy.
Once reintroduced at the casino table opposite Bond, we find out a little more about the character and quickly realise just how damaged she is. Since watching this film years back, I took the time to check out The Avengers and was amazed at just how active Diana was in the show. Thankfully her acting skills aren’t the only thing needed here. She is also called upon to preform in many action scenes. During the middle to final parts of the film, Tracy is all over the film and manages to help out James Bond a lot more than any Bond girl before. It is no reason she eventually becomes Mrs. Bond, as the romance between the two characters is sold throughout all their scenes together.
Diana Rigg is absolutely beautiful, and has a vulnerability to her, and as the film goes on, you really see her open up. Not only is she one of the most memorable Bond girls to ever grace the franchise, she isn’t helpless. Tracy holds her own and saves herself from two henchmen. It just goes to show that not all Bond girls are around for the T and A.
This is the Blofeld I’ve been waiting for. From the very first time watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it is this version of Blofeld that has always stuck out. He may be the head of SPECTRE and have henchmen surrounding him, but you get the feeling that one-on-one Blofeld can hold his own. With Telly Savalas cast, Blofeld has a larger frame and greater imposing figure. Thankfully the producers felt the same way, and its the reason the character was recast.
Whenever Telly is on screen, there is an unnerving feeling because you’re constantly waiting for the pin to drop, which doesn’t happen until a little later on. Telly owns this role though and has reasons for allowing Bond to live when captured. Telly has a smooth voice and elegant nature too. A perfect Blofeld but sadly, this version will forever be overshadowed by the first full appearance of the character in You Only Live Twice. Damn you.
Rounding out the new cast is Italian actor Gabriele Ferzetti as Tracy’s father, Draco. The usual contact type of character. He has a great laugh and big personality on screen. Surprisingly though, I only recently found out he was dubbed, which these films do so well. Final character worth mentioning is Irma Bunt, as played by German actress, Ilse Steppat. She is henchwoman to Blofeld and mother hen to all the “Angels of Death” in the research stronghold, Piz Gloria. As an older woman, she seems immune to Bond’s charms and just as deadly as anyone the secret agent as ever face.
It wouldn’t be a James Bond film without all the exotic locations , and thankfully On Her Majesty’s Secret Service delivers. While location scouting, the director heard of a revolving restaurant in Switzerland sitting atop the mountains. It was partly constructed, and producers decided it was a perfect fit for Piz Gloria. So they funded the rest of the construction even going so far as to add a helipad. The production was given exclusive use during filming and to this day, Piz Gloria still exists as a restaurant with all the spectacular views seen in the film. It is a stand out piece and holds many of the action scenes.
Apart from Piz Gloria, which is filmed and show amazingly, so many other scenes have remarkable looks to them also. The photography on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is some of the best in the franchise. Ski sequences were helped by Olympic skier holding the camera while moving backward down the slopes, and ariel shots were accomplished thanks a rig mounted beneath a helicopter. Giving full 360 degree viewing, the ariel shots here are some of the grandest in cinema history. And all without digital effects of any kind.
John Barry fires on all cylinders delivering the best musical score of his career. The love theme ‘We Have All The Time In The World’ is woven throughout the film whenever Tracy and Bond have their emotional moments. Since each Bond theme song has incorporated the title into the song itself, squeezing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in proved impossible. John Barry instead created an instrumental piece which is used throughout the film. The atmosphere created by the musical score is virtually perfect, and the soundtrack has never been removed from my phone since buying it. Hands down the best to grace the franchise.
Previous editor of the 007 franchise, Peter Hunt was given the directors chair this time round and he does a fantastic job of bringing 1950’s Hollywood class, to the James Bond franchise. At various points during action scenes, the camera footage is sped up slightly and fast paced cuts used to convey the constant feeling of motion and quickness. Does it have something to do with the time theme going on during the film, or just his way of filming and editing? Could be both.
This is hands down the best Bond film up to this point and possibly even the entire series. Yeah, I said it. George Lazenby is my favourite Bond and with each viewing, my respect for him continues to grow. He may not be the best actor, but playing off such talent as Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas, you would never know it was his first acting role.
Sadly George doesn’t return for the follow up to this film, and it does hurt what comes next. However we can blame that to agents and an inflated ego. But just imagine the film that could have been Diamonds Are Forever had George Lazenby continued on in the role.
This is a brilliant trip from beginning to emotional end.
James Bond will return in Diamonds Are Forever