On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
When guys sit around discussing James Bond, you are sure to get your share of “Connery is the only James Bond” or your “I grew up on Roger Moore so he’s my Bond” and the occasional “I think Daniel Craig is the best Bond yet”. What you never hear are people defending George Lazenby, the man who dared to take on the role of 007 after Sir Sean Connery tired of the role. I have come to the conclusion that many Bond fans have skipped over On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or saw it so long ago that they forgot how he played the role or even the importance of the movie itself.
Followed by Diamonds are Forever and a return of Sean Connery, this movie is the best kept secret to the true fans of James Bond as it is arguably the closest James Bond to the man in the Ian Fleming’s books that inspired the films. Lazenby’s Bond is not the most suave fellow in the world, he smokes and drinks to ease the tension and can fight with the best of them but maintains a type of vulnerability that makes him seem real. One thing that stuck out was his trade-off with Moneypenny, while the other Bonds would trade clever quips, Lazenby kisses her on the lips, promises her dates and leaves her weeping when he chooses another. In the other Bond movies the advances of Moneypenny seem shallow and playful at best, but in this movie Moneypenny is interested, and so is Bond but duty comes first and with duty comes a host of beautiful, able bodied women.
For lovers of Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, with Bond’s heart being revealed and eventually crushed. You will love On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The pacing is slow and deliberate, allowing for you to understand exactly what is going on then picks up in action and ends in an awful tragedy. When Bond loses Vesper in Casino Royale, it was awful and you felt bad for the guy, but when he loses his love in this movie, it really, really bothers the hell out of you. I wanted to give the man a hug after seeing the way he tries to deal with it, one of the most brilliant scenes in a James Bond movie (in my honest opinion). There are some serious Bond movies, a ton of campy/corny ones and a handful of awful ones, but some of them are real good stories with really good elements throughout. I will say that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of them.
The movie starts out with James Bond playing hooky from work as he takes some R and R near a beach. A beauty in a red car nearly runs him off the road as she heads for the beach in what seems to be an attempt at suicide. Playing the role of savior, Bond rushes into the water to save her and upon hitting the shore is jumped by two men. After beating them up he travels to a nearby hotel to inquire about the woman from the employees there. Finding his way to a gambling table after learning that the woman was a rich Countess named Tracy Di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), Bond sees her approach his table, bets on an expensive round and loses. When she admits to having no money to pay the dealer, Bond steps in and ponies up 10,000 Franks to get her off the hook and she in turn gives him the key to her room. Calling his time short at the table, Bond goes to the Countess’s room and is attacked by a man who of course loses. The Countess claiming ignorance of the man who attacks Bond is awaiting him in his room when he retires and offers him sex in return for his two good deeds. He accepts.
Upon waking up, Bond is whisked away at gun point to the home of an important and wealthy man who turns out to be Tracy’s father. Expressing his knowledge of the spy’s resume and history, papa Vicenzo asks Bond to marry his daughter because she needs a man like him. Reluctant at first, Bond uses the opportunity to get information from the father about a man named Ernst Stavo Blofeld (Telly Savalas) who works for the powerful underground organization called SPECTRE. With the knowledge he gets about Blofeld and the opportunity to spend more time with Tracy, Bond goes deep undercover into Blofeld’s compound and learns of a diabolical plan to make all species of animals and possibly human life extinct if he isn’t paid the ransom he demands. James must stop Blofeld but as his relationship with his beloved Tracy intensifies he is forced to make a decision that will jeopardize his bachelor life forever.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the better Bond movies that manages to keep all of the elements that you expect from bond while having a strong story and one of the best Bond girls. Tracy Di Vicenzo is what a Bond Girl should be, like Pussy Galore before her, she is strong while being stunningly beautiful and chaste. Women like this make 007 work at his charm and earn a bit of respect and longevity with the spy unlike his instant conquests who are written into these stories just to score another notch on the 007 belt. No you can argue that Tracy was the hardest fish to land for 007 and it was a worthy catch as her smarts, bravery and again strength are unmatched by 99% of the Bond girls in other movies. Telly Savalas’s version of Blofeld was charming, diabolical and odd in the way he smoked his cigarettes. As a villain I didn’t find him frightening but he wasn’t weak and seemed a worthy opponent for 007.
If I had to gripe, my biggest issue was with the editing. I know it was made in 1969 but the fighting scenes were cut and pasted together so strangely that it was laughable from the beginning. Still the movie showed us flashbacks from the older movies, from Lazenby mentioning “the other guy” in the intro to the theme songs from Dr. No, From Russia with Love and other predecessors being played when James picked up his souvenir gadgets to reminisce. Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny was absolutely perfect and the grumpy old M played by Bernard Lee was very much the old man that you would expect him to be. I fear the hardcore Connery and Moore fans will find Lazenby hard to accept at first with his different voice, not-so-suave manner and his smoking habits. I thought he did an excellent job and regret that he didn’t follow up the tremendous ending to this one with a sequel that could have given us fans a bit of closure.
As you can tell I really enjoyed On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and I think you fans will too.
Bond-o-meter Score (ranges from 1-10)
James Bond (8): George Lazenby is tall, can act and looks the part. This is his sole project as 007 and that is regrettable.
Story (8): Slow start that transitions into a full fledged cat and mouse game between Bond and Blofeld. Get used to this face-off but what clinches this one is the ending, what an ending.
Bond Girl (10) – Tracy Di Vicenzo: It doesn’t take long for James to see that this tigress is the one. Tracy is one of a kind.
The Villain (9): Ernst Blofeld is one of my favorite villains, stroking a cat and brainwashing women.
Spicy Rating (9): Excellent story, a new take on 007 and a great movie overall.