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Directed by: Peter Hunt; Produced by: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum – adapted from the novel by Ian Fleming (1963); Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat, George Baker, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Bernard Horsfall, Yuri Borienko, Angela Scoular, Catherine Von Schell, Virginia North and Joanna Lumley; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 133 minutes; Colour; Released: December 18 1969; Worldwide box-office: $82m (inflation adjusted: $505.9m ~ 13/24*)
* denotes worldwide box-office ranking out of all 24 Bond films (inflation adjusted), according to 007james.com
Plot ~ 9/10
Vying with Russia as the most Fleming-faithful big screen Bond adaptation, Majesty’s marks the filmmakers’ first attempt to return Bond to his roots after the huge excesses of the preceding flick – a trend that’s repeated itself at least twice since in the series. Having gone on for two years, following the events of Twice, 007′s hunt for Blofeld is closed down by M, much to Bond’s chagrin. So, against orders, our hero goes off after a girl he saved from suicide in the pre-titles – Teresa di Vicenzo (Tracy) – whose father, Marc-Ange Draco, is a crime syndicate chief and whom 007 hopes can inform him of Blofeld’s whereabouts. This Draco agrees to so long as Bond marries his daughter; Bond balks at the idea but falls in love with her anyway, before (posing as a heraldry expert) he infiltrates an allergy clinic in the Swiss Alps run by old baldy, whose scheme this time is to infect the globe with ‘Virus Omega’, which’ll destroy the world food supply and its economy, unless the noble title he’s seeking is accepted. A barmy scheme for sure, but lifted fully from Fleming, as is the potent love story that lies at the heart of the plot and (perhaps 2006′s Casino Royale aside) distinguishes this from every other Bond film as an engaging romantic drama accompanied by action rather than an engaging action drama accompanied by romance.
Bond ~ 7/10
Something else that distinguishes Majesty’s from every other big screen Bond effort is Bond himself – for the simple reason he’s played by the first actor to replace another in the role, as well as the only actor to have played the role just once (in the Eon series). Yes, this then was George Lazenby’s only crack at 007, but don’t let the naysayers discourage you because he gives it a good stab. While his lack of thesp training shows (he’s clunky in some dialogue-driven scenes), he literally kicks, punches and knees new impetus into the physical prowess and dexterity of the character, making the Connery Bond of Twice look like an over-the-hill heavyweight boxer. Plus, there’s a youthful vigour to this Bond and a boyish twinkle in his eye (which sort of pre-empts Moore) and, most impressive of all, no doubt thanks to playing opposite someone of the calibre of Diana Rigg, some of Lazenby’s best work comes in the demanding emotional scenes. All the same, though, this is a 007 performance that’s rough around the edges and, at times, at its core.
Girls ~ 10/10
Is there a stronger Bond movie when it comes to girls than OHMSS ? You’ll be be hard pressed to find one. Why? Mostly because it features the series’ best female character, Diana Rigg’s Tracy. Nowadays, it seems every latest Bond Girl actress suggests hers is the match of 007, when patently none have been – apart from Tracy, who in almost every way was. Smart, witty, glamorous, resourceful, tenacious, cunning, a strong skiier, an excellent driver at speed, useful in a fight, as well as appealingly glass-half-empty and, of course, beautiful in a refined, elegant way, Tracy truly is terrific. Add into the mix her melancholic doomed fate (à la Vesper in Casino Royale) and she has to be top of the Bond Girl Christmas tree. Yet OHMSS is surely the ultimate for Bond Girls because she’s not its only one. For who could forget Blofeld’s ‘Angels of Death’? The dozen or so Swinging lovelies hypnotised atop his Alp, whom unwittingly will do his bidding once back home. They’re all beautiful and good value, but the main duo, Angela Scoular’s Ruby and Catherine Von Schell’s Nancy are both delicious, so much so that Bond, despite his real romance with Tracy, can’t help but indulge in their delights – oh, the things he does for England…
Villains ~ 7/10
Inevitably, after the highs of Donald Pleasence’s Uncle Ernst in Twice, the next interpretation of Blofeld (coming as it does in this very next film) is going to be a come-down and Telly Savalas’s take on the SPECTRE chief is just that. Don’t get me wrong, the man who would become Kojak does an admirable job, investing in the cat-lover an energetic, always on-the-go demeanour and impressive physical attributes (this Blofeld skis and bobsleds, but draws the line at curling), as well as giving the character an urbane loucheness in keeping with the schnaps atmosphere of Piz Gloria. But, for all that, he’s some way short of possessing the ‘x factor’ that all the really good Bond villains do. Blofeld’s joined in his quest to join the nobility by the hard, domineering matron-esque Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) – a sort of teutonic Hattie Jacques – and lesser minions including Yuri Borienko’s heavy Grunther (whom notably is bested by Tracy come the climax). Ultimately, like their boss, they’re fine, but a bit sub-par when it comes to Bond villainy.
Action ~ 10/10
It’s rare for a successfully plot- and character-driven Bond film to be equally strong when it comes to action, but Majesty’s most certainly is. The tone’s set by a hotel room skirmish between Bond and a Draco goon. It’s no-holds-barred stuff and only concludes when the foe’s head breaks a balustrade (“Gate crasher – I’ll leave you to tidy up”). Midway through the flick comes a pivotal piece of action – one which proved pivotal for the series too – as its the first ski sequence to feature in the movie Bond. A thrillingly dramatic chase down an Alp, at night too, it displays the daring skills of ski ace Willy Bogner (doubling as 007), features terrific cinematography and demonstrates Bond using his wits to evade and do away with his pursuers. It’s swiftly followed by a car chase, as Tracy’s red Cougar leads Bunt’s vehicle through the snow and a stock-car rally (oddly taking place after midnight on Christmas Eve, but hey). Best of all, though, is of course the flick’s double action climax. Double? Yup, first we have Draco and 007′s raid on Piz Gloria via helicopter (during which the latter oh-so coolly slides along the ice firing his gun, oh yes), then comes Bond’s intense bobsled pursuit of Blofeld. Who could ask for more?
Humour ~ 10/10
Majesty’s royally does the business in the humour stakes thanks to the fact it’s amusing when it comes to the witty, subtle gags (Draco to Bond on Tracy’s seeming indifference to him: “She likes you, I can see it”/ “You must give me the name of your oculist”; Bond on some avuncular advice from Q: “Thank you, Q, but this time I’ve got the gadgets – and I know how to use them”), but it’s also excellent at delivering the broader brushstroke laughs too – many of the scenes involving the girls at Piz Gloria (and Bond/ Bray’s interactions with them) go for the jugular, anticipating the bawdy humour for which the Moore era is most recalled. This then is a Bond film very reflective of its time – an ever growing openness to sex is represented by the Piz Gloria ‘Angels’ and the light, frank humour that follows them around, but it’s still of a time when subtle, dialogue-driven wit filled well-written scripts. In short, humour-wise, it’s the best of both worlds.
Music ~ 10/10
No question, OHMSS's music showcases John Barry’s Bond-scoring at its best. Other scores he delivered, such as Twice's, are excellent, but none are as consistently excellent as this flick’s. Both the diversity and the quality of its themes are awesome. The title theme itself (lyricless, still to this day a bold first for a Bond film) is a bass-driven, trumpet-flaring, Moog-synthesised, ominious but stirring, ice-cool tune that gets a perfect re-airing as Ski Chase during, yes, the ski chase. As if pre-empting ’70s prog rock, Moogs feature heavily elsewhere too in the almost menacing take on the Bond Theme and in Over And Out, the excellent tension-inducing build-up to the climax. But there’s a general about-turn to the tone of the mid-film music with theatrically blaring brass accentuating the almost Carry On atmos of Bond/ Bray’s dalliances with the Angels (Bond Meets The Girls; Sir Hilary’s Night Out). And brass is the order of the day too in the scene-setting march Journey To Blofeld’s Hideaway, while Battle At Piz Gloria mixes the title theme with full orchestra to soundtrack the climax. Final mention, though, must go to the Louis Armstrong-sung, early-film-featuring We Have All The Time In The World (whose theme is heard poignantly at other times – especially the end), one of the most enduring of all Bond hits.
Locations ~ 10/10
Locations-wise, Majesty’s is all about the snow. But, hey, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that when your main locale is the Swiss Alps in winter. Captured breathtakingly by Michael Reed’s cinematography, the Schilhtorn summit (on which sits the revolving restaurant that doubles as Blofeld’s Piz Gloria hideaway, the name it kept for real-life) and surrounding landscape offer bright white vistas that, with John Barry’s music, are truly inspiring – I haven’t yet skied and lived it up in the Swiss Alps, but still want to and it’s all because of OHMSS. By contrast, the tourist-teeming scenes shot in the nearby village Mürren offer a Christmas-time, almost claustrophobic coming-down-to-earth for Bond (sorry for the pun) after his exploits up the Alp, but are utterly irresistible too. Further locations include Bern (Bond’s visit to lawyer Gumbold’s office) and Lisbon and the picturesque Estoril region of Portugal for the early encounters with Draco and the oh-so fateful ending. Perfect all round, quite frankly.
Gadgets ~ 4/10
In keeping with its back-to-Fleming-basics ethos, Majesty’s doesn’t really do gadgets. This was a very wilful decision on the filmmakers’ part to return the character of Bond to one that relies on his wits rather than the latest must-haves from Q-Branch to get him out of tight scrapes – and given how well the flick executes this, as something of an inverse score maybe its points accrued here should actually be higher. Perhaps the best example of this is when 007 is imprisoned in the impressive Piz Gloria room that houses the inner workings of its cable car system. Here, with no gadget to aid his escape, Bond rips the cloth out of his pockets and uses them as gloves as he works his way along the cable running from a giant wheel to the cable car in the snowy outside. It’s a fine, tension-filled scene. The few gadgets that do pop up, though, number a bulky safe-cracker-cum-photocopier that our man uses in Blofeld’s lawyer’s office (while he passes the time flipping through a Playboy), a nifty small camera and, best of all, a SPECTRE-produced make-up set for each of the ‘Angels’ that ensures they can (under hypnosis) spread the ‘Virus Omega’.
Style ~ 10/10
Belatedly, the Eon Bonds caught up with Swinging Sixties style in OHMSS. Not only do those ‘Angels’ reflect the youthful, let’s-have-it-all attitude of London Tahn in the mid- to late ’60s, the winter fashions they sport are unquestionably Quant-esque and moddish (none more so than their most prominent member Ruby Bartlett, with her curly boy’s haircut, round spectacles and penchant for cigarette holders). Bond too is rather dandy; the beige and orange togs he wears when apprehended by Draco’s men would have given the Bond of Dr No a nosebleed, but by ’69 seem perfectly en vogue. And even psychedelia finds its way into a 007 flick, with one-time only Bond helmer (but former editor extraordinaire) Peter Hunt turning outside-office fisticuffs into an hallucinogenic zoom-in and echo-heavy fest, Blofeld’s hypnosis of his girls into reminders of Vietnam-era drug experiments and, most memorably, an epic avalanche into a bad LSD trip for Bond and Tracy. All in all then, with the usual offer of aspirational affluence as well (the casino scene is fine old-school glamour), Majesty’s' palette is a slice of boldly colourful ’60s cool.
For decades dismissed as ‘that one with the Aussie bloke’ that was a flop (in fact, it was the UK’s #1 film of its year – check out its box-office grosses above), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the greats (if not the greatest?) of the series. If anything, it seems to get better with age. It has everything you could ever want in a Bond film – and more. Including Joanna Lumley. Surely now, like Lummers’ cause du jour the Gurkhas at last have been, it finally deserves to be welcomed into the loving bosom of the British – and wider movie – mainstream?
<font size=4>Overall: 90/100</font>
Best bit: Bond and Tracy at the ice-rink
Best line: “It’s all right. It’s quite all right, really. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.”
Get the full treatment of my 'Bondathon' reviews here
It is 1968 and the producers of the 007 films, Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli, have learnt two things.
Firstly the audience would go and see a Bond movie, without Sean Connery, as exemplified by the spoof, Casino Royale.
Secondly, the “spy craze” had petered out, and still You Only Live Twice made astonishing money, thus the rules of cinema did not apply to Bond, it seems.
It was decided to film On Her Majesty's Secret Service; Cubby and Harry had been trying to film Majesty's since Goldfinger, and they chose Peter Hunt to direct.
Hunt insisted on going back to Ian Fleming, as he felt the hardware was taking over the franchise, and back to the early 007 films, Dr No and From Russia With Love, in terms of their realism.
It's a good job too, as On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of Fleming's greatest works. Hunt felt one didn't need to add things to this very fine novel, it was all there; suspense, intrigue, violence and sex, all mixed up with Fleming's prose and sense of journalistic pace and detail.
Richard Maibaum was the scribe put in charge of adapting Fleming's excellent novel. He was joined, later on, by Simon Raven, to polish up the script. Together they produced one of the truest adaptations of the series, and it's all the better for it.
The hunt for a new James Bond would prove be to be a tricky one. The producers wanted to find a hidden gem; a' la Sean Connery, but as Harry said, “finding good, undiscovered actors of 30, is not too easy”.
Timothy Dalton was approached, but he felt too young (24) and too intimidated by following Connery, so he declined. As was Roger Moore, although the producers felt that Moore was too clearly identifiable as “The Saint”.
Hunt looked at over 200 screen-tests, and only one got him truly excited; George Lazenby.
Born on the 5th of September, Lazenby dabbled in all sorts of jobs, including guitar player, combat instructor for the Australian Army and a car salesman, before moving to Europe as a male model.
Lazenby's casting agent friend suggested he'd be perfect for a role, but when she refused to go into specifics, Lazenby was not interested. When Lazenby did find out the details, however, he put everything into getting the coveted role, the role, of course, of 007.
He drove an Aston Martin, wore a Rolex watch, got one of Connery's discarded suits, and even went to the Dorchester Hotel, where Connery and Cubby had their hair cut. Cubby saw Lazenby, and thought he was a successful business man. That is how the story of Cubby discovering Lazenby, in a barber shop, began.
Then Lazenby outrageously stole into EON's Production Offices, and leaning on Harry's office door-frame, said; “I hear you're looking for a new James Bond?”.
Hunt was certainly impressed with Lazenby, and after they had watched a screen-test of a fight, so were Cubby and Harry. However, Lazenby had never acted before, so it was a big gamble on their part.
Lazenby undoubtedly had the good looks and physical prowess, but the film-makers, unconsciously maybe, decided to go with experienced actors in the guise of Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Ilse Steppat and Gabriele Ferzetti, to back Lazenby up; a truly international cast.
Gabriele Ferzetti is the epitome of charisma, even rivalling Kerim Bey in that department, as Marc Ange Draco, the head of the Union Corse, and father to Tracy.
Ilse Steppat portrays Irma Bunt, whose is very effective at playing the grotesque mother hen as Ernst Stavro Blofeld's henchwoman; a worthy successor to Rosa Klebb.
As Blofeld, Telly Savalas brings menace and sophistication to his role, and unlike Donald Pleasence's Blofeld, is wholly plausible, and takes after Ian Fleming's description of Blofeld, somewhat. The clashes of ego, between him and Bond, provide some of the films best moments.
Playing Tracy Di Vicenzo is Diana Rigg, who is truly a match for 007, being a classic “bird with a wing down”, as Fleming's finest leading ladies tended to be, which turns a hard, cynical Bond into, according to Fleming, a sentimental man, as all “hard” men have a tendency to be.
When the audience first meets Tracy, she's walking into the sea, about to commit suicide. A far cry then, from Dr No, with with Honey Ryder confidently walking out of the sea. Tracy, on the other hand, walks into the sea, asking the sea to absolve her.
It is a shocking moment, and one that lets the audience know they are not in for their usual Bond movie. Luckily Bond saves the day, and so it begins, one of the most touching, heart felt romances ever to be seen in a Bond movie. Tracy is transformed from a suicidal, spoilt person, into a self-assured, joyful and spirited woman, whose love for life matches Bond. As Tracy says in the movie; “you've given me the most wonderful present; a future”. It's even more tragic, then, to see Tracy gunned down at the end of the film. Life was just beginning for her, and for Bond.
Rigg plays the role for all it's worth, making Tracy a three dimensional character, and the greatest of all “Bond Girls”.
Of the MI6 regulars, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell are particularity satisfying. As M, Lee is notably cold this time round, although M does let an uncharacteristic softness come through, albeit over the intercom with Miss Moneypenny.
Maxwell makes the most of her enlarged role as Moneypenny, soothing the egos of M and Bond. When Bond tosses Moneypenny his hat, at Bond's wedding, it's a moving tribute; it's almost as if Bond is saying goodbye to his and Moneypenny's flirtatious ways. The scene is emotionally, although understatedly, charged, thanks to Maxwell's charm, in the often over looked role, of Moneypenny.
The single greatest asset to On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the direction by Peter Hunt, who worked on the Sean Connery pictures as editor. Thus he has an innate understanding of the “Bond persona”, and it shows.
Taking Ian Fleming's élan and violence, and integrating it with the cinematic devices of pace and decisiveness, Hunt creates a gem of a movie. Hunt expertly delivers that one would expect from a Bond director; tempo, intrigue, suspense, plotting, character development, humour and romance, and one is left with an engaging, and surprisingly moving, piece of cinema. Kudos Mr Hunt.
In particular, Hunt fills the action scenes, with a certain panache, drive and intensity, conceiving an almost balletic, brutal action sequences, brought shatteringly to life by Lazenby, who has an unbelievable grace, poise and presence to said scenes.
Despite the romantic overtones, Majesty's doesn't scrimp on action, especially in the final third. Two major action sequences, skiing and bob-sleighing, form the backbone to the to final act, which is ingeniously shot by Willy Bogner, and compiled by Hunt, and his second unit director, and editor, John Glen; the sequences are breathtaking. More so when one factors in Michael Reed's beautiful photography and John Barry's rhythmically, foreboding, pulsing action cues, and one has a cumulative master-class, featuring all the various aspects of film making, such as directing, editing, stunt arrangers, cinematography and music; they all combine to create a supreme and elegant sequence.
Majesty's is an epic film, which is aided enormously by Reed; his work on capturing the Swizz scenery is nothing short of majestical.
The film is also helped by Barry, the musical maestro, who produced, not only the finest Bond soundtrack, but also one of the finest soundtracks, in any movie. Barry distils the “Bond mythos”, all the intrinsic qualities, like the sophistication, the danger, the intrigue, the emotion, and creates a masterpiece of film composing.
Barry also used “We Have All The Time In The World”, a haunting song, sung with great tenderness by Louis Armstrong. Barry uses the melody throughout the movie, with genuine skill. At the end of the film, Barry deploys, “We Have All The Time In The World” with devastating effect. The song segues into Barry's freshly orchestrated “James Bond Theme”, showing Bond has got his amour back on, after a fleeting glimpse of vulnerability.
Majesty's has some of the best action, the best “Bond girl”, the best music, the best direction, and has some of the best cinematography, not to mention it has a very talented cast, but what about James Bond himself?
As previously acknowledged, George Lazenby is exceptional during the action scenes, which, when added to the fact he was good looking, he moved very well, almost in a Connery-esque manner, and arrogant, Lazenby was an ideal template for portraying Bond.
With no prior acting experience Lazenby does remarkably well. At times, it must be said, Lazenby is rather wooden, but at other times, he is terrific, such as when Lazenby confronts M and Blofeld.
One can see him growing in stature throughout the movie, and by the end of it, Lazenby makes one care for Bond; he is a human Bond, much more akin to Ian Fleming's novels. Remember Lazenby was acting on instinct, and when his instinct is so true to the novels, one can imagine Lazenby developing, evolving into the role, with future efforts.
Alas, it wasn't to be. Although Lazenby was offered a seven picture contract, he declined it, following, as Lazenby ruefully admitted, after some very bad advice, from his then manager. It gave Cubby and Harry, not to mention the marketing department, a real headache.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service premièred on the 18th of December, 1969. Although a few critics showed an appreciation of the movie, and its star, on the whole audiences and critics alike were left rather bemused by Majesty's, what with the more human approach to portraying 007, a downbeat ending, plus it did not star Sean Connery.
With $80 million in box office takings, Majesty's could not compete with the Connery era takings, but, as a common misnomer, it was not a flop; in any number of countries Majesty's reached number 2, for 1970, in their box office returns.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service ranks at the top of the Bondian tree, vying with From Russia With Love as the greatest 007 movies. With stylish and kinetic, frantic direction by Peter Hunt, outstanding scoring by John Barry, a diverse cast, and an evolving, charming performance by George Lazenby, a faithful adaptation of one Ian Fleming's most brilliant novels, Majesty's is an epic, action adventure, with a heart.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service is directed by Peter Hunt and adapted to screenplay by Richard Maibaum from the novel written by Ian Fleming. It stars George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Ilse Steppat, Yuri Borienko and Gabriele Ferzetti. Music is by John Barry and cinematography by Michael Reed.
Bond 6 and 007 is obsessed with locating SPECTRE supremo Ernst Stavro Blofeld. After rescuing beautiful Countess Tracy di Vincenzo from suicide, this brings Bond into contact with her father, Marc Ange Draco, who agrees to help Bond find Blofeld in exchange for 007 courting Tracy. Blofeld is located in the Switzerland Alps at Piz Gloria, where he is masterminding a fiendish plot involving biological extinction of food group species'. Bond will need to use all his wits to stop the plan from being executed, he also has big matters of the heart to contend to as well......
Connery gone, but not for good as it turned out, so into the tuxedo came George Lazenby, an Australian model with no previous acting experience of note. It would be Lazenby's only stint as 007, badly advised by those around him that Bond had no future in the upcoming 70s, his head swelling with ego by the day (something he readily admits and regrets), Lazenby announced he would only be doing the one James Bond film. The legacy of OHMSS is the most interesting in the whole Bond franchise, for where once it was reviled and wrongly accused of being a flop, it now, over 40 years later, is regarded as being one of the finest entries in the whole series. Yes it is still divisive, I have seen some fearful arguments about its worth, but generations of critics and film makers have come along to laud it as essential Bond and essential Fleming's Bond at that.
Everything about OHMSS is different to what Connery's Bond had become, the gadgets are gone and heaven forbid, Bond got a heart and fell in love. He was a man, with real aggression, real emotions and forced to use brain and brawn instead of mechanical trickery. Changes in the production department, too, wasn't just about Lazenby's appearance. Peter Hunt, previously the Bond film's editor, directed his one and only Bond film, and Michael Reed on cinematography also appears for the one and only time. New Bond, new era, but reviews were mixed and in spite of making a profit of over $73 million Worldwide, this was considerably down on previous films. The reviews didn't help, with much scorn poured on Lazenby for not being Connery, but really it's hard to imagine anyone coming in and not getting beat with that particular stick! Box office take wasn't helped by the film's length, at over 2 hours 10 minutes, this restricted the number of showings in theatres, something that should be greatly noted.
Away from Bond anyway, OHMSS is a stunning action thriller in its own right. From the opening beach side fist fight, where uppercuts lift men off their feet and drop kicks propel them backwards, to helicopter attacks, bobsleigh pursuits (resplendent with punches and flinging bodies), ski chases and a car chase in the middle of a stock car race: on ice! There's enough pulse pumping action here to fill out two Bond movies. But the Bond aspects are magnificent as well. Lazenby has wonderful physicality and throws a mean punch, he cuts a fine figure of a man and he's acting inexperience isn't a problem in the hands of the astute Hunt. Lazenby is matched by Rigg as Tracy, the best Bond girl of them all, she's no bimbo, she's tough (fighting off a guy with a broken bottle), smart yet vulnerable, funny and heart achingly beautiful, her interplay with Lazenby is brilliantly executed, so much so that when the devastating finale arrives it has extra poignancy. A scene that closes the film on a downbeat note and remains the most emotional scene ever put into a Bond movie.
Savalas finally gives us a villain who can compete with Bond on a physical level, making the fight between them an evenly matched and believable one. He lacks Pleasance's sinister fizzog, though the bald pate and Grecian looks marks Savalas out as an imposing foe as well. The Swiss Alps setting is gorgeous, with Reed capturing the scope magnificently, while some of his colour lensing in the interiors soothe the eyes considerably. Barry's score is one of his best, lush romantic strains accompany Tracy and James, operatic overtures dart in and out of the Swiss scenery and the James Bond theme is deftly woven into the action sequences. Louis Armstrong's beautiful "We Have All The Time In The World" features prominently, perfectly romantic and forever to be thought of as part of the Bond Universe. Finally it's the great writing that gives us the best sequence involving the trifecta of Bond, Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) and M (Bernard Lee). 5 minutes of class that gives Moneypenny an acknowledged importance in the relationship between the two men in her life. It's just one of a number of truly excellent scenes in the greatest Bond film of them all. 10/10
"this never happened to any of the other fella's"
When it came to make the 6th James Bond film OHMSS, Fleming’s 10th Bond novel, EON Productions (Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Saltzman) had what is most probably the biggest challenge of the series now 50 year history, replacing Sean Connery. Connery who had decided the previous film the 5th Bond film You Only Live Twice was to be his last. Connery had grown disillusioned with the role and felt uncomfortable with the exposure that came with playing Ian Fleming’s super spy. This is not to say that Connery went out on a high, after 4 films of looking the part and applying himself most capably to the role, Connery returned in 1967 out of shape and clearly not fussed about whether he looked credibly like James Bond 007 of the previous adventures. Connery’s almost contempt for the role resulted in the weakest entry so far of the series and appeared a former shadow of himself, yes we had great cinematography, Ken Adam’s incredible set design and of course Barry’s best score to date but as was to be the case in the 70’s and the 80’s these ingredients don’t always add up to a truly great Bond film.
Peter Hunt who previously served as editor on the 5 films before was promoted to director, Hunt decided that he wanted his film to dispense with the gadgets and rely faithfully to Fleming’s text that the previous later films had started to drift away from after From Russia With Love’s fairly accurate adaptation, once again Richard Maibaum who had worked on all the scripts with the exception of the previous film You Only Live Twice, that script had been written by Roald Dahl. Maibaum managing to pretty much include everything in Fleming’s text, if there are flaws, the fact the film is out of order with novels with YOLT being set after the events of Majesty’s and Blofeld not recognising Bond despite meeting each other in previous film is a bit of a continuity error. Hunt also utilised Simon Raven to pep up some of the dialogue between Diana Rigg’s Tracy & Telly Savalas’ Blofeld, Raven added a more intellectual slant having them both quote from James Elroy Flecker.
Although the issue of who was going to play James Bond was the biggest factor, who would replace the world famous universally accepted Connery in the role? Interestingly enough Broccoli offered the role to one Timothy Dalton, Dalton would turn down the role claiming to be too young and not wanting to follow Connery but would eventually accept Cubby’s invitation 18 years later and play Bond in 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence To Kill. Eventually Broccoli and Saltzman would give the role to virtual unknown Australian George Lazenby, Lazenby had done some advertising work and was most famous for being the Fry’s guy. He had got himself a Connery haircut and one of the suits that the first Bond had not taken from his tailor and turned up for his audition with the 2 producers. Lazenby then admitted to Hunt after taking the role that he was not an actor, Hunt shocked said “look you’ve just persuaded two of the most ruthless people I know you are, you’re an actor”. Hunt promised if he kept it a secret he’d make him James Bond.
Hunt having already been provided with a screenplay loyal to the source by Maibaum also surrounded himself with gifted actors, Diana Rigg who was most famous for playing Emma Peel was cast in the pivotal role of Theresa di Vicenzo (Tracy) and Telly Savalas as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Hunt also employed his neighbour George Baker in the role of Sir Hilary Bray a Professor at the London College of Arms who assists Bond, Italian actor Gabriele Ferzetti as Marc-Ange Draco head of the Union Corse, a major crime syndicate as well as being Tracy’s father. A number of dubbing took place in common place of the earlier Bond films, Fezeretti was dubbed by un-credited voice by David de Keyser and Baker dubbed Lazenby when Hunt felt his voice was not convincing enough while impersonating Bray during the Piz Gloria (Blofeld’s hideaway) segment of the film.
It is fair to say that the series owes a great debt to Terence Young the director of the Dr No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball for establishing the character, making Connery look the part and delivering a great introduction. Although for my money it is Hunt’s film which stands out as the most crafted entry of the series, whereas the previous entries seemed just like continuations for the most part not a criticism but OHMSS feels like a complete film, short of the gimmicks and full emotional resonance. The film has aged particularly well. Moments like fade from night to day using the Hotel sign reflection in the swimming pool earlier in the film that Bond is staying at in Estoril, Portugal, show a real style and panache not seen in the series before Some question Hunt’s choice of speeding up the film in the opening fight of the film but it makes for a thrilling sequence accompanied by an excellent Barry cue. Hunt aided by the film’s editor future series director John Glen who also contributed some 2nd unit work on the film, delivers the most action packed and thrilling sequences of the series.. It would not be till 2006’s Casino Royale that the series would come near to matching it. Hunt investing the film with one true downer and the kind emotional wallop not seen till Daniel Craig’s debut although even his 3rd entry 2012’s Skyfall falls short of Hunt’s one and only entry. It seems a great shame he never got a chance to direct another Bond, especially when you consider the journeyman hacks who have directed more, his approach and the style somewhat ahead of its time
John Barry who’s scored all the films since From Russia With Love was given free rein to produce a score and to experiment. Barry who had recently won an Oscar for his masterful score to The Lion In The Winter, (incidentally featuring Timothy Dalton) had started to use a earlier type of synthesiser, the Moog in his composing and wanted to utilise this new technology. Also it was deemed that the title was a bit of mouthful for a song the decision was taken for Barry for the first time since From Russia With Love to open the film with an instrumental theme over the opening credits of the film and then provide a song for use in the film as the romantic theme. Barry always stepping up to the plate with aplomb and affording the series nothing but quality work excelled with Majesty’s, not only is without doubt the finest Bond score, it also ranks as some of Barry’s finest work full stop as well as pretty much being the best action adventure score ever. Some have tried but never equalled it’s pure exhilaration, the infectious toe tapping genius is astounding, as well as producing the best action cues of the series, Barry also provided the most heart breaking song for Bond in the shape of his collaboration with Burt Bacharach's regular lyricist Hal David with the romantic theme, the Louis Armstrong sung “We Have All The Time In The World”.
Armstrong who provided in a state of ill health the vocal, this being one of his last pieces of work before his death in 1971, despite his condition it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else singing it, his voice just matching the lyrics and Barry’s emotional arrangement, the song which never was a hit at the time eventually became a top 3 chart hit in the UK in 1994 when Guinness licenced the song for one of their most memorable adverts. The song has been covered numerous times but never matching the original’s sense of world weariness captured by Armstrong in his twilight years.
It has been since the release of OHMSS a common opinion that if Connery had played Bond instead of the Australian Lazenby that the 6th James Bond film would have been undoubtedly been the best film of the series, despite the fact some people actually believe it to be anyway with or without the Scot. It’s obviously taken as a given that Connery still seen as the best 007 would have been terrific in the film. Not even taking into account that Connery was utterly uninterested in the previous film his planned last EON entry. The Bond in OHMSS is a far more emotional Bond, showing vulnerability, Connery for all his drop dead cool reading never played the character with much depth, to be honest the role didn't really require it, it’s up for debate that Connery would have aced the part had it been made earlier as originally intended, although I’m inclined to think that Connery who’d never been an actor with a huge amount of range wouldn’t have seemed right as Bond in the film. Whatever your opinion this is likely to be debated forever, one of those biggest what if moments of the series.
Though it seems that Broccoli and Saltzman never really had the faith in Lazenby that they understandably had in the well-established Connery; appearing on the poster as starring George Lazenby not George Lazenby as James Bond. The opening credits also included sequences from the previous Connery entries, giving off the idea that it was business as usual and that despite the actor being new he was to be seen as a Connery clone and not someone delivering his own interpretation of the character although Lazenby is nowhere as bad in the role as history might suggest.
I think it seems unfair to suggest that the only reason the film is so good is because Hunt surrounded Lazenby with the best cast of any Bond film was serviced with the finest script of the series and the score and all the ingredients were top notch. While Lazenby doesn’t offer the confidence that Connery exuded in the role or brought anything as unique as Moore, Dalton or Craig bought to the role, for someone who was clearly not an experienced screen actor and at times feels occasionally awkward in some scenes, he looks the part, certainly is the most convincing in the hand to hand combat sequences until Craig took on the role. He pre-dates the more emotional Bond that Dalton and Craig incorporated into their interpretations and genuinely feels vulnerable and heartbroken when it’s required. Although it’s impossible to know, he may well have grown into the role with other entries but his fate is pretty much his own doing. Taking his agents advice and believing that this character was on the way out and that the likes of Easy Rider was the future of cinema and that Bond would be obsolete within a few years, he announced he was quitting the role. It’s hard to feel sorry for him he’d also thrown his ego around on set, upset some of the cast and convinced Broccoli he was not ready for the stardom it afforded despite feeling he was a star before the public had declared him one, they never did, the actor trading off being Bond for the rest of his career but never becoming a big star in his own right.
Though fans of the film decry the missed opportunity of a follow up film that would have picked up after the emotional ending of OHMSS, an entry which would have seen Lazneby’s Bond go out for revenge, it may well have changed the face of the series and Lazenby could have gone on to make more entries, it can be speculated but it’s reception saw Broccoli and Saltzman go back to Connery a with huge financial reward to return one last time to the role. The result was a more audience friendly addition that ignored the tone established in the previous film with the first Bond returning looking almost unrecognisable in the role.
OHMSS is also the one film in the series that has probably gone under some of the worst treatment perpetrated on a Bond film, the most significant example being the 1976 CBS broadcast of the film, deciding to premier the film to coincide with the Winter Olympics the decision was taken to re-edit the film and show in a different sequence and in two parts, starting the film half way through with Bond being pursued by Blofeld’s men after escaping Piz Gloria. This version also had a rather clumsy narration as it flipped back and forth showing sequences in flashback form, completely altering the pace and destroying the narrative flow of what was the most loyal Fleming adaption of the series. The film was shown eventually in its proper version but the damage had been done. If this wasn't enough, although a number of the films have gone under edits for content while being shown on TV and being made available in home formats, none of them had actually had complete sequences edited out, the most significant and a particular fan favourite, the Gumbold safe cracking sequence. The scene comes after Bond is dropped off by Tracy and Draco after his leave has ended and we witness Bond retrieve the information that leads to him tracking down Blofeld. This segment is not only a great example of 007 using his detecting skills as well as being a significant plot point but is sound tracked by a particularly tense cue by Barry unavailable on the original vinyl LP release of the film’s score, made available much later on an extended edition on CD. The sequence along with others was reinserted when the ultimate edition DVD’s were released and now on the new Blu ray version of the film, without doubt the best treatment of the film to date.
Despite the treatment and the usual ignorant reception some give the film as it doesn't have any of the more recognised actors in the role, quality will out eventually. Considering its reception when it was released and it did have a minority of good reviews at the time, the film is now recognised by a number of the fan base and critics as the best film of the series. As someone who has always been a fan from the moment I saw it on TV as a small boy my appreciation for the film has grown as I've grown older and now like some I regard it the series highlight and Lazenby’s involvement does nothing to devalue that. Christopher Nolan declared it his favourite Bond film and then in 2010 paid it the biggest tribute by paying homage with a thrilling sequence in his film Inception that echoes the Piz Gloria big battle sequence of the film. In light of the reboot of the series the film continues to gain appreciation. While Connery and Craig remain the best actors of the series neither has been furnished with the ingredients that OHMSS was, it does seem ironic the one entry only Bond of the series is furnished with best direction, the best script and the best score amongst it’s attributes but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the closet the series has got to masterpiece status, it’s not perfect no Bond film is and yes maybe a Dalton or Craig capable actor would have better served the material but Lazenby’s contribution has done nothing to diminish the quality of the most maligned film of the series now 50 years history.
It was therefore a great discovery some years ago when I finally saw OHMSS. A great discovery of a great film. Even though the movie's (and Lazenby's) reputation is better now, it may well be OHMSS is still the most underrated movie of all time. And one of the most enjoyable of the whole Bond series.
George Lazenby has always been the most controversial aspect of the movie, since he never really was an actor and was stepping into Sean Connery's infamous Savile Row suit, as the first replacement Bond actor. Watch OHMSS enough times and it becomes apparent that Lazenby was right for the role, and did actually act really well in some scenes, particularly any scene that was emotional in tone. As a physical force, Lazenby would remain unequaled by any other Bond actor until Daniel Craig.
Diana Rigg, fresh off the Avengers where she played the iconic '60s sex symbol Emma Peel, plays Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo or just Tracy to perfection. In fact, I feel Tracy is the greatest Bond girl of them all, and the wonderful thing is that Tracy transcends merely being a 'Bond girl'; she's Bond's Woman. OHMSS might be the first and only time Bond isn't the most interesting character in a Bond film; it's Tracy here for sure.
Telly Savales as Blofeld lacks the detached, foreign feel of Donald Pleasance's portrayal in You Only Live Twice, but maybe that's for the best; he's more human this time out.
Though OHMSS is a truly great movie, there are a few moments that are relatively weak, nothing that sinks the whole ship, but nonetheless there.
For one, Bond's line to Tracy while skiing after one of Blofeld's goons gets chopped into red snow from the snowblower machine, "he had lots of guts" is awful.
Some of the bits with Bond or "Sir Hilary Bray" with the girls in Piz Gloria is a little off, though I can't quite say how. Just is.
Overall the movie is fantastic, a great ride, and the most human and character-driven Bond movie ever, with a still-shocking, tragic ending. Nothing like it in the whole series. Thunderball is still my favorite Bond movie, OHMSS is quickly becoming a huge favorite too and I've actually come to love it more than the vaunted Goldfinger, more than any of Moore's, Brosnan's or even Dalton's Bond films. OHMSS is that good.
It departs from the overall silliness of You Only Live Twice, in favor of a more sober romance story, most authentic to Fleming's writing, that focuses on character development over tech and gadgets. Despite the criticism Lazenby received for his performance, I found it to be just what this movie needed. Lazenby had an innocent boyish charm that made scenes like him being excited at the sight of a dog, or him even getting married, believable. He was a crossbreed between Connery's grounded nature and Moore's bright demeanor. Most of all, Lazenby, unlike Connery by YOLT, was hungry for it. Most important of all, Lazenby portrayed a Bond who actually cared about people, which is why this movie is so believable.
OHMSS gets a lot of things right. The Swiss Alps provided for some memorable scenery. It had its share of humor without being too silly. The misogyny was ramped down quite a bit compared to earlier films. It's long but there isn't really any fluff. All in all, it stands apart from many of the other Bond films, and really feels like its own experience. Overall, a fantastic entry.
Theme Song: Odd that the song didn't have lyrics or singing. Dated in that regard, but the theme song really matters when its applied in the movie's action scenes.
"Bond Girl": Tracy is an excellent companion and lover for Bond. She is more than a piece of meat. She is his age and his equal.
Villain: Blofeld is stronger here, with an even more unique heinous plan. Not quite as quirky as Pleasance's Blofeld but this one is the easiest to take seriously, which is what the movie needed.
One-Liners: "This never happens to the other fella"
Overall Rating: 9/10 (Excellent)
BOND & ACTOR PERFORMANCE
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service represents a fundamental change in every way for not only the Bond franchise, but also in Bond as a character as we see him as we never have before or since.
As the film begins, what Bond is doing and why he’s doing it is a mystery. We get introduced to him behind the wheel in a series of body shots with varying angels and shadow as he lights one up. One of the greatest images in the series has to be Bond watching with his scope as the beautiful, graceful form of Tracy goes to be claimed by the sea. There’s something so bizarre yet captivating about this scene, and once again Bond can’t resist going off to help a woman with a broken wing. This random moment in Bond’s life and his choice to intervene in the life of this suicidal woman will soon prove to be one of the greatest decisions of his own existence. Bond and Tracy came so close to never meeting, and if Bond was speeding just five miles more over the limit, Ms. Vicenzo would have died by her own volition and 007 would miss out on meeting the woman who betters them all in his eyes forever after.
This moment between Bond and Tracy, as accidental as it seems, sets the stage for one of Bond’s most fascinating and emotional hours in a film full of great moments and earth-shattering happenings. It’s hard to analyze Bond in this film in a digestible fashion or order, because the movie is just one great scene after another, and the Bond we get here is one of my all-time favorites in how he acts and what we learn about him in the film itself. I guess the best way to do this is to run through chronologically, picking out some of the most insightful moments as they come.
Following the bizarre beach brawl that Bond survives, he arrives at a hotel and sets out to make a night of gambling at the tables when, as if by divine intervention, the mysterious Countessa Teresa barrels into his life yet again. This time it isn’t her life in danger, it’s her finances, and Bond takes it upon himself to intervene on her behalf with some of his own money to wrestle away her deficits. Their talk afterwards is brilliant, which I’ll discuss more in the Tracy section of my analyses. We learn so much about Tracy as a person in this scene, including her death wish and sense of recklessness, as well as how stricken with fascination Bond is by this woman. Lazenby plays it wonderfully here, and on his face you can see a mix of both concern and interest as Tracy speaks to him. One of the greatest lines in the series is when Tracy tells Bond, “People who want to stay alive play it safe,” to which he responds, “Please stay alive.”
This moment carries into the rollicking fight Bond has with Che Che, one of Draco’s right hand chaps, which shows off Lazenby’s real knack for this sort of thing. He had the perfect make-up for a stuntman, with the fitness such a performer would require and a history with certain fighting styles that made these sequences believable and fierce. I love the finisher as Bond sends his attacker into the decoration of the hotel room, and how Che Che thinks to get up again, but can’t muster the energy. Bond sneaking some caviar is a nice finishing touch.
Afterward Bond returns to his hotel to find Tracy there, holding him at gunpoint. It’s a great moment, ripe with tension between the two as Bond quite forcefully takes his gun back. Both Lazenby and Rigg are doing overtime here, and I love how the latter turns her face away as the former slaps her, playing it as if her character had been through this sort of thing before and wants to run through the motions fast. There’s a chemistry between the performers that is apparent from the start, no matter the stories we hear about their tumultuous relationship on set, and moments like this seal it. Bond confronts Tracy on the balcony, confessing how fascinating he finds her, while she is eager to get their exchange over with (more on this later). I love how Lazenby positions himself on the balcony furniture, postured like he is attentively listening to Tracy and captivated by her words. He sells just how alluring and mysterious this woman is to Bond, and how eager he is to discover her more.
In the morning after Bond is left with but a rose from the mysterious countess and makes his way downstairs, golf bag in hand, to meet the points of many guns (most formal) in the form of more Draco muscle. I love how smug Lazenby plays this entire section of the film. Bond knows he’s being escorted to a roughing-up, but makes a joke amongst his new company about creating a golfing foursome so they can hit the fairways together, and he even thanks the man pointing a gun at his center of mass for opening the door for him. He’s all at ease here, even with Che Che’s knife nearly jamming into his stomach. As he is taken inside a front of Draco’s organization, Bond is pushed forward many times by the muscle, which Bond counters by swinging a door deliberately into the men trailing behind him, a nice blink-and-you-miss-it moment that shows he’s done playing games.
This leads into the splendid fight that provides Bond with a throwing knife, which he nearly guts Draco with as he closes the door behind his tour guides. The film only gets more interesting after this point as we find out just why Bond is being escorted to this location, and what relevancy Tracy has in it all. We also see how adamant Bond is at getting to Blofeld in any manner he can, doing whatever is necessary in order to find out where he’s hiding out. We learn even more about Tracy’s background and personality here from Draco’s perspective, and the agreement he and Bond come to is interesting. Bond is reluctant to accept it, as he has a “bachelor’s taste for freedom” and knows his work doesn’t befit a married man, but he wants to know where Blofeld is to finish him off once and for all.
Draco and Bond’s meeting carries into 007 returning to London to face M. He thinks his agreement with Draco and his deal to get information on Blofeld will win him the favor and respect of his boss, but finds much the opposite as M says he’s taking him off the operation permanently, getting visibly irate at the agent’s continued pleading. It’s a great moment where M makes it apparent how much he respects Bond and his considerable skills, but points out that two years of tailing Blofeld have amounted to nothing and there are other pressing operations developing. Bond responds by resigning in a private moment with Moneypenny, calling M a “monument” (ouch) before storming off to his office. I would have killed to see this moment with Sean as Bond, because he was already established with Bernard Lee’s M and the movie as a whole represented more of the kind of movie he’d have wanted to make with a greater focus on character after the over-the-top You Only Live Twice.
While reminiscing about old memorabilia from past missions-which again points out how weird this movie is in the canon-Bond toasts the Queen with an apology for his resignation, a nice character moment for the agent. Thanks to Moneypenny’s intervention Bond is called back to M’s office after answering the phone as “007” (it’s not easy for him to give it up) and his boss gives him leave from the service, without looking him in the eye. Bond wanted to hear regret on M’s side for how he dismissed him earlier, but doesn’t get it. Or a knighthood, now that you mention it.
The Portuguese birthday celebration of Draco sets the stage for more interesting character moments for the cast to play up. Tracy knows she’s a bargaining chip between Bond and her father and wants out of it, yet Bond seems interested beyond the Blofeld job and he seems to have a growing fascination for her even after he gets the answers he needs. The fact that the scene is set against a bullfight is interesting. Like the matadors facing the bull, Bond has taken one to the stomach and is reeling. He gives chase after Tracy once she leaves in frustration, and finds her in tears. Wiping them away with his thumbs, something blooms between them.
One criticism that could be made about this film is that the Bond and Tracy love connection is rushed, and it does feel weird that we only get it in a montage. I’d like to have seen how they each got over their respective reluctances to get together and how the rough patch that had formed between them faded to actually make way for compassion, care and something resembling romance. It’s already a long film as is, but it would have been interesting and helpful to get more meat to see why Bond and Tracy are so taken by each other over a two week period and are already considering engagement. I do love the moment that unfolds as Bond is driven to Gumbold’s office with Draco sandwiched between he and Tracy in the back seat. The pair stare longingly and lovingly at each other in another moment that shows the performers' burgeoning chemistry, while Draco awkwardly looks on, unsure what to make of the relationship forming in front of him. It’s a cute moment, and the thing that helps the sometimes questionable pacing of Bond and Tracy’s love along is the great chemistry Lazenby and Rigg have that grounds what we see in some emotional reality or truth.
One of the most interesting sections of a Bond film arrives as Bond makes a deal with Sir Hillary Bray and the College of Arms to pose as the man in Switzerland to get close to Blofeld once again under the guise of a genealogist expert. I’m of the opinion that Lazenby is at some of his best playing Bond playing Bray. He fills the role well and puts on a real performance to mask Bond behind the “character” of Bray in a rather theatrical fashion, with George Baker’s fantastic dubbing helping him along.
One of the greatest conceptions of this film is in having Bond go in disguise, and Bray is the perfect person for him to pretend to be, because the man is the very antithesis of him in every way. By playing Bray as a gun-shy man who is afraid of heights, has no athleticism to speak of, doesn’t have his wits about him around beautiful women, doesn’t like the party scene and who is modest about his accomplishments as baronet (a nice dig on Bond’s part about the ridiculousness of titles too, I wager), he is becoming all that audiences know Bond not to be to great effect. It’s fascinating and captivating to see Bond on screen for the first time performing under the guise of someone so far removed from who we know of him to be as a character.
The Piz Gloria dining scene of the film is excellent, ripe with sexual innuendo and comedic wit. Bond shows how well he knows his cover to the audience, playing up his part and acting like his focus is on academics and heraldry and not dating or fun, making some of the ladies believe that his own allergy is women, rather amusingly, and they are all more than eager to cure him of it. The Angels of Death are given a great introduction in these moments as they swarm Bond and feel varying levels of attraction for him. The sighs of ecstasy Bond elicits from the women as he says, “Gold balls” is hilarious.
After the dining scene we’re taken into a rather troubling moment as Bond meets with Blofeld and somehow doesn’t get recognized for who he truly is in what may be the biggest continuity error in Bond film history. The adaptation of the Fleming source is so strong here that Bond and Blofeld are played as if they are meeting for the first time, as in the book, which is improbable considering that the pair met face-to-face in You Only Live Twice just one movie back. If the film wasn’t so good this would be unforgivable, but it does muddle our understanding of the film canon, which the next film only continues to trouble, making it a difficult exercise to watch these films in any kind of order.
This all aside, Bond as Bray and Blofeld share a brilliant tête-à-tête that shows off the villain’s slimy smugness. Bond and Blofeld once again butt heads the next day as Bond attempts to rendezvous with Campbell by requesting he take the lift down to get some air at a lower altitude, which the villain shoots down, expressing that he’s paying Bray to work, not relax. I love this interaction and how fiercely Blofeld comes at Bray, making you think Bond’s disguise is quickly wearing off. I also love how, as Campbell is taken away to what we know is certain death, all Bond can do is stand there and act indifferent to him as his cover is too important to risk blowing.
As Bond attempts to meet with Ruby for the second time that night we find out that the agent’s overconfidence in his cover and facts screw him up just as they did in You Only Live Twice as he becomes exposed for who he truly is. He wakes to find Blofeld cheerily decorating a Christmas tree as the villain tells him of his devastating plan, quite sadistically at that. Blofeld is smug and slimy here and Savalas gives a wonderful performance as he proudly brags of his accomplishments, leaving Bond to think of how he’s failed amongst the gears and machinery of the lift. You really feel Bond’s desperation and self-loathing here as he realizes how stupid he’d been to let his facts slip. He eventually uses cunning to escape his position, but fails the attempt the first time, which I like, to show him acting on his feet imperfectly.
Bond on the run in skis afterward is great, and it’s one great action piece after another here as the pursuit of Blofeld and his agents heightens. There’s real danger here for Bond, and you feel it, something that Lazenby emotes well for such an inexperienced performer. Tracy returns wonderfully when Bond needs her most, and it’s not hard to fall in love with her right along with Bond. She’s sweet, capable, fun. Bond’s proposal to her in the barn is surprisingly heartfelt, with a great performance from Lazenby that feels genuine, once again displaying the great chemistry that existed between he and Diana. We see that Bond is ready to give it all up and is even willing, forever how short a time, to respect the no sex rule.
After the avalanche that wipes out Bond and nearly leaves him dead-to-rights, the set-up for the Piz Gloria raid is great as 007 and his boss once again butt heads. Bond and M are in a tough spot, the latter unsure of what to do about Blofeld’s threats as he denies his agent’s request to storm the compound. With all his options exhausted Bond knows he’s got to do it on his own, sans red tape. I love that as he calls Draco for help he looks at the portrait of Queen Elizabeth in his office for the second time, as if to say, “Sorry again, ma’am.”
The finale is a rousing display, with Bond showing his prowess as he enters the fray. Lazenby is electric and convincing here as he slides and shoots his way to his love and his archenemy. One of the coolest shots in the film happens when Lazenby slides on his stomach down the section of Piz Gloria where the girls played curling, shooting his rifle into combatants as he goes. The face-off and chase with Blofeld is intense and satisfying as we see actual fear in the villain’s eyes as his plans become ashes between his fingertips.
The wedding that closes the film is just…special. It once again pains me that Sean didn’t get to be in this film, because I would have flat out balled my eyes out if his Bond had tossed his hat to Moneypenny, and Q lovingly called him, “my boy.” No matter how much I like Lazenby in this film, the sadness I feel watching this movie and not seeing Sean in these pivotal character moments he helped to make famous will never subside. My favorite moment in the wedding sequence is how Bond takes Draco’s envelope of money and jams it back in the man’s pocket while reciting a proverb, refusing to accept it. He has no need for millions in diamonds, rubies or gold because with Tracy by his side he knows he’s rich in other ways.
Lazenby’s acting in the final scene is powerful, flat out. How his happiness turns to loss is tragic as he realizes Tracy has been killed, and his shock is so severe he doesn’t bother giving chase after Blofeld. Lazenby’s expertly plays bereavement exceptionally well, recreating what I could best define as catatonic shock on the screen. Bond isn’t even present in the moment as he cradles Tracy’s head in his lap and digs his face into hers, letting out a whimper. He’s somewhere else, somewhere far away, and Lazenby portrays that feeling of being emotionally lost extremely capably. For Bond the motto of he and Tracy’s union, “We have all the time in the world,” the message inscribed on their love and their wedding rings, is now a cruel joke and the most ironic phrase that could ever befit such a tragedy.
All in all, I think George Lazenby was a far greater Bond than many would ever think he had the right to be. It may be the quality of everything around him speaking, like the cast, production design, action, music and cinematography, but I don’t think Lazenby’s performance sinks this film an inch, or sticks out as a dent in a finely tuned sports car. There are moments where you can see he is still trying to find his voice in the role, including some wooden deliveries in the post-production ADR where his Australian also slips through, but overall he is commendable and feels credible in the role even though he had no experience in acting and wasn’t given the coaching he needed to prepare for this film. He sells all the moments he needs to, most crucially his face-offs with Blofeld and the final moment of the film as he holds Tracy in his arms, which he does to great effect. The way he says Tracy is taking a “rest” makes me tear up every time, and his performance makes you care about Bond intensely as you share his pain.
In other areas of his performance, Lazenby also excels. He strove to do as much stunt work as he could in the film, and it adds a certain panache and punch to the film to see him in the action doing his thing. His experience in the defensive arts shows, and he performs with great credibility in a way that I don’t think Sean would have been able to in the shape that he was in at the time if he’d remained in the role, ashamed as I am to admit it. There’s a finesse to how Lazenby moves here that really sells these conflicts, and shows Bond’s training. You don’t have to wonder if he could throw a punch, because you already believed it just by watching him dance in his fights. He must have proven this in his screen tests too, because what solidified his casting was the fact that he broke the nose of the man he was staging a fight with while auditioning, which apparently drove Harry Saltzman to tell him, “We’re going with you.” Like Daniel after him he worked so hard at the stunts that he sustained an injury, a broken arm like the one the current Bond actor suffered while shooting Quantum of Solace, but he worked around it in the film while he recouped.
In conclusion, Lazenby was never going to light the world on fire following Connery’s reign as a character that the Scot helped make a phenomenon, and maybe it wasn’t the wisest plan on EON’s part to cast a man with zero earnest acting experience to fill in for their absent and iconic star, but I think their gamble paid off more than it didn’t. Some will give Lazenby no benefit of the doubt or admit he did anything good in this film, but that would be a disingenuous, erroneous and blind contention to make as far as I am concerned. After rewatching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service I now sit wondering what could have been if Lazenby hadn’t decided to drop out of the role. I image a proper follow up to this landmark Bond film with a revenge plot placing a dangerous and reckless Bond on the path of Blofeld, where he pulls no punches and suffers no fools or traitors in his quest to avenge Tracy at all costs. I think Lazenby would have grown into a commendable Bond even more so given other films, and he would have saved us from the horrid camp that the series would go on to suffer after he dropped out, which the series has in some ways never been able to overcome. It’s sad to see that this is where it all ended, and pure Bond died on one of the series’ greatest highs with so much promise and possibility on display.
As we all know, George Lazenby was destined to only get one shot at the Bond role, hanging up his holster after this feature once his agent convinced him that the days of the suave spy were numbered, leading to him turn down a multi-picture deal and untold millions in the future. I can’t completely fault Lazenby’s judgment to cut and run from the role out of fear that the Bond franchise was going to end, because while it may seem like an ill-informed decision to make for those of us looking back with modern eyes, the actor had no idea that the series was destined to become an even greater phenomenon that would continue on for decades afterwards. In 1969 all Lazenby knew was that Sean Connery was no longer James Bond, and for that reason alone it’s not hard to imagine him thinking that without the star in the role the franchise was doomed to die an early death following the unfathomable void the Scots’ departure left behind. Now all we can do is ponder what could have been, secure in the knowledge that our yearning for more of Lazenby’s Bond is no match for the man’s own feelings of regret for leaving the series.
Bond Girl/s & Performance
Tracy Di Vicenzo- Ah, Tracy. The “big one.” The woman before whom all must kneel in Bond’s mind. In the Bond series Tracy probably represents the most tragic character we have, a title she wins with great ease.
From the very beginning Tracy is a beautiful mystery as we watch her surrender herself to the surf of Portuguese waters. Like Bond all we want to do is help, but also like him, we don’t really know how to.
When we meet her again in the casino along with Bond, Tracy’s legend continues to grow. She is veiled by a lamp shade to start, but bows down to the table, revealing her face to us and Bond in the same moment. The way Rigg says the word “carte” makes me melt. It’s also a nice detail to have Bond and Tracy meet for the second time while they are both playing a game of baccarat, a card game entirely predicated on chance, just like the random odds and luck Bond had in getting to Tracy at the perfect time on the beach, as well as the crazy chance of meeting her again at that place and time in the casino.
After bailing Tracy out for her losses Bond confronts and speaks to her. The sparse dialogue they share is magic, some of the best crafted in the series, and Tracy’s lines give us a great sense of what kind of person she is. Her statement, “Why do you persist in trying to rescue me, Mr. Bond?” outlines how destructive she is trying to be, and how frustrated she is becoming at Bond for stopping her from hurting herself. When she says, “Teresa is a saint, I’m known as Tracy,” we see how derisive she is of herself, how much she loathes the kind of person she is and how unworthy or special she feels at all. By retorting to Bond that “People who want to stay alive play it safe,” we see just how keen she is on doing herself in, and how she could soon attempt to kill herself once again. For all these reasons Tracy is so visibly a damaged and suffering character, and it’s easy to feel sympathy for her plights, though we have no idea what they are. When Bond tells her, “Please stay alive” he mirrors our own feelings as we become fascinated by this woman right alongside him.
In the novel we find out the truth behind Tracy’s suicidal tendencies that the film doesn’t even imply in the slightest, likely because it would have been too heavy. While we know that Tracy was married to a count who later died in a car accident with a woman he was cheating on her with, we don’t find out that the man also took her for much of the money she had and deserted her while she was having his child, a child who had died just months before. Weeks of grief and self-destruction then lead to Tracy breaking down and attempting to take her life on the beach as it all became too much for her to bear.
What makes Tracy such a compelling and tragic character is how well she hides and represses all this trauma and suffering under the surface. Her past is a mess too. She and her father have nothing even partly resembling a normal relationship and she lost her mother when she was young, costing her a normal home life as she was sent away to Switzerland on her own. Her acting out is less a hint towards an inherently rebellious nature and more an indicator of a woman who is acting out as a subconscious cry for help, feeling little value in herself or life in general.
When Tracy agrees to meet Bond in his room, we discover even more about her and the tragedy of how she views life. She owes Bond money back after he covered her deficit in the card game, and she goes to his room instantly thinking that the only way to pay back a man is to sleep with him. What does that say of her past? She is eager to roll around in the sheets with Bond as a “bought” sex object, a slave to his wishes, and ignores any attempts on his part to have a genuine conversation as he points out how amazing a woman she is and how much he is worried about her. This tells me Tracy has had to do this sort of routine with a man many times in the past, with those who were more interested in using her as an object of hedonistic thrills than treating her as a human being with value (value she herself even fails to see). When Bond then shows concern for her and genuinely wants to help, she blows it off as disingenuous, thinking no men could feel that way about her. After being used by her ex-husband, taken for all she had and suffering emotional trauma at his hands it’s not hard to imagine why Tracy feels this way.
When Tracy sleeps with Bond she thinks that particular problem is behind her, but she is ignorant of the deal her father has done. When she arrives to Draco’s birthday celebration she is visibly concerned when she sees Bond’s car again, as she thought her debts were paid-in full. During the lunch Tracy strikes out against her father for treating her as a bargaining chip in his deal with Bond, and storms off. Once again, it feels like Tracy is used to being treated like an object of transaction, an act that dehumanizes her and denies her true worth. What’s interesting is how she is driven to tears by it all. Maybe she had felt a hint of passion for Bond and taken an interest in him, but now thinks that he is done with her now that he has what he wants. By wiping away her tears, Bond shows he’s not giving up yet.
Throughout the rest of the film Diana Rigg as Tracy really impresses. Her talent for performance shines in literally every word she delivers, where everything feels deliberate and thought out, and through her subtle acting you see Tracy come out of her shell the more she is with Bond. Rigg also represents all the layers Tracy needed to convey in order for her to feel sympathetic, including her mystery, her tragedy, her pain, resourcefulness, wit, sophistication and grace in all forms. Rigg’s deliveries of her lines are spot on, giving Tracy a real sense of refinement and class, and she is as graceful as a ballerina in how she carries herself. She is enchanting in so many ways, a puzzle worth the effort of solving. This film wouldn’t be half as good if we didn’t believe in the performance of the actress playing Tracy and the romance developing between her and Bond, but Rigg makes sure we never have to have such worries.
Just as Bond barreled unexpectedly back into Tracy’s life when she least expected it at Draco’s party, Tracy does the same for her lover when he is in danger of being killed by Blofeld’s agents in the village below Piz Gloria following his daring escape. Rigg is an inspiration as she skates up, and I love how Tracy takes charge when she sees Bond is in trouble, telling him to stay close to her as she gets him out of danger. For once, it’s Bond who is following the Bond girl to safety. In the unfolding scenes we witness just how amazing Tracy is as she drives quite skillfully into the sights of the SPECTRE agents, getting Bond out of danger. Rigg did a lot of the driving in the rink that we see in the film, and I love the way that she bites her tongue with her teeth as she turns the car wheel; an adorable touch that gives Tracy a lot of fun personality. Moments like this really build the character up to be a substantially special woman that Bond would genuinely want to drop everything for, and because of this, it all feels believable.
As Bond proposes to Tracy in the barn Rigg’s performance again shines as she freezes up her face in a mix of disbelief and utter happiness after Bond requests her hand in matrimony. It’s clear to us that Tracy never expected another man to want her again, and the fact that Bond is willing to do anything to be with her shows her the worth she possesses that he has allowed her to see without using her or making her feel lesser than she is.
In the finale at Piz Gloria Tracy again shows cunning as she distracts a lascivious Blofeld while her father’s forces close in, showing her intellect by reciting to him a bit of ego-boosting poetry. She doesn’t care for anything the villain could promise her, as she’s already a countess, a fact she amusingly points out. In her fight with Gunther she holds her own, again showing her capabilities and all the defensive skills she must have learned during her “scandals” abroad.
At the wedding Tracy is utterly, utterly gorgeous, a vision to behold. Rigg looks so wonderful and pure in her beauty in the white dress, making it all the more painful to watch, knowing what is to come next.
More than any other moment in a Bond film, Tracy’s death hits hard. As Bond goes to work removing the flowers on their car, the very flowers that were so often a common motif in their relationship, she’s thanking him for giving her the greatest present of all, a future, and discusses the kids she wants to have with him before the fatal shots ring out. As Bond cradles her body, all the memories we’ve seen them share and the vows they’ve promised to keep for each other hurt all the more. In a moment that would define him forever afterward, Bond loses the one woman that made him stop and think of a greater future for himself away from the bullets, blood and duplicity, living an honest life doing honest work. With Tracy’s death all his dreams, hopes and aspirations shatter in his hands, with pure happiness just within his reach. As the final shot freezes on the image of the bullet in the windshield of the Aston we get a chilling reminder of what we and Bond have lost. Earlier in the film during a moment that foreshadows the one that closes the film, Tracy tells Draco, “Whatever happens, there will be no regrets.” As much as the loss of her hurts, I’m sure Bond would agree, and that he’d save Tracy on that beach all over again, not doing a single thing differently. Tracy got her birth in Fleming’s mind by being based on his own ex-lover Muriel Wright, a woman who was killed in a wartime air raid just as the pair were falling deeply in love. The tragedy brought Fleming to ruination in a pit of loss. When it came to writing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the scribe knew it was time for Bond to share his pain.
In her performance as Tracy, Diana Rigg represents the heart and soul of the film, and its greatest aspect. This character and the actress playing her had to work, and Tracy had to feel like the end-all-be-all of Bond girls so that we as the audience could believe that Bond would suddenly find himself at a loss in her eyes, completely taken aback with love and compassion. This is where Rigg excels, because she was able to convey all the special and tragic things in equal measures that make Tracy such a fascinating, complex and wonderful character. Strong moments in the film really build up Tracy to be something special, which she needed to be for the film to be a success. Because of this Rigg took on the most crucial part of this movie (even more than Bond) head-on and excelled more than any could have imagined, and only someone with her sense of craft and screen presence could have managed it.
In a bit of accidental symbolism, the death of Tracy is even more potent when one realizes that this film represents not only the death of the only Mrs. Bond, but also the end of the magical 60s era that remains the greatest period in Bond cinema, and the end of pure Bond as we know it. Following On Her Majesty’s Secret Service camp and general silliness would inject themselves into the Bond series, and soon the days of Dr. No and From Russia with Love would be long gone, along with the magic only the 60s films could deliver.
Bond Villain/s & Performance
Ernst Stavro Blofeld- In Telly Savalas’ Ernst Stavro Blofeld we have the absolute gold standard of SPECTRE’s No. 1 operator. He’s everything a Blofeld should be in my eyes: commanding in appearance and tone, disgustingly egotistical, condescending to Bond, meticulous and cold in his acts, and a giddy sadist. This is a Blofeld that loves his job, and that’s only part of the reason why it’s unnerving to watch him dance in this film.
Before we even get introduced to Blofeld here we know only that Bond has been tracking him ever since You Only Live Twice concluded-what we’re told is a two year time frame-that his work has gone nowhere with not a lead in sight, and that the mission targeting the villain has been named “Operation: Bedlam” by the MI6 brass. I love this little detail, as having “bedlam” for the codeword of an operation tasked with tracking down Blofeld couldn’t be more suitable to the man and his impact; he is chaos incarnate and leaves devastation in his path with every footstep.
When Bond and he finally reunite again-forgetting the massive continuity error this represents-it’s thrilling to watch the two dance and get at each other’s egos. Blofeld is classically assured of his nobility, but Bond’s Bray is there to tell him that it takes a little something called evidence-beyond severed earlobes-to prove his right to the title. It’s a wonderful chess game of wits that was missing from the previous take on Blofeld and Savalas is both a far cry and step up in every way from Pleasance’s take on the character by embodying how we expect Blofeld to appear and sound. This is the Blofeld we were promised in From Russia with Love and Thunderball, and it’s nice to have one film at least where Blofeld feels worthy of his archenemy status. In some ways it also helps that Lazenby is Bond in scenes like this, because if it was Sean again it would be even harder to believe that Blofeld is unaware of Bond being right in front of him again, considering they met just one film prior face-to-face. With Sean in the role I think Bond would have required a much heavier disguise to sell the idea to audiences and to this Blofeld that he wasn’t 007. I believe Sean would have had fun with playing a character that was the antithesis of Bond as Bray so inherently is, since he also appeared annoyed with the character by this stage, and his rough Scottish accent could’ve come out to be used as Bray’s own accent. It’s certainly interesting that in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service both Bond and Blofeld are attempting to be who they aren’t, veiled by disguises. The film plays them up as two chameleons, able to slip into new skins to fit their situation and needs. Over time the film makes them feel like doppelgängers of each other in subtle ways, much like From Russia with Love strived to do with Bond and Grant.
As the film proceeds we only learn more of Blofeld’s true goal at Piz Gloria, including the hypnotism he is succumbing his “angels” to (only he would give them that label). These sequences are the very definition of creepy, and if I hear Telly Savalas tell a woman that he has taught her to love the flesh of a chicken ever again, it will be far too soon. Savalas’ booming voice, like that of a voice artist for audio books, is both comforting in sound yet unsettling in meaning as we, alongside Bond, uncover the vile plan he’s crafting that is as morally barren as it is bizarre. In moments like this, the film again strives to show audiences that Bond and Blofeld aren’t that different, though their methods vary. Bond is using his time at Piz Gloria to sneak into the rooms of women he thinks can give him details on what the villain is doing, and Blofeld is nightly hypnotizing them to do his bidding. When seducing these women Bond recites the same old tired love lines as Bray (“that was an inspiration, and so are you”) to entice the women to pour their feelings out to him just as Blofeld is using the same exact messages on audio tape to entice the women to do something altogether different. The script makes a nice and subtle effort to get us to believe that Bond and Blofeld aren’t that far apart in their methodologies as both men employ their own brand of repetitious manipulation.
Blofeld’s mind trickery only gets creepier as the yuletide hour approaches and Bond’s disguise is finally blown. In a scene even greater than their initial meeting, Bond and Blofeld come to verbal blows, popping each other’s egos with pin pricks. I adore the dialogue where Blofeld tells Bond it takes more than props for him to fall successfully into a disguise, and Bond retorts by saying it takes more than cutting off your earlobes to become a count. This is the kind of thing I expect from a Blofeld, with an actor in the role who can convincingly play an egotistical sadist that matches Bond insult for insult while still retaining the sense of gentlemanliness in his evils that are a James Bond staple. An added detail is how Blofeld is decorating a Christmas tree with what can only be described as untamed glee as he tells Bond all about his plans, and how he’s bested him. I love that he picks this specific moment to decorate, and all Bond can do is listen to him spew on. The moment caps off with Blofeld rubbing Bond’s face in his failure and leaving him to think about how he’s slipped up amongst the gears and machinery of Piz Gloria’s lift service.
As the film leads into a final confrontation between Bond and Blofeld, the latter villain takes on both literal and figurative poetry. He’d left Bond dusted in an avalanche and the spy has to work around his boss to mount a rescue to get his lady back-and save the world, naturally-by soliciting Draco’s help and considerable resources. While helicopters swarm the airspace of Piz Gloria, we have a cunning Tracy stringing Blofeld along to distract him from the oncoming assault. This is one of my favorite moments in the entire film and wider franchise, for so many reasons. Beyond showcasing Tracy as a brilliant performer and femme fatale when she needs to be, we also see a new side of Blofeld as he actively flirts up the girl and tries to sleep with her. This is the first and sole time we ever really see a cinematic Blofeld played up as a sexual being, as he’s far more commonly an asexual, scientifically cold man with love only for the greater divine plan of his own making, with 007 being the passionate one of the two.
I also adore the fact that the writers injected some Greek mythology into the script by having Blofeld compare he and Tracy to Paris and Helen of Troy, as Tracy has become yet another beautiful woman who has been whisked away from a man she is betrothed to (and over whose honor a war was fought), just like the very war Bond is bringing to Blofeld’s doorstep. It’s a great detail, and once again shows Blofeld’s absolute egotism. He views himself as Paris here, a man searching after ultimate beauty that only he can possess and wrest away from a man underserving of its wonders. It’s also Paris who gives the apple of discord to Aphrodite, who secures him Helen in the myths, discord being a suitable synonym of “bedlam,” the word the film uses to exemplify Blofeld and his nasty impact. But just like Troy in the myth, Piz Gloria is soon to fall.
For this reason On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a certain air of Greek mythology to it, as it reads like a myth viewed through a modern prism with Bond as its lead. And when you think of the plot and pare it down to essential descriptors, it does feel mythic and even medieval in its premise: A brave warrior must face his ultimate evil at the top of a high mountaintop, and this villain is surrounded by 12 women with the beauty of goddesses who are tricked with duplicity to do his bidding. In the finale of the tale the noble warrior must usurp the vile terror from his throne, who has robbed him of his betrothed and ignited a war as the hero’s forces mount an assault on the high precipice to reclaim what is theirs. And what seals On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a piece of Bondian adventure turned Greek mythology is the devastating tragedy that marks its end as Bond holds the head of his own shattered goddess in his arms, a moment of crippling loss that the myths are now famed for. Even character names, like Draco’s assistant Olympe, drive home the mythical Greek nature of the film, as Olympa was a Greek city and the name itself seems derived from that of Mount Olympus, home of the Greek gods and goddesses.
In more instances of poetry and academia, while the sun is rising to greet Tracy and Blofeld at Piz Gloria’s highest tower, the woman recites to the man some verses from James Elroy Flecker’s play “Hassan,” which reads:
Thy dawn, O Master of the World, thy dawn;
For thee the sunlight creeps across the lawn,
For thee the ships are drawn down to the waves,
For thee the markets throng with myriad slaves,
For thee the hammer on the anvil rings,
For thee the poet of beguilement sings.
Tracy knows her audience, and by casting Blofeld as the verses’ “Master of the World” she is attending to massaging his massive ego. By speaking the words “thy dawn” she is both literally and figuratively ascribing ownership of the rising dawn itself to the man as he stares adoringly into her eyes, always happy to have someone point out just how grand and superior he is to all those around him. This is a brilliant sequence that is smart and rich with symbolism without being too put-on and pretentious, and it’s fitting that Blofeld is made synonymous with the master in the lines because it shows us as the audience the great stake he puts in his own inflated opinion of himself and how he views himself as the true master, thinking the world is only there for him to rule it, and its people to listen to his every beck and call. It’s only in a James Bond film that poetry can be recited by a beautiful woman to a sadistic villain as the pair rest on a mountaintop while certain doom awaits the latter in the form of helicopters dotting the horizon line of the sunrise beyond. It doesn’t get better than this.
In a last instance of poetry, the attack on Piz Gloria is finally mounted as Draco’s forces and Bond shoot the place up to secure an entry point into the compound. On the high deck bullets whiz through windows caked in the rays of the sun as Blofeld hits the floor to dodge the spray. A moment of great beauty occurs as the camera shows us close-ups of Blofeld with his facing plowed deep into the carpeting. He looks truly fearful here as he lays prostrate on the ground, resembling the shattered visage of the monument celebrating the ruler Ozymandias that lies broken on the desert surface in Percy Shelly’s poem of the same name. Both Blofeld and his imperial counterpart are doomed to experience crumbling empires that they once had such confidence in, and their claims to power are hilariously ironical in each case as both figures lose that power at the moment where they think they have it most secured. In his ego-fever you can almost imagine Blofeld reading the inscription that appears on Ozymandias’ monument in the poem (“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;/Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”) to the United Nations as he threatens bacteriological warfare, replacing his name with the ancient ruler’s for added effect. Delicious.
Blofeld’s fear continues to cake the screen as he runs for his life from Piz Gloria, stopping to gasp in shock as it goes up in flames, with Bond in pursuit. It’s a rousing fight the pair have here while skating on louge sleds, shooting, punching and kicking their way to supremacy. The stunt work is rough and tumble, making you believe the pain both are feeling the weight of. Bond wins the day, but loses the battle as Blofeld goes one step too far and attack’s the man’s wife, making good on his threat to Tracy.
For all this and more, for the great Greek parallels that exist between Blofeld and the myths in this film and the poetry the script uses to build up his legend to characterize him as an egotist, and not least of all because of Telly Savalas’ perfect performance that exudes the slimy smugness the character must have by his very nature, this is far and away the best take on the character we have had and may ever have. Savalas gives us the Blofeld promised us by the early 60s that is a convincing threat in every facet, who takes Bond to task wit for wit and who is the ultimate arbiter of scheming terror.
In researching the production of these films I often uncover all kinds of interesting little goodies about the actors and how the filmmakers managed to perform certain cinematic feats for the screen that I like to share in my analyses. In this case it’s one of the former, involving Telly Savalas and how he ticked off Bond producer Harry Saltzman. The story apparently goes like this:
While filming for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was going on at the Piz Gloria set, the daily allowances of each member of the cast and crew were delivered in cold, hard cash. After getting his own allowance one day, Lazenby was seen carrying his payment around in a suitcase filled with green, which his fellow actor Telly Savalas caught notice of. An avid gambler that often held regular games of poker during late nights on set, Savalas strategically got Lazenby to get in on the action (likely playing to his ego), and in the course of a card game where the Bond actor was in over his head, Savalas won himself a decent chunk of the allowance in the case. While Cubby Broccoli seemed to be more annoyed than anything by Lazenby, especially since the lad seldom listened to anything the producer advised, Harry Saltzman seemed to have taken a real liking to George from the start; he loved him in his screen tests and really pushed for his casting. When Saltzman heard about how Savalas had relieved George of his payment, then, he went to the card game, sat down to play some hands much to the Blofeld actor’s protests, and won back all the money Lazenby had lost. He then warned Savalas not to target his “boy” in that way ever again.
ACTOR & CHARACTER PERFORMANCES CONTINUED
Bond Henchwoman & Performance
Irma Bunt- Blofeld’s right-hench and a stone cold bitch, Irma Bunt represents one of the better minor villains in the series. The set-up for how we meet her is fascinating with a hint of unease caked on the scene as she picks up Bond-disguised as Bray-to take him to Piz Gloria. She keeps pressing Bray with questions, making you worry for Bond’s cover, and in the tour she gives of the compound she creepily points out that nobody comes up to where they’re at-ever. While showing Bond his room, she announces that he must ring just to get outside of it again. Like Dr. No’s lair with its beautiful design and many heavily sealed metal doors, Piz Gloria looks pleasant, but it is really just a glorified prison and you only leave when the count orders you to.
Bunt runs a tight ship in the mountains, and slaps down any of Bond’s attempts to get to know the angels, and the angels him, beyond a bit of trivial heraldry talk. Ilse Steppat gives a great performance here, and with everything she does she adds a feeling of discomfort and guttural retort, no doubt down to her German origins. Her tone is commanding, and you believe she could keep the angels in check, and that Blofeld would pick her as a right-hand associate to keep everything and everyone whipped into shape.
Blofeld and Bunt’s dynamic isn’t really given any time at all in the film, so we are left to wonder how the two came upon each other, and what Bunt’s life was like before she was requited for this particular job. She seems in many ways to worship Blofeld, always speaking of the count’s successes and how he wants to make an impact on the world, speaking with duplicity about her master’s true intentions beyond curing allergies. If we didn’t know better, we’d think Bunt was blind to the plans Blofeld was developing for agriculture and animal species. As the angels are hypnotized it’s Bunt who seems downright giddy to hear Blofeld’s voice commanding them in secret to wreak bacteriological hell on the world. It’s disconcerting to see just how much she’s getting a kick out of all of it, and how nice she can be to the angels-like a grandmother figure, really-when she is literally driving them off to destroy the world.
Steppat gives real personality to Bunt throughout, showing her to be a sadist by nature by how much she enjoys the plan her master has brewing, and how she revels in getting at Bond once his cover is blown. She’s a great sequel to someone like Lotte Lenya’s Klebb, a rough woman who can do things as sickly and calculatingly as the boys. It’s also Bunt who fires the fatal shot at Tracy, and because Steppat unfortunately passed away after filming had commenced, we never got to see Bond properly avenge his beloved as the character was written out of the continuity along with most everything else about this movie to kick off the 70s Bond era. Still, Irma Bunt remains as the true destroyer of Bond’s happiness, the evil that got away. I think Fleming would appreciate the sharp tragedy of that, a fitting partner to match his own.
Supporting Cast Performances
M- Bernard Lee reprises his role as the MI6 head in what may be the man’s finest hour.
In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service we probably get the best sense of M as a man, and see him in some of his most interesting moments. This is a film that pits Bond and M against each other when the pair are used to being partners in all things. M strikes out against Bond’s requests to continue his pursuit of Blofeld, and Bond responds to his boss’s restrictions by calling him a “monument” and demanding his resignation be recognized forthwith. We also get to see a sweet moment with M and Moneypenny where the former thanks his secretary for helping to iron out the humps that had formed between him and his agent. In doing so, Lee’s delivery of, “What would I do without you, Miss Moneypenny? Thank you!” is now an essential part of any tribute to Maxwell’s iconic character.
Just after Bond has uncovered Blofeld’s genealogy requests he returns to his home base to go to M’s home, of all things. Through just details in the setting we get a sense of M’s character and how traditional he is (if his office didn't tell us this already). He’s got an anachronistic personal car, his front road has a cannon in the center of the drive (no doubt a souvenir from his admiralty days), and his home, like his office, is wooden in the regal English style. We also get the random character detail that he is a lepidopterist with walls covered in framed and pinned butterflies and moths. I never would have imagined Lee’s M with his stern countenance and the stiffest of upper lips to be into such a thing, but it’s a real treat to see the closest thing to an actual hobby he may have and what his home looks like where he retreats to after a day of navigating tense international relations with other agencies. From the way Bond and M’s butler cordially regard each other we also get the sense that 007 visits often, making us imagine all the talks the two men have shared on all sorts of topics in the privacy of the estate.
Later in the film Bond and M again butt heads over how to strike against Blofeld, but M’s hands are tied by his superiors and the Prime Minster won’t hear any of what Bond has suggested. It’s a great moment, with Bond and M in his office as daylight is barely hanging on outside, both lost for words. In a subtle little moment Lee’s M looks up from his desk at an anxious and pacing Bond and tells him to please sit down, playing the father figure and trying to keep him in check and focused.
At Bond and Tracy’s wedding we get to see M at maybe his most relaxed in a setting where he doesn’t need to worry about keeping professional, a wholly unique and one-time moment in the series. He is visibly cheerful at the sight of his best agent giving himself away to matrimony, and in a fun moment he and Draco discuss a past skirmish the two had involving the theft of bullion (hard to tell if this is in reference to Goldfinger’s operation). Like the talks Bond and his enemies sometimes carry on, M wants to know how Draco bested him and was able to take a big chunk of the gold away from the scene of the crime.
With little competition, I think Lee’s best work is in both Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service because those films actually gave him something to work with beyond looking miffed at something Bond had done from behind his desk. Each of the two films see him either defending Bond’s honor and showing their professional dynamic in a new and interesting way or see him clashing with his best agent in moments of real tension. Lee set the archetype for M and characterized him as the one man Bond bows down to, and that is on better display in this film than any other. Lee of course is brilliant with his every line, as he was brilliant in everything, and it’s nice to see some really intimate, personal moments between him, Bond and the rest of the MI6 team unfold in this film, unique for the Bond films.
Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell, once shared an interesting story about an injury Lee suffered during the five-day shoot of the wedding sequence and how the actor was able to push through it, and I thought it’d be wrong not to include it in an examination of the man’s performance. Maxwell states:
"Bernard Lee, who played M and is sadly dead now, was pretty much an alcoholic. He was drunk much of the time, but you'd never know it. There was a terrible incident during 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' in Portugal. Bernard had been drinking since about 9am. George Lazenby was on a horse and Bernard stuck a glass of wine under its nose. The poor thing reared up and kicked Bernard through some barbed wire. There was blood everywhere. The nearest thing there was to a doctor was the vet, who cut the loose flesh away with scissors and stitched Bernard's gashed leg. Yet he was still there on camera, the same day. Amazing."
Miss Moneypenny- As with Bernard Lee’s M, Lois Maxwell gets to work with some interesting material this time around as Miss Moneypenny.
While it must have been weird adjusting to being flirty with a new James Bond, Maxwell doesn’t miss a step and is her bubbly, sassy self. In the little moment we get between her and Bond before the agent heads to his briefing we get what may be the absolute best hat toss of the entire series as Lazenby fluidly opens the door and connects with the coat rack like it’s second nature.
In a moment already discussed many times above, Moneypenny softens the tensions forming between Bond and M, and gets thanked by both her favorite 00 and her boss for her efforts, which she responds to quite sweetly.
During Bond’s wedding to Tracy, Moneypenny is visibly beside herself with emotion, and it’s interesting to ponder what may be driving her to tears. In the film she expresses interest in getting together with Bond after his current mission is over, but because so much of their relationship is predicated on playful, frivolous flirtation, it’s difficult to tell when she genuinely means what she says during their little interactions. Is Moneypenny tearful here because she feels she’s missed her chance to have more with Bond than the sweet little nothings they whisper into each other’s ears, or are the tears ones of joy for seeing him happy? Maybe a bit of both.
In one of my favorite little moments in the series, before he parts with Tracy Bond looks at the tearful Miss Moneypenny and throws her his hat, a wonderful send-off that is unbelievably sweet. I’ve said this elsewhere, but if Sean was Bond in this film and it was him that threw his hat to Moneypenny on his wedding day I would be in tears instantly. I like George in this film but this is one of those moments where I would have done anything to see Sean play this scene, because throwing the hat with Moneypenny was his thing, and I hate to see George getting all these great moments that he has no real history with developing and making iconic.
Q- While the MI6 Quartermaster is largely absent from the film in a gadget-giving capacity (beyond telling us about some rather dull radioactive lint that M is also bored at the sight of), we do get to see him at the wedding ceremonies of Bond and Tracy.
It’s great to see Bond and Q share a little moment in the proceedings and reach a common understanding, and it’s great to hear Bond say that this time, he’s got the gadgets and knows how to use them. Q also endearingly calls Bond “my boy,” patting him on the back for his good choice of mate.
Once again it pains me to see George getting these kinds of scenes with characters and performers that Sean had crafted a dynamic with over so many films. While these moments between Bond and the MI6 home team are nice, they don’t have a tenth of the impact they would if Sean had gotten to play them, as it was him who’d made us believe the M and Bond dynamic, who made the hat toss with Moneypenny iconic, and who made the Q gadget briefings a series fixture alongside Desmond.
Marc-Ange Draco- In Gabriele Ferzetti’s Marc-Ange Draco, we have one of the best representations in Bond of the overt nature of the times in which this film was made. While he means well, Draco is a man of his age who thinks the only way to tame a wily woman is through a strong masculine force. He’s also the over-protective father to end all over-protective fathers, creating an interesting butting of heads between he and Tracy as she matches him blow for blow.
Draco is fascinating in how he navigates Bond, in light of how 007 completely embarrasses his soldiers on the beach and makes a mockery of his operations with how nonchalantly he acts while being led to a private meeting with the crime boss. I like that Draco specifically seeks out Bond as Tracy’s match after seeing how much he was willing to risk to protect her-especially from herself-and how he is able to forgive any damages Bond may have caused his forces in the meantime. From the beginning, Draco and 007 bond over their interest in making sure Tracy gets the help she needs. It’s clear that in bargaining with Bond Draco’s heart is in the right place, even if his approach to helping Tracy is bent more than a little backwards. Additionally, it’s a fascinating premise to see Bond rubbing shoulders with a man who has overt criminal interests with an organization the spy might have been facing if Blofeld wasn’t taking up all his time, graying the moral line as we see just how far he is willing to go to get a lead on Blofeld’s location. In addition, it’s a nice detail that Draco and his late wife met on accident while he was off on the run in the nature of Portugal, not unlike the random fashion in which Bond and Tracy met on the beach.
At times it’s interesting to watch Draco and Tracy interact, as the latter prides herself on knowing all her father’s moves in order to counteract them out of spite-a habit of hers, we’re told-but there are moments where Draco is also overly forceful and demeaning to his daughter in moments that don’t sit right. True to his name, Draco is quite draconian when he needs to be, not afraid to be cruel to even his own daughter to do what he thinks must be done.
Draco becomes more useful in the finale of the film than many Bond allies ever get to as he is the sole reason 007 is able to storm Piz Gloria, stop Blofeld and rescue Tracy after his own government turns their back on any counter moves he has suggested. Draco proves himself to be resourceful and formidable, and ruthless to those who attack the ones he loves. It’s both interesting and melancholic that the last glimpse we get of Draco in the series is of him watching Bond and Tracy drive away from their ceremony. In a perfect world Diamonds Are Forever would have had Lazenby’s Bond tracking down Draco, who had since turned self-destructive and lost himself down the bottle following his daughter’s tragic murder and the guilt he felt in brining her to death, in a story where the mens’ shared anger would bring them together to dish up some personal hell for Blofeld to choke on. I can only imagine the pain Draco must have felt in reaction to Tracy’s death, an eventuality he thought he’d remedied by fixing her up with a man capable of being her mate. For Tracy nothing was easy, however, so it’s no surprise that her road to happiness was pre-laid with spikes and oil slick. I often wonder just what the rest of Draco’s life was like after this film. Did he die of a broken heart sooner rather than later, full or guilt and regret at what he failed to do, or did too late? Did Bond keep in steady contact with him, and did the agent have the heart and stomach to break the news of his beloved’s death to his ex-father-in-law directly? As with many things when it comes to pondering the aftermath of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, all we have are questions, unfortunately.
In his performance as Draco, Ferzetti is suitably warm and commanding in tandem, able to embody the cold ruthlessness of a criminal boss one second and a loving father the next. David de Keyser’s dubbing adds to these aspects of his character immensely, both in moments where Draco is shouting in anger or tenderly negotiating on behalf of Tracy. The voice and the performance go together naturally, and I didn’t know that Ferzetti’s voice wasn’t being used until I did this analysis because the dubbing was so convincing.
Shaun Campbell- While he plays an understated part in the larger film with its many moving parts, I have to give a brief mention towards Bernard Horsfall’s Campbell in my analysis of this film’s characters.
What makes Campbell partly so fascinating is in how the filmmakers present him, because how he is delivered has more in common with the way a Bond henchman is presented in the series. It’s far more common for Bond’s enemies to be largely mute, understated characters that let their body language do the talking, but here the quiet Campbell is actually Bond’s ally in Switzerland, on the other side of the law. It’s a nice change of pace to have a silent character cast as Bond’s associate here, instead of his arch foe.
While Campbell has little effect in the story and you often wonder what purpose he serves in the mission Bond is on, the importance he has in the narrative as a whole is clear: Blofeld intends to make a proper lesson out of Campbell, showing Bond what happens when he is crossed. One of my favorite moments occurs when Campbell is first caught after attempting a climb of Piz Gloria, and Bond must pretend that the agent is nothing but a stranger to him as he is taken away to what we know is torture and eventual death. It’s a great moment that shows us and Bond what is at stake, and presents an insurmountable obstacle for 007 to face as he knows any attempts on his part to rescue Campbell would risk shattering his cover and likely make him lose trace of Blofeld all over again after coming so close.
While there are a total of twelve stunning “Angels of Death” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service-my personal favorite being the Israeli-I would be remiss if I didn’t give a special mention to the late, great Angela Scoular’s Ruby Bartlett.
In a film that does so much right, Scoular’s Ruby continues the trend. The actress’ performance here is textbook physical comedy brilliance, and I succumb to deep laughter every time I watch her. The way she attacks a leg of chicken while keeping her eyes glued to Bond’s Bray, hungry for something more than what is on her plate. The relaxed way she uncaps her lipstick and goes to work decorating Bond’s inner thigh with the expression of a mischievous schoolgirl. The enchanted way she reacts when Bray tells her about his “Gold balls.” My favorite moment, however, comes after Bond is whisked away to Blofeld’s office and Ruby looks endearingly after him as he goes, cutely saying “bezants.” Suffice it to say, in the dictionary next to the word “adorable,” you will find a picture of Angela Scoular in this film.
She’s such a fun source of physical wit, comedic timing and sexual innuendo who really livens up the sections at Piz Gloria that may have sagged without her influence. It’s a tragedy that in her own life Scoular dealt with so much pain and sorrow, because in this movie she is a radiating light that will always endure.[/quote]
Gun Barrel Sequence-
The gun barrel for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a great opening sequence that slyly plays with the tried and tested design in subtle ways.
We see the producer credits before the gun barrel itself is introduced, a first since Dr. No at the very beginning of the series. Lazenby comes into frame dressed similarly to how Connery would be in a nice suit and matching hat. In a swift, fluid movement Lazenby drops to one knee and draws his gun to take a shot, exemplifying the great feeling of kinetic energy he brought to the role in his fight scenes. An important detail that has been pointed out to me recently is that for the only time in a Bond gun barrel 007 drops to one knee, which he also symbolically does in his proposal of marriage to Tracy in the film itself.
John Barry’s great synthesized Bond theme carries the sequence out as blood drips over the screen, and for the only time in the series the red entirely erases 007 from sight as the film kicks off. This is a nice, subtle detail because at the beginning of the film nobody at MI6 knows exactly where Bond is. Following the gun barrel he has literally and metaphorically disappeared.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service delivers us one of the all-time greatest opening sequences in Bond. Immediately following the gun barrel sequence we find out from London that 007 is out on his own and hasn’t phoned in. There’s a mystery to where he is, what he may be doing, and what is being set up for us as viewers of the movie. In a similar way to how Sean was debuted in Dr. No, Lazenby is “announced” as Bond in a series of shots that focus on just parts of him in close-up. He’s kept in endless shadow until the moment that he races to save Tracy and introduces himself to her and us in tandem on the shore. As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s something so hauntingly beautiful about watching Rigg’s Tracy walking off to be claimed by the sea. It feels like something out of a mythic tale depicting a forlorn woman allowing nature to take her away forever, and the many questions we have for why this enchanting woman is doing this to herself persist until we meet her again.
We then get some rousing fisticuffs where Lazenby shows off his ability to really make the punches feel real-some of them may have been!-as Bond tussles in the storm of spraying waters. I particularly love the way he beats his opponent into the sand and rests his knee on the man’s head to drown him in the low levels of water rising around them before going on to face his next opponent. It’s a snappy sequence that always keeps moving, and Glen’s editing really gives it panache like Hunt’s early edits did.
While I could do without the ill-advised “other fella” line and the fourth wall bursting that happens after it as Lazenby stares directly into the camera, the sequence both treats us to some opening thrills that engage us for the rest of the film and most importantly of all, introduces us to the enigma that is Tracy di Vicenzo.
As the only Bond film to be both set and filmed entirely in Europe, you had better believe that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has some rousing location shooting.
From the warm beaches of Portugal and wet streets of Bern to the monolithic hills of the Swiss Alps, this movie is a visual feast for the eyes. And because On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the quintessential Christmas Bond film, the locations in the second half of the film really deliver in creating a yuletide mood that makes it perfect watching for over the holiday season.
In this movie the filmmakers were able to do what You Only Live Twice failed to do in some respects by ensuring that going bigger didn’t mean shooting themselves in the foot. The previous film really lost sense of Bond as a character and became silly and overblown at moments by trying to outdo Thunderball’s already bombastic presentation through taking Bond to space, which ultimately made it suffer in quality. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service it’s clear that the team wanted to revisit the Young era to continue to build on what worked so well there while ramping it up in ambition in ways that were impressive, but never too exaggerated or over-the-top, much like Thunderball managed to balance. The location work in this film partly helped the team realize that.
The tracking shots we get of Switzerland and the high mountain range atop which Piz Gloria sits beautifully transmit the scale of Bond’s mission and just what he is up against. He seems like a speck in Blofeld’s scheme, and when he is eventually outed as a faux Bray and is forced to escape down the mountain on just his skis, the massive, steep and winding hills again punch you in the gut with their sheer magnitude. While You Only Live Twice tried to make Bond bigger and more “out there” in plot and idea, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service used nature as a tool to do the same thing better, again making Bond a focus of the story as he is put right in the middle of the firing line as he races to sanctuary any place he can find it while darting through the wilderness of the Alps. The locations here really transmit that feeling of man vs. nature beautifully, giving Bond even more to contend with on top of Blofeld and his agents giving chase.
On the cinematography side, both the first and second units do dazzling work bringing out the color and mood of the locations as action takes to the slopes. The whites of the snow pop as Bond races down the mountains, with Blofeld's men registering as specks behind him as they trail his path, popping shots at him with their rifles. Glen and his team played beautifully with scale to really make Bond and his pursuers feel minuscule in the nature, and many of the shot compositions play with perspective by showing Bond in the far background of the frame while Blofeld and his agents remain in the foreground speeding after him, creating high drama as the filmmakers cleverly play with the space of the camera’s picture box.
The location shooting in some of the Swiss villages best capture a Christmas feeling, and make me warm in the heart any time I watch the film around the holiday season. These areas are well filled out with crowds as Bond tries to dodge his pursuers, and the action only continues to thrill as Tracy gets him out of danger.
All the locations of the film come together to create a red hot and frigid blue Bond adventure that dances between climates wonderfully. The disparate locations we get, with the warmth of the first half and cold of the second add a special something to the movie that sees Bond mastering any climate or temperature while on a mission to stop Blofeld. The movie then becomes a real journey, making you feel like Bond has really faced it all by the end of it.
In many ways On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the Terence Young Bond film not directed by Terence Young, and one of the areas that this contention holds most true is in the lack of gadgets the film uses.
It was nice to see the series step back to the essentials once again after You Only Live Twice gave us helicopters carrying giant magnets, gyrocopters with the weaponry of a small tank and a volcano lair with full rocket launching capabilities. Because of this approach to presentation, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feels like a return to Young and how that director and his team downplayed the gadgetry in order to make espionage and Bond the features of the action. Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Thunderball all have Bond using his wits more than anything with little to no gadgets at his disposal while facing the threats of each adventure, and this movie continues that great trend.
Beyond the embarrassingly dull radioactive lint-sorry, Q-a safe cracking device is the “biggest” gadget of the film. Bond’s sly entrance into Gumbold’s office to get at his correspondence papers is thrilling, and the sequence feels like a real caper out of a heist picture. Unlike later movies that would sloppily introduce gadgets in the Q briefings that Bond would only be able to use in very situational moments of distress that shoddily foreshadowed the finales of each film as Bond luckily faced exactly those aforementioned moments of distress, here he uses a very run of the mill gadget that doesn’t try to impress you with its strangeness or gimmickry. It’s simply a tool he needs to use to get at what he wants, nothing more, and I really like that the movie has this approach to gadgets that is more real world than over-blown.
In the rest of the film Bond is only using his wits to get him out of trouble as in the Young films, an aspect of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that really works in its favor immensely. Later entries in the franchise starting off horridly in the 70s made gadgets too much of a focus of each film, almost presenting Bond as nothing but a fool who just so happened to have the most specific utility belt of tools you’d ever seen that could solve all his problems for him. In this movie and in the Young films Bond must think on his feet and use his cunning to sniff out danger and incapacitate it before he’s doomed to oblivion. This is one of the many reasons why I think this movie was the last pure Bond movie produced for nearly twenty years.
In a film full of massive positives, the action is yet another element where On Her Majesty’s Secret Service both succeeds and exceeds.
At the heart of these many great sequences is Lazenby, who really impresses as he gets in there and does as much as humanly possible in the film’s action moments (sans any skiing by Cubby’s orders). Lazenby’s experience in the defensive arts makes his onscreen fights feel all the more real, which we see shining evidence of throughout. The beach fight is rip-roaring and messy, accentuated by the fast and loose editing. Bond is sprayed with heaps of water as he and his opponent toss each other into the sand, creating a nice surge of sound as we hear every punch, kick and crack.
Lazenby dazzles once again in the hotel fight with Che Che, one of Draco’s goons. The fight is extremely thrilling to watch, aided in credibility by the fact that the actors are really going at it in front of us. The cuts here are even more fast and loose than in the beach fight, and the camera is mounted at spots where the visuals best captivate us, including one shot that makes it seem like the camera is glued to the ceiling. The bout creates a nice destruction of the hotel set, ending with Bond throwing Che Che through the decorative gate that the man exhaustively tries to free himself from before giving up the effort.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is also filled with what may be best described as little vignettes of action that feature Bond tussling with foes in moments that aren’t long enough to be classed as full-on action sequences. These include his brilliant disposal of Draco’s goons as he introduces himself to the man with throwing knife in hand, the amusing punch-up in Piz Gloria’s lobby that kicks off when a guard goes to check why nobody has come out of the elevator and the short but sweet slap-down Bond gives two goons in a wood shed full of bells that creates a scrappy bout punctuated by the heavy ringing of the environment 007 is knocked into as he battles for his life.
When it comes to action on the slopes, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service presents what has to be the cream of the crop of skiing action. Everything about these sequences is amazing, from the choreography of the action to how each sequence is artfully shot by Glen and his amazing second-unit team. It becomes easy to see why For Your Eyes Only is a great successor in skiing action to this film, with Glen finding himself in the director’s chair that time around. Watching the skiing sequences of this film it becomes even more apparent, as is the case with every Bond film one studies, that EON had a knack for finding the absolute best in the field to work on these cinematic masterpieces. The best moment of skiing amongst the many for me occurs after Bond has one of his skis shot to pieces, forcing him to get down the mountain using just one leg while navigating with the other. It’s such fantastic stunt work, a staple of vintage Bond, and how the sequences were shot is even more jaw-dropping. While there were many cameramen who were skiing down the hill with the stunt crew shooting the action with handhelds, others like Johnny Jordan-who shot the helicopter battle with Little Nellie in You Only Live Twice-used a system that dangled him from a helicopter by an eighteen foot harness rig so that he could get shots of all sorts from a more interesting position at any angle above and around the unfolding drama.
In shooting the avalanche sequences the second-unit relied on shots of a real avalanche they created at a remote location, as well as stock footage, interesting special effects using salt as a fill-in for snow and later, optical effects to place the stuntmen into the action that had been pre-filmed. For their time these sequences are great, and you feel intense fear as Bond is left buried by the heaps of snow that have wiped him and his beloved out cold.
In the driving sequence at the ice rink the team built a makeshift set over an unused track meant for airplanes, which they kept nice and sleek by constantly showering it with water and snow. Lazenby and Rigg are said to have done a majority of the demanded driving here because of the many close-ups that were required to be shot by the film crew.
One of the defining moments of the film, the storming of Piz Gloria caps off the great action of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in wonderful fashion. While this sequence isn’t as daring in its presentation or in the face of logistical nightmares of the sort that You Only Live Twice’s finale overcame, it is still a rousing piece of action that is no less amazing to experience. The sequence starts with the approaching helicopters full of Draco’s agents spraying the fortifications of Piz Gloria with offensive rounds, making the finale feel like the wild offspring of a Vietnam war movie and a frigid survival adventure in the Alps. Blofeld’s agents are blasted with grenades that burst shrapnel in their faces and, in a shot that was the last minute idea of director Peter Hunt, Lazenby skids down the ice on his stomach while firing his rifle at oncoming enemies. The whole sequence is tense and keeps a strong momentum as Bond fights his fight and Tracy hers until the pair are reunited once again. When Bond and Blofeld finally face off, the tension only compounds. A great cat and mouse game unfolds between the two as Bond gives chase, firing his gun in the gusts of wind Blofeld is leaving behind as he races for his life.
To shoot the final louge chase and battle between Bond and Blofeld the second-unit counted on the assistance of Olympic athletes in the sport to help them create a thrilling sequence. While the crew were shooting the fight the athletes suffered some mishaps, like when a stuntman playing Bond fell from the sled, which the filmmakers then wrote into the script to add some more tension to the sequence as Bond holds on for dear life while Blofeld’s sled drags him overtop the ice.
When taken as a whole, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a perfectly balanced Bond film in every way, especially when it comes to its action. The stunts are crafted with genius, showcasing the amazing problem solving the Bond crew is known for. Lazenby also shines in his fights, and it adds a certain something to the film to know he is in so much of the action. It’s hard to tell whether the rumors are true that a steady stream of action was put in the film in order to distract from what the production team saw as bad acting on the part of Lazenby, but what resulted is some of the best action choreography in a Bond film, hands down.
In an era known for its smart humor, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service doesn’t disappoint, feeling more like early Connery than anything.
While the film doesn’t make a habit of interjecting too much humor, there is plenty to enjoy despite its return to a more earnest plot. The scenes at Piz Gloria with Bond and the Angels of Death are a particular delight, as there are an endless stream of lines caked in innuendo and double-entendre to enjoy. As I mentioned previously, this is where Angela Scoular shines, bringing something special to the movie through her part in it.
Other moments that I get a kick out of aren’t even meant to be funny, but nonetheless succeed in being so. Little moments like Bond and Blofeld’s verbal chess game amuse me to no end, just as I grin when, during the chase following Bond's escape of Piz Gloria, Rigg cutely bites her tongue while navigating the red Cougar through the throng of cars partaking in the race she’s suddenly intruded upon.
Lazenby shows his chops for comedic timing throughout as well, using just expressions to induce laughter. He’s great playing up Bray’s imperfections as Bond tries his hardest to overplay the man’s meek tendencies to create a disguise “big” enough to mask his own identity, and in scenes like those when Bond is being escorted to Draco’s Lazenby plays it with a smugness that is fun to watch.
One of the many things On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is lauded for is its balance, and in its use of comedy, this is also true. Like the Young films it gives time for smart comedy, but never enters parody and always balances the humor perfectly to give time to the drama of the picture as well without either element feeling weird in their juxtaposition. It is one of the best and most successful examples of this delicate tonal balance that we have in the series.
It’s interesting to note that for a film full of such tragic and earnest moments On Her Majesty’s Secret Service employs more than a bit of the bizarre in its plot. At times the levels of disbelief that must be suspended to enjoy it can lead to questions regarding the plausibility of what we are seeing.
Much of this strain comes when we enter Piz Gloria and find out how Blofeld is using hypnotism to get his “Angels of Death” to release their respective items of bacteriological warfare under the guise of their allergy treatment. Blofeld states that he’s using both psychological treatment and vaccines to help the women, which holds up enough to accept. He’s clearly using proper vaccines to cure the women to create good-will between he and them-and to ensure they trust his medical services enough to stay with him at the clinic-and is using the psychological manipulation on the side to make his real plan take form in the minds of the women while he likely reverse-engineers the vaccines to turn the solutions into active items of warfare. Some of this is truly bizarre, but for a Bond film it’s not the craziest thing we’ve had to suspend our disbelief to face in the history of the series.
What is far more illogical or hard to swallow is just how Blofeld got to the position he is at in the film, the most difficult to accept beyond one last development that I’ll mention next. Only two years have passed since the end of You Only Live Twice, where Bond and Blofeld were forced to delay their face-off as the villain’s volcano lair underwent an attack and decimation. Bond has seemingly spent most of the time since then tracking the villain, and in the same time Blofeld must have been able to:
*Get all the necessary papers he’d need to convince people he could be a real heir to the title of a Bleuchamp count.
*Get plastic surgery to alter not only his appearance as we know of him in You Only Live Twice, but to also sever his earlobes in order to appear like a descendant of the Bleuchamps.
*Make a reputable name for himself with his newfound alias in the medical field, Purchase Piz Gloria under the guise of a medical professional (naming the institute after a surname he hasn’t even been able to legally verify to anyone) and turn the base into a running clinic.
*Pick a sizable team of scientists who would agree to make both vaccines and viruses for him that he would need to keep delicate track of around the facility so as not to cross-mix them.
*Assemble a client list of allergy sufferers to invite to his clinic and cure these patients in order to attract positive attention to his work, driving even more women to seek his medical expertise.
*Select and treat a specific set of female patients from around the world with allergies specific to the crops he will be threatening to destroy if the United Nations fail to meet his demands of amnesty.
Blofeld would have to do all this and who knows how much more in addition to balancing all the other interests SPECTRE has as an ongoing criminal organization, which is a helluva lot to take, even for a Bond film and even for a villain built up to be as mythically powerful as Blofeld is.
It’s also impossible to overlook the fact that somehow Blofeld is unable to recognize that James Bond is standing right in front of him underneath the guise of Sir Hillary Bray, even though 007 is wearing nothing that properly hides the distinct features of his face. I guess we are to assume that Bond’s disguise is so good that it hides him skillfully enough, which would have been helped immensely if he wore some fake facial hair and altered his posture to at least try to act different beyond putting on a pretentious accent. The filmmakers were almost going to address in the script that Bond had undergone plastic surgery to disguise himself from his enemies since the last film, but ultimately thought against the idea. It’s hard to know what of the past continuity holds up in this movie, which this section of the film helps to muddle considerably.
When it comes to implausible of leaps of logic we must be fair and balanced, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service does have more than a few moments that are puzzling or hard to swallow, especially when what we see in this film canonically fails to mesh with what came before. If the movie wasn’t as good as it was these issues would add up to be quite subtracting of its value, but because so many other elements are so beyond the standard in it, much of this is easy to accept or forgive with varying degrees. Double standard? Maybe, but what are you going to do about it?
As examined above, Blofeld’s overall scheme is filled with more than its fair share of leaps in logic, but when this can be suppressed to consumable levels, his plan is an interesting one.
I appreciate the mythic sounding nature of the film’s plot when you pare it down to just the details, a point I made earlier when arguing that this movie is actively trying to be a Greek myth told as a Bond film. The mountaintop base in the clouds Blofeld calls home, the dozen goddess-like beauties he is tricking to do his deeds, and the god-like control he is able to exert over all before him each carry a certain mythology, and Blofeld doesn’t feel too far removed from the kind of figure you’d read about in legend whose hubris eventually makes him vulnerable to failure.
And because Blofeld has successfully treated the womens’ allergies in order to manipulate them, we know that the villain has the capability to use his resources to cure other ills in the world, which he seemingly refuses to do, either out of complete indifference or tactful strategy. Savalas’ Blofeld reminds me a lot of Lex Luthor in this way-a comics character that the actor’s portrayal in this film helped inspire in later interpretations of Superman’s greatest foe-because in some books Luthor has found cures for diseases that he is only interested in giving to people by insuring they pay top dollar for his treatment, netting him billions in return. This adds a new layer of slime to Blofeld.
The hypnosis the villain is imposing on the women is also bizarre and unbelievably unnerving, with Savalas’ voice carrying a particular note of spectral doom while being almost soothing in the same breath. How the actor manages this balance, I haven’t a clue, but I guess that’s why we’re discussing his performance here so favorably: he knew what he was doing and gave Blofeld just the right levels of charisma, smugness, fire and evil. [/quote]
For editor extraordinaire Peter Hunt, all his past work on the Bond films had led to this moment, his directorial debut in the franchise. And thanks to his previous catalogue of work, including cutting Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger while working on Thunderball and You Only Live Twice as both the second unit director and supervising editor (on the latter), he had shown enough expertise to be trusted to helm the next Bond adventure down the pipeline in the form of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Hunt had flirted with directing before, nearly getting the job for You Only Live Twice, but just missing his shot at the coveted seat.
At the end of the 60s in the last film of the greatest Bond era, it was crucial to cap it off well, and with Terence Young out of the picture, Hunt was the second best option available. He had worked on the series in every film from the very start wearing many hats, and had seen the movies develop from espionage thrillers to larger than life bombastic blockbusters over time, often being disappointed by the developments he saw the series undergoing in movies like Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice. A man after Young’s heart, Hunt knew the magic was in stripping the movies back down, cutting back on silly gadgets that’d gotten too familiar in the series and taking everything back to the basics with Bond back in the center of a plot that wasn’t seeped in ridiculousness or threatening self-parody. What resulted was one of the best Bond movies we have, and Hunt’s last contribution to Bond’s cinematic legacy.
When it came time to shoot On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Hunt and the team were up against it, with the odds stacked nowhere near their favor. The series had ballooned out of the stratosphere in formula and changed in feeling so much since 1962 that there must have been a fear of missing the mark with audiences by stripping the film back and telling a uniquely human story with James Bond in a movie where the suave spy passes up a life of no-strings-attached sex to settle down. Worse yet, when production started the team was without their star, Sean Connery, left instead with a ruggedly handsome Aussie with little to no proper acting experience. Even still, Hunt sucked it up and made the best of the situation. And, contrary to popular belief (and Lazenby himself) it is said that the director did his best to work with the new James Bond to aid him in crafting an engaging screen performance. Having Diana Rigg, a seasoned professional in the craft, on set was an added plus for Hunt as Lazenby was given any pointers he’d take by the actress.
It was also Hunt’s decision to make Bond propose to Tracy instead of vice versa as in the script, knowing that the weight of the decision was more powerful in Bond’s hands given his bachelor’s lifestyle that made the character famous, just as it was his genius that suggested Bond should bid adieu to Moneypenny by throwing his hat to her one last time, leaving her tearful but enamored.
In a fun story from the set, Hunt also used some slight provocation to get the drained and emotional performance out of Lazenby that he knew would be crucial to sell the scene to audiences. When it came time to shoot Tracy’s death scene and Bond’s reaction to it on the day, Hunt strategically made Lazenby rehearse the scene from eight in the morning clear until five o’clock that evening, until he was absolutely out of it and wanted no more. It was at this time that Hunt finally called for filming to commence, and the exhaustion of the actor during the rehearsals came through in Lazenby’s final performance, giving his last moment as Bond an emotional weight and turmoil that hits all the right notes as the character has an out-of-body experience punctuated by devastating loss right before our eyes.
In light of his work as the director of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and in his contributions elsewhere in the franchise, it’s clear that Hunt was far and away a solid and worthy choice to end the 60s era of Bond on a high note full of iconic filmmaking. He knew Bond like the back of his hand, and was innately attuned to what elements made the films sing. He and Terence Young were great partners on the early films as they and their team created the “Bond essence” out of nothing, and in Young’s absence following Thunderball Hunt was able to make On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feel like a deserving and spiritual successor to his friend’s three classic Bond films that came before. From the very start Hunt was intentionally keeping the gadgets to a minimum while making the action feel raw and untamed, striving to make Bond the heart of the film once again as we follow him on his most human journey of the series. In the man’s own words, "I wanted it to be different than any other Bond film would be. It was my film, not anyone else's.”
For all this and more, Peter Hunt’s genius changed Bond forever, and as the 70s took hold and the Bond series once again adapted away from the kind of films he expected the franchise to produce, his absence was felt with resounding sighs and lamentations.
Opening Title Design-
On the whole, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service represents one of title designer Maurice Binder’s most uninspired efforts. There’s some interesting aspects to this particular design, like how the pre-title sequence carries right into the design with Bond’s silhouette running with Tracy’s shoes nearly out of frame, in addition to the motif of a spinning clock face and some female silhouettes that morph into shape on the screen. All these pluses considered, however, what we have beyond them is largely unimaginative. Images from the past Bond films are projected through the outline of what seems to be a martini glass, but this aspect of the design poses its own issue.
The flashing images we get of the past films and their Bond villains and women are very counter-intuitive, because by reminding us of these parts of the cinematic Bond’s past on the big screen we are also reminded that this isn’t a Sean Connery Bond film, but instead a different beast entirely. I’m sure that in its day this sequence was even more puzzling to people because of how much the design was focusing on films the new guy wasn’t even in. Up to the release of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the filmmakers had used every opportunity they had to try and make audiences forget that Bond had been recast, even going so far as to promote it with images that showed 007 with a blank face, making it all the stranger why they chose to so openly pull images from the Connery films. This design choice ultimately forces comparison, and naturally it suffers for it because of how much of a hit Sean had been in the role. Amongst the images that recap all the past Connery films, Blofeld is kept absent from the montage, likely so that audiences weren’t confused when the unassuming and meek looking Pleasance morphed into the quite formidable Savalas.
John Barry’s wondrous synthesized Bond theme is the saving grace of the titles, at least providing us with something nice to listen to for a couple of minutes while we wait for the film to kick in again. Overall this design represents a missed opportunity on Binder’s part to create another original sequence that played like a piece of art in its own right instead of a barely glorified digital photo album of Bond’s past with the Connery films. The title of the film alone produces images of England, which Binder could have accentuated by using motifs like the Union Jack, English architecture and even certain aspects of some British coat of arms designs to foreshadow the heraldry present in this adventure. When brought together these elements could have produced a design that was distinctly British in look and mood, pulling on images of cultural Britannia to create a piece worthy of standing on its own as a sequence with a distinct identity.
For a script that is largely golden, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a narrative mixed bag in some ways with gradations from intellectual brilliance to misguided self-reference.
First the good, which outweighs any of the lesser. After sitting out writing duties on You Only Live Twice, an absence that was a large part of why that filmed failed to meet expectation, maestro scribe Richard Maibaum returns to give us the script for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with a little help along the way from Simon Raven, who added in the wonderful dialogue Tracy and Blofeld share, during which the former recites the symbolic poetry I praised earlier in my analysis.
During the shooting of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the marching orders were simple: stick to Fleming. After You Only Live Twice was as out there as, well, outer space, the producers and filmmaking team knew that it would be importance to return to the more character and plot based films like From Russia with Love, making Bond contend with forces that were grounded yet thrilling to watch him battle against. Maibaum ensured that all the story beats covered in the novel made their way into his script, and Peter Hunt was said to have carried around an annotated copy of Fleming’s text every day on set in order to guarantee the words of the master were being respected.
In many ways, by following Fleming’s novel so closely, the script for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service reads like an experimental piece of writing. Because the films had grown so separated from Fleming’s work and literally taken Bond to space just one film previously, a faithful adaption of the book made James Bond and his world feel grounded again and far more engaging because it wasn’t suffocating in its own misguided ambition.
Because of all these circumstances and the content of this particular Bond film, the script is best viewed as a deconstruction of James Bond the man in every way, striving to examine who he is and who he isn’t while having him face the tragedy that would live inside him for the rest of his days. In a film so different from any other Bond adventure to this day, Bond fights with his trusted boss and nearly quits his job as a 00 agent, agrees to marry a woman that he soon begins to feel true love for, investigates his family’s roots at the College of Arms, disguises himself as a genealogist who is designed to be the antithesis of him in every facet of his personality, and finally, ends with him leaving his old life behind to start a new one with the only woman who’s made him dream of something beyond all he’s ever known.
As Bond investigates his roots in genealogy, the Bond franchise itself examines its own, stepping back to tell a more human story that isn’t reliant on the formula and often strives to subvert what these films are meant to portray. Instead of sleeping with Tracy and leaving her for the next fling, Bond is stalled by her and mesmerized by her unique mystery. When he is outed by Blofeld and trapped amongst the gears of the lift’s machinery atop Piz Gloria, Bond initially fails to escape, showing him struggling to make it out alive. Even after he thinks he’s invaded his pursuers, Bond is left sitting on a bench as Blofeld’s agents close in just before Tracy shows up to save him, and not the other way around. Throughout, the script makes flowers a common motif of Bond and Tracy’s blooming love, whose petals are present when they first make love and also when their union is shattered by a hail of gunfire. Bond also has a habit of wiping Tracy’s tears away in the film, the first time to spark their relationship and the second to cement them as Mr. and Mrs. Bond.
With all the good, there are some issues, of course. Firstly, the “other fellow” line the script demanded for Lazenby to deliver at the conclusion of the pre-titles sequence while looking right into the camera is groan-inducing. It’s a moment that represents a common problem with this film: it’s constantly pointing out to you that there were films before this with a better actor as James Bond that defined the role, making Lazenby a wide open target for criticism as he fails to live up to the memories of Connery that moments like this remind them of.
In a moment guilty of the same sin, when Bond returns to his office following his nasty row with M he takes to cleaning out his drawers of memorabilia from his past missions, including Honey Ryder’s belt and sheath from Dr. No, Donald Grant’s garrote wire watch featured in From Russia with Love and the underwater re-breather used in the deep sea action of Thunderball. This section of the film again points out the very strange choices that were sometimes made in presenting a new Bond to audiences. In three knock-out strikes, the film fails to move on past Connery. First the pre-titles sequence paints the words, “I’m not Sean Connery” in neon calligraphy on poor George’s head, followed by an opening title design that openly rips pictures from Sean’s previous movies, again pointing to the fact that he’s not there anymore. And finally, the knock-out punch of them all sees Lazenby looking at the objects only associated with Sean’s Bond, thrice reminding audiences that their big star is absent. These decisions are quite confounding and counter-intuitive to me in every way. The filmmakers didn’t want to make a big deal out of Connery’s re-casting, causing them to under promote Lazenby in the hopes that the public would forget about it, but then they went on to film the first movie post-Connery that constantly gets in your face and points out to you time and time again that their James Bond isn’t around any longer.
In addition to these issues of self-reference, the film also has a few too many moments where instances of great tension are broken up by badly placed or worded one-liners, the sin that the Bond series would grow to proudly take ownership of in the quality drop known as the Roger Moore era. After I see Bond coldly pummel goons into dust I don’t want to hear him reference the fact that Sean Connery is no longer Bond, nor do I want him to remark that the man he’s just beaten near Death’s door should’ve been gift wrapped. And following a deadly face off with his greatest archenemy in the series, I most certainly don’t want to see a random shot where Bond is kissed by a St. Bernard, and definitely not a St. Bernard he then asks to fetch him some brandy. Each of these moments in the film feature a rousing piece of action or tension that the aforementioned one-liners soil at the finish in a most unpleasant fashion directly afterwards. Because the film strives to stick so close to Fleming, these random attempts at levity that lack the sharp sarcasm or cold black comedy of the Connery films’ scripts create a tonal inconsistency as the movie is caught between between the spirit of Fleming and the kind of silliness the series was attempting to abandon, but felt afraid to.
Even with these slip-ups in approach, the script of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is largely immaculate, one of the all-time best. It’s balanced in tone the majority of the time, presents characters fully-fleshed out, strives to tell a human story with Bond, is littered with endless smart wit and sharp dialogue and is bizarre without being bananas. It’s got the spirit of a Greek tragedy and myth too as I’ve lauded it for, making it read like a legend with Bond as its forlorn and noble warrior at the heart of a drama filled with manipulation, goddesses, quaking battles and intimate moments of depth and resonant humanity.
Above all, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a message film that carries a very specific missive that both we and Bond learn together, the hard way. This is a film that teaches us through the tragically ironic Louis Armstrong song that acts as the tune and motto of Bond and Tracy’s union that we DON’T have all the time in the world. This irony and the devastating death of Bond's beloved that teaches him his most important lesson hits hard, and the moment that concludes this film is better evidence than any as to why the spy decides to live his life the way he deems it proper to after Tracy’s murder, enjoying the time he has instead of playing it safe to prolong it, often making a conscious effort to not get attached to anyone or anything for too long. In many ways Tracy lives on, if only in Bond’s repressed anger and the irreversible numbness her passing has caused in his heart.
Because the last film Peter Hunt had worked on before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the EON-produced adaptation of Ian Fleming’s own children’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the editor turned Bond director saw fit to take some of the team from that movie and carry them over to this, his next project. One of these such members was Michael Reed, the movie’s cinematographer (as well as its editor John Glen; more on him later).
Although Reed’s experience as a cinematographer had been limited to some television work and B-movie fare up to that point in 1969, the man showed amazing skill when he got to shine on a blockbuster with the ambition and resources that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service lent him.
Peter Hunt had very specific rules that he wanted Reed to follow while framing his shots because the director’s goal was for the film to feel, “simple, but glamorous” like the 1950s Hollywood pictures he loved, as well as appear realistic in visual appeal, “where the sets don’t look like sets.” Hunt also requested the most interesting frames Reed could produce that would also look great once they were heavily cropped for televised showings of the picture post-release. Reed had a lot going against him as a cinematographer on the set of a Bond film that posed a brand new cinematic challenge to him with its high production demands and sets whose ceilings often prevented him from hanging the lights he needed to get the shots he wanted, but overall his work here is a shining example of some of the franchise’s best cinematography.
For starters, Reed knew how to make the vibrant colors of his surroundings pop on camera, with blues and oranges being especially pleasing to witness. In addition, Hunt’s demand for keeping the shots wider to ensure the film would be effectively cropped for TV also enabled Reed to play with scale and wide framing more than he would’ve otherwise, resulting in many great shots where the actors appear as minuscule navigators of the spaces they frequent. There’s real drama in these wide, far away shots, like in Bond’s fight with Che Che as Reed makes the viewer feel like a fly on the wall, nothing but a speck witnessing the tussle from afar. This approach to framing shots and shooting action carried over to the sequence where Piz Gloria was stormed, with visuals of the same order that ramped up tension and made the battle feel raw and real. The wide framing outside of these action pieces also gave Reed the license to let the locations of the film breathe instead of being restricted to stuffy close-ups. In this way On Her Majesty’s Secret Service again feels more in tune with the Terence Young Bond films where we get to see the actors navigating sets and locations as the camera is pulled further back, giving us the ability to take everything in because the picture box frees both the actors and the locales from feeling any claustrophobia.
Some of my favorite moments of the film come when Reed and Hunt play with light, shadow and the framing of the camera to produce a sense of mystery or drama. At the very beginning of the film we have no idea where Bond is (along with MI6), a fact that Reed takes advantage of by introducing us to Lazenby in the role through varying angles and levels of shadow in an almost piece by piece fashion until we get the full picture of him. This sequence allows us to be a part of the mystery along with MI6 as we wonder what Bond is doing and why, as well as what he’s got planned next, the kind of drama that would’ve been robbed from us if Reed had shot Lazenby in full light in a wide shot where he was instantly visible to the eye right off the bat.
As the beach fight carries into Bond’s game of baccarat at the casino, Tracy’s face is hidden from both 007 and the audience until the moment is most ripe, presenting a moment of great punch as our hero once again stumbles upon this mysterious figure of untold sorrow.
Later on in the film once Bond’s cover is blown by Blofeld and he is whacked in the head, the camera simulates the jarring headache 007 is having by blurring the images he sees as his point of view becomes ours and Reed makes us share his discombobulation.
And of course, one of Reed’s greatest shots and by far his most haunting comes when he freezes the camera on the bullet hole in the windshield of Bond’s Aston following Tracy’s murder, forcing us as the audience to face the trauma head-on while the melody of “We Have All the Time in the World” provides an added layer of melancholia to the camerawork.
Through his cinematography for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Michael Reed successfully and honorably entered the ranks of the other highly skilled photographers of the 60s Bond era in the form of Ted Moore and Freddie Young. Together these talents make a powerfully imaginative triumvirate, with the films between them representing the gold standard for cinematography in the Bond franchise.
After having worked on every Bond film’s musical score while also being the main composer since From Russia with Love six years and fourth films previous to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the melodic maestro John Barry sensed it was time for a tune-up (pun intended).
In Barry’s work for this movie we can spot the change in the Bond series down to even its music as it developed more and more as an artistic property. So much was different this time around for the Bond team, and the music man felt it too. While Barry’s past scores had relied on heavy and booming orchestra sounds with blaring instrumental sections now synonymous with the “Bond sound,” for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service he made a conscious effort to use a variety of different sound techniques on top of his old methods with the inclusion of electrical instruments and synthesized sound for the first time in a Bond picture. These elements immediately give the film a different sound and feeling while still remaining distinctly Bondian as Barry creates a nice balance between old and new styles. This was a choice partly based on the change in lead actor that made the production feel all the more like a gamble, and when it came to using more aggressive sounds in his score Barry was quoted as saying, "I have to stick my oar in the musical area double strong to make the audience try and forget they don't have Sean... to be Bondian beyond Bondian." In an interesting detail, Barry’s original Bond theme from Dr. No with its wonderful guitar twang also has its swan song here too, as if he is bidding adieu to Sean’s iconic work in the series, sans denial, and again representing a departure from the Bond sound as we had known it to be in the 60s as the scores entered unexplored territory.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is often named as Barry’s magnum opus from his Bond catalogue, and while I’m not enough of a music aficionado to make such a judgment in any case, I can say quite emphatically that this score is one of my top favorites. “Ski Chase,” “Battle at Piz Gloria” and “Escape from Piz Gloria” are far and away instant Bond classics, and each uses the special synthesized Bond theme Barry crafted solely for this film. Every composition has a grandness to it, with notes that create space with sound as we literally picture Bond making his way down giant mountains of glistening snow, a dot in the wilderness as rifles take fire at him from behind. Listening to John Barry’s music for this film is like walking into a monolithic building full of walls painted with gorgeous murals that carry your echoes as you sit down in the middle of the space and take it all in, allowing its beauty to overwhelm you in its cascading swells of artistry. While listening to scores like these you feel and hear how Barry was somehow able to play with a sense of spatial dynamism in his use of notes like Ken Adam did with his sets in the Bond films, an accomplishment that should feel as impossible as tasting color or touching sound, if that makes any sense. With Barry, however, little was off limits.
Barry’s talents lay beyond just producing action music, as we quickly find out here. The amazing variety of sound that is present in all his other Bond work has also taken up residence here as he gives jazzy compositions, suspenseful spikes in sound and romantic melodies their place. “Try” sounds like Barry’s take on a noir detective theme that evokes images of smoky casinos and packed dance halls filled to the roof with femme fatales and duplicitous comrades alike. “Bond Meets the Girls,” is even more energetic in its jazziness, making the introduction of the Angels of Death feel both romantic and mysterious all the same. “Gumbold’s Safe” and “Blofeld’s Plot” are the cornerstones of tension-building music amongst Barry’s score this time around, the former creating a delicate sense of unease through its steady set of deep notes as Bond works against the clock to crack the safe, and the latter overlays an unsettling and psychedelic sound as Blofeld hypnotizes the girls of the clinic to do his malicious bidding in a moment where Barry simulates the babes’ feelings of induced catatonia for us as we listen. Suffice it to say that when it comes to creating a sense of drama, tension, wonderment and romance, Barry does it all here in spades.
Barry also lent his talents to three other pieces in the movie, including the main theme of the film suitably entitled “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the Louis Armstrong sung “We Have All the Time in the World” that is the very backbone of his collective compositions, and the Christmas themed tune “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?”
When it came time to plan how the opening theme of the film would be approached, the team hit a barrier. There was a worry that any song customized for the movie using the long title in its lyrics would sound odd and overdone, so Barry was tasked with simply producing an instrumental piece like those that accompanied the opening title designs of Dr. No and From Russia with Love. The stripped down, back to basics piece is far and away the best thing about the lackluster titles, and its notes serve as the foundation from which Barry plucked to produce some of his greatest compositions that we hear in this film past the opening, most notably “Ski Chase” and “Escape from Piz Gloria” that both represent career highs for the composer’s genius.
“We Have All the Time in the World” was produced with lyrics by Hal David (who also wrote “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?”) and sung by the iconic and unforgettable Louis Armstrong. This song and Barry’s instrumentals for it are the heart of the film, both literally and figuratively. It’s the well of sound Barry always returns to throughout his score to inject pieces of the song into many of his most emotionally resonant compositions in scenes that feature Bond and Tracy. Because of this creative choice, the song’s melody then becomes the figurative heart of the film as it grows to be synonymous with the pair’s blooming love. It also goes on to represent the greatest and most tragic irony of the movie as its words of hope are turned hollow by the movie’s end as a mewling and melancholic variation of it plays over the aftermath of Tracy’s death to symbolically close the film.
Armstrong was selected specifically by Barry to sing this song because the composer believed only “Satchmo” could deliver on both the beauty of romance its lyrics encourages as well as the tragedy they foreshadow that unfolds during the film’s closing minutes. At the time of the recording Armstrong wasn’t feeling well, but was able to sing the song in just one take right out of the gate all the same. In a sad bit of symbolism that is just as ironic as its use in the film itself, “We Have All the Time in the World” was the last piece of music Armstrong ever recorded before his death just two years later. The enduring song represents the perfect mix of elements, from Hal David’s poignant lyrics and Barry’s use of romantically lush and spirited horns to Armstrong’s raspy and rough vocals that are a nice parallel to Bond and Tracy’s equally coarse road to love. The tune has become one of the most well known in Bond history because in the film itself it becomes less a symbol of Bond and Tracy’s love and the promise of their marriage, and more a hardcore, cold reminder of all we think we know of life before it shows us we still have some learning to do. Through its use in this film it’s now taxing for me to properly enjoy the song on its own terms with the knowledge of what it was originally composed to represent and symbolize, making it all the harder to suppress the images of a beautiful Tracy in her wedding gown that its notes can only naturally conjure in my mind.
The last song that makes up On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the aforementioned “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?” with lyrics by Hal David and vocals by Danish songstress Nina. While this is the most underserved song in the score because of its very clear yuletide mood, it’s a wonderful addition to a film full of strong music. The tune gives the film that special Christmas feeling, the perfect piece to use during moments where Bond is out and about with citizens celebrating the holiday season in Switzerland. While the song has its corny moments this becomes part of its massive charm, and the chorus of children that bring its lyrical sections to life give it and the film by association a feeling of family. Listening to the tune and the children’s voices I can’t help but hear Diana Rigg’s sweet voice in the background saying, “first a boy, then a girl” before I become too depressed to properly enjoy the song as I think of all the children Bond and Tracy could’ve had together.
For all these reasons and more On Her Majesty’s Secret Service far and away has some of the all-time greatest selections of music in a Bond movie, where everything we hear is top of the line, all tied together by the maestro himself, Mr. John Barry. The only criticism I have of the music in the film comes at the end of the picture where a light variation of “We Have All the Time in the World” is played over Tracy’s death before, out of nowhere, Barry’s old Bond theme kicks in to close the film as credits appear while the screen is still frozen on the bullet hole that shattered Bond’s Aston and his wife. I don’t know if anyone else has an issue with this, but I find it to be yet another instance where the emotion or tension of a scene was undercut by a misplaced element coming right after it. Instead of a one-liner deflating the suspense or danger, however, this time it’s just a badly timed inclusion of the Bond theme that feels like a massively disrespectful thing to play just moments after our agent was seen whimpering into the corpse of his dead bride. It’s a bit like going to a funeral and forgetting to shut off your cell phone, a decision that makes you look like a right ass when you get a call just as a tender eulogy is being read to the dearly departed in the casket afar. Where’s the respect?
As with cinematographer Michael Reed, director Peter Hunt handpicked the rising star of John Glen as his editor and second-unit director for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service off the back of the man’s work on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. From an early age Glen had become familiar with all the ins and outs of film production, making him a versatile and dependable talent to rest some expectations on.
Because Hunt needed to invest his full attention towards all areas of the production this time around following his attainment of the director’s chair, the Bond series was down it’s go-to editor. Fortunately for those involved, Glen was an inspired choice because the man could brilliantly reproduce the kind of editing that made Hunt’s work a success in the earlier Bond films, something the director must have spotted from the beginning.
Thanks to Glen’s editing and his strict attention to the playbook of Hunt-with his own personal flourishes, of course-On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was able to feel like a Bond film more in touch with Dr. No and From Russia with Love than You Only Live Twice, giving the film a kinetic and messily loud and brutal feeling that well suited its roaring action and well-crafted moments of insane stunt work that pulled no punches in their presentation. It’s this kind of editing that allows Bond’s fight on the beach with Draco’s goons and his hotel bout with Che Che to feel like rousing and delirious scraps that make you feel part of the action as the camerawork and film cutting come together to create swift and engaging sequences of thrills.
This movie was John Glen’s foot in the door of the Bond franchise, an opportunity that would see him working on several more of the features before ascending from the cutting room and second-unit to the mighty director’s chair just like his friend Peter Hunt managed to do before him in the 60s era.
When it comes to the fashion of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service a fascinating mixed bag of styles are on display, with suits timeless in style and those that are very much of their time and don’t work outside the period. As with many things in this film, the production team was moving past the elements and styles that had made the Bond films famous, with Barry experimenting in his music, Syd Cain being picked as production designer over Ken Adam for budgetary reasons and Anthony Sinclair being replaced by Dimi Major as the leading tailor of the film (though Lazenby did famously wear a Sinclair suit that Connery didn’t want while shooting promotional images for this film where he is posing in front of Elizabeth Tower). Where fashion is concerned, the move away from the famously timeless fashions of Sinclair resulted in a gamble that produced clothing items that would soon grow to be outdated in style outside of that specific era while still delivering some strong Bondian looks.
Although Lazenby doesn’t wear his suits with the same effortless cool as Sean, who became a style maverick through his immaculate Sinclair suits, the Aussie does an admirable job and wears the ensembles convincingly, with many nice suits seen throughout. Tailor Dimi Major took the reigns on developing Lazenby’s Bond style in this film, representing yet another example of how one designer molded a Bond actor’s style for their era, like Sinclair for Sean, and Cyril Castle for Roger Moore, who was also the man’s personal tailor outside of Bond.
The first proper suit we see Lazenby wear is a cream suit with a pink dress shirt and navy tie. While this is a somewhat odd mix of palettes that signal the coming 70s fashions of wild color clashes, the suit falls just short of being too much, and Lazenby commands it well as he makes his way through the hotel he’s booked.
When it comes time for Bond to infiltrate Gumbold’s Swiss offices to raid his safe, Lazenby is seen in a beautiful glen check suit that is far and away the most timeless look of the film, by no accident at all. The suit’s palette of gray, light blue and navy are the exact colors Sean often wore as James Bond, and the cut of the suit and how it is assembled makes it feel like a close cousin to Anthony Sinclair’s “Conduit Suit” that he tailored for Connery to be Bond’s default style item that the spy wore frequently in every Terence Young film. Even though the series at this point had changed and was gradually moving on from the Connery days and that era’s approach to style, it was nice to have one last look at the fashion that made early Bond so stylish through this glen check suit.
When he drives to M’s private estate to share with his boss the papers on Blofeld that he’s copied, Bond is next seen in a wonderful double-breasted navy blazer. This item is one of the best in the film because beyond just being a nice ensemble, it tells us something about Bond and connects to his past work in the Royal Navy. The blazer feels like something 007 has held on to from his days in the naval service, because, according to Navy tradition, the suit coat has metal buttons and a military cut to it. In a slight departure from a commander’s uniform of the sort we see Bond wear in You Only Live Twice, the shoulders of the blazer aren’t as padded and militaristic looking as what Bond would wear on duty. The absence of these traditional elements of a navy outfit then give the blazer what is referred to as a more “civilian” look, as if Bond is injecting the naval style into his own personal look, literally taking his work on the sea home with him.
In order to disguise himself successfully as Sir Hillary Bray while at Piz Gloria, Bond is seen wearing a replica of the genealogist’s tweed three-piece suit, over which he wears a Sherlock Holmes-esque ulster coat when out in the elements. The tweed suits are some of my favorite Bond ensembles, best encapsulated by the wonderfully stylish hacking jackets Sean wears in Goldfinger and Thunderball, and here that nice flair returns. The suit feels suitably academic and stuffy as we watch Lazenby dig into playing the role of the meek Bray quite immaculately, purposely ramping up the man’s weaknesses to create a formidable caricature to hide underneath. In a nice touch, the tie Bond wears is in a Windsor knot of the sort Fleming himself despised because he thought they were the sign of a vain man, a fitting style choice for 007 to make while trying to play a rather upper crust man vastly different from himself. The change to a tie crafted in a Windsor knot from the Bond staple of a four-in-hand knot shows us how committed Bond is to crafting his disguise, as well as how self-aware he is of his own personal style and how Bray’s runs counter to it.
Lazenby also wears two strong navy three-piece suits in this film, a herringbone suit at the beginning of the film that he adorns while M takes him off of Operation: Bedlam, and a flannel chalk stripe which he wears near the end of the film while back in London as he tries to persuade M to mount an attack on Piz Gloria. As with the navy blazer Bond wears to M’s home, the reason I enjoy the way these three-piece suits are used in the film is because they are strong in style while also given added impact for the context in which Bond wears them. Dimi Major cut the suits similarly by design, and Bond wears navy only in moments where he and M are facing a crossroads in their professional and personal relationship. Because of this, the navy suits of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service symbolize Bond’s discontent and rebellion inside his job as he first threatens to resign from his 00 position and later goes behind M’s back to take care of Blofeld’s plot on his own with Draco’s assistance.
When it comes to casual fashion, Lazenby wears two strong ensembles in the form of the skiing suit he adorns while escaping Piz Gloria, and an anorak suit to storm the compound during the film’s finale. Both ensembles are blue, a color Lazenby looks the best in. The costume team must have realized this fact from the start by purposely using style items outside of the suits to accentuate the Bond actor’s features using that specific palette. These blue hues also clash well against the orange outfits the SPECTRE agents of Piz Gloria are dressed in as both Bond and his enemies pop off the screen.
Although clothing like the garish brown and orange golf suit, the houndstooth tweed jacket and cravat and the eye-sore of a tuxedo with unsightly ruffles protruding from its dress shirt all represent ensembles more representative of the day’s fashion sense than anything resembling timeless fashion, by and large Lazenby commands a nice figure in his suits with many nice outfits to his name, finishing the film in a handsome wedding suit.
Where the rest of the film is concerned, Dimi Major went above and beyond by assembling clothes for all the rest of the male leads, including Bernard Lee, Gabriele Ferzetti and Telly Savalas. Lee looks professional as ever, dressing the part in fine suits that build M up even more as a traditionalist as he shows Bond who is boss (literally). We also get to spot his more informal style while wearing a smoking jacket at his private estate, and the ensemble he wears for Bond and Tracy’s wedding is quite becoming and adds even more warmth to Lee’s performance as we see M strip back his stiff and stern veneer to smile for a rare time in the series.
Ferzetti’s Draco looks immaculate in everything, sporting a fine navy three-piece suit with a romantic flower on the lapel during his meeting with Bond and an equally sophisticated lounge suit worn during the wedding of his daughter. These elements of style come together to make Draco one of the best dressed Bond allies of the series.
Savalas’ Blofeld is seen in both a masculine piece of outerwear and the now classic Nehru styled suit that had become an inseparable part of the character’s cinematic image (and later a style item exploited for parody). The latter builds him up as a cruel figure of control as in the previous film, which Savalas wears with a remarkably sinister joy.
Blofeld’s Angels of Death are each given their own unique fashions that carry slight style hints as to their countries of origin. The costume department were able to manipulate the clothing of the twelve beauties to give each their own defining personalities through just these items alone, allowing the great performers and their dialogues to do the rest to build up their respective characterizations.
And last but not least, we have the absolutely gorgeous Diana Rigg in an endless stream of wonderful ensembles that build up Tracy as one of the unmatched Bond beauties. In the first dress we see Tracy in, she literally sparkles on screen as the falling sun’s rays glisten off her body as she moves magnetically forward to be swallowed by the waves, walking as if in a trance. The ensemble gives her a suitably otherworldly feeling, like she is a half-present ghost experiencing a moment of trauma for the nth time.
At the casino she’s dressed in a dazzling white form-hugging dress that runs counter to what she thinks of herself, wearing the pure color of white while of the opinion that she’s anything but. Arriving at Draco’s birthday party, Tracy looks quite sexy in a uniform that would make most women look like a poor man’s magician’s assistant, but Rigg’s sassy and independent performance gives it purpose. As Tracy comes to rescue Bond in the village below Piz Gloria she is next seen in outdoor wear of prominent browns, a palette that works perfectly with Rigg’s own hair color and eyes, giving her beauty an added “pop.”
And finally, in Tracy’s wedding dress at the end of the film Rigg is-to use a word from Bond’s vocabulary-an “inspiration,” every inch the definition of radiant. Everything is downplayed in this ensemble, with little make-up or jewelry on Rigg in order to accentuate her natural beauty. It’s also fitting that for the first time Tracy isn’t hiding behind her clothes or other exterior fashion items to disguise or repress herself, because she is at ease around Bond and has no need for secrets any longer. This beautiful wedding dress is also symbolic of so many things. It is a very similar style to the dress Rigg’s Tracy wears at the beginning of the film during her suicide attempt, meaning these style pieces bookend the movie. While Rigg’s features were purposefully unkempt and exhausted looking in the first dress to underscore Tracy’s tragedy and trauma, while wearing the wedding dress that is its sequel her hair is tied up and her whole appearance is vigorous and healthy as she exudes happiness, showing how much she has changed for the better since Bond stumbled into her life. Although Tracy thought she was only playing pure while wearing a white dress in the casino scene to continue her self-destructive ways, after her union to Bond she has earned the right to wear white, reborn pure in Bond’s arms. As Bond and Tracy drive away from the ceremony, Mrs. Bond wraps her shawl around her face, a style choice that again accentuates Rigg’s beauty while giving the character a blinding splendor and innocence.
These ensembles and the context in which they are worn are all the stronger for Diana Rigg’s performance, which is subtle and rich in so many ways. In the movie we watch as Tracy goes from a forlorn and miserable woman contemplating a restful and pain-free death to a woman who rediscovers the joy of life in Bond’s eyes. As the film goes on and through Rigg’s masterful performance, Tracy is visibly more happy and deliriously in love in each scene, grounding the character and her fashion in an emotional truth as deep as the pair’s own love as she truly becomes reborn in every sense of the word.
For all these reasons and more, whether it’s down to Lazenby’s snappy suits, a fine set of nicely dressed supporting cast members or the amazing ensembles that make Rigg’s Tracy one of the best dressed Bond women of all time, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has much to appreciate when it comes to fashion and style.
FILM ELEMENTS CONTINUED
After years of developing his talents both outside and inside the Bond series, first as art director on Dr. No helping Ken Adam’s team realize their set designs and then on From Russia with Love as its lead designer, Syd Cain was more than deserving when the time came for him to take the full production design reigns for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Cain had previously worked with Cubby Broccoli’s production company Warwick Films before the Bond films were even a reality, toiling away on on projects where he produced the very work that first got him a job on Dr. No. His brilliance in crafting designs like the phenomenal chess set in From Russia with Love during Ken Adam’s absence proved that he could hold the weight of any pressures to create truly amazing sets. Because the budget of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was much more frugal than usual, the extravagant and expensive sets of Adam had to be forgone to save money for the rest of the production, leaving the master’s duties to Cain.
The main feature of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the piece of production design at the heart of it is of course the now famous Piz Gloria base of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. While the Bond series has seen lairs housed in hollowed out volcanoes, space stations floating far into the depths of space and hideaways lurking below the very ocean itself, there’s something about a fortress positioned on top of a high mountain range that just feels way more interesting. The set is given added drama when Bunt mentions to Bond that their security allows no trespassers, making the location feel like a place of no return.
When it came time to realize this idea for Blofeld’s lair, the production team had to face a big hurdle. They had eyed Piz Gloria as a perfect spot to film for its location at the top of Schilthorn near the Swiss village of Mürren following weeks of location searching, but they had one big issue facing them: the space they wished to shoot at was a revolving restaurant that was still under construction and not operational in the slightest. The production loved the place so much, however, that they paid to finish the work that remained on Piz Gloria, including giving the place electricity and a running aerial lift while also re-designing the interior and assembling a helicopter pad in order to meet Cain’s expectations for what he wanted to do with the space. Even for all these costs and hurdles, it was still cheaper to fund and finish the build of Piz Gloria than to pay Adam to make another larger than life set like the previous film’s volcano lair that ended up costing more than the entire production budget of Dr. No to produce. While there was some contention between the Swiss authorities and Bond team in regards to what they were and weren’t permitted to do on the mountain, the set came together with great imagination.
The design of the finished Piz Gloria manages to feel like not only a clinic and resort styled building, but is also given even more character by how it is decked out for the holidays. When it comes time for the finale of the film to take place the beautiful surroundings become the stage for even more cinematic mayhem as what the team built needed to be dirtied up a bit in a perfect example of art dying to create more art.
For the magic that the team of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service were able to perform against the odds to bring Piz Gloria to life, they have more than earned their recognition for producing one of the all-time greatest Bond design pieces that we’ve ever seen.
I don't do quantitative ratings on a 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 scale as a principle of mine, but if I did, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would receive the highest of distinctions only awarded to the likes of Casino Royale and From Russia with Love. As with From Russia with Love before it, the film is as close to a perfect Bond film as you can get, and takes the franchise from popcorn entertainment to true art. The team of ’69 used just $7 million to deliver on both the narrative and the technical aspects of the production, bringing us strings of thrilling sequences that don’t let up, interspersed with a surprising amount of heart and intimacy as Bond gears up to face his darkest hour.
To this day, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service remains a Bond film unlike any other, and at some points it feels like it doesn’t want to be in the pack at all. The film subverts and deconstructs who and what Bond is, diverts his character from who we expect him to be, and explores him going to the effort of asking a woman’s hand in marriage, wishing to do something more with his life. There's so many strong elements in this film that truly make it feel like an epic, and it's grounded in the foundation of great performances as our favorite characters from the past films really face tough times. Bond and M, once so understanding in where their professional relationship stood, are at each other’s throats over Blofeld, and Bond is growing tired of red tape and all that's getting in the way of him doing what he feels is right. Moneypenny is caught in the middle of the scrape up, and Tracy internally feels like a bargaining chip at times, thinking she's a prize to win and not someone to be loved and cherished. There's a lot of character drama here to unpack behind all the blockbuster action.
At the center of the chaos surrounding On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the limits it was pushing was an Australian male model who, against all odds, replaced the legendary Sean Connery in the role he defined. No easy task, that. I have not always been a fan of George Lazenby, but having matured as a Bond fan I’ve forgiven and forgotten my trespasses. Seeing him in action here I have no choice but to dip my hat to the man. For someone who'd had no real experience in this kind of performance element, he is seriously good for most of it. He's got weak deliveries and moments here and there, but when he needed to bring it, he did. Lazenby was particularly exceptional at displaying Bond's fear in pivotal moments, and that makes me scared too, because 007 is often so on the edge of death here.
There's a real center of emotion and vulnerability in Lazenby's performance that I don't think he gets proper credit for, especially when he's holding Tracy's corpse at the end of the movie. In that fateful moment he plays Bond almost as a man having an out of body experience, like he's subtracted from reality and just plain lost in response to what has just happened. He's displaying the kind of spine-tingling catatonic shock you would experience in real life, and it's frightening to see Bond in a moment where he doesn't know what he's going to do, because he always has an answer. The scene is shocking, messy, jarring, everything it needed to be, and George sells it. He was reading the Fleming novel leading up to the rehearsal and shooting of Tracy’s death, and the text in its raw form made tears roll down his face that he then played the scene with. It’s clear that the material struck him in a natural and poignant way, and the emotional connection he has to Bond’s journey and experience of tragedy shows in his ability to expertly embody that moment of intense loss.
Of course, there are gripes that hold On Her Majesty’s Secret Service back from complete perfection. The main issue is the over-reliance the film has on the past. In the marketing leading up to the release of the film the producers were doing everything in their power to avoid letting the public know Sean Connery was no longer James Bond and had been replaced by an unknown. Then they go on to make a film that not only has an entire opening titles design by Maurice Binder that is essentially a photographic tribute to the past films, but we are also treated to a scene where Bond looks through souvenirs from past missions (including Honey Ryder’s bikini and Grant’s garrote wire) back at his agency office. These moments lift up mixed feeling inside me. While I can concede that the film may have been better without Sean in some ways, especially considering his lack of enthusiasm for where the series was headed post 1967, there’s a part of me that wants to see him in this movie so goddamn badly. It is so difficult for me to watch George have all these moments with the cast of MI6 regulars, because Sean put in the work to create an onscreen dynamic with Bernard Lee’s M, Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn’s Q; nobody else.
I salivate at the idea of Connery's Bond and Lee's M going at it in the latter's office where we really feel the tense gravitas of Blofeld's threat because these two have a relationship that's been built up over five previous films. I'd weep to see Sean toss his hat to Maxwell’s Moneypenny, because the pair had developed their dynamic over five films and the hat ritual was theirs; the same with Connery's Bond and Desmond's Q, and on and on. Watching the film I'm often tempted to shout at George for talking to Lois or Bernard and Desmond like he knew them, because it was Sean who crafted the image of Bond alongside those actors and characters, not him, and not having Sean there in his place in those big character moments hurts a bit. After You Only Live Twice went off the rails and the franchise was going in a direction Sean hated, this film was the kind of thing that he deserved and wanted to get back to, a movie with real stones and character, sans silliness (mostly), so it's devastating to know he just missed out on it. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with Sean would have been something interesting, for sure, one of the biggest “what ifs” in all of the Bond canon, up there with Lazenby himself doing more than one film. I don't mean to saddle all this on George's back however, as it's not his fault he came after Sean, and by attempting to be him he would've seemed too desperate or artificial in his performance. He went his own way, and I'm proud of that.
Even with all these nitpicks, it’s impossible to tarnish the rich legacy that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service carries. At the heart of the film is the love Bond and Tracy share, an element that gives the film its greatest emotional truth and most painful tragedy. Up until this point in the franchise Bond was running through women in every film, sometimes as much as three of them, getting his fill before moving on to another mission and another bevy of beauties. Everything changes when he spots a red Mercury Cougar speed past him on the roadway, causing him to halt his Aston just in time to witness the vehicle release a mysterious woman with the beauty of a goddess who willingly walks over the sands of the beach to the edge of the shore, allowing the sea to claim her. The imagery is mythological and intensely powerful.
It’s in this moment that Bond makes the fateful choice to run to this strange woman, to save her from something dangerous, even if that thing is herself. More surprisingly, for the first time in who knows how long in his life, Bond takes interest in a woman based purely on who she is and what she has to offer sans any shallowness. Like a bird with a broken wing, Tracy is constantly grounding herself next to Bond, and he’s always there to help her fly again. On the Portuguese beach you can notice Bond’s body go electric with fear as he sees a suicide attempt unfolding before him, and later on in the casino Tracy’s reckless behavior and penchant for self ruin has him visibly concerned as much as he is fascinated. A broken woman with a distorted view of men, Ms. Vicenzo doesn’t expect Bond to have good intentions, but over time she is able to see the value he places in her for who she is, regardless of her flaws, as she accepts all of his along the way. Tracy finally finds a man who takes her on her own terms without any ulterior motives, and through her Bond feels renewed as the hard exterior he was forced to wear to survive as a spy lifts with an, “I do.” Then and there the game changes, and he doesn't want to run any longer.
But of course with all the good must come some bad, and with every hero there must come a villain. Why On Her Majesty’s Secret Service works as a story, whether you take it for more of a spy thriller or an unconventional romance, is because, in its deconstruction of who Bond is and what he wants out of life, the narrative stays true to his cruel world and who he is ultimately destined to be as a character of immense tragedy. Things simply never seem to go his way, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. The universe pays him no respect or good-will, and every time he tries to make a change for his own betterment, to move out from a rut he’s in, it all comes undone and he's back where he began, on his own in a world that has no time for his happiness. No matter how many times he experiences love, loss or pyrrhic victory-there is no other kind for him-in the end it's always him facing the world forlorn, with blood dripping from his hands after another failed attempt to seize a greater, more meaningful future for himself. That is the ultimate bookend to his life with Tracy, a love that began with a moment of extreme chance, and ended with the methodical planning of Bond’s greatest archenemy. As Bond cradles Tracy’s head we’re reminded of the cruelness reality can impose through John Barry’s melancholic arrangement of Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World” as their love theme becomes a haunting irony.
For all these reasons and more, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a powerhouse Bond film with all the elements of action, suspense, thrills and chills you would ever require. And at the core of all this extraneous blockbuster beef is a surprising love story featuring a troubled spy that has much to teach us in our own lives. As James Bond learns the hard way, we don’t have all the time in the world, and time itself is a luxury we cannot afford to waste, especially when it’s being spent with those we love most.
To start off with the positives: John Barry as usual delivers a nice score that fits the mood of each scene very well and he made imo one of his best tracks (the OHMSS title theme) and we have all the time in the world with Louis Armstrong which debut in this film. I really liked Dianna Rigg as Tracey she was a really interesting idea for a bond girl and It really works well here as you get to sympathise with her character and get to really like her, which only makes her inevitable fate pretty heartbreaking, I liked Draco's character too and felt his concern for his daughter’s well being and trusting of Bond to look after her in exchange for getting info on Blofeld was an interesting dynamic that was pretty well executed. I also loved Telly Salvias as Blofeld, he just feels like that one evil leader that is menacing while still appearing normal and calm which is the ideal way to play blofeld (I myself still like Charles Grey a little bit more) still Telly was defintiely a great take on the character nontheless. I also gotta say that I really love the snowy locations in this movie as they all just look gorgeous and feel lifelike and not like just another set at pinewood studios. Last but not least the last 40 minutes or so was great and had me at the edge of my seat with excitement and tension the whole time, it is one of the best finales to a bond film for sure
Now for the bad stuff..and there is quite a bit of it I'm afraid. For starters..at times this really didn't feel at all like James Bond but rather some bad spy comedy, the worst of this has to be when Bond goes undercover and is in piz gloria for 40 minutes or so and it feels like it drags on forever, it's extremely boring and bad minus Bond's meeting with blofeld, the bits with the girls feel like they're ripped straight out of Casino Royale 1967 for god sakes, I honestly could not tell if I was watching a parody or not but this stupid segment made me feel so braindead.
Another issue is I feel that Tracey does not take Blofeld serious enough when he has her captured, I get that it is her character but it just makes Blofeld look like a total Joke while the movie has been establishing him as a very serious and evil threat up until this point. The movie itself is pretty poorly paced for a good chunk of the film (such as that sir hilary bray nonsense I complained about above). I also feel that Lazenby does not look the part of Bond nor does he sound like him at all to me really, he looks more like the main character in Ricky 1 than James Bond and sounds like an awkward teenager trying to do a rocky impression while attempting to reveal his feelings to a crush, but I would still say that performance wise, he didn't do that bad and honestly did a good job for essentially someone who was a rookie to acting (even if it was obvious he was carried by other actors).
Lazenby also is frequently outclassed by every other cast member and that's not exactly good when he's supposed to be the man himself James Bond, I mean Dianna Rigg carries every scene she shares with him which is not a good sign. Another issue I have is that don't see Tracey after the 40 minute mark and we don't see her again for a long time which I find pretty bad for who's supposed to be the main bond girl and it makes their eventual marrige seem forced as there is not enough build up, maybe if they spent time developing their relationship instead of having Lazenby in a stupid kilt and being terribly dubbed over while screwing random girls taken out of some unfunny sitcom for 40 minutes than maybe it would not be so bad you think? Last but not least, in general the movie wasn't that exciting all around until about the last act imo but there was some good before.
But overall OHMSS is a film with a lot of good but the bad just really harms the film, it is a shame considering it had all the pieces there but they messed it up with some incompetent decisions but still this is an important bond film and should be viewed by every bond fan at least once, My final rating is a 6 out of 10
The first half in surprisingly low in action, more of a mystery-thriller than the bloated action-fests the Bond movies had become. When the action does come, it is spectacular and wholly satisfying.
It sees a more human, more vulnerable Bond, a Bond capable of falling in love. Gadgetless and unarmed for a lot of the film, he has to rely on his wits and cunning to outmanoeuvre his opponents.
Diana Rigg plays, for my money, the best Bond-girl in the series. Ravishingly beautiful, sharp and resourceful, but also complex and damaged, you can totally see why, after all his conquests, she would be the one and only for Bond.
Rigg is terrific and while I may have been mean to George Lazenby in the opening paragraph, and he certainly is no match for Sean Connery, he could have grown into the part and I could have gotten used to him as Bond.
Lazenby wasn't the only one making his big debut: director Peter Hunt, who had previously edited most of the Bond movies is also a first timer. Afterwards, he had a middling career in B-movies, but I've always felt he was an underrated director, bringing a distinct sense of style and an editor's sense of rhythm to this, his only Bond movie.
All of which makes for one of the best films in the series.
That said, I've never been a fan of the movie's final scene: it feels too abrupt, too tacked on. More so since the scene never received a proper pay off: It needed a dark, violent sequel in which a grimly determined Bond exacts his revenge on Blofeld and Bund.
Diamonds Are Forever was not that sequel.