On Her Majesty’s Secret Service takes what the previous entries in the James Bond franchise comes to a fork in the road and goes in the direction no one expected it to go down. It’s the 6th film in a franchise and the first one without the man that would be considered the gold standard of Bond, the man who brought the character to life from the pages of Ian Fleming’s novels with such ease and comfortability. That sense of familiarity in the lead role is gone as we are introduced to the new Bond, James Bond.
As a Franchise, the Bond series has been more impactful on other genre’s than most realize. How many different actors have portrayed the Man of Steel or the Caped Crusader or Spider-Man and no one bats an eye or thinks twice about it. Bond started this trend of the same character played by different actors. Director Peter R. Hunt, plays Coy with the new Bond, not showing his face immediately like we’ve gotten in the past with Connery. Instead, the illusion is kept up with selective camera work to imply what we’re all holding our breath for – the first look at the new James Bond (George Lazenby).
The two couldn’t be more different in their portrayal as the fictional MI6 agent. Connery had it all, the look, the charm, the charisma, and attitude necessary to pull Bond off and really set such a high bar that none have been able to reach, maybe the recent Daniel Craig but the ones in between have a lot to live up to. Lazenby, though passed the baton, is his first acting role as he was more of a model prior to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He’s not bad for the role but Connery left gigantic shoes to fill. What Lazenby does bring to James that Connery merely touches upon is a sense of elegance in the way he speaks and holds himself when on screen. Beyond that, Lazenby acts like he’s trying too hard to be Connery’s version – even given a self-aware fourth wall type line of dialogue reminding us that he isn’t Connery.
The Bond Formula is as present as it’s ever been, following an assembly-line like production in how its story is set up and executed. While Lazenby is the new face on campus, the legacy roles and actors are back and as comfortable in their supporting roles.
Based on the tenth novel by author Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is regarded as the most faithful adaptations to Fleming’s work. Bond saves the would-be Bond girl Tracy Di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) from committing suicide by drowning herself. After putting on the charm heavily Bond is met by Tracy’s father Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) who offers Bond 1 million pounds to fall in love and marry her. Bond then debriefs with M (Bernard Lee), flirts with Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), looks over his high-tech gadgets gotten from Q (Desmond Llewelyn), nearly retires and instead is given vacation time since the pursuit of Ernst Starvo Blofeld (Telly Savales) has gone cold.
Screenwriter Richard Maibaum treats the supporting roles as equal to the story as Bond is. Moneypenny for one is an absolute necessity to Bond yet she has such a small role.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is more of a love story than previous films have been. Bond actually falls in love and gets married to Tracy – she’s more than the typically objectified Bond girl of the past whom Bond sees only as a trophy for saving the world from total destruction. Diana Rigg plays her part better than expected, almost outperforming Lazenby in the time they have together. In total that time is an hour of the films 142 minutes – the longest Bond film to date. Within that longer run-time, the pacing takes a backseat, taking its time with scenes that had no business being dragged out. Some scenes thrive with the longer runtime which only adds more value to the film making it one of the better installments overall.
Is it even a James Bond film if there is some type of action sequence? Yes, it is, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service features two spectacle level action sequences. The franchise is famous for them, serving as inspiration for similar genre films to follow in its footsteps. Here the first action sequence, the crescendo of the of film involves one of the most extensively shot sequences when Bond escapes Blofeld’s resort snow-capped mansion on a pair of skis. Cinematographer Michael Reed captures the heart-pounding sequence with series of jump cuts between Lazenby and his pursuers all the way down the mountain which continues into the town on foot with a claustrophobic amount of people getting in the way of an escape and in car down icy roads with zero tire traction.
That one sequence, which is then followed up with a second equally ambitious ski chase to an avalanche to a bobsled chase easily define this film and Lazenby’s singular time as Bond. If Lazenby is remembered for playing Bond it will be because of his performance in these sequences. Bond as a character is a man of many talents, he’s intelligent and he can fight to only name a couple aspects of his personality. Lazenby surely handles his own when the time calls for combat, possibly more brutal in his attacks than Connery.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a return to form. What establishes the previous films makes a glorious return here – the relationship between the hero and the villain and hero and love interest. In Blofeld’s second appearance fully on screen, Savalas gives the character a personality in his rigid arrogance. Returning scriptwriter Richard Maibaum establishes Bond and Blofeld’s relationship through dialogue firmly during the meat of the film, just like he has done with previous installments protagonist and antagonist. Spending as much time with Blofeld, we understand why he wants to unleash Bacteriological Warfare (though his motivations aren’t plainly established, he’s just a bad guy at the head of an evil corporation) through his hypnotized 12 “Angels of Death” with the hopes that he doesn’t succeed.
Arguably the best scenes in this film besides the extravagant action sequences are when it’s just two characters talking with one another. Draco and Bond, Bond and Blofeld, Tracy and Bond. The screenplay is at its strongest in these few scenes.
Bond is more than an empty spy thriller, this film adds heart and emotion to the franchise. One thing sorely missed is the music from John Barry paired with the opening credits.
Written By: Richard Maibaum
Directed By: Peter R. Hunt
Based on: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming
Production Company: Eon Productions
Cinematography: Michael Reed
Music: John Barry
Release Date: December 18, 1969
Running Time: 2 Hours 22 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
My Score out of 5: 4 out of 5