James Bond woos a mob boss’s daughter and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Blofeld’s allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world.
This never happened to the other fellow.
‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ is an interesting landmark in the long history of James Bond movies, marking the first entry in the series without original star Sean Connery. Stepping into his shoes was Australian actor George Lazenby, with contemporary reviews generally pretty harsh about his portrayal, and not just as a comparison to Connery. Whilst revisionist reviews have generally hailed ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ as one of the better entries in the series, I’m not quite as convinced. It’s certainly a different outing and it features arguably the best female role in the entire series (for the excellent Diana Rigg), but it’s also cold, distant and features Lazenby woefully out of his depth at its centre.
It’s hard to talk about ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ without first considering George Lazenby. When Sean Connery announced he was leaving the role during filming for ‘You Only Live Twice’, a casting process took place that ended up with Lazenby being cast in the role. On looks alone, Lazenby could work as a slightly harder and more cynical Bond, and this film does head in that direction to an extent, but it can never overcome how incredibly wooden Lazenby is in the role. Action sequences apart, Lazenby looks uncomfortable in the role and he never generates any chemistry with Diana Rigg, who plays Tracy Draco, which is a major problem given their relationship is provided far more opportunities for development than previous Bond girls. Lazenby does manage to pull off the action sequences, but the role requires more than a glorified stuntman and on almost every other count, Lazenby falls short. It’s perhaps unfortunate for Diana Rigg that she was cast opposite arguably the worst Bond as she is excellent and her character is much more fleshed out than previous Bond girls, which makes her arc ultimately more tragic. Telly Savalas takes over from Donald Pleasance as Blofeld, and whilst he looks less cartoonish, I didn’t find his performance as enjoyable.
The script itself contains one of the stronger stories of the series, albeit it’s merged with a fair bit of silliness regarding Blofeld’s plot to hypnotise a group of beautiful women (known as the ‘Angels of Death’). This silliness contrasts with an overall more serious tone that examines Bond’s loyalty to the secret service, develops a strong relationship with Rigg’s Draco and moves away from some of the more outlandish gadgets featured in the previous two entries. This colder and more clinical feel wasn’t exactly new to the series, with ‘From Russia With Love’ playing in this ballpark as well, but ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ lacks that film’s sense of fun outwith a couple of neat winks to Lazenby replacing Connery in the role (‘the other fellow’). Perhaps a more spurious complaint would be around issues with the continuity following on from Bond’s encounter with Blofeld in ‘You Only Live Twice’, which doesn’t seem to be recognised in this film’s narrative. Over the course of the series, it’s not been unusual to see various reincarnations and for the reset button to be hit, but it does feel particularly jarring here, especially when Connery returns in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ with the shocking conclusion to this entry barely an afterthought.
The film does contain some excellent action sequences, and Lazenby’s up to the task here, with one of the most notable a chase sequence down some ski slopes, which would become a popular location for numerous Bond films to follow. John Barry’s soundtrack is once again excellent and meshes seamlessly with the action on screen, and the conclusion is as brave and bold as Bond as ever been. ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ doesn’t perhaps earn the re-evaluation as one of the best in the series, but overall it is a good yarn that gets a lot of elements right. Unfortunately its leading man isn’t one of them.
Directed By: Peter Hunt
Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilsa Steppat, George Baker, Yuri Borienko, Bernard Horsfall, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn