I wasn’t sure what else to call this month for my James Bond blogathon. This month I’m working on a major book edit – possibly even two edits if I find the time. As such, I’ll only be looking at the official James Bond movies with the short-lived actors. Today, it’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the only Bond movie to star Australian actor George Lazenby. Later this month, I’ll look at the two Timothy Dalton Bond movies.
Not only is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service unique in that it stars the only one-off James Bond actor, but other aspects of this movie are unique for the series as well. For one, most of the movie takes place in a single location and its surroundings. More specifically, the Piz Gloria restaurant in Switzerland, which was at one point the highest altitude restaurant in the world.
What gets even more interesting is that while location scouting, they found the restaurant partially constructed yet incomplete. The movie’s production team contributed financially to see the restaurant completed, in exchange for extensive use for filming the movie. As another result, the restaurant’s name comes straight from Ian Fleming’s book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It retains that name to this day, and features a James Bond exhibition called 007 Walk Of Fame. When they opened the expanded exhibit in 2015, Lazenby and several members of the film crew attended.
Peter Hunt, who edited four of the earlier Bond movies (not You Only Live Twice), ended up being the movie’s director. His work as the editor impressed producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli enough that they promised him a directorial debut. This would also be the last time he worked on a James Bond movie, as he’d branch out afterward to direct other movies over the next couple of decades. Writer Richard Maibaum, who also worked on every Bond movie’s script except for You Only Live Twice, also returned for this one.
Early on in the movie’s creation, they decided to tone down the gadgets and focus more on the plot and the characters, similar to From Russia With Love. They aimed for sharper, more intellectual dialogue, and to make the movie as close of an adaptation of the novel as possible. This led to a couple continuity errors, like Blowfeld not recognizing Bond despite meeting each other face to face in the previous movie. They also treated the movie as if James Bond didn’t switch actors, by inserting references and in-jokes. There’s even a moment where Bond breaks the fourth wall by stating “this never happened to the other fellow.” There are also objects from several previous Bond movies in James’s office, and there’s a caretaker humming the Goldfinger theme.
None of these things make or break the movie of course. Although Sean Connery resigned from the role after his five movie contract ended, he’d later return for Diamonds Are Forever. There was an expansive search for a new actor, until they eventually chose Lazenby after seeing him in a Fry’s Chocolate Cream advertisement. In the commercial, Lazenby dressed somewhat like Bond, wearing a Rolex wristwatch, along with his Bond-type physique. During the audition, Lazenby accidentally punched a professional wrestler (acting as a stunt coordinator), and the producers were impressed by his ability to display aggression.
They first offered Lazenby a contract for seven films, however Lazenby’s agent convinced him that the secret agent would be archaic in the 70’s. He only agreed to one movie, and left after his one appearance. Whether you liked him as James Bond or not, one must wonder how the series would have ended up if Lazenby sighed on for more movies.
Another major character in the movie is Tracy di Vicenzo, who captures Bond’s heart fairly early in the movie. She’s easily the best Bond girl I’ve seen since I started doing these James Bond movie blog posts, and she might even be the best of them all. As they interact more, they feel like kindred spirits. In fact they eventually get married at the end of the movie. Portrayed by Diana Rigg, the countess is a venerable young woman who starts off the movie depressed. She later shows herself to be a bit reckless, to the point where she can keep up with Bond’s antics. She’s actually driving in one of the movie’s chase scenes. Where else will you find that in a Bond movie?
This leads to a plot where Blowfeld is hypnotizing a group of 12 women, including Tracy, to effectively sterilize the world’s food supply. It’s a much simpler, more down to earth plot than a giant space laser like in Diamonds Are Forever, or the rocket launch from a volcano base in You Only Live Twice. Although it doesn’t match the surrounding Bond movies in tone or scale, in some ways it feels similar to the first couple Daniel Craig Bond movies. Blowfeld feels less over the top in this movie, in exchange for being colder and more straight forward. Unlike the creepy Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice and the theatrical Charles Grey in Diamonds Are Forever, Telly Savalas as Blowfeld is a straight up gangster. That makes him more intimidating as a result.
Outside of Dr. No and Fom Russia With Love, this may be the closest the series has ever been to a straight thriller. After James Bond killing 20+ in both previous movies, he’s back to only killing 5 in this movie. Yet there’s still plenty of action. The movie makes great use of its Swiss Mountain scenery with several action scenes on skis, a car chase through a Christmas festival, Bond scaling up a ski lift and the final chase scene on a bobsled track.
Although not as lucrative as You Only Live Twice, which earned $111 million (on a $10 million budget), her Majesty’s Secret Service still did well. Releasing on December 18 of 1969, this movie earned $82 million on a $7 million budget. Most reviews at the time were critical of either the film, Lazenby or both. Retrospective reviews are much more positive, praising Lazenby’s willingness to show more emotion than Connery’s Bond. In a 2012 poll by the 007 magazine, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was actually voted the number one Bond movie of all-time, with Goldfinger second and From Russia With Love third.
I really like this movie. It’s a rare case of everything coming together smoothly. The script is tight, intelligent and subtle. Tracy is by far the best Bond girl I’ve seen since I started this blogathon, and there have been some great ones. The acting really sells the characters and the script. You feel the chemistry between Bond and Tracy from the moment they meet, and it increases as they grow closer. Bond even shows emotion in this one – it may be controversial among some Bond fans, but he actually cries at one point. Personally, I think it’s very well handled, ending the movie on a dark and depressing note that only Casino Royale has also dared to attempt.
I really only have two complaints. One, while Lazenby does a great job at showing emotion and handling the fight scenes, he just doesn’t have the same charm that Bond is known for. Even for a movie that’s supposed to be more down to earth, that’s a glaring weakness. Two, the first act of the movie is slow, and it takes a bit too long to get into the main plot. But once the movie gets going, it doesn’t slow down all that much. I mean that in a good way.
And now for the fun part of this blog post – the kill counter.
Bond kills – 5
Other’s kills – 37
Total kill count – 42
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Is it my favourite Bond movie? No, but I’m glad to have finally seen this one. And it’s definitely worth a look for James Bond fans who haven’t seen this one before.
Next up is the first of the two Timothy Dalton movies, The Living Daylights. It’s one of the three other Bond movies I’ve never seen before, and I’m looking forward to it (the other two are Roger Moore movies). After that, I’ll be going back to DreamWorks next month, and the seven Roger Moore Bond movies in September.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service isn’t amongst my favourite Bond films of this era, but it still has a lot of good things going for it, and well worth checking out.
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