On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Been looking forward to rewatching this one.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

With Connery vowing to not return as Bond after the insane media circus that was his life at the time finally got to him, the hunt for a new Bond was on. Over 400 actors were auditioned (including a young Timothy Dalton), but the part eventually went to Australian model George Lazenby, a man with very little previous experience, but semi-famous in Britain for his “Big Fry” ads. It was a risky move, but then a lot of things about OHMSS are pretty bold changes in direction.

“There’s always something formal about the point of a pistol.”

James Bond (George Lazenby) investigates Blofeld’s (Telly Savalas) new plan involving holding the world to ransom using chemical warfare. During the mission, Bond meets the troubled but beautiful Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (or Tracy for short), played by Diana Rigg. Bond and Tracy fall in love and the two start making plans for their future while Bond ensures there will be a future worth living. OHMSS is the black sheep of the Bond family (that’s the official Bond family, the two unofficial ones are treated like ginger-haired stepchildren). Lazenby has a tough job replacing Connery. He’s alright, but he struggles with the off the cuff quips and inherent charm that came naturally to Connery. Unhappily, the script seems littered with one-liners that even Sean would have a hard time with. Diana Rigg is fantastic as Tracy, giving us a much more complex and layered Bond girl than seen before. She can be aloof, bratty, vulnerable, independent and stubborn whilst simultaneously being completely endearing. It’s easy to see why 007 fell for her. Telly Savalas gives a pretty uninteresting turn as Blofeld. I prefer him as Kojak. Be on the lookout for a brief appearance by a young Joanna Lumley too.

I can’t help but feel OHMSS would have been better with Connery for the sake of continuity if nothing else. To introduce a new actor playing Bond and have the character have to deal with the emotional heft of (SPOILER, I guess, but it has been 43 years) finally settling down only to have his new bride murdered is the wrong move in my opinion. OHMSS is a film with an identity crisis. The film has a horrible habit of emphasising that this film is part of what’s come before. The (sub par, apart from the awesome Barry theme) opening titles feature pictures of Dr.No, Goldfinger and the like, along with Bond’s previous squeezes. There’s also a crushingly shit bit of fourth wall breaking where Tracy speeds away after a failed suicide attempt. Georgey Lazers says “This never happened to the other fellow!” and looks directly at camera. Cue titles and vomit. There’s even a bit where Bond has “quit” MI6 and is cleaning out his desk, coming across Honey Ryder’s knife, Red Grant’s garrote watch and his breathing apparatus from Thunderball, all with their respective musical cues. That’s not to mention the dwarf cleaner whistling “Goldfinger”. Rather than fun little nods, these strike me as desperate attempts to get the audience to accept Lazers as Bond, presumably so that they’ll feel something at the end.

So, things I like. The action scenes are pretty good. The hand-to-hand fighting is more vicious than we’ve seen before, for starters. There’s all the fun winter sports bits, including the series’ first ski-chase sequence which holds up pretty well, excluding the dodgy bluescreen work. Tracy is a great character. The photography of Switzerland is lovely. The Barry theme is one of his best. Plus, I like the love story between Bond and Tracy. It doesn’t feel forced and manages to quite affecting, especially with Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World” accompanying their courtship. Also, something I hadn’t noticed until now was Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) at the wedding. She’s happy for Bond but she’s completely heartbroken at the same time. Hats off to Maxwell in this scene, Moneypenny’s unrequited love is almost as devastating as the end.

Speaking of which, dat ending. It’s probably the biggest emotional punch the series has. I really think Lazenby does a great job here. The bit that always gets me are Bond’s last lines when the policeman shows up. Cradling Tracy’s lifeless body, Bond turns to him and says in a quiet but quaking voice: “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.” Fuck. It’s devastating. Then the film just ends, credits rolling past the fatal bullet hole in the windscreen. It’s a hell of a brave move. Unfortunately, just after this, the triumphant Monty Norman theme comes in. Not sure why they wanted to wreck the mood like that, but whatever.

“This department is not concerned with your personal problems.”

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a weird one. On one hand, it’s got a decent plot, some good action and an emotional slant that other Bonds lack. On the other, Georgey Lazers ain’t all that great and the film is pretty plodding in parts. I can see why some Bondians love OHMSS, but it just doesn’t do it for me.

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