Have You Seen… ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ ?

The films you may not have seen that are definitely worth a look…

Year:  1969

Starring:  George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Tell Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti

Directed by:  Peter Hunt / Written by:  Richard Maibaum (with additional dialogue by Simon Raven)

What’s it about?

Whilst on the trail of SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld, James Bond finds himself falling for the alluring and beautiful, yet troubled, Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo.  But first Bond must obtain information from the Contessa’s father, Draco, leading to an undercover assignment in Switzerland – his mission: to prevent Blofeld from unleashing germ warfare on an unsuspecting world…

In review

I was originally planning to feature On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as part of the GBUK Film Classics reviews but thought that perhaps the more casual viewers of Bond films (or new Bond fans introduced via last year’s mega hit, Skyfall) may not be all that familiar with some of the earlier screen adventures of the iconic super spy.

Largely dismissed upon its original theatrical release, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has in the decades since gained the recognition it fully deserves as one of the best Bond films (many even consider it to be THE best).  The incredibly popular Sean Connery was always going to be a tough act to follow but George Lazenby proved to be a worthy, albeit brief, successor in a film that brings the character closer to Ian Fleming’s literary creation whilst retaining some of the charm and likeability that Connery had brought to the role.

Based on Ian Fleming’s novel, OHMSS is a very personal film for Bond and the first time we’re given a deeper insight into his character as he falls for the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (aka “Tracy”), played by Diana Rigg.  Rigg, fresh from her popular stint as Emma Peel (alongside Patrick Macnee’s John Steed) in classic and often quirky British TV series The Avengers, is by far the best screen Bond girl.  Far more than the archetypical damsel in distress or just mere eye candy, yes she’s beautiful, but Tracy is a strong and feisty character with dimension and a vulnerable quality that Bond finds endearing, all brought to life by a wonderful and immensely talented actress.  She’s the sort of character we don’t really see again until Vesper (Eva Green) steals Bond’s heart in Casino Royale (2006).

It’d be fair to say that producers “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman will have been nervous about casting a new James Bond but with George Lazenby they needn’t have fretted too much (although they would later, Lazenby wouldn’t return for Diamonds Are Forever).  The Australian model, whose only acting experience at that point was in a Fry’s chocolate commercial, proved he could deliver on the screenplay’s more layered approach to Ian Fleming’s character (Lazenby has his detractors but I feel he’s a good fit for the role in this film).  No doubt in a conscious effort to prove that Lazenby could hold his own against comparisons to Sean Connery, the film’s fight scenes are particularly brutal with the blows of Bond’s fists literally sending his opponents flying into the air and across the screen (just watch the film’s opening scenes and you’ll know what I mean).

Telly Savalas is the villain of the piece – SPECTRE boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld, whose plans this time around involve germ warfare.  Donald Pleasance was an enjoyably maniacal (albeit a tad cheesy) Blofeld in You Only Live Twice but Savalas is a much stronger and more formidable presence in this film.  He is aided by evil henchwoman Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat).

Despite Bond’s courtship of Tracy, Bond’s infiltration of Blofeld’s compound in the Swiss Alps, under the guise of academic Sir Hillary Bray (where Lazenby was dubbed by George Baker), allows for him to – naturally – use his charm on Blofeld’s striking ‘angels of death’ – all for Queen and Country of course (I tried, but sadly failed, to resist a Roger Moore-esque raise of the eyebrow as I typed that out)!  Blofeld’s plot to utilise germ warfare is not as daft as it sounds and plays out rather well.  It’s less outlandish than a lure hidden beneath a crater and a testament to what Saltzman and Broccoli wanted to achieve with OHMSS by bringing Bond back to his roots.

Director Peter Hunt, having served as an editor on prior Bond outings, successfully fuses together all of the disparate elements of a classic Bond film, from the striking locations (this time Portugal and Switzerland) and epic visuals to the special effects and exemplary stunt work (much of which Lazenby strove to perform himself) that bring the exhilarating action sequences (including gripping high altitude ski pursuits and thrilling car chases) to life.

Composer John Barry provides yet another exciting, rousing score (arguably one of his best and noteworthy for there being no title song) that – as with many other Bond films – is the icing on the cake.

Why you should watch it

It’s a Bond film that has all the elements the audience would expect but with a larger focus on characterisation.

Standout moment

Having escaped Blofeld’s clutches, Bond is pursued into a Swiss village where he finds Tracy.  The pair flee in Tracy’s car as Blofeld’s men continue to give chase…

Did you know?

The search for the next James Bond involved testing over 400 actors, amongst them a young Timothy Dalton.  Dalton would of course be issued his Walther PPK in 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence to Kill.

Watch it if you like…

Casino Royale (2006), Goldfinger

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Have you seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?  Share your thoughts below!

Could James Bond be ready to hand in his licence to kill as he falls for the mysterious Tracy? Stars George Lazenby and Diana Rigg have good chemistry in  'On Her Majesty's Secret' Service' - one of the best entries in the long running Bond film series.

Could James Bond be ready to hand in his licence to kill as he falls for the mysterious Tracy? Stars George Lazenby and Diana Rigg have good chemistry in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ – one of the best entries in the long running Bond film series.

Also on Geek Blogger UKGBUK Film Classics:  From Russia With Love


15 thoughts on “Have You Seen… ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ ?

  1. An excellent recommendation there! OHMSS is by far (in my opinion) one if the best Bond films by far. It is very unfortunate that Lazenby left the series after just one movie but from many rumours circulating over the years it appears that he had good reason to! (Not getting on with the director)! But there are also other rumours where Lazenby was the trouble maker on set with his vigorous demands because he was now “a star”!
    But anyhow, that was then and this is now! The film is a different but positive fresh approach to Bond and with its stunning set pieces and excellent story – this Bond has it all! At first it was received to mixed emotions by movie goers but over time it has definately matured into a extremely fine wine!

    The one major hiccup however? Why doesn’t Blofeld recognise Bond as Sir Hilary when they have already met in a previous adventure? The book sorted it ok…maybe the film makers couldn’t get Lazenby to agree to plastic surgery….

    • Haha indeed, I think an extra few million $ would have to have been negotiated for him to even consider plastic surgery! Good point Alex, and thanks for your thoughts as always! I can’t understand why they didn’t address it in the film either, but willing to overlook as the rest of the film is so good.

      George Lazenby has admitted in the years since that he let his ego run a little too wild but as I understand it, his conflicts with the director arose from the fact that he wanted to give a more emotive/feeling performance whereas the producers/director where very nervous about straying too far from what Sean Connery had established.

      It’s a massive shame that Lazenby didn’t at least stick around for ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, had he done so it would have turned out to be a far better film (and not suffer from a rushed production, Sean Connery’s contract allowed for him to be paid ‘overtime’ fees if production ran over schedule) – it could have been the ‘Licence to Kill’ of the 1970s!

  2. An overlooked Bond film because of the lineup change….but simply one of the best of the series.
    i do wish, however, Sean had stayed on for this one and made it his final ( as opposed to Diamonds…Or Never)

    Still, its a fantastic film…

    • Thanks for your thoughts! It’s easily in the top five for me and although Connery is still the best of all for some reason I can’t imagine him in OHMSS, Lazenby just felt like a good fit for it. Maybe it’s because it’s a little different from the previous Bonds and needed someone new in the role?

      I always feel it’s strange to see Connery back in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, it just doesn’t feel right (notwithstanding it’s a huge step down in quality from OHMSS).

      • I can’t argue that. He did a damn good job.
        I think my major argument is that it was an incredibly emotional and pivotal Bond story, that it’s a shame the actor that brought 007 to that place in pop culture and film history didn’t take part in that film.

        He was in YOLT … Then leaves and that film comes out, and he returns for DAF


        Neither very memorable.

        But there’s always Russia.


  3. Personally i’ve seen this film many times and as much as I love it, there is a part that could never class this as the best….it’s definatly a mix of love and hate.

    Postively, I completely believe that Lazenby is a great bond, much like Dalton and more specifically Craig. He taps into that part of Bond that makes him appear more human and the story really benefits from that. The films action set pieces, stunts and locations all work brilliantly…the Alpine ski chase is still one of the best examples of all of this. The score also completly complements the film and the main theme definatly stands out. I agree Rigg plays one of the best bond girls and Savalas plays an interesting take on Blofeld.

    This for me however is were it starts to partly fall down. Savalas’ attempt at Blofeld although interesting, showing us a true evil streak behind the mastermind and the lengths he will go, misses the mark for me. No matter how much i want it to work it just doesnt feel like Blofeld.
    Then theres the cringe moments such as the opening line from Lazenby and the non-explanation of how these two rivals refuse to recognise each other. This could have easily been dealt with by making Savalas’ bad guy another member of Spectre, don’t you think?

    Anyway…most of the films faults lie with the studio for not acknowleging and misinterpreting audience, fans and important continuity. However I would still recommend OHMSS to everyone, especially as a first outing in the Bond series as this could have been one of the greatest.

    • Some good points there Sam, ideally they should either have addressed the Blofeld/Bond recognition or as you say had made him an altogether new character. I still feel Savalas was a stronger successor to Donald Pleasance – a great actor without a doubt but it’s impossible for me not to think of ‘Austin Powers’ when watching ‘You Only Live Twice’.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment – hope to see you back here soon!

  4. Pingback: I know what to show and what to conceal… Reassessing James Bond #reviews | Only The Sangfroid

  5. This film is very dear to me, as it was the very first Bond film that I was, more or less, *allowed* to see. I was too young, and the content was deemed too violent, for me to see the earlier films. The ski chase scene is one of the most memorable film scenes of my life. I already knew Telly Savalas from “The Dirty Dozen”. (Talk about violence!) And, Diana Rigg was probably my first big crush.
    I like your writing style. Keep up the good work!
    — YUR

    • Thanks for the kind words good sir! Diana Rigg (in OHMSS and ‘The Avengers’) is easily one of the most pleasing ladies of the sixties (there I go with the Roger Moore-isms again, sorry!), no doubt at all! Glad there’s another fan of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ out there as well, what a film and what a cast!

      OHMSS is also one of the first Bonds I saw in it’s entirety but admittedly didn’t rediscover it and fully appreciate it until some years later.

      Anyway good to hear from you and hope to see you back soon!

  6. This film often gets a lot of hate but I think it’s actually one of the better Bond films. George Lazenby’s my 2nd least favourite Bond actor (only beaten by Daniel Craig…my apologies to fans of the newer films) but the plot, setting and general feel of the film make up for it. The final scene is still heartbreaking even today and its theme tune is one of the best of the series. Give me OHMSS over Quantum of Solace any day.

    • Thanks for stopping by Kelly, your thoughts are most welcome! Lazenby was definitely an underrated Bond and right for OHMSS – I’d end up placing him fourth behind Sean Connery, Daniel Craig and Timothy Dalton. As you’ve pointed out, there are many elements that make OHMSS such a strong Bond film – not in the least it’s focus on Bond’s character and of course that final scene together with the Louis Armstrong song is unforgettably tragic. If only George Lazenby had returned for ‘Diamonds Are Forever’…

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