Review: 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' (1969) Dir. Peter R. Hunt
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
With Sean Connery stepping down as 007, a new face became James Bond, but would exit just as quickly as he had arrived...
After numerous run-ins with a mysterious woman in Portugal, James Bond (Lazenby) finds out she is Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (Rigg), daughter of European crime syndicate leader Marc-Ange Draco (Ferzetti). Draco tries to persuade Bond to marry his daughter as he is a real man’s man.
Bond refuses until Draco promises to point him in the direction of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Savalas), leader of SPECTRE. Bond and Tracy develop a gradual romance whilst investigating Draco’s leads, and find Blofeld hiding in the Swiss Alps.
Posing as genealogist Sir Hilary Bray, Bond infiltrates Blofeld’s hideaway and learns of a more sinister plan that SPECTRE has. Juggling his desire to bring down Blofeld and stop SPECTRE, Bond soon finds it’s not just his life in danger, but Tracy’s also…
The James Bond franchise is a wonderful thing. It’s survived through 5 decades, over 6 leading actors and ever changing global politics. Everyone has a favourite, everyone has a least favourite. That’s the wonderful thing; the diversity of fans and how they like different things. I love ‘A View To A Kill’, lots of people despise it. I champion ‘Licence To Kill’ as the greatest ever Bond film, many people disagree. I despise ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and George Lazenby as James Bond, many people love them – they are wrong, but I’ll let them think what they like. OK, I jest!
Of course people love the film, and many love George, and in parts I can see why. It’s a solid, grounded James Bond story that channels the Ian Fleming novel strongly. No extravagant gadgets, nothing too far-fetched and laying foundations for what could have been a very different story arc to what we know now. But for me I don’t buy George Lazenby as 007, and if you can’t invest in 007, you can’t invest in the film.
The way producers had this "different" Bond spend most of the time revolting against MI6 when he doesn’t get his own way is off-putting to me; it’s not "different" or aiding character building, it’s just weak.
Connery’s Bond would have taken it on the chin but ultimately kept going with a charming, steel-focused grit. Lazenby sulks around, slams doors and pouts when things don’t go his way.
Add to the fact the man can’t act, with his dialogue coming over mostly monosyllabic and no conviction in what he’s putting across except for the final few seconds of the film. I always try to engage with his Bond, but I never can, and for me that ruins the film. I’m just grateful his agent made him quit the role so we managed to secure Roger Moore as Connery’s successor.
The film in general is quite muddled. The story is simple, but the “master plan” is very daft. The locations are sparse, but still look good and used to great effect. However, the horrendous editing for the most part of the film is worse than shaky-cam half the time. Fast edits, embarrassingly sped-up fight sequences…why is there so much of this?
And continuity is sloppy – in the pre-title sequence, Bond and a villain fight on a beach, and the next cut they are waist high in water, and in the next cut they are on a beach again. It comes over like a strange spin-off Bond – it’s nowhere near as polished as the Connery films. The sped-up footage is the worst for me, and it’s just embarrassing to watch and takes away all the realism of the pretty heavy-handed fight sequences that could have been so much better. Even the final fight sequence is bordering comical with these sped-up shots and edits.
Co-stars Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas do what they are paid to do, neither really striking anything as special for me; Rigg has a lot of welcome spunk as Tracy and not as weak as other Bond girls, and I think she could have shone in another film if her role as Mrs James Bond was lengthened. Savalas, replacing the menacing Donald Pleasance as Blofeld does what Savalas does best – look cool. He’s not menacing or anything, he’s just…there. All the new and old faces do a good job around Lazenby – he just lets them down sharing scenes with them.
We’ve got a great soundtrack by John Barry and all the usual Bond staples are there…sort of. Many are in-jokes and nods to the Connery era in a desperate attempt to remind us this is still James Bond, just with a different face. It’s this obvious attempt to gloss over Lazenby as a new actor that makes me feel the studio was unconfident in having him as 007. If they felt the need to reference so much history, why hire him at all? Granted, Roger Moore at least had ‘The Saint’ under his belt, but he made the role his own with no nods and winks to the Connery era – we had to believe in him and have faith.
Unfortunately, Lazenby doesn’t even get top billing in the credits before the title – he’s just placed in there with the others, so the whole affair to me doesn’t come across as very confident.
You get the picture. This would have been so much better as a Connery vehicle with so many important factors to the Bond canon taking place, but instead it comes across like it’s an ‘alternate universe’ or ‘spin-off’ Bond film. If Blofeld only recognises Bond due to something he said, rather than staring him in the face for days, then it’s hard to imagine it’s the same Bond and Blofeld who clashed in ‘You Only Live Twice’.
Some people love it, some people hate it. I hate it, and probably always will. Still, one out of the current 24 isn’t bad. And it's what keeps Bond fans on their toes - such difference of opinion!
'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' is an EON Productions production