On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – Film Review
Director: Peter Hunt
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas
By @Roger Crow
This has long been one of the most divisive 007 movies in the saga. For years, York-based James Bond expert Tony Greenway has been in one camp and I have been in the other. I couldn’t have reviewed OHMSS without getting Tony’s angle, so for the sake of balance, his review is below mine.
The last James Bond offering of the 1960s is a very curious affair. We open with a troubled, dressed woman (Diana Rigg) stumbling into the surf while a mystery character (007) drives onto the beach to rescue her. There’s a fight with some goons, and for the first, and last time, James Bond breaks the fourth wall.
“This never happened to the other fella!” remarks ‘new’ Bond George Lazenby, with a quick look to camera. And we’re off. Cracking opening titles and a superb John Barry score. Actually every Barry Bond score was great; this is exceptionally good.
But Lazenby. I can only imagine being in a cinema as 007 fans adjusted to a post-Sean Connery Bond era. He’s not bad considering this was his film debut; he wasn’t even an actor. (Have a look at brilliant 2017 offering Becoming Bond if you want to know more).
What follows is a troubled mess as new Bond falls for the suicidal Tracy. And which guy wouldn’t? Like fellow The Avengers veteran Honor (Goldfinger) Blackman before her, Diana Rigg was easily one of the best Bond women, and certainly one of the most complex. But while 007 is off in a ski resort (which later inspired Inception and no doubt Spectre) pretending to be a genial genealogist (dubbed by George Baker), it feels like some random comedy.
As the likes of Joanna Lumley, Jenny Hanley, Catherine Schell (sigh) and Angela Scoular go ga ga over him, the movie starts to drag, probably because of the lack of Swanee whistles at key comedy moments.
As most spy movies were obsessed with brainwashing in that era, there’s a touch of Ipcress File-style mind-altering nonsense, and eventually new Blofeld (Telly Savalas) turns up, minus ear lobes, and things get going again. Oh, and it also features Blofeld’s line: “I have taught you to love chickens!” Yes, really.
Some great ski stunts, breathless fight scenes, and that toboggan run finale are either thrilling or cheesy depending on the quality of the back screen projection.
If they’d lost 20 minutes, this would have been so much better, but aside from the odd decent scene, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is still the ill-fitting disappointment I recall.
And there are some shocking moments, such as Tracy’s father slapping her unconscious, with the flippant line “Spare the rod and spoil the child, eh?”. How about no, you psychopath.
On the plus side, it does feature one of the top three songs in the franchise, Louis Armstrong’s ‘We Have All the Time in the World’, and that last five minutes are among the best in the series as tragedy strikes, and Lazenby bows out with a heart-breaking performance.
George could have returned, but that wasn’t his thing. He preferred to live a different life rather than stay on the 007 treadmill for a few more films, and that decision meant we got one more helping of Sean in his ’prime’, for which he received a fortune, and for which many fans are truly grateful.
So, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a curious jamboree bag of oddities. I’ve not read the source novel, so have no idea how it compares. But if you’ve never seen the movie and that’s put you off, keep reading for a view that may leave you shaken and stirred.
By Tony Greenway
There are people — strange, deluded, misguided people — who think that Goldfinger is the best James Bond film. They’re almost right. It IS good. But it’s no On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Over the years, OHMSS, the sixth movie in the series, has been much maligned for one reason: the man who plays James Bond — an Australian former male model called George Lazenby — has the temerity to not be Sean Connery.
The usual criticism directed at Lazenby is that he’s wooden, unconvincing and ultimately unwatchable. Wrong again. Lazenby isn’t as plank-like as some suggest; and when — spoiler alert — he’s called on to show raw emotion during the final reel when his new bride is gunned down, he really delivers.”
“Best Bond girl ever”
Yes, Sean Connery was a great 007 — the best, let’s face it — but he ended up playing the character as a swaggering sexual superman in a Savile Row suit who rarely broke sweat or showed his feelings (after the inevitable death of an ally — think Aki in You Only Live Twice — he would contrive to look mildly annoyed). In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, however, Lazenby, is roughed up both physically and mentally. He is scarred, scared, and required to lay bare his soul — a first for Bond. While there are times when he doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in the role, these are few and far between.
And anyway, everything else in OHMSS is firing on all cylinders. The storyline closely follows the plot of the Ian Fleming novel and, where it does depart, improves it. Telly Savalas makes a brilliantly bruising Brooklyn-sounding Blofeld (weird though: he’d been vaguely Germanic in all the others), planning world domination — with a virus! — in his Alpine hideaway. And the late, great Dame Diana Rigg — as the damaged, sublime, kick-ass Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (“Teresa was a saint. I’m known as Tracy”) — effortlessly does all the heavy lifting in her scenes with Lazenby and must be a contender for best Bond girl ever. Ilse Steppat is genuinely creepy as henchwoman Irma Bunt, and a young Joanna Lumley has a cough and a spit (as it were) as one of Blofeld’s divine, unwitting Angels of Death. Jenny Hanley, who would go on to present ITV Blue Peter clone Magpie, is in there too, if men of a certain age look closely enough.
Then there’s the soundtrack by York-born musical maestro John Barry, his finest 007 offering yet, which features ‘We Have All the Time in the World’, an eye-moistening ballad crooned wonderfully by Louis Armstrong (his last-ever recording). Best of all is Barry’s Moog-synth-driven main title theme, which has to be one of the most exciting pieces of film music ever written.
The stunts are all above par, particularly the monster ski chase and final, frantic, vicious fight down a bobsleigh run. Peter Hunt’s direction is unshowy but effective; Michael Reed’s lush cinematography gives the movie its epic appeal; and even if John Glen’s editing is a bit choppy, it only serves to highlight the beautiful disconnect between this film and the previous ones.
Because, admittedly, something is a bit ‘off’ with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s not the formula as before, another fella is playing 007 and there’s a genuine love story at the heart of it all. But that’s what makes this one stand out from the crowd. Sorry Sean. Sorry Daniel. It just might be the best Bond of all.