On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Ian Fleming's On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Synopsis:

Agent James Bond (George Lazenby, What Have You Done to Solange?) falls in love with a troubled Italian aristocrat, Countessa Tracy Di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg, The Hospital), and they team up to fight evil mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas, Cape Fear), who is developing biological weapons from his lair in the Swiss Alps.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“This never happened to the other fellow.”

Author Ian Fleming’s tenth Bond novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is considered by many to be the best thing Fleming ever wrote. The well-received best-selling book became the 6th Bond movie and there is a vociferous minority that has always insisted that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the finest movie in the long-running franchise.

These ardent fans are probably reacting to the fact that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is undoubtedly the most ambitious and unusual of all Bond movies. The film definitely introduces a host of new ideas — no other Bond movie takes as many chances as this one, and, at the very least, that’s refreshing and very exciting to see.

Directed by Bond series editor Peter H. Hunt (Death Hunt) from a script by Richard Maibaum (From Russia with Love), this is the first Bond movie without Sean Connery — the actor got sick of the whole thing and no amount of money persuaded him to reprise the role for the 6th time. After an extensive search, the producers chose Australian model George Lazenby — he got the role mostly because he looked a bit like Connery.

The inexperienced Lazenby is often cited as the film’s biggest flaw, but I thought he was quite good as 007 (I liked him a lot). Lazenby was careful not to imitate Connery, and he is able to make the character his own. Ironically, non-actor Lazenby stars in the only Bond movie where the character is properly fleshed out.

There were a few things that bothered me about the movie, though. I hated its lack of continuity. Bond and super-villain Blofeld had a face-to-face confrontation in the previous movie yet they don’t recognize each other. The producers toyed with the idea of having Bond go through plastic surgery in order to explain a new actor in the role, but the idea was dropped. Too bad because that would have fixed a major plot hole.

In addition, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a little slow. The very first action sequence occurs 94 minutes into the film — that’s pretty strange for a movie of this type. But once the action (finally) kicks in there is no reason to complain; there are some truly exciting sequences, among the best-staged in the franchise.

Although I did enjoy Telly Savalas’s Blofeld, I still prefer Donald Pleasence’s (You Only Live Twice) interpretation. Best of all is the great Diana Rigg as the ultimate “Bond girl.” Part Elizabeth Bennet, part Lara Croft, Rigg’s Countessa Tracy is quite possibly the franchise’s best leading lady. There have been numerous “Bond girls” — some actresses were very talented, while others were super-beautiful — but none of those ladies come close to Rigg; she’s a class act through and through!

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a solid, almost great action movie — I really appreciate the innovations. Frankly, the more times I watch the movie, the more I like it. I definitely see why so many are drawn to it. While hardly a perfect movie, I do agree with the film’s passionate cheerleaders that this is one of the franchise’s most interesting and strongest movies. Color, 142 minutes, Rated PG.

James Bond will return
in
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

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