Eye For Film >> Movies >> On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) Film Review
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service will always be known as the ‘George Lazenby Bond’. With the ultra-popular Connery deciding to hang up his Walther-PPK after five successful outings, the difficult adjustment of a new lead was destined to disappoint the legions of Sir Sean faithfuls. However, with the test of time looking favourably upon it, the sixth instalment is now an opinion-divider with some 007 purists even hailing it as the series’ best.
While on holiday, secret agent Bond rescues a troubled girl named Tracy (Diana Rigg). Despite some obvious sparks, Bond then heads off to the Alps where he poses as a genealogist in order to infiltrate Blofeld’s (Telly Savalas) mountain research laboratory and stop a biological plague being released. At the same time, he runs into Tracy again and the pair fall in love and decide to get married.
The resulting film is a huge departure from its predecessors. With the antics becoming ever more spectacular and the gadgets getting gradually more fantastical (from trick briefcases to jet-packs to hollow volcanoes), the creative team bravely (and wisely) decided to step back from the grand excess. There is a nice early scene where Bond looks through old equipment, but this is a darker affair with more reliance on quick-thinking wit. The change doesn’t end there, though, as the usual big-ballad number is omitted in favour of a jazzy John Williams’ instrumental and the familiar bed-hopping is replaced with a surprisingly touching love story.
Yes, you read that right, a love story. Complemented by Rigg’s impressive showing as Mrs Bond and the strains of Louis Armstrong’s impeccably beautiful We Have All The Time In The World, the romance might turn some fans away, but seeing our hero so vulnerable refreshingly humanises him and leads to, arguably, the most powerful scene in the Bond franchise thus far.
Don’t worry though, with mainstay editor/second unit director Peter Hunt taking the chair for the first time, the action still packs a punch. The difference being that with Hunt sticking closer to Fleming’s source material than we’re used to, the tone is more serious and gritty. Problematically, this does mean there’s a massive continuity error with Blofeld not recognising Bond after meeting him last time (OHMSS was supposed to come earlier), but it’s worth it to get away from all the constructable helicopters and spaceship-swallowing shuttles.
As for Lazenby himself, his performance tends to be labelled one of two ways: 1) He’s good at the action but otherwise pretty stiff (an ironic description given one of the film’s more saucy lines) and 2) He’s simply no Sean Connery. And yet, though lacking the screen presence and charismatic charm of the great Scot, the Australian former-model deserves more credit than he’s received.
Despite competition from future-Bonds Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton (the former committed to The Saint, the latter feeling he was too young), Lazenby eventually won the role by turning up in true Sean style – wearing the watch, having his hair cut at the same stylist and wearing a tailored Savile Row suit that Connery had ordered, but not collected. Still, as inevitable as the comparisons were, they’re heightened early doors by a moment of outrageous audacity where our new man – having been left by the girl – turns to the camera and quips: “This never happened to the other fellow”. Tongue-in-cheek genius or ridiculously out of place? You decide.
While perhaps destined to fail given the audience’s attachment to their Scottish favourite, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is much better than many people give it credit for. Unfairly maligned and written-off at the time, it’s definitely benefited from having all the time in the world.Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2009
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