I hate it when I have a film with a long title. Not a fan of abbreviating titles. Only because I think it’s a little lazy. That and it’s a gateway drug to text/leet speak. Anyway, On her Majesty’s Secret Service is the 6th on the Bond film series and possibly the most infamous. This is because it is the Bond film with THAT Bond. The anomaly that is George Lazenby. See during the filming of You Only Live Twice Sean Connery decided to announce that it would be his last Bond film. So the hunt went on to find a new Bond and, for reasons I’ll get into later, they chose an Australian man who’s only previous credit was an advert for Fry’s Chocolate. That man being the previously mentioned Lazenby of course. So does George Lazenby cause the Bond franchise to enter a chocolate induced diabetic coma? No, of course not. It’s a film. Films don’t eat chocolate. They eat the souls of the young. Does he cause any harm to the franchise’s standing though? You’ll have to click the link to find out… or just understand that there has been 17 Bond films since this one…
Of all The Bond films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the film that always gets picked on as if it’s the red headed stepchild of the group. Somewhat unfairly so, it should be said. The film follows Bond as he makes a last ditch effort to bring in Blofeld (Telly Savalas this time around) after failing to do so for the past 2 years. He’s been taken off the mission by M (Bernard Lee) and so decides to go out on his own to find him. Along the way he gets drawn into somewhat of an indecent proposal by a crime lord who wishes to exchange information on Blofeld’s location in exchange for Bond marrying his daughter Countess Theresa Di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), Tracy to her friends,. Bond manages to find a lead on Blofeld thanks to this deal and fall in love with Tracy in the process, which is handy, and so he sets off to the Swiss Alps in disguise… another thing I’ll get into later, to uncover Blofeld’s evil plot and bring him to justice.
The film takes a much more serious and gritty tone than the previous few Bond films. It’s actually pretty close in tone to the excellent From Russia With Love, a tone that really has proven to benefit Bond over the years. This is thanks to director Peter Hunt being a solid fan of the Fleming Novels which are themselves a lot harder edged. This is pretty much the most closely adapted of all the Fleming novels too. Word is Hunt would always be carrying a copy of the book on set. Hunt had previously worked as the film series editor and because he had helped define the style of Bond, with it’s fast cuts and use of sped up footage, he was promised a chance to direct and here it is. The film actually makes for quite an impressive début but there are signs of his inexperience and his lack of understanding of the importance of a strong performance.
Now before I start this next part I should say that it is unfair to blame any performance issues (ho-ho) on Lazenby himself. As the film entered production he discovered that there was no intention to give him any acting lessons. To add to that Hunt and Broccoli would constantly refer to how Connery performed certain actions and would request that Lazenby copied those traits. They saw the Bond role as one that could be switched for any actor provided they did exactly what Connery did. Another factor was the fact that Hunt barely spoke to his actors, especially Lazenby. To his credit Lazenby does as good as you’d expect and he certainly has the physical side of the role down pat. But due to his inexperience some of his line deliveries are stilted and his chemistry with Co-star Diana Rigg is practically non-existent. I almost get the feeling she disliked him in many scenes. But dammit if Lazenby isn’t clearly giving this all he had. As a result of the pressure he has clearly spent a lot of time studying how to play Bond. The trouble is that what’s good for the Connery Goose isn’t what’s good for the Lazenby shaped Gander. It would be like asking Chris Tucker to play a Chris Rock. They may be known for having a similar audience and roles but one is vastly more skilled than the other. I’ll let you decide which.
It’s Chris Rock… Tucker sucks.
Now you’d think a first time director would have tried to bond (ho-ho) with an actor in quite a similar predicament to himself. But he didn’t and clearly Hunt felt he didn’t need any coaching either. Now whilst he has managed to produce a solid entry in the Bond series along the way he makes a mass of silly mistakes. Let’s start with the biggest. A glaring continuity error that can leave audiences severely confused. At the start of the film Bond has been kicked off the case of hunting down Blofeld after the events of You only Live Twice. Later in the film Bond goes undercover as a genealogy expert Blofeld has requested to help prove his right to the riches of his family tree. The trouble here is that Bond doesn’t disguise his face and yet Blofeld doesn’t recognise him. He may be a different face to us but to Blofeld he should be seeing the Bond he saw in that Japanese Volcano base 2 years prior. In the book Bond has plastic surgery to alter his appearance. That is not the case here. The only change made is the actor who plays the real genealogy expert provides Bonds voice for his impression via additional dialogue recording. This creates another issue in that suddenly our actor has a different and very out of place voice. There’s also quite a few sound issues involving voice overs, sound mixing and editing that crop up multiple times. An escape sequence at the films mid point drags on too long and involves way too much rear projected imagery for the ski chase.
To add to all of that Tracy disappears for nearly an hour of the film. If she had been there in the Alps with Bond prior to their reuniting she could have been drawn into Blofeld’s brainwashing scheme and that would have provided some extra tension and conflict. Instead Bond forgets he has a girlfriend now and sets about bedding as many of the girls in Blofeld’s base as he can. Look out for Joanna Lumley, another actress who’s appeared in The Avengers TV series along with Diana Rigg and Honor Blackman, as one of Blofeld’s Angels of Death. His plan is to take a group of women from around the world who have unique allergies and use them to disperse a biological weapon that will make entire species of animals infertile whilst he holds the world to ransom. At this point in the Bond series the villains schemes started getting bigger and bigger each time. Blackmailing the UN via the medium of animal holocaust is only one of the first of many potentially outlandish schemes we have to come.
If you can get past all these random small issues that should have been caught before being committed to film you’ll find a Bond film that’s actually really enjoyable even if it’s foundations are shaky. The fight scenes are well choreographed and performed, thanks in part to Lazenby’s sheer energy that he puts into them. The tone is largely consistent throughout which is generally a factor that can make or break a film. Sure the humour is still there, and it’s tainted a little by 60s misogyny, but it all still feels consistent with the Bond films at their most enjoyable. What brings the film down is the inexperience of it’s lead and it’s director. A director who seemed to be unaware of that inexperience and unaware of how important experience is for his lead. A film marred by mistakes then. After Lazenby made his single contribution to the Bond series he was replaced by the returning Seam Connery for one last adventure. But will Connery’s chance to lice twice provide him with a view to a kill… to make a good film… PUNS!!!