- Directed by Peter R. Hunt (Directorial Debut)
- December 18, 1969 (London, premiere) / December 19, 1969 (US)
A madman plans to hold the world to ransom with a threat to make all food plants and livestock infertile through the use of a toxin delivered by a group of beautiful brainwashed “angels of death”
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the first Bond film to be made with someone other than Sean Connery though he would come back for Diamonds Are Forever and then he would go off and do that side project Never Say Never Again but we’re not talking about that here. This was a bit of a risk at the time that has aged into a rather good film.
This is George Lazenby’s only time out as James Bond and as a first film in the part I think he did just fine in comparison to others. If he had chosen to stay with Bond, I think he could’ve really made a mark as the character. He didn’t knock it out of the park here but recasting the lead character of this film series was unexplored territory. Between his performance and the material he got I think he did well.
From a narrative standpoint I’m not sure where On Her Majesty’s Secret Service fits in with the other James Bond films. From Connery all the way to the last Bronson film, while there were multiple actors it was all the same continuity. In this Blofeld acts like he’s never seen James Bond before even though Blofeld was in the preceding film though there played by Donald Pleasance. Some have pointed to that as well as a meta joke Bond makes in the opening as proof that James Bond is a title and not the same individual from film to film. This was just a mistake on the creator’s part as there is plenty of stuff that comes later in the series to refute that claim.
Bond’s main romance in this film is with Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg). She is made as strong of a character as Bond is. And with her father (Gabriele Ferzetti) behind her she has just about the same amount of resources as Bond does. She’s his equal without him or her bringing the other down. This is driven home when James Bond, on the run from the bad guys, runs out of options and her help is what saves his bacon. Bond does the best he can and just and it’s just not enough.
One of the hallmarks of the James Bond character was his sexually tinged banter with Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). She was the one woman that was always out of his reach. Despite their mutual attraction for each other they probably both knew deep down that it would not work out. They do something different with it in this story.
There’s a moment at the end of the film after Bond and the Countess get married. Bond and Moneypenny are looking into each other and exchanging pleasantries. I thought so much was said through their actions with less being expressed in their actual words. That is fantastic acting. The flirtations in the beginning gave way to genuine emotion at the end.
Blofeld here is played by Telly Savalas. I love Savalas as an actor, but I don’t know if he was quite the right actor for Blofeld. He occasionally tries to put on an accent it appeared but it never quite sticks and it’s rather inconsistent. If you look at him as just a general villain and try to put out of your mind that he’s Blofeld he’s quite good. Savalas was a great actor. I just wish they had named him something else here. If they had it would’ve also fixed the continuity errors of this film.
And what better Bond plot then can there be than holding the world’s food hostage with a delivery system being a bunch of beautiful women? Events of the story lead to a health spa that is actually a front for Blofeld to carry out his plot. While there Bond uses at least twice pretending to be gay and yet being uncontrollably attracted to a woman to try and sleep with them. You could not do that today in a movie. People would freak!
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a very different Bond film from many of the era. There’s not a big action sequence of any type in the opener and the finale is decidedly down beat and serious. Bond goes off and gets married and his wife is killed in a drive-by courtesy of the villain. And that’s it. No romantic interlude with the central love interest of the film or trip off into the sunset or anything really.
There’s a lot more romance here than there is a spy caper. It doesn’t detract from it at all. They managed to balance the courtship between Bond and the Countess and the spy aspects.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is not a bad Bond film. I think it was a fine start and Lazenby could’ve gone on to do some great things had he stuck with the role. I think this is something that all James Bond fans as well as fans of good movies should check out!