If the ending of the sexual revolution and free love wasn’t bad enough the end of the 60s also saw Sean Connery lose his love of James Bond, with Connery retiring from his signature role it left Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman scrambling to find a replacement and with Roger Moore unavailable due to his starring in the television series The Saint the producers decided to go with a relatively unknown model named George Lazenby, a man with no prior acting credits but after seeing him in a commercial for Fry’s Chocolate Cream they decided he was their man. Now, I’m no movie mogul but that does seem like a strange choice to me, and a bit of risk, and when you consider what was at stake for the franchise it was a risk that didn’t quite pan out.
In a nice change in direction, the movie adaptation of Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret was rather more accurate to the source material than of the previous Bond films, and would be considered as part two of the “Blofeld Trilogy” and followed the events found in Thunderball, but where the book was all about Bond’s ongoing search for Ernst Stavro Blofeld the movie opens with James Bond (George Lazenby) seemingly more interested in getting laid by Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) than he is in tracking down Blofeld.
As mentioned, the plot of the movie follows Ian Flemings book quite faithfully, with Bond encountering Tracy while she is about to commit suicide and then meeting up with her father Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), the head of a European crime syndicate, who believes Bond is just the right man to tame his daughter, “What she needs is a man… to dominate her! To make love to her enough to make her love him! A man like you!” With that kind of endorsement who could possibly resist? Well, Bond is all about “Queen and Country” and not too keen about setting aside his bachelor life but he eventually agrees to continue romancing Tracy if Draco will reveal the whereabouts of Blofeld (Telly Savalas), the head of SPECTRE.
And exactly what type of nefarious scheme is Blofeld up to this time? Well, it turns out that having your volcano lair blown up makes you re-evaluate your life goals and so now Blofeld is trying to claim the title ‘Count Balthazar de Bleuchamp’ as well as orchestrating an elaborate blackmail scheme involving twelve female patients, brought to his clinical allergy-research institute atop Piz Gloria in the Swiss Alps under false pretenses, and are actually being brainwashed to distribute bacteriological warfare agents throughout the world and thus become Blofeld’s “Angels of Death.” What’s interesting here is that Blofeld isn’t doing this to extort millions of dollars from various world governments, he simply wants amnesty for all past crimes and to be declared a count. I’m assuming this has something to do with SPECTRE not having much in the way of retirement benefits. Bond is able to infiltrate Blofeld’s mountaintop fortress by impersonating genealogist Sir Hilary Bray, who was to verify Blofeld’s claim to count hood, which, for some reason, entails him sleeping with as many of these young women as possible, that Bond had already fallen madly in love with Tracey doesn’t even seem to factor in.
The key problem with On Her Majesty’s Secret is the strange continuity gaff caused by placing this film after You Only Live Twice instead of before it, what with the book “You Only Live Twice” being the conclusions of Fleming’s “Blofeld Trilogy” so in placing On Her Majesty’s Secret after You Only Live Twice you have this strange issue of Blofeld not recognizing James Bond when the clearly had a face to face meeting in his volcano lair in the previous movie, and I’m sorry, but wearing a kilt and smoking a pipe is not much of a disguise. It’s almost as if there was some kind of “spy etiquette” where the villain and the hero have to pretend not to know each other.
Of course, what makes On Her Majesty’s Secret a great Bond film is the relationship between James and Tracy and it was in this book that we see a more emotional side to the character that was not present in the previous stories, and not only is Diana Rigg one of the most gorgeous of the Bond girls but she is a great screen partner as well, with her driving a stock car like a professional racer, skiing like an Olympian and who can take out henchmen with some nice hand-to-hand combat moves. No other Bond girl comes even close to her and that she is the one woman to actually win the heart of James Bond and land him makes her truly unique, which leads to one of the most devastating moments in the franchise, the death of Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo. After a lovely wedding ceremony, Blofeld and his henchwoman Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) commit a drive-by shooting of the newlywed’s car, which results in Tracy’s tragic death, and this gives the series one of its biggest gut-punches with its heartwrenching last moments with the doomed lovers.
“It’s all right. It’s quite all right, really. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.”
• Lazenby quipping “This never happened to the other fellow” is a rare fourth-wall-breaking moment for a Bond film but a nice tip of the hat to the Sean Connery era.
• When Bond is cleaning out his desk we see various “souvenirs” from the previous movie, which clearly indicates this is supposed to be the same James Bond and that the name is not just a persona granted to whoever the current 007 is.
• We learn that the Bond family motto is “The World is Not Enough” which would later become the title of the nineteenth Bond film.
• One of the girls writes her room number in lipstick on Bond’s thigh, hoping for a midnight tryst, but how does she expect a genealogist to be able to open locked doors?
• Henchwoman Irma Bunt comes across a like a knock-off of Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love.
• Blofeld has Bond locked up inside the gondola wheelhouse, which has a small exterior access port, which leaves one wondering “Has Blofeld forgotten how resourceful Bond can be?”
• Blofeld’s mountaintop chalet is nice but it’s no volcano lair.
Not only is On Her Majesty’s Secret one of the more faithful adaptations of Fleming’s stories but it is also one of the best Bond films to date. The film is just chock-full of amazing action sequences – the ski chase with Bond reduced to one ski is particularly impressive – and the stock car chase sequence and the bobsled climatic duel all went towards making a tense and thrilling Bond adventure, and with John Barry providing one of his best scores and Diana Rigg’s performance as the doomed Tracy, bringing much-needed emotional weight to the franchise, you’ve got the ingredients needed for an entry that rivals all other Bonds. Sadly, George Lazenby’s inflated ego, horrible onset behaviour and bad advice from his agent – who told Lazenby that the Bond films were beneath him and that the franchise was dead – resulted in Lazenby walking away from the role after only one film. This is most likely a big reason for many fans dismissing this film which is a shame as it has everything one could want out of a Bond film. Is it perfect? No, but On Her Majesty’s Secret will always remain one of my personal favourite Bond films and I often wonder how well it would have been regarded if Sean Connery had stayed around for this one.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Movie Rank - 8/10
Giving such a role to someone with no actual acting experience was a gamble that didn’t pay off, Lazenby is quite fine in the part, and he more than equipped himself with the action, but his swelled head doomed his career when he walked away from Bond and possible stardom. That said, On Her Majesty’s Secret is easily one of the better Bonds and deserves a lot more respect than it got.