Peter R. Hunt
UK / USA, 1969
Review by Leo Goldsmith
Posted on 19 March 2005
Source MGM DVD
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
“This never happened to the other fella.” This line, spoken by the (first) new James Bond at the outset of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, adequately summarizes much of the rest of the film. Portrayed here by George Lazenby (an actor perhaps most famous for not being Sean Connery), the Bond of 1969 dons absurd disguises, mopes when chastised by M, falls in love, flirts (albeit momentarily) with abstinence, and gets married.
Among the many discontinuities between the old and new 007s, there are nonetheless many self-conscious attempts to tie Lazenby in with the rest of the series. The credit sequence provides a primer of Bond vixens and villains, and as Bond briefly ponders early retirement, we get a brief review of earlier theme songs to prompt some (perhaps premature) Bond nostalgia. This juxtaposition of Bonds old and new, their similarities and differences, is ultimately ill advised, as the viewer is persistently reminded of Lazenby’s unfortunate un-Connery-ness.
For this reason, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is often treated as an odd footnote to the series, not quite a Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again, but nonetheless an awkward moment from the series’ puberty that the producers’ would just as soon forget. This is a shame, as the film itself is one of the most consistent and technically impressive in the franchise. In particular, its action set pieces are astonishing, boasting a series of chase sequences (in cars, on skis, and on bobsleds) that rival any in the series. Thanks to director Peter Hunt’s apprenticeship in editing the early Bond films, even simple fistfights remain exciting. Similarly, the variety of locales (from an exceptionally gaudy Spanish casino to a super-futuristic, alpine “allergy clinic”-cum-chemical weapons lab) furnishes the right amount of globetrotting visual splendor without making one dizzy.
Despite some occasionally clunky dialogue (“I’ve suddenly become stiff … in the shoulder”), even the acting serves the film well. Telly Savalas, working valiantly to suppress his New Yawk accent, is a less creepy, but more physically threatening Blofeld than Donald Pleasance. And even Lazenby, though he is never given credit for it, more or less looks and sounds the part, and he is at very least as good an actor as Roger Moore. But the real treat of the film is Diana Rigg, who is surely the only credible contender as Mrs. Bond (though admittedly she does not kick as much ass as she did in The Avengers as Emma Peel).
Ultimately, however, the project of totally revamping James Bond proves overwhelming for the film and for Lazenby. The filmmakers are clearly attempting too many things at once here, and in trying to invest Bond with emotion and humility, as well as trying to retain the best of Connery’s characteristics, poor George is simply overburdened. And certainly the decision to end the film on the series’ most (intentionally) depressing note does not allow Lazenby to settle into the role comfortably.