A new actor, a new director, and almost a new decade—this 007 feature from 1969 is predominately more grounded than the majority of what had come before. The hiring of Aussie actor George Lazenby saw James Bond as a more stern-looking spy with lashings of the usual charm. This story feels more serious and realistic to the books, which is what the producers wanted, and in that sense this film should be remembered more fondly than just the stop-gap between Sean Connery flicks.
STARS – George Lazenby, Telly Savalas, Diana Rigg, Ilse Steppat
DIRECTOR – Peter R. Hunt
RUN-TIME – 142 minutes
BEST LINE – “This never happened to the other fella,” is the quip that takes us into the opening credits. It’s a very weird self-referential line to introduce us to the new figure of James, but in a weirder way it works to the probable audience at the time who wouldn’t know what to expect with a new man in the role. Now, it’s meta humor which takes you right out of the setting.
BEST GADGET – As this film is more serious in tone than before, the use of Q is non-existent, the only glimpse of gadgetry is a trip down memory lane as Bond almost quits and looks back over weapons and tricky items used in other missions. James does utilize a handy makeshift gadget of his own though—a thin ruler, eraser, and bulldog clip help him break out of the confines of his quarters in Switzerland, showing he can come up with ingenious ideas on the fly.
EEEK MOMENT – There are a few solid bursts of tension in this movie. When Bond goes to hopefully seduce someone a second time, he’s ambushed by Irma Bunt (a German henchwoman) and thwacked over the head, but more worrying than this is the sight of the MI6 spy trapped among the workings of a cable car. He hopes to pull himself free along the wires itself and here you get a tightly packed scene of suspense as he’s almost swallowed up by the cogs and then nearly hit by a moving cable car.
00 UH-OH – Amazingly, there is nothing outlandishly horrendous to take away from this chapter. The only shoddy feature is in the majority of fight sequences that harbor a sped-up style which make hand-to-hand combats look more like fast forwarded cartoons than seriously macho beatings.
ICONIC MOMENT – In You Only Live Twice, we saw a pretense of marriage, but this time Bond really does tie the knot to Tracy di Vicenzo. Seeing 007 as a married man is an unexpected way to close the film and as he wipes away his bride’s tears you may just be wiping away your own, come the iconic reveal of their tragically short-lived unison. In a lay-by, Bond removes some flowers from their car and Bunt drives by, shooting at them and killing Tracy. The most effective moment of all this is the silence and static shot of the bullet-cracked windscreen with the credits. It’s a sad way to finish a Bond film and stays with you as a climax like no other—no silly one-liners or foolish smooches, just a shattering, somber end.
REVIEW – The Blofeld saga continues with this outing and even though a new inhabitant takes the shoes of James, there’s nothing glaringly distracting about this new face. Lazenby brings a cold yet gentlemanly aura to his one and only turn as Bond and thanks to 007 finally finding someone he loves and marries, there’s a shift in how this film feels in comparison to the more silly and explosive films already released.
The director had in fact been an editor on all the other Bond movies, so his sense of pace is strong and his knowledge of tension building rings true. The action might be dialed down, but the selling quality of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is that we are drip-fed pieces of the mission at the same time that James figures things out. The answers and motives aren’t laid out for us with exposition as much, which is a great change and makes an interesting turn of style for Lazenby to play with, and romance hanging in the air is another new spark for the actor to show off.
James might have some iffy moments by flirting with a St. Trinians-esque grouping of females at the Swiss clinic he infiltrates but there’s no denying that you can see his connection to Tracy. Lust is not involved for once and through a two week montage, their relationship grows and the closest thing to love could be in the air, which only goes and makes the serious resting image over the credits that more resonant.
The whole mountain-topped complex becomes a leery and odd portion of the film. The score certainly helps make the hazy, mind-controlling aspect more pronounced and close-up shots of strange set meals and lit up ceilings demonstrate the bizarre new plan from cat-stroking boss Ernst Stavro. It’s like the chalet doubles as a Suspiria school of hypnosis with these so-called ‘Angels of Death’ being told to love chickens and inflict chaos through bacterial warfare. Silly, but somehow effective.
However mad the film sounds, there’s something to be said for it refusing to zip down the zany route of OTT gadgets and fights all over the shop. The story comes first and the new faces of the statute Lazenby and Savalas’ slimier Blofeld help make it a dynamic watch. The true star though is Diana Rigg, who is a Bond Woman, at first possessing a sultry air of mystery before developing with traits of no fear. She also saves Bond, makes a superb debut rally driver fleeing from enemies, makes the first move on James, and kicks ass during the clinic rescue. The Bond theme music actually plays over her defending herself and dispatching foes whilst Bond is off screen in a helicopter.
The finale of the film sees 007 and soon-to-be wife Tracy skiing away from Blofeld and his crew, which is a fantastic set piece and crunches with lung-crushing fear, due to the forced avalanche that the pair desperately try to outrun. You wouldn’t expect the well prepared spy to be in danger but they do in fact get swept up by the snow fall which sees a brilliant tumble of the camera, rolling us over into the stifling action and with snappy cuts this almost finale is scarily thick with apprehension.
James still swoons over younger ladies and seduces them when supposedly linked to Countess Tracy, but thanks to the dominating presence of Rigg, a more focused plot, flurries of tension, and the recurring motif of Louis Armstrong’s beautiful song, ‘We Have all the Time in the World’, there’s something satisfying about this serious step in the Bond universe.