On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG for violence, sensuality and suggestive material (probably PG-13 today)
Running Time: 142 min.
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat, Lois Maxwell, Bernard Lee
Director: Peter Hunt
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum (based on the novel by Ian Fleming)
Review published January 1, 2016
One of the most forgotten of James Bond's adventures, mostly due to the one-shot nature of Australian model George Lazenby's appearance as 007, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is still one of the better entries in the series. For a long time, I've even held the notion that, had Sean Connery starred in it, OHMSS might have been the best, or close to it, as the film has very good humor, colorful characters, and an exciting finale, but Lazenby's inexperience with acting saps Bond's trademark charisma, and the crackle of the chemistry that almost certainly would have been there between suave Connery and sultry Diana Rigg lays absent, which makes the turns the film takes not as impactful as it might have been, denying us a surefire gem.
In the film we find our favorite superspy having spent two years in vain trying to locate the whereabouts of his main nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. An impatient 'M' thinks enough is enough, taking Bond (Lazenby, Kentucky Fried Movie), off of the case, though that has never stopped James in the past, using a 'leave of absence' to follow a new lead. On the trail, he soon meets a lovely but forlorn woman named Contessa Teresa Di Vicenzo, aka 'Tracy' (Rigg, The Painted Veil), the daughter of Marc Ange Draco (Ferzetti, Once Upon a Time in the West), a wealthy Corsican businessman with shady dealings who sees Bond as the perfect husband material to take Tracy out of her rut. As Draco has the key to getting close to his competitor in the crime world, Blofeld (Savalas, Mackenna's Gold), an initially reticent Bond goes along with the agreement, eventually leading him to visit a remote mountaintop retreat in the Swiss Alps where the world's most dangerous criminal is pretending to be a person of noble birth who is trying to help the world get rid of their allergic ailments of every variety. Bond, pretending to be a genealogist trying to confirm Blofeld's claims of aristocracy, needs to convince the mastermind to leave neutral Switzerland to pay for his crimes, but Ernst has a bigger scheme to hatch that will fulfill his quest for world domination.
Lazenby has the strong build and dimpled chin, but he's too stiff and bland for the role, at least at this point in his career, as he would grow as a respectable actor later. He does have a pleasantness about him, which makes him adequate for the tongue-in-cheek comedic scenes, but none of the ferocity necessary to make him truly formidable going toe to toe against the likes of Blofeld. Luckily, he has a fine supporting cast to prop him up, with Telly Savalas making for one of the more charismatic Blofeld portrayals on the screen, and Diana Rigg, who memorably earned her spy chops as Emma Peel in the popular TV show, "The Avengers", is as much of a match for Bond as there has ever been in the series.
OHMSS is also too long by a half hour, at 2 hours and 22 minutes. Directed by Peter Hunt, who served as assistant editor and second unit director on the two previous Bond adventures, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, it's a bit of an irony that his film is in dire need of editing down to a less unwieldy form. There isn't much action for the first ninety minutes, but Hunt does deliver a fantastic chase-based finale in the Swiss Alps. Only obvious insert shots of the stars, who were obviously not there during the time of the filming of these ski and bobsled scenes, mar the excitement of some breathtaking stunts and locale work high in the mountaintops, followed by some very exciting car chase sequences, partially through a stock-car race in full swing, with Tracy at the wheel while Bond plays helpless passenger.
It's also a crisply shot film, with a great color palette that sets it apart from the rest in vivid fashion. Composer John Barry delivers one of his best scores, so good that the instrumental piece supplants the usual pop number we'd usually get in the title sequence, relegating Louis Armstrong's ballad, "We Have All the Time in the World" to a romantic interlude halfway into the feature, unintentionally echoing the film's issue with taking too much time to get to the main plot. That song was especially ironic, not only because of what happens in the film, but also because its singer, Armstrong, was ailing at the time of what would be his last studio recording, unable to play his trademark trumpet for the piece. Barry, who also composed the song, cites it as his favorite piece of music he'd written for a Bond film.
Perhaps it's lucky that the general public never quite cottoned to OHMSS as much as classics like Dr. No and Goldfinger, as it would allow the franchise to make good on its powerhouse premise of James Bond finally finding his match in love in Daniel Craig's first effort, Casino Royale. And as for the franchise, while OHMSS had been profitable, it was the least successful Bond entry to date, prompting the creative minds to re-hire Sean Connery by giving him the biggest paycheck for an actor in a film up to that point when he would return one more time in Diamonds Are Forever.
©2016 Vince Leo