Well, I suppose you cannot start talking about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service without beginning with how Sean Connery is not in it. Apparently he was no longer on speaking terms with the series runner, “Cubby” Broccoli during the shooting of You Only Live Twice and decided to retire his involvement with the character. Broccoli carried on the franchise with someone who never acted before as the lead, Australian model George Lazenby.
Lazenby was alright with only a few out of place moments and the film did well. Well enough to offer Lazenby a 7 film contract to continue as Bond. He turned it down on the advice of his agent who felt the character will be seen as a dinosaur in the liberated ’70s. Blimey!
Ironic… since story-wise, this film owns one of Bond’s more advanced and best. Ever.
James Bond (George Lazenby) who is living his life playing baccara at casinos and hanging out on the beach, has a couple of run-ins with a young woman named Contessa Teresa “Tracey” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg). Well, run-ins is a bit of an understatement: he stops her from committing suicide during their first meeting, and bails her out of a gambling debt with a casino during the next.
Bond’s interactions with Tracey catches the eye of her father, Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) the head of a large European crime syndicate. You would think you already know where this is headed, but Draco actually wishes for Bond to get closer to his daughter. Bond isn’t interested at first, but eventually agrees when he sees an opportunity to use Draco’s black market connections to lead him to Ernst Stavo Blofeld (Telly Savalas), the head of global criminal organization, SPECTRE.
With Draco’s help, Bond learns that Blofeld is scheming to falsely connect his heritage with Swiss royalty, while posing as a doctor who is running an allergy-research institute. Bond is off to the peaks of the Swiss Alps undercover as genealogist Sir Hilary Bray. There, he uncovers Blofeld’s plan to brainwash a group of 12 young ladies, who think they are being cured of a rare allergy, but unknowingly be used to distribute bacteriological warfare throughout the world!
I can’t go further into the plot’s specifics without getting into spoilers but, in general, for the first time ever Bond falls in love and has a real relationship with a woman. It all builds to one of the most powerful endings any Bond film has ever had.
This plot could have easily made OHMSS one of the best Bond films ever made. Like I mentioned before, Lazenby does an OK job but it is really Diana Rigg who steals the show as the “bond girl.” With all due respect to every actress who has tangoed with Bond before, Rigg is the real deal. Not only was she a knockout, she was an excellent actress and they needed one to pull off the complex relationship these two characters had.
There are some thrilling action sequences too. You have a few cars chases, and the bobsleds towards the end are memorable, but the skiing sequence… oh boy. That will remain as one of the best of the series. The “green screen” close ups of the actors are a little distracting, but they are a product of their time.
This film also makes some serious mistakes. One being the lousy pacing.
Granted, the relationship between Tracey and Bond needed time to bake, which partly justifies the 2 hours and 22 minutes run time. But there is bloat that has it feeling longer. For example, too much time is spent showing Bond’s backup failing to reach Blofeld’s mountain top lair. I get that they wanted to show how isolated it was, but this is already explained during the helicopter ride he took to get there. That sequence could have been tightened up.
Next is the threat. Roger Ebert had great a comment on the Bond films: they are only as good as the villain. Recasting Blofeld with Telly Savalas is a home run. Savalas had the look, voice, and menacing stature to pull off the roll more effectively than Donald Pleasence. The awkward way he held his cigarettes alone is off-putting in a good way.
The 12 ladies on the other hand do not come across as a threat at all. A better explanation of what would happen if Blofeld’s plan with them succeeds would have turned the suspense up a notch. There is a vague concept that they will tarnish the world’s food supply, but it isn’t explained fully.
Now, for the continuing competition with Sarah to correctly guess how long it would take Bond to get laid. I thought with a new actor, they would go out of their way to have him seal the deal early. So, I guessed 5 minutes. Sarah, thinking they would take their time went with 25 min. But Bond surprised us both by sticking to the norm and took 17 minutes and 42 seconds. Geez. This time, Sarah was closer by far and earned yet another point. The Mars Man, like the Blue Jays when facing a lefty, just can’t get on the board.
Sarah – 5
Mars – 0.0
It is unfortunate how the mistakes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service made were too grievous. Otherwise, what this film got right could have easily lifted it to an all time favourite. Blofeld’s scheme feels… weird… but the script is downright clever at times. Combine that with some solid action, Diana Rigg, and the emotional depth we are not used to from Bond, and the good mostly outweighs the bad.