On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the first EON-produced James Bond film not to star Sean Connery in its lead role. Instead, we get George Lazenby appearing in the opening scene of the film. He introduces himself to a lovely woman in the normal James Bond way. Then, he fights off violent criminals in the normal James Bond way. Yet, this opening scene and subsequent opening titles sequence are self-aware of this sudden change in casting. Lazenby, his face a sly grin oozing with cheekiness, says, essentially to the audience, “This never happened to the other fella.”
Despite this acknowledgment that the Lazenby Bond isn’t the same as the Connery Bond we have come to know and, at times, love, the following scenes depict Bond as usual. He is awarded a luxury suite at a hotel. He plays baccarat. He drinks Dom Perignon ’57 as he sits down with a beautiful woman. He even stops to dine on caviar after fending off an assailant.
But Lazenby isn’t Connery. Lazenby is Bond to the next level. He is quicker to the cheeky quip. Indeed, almost every line out of his mouth is punctuated by a punch line. He is womanizing and, at times, brutish. His eyes are always calculating, his mouth always inching into a knowing grin. Perhaps Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) states it the best when she says: “The same old Bond. Only more so!”
Bond’s driving goal in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is to hunt down Blofeld (Telly Savalas), the leader of international terrorist organization SPECTRE. His investigation leads him to Switzerland, where he goes undercover in a very strange allergy research clinic in the Swiss Alps. At the clinic, women are given free treatment for their various allergies. Only, something is clearly off with the treatment, and Blofeld’s involvement in a very Bond-ian sinister plot becomes apparent.
The evil scheme of this movie, as is also the case with most Bond films, is absolutely ludicrous. But in this case it works. This is because our villain is played masterfully by Telly Savalas. He plays cool menace to the perfect degree.
Similarly wonderful is the casting of Diana Rigg as the film’s Bond girl, Tracy. Tracy is one of the strongest Bond girls in the franchise, never under-utilized or exploited merely for her looks. In some ways, Rigg outshines Lazenby in the scenes in which they share the screen.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a visual spectacle. An extended skiing scene and an extended car chase dazzle, albeit certain cinematographic choices, such as rear projection on the skiing scene and under-cranking on fighting choreography, is visibly dated. These small marks of the film’s age are entirely forgotten by the explosive climax and heart-wrenching denouement. The final half hour of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service may be the best segment of the whole Bond franchise.
This being said, the over the top nature of Lazenby’s portrayal doesn’t sync up with the tone of the film as a whole. The further we get into the heart of the film, the more this becomes apparent. For how much the film wants the viewer to know that this Bond is different, the differences only act to hurt the film.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service certainly has its place among the larger Bond picture. The narrative blows out of proportion, as Bond films are wont to do, but the ending makes you forget how obnoxious it all is. Lazenby is perhaps not the strongest Bond, but to a point his cheekiness is fun to watch. Supporting roles from Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas gives this movie the legs to be a quality action flick.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: B+
As always, thanks for reading!
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Video here.
Have you seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? What do you think of Lazenby’s take on Bond? Who’s your favorite Bond? Let me know in the comments!
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: B+
- Casino Royale (1967): D+
- You Only Live Twice: C+
- Thunderball: C-
- Goldfinger: A-
- From Russia With Love: A-
- Dr. No: B
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)