|On Her Majesty's Secret Service
1969 - PG - 140 Mins.
|Director: Peter Hunt
|Producer: Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman
|Written By: Richard Maibaum
|Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti and Ilse Steppat
|Review by: Bill King
My claim about "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is certainly open for change, but to this day, it is the best James Bond movie ever made. If a better movie than this is made, I look forward to it. This film is nearly flawless. Taken at face value, no other film in the series has matched its story, pacing or atmosphere. It is a movie that is so exciting, yet doesn't overburden the audience with non-stop action or overlong chases. Director Peter Hunt, who has edited past Bond films, can be proud of his accomplishment. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is the pinnacle of the series.
This is the first and only appearance by George Lazenby in the role of James Bond. Sean Connery opted not to star, because he grew tired of the role. Lazenby is really good, and despite what others have said about him, I believe that he could have made the role his own had he continued. He admits now that he took bad advice by opting not to return. It would have been interesting to see what he could have done with the role. Some have charged him with imitating Connery, but I believe that Lazenby was playing Bond the way he was already established. He's tough, handsome and is believable in every fight and action scene he's involved with. Even with no previous acting experience, except for commercials, Lazenby is quite good and his ability is used to the fullest. Luckily, he is surrounded by a strongly written screenplay by Richard Maibaum and perfectly-paced direction by Peter Hunt.
The movie opens with Bond chasing after Countess Tracy Draco (Diana Rigg), the daughter of Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), a businessman who also runs a large criminal organization, although he's not really a bad guy. Tracy feels that she has been overburdened by her father, and chooses to drown herself at the beach. Bond runs down and saves her, but he is attacked by several unnamed bad guys. After Bond dispatches them, Tracy drives away to a nearby casino where Bond catches up with her. We don't find out how they met, but Bond has taken a liking to her, and Draco notices. He has wished for his daughter to find a man who can take good care of her and is strong. Draco wants Bond to marry her, but Bond would rather get information from Draco about the whereabouts of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas). They make a deal, and soon Bond is on the trail of Blofeld, as he heads to Switzerland to snoop through the files of a lawyer who is connected to Blofeld. The files point to a Sir Hilary Bray (George Baker), a genealogist in England. It seems that Blofeld has hired Bray because he wants to trace his roots to see if he is related to a certain Count. Bond gets permission from M (Bernard Lee) to masquerade as Bray so he can sneak into Blofeld's hideout in Switzerland, where most of the movie takes place.
Before the trip to Switzerland, Bond and Tracy do fall in love. There is a montage of scenes showing the two becoming close, with "We Have All the Time in the World" by Louis Armstrong providing the background music. This is the only movie that has Bond truly falling in love, and later in the movie, he asks her to marry him. The touching love story is one of the many elements that help make this movie stand out from the rest. They have terrific chemistry and we can easily see why they love each other so much. His profession and her background seem to make the two compatible. In between the scenes of action, they are given ample time to further their relationship and make plans for the future.
Blofeld is stationed at a mountaintop research center called Piz Gloria, where they are researching cures for allergies. This is only the cover-up, and Blofeld's real plan is the usual world takeover scheme, although this time he doesn't use missiles or try to get two countries to bomb each other. His new strategy is biological warfare. Bond, as Sir Hilary Bray, infiltrates Piz Gloria to discover Blofeld's latest plan. This presents a problem, because Bond and Blofeld did meet in the previous film, "You Only Live Twice." Here, they meet each other and Blofeld doesn't recognize his foe. (In the novels, Bond and Blofeld do meet for the first time in OHMSS.) When Bond is finally discovered, he escapes by skis (the first time Bond uses them) and is chased by Blofeld and some soldiers. This exciting sequence ends at the bottom of the mountain, where Bond meets with Tracy and they ride away in her car. Following the chase on the mountain, we are treated to another chase scene as cars swerve on the snow-covered roads. The chase climaxes at a stock car race, where Bond, Tracy and the other cars drive on the track and shove around the other cars trying to get through. All these sequences are directed and edited with such skill that the viewer just gets caught up in the action.
There are still three more action scenes to go, and Peter Hunt and editor John Glen (who will go on to direct five Bond films) have the film perfectly stretched out. The movie is the longest of the series at 140 minutes, and the time flies by as we watch the incredible action sequences along with the well-written script being played out. The story makes sense and Telly Savalas as Blofeld is perfectly adequate as Bond's longtime enemy. Sometimes the editing is too much, and during some fight scenes, the camera goes in for close-ups that make the action hard to follow. However, the result is some claustrophobic fights that look punishing.
The locations here are beautiful. The snowy landscape of the Swiss mountains is given every opportunity to be put on display, which helps the look of the film. Diana Rigg as Tracy is a strong Bond girl who becomes more than that, namely his wife. The ending, which is well-known, is heartbreaking, and George Lazenby is flawless as he comforts his wife on their wedding day. After over two hours of thrilling entertainment, the movie ends with a quiet moment as the camera switches to its final shot, because it can no longer watch what has just happened. James Bond needs this moment alone, and we can only oblige.