Retrospective: ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Retrospective: ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969)


Following the departure of Sean Connery after his fifth Bond movie in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), the producers at EON Productions took a huge gamble on an unknown Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby to take over the iconic 007 role. The result was ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, which saw Peter R. Hunt making his directorial debut after spending his career editing four Sean Connery era of Bond movies including DR. NO (1962), FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), GOLDFINGER (1964) and THUNDERBALL (1965).

At the time of its release in 1969, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE did manage to make money in the box office. However, the sixth Bond movie grossed significantly lower than the previous entry, which was YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Back then, the reviews were mostly mixed.



THE STORY: While driving on a coastal road in Portugal, Bond (George Lazenby) saw a woman about to commit suicide by drowning herself into the ocean. He manages to save her in time before two unknown strangers try to attack him. After Bond defeated both of them, the mysterious woman drives off her car and disappears. Then one day, he meets her again in a casino and learns her name is Tracy (Diana Rigg), who happens to be the daughter of an organised crime lord Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti). When Draco finally meets Bond face-to-face, he reveals that his daughter has a troubled past and the only person to make her happy is Bond. So, he made him an offer of a dowry worth one million pounds if Bond agrees to marry her. Instead of money, Bond agrees to romance his daughter in exchange of a valuable information regarding SPECTRE leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld's (Telly Savalas) whereabouts. Soon, Bond disguises as a genealogist Sir Hilary Bray and infiltrates Blofeld's mountaintop facility located in the Swiss Alps. It turns out that Blofeld has created a lethal virus to destroy mankind unless he is granted an amnesty and a title.


THE ANALYSIS: Often cited as the most underrated Bond movie in the entire 007 series, it's easy to see why: Many fans and audiences alike are grown so accustomed to Sean Connery's unforgettably suave presence as James Bond that George Lazenby is terribly pale by comparison. I remembered when I first rented a VHS copy of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE decades ago, I thought the movie was boring. George Lazenby's portrayal of James Bond was as stiff as a wooden plank. In fact, he looked as if he tried so hard to emulate the swaggering charm of Sean Connery, but failed because of his awkward and inexperienced acting skill. However, I really enjoyed the action sequences as well as the strong supporting performances by Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas.

Fast forward to present day, I took the initiative to re-visit ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE for the second time. Moreover, the movie shared several similarities with the recent trailers for SPECTRE such as the skiing scene, the familiar glass crack caused by the gunfire and of course, the famous Nehru jacket worn by Christoph Waltz who played a character named Oberhauser (which I suspect he's actually Blofeld in disguise).


Okay, first things first. I still think Lazenby was a weak Bond even after my personal re-evaluation. But one thing about him that impresses me is the way he handles all the action scenes like a seasoned pro. Whether it was a fistfight on the beach during the opening scene or engaged in a high-speed skiing scene, Lazenby proves to be a convincing action hero.

Next is the plot. At 142 minutes, the movie takes its sweet time getting to the point. Even when the story proper finally gets underway with Bond begins his undercover mission to infiltrate Blofeld's whereabouts, it doesn't get any better. Problem is, the whole undercover scene involving Bond disguised as a genealogist goes way too long than it should be. Not to mention the scene itself is too cheesy with all the lame comedy attempts and flirtatious moments, where Bond tries to seduce two female patients brainwashed by Blofeld. Speaking of comedy, it's hard not to laugh at Bond's unconventional wardrobe of frilly dress shirt that Mike Myers parodying the similar fashion almost three decades later in AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (1997).


Despite most of the flaws, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE remains a worthwhile Bond picture. The action is top notch, with the ski chase and the high-speed pursuit between Bond and Blofeld on bobsleds among the major highlights.

Telly Savalas does a great job portraying a scheming and cold-hearted villain as Blofeld. Diana Rigg, best known for her iconic role as Emma Peel in TV's The Avengers (1965-1968), delivers a solid support as the beautiful, independent and headstrong Tracy. No doubt she ranks as one of the best Bond girls since Honor Blackman's unforgettable performance as Pussy Galore in GOLDFINGER.

John Barry's score is also worth noting here, especially during the opening credit scene where he incorporates a throbbing mix of then-new Moog synthesiser and brassy horns to produce one of the finest theme musics ever composed in a Bond movie. Then there's Louis Armstrong's wonderful love song "We Have All The Time In The World", which played during a montage scene of Bond and Tracy dating together.

Speaking of Bond and Tracy, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE features one of the most touching love stories ever seen in the 53-year-old franchise (the other one would be Daniel Craig's Bond and Eva Green's Vesper in 2006's CASINO ROYALE). The final scene is particularly heartbreaking, as Bond is left devastated after his newlywed wife, Tracy ends up tragically gunned down by Blofeld's assistant Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) in a drive-by shooting. As the motorcycle cop arrives at the scene, Bond holds Tracy in his arms and tells the police officer:

"It's all right. It's quite all right, really. She's having a rest. We'll be going on soon. There's no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world."

It is such an emotionally penetrating scene that not only the ending dares to break the usual playful conclusion often seen in the previous Bond movies, but also manages to showcase Lazenby's one and only finest acting moment as he convincingly portrayed a heartbroken man who just lost his loved one.

FINAL WORDS: Although I admit Lazenby's acting is rough around the edges, I'm always curious if he continues to reprise his role in the next Bond movie, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Unfortunately, he chose to quit and the producers went back to Sean Connery again.

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