Classic Film Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969

Directed by: Peter R. Hunt

James Bond: George Lazenby

Also Starring: Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Bernard Lee, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat

 

What happens after you’ve made five financially successful James Bond films and then your star announces his decision to quit? Follow the Doctor Who logic and replace him and carry on. After Sean Connery left the position, they hired relatively unknown Australian actor George Lazenby to take over the role. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service James Bond (George Lazenby) follows Blofeld (Telly Savalas), the leader of SPECTRE and James Bond’s nemesis, to his allergy compound in Switzerland, where he’s planning to hold the world ransom by the threat of sterilising the world’s food supply through his ‘Angels of death’. James Bond also meets and falls in love with Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), a more serious relationship than with any other Bond girl as he even proposes to her.

I don’t like George Lazenby as James Bond. I know that’s a popular opinion and an easy choice for ‘Worst James Bond’ due to his one and only film, but his portrayal lacked any conviction or presence that Sean Connery had in the role (so much so that they rehired Sean Connery for the next James Bond film). The film didn’t help Lazenby, either. The script gave him all the one-liners which Sean Connery used, but with Lazenby they were poorly written one-liners which came across as scripted, more so than those Connery issued out which had a bit of authenticity to them. He also slaps Tracy, quite violently, too, early on, and I know Sean Connery was quite misogynistic with his pursuit of women, but this act, to the main Bond girl, didn’t make him come across as a lover, and ruined her initially as she bedded him shortly thereafter.

It also suffers in the middle due to the same tactic used in Goldfinger, where they had James Bond captive in the Switzerland allergy research clinic, where he was posing as Sir Hilary Bray to meet with Blofeld, who was corresponding with Sir Hilary to claim the title ‘Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp’. Having a new Bond pretend to be someone else and ditch his Bond-like ways altogether (aside from bedding more women) hampered the film’s pacing and Lazenby’s performance: he wasn’t allowed to be fully a spy instead he had to be a London College of Arms genealogist.

If the Presentation score was based entirely on the appearance in the film, then this film would score quite highly; the avalanche scene is beautiful, especially considering this is still in the 1960’s, the location is beautiful and even the skiing scene is really well done (even if it is ridiculous that they were shooting all around Bond without hitting him), but unfortunately the category also includes editing. There were some absolutely terrible edits in this film. One scene in particular is where James Bond is trapped in a room and is climbing on a wire to escape and the wire moves (it’s connected to a ski cart which is moved) and James Bond is hanging on to the wire as it drags him close to the wall and the machinery. The camera then quickly cuts from Bond to the wall to Bond to the wall to Bond’s feel to the machine to Bond’s hands to the wire to Bond’s face to the machine to Bond’s hands, before Bond just drops down at the last minute, avoiding being crushed by the machine. There seemed no imminent danger, as he could have always just dropped down, yet the editing went crazy with a series of quick cuts to make it seem dangerous, a tactic they reused later on (again with the wires but this time with the ski cart itself). There are also some terrible sound editing (where it is obvious that voices have been edited in post as they sound different when the man is on screen to when he isn’t) and some scenes where the screen speeds up slightly and shortly for no reason. The editing in this film really lets it down, which is a shame because, as I said, visually it is really impressive.

George Lazenby unfortunately took the role and gave a less than convincing performance as James Bond, but his performance was hindered by a series of bad choices, from the writing, acting (one woman sounds extremely wooden and scripted it’s awful), editing and plot pacing. It’s a shame considering how well edited some of the other Bond films were, with Peter R. Hunt as editor in those, but they gave him reigns as director and it all failed. It’s no surprise he, and Lazenby, never returned.

 

Plot: * *

Acting: * *

Writing: * *

Presentation: * *

Overall Rating: * *

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