On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, released in 1969, was directed by Peter Hunt and was the first (and last) James Bond film starring George Lazenby as 007. It follows Bond on his continued mission to find and defeat Blofeld (played by Telly Savalas) in the Swiss Alps while falling in love with Tracy Di Vicenzo (played by Diana Rigg). The film was initially received with lukewarm reactions by fans when it was first released, but over 50 years later many people consider it to be one of, if not the best 007 adventure yet.
There’s a lot of people who like to hate on Lazenby since he never had any acting experience before doing this film and criticize him for giving a bland performance, but I actually really enjoy Lazenby’s Bond. Is he as good as Sean Connery? No, of course not, but that’s not a fair standard to put on every other actor who plays Bond (although Lazenby’s certainly a million times better than Roger Moore). I still thought Lazenby was extremely charismatic and charming, but the best part of his performance has to be the physicality he brought to the role. While Connery had a few violent moments during his tenure and definitely felt like a cold-blooded assassin, his Bond never really got into the mud. In contrast, Lazenby’s Bond felt like a brawler who could take down 10 guys at once. Lazenby knew going in that he didn’t have the acting chops, so he made up for that by doing most of his own stunts, giving us a more brutal Bond.
Speaking of the brutality, the action sequences in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feel like they could’ve been made today. They’re fast, smartly edited, and well choreographed. In just the first 5 minutes of the film, director Peter Hunt established that this is an action-packed, slick James Bond flick. He put his own stamp on the franchise at a time when action movies were shot with little style and consisted of flat wide shots or close-ups with people pushing each other around awkwardly. The film’s also gorgeously shot, especially during the jaw-dropping snow chase sequences. Essentially, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feels like a precursor to modern filmmaking.
The performances by the supporting actors also enhance the film. Diana Rigg as Tracy was an incredibly likeable Bond girl, not only because she was stunning and witty, but also because she had a significant role in the plot & action scenes. The driving force of the film is Tracy’s effect on Bond, breaking down his hardened shell and changing him into a more open individual who marries her. To have the audience buy this, you need a great actress, and Rigg succeeded with flying colors, making it all the more devastating when she’s killed at the end of the film. Telly Savalas was also terrific in the film and he’s easily my favorite Blofeld. He’s a lot more grounded, calm, and collected than Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld. While he has the white cat, secret lair, and an army of goons, Savalas’ Blofeld still feels like a real threat. Savalas’ performance is incredibly fleshed out (even the way he holds is cigarette is unique), making for an erie and fully realized antagonist.
My main issue with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is that it’s too long and has a second half which is far stronger than its first half. The movie is a whopping 2 hours and 22 minutes long, and I just don’t see why it had to be that length. The film never gets particularly boring, but it definitely overstays its welcome. Twenty minutes easily could have been cut out of the first half to make the pacing quicker without sacrificing any plot details. There’s a bunch of lingering shots of the vistas and an overabundance of scenes between Bond and Blofeld’s female assassins. Whenever Bond wasn’t with Tracy or Blofeld, you can tell that the script was a bit weaker and didn’t know how to maintain the intrigue. That said, once you get to that second half, the film grabs you and doesn’t let go. As soon as the riveting 25 minute action sequence in which Bond escapes Blofeld’s lair starts, the movie just skyrockets, as it makes full use of the gorgeous landscapes, Hunt’s visual skills, and Lazenby’s physicality.
Ultimately, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a solid 007 film that’s unique because of its style, emotional stakes, and character development of James Bond — not because it was the only film starring George Lazenby. While I don’t think it’s the masterpiece many critics make it out to be, I still like the film quite a bit and it’s one of my favorite Bond adventures.
2 thoughts on “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Classic Film Reviews #19”
You nailed it!! I remember this movie…released during the year of my wedding, 53 years ago. This review captured everything.
Will definitely add to my Watch List.
Loved ”it definitely overstays its welcome.”