Director: Peter R. Hunt
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Riggs, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn
Plot: Bond (Lazenby) is asked to marry a Countess by her rich father and Bond reluctantly agrees when he realizes it could uncover a lead to find old enemy, Blofeld.
People say that ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ is one of the weaker Bond films, mainly because Sean Connery left the franchise and Lazenby took over. While I disagree that Lazenby is the reason for this film’s failure, I do have the opinion that this is a below average Bond film.
It opens with Bond saving a girl from committing suicide and then from three men that suddenly attack her. Confused and intrigued, Bond tracks these men down to find out that they work for her father, Draco, who is worried about her. He tries to convince Bond to marry her, throwing in the location of Blofeld as food for thought. Bond reluctantly agrees, but accidentally falls in love with her and the two plan their marriage. However, before long, Bond needs to take on his old enemy, Blofeld, so he sneaks into his secret headquarters in the Alps, disguised as a family tree researcher. Blofeld seems to think that he is due inheritance from a very rich family, but there is more to the plot than meets the eye, as Bond stumbles across a group of girls that get brainwashed every night, fed instructions to place deadly weapons across the globe.
My main gripe with this Bond is that there is a certain amount of laziness going on here. The story is dreadfully thrown together. Bond pretty much stumbles across his lead on Blofeld, when he conveniently bumps into a rich girl who wants to kill herself. There are much better ways to bring this enemy back into the story (see the very next movie, for example), and I thought the way Bond lucked out was a cop-out narrative device. Also, you cannot help cringing that a false accent and glasses can fool Blofeld into forgetting who Bond is, until he messes up a small detail of his cover. I get that the whole espionage element of Bond is fun, but if you want to include a villain that already knows Bond you have to forgo that side of things, rather than trying to fool the audience into believing that a change in accent can trick a criminal mastermind. The whole undercover element of the film can never be taken seriously.
The fights are also very bland. There is something very standard about the directional style here, as if it is simply just telling the story. Fight scenes do not get you as invested as they did in the Connery era, simply seeming like means to an end, when it comes to the action of the film. Thankfully, there are few punch-ups here, most of the action being either car chases or skiing sequences, which are much more exciting. Thankfully, when the espionage side of things is over and it simply becomes a clash between Bond and Blofeld, the movie gets so much better. We are given great set-pieces and the final assault on the fortress in the Alps is great to watch. It also helps that Blofeld gets a decent final fight, rather than just vanishing like he did in ‘You Only Live Twice’. Suddenly, it becomes a good movie.
Let’s talk Lazenby. I don’t think he is that bad a Bond, but he asked to be ‘just like Sean Connery’. While, at the very least, Roger Moore did something different, Lazenby always seems to be doing an impression of Bond, rather than becoming Bond himself. Again, this is not the actor’s fault, but probably a directional problem. I did enjoy the fact that he changed his voice, when undercover, which I couldn’t see Sean Connery doing in any of his Bond adventures. Some of his one-liners were wasted however, on some bad direction. Several times, there would be a frantic chase (skiing, for example), noise crashing over the action. When it was time for a quip, the sound would suddenly stop for a brief moment, just for Lazenby to get the joke out and then it would start up again. It was messy and a lot of the time, you couldn’t hear the joke anyway. While Lazenby was spot-on as Bond, everything else seemed to be working against his performance and he never got the chance to show us what he was capable of.
However, this could mean that it is the first time the supporting cast were allowed to get a foot in the door, when it came to show-stealing. Diana Riggs, playing Countess Tracy, is the best Bond girl yet and surprisingly capable, when it comes to the action side of things. It is her that drives the car during the hectic chase from the Alps, meaning that she saves Bond’s life. It is also her that takes out Blofeld’s henchman, Gunther, something I couldn’t see any other Bond girl getting a chance to do. It helps that she is fresh out of playing Emma Peel, from the Avengers TV series. And while the writers decide to totally alter the image of Blofeld (other than bald and cat-bearing, he is missing his scar and megalomaniac accent), Telly Savalas does do a terrific job. His booming American accent is perfect for the brain-washing scenes and evil monologues. In fact, seeing as Donald Pleasance was handled poorly in the last film, Savalas could be my favorite Blofeld.
And the twist at the end! Seeing as it is one of the biggest movie twists out there, it is also probably the most common, but it does show us a glimpse behind Bond’s hard shell. While the whole scenario is a little sudden and could have been slowed down to milk every moment of happiness and then sadness, we do see a Bond broken and delirious. Lazenby’s delivery of a Bond in denial is terrific and it almost makes every flaw in the movie worth it.
Final Verdict: A lazy script and lazy direction nearly destroy this movie, but the second half is explosive and shocking enough to earn approval.