On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 2 hrs. 22 min.

Release Date: December 18th, 1969 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Peter Hunt Actors: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat, Lois Maxwell, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Virginia North

 


 

F

or the first time in six films, James Bond gets a new face. It’s especially jarring since the rest of the frequently returning, supporting players have stayed the same – Bernard Lee as MI6 leader “M,” Desmond Llewelyn as gadget man “Q,” and Lois Maxwell as secretary Moneypenny. 007 himself is entirely different in appearance, though the new actor’s voice has the same confidence and emphasized masculinity. His ability to convince in action sequences isn’t disappointing either, nor is his acting in general, taking the reins from veteran Sean Connery with surprising ease.

On a Portuguese beach, James Bond (George Lazenby) rescues Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) from what looks like a suicide, followed by an attempted kidnapping at the hands of random thugs. Later, in a casino, he sees “Tracy” again, where she thanks him for his unrequested services by inviting him up to her hotel room. The following morning, she disappears, and he’s reunited with the heavies that keep targeting him for attacks. Escorted at gunpoint (and knifepoint) to the lair of Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) of Draco Construction, a front for his real occupation as the head of the second-largest European crime syndicate, Bond is asked to continue looking after Tracy – Draco’s daughter.

007 is too fond of his bachelor lifestyle to willingly maintain a relationship with Tracy, but he’s tempted by Draco to wed her in exchange for the whereabouts of Bond’s longtime nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (now played by Telly Savalas), the leader of the international terrorist organization SPECTRE. Upon returning to the Universal Exports building in London (itself a front for MI6 operations), Bond is removed from his mission to apprehend Blofeld (“Operation Bedlam”), infuriating the secret agent to the point of resignation. But Moneypenny instead puts in a request for a two-week vacation, allowing Bond to return to Portugal to initiate an impulsive romance with the extremely reluctant (at first) Tracy. During a montage in which Louis Armstrong sings “We Have All the Time in the World,” it’s evident that Bond is destined to marry the countess (an act which turns out to be belated, tragic, and ultimately fruitless).

After leaving Tracy behind for a time, Bond impersonates a genealogist to set up a meeting in Switzerland, where he’s met by Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat), personal secretary to a reclusive Count residing at a research center in the Swiss Alps, who is suspected to be Blofeld. During his infiltration, 007 learns of the Count’s ridiculous plot to initiate bacteriological warfare through brainwashed vixens from across the world. Blofeld discovers Bond’s identity, but makes the mistake of keeping him alive, allowing the master of espionage to escape (not only from a platoon of machinegun-armed skiers but also from an avalanche).

The film starts with a familiar introductory action scene, transitioning to the opening titles; but for another first in several films, no song is sung as the credits flash onscreen. But John Barry’s secondary musical motif is sensational, utilized alternatingly with the standard James Bond theme – and it’s almost as catchy (it was formerly featured in “You Only Live Twice”). It’s quite noticeable when the tune strikes up during adventurous moments. Because of this rousing combo, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” just might have the most entertaining score of the entire series.

Fulfilling the other standards of Bond films, fight sequences arrive as if on a schedule, always accompanied by cheeky commentary, apparently necessary to fill the shoes of the previous Bond (who was steadily becoming jokier with each subsequent outing). At the mountaintop clinic, Bond is acquainted to the “Angels of Death” – a dozen beautiful women stuffed into the story solely for the sake of including more female characters (two of whom Bond sleeps with in a single night). And although his signature car and gadgets don’t make much of an appearance, there are a few chases and a rather impressive series of ski stunts to make up for it (the arctic environment is unique, also accommodating a ludicrous luge scuffle). Unfortunately, while trying to include all of the expected constituents of a Bond picture, many elements actually slow down the pacing – creating some noticeable lags, the longest runtime yet, and a disappointingly abrupt conclusion.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10