On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a Bond movie that sets out to go against the established grain of what a James Bond film should be. Slow, largely devoid of action, with a love story anchoring its opening and closing acts, and seemingly featuring a shy and more understated 007 at its heart, it was a direct turn away from the five movies featuring Sean Connery that had come before it and an emphatic statement film.
It is also a bit of a mess.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a movie that I’ve always felt has been undone by the man at the center of it, George Lazenby. His performance and his Bond just simply never click. An odd mixture of quiet and understated, with arguably the most playboy 007 has ever been, Lazenby gives it a go but he is saddled with a character who is unsure what he is supposed to be. There had only been one Bond up to this point and Sir Sean leaves awfully big shoes to fill that Lazenby never comes close to matching.
It is all the more tragic because the film features great performances by the two other central leads in Telly Salvalas’ Blofeld and Diana Rigg’s Tracy. Both give such spark and life to the film and do what they can to bring life to Lazenby and Bond. Indeed, the finale of the film where James cradles the murdered Tracy in his arms as Blofeld and Irma Bunt drive off remains one of the series’ most moving and affecting moments. Devastatingly strong from all parties.
The music by Louis Armstrong is similarly fantastic. Although, just like in From Russia with Love, they opted against using the main title theme during the opening credits. Just as there, the instrumental they go for instead is far weaker.
It all has the potential to be something great, until Bond appears on screen. This is a Bond movie I would so love to have seen Connery, Dalton, Brosnan, or Craig in. Really anyone other than George Lazenby who is just in over his head. There are some who like him more than I do, but few would say he is the best part of what’s happening. There’s a split between Bond fans about whether James himself needs to be great in order for the movie to be so, while I will acknowledge some exceptions I largely hew to the view that a great Bond movie requires a great Bond and we simply don’t have that here.
The entire middle act where very little happens and Bond just sleeps around with a clinic of women only to propose to Tracy the next day is bizarre and feels pulled out of an entirely separate movie.
That’s one of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service biggest weaknesses: none of the acts bleed together and build off of one another like you’d expect. The first act is a romance drama, the second: a playboy, meaningless Bond parody, and the last act is perhaps most like a Bond picture but even that is dampened by Lazenby’s overly moody and temperamental James.
This is by no means the worst of the movies in the series and some of the appeal and popular restoration it’s received in the last 15 or so years is earned. In Peter Hunt’s hands this movie is filmed and crafted like no other Bond movie, there’s simply nothing like it in the series. And I do genuinely like that aspect of it. The fact that it has its own distinct style and energy. The slowed down nature of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service gives us a chance to savor those moments between Bond and Tracy. That’s all good and Hunt does some solid work.
It’s also, though, not in the mix for being one of the best Bond movies either. It is a good movie with some great performances and ideas that are hampered by Lazenby’s performance and the characterization of Bond they gave him, alongside an inability to commit to moving away from certain aspects of the character: the love story being brought down by James’ sleeping around. Indeed, in many ways this story is going to be told better forty years down the line in Casino Royale.
Easily the best single moment is the heartbreaking finale where James Bond holds his just murdered wife in his arms and whispers “we’ve got all the time in the world.” Gut-wrenching stuff that is easily the emotional highpoint. Outside of that, not much for me.
Dang, Telly Savalas is great. While Donald Pleasance will always have my heart as THE Blofeld, Savalas is terrific here and easily one of the highlights of the movie. Giving us a fully fleshed out take on the iconic Bond baddie. Whereas Pleasance nails the look, Savalas gives us a layered and brilliant version of Blofeld. Is it weird that he and Bond don’t recognize each other right away? Yes. But that’s not Savalas fault, who is terrific throughout. Fully expect him to make a run at being in our top 10 villains list at the end of all this. 9/10
I honest-to-god don’t think Bond has any gadgets in this thing. He didn’t even get a new car or gun to work with. Boo. 0/10
The Music –
Like I already alluded to, the theme of the movie, Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World” is not played over the opening credits so that’s points off there. Otherwise though, it’s fantastic and I think I love it more than Trevor. Really sad times listening to it. 8.5/10
The Final Ranking –
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is an anomaly. A strange stopgap bookended not just between the two giants of the Bond series in Sean Connery and Roger Moore, but as an odd one-off within Connery’s larger era. George Lazenby has always been forced to live in the shadows of those two larger than life men and on some level that has always been unfair. Indeed, it was probably always going to be impossible to live up to the legacy of what Connery did in inventing the role for film.
Yet, no one made him walk away after one film. No one made him perform the way he did, and it is no one else’s fault that he delivers the unsure-at-times listless Bond he does. Lazenby is the weakest Bond by a significant amount for many varied reasons and he is also the weight that drags down this movie. When it is great, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service almost sings and when it isn’t, it can be a rough, stilted time. I would probably rather watch most of the series’ other films before I get to this one, while also acknowledging that it is by no means one of the worst movies in the series. Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas alone keep it from that fate. In the end, it is a good movie but one deeply flawed at its heart. 7/10