RECAP: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): Peter Hunt

In 1967, Sean Connery decided he was over playing James Bond. He stopped speaking to producer Albert Broccoli. The boys and girls at Eon, now United Artists, needed a new 007. They selected an unknown Australian commercial actor named George Lazenby.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: James Bond chases his arch-nemesis Blofeld into the mountain heights of Switzerland, where only he and a new, maybe-permanent lover can stop him. 

Hero (6/10)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service introduces us to a new 007, Australian model George Lazenby. But don’t let that confuse you, the movie spends plenty of reel assuring us of the series’s continuity. It is not Bond but M (Bernard Lee) and Q (Desmond Llewelyn) who open the film discussing new tech. Later, Bond tries to quit the Service, and he cleans out his desk of items acquired by Sean Connery, accompanied by songs from the series.

We see much of Bond before we see his face. As Bone drives in Portugal, he spies a woman wading into the surf fully clothed. Alarmed and certain she’s attempting suicide, Bond wades after her and saves her, then fights off two goons. After a long stretch of successful fighting, Bond turns to the camera and says, “This never happened to the other fella.”

Look at this ham.

Yes, it’s a new Bond, and we can tell because of the hair. Lazenby wears an immaculately coiffed ‘do that must be either glued hair or meringue. He’s still cool under pressure, and should be, or his hair might melt. He enjoys each fight no matter how unexpected, and he’s a guy who can tell where caviar is sourced.

The more things change, though, the more they stay the same. The woman, Tracy (Diana Rigg), he saves from the ocean turns out to be a countess and connection to longtime nemesis Blofeld (Telly Savalas). Blofeld is housing some very sexy, very allergic ladies in a mountaintop research facility, and Bond goes there to meet said parties.

Bond’s horniess gets him into trouble, as he beds not one but two women in the same night, sex-starved women who think Bond is gay but are willing to try anyway.

Hatred of Blofeld and love of ladies connects Bond to the previous installments, but some things have changed. There’s a vulnerability to Lazenby’s Bond not present in the series before.

The man wearing the blanket is Bond in disguise.

Tracy sleeps with Bond the first day they meet (not unusual). They cavort in Portugal for a few days, when Bond falls for Tracy. He proposes to her the night after she saves him from Blofeld’s clutches, after he seems to have given up a chase. Emotional frailty and vulnerability are huge changes to his character. More about that later.

We can’t continue without discussing the outlandish outfits Bond wears. Least of all is his full Scottish kit, complete with a sporran–the fur thing that goes in front of a kilt. This dude wades into the ocean wearing a dress shirt and tuxedo pants. He dons an overcoat in the clinic. It’s a lineup for a fashion model, which Lazenby is.

Villain (4/10)

Blofeld returns in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with a strange desire–he wants a title. He’s claimed to be heir to the Swiss family de Bleuchamp (French for “Blofeld”), calling himself Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp. The Bleuchamp clan is famous for its lack of earlobes, and Blofeld apparently seizes on this to add legitimacy to his claim.

Blofeld might very well be a count, though Bond disbelieves him. Doesn’t matter. Why not give Blofeld his title? His plan for world domination hinges on it.

Blofeld gunning for da throne.

That’s right, Blofeld has a plan, and it is devious, but you won’t believe what his price is, he tells Bond. We don’t believe it either. Here’s the plan–Blofeld has used the cover of a private allergy clinic to attract sexy women with strange allergies to hypnotize them to become vectors for diseases he cultured in his mountaintop lab. After enough psychological programming Blofeld will release these women into the world, where they can be manipulated.

Blofeld’s biological warfare can render entire species infertile. Wheat, cows, rice, chicken–you name it, Blofeld can ruin it as a species. He can starve the world. His demands? Full pardon by world governments and recognition of his claim to be Comte de Bleuchamp.

You’re right, Blofeld, I can’t believe it. Why go to the trouble to claim a small title in Switzerland? Isn’t it enough to head SPECTRE, the world’s biggest crime syndicate? Seems like a petty dream, but the characters take him seriously.

I credit this Blofeld for having good reason to keep Bond alive. He believes he needs the spy to prove to the world that he means business. Bond escapes quickly after being caught, but Blofeld gives great effort to kill Bond, not the case in other Blofeld appearances.

It is Blofeld’s final act that makes him the best of the many versions of Blofeld in the series.

Action/Effects (5/10)

Any movie set atop a snowy mountain better have some skiing. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service fits the bill.

One night Bond is caught trying to sleep with one of the women in Blofeld’s allergy clinic/world domination headquarters. His cover is blown, and he’s tossed in a mechanical room until Blofeld can decide what to do with him.

Bond escapes the room, of course. He must get off the mountain and warn the world of its impending doom. What’s the best way to get down a mountain? Well, if the cable car is not an option, how about skis?

Bond sneaks through the compound and finds the ski room, where he begins his descent. He gets about 10 yards before the Olympic guard spot him with a searchlight, sound the alarm, and ski after him.

These guards were nasty on the skis.

Bond first must out-ski a group of three. Blofeld and another three guards follow behind them. The first group shoots at Bond but only hits snow. The slope at this height is steep, flat, and fast. Olympic skiers can hit 100 miles per hour, and I bet you’d go faster if your life was on the line.

After some solid jumps the skiers enter woods. The guards shoot flares to identify their position. Blofeld’s group moves to flank Bond. While Bond is avoiding the bad guys, one of his skis breaks. He must continue his descent single-skied.

Solid camera work follows Bond for moments of his descent. It looks marks better than the green screen used to show the real actors’ faces.

Now the guards start falling. A couple ski into trees, knocking them supposedly out of the chase. Bond flips over a ledge and crashes. He has to hide quickly, because guards are on top of him.

Bond is as good on one ski as most people are on two.

It’s a lucky thing for Bond that he crashed, because the next guy comes over and Bond sends him over a cliff a thousand feet high. Another guy sneaks near and Bond chokes him with a ski so he won’t alert his friends. Bond sends that guy over the cliff. Bond skis into the village below where he catches up with Tracy.

Sidekicks (/8)

Diana Rigg enters the film speeding by Bond so she can park by the beach and walk into the ocean. Bond follows her and stops her from drowning, or whatever she had planned. It’s a sweet moment.

Later that night they meet formally in the hotel. Tracy tries to put down thousands of escudo on a baccarat hand, only to lose it and tell the casino employees she’s got no dough. Bond speaks up for her, tossing a big blue chip into the pot to cover her losses. Later he tells her she ought to play it safe.

Tracy is not a woman to play it safe.

“People who want to stay alive play it safe,” Tracy says with a smile. Given what we saw minutes earlier on the beach, we understand what she means. Tracy beds Bond that night, and in the morning she steals Bond’s gun and pays back her debt.

Tracy is the precocious, spoiled daughter of a rich crime boss. She knows Bond is there to do business with her father, and that annoys her, though she enjoys Bond’s company. He can show her the fast life she’s sought for years.

Tracy’s death cements her in the canon of Bond girls. She claims, moments before she dies, that marrying Bond has given her “a future.” Irony of her death aside, I agree.

On their wedding day

Tracy’s dad (Gabriele Ferzetti) is around purely as a connection to Blofeld and to annoy his daughter. He runs Europe’s largest crime syndicate and has several legitimate holdings, including a construction company, which allows Bond to gather some evidence he needs to find Blofeld.

Draco also has a pesky daughter on his hands. Here’s a daughter whose father spoiled her, so he cut off her allowance, and now, so Darco thinks, “what she needs is a man to dominate her.”  He’s glad Bond had sex with her, also the saving her life thing. Bond could be that dominating man, and he offers Bond one million pounds in gold as a dowry. This guy is a criminal born before World War One, so let’s cut him some slack, maybe?

Henchmen (6/8)

For some reason all of Blofeld’s mountaintop guards wear orange coats emblazoned with the Olympic rings. They work at a research lab, not a sports facility, so I don’t see how that fits with the allergy research cover story.

What’s with the rings?

Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) is Blofeld’s right hand woman. She liaises with Blofeld’s allergy patients, trying to keep them away from Bond’s randy hands and easily-accessible kilt. She’s pretty good at being the mother hen. I suspect her being a lesbian, because how else could she tolerate herding these bored women around the lab/prison for several months?

Irma Bunt is a classic intimidating henchwoman.

Bunt deserves pantheon villain status for successfully, permanently damaging Bond. She pulls the trigger of the gun that kills Tracy hours after marrying Bond. That the series ignored this moment is its own fault, not Bunt’s.

Stunts (3/6)

After Bond escapes Blofeld on the slopes he skis into the village. On foot Bond eludes more guards. One sidestep takes him into a barn full of bells. Take my word, there’s a lot of clanging among those bells as Bond fights off two men.

Irma Bunt is on the trail now. Bond shuffles through crowds, but his blue pants give him away. As Bond approaches the skating rink, the moment seems to overwhelm him. He sits on a bench and drops his head. Could this be…resignation? From James Bond? It’s a seminal moment in the series, as much as his tying the knot (later in the movie), shooting his partner (Goldeneye), or saving M’s life (Skyfall).

Lucky for Bond, Tracy is there. She skates into view at his moment of need with a smile. Taking him by her side, Tracy scrambles toward her nearby car.

The ski scenes were stunning.

Here’s where Bond lost me. He enters the passenger seat. Both spot Irma’s car beside them with a driver inside. All Bond has to do is sit below the window line. He fails to do so, the guard spots them, and the chase is back on. Bond, c’mon dude! Duck your head! It’s a testament to how rattled he is at that moment.

The goal remains to find a phone and call London. That’s it. Amazing how difficult this was in 1969. Tracy drives Bond to the next village. Bond eyes a phone booth and steps in. Irma foils the attempt by shooting at him. Back into the car.

If you think high speed driving on snow is dangerous, well, it is. These cars slide all over the snow, and their tires are probably as bald as Blofeld. Luckily for them, and for the audience, Switzerland has excellent road clearing infrastructure. The inter-town roads are clear, if narrow, alleys of snow.

Volcano of gore!

One road is wide open and dry, however, and it happens to be the site of a stock car race currently running. Tracy enters the race. Irma does too.

Many, many cars are smashed. Swift camera work creates confusion as cars bash and bash back. Eventually Tracy and Irma are beside each other with a car in between, and you bet they smash the hell out of that thing. Tracy’s car manages to get Irma’s flipped upside down. It catches fire, and the bad guys stumble out before it explodes.

***

The director, Peter Hunt, got his chance to helm a Bond movie thanks to his work editing most of the Sean Connery installments. He pioneered a new style of action editing, but in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service he stepped up his game and missed the mark.

After Bond saves Tracy from the ocean in an early scene, he fights off two henchmen of her father’s. The editing is as choppy as the surf they fight in, and maybe that’s by design. Shots alternate close-up to full-frame of the combatants. It disorients. Thankfully they dial it back some in the later scenes.

Climax (2/6)

The Draco-led helicopter raid on Blofeld’s compound is surprisingly easy. Blofeld provides little fight, and, as is his nature, is more interested in escaping than in victory. Perhaps he knows that his Olympian guards are not up to snuff against Draco’s actual criminals.

Draco brings more guns, grenades, and men to lob at the guards, who are not equipped to fight off gunships. If you look close enough you’ll see Bond sliding on the ice like a curling stone while shooting some bad guys.

Tracy does some work of her own against two men. She knocks out one and uses a broken bottle to fend off another. The man overpowers her briefly, but a face scratch puts her back on top. She uses the interior decorating to incapacitate the man, and after he falls down the stairs, she shoves him onto the exposed nail bed hanging on the wall. It’s rarely a good idea to use nails as a wall decoration, and this movie shows you why.

While Draco’s men are busy overtaking the base and wiring it to blow, Bond descends to the base’s depths, where he photographs a secret map locating the hypnotized biological weapons babes. Blofeld interrupts the photo shoot with a bullet shoot and flees.

Draco takes Tracy to safety. He punches her. It’s the only way, in his mind, to get her aboard the helicopter and to let Bond handle his business. Bond knows what he’s doing, Draco tells her.

And he’s right. Blofeld exits the base and Bond follows. Does Blofeld know the base is seconds from explosion? Bond does. They avoid being blown to bits by the plastic explosives.

Blofeld enters a shack a few yards below the base and unveils a bobsled. Hell yeah, we’re about to see a bobsled race.

Of course the shack has TWO bobsleds. Blofeld gets a jump on Bond, but the latter catches up. They shoot at each other. Blofeld hits the brakes to spray snow. What good will that do? The sleds are on a track. Might as well sled blind.

Some slick bobsled action

Blofeld pulls the pin on a grenade and then drops it in his sled. A comical error that always results in the pin-puller’s death. Except this time. Blofeld recovers and flings the explosive backward, where it explodes. Bond sees the trick and bails out of the sled, leaping over the track’s lip, before he dies.

Now, the thing about bobsled tracks is that they curl on themselves. Bond runs a straight line through snow to catch up with Blofeld. He leaps onto the track and grabs the back of the sled. He climbs on. They punch each other in the face, despite wearing helmets, which looks as dumb as it sounds, to no effect.

Blofeld wrestles Bond beneath him. Up ahead a limb obstructs the track, though the fighters don’t seem to know it. The limb knows it. Blofeld gets his neck stuck and Bond slides away. “He’s branched off,” Bond quips.

Let’s skip ahead. Bond returns to London. He visits a jewelry shop. Picks out a massive rock. Goes to Portugal. Cue wedding bells. Cue Q calling Bond “irresponsible.”

Bond weds Tracy. Draco tells her to obey him in all things. She agrees, just as she has obeyed her father. Wink wink. Bond rejects Draco’s dowry offer.

The married couple drives away. They stop on the side of the road to remove the flowers draped over the car. Bond tells Tracy that he wants six kids as a wedding present. Tracy says that she already got hers. “A future.”

A car zooms by. In the backseat is Irma Bunt. She blasts a machine gun and Blofeld, wearing a neck brace, drives away.

Bond re-enters the car and finds Tracy dead. “She’s having a rest,” Bond says. “We have all the time in the world.”

Damn. We didn’t expect that from a Bond flick.

Does Lazenby nail the scene? I don’t think so. Compare this moment to watching Daniel Craig deal with the pure rage of watching Vesper Lynd drown in front of him. THAT’s the reaction I want. We need that.

The coldest moment in the James Bond series.

Jokes (2/4)

Bond quips are up to snuff here. Bond has to go undercover during his stint at the so-called allergy clinic.

Truly, though, Bond’s funniest aspect is his clothing. Let’s take a look at this situation:

Bond is the embodiment of the term “peacocking,” doing it 40 years before The Game.

Setting (4/4)

The allergy clinic was the under-construction revolving restaurant Piz Gloria, where you can still dine today. The production team paid for construction in exchange for getting to film there, and that decision paid off. The place is alive despite its remote location. Having a curling sheet helps matters, as does the splendid dining/lounging area.

Bond receives a tour when he arrives. He finds the place sprawling beneath its exposed area. He sees the allergy lab, where actual scientists are doing actual work. He finds Blofeld’s lair and the dozen or more posh hotel rooms. There’s a cable car, and Bond spends some time climbing its cables.

Who wouldn’t accept treatment at this facility?

The real star is Switzerland, which shines as the prime location of action in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Several ski chases were shot in Switzerland, mostly in the Bern area. The Christmas village chase occurred in Grindelwald.

The mountaintop, uh, scenery.

Bond has visited Switzerland many times, but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is his longest visit. Switzerland is often ridiculed, but few states on Earth can boast the soaring mountains per square mile like Switzerland. The place is a marvel of government success. A tiny country of nine million people speaking four languages and removed from nearly all European systems, yet is the seat of the Red Cross, the World Trade Organization, and CERN (home of the world’s largest particle accelerator).

That’s a goddamn ski mountain!

That’s nice and all, but we want to see snow, and we get literal tons of it. It’s a wonder that the nation can keep its roads clear in winter, yet we see a snow plow doing so. That snow plow also ends the life of one of Blofeld’s men, sending a snowfall of gore onto his colleagues.

Huge snow banks adorn the roads, the mountains, the roofs, and the windshields. It’s snow everywhere, unusual for a Bond flick but fun to see.

Commentary (0/2)

With the focus on Blofeld, global politics takes a backseat.

Offensiveness (-1/-2)

Draco literally offers to sell his daughter to Bond. He tries, on her wedding day, to remind her to obey her husband in all things. Dude’s pretty gross about it. At least he never calls his daughter a bitch.

Others

  • How’d they do the sound in that room full of bells?
  • Worst titles so far. A clock has a prominent role.
  • Tracy and Bond simultaneously literally and figuratively roll in the hay.
  • The producers chose to ignore the fact that Bond and Blofeld already met in the previous movie, You Only Live Twice. Both actors were different, so the change works. Barely.

Summary (31/68): 46%

The most forgotten entry in the series, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a fine addition to the Bond canon. His character changes from Casanova to married man in the movie, a stark departure from the Connery-helmed editions.

The public hardly saw it that way. At $22 million, the American public was disinterested in this new, humbled Bond. The movie barely earned one third as much as Goldfinger. Before the movie came out Lazenby quit the series on the advice of his agent. “Hey, commercial actor,” his agent probably said, “stop acting in feature films as the world’s most famous movie character. It will damage your career.”

You can guess where Lazenby’s career went. Who can forget Stoner and The Dragon Files? Nevertheless, George Lazenby’s lone go at James Bond turned the series into a true franchise. Sean Connery didn’t have to play Bond every time to keep the thing going. (Yeah, he came back for the next one, but only for one.)