On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

I’m a guy who lives comfortably inside a series of routines. Some may see that as a detriment…but I find comfort in it. Sue me. One of my routines is that I don’t consider my work day as finished until I’ve hit my rowing machine for 30 minutes…as soon as I get home. It’s been that way for years…and will continue to be so for many more to come, Cosmos willing. While I row, I generally use a flick, in Blu Ray or DVD form, to watch as I work the fat off my bones and, more importantly, to use as a timer. Today was no different. As I was perusing my DVD’s for a time-waster to use, my eye fell on my collection of James Bond films. Now I’ve been a fan of the long-running British spy franchise for about 34 of my near 40 years (ugh!) on this planet and it pains me, with shame, to admit that in ALL that time…I’d never seen 1969’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. Among many other Bond novels by Ian Fleming that I do own, and have read, I found it to be a very good entry into the Bond literary universe…distinct in some cool ways. So when I saw the DVD (that I don’t even remember picking up to begin with) nestled in among my other ones, something clicked. It was time. There’s also the distinction of this movie being the sole entry in which Australian actor George Lazenby stepped into the iconic role, at the time recently deserted by ‘classic’ Bond actor Sean Connery. Now we’ve seen many different ‘Bonds’ come and go over the years, but Lazenby’s incarnation never seems to get any kind of prominent mention. It could be due to this flick being the only one he did, but then again, Timothy Dalton only did two (‘The Living Daylights’ in ’87 and ‘License to Kill’ in ’89), and people STILL mention him. Of Lazenby…almost nothing. At least…nothing that I’ve ever heard or read. So it seemed like as good a time as any to see if this unique addition to the franchise could somehow stand on it’s own two feet. Happily, I can say that it did. As I was watching, I decided to start taking notes as things, good and bad, stood out to me. So…I’m just going to give you my scribbles…exactly as I wrote them in Sharpie…and then we can get into WHY I wrote whatever I wrote.
First off…what the hell is ‘OHMSS’ actually about? I’ll tell ya: We’re coyly introduced to the ‘new’ James Bond (George Lazenby) through a pre-titles sequence prologue in which ‘Bond’, seeing a gorgeous woman named ‘Tracy’ (Diana Rigg) seemingly try to commit suicide by walking out into the ocean, is set upon by a pair of mysterious goons…who he puts out of action. Later, he’s abducted by some more of these thugs and brought to the opulent residence of ‘Tracy’s father ‘Draco’ (Gabriele Ferzetti); a Corsican gangster with a long, criminal reach. ‘Draco’ has heard about ‘Bond’ saving ‘Tracy’ and very much wants him to marry his troubled and scandalous daughter. ‘Bond’ reluctantly considers this, largely because ‘Draco’ can get him information on ‘Ernst Blofeld’; a notorious enemy of the British Secret Service. ‘Draco’ eventually gives up ‘Blofeld’s location, which is an experimental medical institute high in the Swiss Alps. Taking on the disguise of a prominent genealogist who is tasked with tracing ‘Blofeld’s ancestry, ‘Bond’ infiltrates the fortress-like establishment and works to discover what his enemies nefarious plan may be…while also trying to stay alive…and get laid.

So that being said…here’s what got scribbled as I watched.

Lazenby good as Bond. Sounds like Roger Moore. Right off the bat, I liked what Lazenby brought to the character. There was something slightly unpolished about him, probably due to this being his first major gig, that worked with the style the movie adopted. A good start. And yes…there were times when he sounded like Roger Moore, who would later take up the martini and tux as ‘Bond’.

Cinematography, especially action, filmed well. Ahead of it’s time. The first action scene in this one had a different feel than previous ‘Bond’ films…or at least that’s how it seemed. The edits were quick, the compositions had depth to them and the lighting was gritty and interesting. Many of the shots would’ve been right at home in a movie filmed today.

Diana Rigg looks hot, modern hot. Diana Rigg, in her day, was a damn fine looking lady. Gorgeous. And, while she always looked good as ‘Emma Peele’ on ‘The Avengers’, I’d never seen her look as ravishing as she does when we see her for the second time, sashaying into a typical ‘Bond in casino’ scene wearing a VERY flattering dress. For SOME reason, there was a ‘modern’ feel to her beauty. I don’t know how to properly explain that…but it was there.

Close to source material. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve read this book. And quite enjoyed it. Right off the bat, from the first scene, the flick stayed on track in conjunction with the book. There are some changes, but the majority of the narrative stays true.

More grounded. Probably because they were trying to remain faithful to the book, there’s a more ‘grounded’ feel to the proceedings.

Not quite polished. Again there was ‘something’ a little rough around the edges of this one, a little more gritty and less rehearsed feeling. It could very well still be the inexperience of Lazenby (which didn’t phase me at all) that added this ‘flavour’.

Charmingly sexist. Alarmingly so. Oh, the 60’s. When slapping chicks into submission or having a female character’s own father tell our hero to basically fuck his daughter into submission was just accepted. What a time.

Good ‘Moneypenny’ scene. As with all ‘Bond’ flicks, there’s a flirty and amusing scene with ‘Bond’ and his boss’s pining secretary ‘Moneypenny’ ( Lois Maxwell ). This one worked particularly well for me. Just saying.

Sight gags reference other Bond flicks. I’m not ENTIRELY sure that ‘sight gags’ is the right term…but it’s the one that I wrote. First thing is, during the opening credit sequence, playing under the VERY 60’s intro visuals, we get footage grabbed from previous, Sean Connery-led Bond films (minus Connery, of course). It was like they were letting the audience know that despite the Leading Man change-up, this flick is a legitimate entry into THAT ‘universe’. There was also a sequence (the one and only of it’s kind, if I recall correctly) where we see ‘Bond’ in his actual office at MI6 / ‘Universal Exports’. During this scene, he sorts through a drawer filled with gadgets that were prominently featured in previous movies. It was amusingly self-aware.

Cool Intro. No song. Just extended theme, set to images of past villains and chicks. As I just touched on in the previous note, this sweet intro sequence served to remind us of other characters that our Hero has either fought or fucked, while giving us just theme, not some soon-to-be wildly popular song by whatever Flavour-of-the-Month musician was popular at the time. Just pure ‘Bond’, comin atcha. I liked it.

Minimal gadgets. So despite having a scene that prominently featured past gadgets, there are virtually no gadgets to be seen in this movie, which was refreshing. In this respect, this was one aspect that was faithfully kept from the source material. In the books, Bonds ‘gadgets’, when he has them (which is rare) are usually grounded in some kind of reality, which is to be expected, as Ian Fleming was an actual spy and in many respects, lived the adventures (at least in spirit) that his ‘Bond’ character embarks upon. Having Bond just get through with rugged determination, an iota of charm, and impressive physical stamina was cool.

Cool car. 1969 Aston Martin DBS. Need I say more?

Bond actually uses a disguise…which at one point causes him to dress like an utter buffoon *ruffles and kilt. So part of the ‘OHMSS’ story is that ‘Bond’ has located his arch-nemesis ‘Blofeld’ and goes after the man in the disguise and character of a genealogy expert who has been hired to trace ‘Blofelds’ ancestry. So there isn’t any of the blatant “Bond…James Bond” bullshit that became a trademark move of the character, to which I’ve ALWAYS wanted to grab the man and shake the stupid out of him, while yelling “What part of SECRET agent do you not get, asshole?!!”. And yes, this has ‘Bond’ emerge at one point bedecked in a bizarre ‘kilt n ruffles’ ensemble. It’s hilarious. Now given that it’s hinted that this ‘Sir Hillary’ character is rumored to be gay…that MAY explain this ridiculous ‘get-up’, but I doubt it.

Cool settings. Most of the locales and settings were interesting and visually dynamic. The scene that caused this scribbled observation was a comfortably 60’s sitting room, back-dropped by the peaks of the Alps in the setting sun. At one point, the outer ring of the room rotates, changing the sitting room into a dining room with one helluva view. But there were others too. ‘Blofeld’s mountain fortress was sweet and I definitely saw the inspiration Christopher Nolan took for the snowy fortress scene he featured in ‘Inception’ (2010) and even the beach scene at the beginning had ‘something’ to it.

Hot Sixties chicks. As a red-blooded, heterosexual male…this observation was a given. Almost all the arm candy-type women were damn sexy, in that charming ‘Swing’n 60’s’ way, like they had just stepped out of a Nancy Sinatra music video. It worked for the movie…and it worked for me.

Awesome innuendos. The majority of Bond films carry a heavy dose of amusing sexual innuendo and this one is no different. Many of the ones dropped here worked like a charm and some actually had me laughing out loud. Terrific stuff.

Savalas good Blofeld. I’ve always known the name Telly Savalas, but I’ve never seen anything this renowned actor had actually done…till now. As an unattractive but physically imposing guy, who could actually act, he was a good choice for the character of ‘Ernst Blofeld’, more so than Donald Pleasance, in my opinion. The physicality of the man portraying him this time made him more of a credible nemesis for ‘Bond’.

Bond is a slut, 3 chicks. We all know that movie ‘Bond’ should be a walking collection of STD’s, given his tendency to bone anything that even vaguely resembles a female, but here he is also definitely on his game. Given that part of his mission is to infiltrate an institute that is quietly brain-washing sexually alluring gals into ‘sleeper’ Assassin Status, it’s like ‘Bond’ walking into a shooting gallery. Hell, this guys screws two chicks IN THE SAME NIGHT…and goes back for more the next night, with 3 chicks in one hour intervals on the docket for that one! He’s just…that good.

Some very 60’s trippy cinematography. As to be expected from the time period, director Peter Hunt indulged in some weird, psychedelic effects and compositions. Luckily, they weren’t overdone and actually fit the tone and narrative well.

Blofeld traps Bond in an idiotic location. It’s been a while since I’ve read this book (I own all the original Ian Fleming titles), so I don’t remember if this faithful, but if it is, it’s stupid in the book too then. When ‘Bond’ is inevitably unmasked, ‘Blofeld’ has his goons lock the British secret agent in the large, functioning mechanics room of the gondola that is used to bring people and cargo up the mountain. Does it prove to be a perilous location for Bond? Yes, it does. But does it also allow ‘Bond’ to escape? Yes, it does that also. Sure, he nearly dies a couple times, but he still gets away. It just seemed like a stupid place for a supposedly brilliant dude like ‘Blofeld’ to lock an enemy. It’s a secret institute for brainwashing people. You don’t have a lockable room somewhere? Really?

Cool ski chase, funny rear projection. As is now expected in every other Bond film, there is a high-stakes ski chase. The live action, on-set stunt scenes are really cool, especially considering the movie’s age, but anytime it cut to a close up of a character skiing, it was hilariously bad rear projection. It just stood out like a sore thumb and acutely reminded me of how old the flick was.

Lazenby resembles Connery. Clive Owen? There were definitely times when I could see why they cast Lazenby as Connery’s replacement, as there were certain angles and mannerisms that could definitely act as a reminder of the characteristic swagger that Connery brought to the role. As for Clive Owen (‘Croupier’), I remember hearing, just before Daniel Craig was cast, of his name being floated about as a contender for the role. I would’ve liked to have seen how that could’ve turned out, had that come true. I like Clive Owen, and there were times when Lazenby also kinda reminded me of him as well, like a tiny glimmer of what COULD have been.

Sweet stock car chase scene. Dangerous. I was intrigued when I saw a credit at the beginning for someone overseeing a stock car race sequence. I had no idea what that might entail, though probably something to do with a stock car race. When the scene actually happened, it was surprisingly exciting and well done, and was another scene I found myself picking out choice edits and compositions that would’ve been right at home in a thriller released today. Good stuff.

Hilarious ADR. Automated Dialogue Replacement is the use of actors in a recording studio dubbing dialogue onto the edited film that was either not recorded ‘on set’ or wasn’t of usable quality. It’s used quite noticeably in ‘OHMSS’, and sometimes those results were damn funny. At times, it sounded like an obvious studio recording and other times, it was painfully obvious that what was just heard was NOT what the character just said, whether the words just don’t match the mouth movements, or that mouth isn’t moving at all!…and we still get words!! Unintentional hilarity.

Holy shit! Diana Rigg is Olenna Tyrell on GoT. Finding myself visually captivated by the character of ‘Tracy’, I decided to grab my phone and see if I could find any particularly saucy pics of Diana Rigg…for reasons. I’ve always known her from the early 60’s British tongue-in-cheek spy show, ‘The Avengers’ but I never recalled catching her in a movie…or anything else, for that matter. So, as a fan of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’, I don’t know how it somehow escaped me that one of the most bad-ass senior citizens to ever grace a screen was actually Diana Rigg! Surprised the hell out of me…and shamed me for my lack of detective skills. She was a damn sexy lady back in the day…who quietly morphed into a definite ‘fan favorite’ on one of the coolest shows in TV history. Well done, Diana Rigg!

Nice! Death by snow blower thingy! There’s a sequence during the ski chase in which ‘Bond’ and ‘Tracy’ deliberately steer a pursuing goon straight into the path of a large snow-blowing road-clearing machine. He is sucked underneath and sprayed all over the place, in a surprisingly gory (but brief) shot. This prompts the following quip from ‘Bond’, “He had a lot of guts!” *Rolls eyes*

Cool avalanche. As is to be expected in a flick featuring a ski chase in the Alps, at one point, ‘Blofeld’ sets off explosives, prompting a massive wash of snow and ice cascading down the mountainside in pursuit of ‘Bond’ and ‘Tracy’. It’s a mix of production footage, stock footage, animation and, I think, miniature. It’s a cool, if slightly crude, sequence.

Vietnam-inspired Huey footage? In 1969, the Vietnam War was in full-swing, and the nightly news in the United States was constantly plastered with footage of the war being beamed directly into their living rooms (my dad grew up in Burbank, CA, and vividly remembers this). There’s a scene in which ‘Bond’, accompanied by ‘Draco’ and his Corsican mobster thugs, infiltrate ‘Blofeld’s lair under the guise of a Red Cross humanitarian flight of 3 Hueys. Now it COULD be that I’ve read and seen SO much material pertaining to that bullshit conflict that the image of Huey’s in flight automatically conjures up the comparison, but something about it felt deliberate, like the insinuation of impending combat and the use of similar footage that a huge chunk of the movie-going public would automatically associate with ‘War’, was being used to ‘ground’ the story.

Blofeld’s an idiot…again. Falls for Tracy’s obvious ruse. For a criminal mastermind…this guy can be one helluva gullible moron. Once he has kidnapped ‘Tracy’, he tries to turn on the charm, to which she gives him nothing but the frosty cold shoulder. Once she figures out that rescue is on the way, she suddenly flips the switch, and starts coming on like a drunken prom date…which ‘Blofeld’ suddenly falls for!

Long flick. It was by this time that I checked the clock, and realized that this flick wasn’t yet ready to wrap up. At 142 minutes long…it’s one of the longer running entries into the franchise.

Sweet chopper attack! Now NOTHING on-screen will EVER touch the famous ‘Ride of the Valkries’ helicopter attack in 1979’s masterful ‘Apocalypse Now’…but this one is pretty cool too, especially for the time and budget. Worked for me, at least.

Tracy actually defends herself. Now this may be some kind of sexist generalization, but when it comes to movies from the 1960’s, women fighting back isn’t a theme that instantly leaps to mind (that was more of a 70’s thing). That being said, it was cool that when Diana Riggs’s ‘Tracy’ character makes a break for it, she gets into a ‘down n dirty’ fight with at least one goon, actually taking something of a beating, while also giving back as hard as she got. It was nice to see, and an honestly cool scene. It could’ve been that the casting of Diana Rigg, famous at that time for her capable, ready-to-fight ‘Emma Peele’ character on ‘The Avengers’, who could also take, and give, a solid beating, governed this choice…but it was a good one.

He punched his own daughter?! Just as ‘Draco’ and his boys are about to make their escape, with ‘Tracy’ in tow, ‘Bond’ is still trapped inside the fortress-like institute, fighting for his life. ‘Tracy’, having by now fallen in love with the British agent, wants to rush back inside to help. ‘Draco’ lets her know he doesn’t think this is a good idea…by punching her in the face and knocking her out cold. Not the approach I would’ve taken…but it did get her on to the chopper. But if Social Services got wind of that one…!

Bobsled chase? Why not. When making an action movie that largely takes place in a snowy environment, I guess you might as well fit in a much ‘snow-related’ shit as you can. The chase and subsequent high-speed fist fight was cool…if also totally impossible. I say this as a guy who has actually gone down a bobsled run and there is no goddamn way that a fist-fight, especially as long as this one, is going to break out. Those things are damn fast and the G’s that you hit are impressive…and a little frightening. Good scene…totally bullshit.

C’mon! THAT’s how Blofeld dies?! Now being caught up in the moment of the scene, I forgot that we actually see ‘Blofelds’ death in the ‘throw away’ beginning of 1981’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’, pathetically dropped down an industrial smoke stack from the rung of a ‘Bond’-piloted helicopter. But here, ‘Bond’ thrusts ‘Blofelds’ head up during the bobsled fight, in a way that very much reminded me of how Keanu Reeves finally dispatches Dennis Hopper in 1994’s still-kickass action flick ‘Speed’, and jams his neck at high-speed into the branches of an overhanging tree, leaving the murderous super-villain dangling like a bug-eye’d pinata. It was funny…though unintentionally so, I think.

Q has nothing to do in this flick. Nothing. I’d forgotten that we’d gotten a cameo from long-time ‘Q’ actor Desmond Llewelyn at the beginning of the flick, but I was reminded of his lack of contribution to the story when he turned up as a guest at *SPOILER* ‘Bond’ and ‘Tracy’s wedding. Being that ‘Bond’ never uses any of MI6’s gadgets, the poor Quartermaster really has nothing to do but remind audiences that, despite Connery’s absence, this is STILL a ‘James Bond’ movie. The same could also be said of the presence of Bernard Lee as ‘M’ and Lois Maxwell as ‘Moneypenny’, as further legitimizing the movie…while not having much to contribute to the overall story. But then again…when do they ever?

Oh, he’s not dead. *SPOILER* So, just like in the book, as ‘Bond’ and ‘Tracy’ are leaving the wedding to embark on their honeymoon in his Austin Martin, ‘Blofeld’ and his monstrous bitch hench-woman ‘Irma Brunt’ (Ilse Steppat), race past, spraying ‘Bonds’ car with machine-gun fire.

But she is. After ‘Bond’ pulls himself up from cover, following the drive-by assassination attempt, he sees that a bullet has gone through the windshield…and into ‘Tracy’, as she had been joyfully waiting in the car. What follows is probably the most human, at least for the time period, that we’d ever seen ‘Bond’.

Kinda heart-breaking actually. The film, like the book, basically ends with ‘Bond’ going just a little bit crazy as he cradles the lifeless and bloodied head of his new bride, her limp body slumped over in the passenger seat, telling the motorcycle cop that pulls up that everything is fine…she’s just resting, through manly tears. It was surprisingly effective, as Bond endings go, and Lazenby pulled it off beautifully, in my opinion.

Self contained story. As the credits rolled, I had to sit back and admit that this one was nicely packaged into it’s own thing, which is perfect, historically-speaking, as it’s the only one with Lazenby in the role, and therefore something of a ‘curiosity’, in the grand scheme of the franchise. I know that technically they’re all self-contained stories, with the notable exception of the Daniel Craig titles (mostly to their detriment…looking at YOU, ‘Spectre’!), but there was ‘something’ that set this one apart for me. It could be the faithfulness to the source material, or just Lazenby in the lead, but that’s how it felt.

All in all, I’m surprised that this one had escaped me for as long as it had; long-time ‘James Bond’ fan that I am. It’s an interesting addition to the franchise and a cool little exercise in ‘What Could’ve Been’, had George Lazenby worked out in the role and continued on for several more Bond films, as he was originally contracted to do. It’s quite faithful to the book, gives new dimension to the ‘Bond’ character, and is largely technically very proficient, especially for when it was made and released. It’s not perfect, but if you’re a fan of this long-running franchise and have yet to catch this one, as was the case with me, I can easily recommend ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ on the merits that is definitely a solid, faithful ‘James Bond’ movie…with a twist. Shaken, not stirred.


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