On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Directed by Peter R. Hunt

I finally have a copy and have watched the only James Bond film I’ve ever really been interested in: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The one and only time I had seen it previously was way back when it came out. That would have been late 1969, early 1970. (It was released mid to late December 1969).

Of course, this was the controversial Bond film. It didn’t have Sean Connery; it had George Lazenby. And it wasn’t all action. No, there was a love story (yes, Bond in love). And the opinions have ranged from here to there regarding the merits of this one.

I had always thought it was one of the best, if not the best, because it had stayed with me and I recall the ending having had quite an impact. However, I would have been very young at the time, I saw it only the one time, and that was over 30 years ago.

Was it the movie I mistily recalled?

The answer, as it often is, is yes and no.

Seeing it again, decades later, it doesn’t have the same impact. I didn’t expect it to. I’m less impressionable now and certainly more critical – or, at least, more aware of film as film and my own responses.

On the negative side of things I would have to agree with James Berardinelli when he says that George Lazenby, as Bond, is boring. He is. There’s no getting around that. I think what happened is they went for a physical look, particularly how Lazenby appeared in action (fight) sequences. The problem is, while he may appear fine as Bond, he just can’t act to save his life. He is bland. And I’m not sure you can fault Lazenby here: he was model who had never acted in a film. It shows.

The other major negative in the film, and it’s somewhat related to the Lazenby thing, is the length. This probably wouldn’t be a problem but the first half of the film is pretty slow, at least for a Bond film. Of course, it might have played better with an actor as Bond, rather than a model. Then maybe the early scenes would have played better. But they don’t and so it drags.

The film doesn’t pick up until the second half when three things come together to help the last half to become some pretty kick-ass Bond stuff: the winter action (cars on ice, ski chases in the Alps), Diana Rigg as Tracy Di Vicenzo and Telly Savalas as Blofeld. Rigg and Savalas help get the weight off Lazenby (who at this point can simply be Bond as physical presence in action sequences).

I think what happened in this movie is that the focus was so intent on the action scenes (which are key to the last half of the movie), that expository elements, non-action scenes, were neglected. Perhaps it’s a problem of a director skilled at action, but with drama, not so much.

Finally, the love story element, even in this flawed film with Lazenby’s stiffness, works in spite of everything and is the element that helps separate this Bond installment from the others. As far as I can recall, the only other Bond that plays with the emotional aspects of Bond is the recent Casino Royale.

Here, it works but you can’t help wondering how much more effective it might have been with a skilled actor.

Overall, this is still one of my favourite Bonds but it’s weaknesses keep me from making the wild claim about it being the best. It’s very good, however. The last half of the film is, I think, a definite must-see for anyone who likes James Bond movies.

Two and a half stars out of four.

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