On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (“OHMSS”), the sixth Bond film, was released in London in December 1969. British critics were harsh, but the public loved it. It was the highest grossing release in the UK that year.
While filming You only Live Twice, Sean Connery decided the wild crowds of fans were too stressful, and that he would not play Bond again. The search began.
Producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman selected Timothy Dalton, but Dalton declined at that time, stating he was too young for the role. They finally settled on an obscure Australian actor, George Lazenby. However, Lazenby did not play well with Broccoli and Saltzman, and before OHMSS was finished, he decided this would be his last Bond film.
The movie opens in Portugal, where Bond saves the rich, beautiful Teresa (“Tracy”) Di Vicenzo from suicide, only to cover her bad debt in a casino a short time later. As one would expect, they eventually fall in love. That taken care of, Bond moves on to Switzerland to find out what in the name of evil Ernst Stavro Blofeld is doing in his mountaintop allergy clinic.
The clinic houses beautiful women test subjects so Bond gets to demonstrate his romantic superpowers on long-detained, and thus sex-starved, young ladies. Bond discovers what Blofeld intends and finally makes good use of the Alps by evading gun slinging skiers in a thrilling use of biathlon skills.
Fortunately, like all other Bond-chasing thug crews, they can’t hit the side of a mountain with their low-budget submachine guns. Also, true to Bond movie form, the gunshot sounds don’t match the weapons being used, which makes it all the more jovial for Holmes.
On any given day, Holmes and I agree on almost everything, but regarding OHMSS, our opinions diverge. I see this as a breakout Bond movie, and I love it. Always have, and I always will. Many Bond fans will join with me in naming it their favorite of the series.
The differences start at the beginning. Instead of the typical naked women shots (*yawn*), the opening is a tribute to the women of the Sean Connery movies, from Honey Ryder in her bikini with her knife, to Pussy Galore and Aki, all flowing through an hourglass like sand. It acknowledges the first phase of Bond and signals that, while things change with time, this is still a continuation of the series.
One change is that this is the first Bond movie filmed in a new technology called “stereo.” Quite fitting for Louis Armstrong’s beautiful rendition of We Have All the Time In the World. The first Bond theme song without the title of the movie incorporated into the lyrics.
The humor in this movie pervades the very plot, making it almost whimsical as compared to previous Bonds. You’ll find more one-liners, as well as a dose of subtle, straight-faced silliness that’s delivered so seriously it leaves you saying, “Did he just say that? . . . He did! Hahaha!”
But what makes this my favorite Bond movie is that it’s the first in which Bond has a three-dimensional personality. He loves; he jokes; he suffers uncertainty. He makes mistakes, apologizes, and grows. And he even breaks in the end. Just like we all do at times. He is a personality who could actually exist, as opposed to a Hollywood caricature of an invulnerable man. He illustrates a truth in writing. People relate most deeply to our characters’ flaws.
I give this movie a .357 magnum rating*, and I have enjoyed watching it repeatedly over the decades.
Lazenby delivered his lines reasonably well, though I did not always enjoy the lines he was given to deliver. An actor can only do so much with a script.
Diana Rigg of The Avengers fame played Tracy when Brigitte Bardot turned it down. While I could never stand to watch more than sixty seconds of The Avengers, Rigg did a great job with the lines she was handed in OHMSS. Her presence certainly improved the film.
Telly Savalas was excellent as the maniacal Ernst Stavro Blofeld. In particular, I noticed he took on a whole new way of moving and posturing than he normally employed in films, and he did it quite naturally.
Also, Ilse Steppat, Blofeld’s disgusting female bad girl assistant Irma Bunt, reeked of evil. You’ll likely want her dead as soon as she enters her first scene.
Most of the location filming was done in the Swiss Alps, and the scenery was refreshing. However, Nature took a vacation for the scheduled shooting, and, due to a lack of adequate snow, the location shots were delayed by seven weeks. Back then, there were no laptops so getting their teenagers to photoshop some ski scenes wasn’t an option.
This film contains one of the all-time worst Bond scenes. One which I am sure British SIS folks will never forgive.
Bond ends up tired and weaponless at a lovely Christmas ski ring celebration, where he sits down and abandons all hope. I suppose grabbing a cab and leaving would be too far beyond the talents of a super spy.
As he sits there, waiting to be found and tortured to death, Tracy skates up and greets him. Apparently, she’s grown tired of waiting for him in Portugal and manages to be at the same skating rink. Switzerland is such a small country, after all.
Bond looks up like a pathetic, wounded poodle and says, “There are men chasing me…” Tracey sits down next to him and offers to save his life, which, for reasons unknown to me, she manages to do.
Try not to throw up when you see James Bond throw himself on the courage of his girlfriend. You have been forewarned about this regrettable scene so hopefully I have prevented any damage to your carpet or furniture that it might have otherwise caused. No need to thank me. It’s all part of the Bayard & Holmes Preferred Gold Star Reader Service.
Bond and Tracy get married in Portugal, and after the obnoxious skating rink scene, I can’t be sure who does what to who on the honeymoon, and I’m glad we don’t find out.
One charming lapse in logic involves Bond almost getting caught raiding a safe when the office resident is out for lunch. MI-6 is not stupid. It does leave to chance what need not be left to chance. The elevator would have had an intentional malfunction until Bond was safely gone from the target’s office.
While this is not one of my favorite Bond movies, there are enough good performances, fun chase scenes, and gorgeous scenery to make it all worthwhile. I give On Her Majesty’s Secret (nursing) Service a .38 Special rating. Have fun with it.
Have you seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Who is your favorite Bond at this point – Connery or Lazenby?
Piper Bayard—The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse
Holmes—Student of Sex, C4, and Hollow Points
*Our rating system:
- Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
- .22 rim fire: Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
- .380: Go to the matinée if someone else is paying.
- .38 special: Worth paying for the matinée yourself.
- .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
- .44 magnum: Must see this. Life-altering event.