By the time Sean Connery was done with You Only Live Twice, he grew tired of being Bond. After all, he’d played the role since 1962 and the ‘70s were on their way. Five movies would do that to you. After that film was done (or near the end of filming it), Connery made it known that he was done with the character and wouldn’t be returning for another installment. Imagine the impact of that. That’s like Daniel Radcliffe having said “You know what? Potter is a tosser and I’ve had it.”, Leaving right after the Order of the Phoenix. That’s not an easy role to fill.
This was the challenge that Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman faced in getting On Her Majesty’s Secret Service made. Before watching the movie, I watched one of the documentaries on the casting. It turns out that among the individuals that they wanted to play Bond, Timothy Dalton was offered the role. However, since he was only about 22 at the time, he felt he was too young to play the suave secret agent. The producers eventually went with George Lazenby, who was famous in Australia for commercials, but had the look they were shooting for.
To help push the changes, the marketing team concentrated on everything being “different” and “new”. The idea was that you were still getting James Bond and everything within his universe, but that the kind of Bond you were getting was something awesome. This is evidenced in the trailer and many of the promotion materials.
Broccoli and Saltzman did a search for a leading lady that would be able to support Lazenby. To this end, they recruited The Avengers star Diana Rigg. Her role as Emma Peel (which was later played by Uma Thurman in the box office adaptation) was well-known, and was used as the basis of her ability to work on an action / drama piece like Bond 6. Her character, Countess Teresa di Vicenzo remains one of the best Bond Girls on film (to me, anyway), because of how cold she is from the start of the film. he same could be said of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, but then again, Lazenby’s Bond is somewhat different from Connery’s. Additionally, Savalas’ Blofeld came across as very dynamic, and between the two, they help to keep the story exciting when Lazenby’s talking lulls others (like the women at his dinner table) to sleep. I don’t think it’s Lazenby’s fault too much. All of the other Bonds either starred in films, like Daniel Craig or television shows, like Moore and Brosnan. For someone who just came off of commercials, Lazenby did a better than expected job, but after 5 Connery films, it’s a hell of a feat to try to take that place in people’s minds.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the story of how James Bond sought out Ernst Starvo Blofeld and managed to fall so head over heels in love that he got married. That’s basically it. In between, there’s beautiful snow in Switzerland, but OHMSS is at it’s heart very much a love story. It should also be noted that as this is the first film without Connery, there’s a lot of references to Connery’s tenure as Bond and some of these are smile inducing. Right from the start, when Lazenby’s Bond tries to save the countess from drowning herself, he gets caught up in a fight. By the time he’s able to defeat the thugs, she’s run off. No running into his arms, no “Oh..James!” embrace. All of this leads him to look at the camera and exclaim that this type of thing “never happened to the other fellow”. I liked that, I have to admit. There’s also an interesting scene where Bond decides to resign from MI6 and packs his suitcase. The items that he takes out of this drawer are ones from the first 3 films, complete with the musical cues to match them. Much of the first half of the movie works on paying homage to what was done before while trying to get everyone situated with Lazenby.
The movie moves from the beach to where he finds the Countess. After a little 60s coercion (“Talk!” *smack*), She reveals who she is and spends the evening with him, but by the next morning, she’s run off. That morning, on leaving the hotel, he’s kidnapped and is taken to the Countess’ father. The father explains to Bond that like Merida in Pixar’s Brave, Teresa is a bit spirited and that she should be wed. He even goes so far to offer Bond a million dollars, but Bond states that he enjoys the Bachelor’s taste of freedom, but does decide to follow through if the father can provide information on the whereabouts of Blofeld. This leads Bond to an office and an elaborate safe cracking sequence, the results of which give him information on genealogy. Impersonating the person who’s office he was in, he manages to sneak into an establishment in Switzerland that studies about allergies and how to cure them (but may be doing more nefarious deeds).
One cute part about the genealogy is that we’re shown the Bond Family Crest, which comes complete with the family motto “Orbis Non-Suffici”, which translates into “The World is Not Enough” This would later become the title of a future Brosnan film.
We come to find that what Blofeld really is doing is that he’s brainwashing the women he has at the center for use in planting biological weapons around the world. After an escape on skis and a snowy car chase, Bond is eventually able to stop Blofeld and his henchwoman (or at least wound him, anyway). This all leads up to one of the best endings ever devised for a Bond film, because it catches you completely off guard. If there’s any reason to keep this film on your shelf to watch, it’s because it was daring enough to avoid giving the audience the Bond ending you always see, with him heading off with the girl for one that’s ultimately more emotional and/or meaningful. To date, I feel that only Craig’s Casino Royale (which in essence owes a lot to OHMSS) comes close to actually providing something similar. It only falters in that Royale has Bond’s loss focusing him on the notion that he can’t have anyone in his life out of a lack of trust. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service gives the better reason that Bond simply has too many enemies in his life to warrant the connections others have, which makes him almost a sad character in a way.
Lazenby’s performance as Bond is a mix of hit and miss. From an action point of view, I thought he was pretty good. From an acting point of view, he played it a little too much by the book for me, which made me think that he wasn’t really the most exciting Bond there was. He didn’t have Timothy Dalton’s sense of darkness, Roger Moore’s wit, Brosnan’s narcissism or Craig’s coldness. He was just a guy who knew a lot and could punch you in the face if the need arose. Where Lazenby excelled were his interactions with Rigg. As a love story, OHMSS works just fine. As a Bond film, it’s like drinking coffee without any milk in it. You’re still given the same flavor, but it doesn’t quite taste the same. Perhaps this is why he didn’t stick around for Diamonds are Forever, which the producers did have him in mind for.
Musically, John Barry was back on board, and having to come up with something that defined the “New Bond”, he came up with an entirely new theme song. The music for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is actually pretty damn good, and actually serves to became as much of an Official Theme as “007”, used in From Russia With Love – which actually happens to be my 2nd favorite Bond theme next to “A View to a Kill”.
Tomorrow, the Shattered Lens tackles Connery’s return to form in Diamonds are Forever. Below is the vocal theme for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “All the time in the World” by Louis Armstrong. Enjoy.