Director: Peter Hunt
Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 62
James Bond hunts down Ernst Blofeld, head of SPECTRE, and falls in love with a countess in the process.
I liked Lazenby and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service more than I thought I would. The film overcomes its goofiness, a diminished Bond, and an irregular pace. The action, acting, script, and overall cohesion of the movie make this an enjoyable, if not rather long, Bond movie.
Sean Connery defined the role of James Bond during the series’ first five films. By the end of the fifth film, he wanted to move on to other things. Enter George Lazenby, in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, to replace him. I had never seen this film before, but had been led to believe that Lazenby played Bond poorly. Although I can say that he is no Sean Connery, Lazenby does a passable job as Bond, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service entertained me more than I thought it would.
The success of a James Bond film hinges on the lead role, so let’s start with that. Lazenby has quite a few of the Bond characteristics: great looks, superb athleticism, and a cavalier calmness in the face of danger. Lazenby apparently clinched the role as James Bond because of how well he did in the fighting portion of the audition; in this aspect he clearly exceeds Connery. Lazenby’s athleticism in the fight scenes gives them power and violence beyond that of the Connery fight scenes.
However, Lazenby ultimately falls short as Bond for two reasons: voice and mood. Lazenby mumbles and swallows his words. His voice lacks that electric punch that Connery has. At times, I struggled to even catch what Lazenby said. At other times he comes across as pleading and flat. Second, Lazenby often appears comical instead of witty and charming. His smile doesn’t fit Bond, and taints his interpretation of the character with a clownish edge.
To be fair, part of this is due to the clownish role Bond is assigned in the middle of the movie: he goes under cover as a Sir Hillary Bray, from the College of Arms, to meet Ernst Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE. During this lengthy portion of the movie, Lazenby wears a kilt and plays an effeminate Bond, one who is afraid of guns and gets seasick after a helicopter ride to Blofeld’s mountaintop “research institute”. This portion of the movie drags interminably, and although there are some mildly entertaining Bond antics with several of Blofeld’s clinic’s beautiful patients, on the whole the movie stalls here. This is not James Bond.
In other places, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service suffers from general dopiness. The evil Blofeld’s plan, for example, is a candidate for Stupidest Plan Ever. I was laughing too hard to catch all the details, but the gist of it is this: Blofeld will kill off specific strains of animals with a super virus unless the world’s governments pay him exorbitant amounts of cash. So far so good, you might say. But get this: he will launch the diseases by unleashing his Angels of Death. These are allergy patients at his clinic who he has hypnotized by playing tapes into their rooms while they are sleeping. He will then release these guests back to their home countries with disease kits designed to look like cosmetic kits. Inside is a radio transceiver that the Angels have been hypnotized to turn on every evening at midnight for instructions. Too funny. Even funnier is the line that starts the evening hypnotism session: “I’ve taught you to love chickens, to love their flesh, their voice.” Great stuff! At times I had to look at my DVD jacket to see if I hadn’t mistakenly inserted an Austin Powers DVD.
This goofiness aside, however, I did find myself enjoying On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There are a lot of things to like. The action scenes are plentiful and generally entertaining. We’ve got ski chases, car races, bobsled battles, and a climatic battle towards the end of the movie. Fight scenes are well shot and athletic. There are some enjoyable stunts in here, too, especially if you like snow.
The story, on a larger scale, is acceptable. The pace, though quite deliberate and slow in the middle, keeps chugging along. I liked the unique and controversial ending to the film as well. The script has some bright moments, and overall is above average. The acting works, even considering Lazenby’s weaknesses. In this regard, Diana Rigg, as Bond woman Tracy Di Vincenzo, does a particularly charismatic job. Telly Savalas, as Ernst Blofeld, does enough as the main villain to not severely damage the film.
Regarding babes and hunks, I’m ambivalent towards Diana Rigg. Her looks and physique range from plain to somewhat attractive. My wife, who watched a portion of the film, saw her and said, “What? She’s a Bond woman? She’s ugly.” I wouldn’t go that far, but you get the point. Physically, she almost borders on unacceptable. However, she brings a verve, swagger, and edge to her character that fits perfectly. She consistently steals her scenes, and brings some welcome life to the film. At these times, she amply overcomes her physical limits and seems perfect as a Bond girl. Kudos! There are also Blofeld’s Angels of Death, the dozen or so beautiful allergy patients staying at his clinic. In a 1960’s sort of way, they add some appeal to the film. As for hunks, we’ve got Lazenby, who certainly has the looks, but lacks that certain something to carry the film to a higher hunk rating. Gabrielle Ferzetti gets a nod for adding some elder elegance to the film.
In conclusion, I liked Lazenby and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service more than I thought I would. The film overcomes its goofiness, a diminished Bond, and an irregular pace. The action, acting, script, and overall cohesion of the movie make this an enjoyable, if not rather long, Bond movie.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had about half the domestic (USA) box office sales of You Only Live Twice, the previous Bond film, and about one-third those of Thunderball, the highest domestic box office James Bond film.
Consistent Premise: 62
Body Count: 40
Time to First Dead Body: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Special Effects: 25
Overall: 62 (Watchable, but Takes Patience)