The good, the bad, and the Bond: Re-evaluating 007 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
DRAWING a (temporary) close to the Connery era, it’s time for one of the most cherished films and possibly the most divisive Bond in the series: George Lazenby, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Andrew Simpson: Following the departure of Sean Connery, whoever was going to replace him was going to have a difficult time in his wake, but George Lazenby did an excellent job in a Bond film that was full of stunning visuals, character development and genuine excitement that keeps you captivated from beginning to end.
As you may have guessed, I am a fan of this film. Growing up, I watched a lot of 007 films and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is always the film that I remember enjoying the most for its classic Bond format. The benefit of viewing this film in retrospect does take away some of the inevitable comparisons that must have come up between Connery and Lazenby.
The interesting thing that many do not appreciate is that this was Lazenby’s first acting role. Despite his somewhat controversial departure after this film, I think that he gave an admirable performance, particularly in the thrilling action sequences. He does lack the self-assurance of Connery in this film and is generally much more sedate and vulnerable, but this actually works better for this story. As Lazenby quotes in the film, “This never happened to the other fellow.”
The notable love story that develops even as far as marriage (huge for Bond) would not be quite so compelling on screen if the larger than life Connery were still playing the role. The dramatic and heartbreaking conclusion creates some incredible scenes on screen, and Lazenby does well to show the level of shattering emotions needed to make it utterly believable. Diana Rigg was an excellent bit of casting as she does incredibly well to bring intelligence, style and beauty to a character that is incontrovertibly Bond’s equal.
The film, for me, contains some of the best and most exhilarating action sequences in any of the 007 films. The cinematography of the Swiss Alps in the various skiing sequences are some of the most beautiful visual moments seen in Bond. The lack of gadgetry in this film, albeit a shame, does illustrate that the aim of this film was different; this was a back to basics 007 film that focused on the character of Bond and his inner struggles in a more earnestly serious tone.
At the end of the day, this is a much more serious Bond; he’s considering where his place is in the world and even considering leaving 007 behind. The excellent plot development and enthralling actions scenes, along with the tragic finale, brings together what I feel is the best early Bond by far, and a film that I would happily watch again. Pure entertainment.
Truan Evans: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is certainly… different. After an impressive, if intermittently embarrassing, run of five, seminal films, Sean Connery finally called it quits and Eon studio was faced with the imposing challenge of securing a new 007 for its next feature.
It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for George Lazenby. He wasn’t even the studio’s first choice; discussions with Roger Moore were ongoing at the time of filming, and he was only detained from appearing due to his role in the popular televised series of The Saint.
On top of that, as far as the viewing public was concerned, Sean Connery quite simply was James Bond by 1969. The sudden appropriation of the Australian model, dancer, and sometime actor, Lazenby (by quite a curious string of circumstances) was not welcomed by many.
Even director Peter R. Hunt would later acknowledge that the choice of Lazenby had very little to do with any perceived acting credentials, past or otherwise. For his part, Lazenby was compelled to concede soon after filming Secret Service that this would be his first and only appearance in the part. In hindsight, it’s not hard to see why. With all the undeniable pressure facing a new actor stepping into the sizeable brogues of Connery, Lazenby seldom looks entirely within his depth or comfortable with his character and setting.
A pity, since the plot of Secret Service is actually one of the more unusual, interesting and well-developed of the series. Though Blofeld’s scheme is as characteristically ludicrous as ever – a plot to contaminate the world’s food supply using hypnotised socialites of numerous nationalities – it’s still pretty engrossing, serving as an excuse to exploit gloriously shot alpine sets and the now famous Piz Gloria restaurant/resort (Switzerland).
There are many scenes however, where it feels there’s a little too much going on to take any of it in the least seriously. It’s embarrassingly obvious that Lazenby’s CoA genealogist disguise, Sir Hillary Bray, is dubbed by the very actor he impersonates (George Baker). Many of his costumes – the tartan kilt and the infamous ruffed jacket among them – lean strongly towards the satirical. Similarly tactless is the stereotyping; all of Blofeld’s “angels of death” apparently suffer from a ridiculous phobia of eating anything other than their ‘national’ cuisine: the Chinese girl (Mona Chong) eats only rice, the Jamaican girl (Sylvana Henriques) eats only bananas, etc.
Though he might not have been much of a traditional Bond, Lazenby’s experience as a dancer lent him of a great deal of real physicality in fight and chase scenes when called for. In many ways, the genuine force of Lazenby’s fight scenes would not be matched until the latest generation of Craig films. It’s a pity that Lazenby lacked the inclination to continue to develop as a major actor in serious, rather than satirical works, but one can’t really fault his issues with the character as he was then perceived and contrived.
There remains much to be said for a Bond with a bit more depth than the often brutish Connery, and it’s at least refreshing to have a genuine romance in a Bond film, improved immensely by the efforts of a delightful Diana Rigg as Tracy Bond, even if the Tracy arc is a tad schmaltzy for modern tastes. As it is, Lazenby’s performance in Secret Service has become a byword for forgettable, rather regrettable departures in a successful series.