Today I talk about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the first Bond film not to feature Sean Connery, and therefore a love-it-or-hate-it entry in the canon.
Because I wasn’t alive at the time On Her Majesty’s Secret Service opened in theaters, I can only imagine how audiences would have reacted to the replacement of Sean Connery with George Lazenby as Bond. Matt, my dutiful editor-in-chief, told me it would have been something like replacing Harrison Ford with another actor, any actor, as Indiana Jones, and continuing the franchise. In other words, Lazenby had his work cut out for him. As you read the following, be forewarned once again that spoilers will abound.
For what it’s worth, I thought Lazenby to be an acceptable Bond, if different from Connery. By stature alone, he is leaner, less bear-like than Connery, and in demeanor he seems to personify a slicker Bond, full of witty quips at every turn and perhaps more romantic. The cockiness is still there, but he doesn’t really muscle his way into the pants of his leading ladies so much as he subtly charms his way into them. What’s more, he actually weds his Bond girl, Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), in a bona fide marriage (as opposed to his faux marriage to Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice) and even proclaims his genuine love for her, something Bond had yet to do with any of his women thus far. This was not something I ever expected to see, given the nature of Connery’s Bond, who probably also wouldn’t have been caught dead engaging in a romantic montage set to Louis Armstrong.
Lazenby’s athleticism also struck me right away. It appeared that Lazenby performed many of his own stunts (e.g. the cable car machine room scene), which was nice to see. The opening fight on the beach and the hotel room fracas shortly thereafter both felt grittier, more raw than any of the fistfights I’d seen up to that point. So I wasn’t surprised when I did a little research and discovered Lazenby himself was an accomplished martial artist who actually studied under (and was a friend to) Bruce Lee, of all people. I think this helped tremendously in lending the action sequences a bit more oomph, so to speak.
A couple of problems I had with the movie: Before the audience is introduced to the main plot, the story focuses on Tracy di Vicenzo’s father, crime boss Marc Ange Draco, and his desire to tame the free spirit of his daughter. He takes a break from his normal thuggery to enlist the help of Bond, asking him to “dominate her, to make love to her enough to make her love him,” in exchange for some info leading to Blofeld. If that’s not bizarre enough, Bond actually befriends the man, asks him for help to defeat Blofeld, then marries his daughter. Let’s keep in mind that Draco is head of the second biggest crime syndicate in Europe behind SPECTRE, but there he is, smiling and well-wishing at Bond’s wedding right alongside M, Q, and Moneypenny.
Speaking of SPECTRE, Blofeld is back, as promised, but he too has been replaced by another actor, namely Telly Savalas. Yes, Kojak. Furthermore, he no longer sports the hideous facial scar he proudly displayed in You Only Live Twice. But perhaps the most insulting aspect of this change is that, when Bond infiltrates Blofeld’s headquarters posing as a genealogist, Blofeld doesn’t recognize him at all. So… the guy who invaded your Japanese base, whom you had at gunpoint before getting a ninja star through the forearm, who has been singlehandedly ruining every one of your plans for world domination, is suddenly an unfamiliar face? I suppose it’s possible in a world where Sean Connery can pass for Japanese simply by getting a haircut, but I think it probably would have been easier if they had just hired the “Continuity” guy again.
Despite these flaws, I thought On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was pretty solid. I actually forgot soon enough that Lazenby was, in fact, “not Connery,” and I became comfortable with him in the role. Aside from a few funny moments attributable to dated production quality, the movie was another serious entry, and that was just fine by me. Thankfully, this also wasn’t the last appearance of Blofeld, as he does escape, so Connery may get his man after all. I suppose I’ll find out when I watch Diamonds Are Forever tonight.
Favorite line: “I have taught you to love chickens.” — A recording of Blofeld’s voice, which is played via loudspeaker to brainwash a Meg Ryan lookalike as she sleeps.
Favorite moment: Late in the movie, as Bond is making an escape on skis, he tosses a baddie in pursuit over the edge of an immense cliff. We get to see him fall all the way to the bottom, a journey that lasts for 15 glorious seconds.