George Lazenby made the leap from handsome Australian model to the world’s most suave secret agent with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the first official James Bond feature that did not star Sean Connery.
Title aside, 007 leaves the British Secret Service to privately pursue his longtime nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (this time played by Telly Savalas), the head of the SPECTRE. And he has an ally in his quest: suave international crime lord Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), who helps in exchange for Bond romancing his troubled wild-child daughter Tracy (Diana Rigg).
This mission sends Bond, posing as a Scottish genealogist, to Blofeld’s private chalet high up in the Swiss Alps, where the supervillain has a harem of beauties he (privately) calls his “angels of death.” Which tracks for a James Bond film. There are, of course, plenty of spectacular action scenes, including great ski chases and a wild, careening car chase on icy roads, but this one goes light on the gadgets and trades in the science fiction supervillain lairs for a leaner look. And the most dramatic event is unique in the annals of Bond movies: he falls in love and gets married the elegant Tracy. Wait, Bond goes monogamous? Not quite—the harem comes before the marriage proposal—but it sets up one of the only times Bond has ever had to face personal loss.
Lazenby hasn’t the intensity of Connery but he has fun with his quips and even lampoons the Bond image in a playful pre-credits sequence. Rigg, fresh from playing sexy Emma Peel in The Avengers, makes Tracy a match for 007 in every way. And he helps that the rest of the team is back—Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, Desmond Llewelyn as the ever-creative gadget maker ‘Q,’ and Bernard Lee as the unflappable ‘M.’
Peter Hunt, an editor on the first five Bond features, was promoted to the director’s chair by producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and he makes a strong directorial debut, deftly handling the elaborate action sequences with a kinetic finesse and a dash of humor.
There are plenty of stories surrounding the Lazenby’s sudden departure from the series, most of them critical of the actor, and critics were hard on his performance. Whatever the cause, Lazenby quit and the producers coaxed Sean Connery back for one more feature, Diamonds Are Forever (1971). After that, Roger Moore took up the license to killer and Lazenby’s subsequent career fizzled. But while it was a box office disappointment and made far less than the previous film, it was a hit and in hindsight Lazenby strikes a nice balance between self-aware humor and superspy action. It is still one of the best Bond films of all time.
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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [Blu-ray]
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [DVD]
The James Bond Collection [Blu-ray]
Bond 50: Celebrating 5 Decades of Bond [DVD]