Hey, it is James Bond Month here at the JOE-DOWN. Joe Brown and I picked four Bond films to dissect in our very nerdy fashion for December. For the third installment for Bond Month, we went with “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
The Movie: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969)
Starring: George Lazenby, Telly Savalas, Diana Rigg
Director: Peter R. Hunt
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) James Bond woos a mob boss’ daughter and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Blofeld’s allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 82 percent
Brown: Now that Froemming and I start sweeping up the shattered pieces of our psyche following “Fuller House” week, it’s time that we went back to our man with a license to kill: James Bond.
And in another of the more odd Bond movies, we get to what I think is the oldest movie we’ve reviewed on the JOE-DOWN in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” And in it, we get the one-off appearance of James Bond’s version of Pete Best: George Lazenby. Male model-turned-actor who got the role because A. Sean Connery was done with the role (he wasn’t), and B. During an audition, Lazenby accidently punched the guy he was working with and producer Albert Broccoli was impressed with the aggression he brought. Way to luck into something there, George.
So Froemming, how do you feel about the Bond that is only brought up during bar trivia for his short stint?
Froemming: I actually enjoyed this Bond film, and you know what? I didn’t mind Lazenby in the role. Sure, he is a little clunky and much of the last third of the film he has a weird voice-dub, but I bought in that this guy was Bond. Didn’t need him breaking the fourth wall about it like he was Deadpool, but I actually enjoyed this film. Maybe it was because we were held hostage by “Fuller House” Week and anything a little better than terrible would have been a blessing, but this was a nice relief.
I had watched this when I was little and because George was a one-off, I didn’t really get into this film. Watching it in my 30s, I think this is one of the better 007 films. But let’s get into what is considered the best of the Fleming novels adapted to film.
Brown: And right away in this movie, the editing had me all sorts of confused.
First, Lazenby gets his turn in the iconic sniper scope shot, only he’s wearing a hat and he kneels when he shoots. I know it’s a stupid thing to nitpick, but it threw me off. It was like Lazenby was trying to become Oddjob from “Goldfinger.”
Then, we get into this scene where Bond is speeding to the beach to stop a gorgeous woman from walking into the ocean. It’s implied later that she was going to kill herself, but the movie gives no contextual clues to this. In the “James Bonding” podcast for this movie, they believe that this scene was supposed to be later in the movie but got moved to the front because reasons.
Also, during the fight in this open and during the car chase, they speed up the film to make everything seem faster. They do this with the fight scenes throughout as well. I know that’s an older film trick, but it doesn’t make it any less jarring to see nowadays.
Froemming: Well, there was some odd editing during the beach fight in general. One moment Bond and a bad guy are on the sand. Next moment, without any explanation, they are suddenly deep in the ocean. It was pretty baffling.
But hey, we see the new Bond! And as he is fighting off these mysterious henchmen who showed up to watch this woman walk into the ocean for reasons, she sneaks off and escapes. Now, here is when Bond becomes Deadpool because he makes a joke that this wouldn’t have happened to “the other guy.” We get it, Connery didn’t want to do the film, but do you need to make George look like a watered-down version of Bond with that? No wonder he didn’t want to continue with the franchise.
Brown: We find out this woman is Contessa Teresa de Vicenzo, or Tracy. She is the daughter of a mob boss, Draco, who becomes a sort of ally for Bond. And she is quite carefree, betting $20,000 on one hand of baccarat, but it turns out she doesn’t have that money. Bond pays it because he seems to think that’s how prostitution works? Also, I could lose $20,000 easily in baccarat because that (REDACTED) looks confusing.
Well, it’s not that simple because henchmen that are with Tracy attack him. They lose because he’s James (REDACTED) Bond (complete with Austin Powers-like frilly shirt).
Eventually, Bond gets to Tracy, who always repays her debts and they make love on an outdoor bed because clearly they’re in a region that never rains overnight. Also, if I stayed at that hotel, I’d ask for my money back if I had to hear Bond and Tracy pumping away all night.
Froemming: Bond wakes up after a long night of disturbing the hotel guests with his loud love making to find Tracy is gone. See, James, that’s how it feels to be on the other end of your countless one-night stands.
As he is leaving the hotel, some street toughs kidnap him with a knife and a gun. Instead of beating the living (REDACTED) out of them, Bond plays along and he is brought to Draco’s hideout.
One thing that bothered me here: Why is there a dwarf whistling the theme song to “Goldfinger” while mopping the floor of a secret hideout for an international mob boss? Secret hideouts historically remain secret by not temping out crappy custodial jobs. This is a bad rookie mistake on Draco’s part.
Brown: Dude, have you heard Shirley Bassey’s voice in the “Goldfinger” theme? I’d whistle that all the time if I could whistle. Quick aside on the music in “OHMSS”: The theme they play throughout, I kind of enjoy it. The song made for this movie, performed by Louis Armstrong, I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about. It seems like they just tossed it aside, though, putting it in a montage later in the film.
In what has to be one of the most chauvinistic things I’ve seen in a movie, Draco proposes that Bond marry Tracy (not knowing about their little tryst) for £1,000,000. Draco’s reasoning: Tracy needs a man to dominate her. She’s not a damn horse that needs to be tamed there, Dad.
Froemming: Ahh, the 1960s. Hippies, women’s lib and men practicing 13th Century marriage concepts. What a magical time.
Bond, obviously, doesn’t want to be tied down. He has at least another 50 years of films with him making stains with random women. But there is a little catch. If he marries Tracy, he may get a line of finding Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played by Telly Savalas here, and I kept wondering why Kojack was suddenly an international terrorist).
Bond heads back to headquarters and gets taken off the Blofeld assignment. Bond throws what I can only describe as a 15-year-old teenager tantrum as he tries to quit MI6. Good thing Moneypenny is wise enough to trick both Bond and M by getting Bond two weeks of vacation time.
Brown: I love Moneypenny for that action. Seriously, quit wasting time with these girls and marry that WOMAN, Bond.
So first thing on Bond’s vacation: Bullfighting for Draco’s birthday. Because why not celebrate another year of life by watching a gigantic animal get killed. Oh, and Tracy arrives because she always visits her father on his birthday.
And from there, love blooms for these two with the Louis Armstrong-led montage. I think this is maybe the one time Bond didn’t understand how a one-night stand works.
But because Bond can’t enjoy some leave, he’s got work to do to discover Blofeld’s whereabouts, so we get to one of my favorite scenes in the movie. I’ll let you lead the way, Froemming.
Froemming: Bond gets a lead on a Swiss lawyer named Gumbold who may have a line on where Blofeld is hiding out. And we get a pretty fun scene where Bond sneaks into this guy’s office, and has a construction worker use a crane to deliver a device that will crack Gumbold’s safe. This scene is shot, edited and timed to actually be suspenseful and it works. Of course, as the machine is working away, Bond’s sex addiction kicks in and he starts thumbing through a Playboy. Dude, 10 minutes of not looking at boobs is not going to kill you.
Brown: I get Europe has a different set of rules when it comes to sexuality. But I think on any continent, a dude (who probably reeks of vodka martinis and gunpowder) just thumbing through a Playboy has to be unsettling.
We come to find out Blofeld has been in contact with a man in London’s College of Arms, Sir Hilary Bray, to be named the “Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp.” The Bleuchamp crest has a slogan that translates to “The world is not enough,” and I got really bad Pierce Brosnan flashbacks.
Anyhow, we now got a location on Blofeld: The Alps. So it’s time for Bond to go undercover as Bray to infiltrate the leader of the criminal organization SPECTRE.
Froemming: And this is where Lazenby gets the weird voice dub. I watch some Youtube retrospectives on this, and for some reason while Bond is in the Alps, it is Bray’s voice coming out of Lazenby’s mouth. I was wondering why it felt off for a long while in this film.
Bond is brought to what is a clinical allergy-research institute on top of a mountain because that is obviously where such a place is built. Here Bond meets the women called the “Angels of Death.” Naturally, this now-happily-in-a-relationship man sleeps with a couple of them just so Blofeld doesn’t get suspicious.
Brown: But Bray is supposed to be gay. Oh well, Bond is not about to let a detail like not being sexually attracted to women stop him from sleeping with a beautiful woman and disregarding that he’s in a relationship with Tracy. Think about the montage, man!
They show Bond, the “Angels of Death” and Blofeld’s assistant and henchwoman Irma Bunt eating dinner. And I don’t care how attractive a woman is, I don’t want to see them slurping down food. It’s so disgusting.
And Froemming, if you were in the same train of thought I was while Bond was in the allergy clinic, you asked yourself, “I know this is for allergies, but did they find a cure for chlamydia? I’m sure Bond would be interested in that.”
Froemming: During one of his “I’ll just sleep with this woman so people won’t be suspicious of me, even though I am supposed to be attracted to men” moments, he finds that Blofeld is brainwashing these women in their sleep by putting plots into their subconscious minds. Freaked out about this, he returns to his room and for good measure, sleeps with another woman who had snuck into his room. Yeah, Bond has a real problem I think.
Brown: So as this movie went on, between the villain, the scenery, the dress, all of it… how much do you think Mike Myers stole to make the “Austin Powers” movies?
Froemming: I actually wrote in my notes that I thought most of the first “Austin Powers” film was parodying this film.
Brown: Back to our movie and Bond’s lack of attention finally gets the better of him. Turns out, Bond missed a crucial detail as he kept trying to convince Blofeld to leave Switzerland in order to arrest him, so Blofeld determines he’s a fraud. He probably figured that out while smoking his cigarettes in such an obnoxious way. Please tell me I’m not the only person who thought that.
Know what else gives Bond away. PORTRAYING A GAY MAN AND SLEEPING WITH MULTIPLE WOMEN! That gets him caught when Bunt ends up in one of the beds of the women that Bond bedded as he tried to go for round two. Legit, they give you a little jump scare when it’s revealed that Bunt is the one in the bed.
Froemming: I will forever have nightmares from that.
So, instead of killing Bond (this is something that Blofeld always seems to mess up. Reveal his dastardly plans to Bond, then not kill him in an easy, effective way like a quick bullet to the head), they lock him in what I could only determine to be a room full of giant sprockets and machinery. Again, I think Blofeld should have Hank Scorpio transfer Homer Simpson to his employment and have him take Bond out.
Bond climbs up and out of this mysterious room, and luckily finds some skis laying around that fit his feet perfectly. I’ll let Brown take this downhill skiing adventure as I bleach my eyeballs from Bunt popping out of a bed screeching like a maniac.
Brown: In the same way I got annoyed with all the underwater scenes in “Never Say Never Again,” we are subjected to about an hour of snow-related scenes.
In this start, we see Bond racing down a mountain in skis, running from armed SPECTRE goons that are dressed in what I can only describe as Oompa-Loompa outfits from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
And once he reaches the town at the bottom of the mountain, who is there to greet Bond but Tracy, who just so happens to be ice skating in the town. And she helps save the cheating bastard’s ass. He has the audacity to tell her that he knows he’s “never find another girl like you.” YOU SPENT A NIGHT CHEATING ON HER WITH TWO WOMEN. YOU HAD A SCHEDULE FOR IT YOU PIECE OF (REDACTED)!
I am heated about this because I think Tracy is my favorite Bond girl of all the movies I’ve seen of the franchise. She’s easily the most strong and independent Bond girl I remember seeing, and she doesn’t change for Bond like Pussy Galore did. Marry ME Tracy.
Froemming: While that certainly was upsetting, I was more baffled by the time frame here. At the start of the film, in Draco’s office his calendar says it is September. Bond is supposedly on a two-week break. Suddenly it is Christmas. Either the filmmakers messed this up, or Bond has figured out how to unfold time.
Brown: Bond probably found a way to time travel like Dr. Who and stuck around the clinic to bed more of the women and upset me more.
So, Tracy helps her piece of (REDACTED) boyfriend escape by driving through a snowy rally race and evading Blofeld’s men. As a Minnesotan, I worry about them driving in such treacherous conditions. Two times in three days, thanks to this arctic blast we’ve gotten, I’ve almost t-boned someone on the highway because they spun out on the icy roads.
The car runs out of gas and Bond and Tracy are forced to stay the night in a barn. It is here where James professes his love to Tracy and asks for her hand in marriage. She accepts the cheater’s proposal. And in the one line that filled me with rage I didn’t know I had, Bond says they should save it for their wedding night. You spent DAYS (possibly months) bedding a bunch of sick girls and NOW you want to keep it in your pants?!
Well, that idea was out the door in about 15 seconds when Bond beds the future Mrs. Bond. I’m convinced that in the same way a shark has to always be swimming to breathe, the only way Bond can survive is by having sex every 20 minutes.
Froemming: Well, after another night of loud love making from these two, Blofeld crashes their fun with an avalanche. He then kidnaps Tracy for some reason, and Bond heads back to headquarters, where he finds out M is a wuss and is going to pay a ransom Blofeld has demanded so his “Angels of Death” do not expose the world to his toxin that will make everything sterile.
This is why the Brits lost the war.
Bond decides to do his own thing and teams up with mob boss Draco in stopping Blofeld and rescuing Tracy (though I’m guessing Bond is hoping Tracy is taken out so he doesn’t have to get married). Now, I am sure that even though this plan works, Bond would be out of a job for teaming up with criminals for this.
Brown: Now, we’ve picked this movie apart a lot, but I have nothing bad to say about the ensuing gun fight at Blofeld’s clinic. With the James Bond guitar riff playing in the background, this scene is awesome! Hell, Bond slides on his stomach on the ice and shoots at people. And, flamethrower!
Because this is a Bond movie, the clinic is about to self-destruct, so Draco hits his daughter (!!!) and carries her onto a helicopter for safety. Meanwhile, there’s still the matter of Blofeld, so Bond is hot on his trail.
And how does this chase progress? A (REDACTED) bobsled chase!
Froemming: I don’t know about you, but all I could think about here was the movie “Cool Runnings.”
While making John Candy proud with his bobsled technique, Bond goes after Blofeld. But this world-renowned terrorist is taken out not by 007, but by …. a tree branch. And, even more puzzling, nobody goes back to get Blofeld and his assumed crushed windpipe and arrest him.
I am really starting to wonder how good Bond actually is at his job.
Brown: Well, Bond and Tracy should be next-level dead after being caught in an avalanche. Blofeld, getting his neck caught in the tree, his vertebrae should be powder and he should be dead, or paralyzed at the very least. Nope, he gets a neck brace.
Our heroes are safe and it’s time to exchange their vows. All I could think during the wedding scene is how many people in this audience did Bond sleep with? And I don’t mean years ago. I mean right before the ceremony. And after the ceremony. And while Tracy was cutting the cake.
Froemming: Well, Tracy’s very legitimate fears of getting dubious STDs from Bond are cut short in what has to be one of the best endings to a Bond film. As Mr. and Mrs. 007 are enjoying a quick pit stop on their honeymoon, Irma Bunt and Blofeld pull an old drive-by shooting on the couple, killing Tracy before the syphilis could.
Brown: First Dizzy, now this? Why do the women I praise and love in these reviews end up killed by giant bugs or gunned down like James Caan in “The Godfather?” This is what it’s like when doves cry.
Honestly, I loved this ending. Lazenby doesn’t act well in it. He’s not a good fake cryer. But, it’s such a dark, (REDACTED)-up way to end a movie. It ends on a downer like “The Empire Strikes Back.” Well, it should end on a downer, but then the upbeat Bond music starts playing as the credits roll. Kind of killed the mood there, guys.
Now, before we wrap this up, let’s discuss the elephant in the room: Is Lazenby a good Bond? Or was he a one-off for a reason?
Froemming: He was OK. The filmmakers were wise to pair Lazenby’s questionable acting with established actress Diana Rigg. Her strong performance masks his weaker performance. But, I do agree with people who say this would have been better with Connery: It probably wouldn’t. His Bond wouldn’t really fit with the tone of this film. I say if they ever remake this, they should do it with Daniel Craig, whose Bond would have fit perfectly in this film.
Brown: I think Craig’s “Casino Royale” took some cues here because Bond finds love, only to see her killed at the end, leading to a quest for vengeance in “Quantum of Solace.”
Now, as far as Lazenby goes, I agree with the makers of this film in Lazenby having the physicality of Bond down pat. Pierce Brosnan is what I imagine the perfect Bond looks like, but Lazenby isn’t far off that. I’ve gone back and forth on how I’d rate his acting performance and it’s below average, I’d say. I think Lazenby really benefitted from having Rigg, like you said, and from having the strongest story that I’ve seen a Bond movie have. It was right place at the right time, but to Lazenby’s credit, he certainly didn’t do anything to hurt the movie.
All right, let’s put on our skis and our flamboyant winter clothes and get to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Absolutely. Like I previously stated, I think this is the strongest Bond story and it has my favorite Bond girl in Tracy. Between this and Connery’s portrayal of Bond, this series got off to a pretty damn strong start. And then Roger Moore came along…
Froemming: Yes. I actually put this in my top five favorite Bond films. Lazenby isn’t the best Bond, but the story and action and Rigg’s performance really covers for that. It ends on a down note, which was a welcome change of pace, and it didn’t get super gadgety, like the Moore films would down the road.