a critiQal film review On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: James Bond (Lazenby) woos a mob boss's daughter (Rigg) and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Blofeld's (Savalas) allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world.

644 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 13s)

With the 23rd Bond film starting to get some publicity, I’ve decided to go back and check out a few moments from predecessors of the current James Bond, Daniel Craig, and see how they stack up against this latest rather unimpressive Bond. After watching Pierce Brosnan’s long-awaited debut in the series, GoldenEye (1995), I randomly chose another film – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

As it turns out, this was the only film to star George Lazenby as James Bond, and there’s plenty of reasons why. As the first replacement for the original Bond, Sean Connery, George Lazenby hardly matches up, in terms of calm collectedness or debonair wit. In fact, his only real witticism comes as a reference to Connery when, near the beginning of the film, after the girl runs away from him, he quips “this never happened to the other fellow”. Unfortunately, while that was meant to play on the fact he was new to the series, it instead seems to emphasize how much he isn’t Connery, since his performance – that actually includes looks of genuine fear – is sub-standard in comparison.

In fact, he’s far out-shined not only by Connery’s previous performances, but by his female co-star, Diana Rigg. While this usually isn’t a bad thing (after all, who doesn’t appreciate a strong female character?), having the main character overshadowed by a woman who is played up originally as just another passing fling is just pathetic. In fact, even her bravery in the face of danger overshadow this normally laugh-in-the-face-of-danger secret agent, leaving him notably clinging to the passenger seat as she, in the driver’s seat, careens her way through the best car chase in the film.

While On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the closest resemblance to one of Ian Fleming’s novels – with many of the sequences taken straight from the book – it doesn’t play well as a continuation in the series. Aside from the obvious gaffes (including Blofeld and Bond acting as if they’ve never met, despite meeting in You Only Live Twice (1967)), it’s also an abrupt change for the character. Not only does he spend most of the time wooing a known criminal’s daughter with that criminal’s heartfelt approval (something previous Bond incarnations would never have done), he becomes so smitten with her that the bachelor Bond seems to be a thing of the past.

However, these inconsistencies, while blatant, are nearly hard to spot among the numerous editing mistakes. From the first sequence, the viewer gets the distinct impression this Bond doesn’t know how to fight, and only appears to after extensive cutting and re-shoots by the filmmaker. Unfortunately, the editor mixes these sequences up quite a bit, so the viewer is treated to such things as the fight participants leaping nearly 20 feet in one direction to appear moments later back at their original spot (now they’re among the waves/now they’re halfway up the beach!) to the quick cuts back and forth between the fighters that seem to impair the audience’s enjoyment of the scene rather than heighten the tension.

And it’s not just the first sequence – these gaffes occur through nearly every fight sequence throughout the film, making the viewer wonder if Lazenby was truly that bad at fighting or if the editor did it on purpose out of spite. Whatever the reason behind it, it makes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service seem to be incredibly cheap and entirely pathetic.

After witnessing Lazenby’s botched attempt at portraying Bond in what has to be the worst-edited film of the series, it’s no wonder he didn’t come back for another round. Toss in a abrupt about-face for the character that no fan would have wanted and a cliffhanger ending that leaves the viewer feeling both cheated and relieved, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has to be the worst film in the Bond franchise.

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