MGM // 1969 // 142 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // October 27th, 2000
This never happened to the other fella.
The sixth film in the world's most successful film franchise, On Her Majesty's Secret Service opens with James Bond (George Lazenby), saving a damsel in distress from herself. The girl (Diana Rigg) is attempting suicide via drowning. After her rescue Bond is attacked by two unknown men. After fighting the men and saving the girl yet again, the mystery lady drives off leaving the new Bond looking into the camera and wondering why this never happened to Connery.
Arriving at his hotel Bond spots the car that his mystery lady was driving and after making a few inquiries he learns she is a Countess named Tracy. Meeting up with Tracy at the gambling tables he finds himself helping the impulsive girl once more. Tracy is a girl who believes in repaying her debts, so another fight scene leads back to Bond's hotel room and a fade to black.
The morning after Bond is met and escorted by some men who take 007 to a meeting with crime lord Marc-Ange Draco (Gabrielle Feretti). Draco is Tracy's father and he has great concerns for her. He feels that Bond is just what his daughter needs to correct her life and offers Bond a million pound dowry if he marries his strong willed child. Bond refuses but knows a good opening when he sees one, so he asks in return if Draco can use his underworld connection to help track down Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas). To this Draco somewhat reluctantly agrees and tells Bond he will see what he can do. However Bond is required to attend his birthday party, a party that Tracy is bound to show up for.
Returning back to London after a fruitless two year search for Blofeld, 007 is removed from the assignment. Furious, Bond has Moneypenny take his resignation letter. A resignation which M quickly accepts, a little too quickly for Bond's taste. Getting ready to storm out of MI6, Moneypenny has Bond read his letter. Knowing best, Moneypenny has Bond instead asking for and receiving a two week leave of absence.
Back to Portugal for Draco's party, Bond does indeed run into Tracy. The girl, suspecting something is up and knowing her father, insists that the information, which had been offered as trade, be given freely. Draco relents and Bond gets what he wants. No longer having a sense of obligation, the two spend time together and begin to fall in love.
Having tracked Blofeld down to his Swiss mountaintop lair, Bond infiltrates posing as Sir Hillary Bray, a man hired by Blofeld to trace his family tree. While there he discovers what Blofeld's ominous plans are. Plans for world domination that, of course involve several very beautiful women. Making one of his covert missions to a young girls bedroom, Bond finds himself exposed and captured. 007 does not stay captured for long and the film's second half kicks in with some of the best and most exciting ski footage ever shot.
Tired and on the run, Bond finds Tracy in the village below. Proving herself quite resourceful, the two manage to escape Blofeld's grasp, for the time being. Spending a night together in an empty barn, Bond asks Tracy to marry him. A proposal which she accepts.
The following morning finds the two on the run once again with more stunning ski footage. Blofeld is of course playing for keeps and causes a major avalanche, which he thinks has killed Bond. Finding himself the victor he takes an injured Tracy as his spoil of war.
Wanting to rescue Tracy, Bond finds his overtures to MI6 rebuffed. Unwilling to take no for an answer he turns to the vast resources of Tracy's father. A rescue mission is organized and the film spins towards its final confrontation.
I should say upfront I have always had a soft spot for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I consider the film the be one of the high marks of the film series and indeed my favorite of the James Bond adventures.
Director Peter Hunt, who had been involved from the beginning, serving as the film editor of Dr. No, set out to make the best Bond film yet. I think he came very close.
Determined to take a step back from the gadget parade of the previous couple of movies, Hunt wanted to move closer to the spirit of Ian Fleming's novels. In choosing "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" he had great source material and indeed it is one of the series best stories.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service is truly epic in scale. It manages to be elegant, yet incredibly rough, all at the same time. It has spectacular locations, death defying action sequences, beautiful women and very evil villains. Yet in spite of all that, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is, at its core, a romance picture. How else to you describe a Bond film when it's "song" is a love song, sung by none other than Louie Armstrong?
Known as a cutting edge film editor who specialized in jarring, "in your face" action sequences Hunt brings that energy to the directors chair. Working closely with editor and 2nd unit director John Glen, himself a Bond director to be, Hunt fashioned the most visceral of all Bond adventures. Hunt is helped by a great many people in this endeavor. Not the least of which is the aerial photography by John Jones. The documentary on the disc shows how this magnificent footage was achieved and it is a beautiful thing to behold.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service also has one of composer John Barry's best scores pounding in the background and veteran screenwriter Richard Maibaum contributes with work that makes gentle nods towards Bond's past and looks ahead to his future.
Long known as the "forgotten Bond," George Lazenby makes his only official appearance as 007. A male model, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was his first acting role and his lack of experience does sometimes show. His delivery of dialogue sometimes comes off as stiff, especially when trying to throw off the one-liners but, for me at least, there was something there. He has a great presence that goes a long way towards making him believable in the role. He really should have done at least two Bond films. From the way Sean Connery called in his part in his comeback Bond vehicle, Diamonds Are Forever, Lazenby would not have been much worse.
A Bond movie is only as good as its villain and its girl, and on both counts On Her Majesty's Secret Service scores major points. As Blofeld, Telly Savalas is charming evil personified. Full of ego, genius, a desire to win and a burning hatred of Bond, Blofeld goes down as one of the great Bond villains.
This is the part where I go out on a limb and say that if I had to pick an all-time greatest Bond girl it would be Diana Rigg. Beautiful, smart, vulnerable, strong and sexy, Rigg has it all. If a character like James Bond were to finally fall in love and marry, it would be to someone like Rigg's Tracy. The scenes Lazenby and Rigg share together are among the film's strongest and there really was a chemistry between them. Going a little further out, if the producers had wanted a really different kind of Bond, Rigg herself would have made an excellent choice as 007. She was and still is, a world class actress who demands attention.
It is with all that said that I still wish Connery had made On Her Majesty's Secret Service instead of Lazenby. The film is so different from all that has come before, Connery's mere presence would have eased the audience into its world and made it that much easier to accept.
As part of MGM's Bond Box Set volume two, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the crown jewel of the group. Long the child of videotape, this was the first time I had ever seen On Her Majesty's Secret Service in a widescreen format. What a difference 50% either way makes. Hunt talks about framing the picture and how he was aware of the changes that would be made once the film was shown on television but the pan and scan version just does not do the film justice. This is a film that begs to be viewed in widescreen. For this release MGM has given the film's 2.35:1 aspect ratio a brand new anamorphic transfer, and outside of a few problems with the age of the source material, it's a marvelous picture. While there is the slightest degree of softness in the image, it is much sharper than the presentation on the Dr. No disc. Colors are very clear and bright, showing a great deal of clarity. Nighttime scenes show up very well with contrast being quite strong. I could make out no evidence of enhancement or compression problems. Once more an impressive job from MGM.
The sound is Dolby Digital Mono and it is a surprisingly rich and full. Dialogue is always heard to good effect and background distortion is barely noticeable. Nothing to write home about but as it stands, it serves the film well.
The highlight of the disc, outside of the film itself, is the documentary "Inside On Her Majesty's Secret Service." It is very informative and quite honest in the way it talks about the movie and its production. Hunt's enthusiasm for the project comes ringing through and it's obvious how proud of the movie he really is. Lazenby also acquits himself quite well. Looking back and realizing how young and immature he was cannot be an easy thing but he does it gracefully and I know I think better of him for it. One of the things that I've picked up from several of the Bond documentaries is just how many of the actors used had their voices dubbed. On this film alone both Lazenby and Ferzetti voices are replaced. It is also with a tinge of regret that I found out what Peter Hunt's original plans for the end of this film were and how he wanted to begin a Lazenby Diamonds Are Forever. I would also have to say, that from I have seen of the v. 2 set, this is the best documentary of the bunch.
There is also a commentary track that is done in the same edited fashion as the one on Dr. No. Although there don't seem to be as many people on the track this time out. The focus falls squarely on Mr. Hunt. As such I found this one much easier to listen to and much more enjoyable.
It is also with sadness I tell you about the other documentary on On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It is entitled "Inside Q's Laboratory" and it is a fitting, if too short, tribute to the one constant of the Bond series, Desmond Llewelyn. The perspective given is of a man who was well liked and loved. In the interview section he shows himself to be a person of great grace, charm and wit. As I said on my review of The World Is Not Enough, the man will be missed. The disc is rounded out by several more features. Including, "Above it All" a featurette produced at the time of the film's release. The original theatrical trailer is present as are several radio and television spots. Throw in MGM's "collectible" booklet and a gallery of stills and you have the entire package.
At a running length of 142 minutes there will be a lot of people who find On Her Majesty's Secret Service too long. A running time that seems even longer because of the presence of George Lazenby as Bond. In the documentary on the disc, mention is made several times of how, if Lazenby had stuck with the role, he could have been the greatest Bond ever. I don't know about that but he is certainly not going to be everyone's cup of tea. As for me, On Her Majesty's Secret Service has long been my favorite Bond film, not the best, mind you but my favorite. Everything was there. The only thing that held it back from being the best is Sean Connery. Lazenby is perfectly serviceable, just like Roger Moore was serviceable but Connery would have made it one for the ages.
The forgotten Bond film is given great treatment from MGM. I find it to be one of the most entertaining films in the series with some of the best action footage ever shot. Plus we get to see things never seen before or since in a Bond picture. Things such as what Bond's office looks like or where the admiral known as M lives. Throw into the mix the best Bond girl ever and a really good villain in Savalas and you have a movie begging to be watched. Add in the great supplements from MGM and you have a disc well worth owning.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service is released with all charges dropped. The only crime here is that the film is not better known and hopefully MGM's release of the film will change all that. That's all I have. Good day everyone. Court is dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 142 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Audio Commentary Featuring Director Peter Hunt, The Cast and Crew
* "Inside On Her Majesty's Secret Service" Documentary
* "Inside Q's Laboratory" Documentary
* "Above it All" Featurette
* Still Gallery
* Original TV Ads
* Radio Spots
* Original Theatrical Trailer
* 007 Forever