On Her Majesty’s Secret Service stars George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, and Telly Savalas and was directed by Peter R. Hunt. Based on Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel of the same name, it follows James Bond, played by George Lazenby in his single Bond outing, as he travels to Switzerland in search of the evil leader of SPECTRE and some nice black diamond trails. We’ve had some crazy things in these Bond movies so far, but this sixth film in the franchise brings about the most shocking thing yet: a new Bond. That’s right, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the first Bond movie without Sean Connery and serves as our introduction to Bond number two: George Lazenby. Of course since this was a rewatch for me, it wasn’t really shocking anymore, but it was for me the first time I watched through the series.
I had known it was coming at some point, but I had actually intentionally avoided looking at the cast lists of all the movies, so that the timing of the new Bonds would legitimately be a surprise for me. And I’ll be honest, after five movies, you do get pretty accustomed to Connery as 007. So the prospect of having a new Bond is a little weird and I’ll admit that the first time I saw this film, I was a little nervous when I first saw Lazenby on screen and realized we had reached a Bond transition point. Luckily, his bit of self-referential meta humor alleviated my concerns fairly quickly.
The whole thing does make me wonder what it was like for audiences at the time of release. I imagine the Bond transition was well-publicized and big news, but there had to be people who didn’t know. It really struck me how long into the cold opening it took for them to finally reveal Bond’s face, so it was obviously intended to be a dramatic surprise.
But how did people take it? I mean, we’ve had six Bonds at this point, so it seems kinda normal now, but this was the first time they swapped out for a new actor. Were people outraged by the change or did they accept it without much fuss? It certainly underperformed at the box office, taking in about half of what its preceding and succeeding films did, but was that all because of Lazenby? The concept of changing actors mid-franchise for a role as popular and well-loved as James Bond still strikes me as a bit odd, so it’d be interesting to see what filmgoers at the time thought of the concept.
I have a feeling though that most people weren’t too happy. Can you imagine if Twitter was a thing back then? But since this movie came out about 20 years before I did, it’s easy for me to accept the transition and judge the new Bond without any bias or anger. So, my opinion of George Lazenby as James Bond? I like him. He’s pretty different and although I think I still prefer Connery’s rendition, there were certainly things that Lazenby brought to the character that I think were improvements. For one, he actually felt like a real person at times rather than just a part charming, part sleazy caricature.
This was really useful for the plot’s departure from the typical Bond storyline and definitely brought a more nuanced and relatable, emotional side to Bond. But, the coolness of the 007 character was definitely dampened a bit as a result (the kilt didn’t really help with that either). Lazenby never feels like he’s trying to do a Connery impression, but his delivery of puns and one-liners left something to be desired. One of the biggest checks in the Lazenby column, for me at least, was how proficient he (or his stunt double, I suppose) was during the action scenes. He seemed really comfortable and fluid in those sequences.
The later scenes get a little goofy, but his hand-to-hand combat sequences ñ particularly the early ones at the beach or in the hotel room ñ struck me as particularly engrossing, especially after some of the overly stiff and theatrical Connery fights. And while this is partially thanks to the acting, I don’t think we can give all the credit to Lazenby: there was also some pretty significant improvement in the editing and cinematography departments too.
In terms of the actual story, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is pretty decent and is engaging throughout most of its runtime. Things do drag a bit in the middle while Bond is at the allergy clinic, but at least it does contribute towards the overall plot and build up his character a bit. Much like You Only Live Twice, the opening of the film hints at a unique story that doesn’t actually get explored. This time, there was a set-up for a heavily redemption-based plotline that I thought would’ve fit perfectly, especially with the introduction of a new Bond, but unfortunately that story direction fizzled out pretty quickly. Luckily, the film does end up going in a different and very unexpected direction, largely thanks to Lazenby’s interpretation of the character and one of the stronger, more involved Bond girls in the franchise. The sudden shift might not be for everybody, but I think it paid off, giving us, arguably, the most somber, impactful, and gutsy ending in the series.
Oh and I can’t forget to talk about the setting. In a series largely overrun by beach-front Bond action, the snowy setting of the Alps was definitely a nice change of pace that provided for some unique shots and situations, including a scene that I think any fan of Fargo would enjoy. But this movie’s snowy claim to fame definitely rests on two skis. We get multiple sequences of Bond and some baddies barreling down the mountain, narrowly missing trees and bullets alike. It’s all pretty cool, but some of the skiing scenes do start to get a little tedious after a while. It’s nowhere close to Thunderball scuba tedious though and the editing and action of it keeps it engaging. Plus, skiing isn’t the only winter pastime that Bond engages in here.
He does some curling and make-shift snowboarding, but I’m almost tempted to bump this movie up an extra half-paw just for bobsledding Bond. And, I learned a new winter survival skill that I can’t wait to try out. Cold hands? Just rip out your pockets: instant mittens! Alright let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is definitely George Lazenby as Bond. That’s not to say he’s necessarily better than Sean Connery, but the fact that we’ve got an entirely new actor playing an iconic, long-running character, and doing it well, solidly puts him in the pro column. He definitely brings a different flavor to the role, but he’s still immediately recognizable as James Bond.
Different, but not too different. He might not be quite as cool and charming, but he’s great with the action and gives 007 this emotional core that really makes him feel like a real person. It’s such a shame he only did the one movie cause I would’ve loved to have seen more Lazenby Bond adventures. The second pro is the plot. Along with the new Bond, we also get a new type of Bond story. It picks up where the last film left off, with Bond in search of Blofeld, but then approaches it in an entirely different way. It’s not without its weird campy moments ñ like any Bond film ñ but it manages to maintain this weight to it all.
It takes the 007 character to places we’ve never seen before, both literally and figuratively. And it leaves us with a shocking ending that could’ve been very franchise-altering had they stayed consistent moving into the next film. Pro number three is the action. Honestly, it’s really a night and day difference between the action in this movie and the five previous Bond films. Action scenes in the Connery films, especially fight scenes, always felt like something out of a play. They were filmed using pretty long takes and always had this silly unrealistic quality to them, but the action here feels like it’s actually in a movie.
Lazenby just seems more spry and comfortable with the action. Plus, it’s edited like an action movie, with plenty of quick cuts. That editing does get a little choppy later in the movie, but it works really well early on. On the con side, the biggest issue has gotta be the allergy clinic. It’s central to the plot, so it has that going for it, but it’s just so weird. Everything from the girls to Bond posing as a kilt-wearing genealogist, to the awkward interactions between characters. I don’t really like those scenes and they’re made worse by the fact that they kinda drag on for no reason. It’s certainly not as bad as it could’ve been, especially considering the pacing issues that many of the earlier Bond films had, but it definitely slows things down a bit too much in my opinion.
The second con is kinda minor, but there are intermittent audio issues. I suppose this could just be an issue with my blu-ray, but I think its inherent to the film cause it only happens during some scenes while Bond is at the allergy clinic. Basically, there are some lines of dialogue that come across kinda echoey. It’s not horribly distracting or anything, but it was definitely noticeable for me. I’m gonna give On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 3.5 out of 5 paws. I don’t know if it’s more because of the story or the novelty of Lazenby in the 007 role, but this is a refreshing installment in the franchise that rejuvenates things a bit after the last few lackluster films.
I would recommend On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to people who want a bit of a change within the Bond franchise. There’s the obvious change of having a new actor play James Bond, but the change runs deeper than that too. The movie balances serious and silly in a way that’s reminiscent of Goldfinger, but then has this extra layer of reality and emotion that we don’t see again until perhaps the Craig-era films. This may not be an iconic or obvious choice, but if you want a solid spy thriller with some decent action, this might be a film for you. If you liked On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I would recommend Live and Let Die. If you wanted more Lazenby Bond, you’re out of luck unfortunately, but this 8th Bond film features Roger Moore’s introduction as Bond. The story’s quite different, but if it’s the idea of a Bond-transition that you like, you’ll enjoy this one.
If you want some more skiing Bond, you should check out the 12th Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only for another entertaining ski chase and an even broader array of winter sports than this film offered. And if you want both a new Bond and a snowy action sequence, be sure to check out the 15th Bond film: The Living Daylights. It serves as Timothy Dalton’s introduction as 007 and features an interesting take on the classic ski chase. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s a movie that you wish had gotten a direct sequel, picking up right where the last film left off? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.