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007 One by One: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Yes, the only real Bond girl in “Majesty’s” is Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo –Tracy for short — played by Emma Peel herself, Diana Rigg. If James Bond is going to fall in love, it had damn well better be someone like Diana Rigg. One can picture producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sitting around saying variations on, “We need to get someone like Diana Rigg for the part”…until finally realizing they’d better just get Diana Rigg. Tracy steals Bond’s heart in the film’s first 45 minutes and then disappears for the next hour, only to come out of nowhere and heroically rescues James from his predicament high up in the Swiss Alps, at which point he realizes that she’s “the one.” When she finally “Peels” out, it’s the moment every “Avengers” fan has waited for the entire film. [SPOILER ALERT] And when she’s murdered moments after trading “I do’s” with 007, it’s heartbreaking to see James cradle her lifeless body in his arms. One wonders what kind of shock this must have been for fans back in 1969.

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The Nemeses: Of the three major Blofelds to appear onscreen in the official franchise, Telly Savalas (like the rest of the movie) is often forgotten. He’s also the only one of the three to deliver a remotely realistic performance, which may be part of the reason he doesn’t resonate in the public consciousness. We like our villains larger than life, do we not? His look is not as iconic as Donald Pleasance, nor is his portrayal as camp as Charles Gray. Yet what he brings to Ernst is cold and calculating — the true essence of villainy. His plan is not to blow up the world, but to hypnotize his 12 patients into releasing a bacterial agent into the world’s agricultural supply unless he’s given amnesty for his past crimes. This makes something of a nice change from holding the world hostage for one-meellion dollars.

Blofeld’s biggest blunder here is his initial inability to recognize Bond. Yes, Bond has a new face — but Bond recognizes Blofeld, even though he too has a new face. Neither is supposed to have a new face within the storyline itself, though it’s stated that Blofeld has had some minor plastic surgery done to his earlobes (of all things). The conundrum is actually a result of adhering so closely to the original novel, which preceded the novel of “You Only Live Twice” – an order which was flipped in the film series. Come “Diamonds are Forever,” the whole “getting a new face” thing is weaved into the plot, yet they can both recognize one another, despite one having a new face and the other having gone back to his old face.

Blofeld isn’t the movie’s only villain. His henchwoman, Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat), is a nasty piece of work, and possibly a thinly veiled lesbian caricature, though that assertion could and should be debated. She owes a lot to Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb in “From Russia with Love,” but lacks her jolly sense of humor. And she pulls the trigger that kills Tracy. What a bitch.

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The Gadgets: It was a conscious move on the part of director Peter R. Hunt to move away from the gadgets in this film, so they are few. Early in the picture Q shows off to M something he calls radioactive lint, but it’s never used as part of the plot. The only real gadget Bond uses in this film is a cumbersome dual safecracker/photocopier. The former aspect of the gimmick remains cool even today. While the latter is extremely mundane by today’s standards, the fact that it’s packaged with a safecracker keeps it vaguely cool.

The Cars: The Aston Martin DBS – different than the iconic DB5 from “Goldfinger” – features as Bond’s new car in this movie. Tracy’s ride, a red Mercury Cougar XR7 Convertible, sees far more action in the movie than Bond’s Aston Martin, by playing a big part on the film’s third act. Blofeld’s henchmen chase Bond and Tracy in a Mercedes 220S, while their boss, alongside Irma Bunt, drives a silver Mercedes-Benz 600 in the final moments of the film. Draco drives a 1968 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Convertible.

The Music: Since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was quite the mouthful, John Barry opted to compose an instrumental piece for the opening credits, and it’s a rousing bit of work. More famous than the title tune, however, is “We Have All the Time in the World,” sung by Louis Armstrong, and written by Barry with Hal David behind the lyrics. This little ditty, which plays over several scenes, may as well be called “James and Tracy’s Love Theme.” It would be the last piece of music Armstrong recorded, as he passed on soon afterwards, and it has gone on to have quite the life outside of the Bond film series, including as a popular choice of song to play at weddings (presumably only by couples who have not seen this film).

Final Musings: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” isn’t perfect, and in fact has one major flaw: For the lengthy stretch in which Bond infiltrates Blofeld’s lair, pretending to be Sir Hilary Bray, the decision was made to dub Lazenby’s voice with George Baker’s (the actor who played Bray earlier in the movie). We’ll never know what voice Lazenby used for all those scenes (Bond is, in fact, at his most talkative for this section of the movie), so we must assume that it was felt to not be up to par. The dubbing is painfully obvious, though if you’re as big a fan of this movie as we are, you’ll learn to overlook it.

Beyond that most bizarre of artistic decisions, the rest is about as ideal as a Bond movie can be. The cinematography from Michael Reed is exceptional and the direction from Peter Hunt precise. Much of the film takes place in the wintry world of Switzerland, and you’ll not find snow and ski scenes that are done this well in any other Bond picture. The final hour is packed with one inventive action sequence after another, culminating in an avalanche which swallows up Bond and his bride to be. Even later, Bond goes after Blofeld in an intense bobsled chase.

Then there’s the tragic love story, which itself makes the movie a unique, important entry in the James Bond series – a helpful key to understanding the central character (there would be numerous references to Bond’s ill-fated marriage in later films). Further, its story is imperative to the ongoing tale of Bond vs. Blofeld that was carefully woven throughout the ‘60s. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is one for the books. This isn’t your manly Connery of the ‘60s, your wisecracking Moore of the ‘70s & ‘80s, or your paint-by-numbers Brosnan of the ‘90s. The film almost exists in its own near-perfect little bubble, though from an emotional standpoint, it’s precisely the sort of fare the Daniel Craig movies are made of today, 40 some-odd years after its creation.

Stray Bullets:

The Bond family motto is revealed here to be “The World Is Not Enough,” which would years later be used as the title of Pierce Brosnan’s third James Bond outing.

The only movie in which Bond wears a kilt.

Bond doesn’t just read, but practically studies an issue of Playboy in one scene, including the centerfold.

Brigitte Bardot was the actress the Bond producers originally wanted for the part of Tracy.

In an effort to stress to viewers that these were the continuing adventures of the same man, the title sequence largely consists of a montage of clips from the previous Bond films.

In one scene, a midget janitor whistles the theme to “Goldfinger.”

Early in the film, during a sequence in which Bond threatens to resign from his job, we, for the first and currently only time in the series, sees Bond’s office. He roots through his desk, sifting through various bits of nostalgia from all the previous Bond movies.

The first film in which Bond skis.

The only Bond film directed by Peter Hunt, who’d worked on all the previous Bond films in various capacities. Unfortunately, he never worked on another Bond film after this one, in any capacity.

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4 responses to “007 One by One: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”

  • Michael Owen says:

    -A forgotten and yet superior Bond film.
    -I would have LOVED to see Connery with Bardot. The thought of that is just amazing.
    -Had Lazanby stayed and Hunt directed the next three films we would’ve seen a paradigm shift in how Bond was portrayed for the next 40+ years. Had only Lazenby stayed and not Hunt the next three Bond films would have been JUST as “ok” as they are today.

  • Ross Ruediger says:

    It’s difficult for me to picture how the series “might have been” – so much so that I’m not sure I’ve ever considered it before. It’s a HUGE shame Hunt left the franchise though, as based on this film alone, he brought an immense amount of class and cred. I’d like to have seen more from Lazenby because, as I think I said in the piece, he’s sort of overshadowed by so much of the film’s greatness. Hunt and Moore might’ve been able to do some great things together.

  • Ross Ruediger says:

    Actually, I should amend by previous statement – I *have* often considered how much different the franchise would have been if they’d adhered closer to the books over the years. The entirety of the Moore era would be a different beast altogether. Of course, it’s possible the series wouldn’t have lasted as long, too.

  • Michael Rudzki says:

    OHMSS has always been one of my favorites. I read somewhere that Fleming considered Lazenby to be as close to what Bond actually looked like as possible, in that he was handsome and charming without being especially memorable. That may have worked against Lazenby as an actor, however. I enjoyed his little part as Bond in Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and he apparently did the same in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, though I haven’t seen that.

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