The name’s Bond. Bondathon. With 24 official James Bond films to conquer before ‘No Time To Die’ hits theaters (someday!), Bond fan Anna Swanson and Bond newbie Meg Shields are diving deep on 007. Martinis shaken and beluga caviar in hand, the Double Take duo are making their way through the Bond corpus by era, so hang up your hats and pay attention.
Following our dissection of Sean Connery’s Bond and all the brute force and powder blue that went along with it, we’re now turning our attention to George Lazenby’s single outing in the role. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) is a Bond movie that was much-maligned upon its initial release. However, many argue that today this peculiar entry in the EON canon has aged remarkably well. We might not have time to die, but we do have time to dive into the nitty-gritty of what makes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service such a wild, atypical, and laudable Bond movie.
The film sees James Bond (Lazenby) on the heels of his arch-nemesis Blofeld (Telly Savalas), whose latest, greatest, and craziest maniacal scheme involves an army of hypnotized international babes armed with a biological weapon that could threaten the very existence of mankind. All orchestrated under the guise of a remote mountainside allergy center in the Swiss Alps! Blofeld, you genius! Along the way, Bond meets his match and falls in love (same difference) with Terese “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), an Italian contessa and the daughter of the head of a major crime syndicate. Featuring breathtaking visuals, kick-ass action, and an edge-of-your-seat final act (A funicular escape! A ski chase! A bobsled showdown!), OHMSS delivers the goddamn goods.
What did you expect? What surprised you?
Hey, remember how back in our review of Sean Connery’s tenure I said Bond films lack emotional stakes because 007 is an invincible fuckboy? Well, that monkey’s paw curled up real nice. Tracy: you’re a revelation, we hardly knew ye.
It is patently obvious that OHMSS is in a different class from everything that came before it. All the pulp and flash is there. But it’s buoyed by a solid script with an emotional intelligence that elevates the bells and whistles to something more than spectacle. Of course, OHMSS has its fair share of absurdities (Lazenby’s barely passible “undercover nerd” dub springs to mind). But the film’s quirks are far from fatal. For instance: if Bond caring for Tracy makes the film go round, isn’t his promiscuity a problem? Well, first off, let’s remember that it’s the ’60s. Second: the way Lazenby’s Bond exists sexually is markedly distinct from Connery’s, and I think that’s worth underlining. Connery-Bond is aggressive; he often literally strong-arms women into trysts. Meanwhile, Lazenby comes across as a guy who enjoys sex for the sex rather than as a means to dominate other people. It’s a kind of pleasure-seeking that feels self-assured and secure, and that’s a hell of a lot more likable than sex crimes.
So: I was bracing for more of the Connery era’s self-serious masculine wish-fulfillment. Instead, we got Lazenby: fresh-faced, fumbling, and figuring it out. Loose and confident in the way only first-timers are. Gosh, an endearing Bond: imagine that.
One of the great consistencies in my relationship with the Bond movies is my love for OHMSS. It just does it for me in a way that others, even others that I love, don’t. Lazenby’s Bond is an anomaly but the weirdness of it works for me; he’s charming and lighter than the blunt aggression of Connery. Which doesn’t mean I don’t like Connery’s smoky cool, devil-may-care disposition, but there’s something refreshing about seeing someone play a Bond who is still figuring it out. Some would argue this is a point against the performance from a less-than-experienced actor, but to me, it reads as a better invitation into the world. Lazenby’s Bond is a little unclear about what he’s got himself into and, especially with Connery’s departure, it’s easy to relate to that as a viewer.
This was my first time seeing OHMSS since watching the documentary about Lazenby, Becoming Bond. It really illuminated a side of him that works both counter to and in tandem with the constructed nature of the Bond persona, and I think this might have bumped the film up even higher on my list. I just love the guy. I love that he low-key conned his way into playing Bond and I love that he became a hippy, grew a beard, and never came back for a second movie. It’s a one-off in every way possible; of course, this makes the movie feel special.
It’s also undeniable that OHMSS is one of the best-looking Bond movies, with every detail from production design to lighting working in service of a stunning final product. As much as I’ve always loved this movie, I think it continues to climb in my ranking the more I revisit it.
Does the film hold up?
All Bond films carry an inevitable of-a-time quality, but OHMSS is on another level. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. Let me explain. So, yes, the film’s aesthetic is “loud” and Lazenby’s Bond follows trends rather than taste, which is definitely out of character. But listen: the shag carpet, the lace ruffs, the gauche palettes…it’s all endearing. After all, Lazenby’s Bond is much softer than Connery’s; it checks out that he’d be less clinical about the way he moves through the world. His methods are clunkier and roughly-edged, but it draws you in like a silk paisley scarf in a sea of black suits.
Also, look, it’s the ’60s. Draco tries to sell Tracy off to Bond because he wants a man to “dominate” his free-willed daughter. Bond slaps Tracy when she breaks into his hotel room (Lazenby’s heart is not in it, and you can tell). Ultimately, the film’s transparency about its own time period helps loads. And compared to the Connery Bonds, OHMSS is undeniably innocent.
Hell yeah, it does. Meg has discussed so many of the merits, so I’ll address the brilliance of Diana Rigg’s Tracy. She’s a total gem and one of the best characters in the whole damn series. As much as the franchise progresses, there’s something about Tracy being portrayed the way she is, in this movie, at this time, that can’t ever be replicated. Rigg is effortlessly charming and her experience as an actress is on full display. Lazenby, in his first acting role, is obviously lacking Rigg’s skill, but once again I’ll argue that this only helps their dynamic. One of the reasons that I view their feelings toward one another as being so genuine is that Lazenby’s Bond is a bit unsure and out of his depth while Rigg’s Tracy is admirably headstrong. She’s not just bending to his will; the two are finding common ground. This makes for an unusual film, one that couldn’t ever truly be duplicated, and with each rewatch I find myself appreciating this more and more.