On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

  • on_her_majestys_secret_serviceYear:  1969
  • Director:  Peter R. Hunt
  • Series Rank:  #10
  • Year Rank:  #21
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Visual Effects, Sound Editing
  • Bond Girl:  Diana Rigg (Tracy), Angela Scoular (Ruby)
  • Bond Villain:  Telly Savalas (Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Ilse Steppat (Irma Bunt)
  • Bond Support:  Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Gabriele Ferzetti (Draco)

Not everybody is wrong about this film, of course.  Steven Soderbergh and Christopher Nolan are both fond of this film.  As am I.  There are problems with this film, to be certain, and the problems do lie (mostly) with Lazenby.  George Lazenby is not a particularly good choice for Bond, and he would turn down the long-term contract, though given the films that Roger Moore would make as Bond and given how old he is by the time he leaves the role, I’m not entirely certain that was a good thing.  But the trashing of Lazenby as Bond is acceptable.  Veronica kept pointing out that he wasn’t good-looking enough to be Bond, though late in the film she conceded that was partially the fault of the wardrobe, because in formal clothing he looks fine, but the rest of the time he just looks dopey.  But just because Lazenby isn’t right for Bond doesn’t extend to the rest of the film.  This is one of the better Bond films, for a variety of reasons.  It’s true that almost none of them extend to Lazenby, but, in spite of Lazenby, this is in fact quite a good film.

On-Her-Majestys-Secret-Service-Tracy-Diana-Rigg-skating-rinkThe differences between this film and the previous ones in the series begin in the pre-credits sequence.  In the earlier films those were one-offs, and most definitely did not involve introducing the Bond girl.  But this time, first, we meet the Bond girl right away, the mysterious Tracy, who’s trying to drown herself in the surf.  After Bond rescues her he has to fight off several attackers, then Tracy takes off on him.  Smiling, he says “This never happened to the other fella.”  Then we get, instead of a new Bond song, a version of the Bond theme over the credits, complete with clips from the earlier films (including clips of the primary Bond girl from each film).  They wanted to establish that this was not the same Bond that we have been experiencing, but he is definitely part of the same series and we should expect the same kind of things.

To that extent, we have some traditions that continue on.  Bond is insubordinate to M and is saved from his own impatience by Moneypenny.  Bond relies on a couple of gadgets from Q (most notably a combination safecracker / photocopier).  Bond actually gets the main girl but manages to have some fun along the way, bedding two different women in Blofeld’s institute.  Blofeld is back again, complete with cat, but played by Telly Savalas this time (there is nothing in the film to suggest that Bond and Blofeld have met before and therefore should recognize each other, which I found kind of infuriating) he’s much more involved in the action, chasing Bond on skis and bobsled.

blofeld-seams-03There are some very good action scenes in the film: a couple of car chases (one of which turns into a rally car crash scene) a chase on skis and a later chase on bobsled (a number of the chases are referenced in For Your Eyes Only, which really picks up some threads from this film).  There’s a plot too, somewhere in the middle of all of this.  Really, it’s about setting up Bond to fall in love with Tracy, but Blofeld is also setting up an elaborate scheme to blackmail the world or he will manage to destroy all the world’s food through hypnotizing people who work at places that produce food.  We’ve reached the point here where the scheme itself takes the back seat in the film.

This film is quite different in other ways as well.  In the previous films we usually don’t meet the primary Bond girl until later in the film, and usually after he has already had some flings.  But we meet Tracy in the pre-credits sequence, she is around for a good chunk of the film and he actually falls in love with her.  The long sequence in the middle of the film where Tracy is absent is, not coincidentally, the weakest part of the film.  Having gone with the amateur Bond, they upped the ante for the girl.  Diana Rigg was already a star from The Avengers and was perfectly suited to be a Bond girl.  She’s not nearly as breath-takingly beautiful as Daniela Bianchi or Claudine Auger but Rigg can actually act.  Her Tracy can humiliate Bond (taking off with his car), smack him around a bit and still fall deeply in love with him.  She rescues him when he’s fleeing Blofeld and they make a wonderful pair.  Now, we get the ending that is unlike any Bond film and is part of what makes this one of the better Bond films: they wed.  Bond really has fallen for the girl and this time he seems like he’s headed for a legitimately happy ending.  But then comes Blofeld, back for one more shot at the hero, and instead Tracy is lying in the car, dead, with a bullet in the head.  We get that heart-breaking scene of her lying there dead and him saying “We have all the time in the world.”  There won’t be another scene like that where we really feel Bond’s emotions until Timothy Dalton says “Don’t you want to know why?” and it won’t be a girl who will affect Bond this way again until we have basically reset with Casino Royale and we see the hold of the hypnotic Vesper Lynd.

Rigg is the answer, of course, as to why this film ranks as high as it does on the list of Bond films when Lazenby is so lackluster a Bond.  Yes, there are good things in the film beside her – the ski scenes, the bobsled scene (you can tell the close-ups are rear projection but the longshots are real and exciting), the tragedy of the ending.  But, for the first 40 years of the series she was the height of the Bond girls and she pulls this film higher than we had any right to originally expect.