On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Re-release

Continuing with the re-screening of the classic 007 adventures in line with his 60th anniversary, we are finally at the one that I, and I’m sure many others are most excited about viewing on the big screen, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

This was a biggie for Bond in several ways. Crucially this was the first without the series’ anchor Sean Connery (an unknown male model and car salesman in the title role to be precise). 1969 too was an interesting year. The death of the classic Hollywood system had come about, and audiences who were hungry for fresh concepts and representations of counterculture were being drawn to the likes of Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, and Easy Rider which would be released the same year. Bond, whilst an exciting escapist hero, was very much an establishment figure that represented if not fought for the dominance of traditional British imperialist values.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the longest and most daring 007 adventure, not just because of its unknown lead, but it decidedly went against the outlandish and borderline silly antics of the last two highly successful adventures. The film follows the source material more closely and keeps the character-driven tone that sees Bond open himself up to love whilst tracking down the evasive head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

 The action scenes and stunts are sharply edited and brutally handled, more so than Connery’s. Credit must be given to Lazenby who carries himself marvellously in these moments, delivering a deadly quality which would not be matched truly until Casino Royale in 2006. What he lacks in line delivery, he more than makes up for in the physical performance of Bond. Whilst he just about manages to make the role his own, Lazenby was not helped by the constant visual and musical signifiers, serving as frequent in-your-face reminders that he is exactly the same character as Connery. This was wisely done away with when Roger Moore stepped into the role, allowing the character to remain fresh through the input of the star’s own qualities.

Blofeld’s plot, whilst still retaining a flavour of 1960s spy-fi silliness, is still more believable and intelligent than atomic bombs in the Bahamas and volcano layers concealing spaceships! Telly Savalas will always be the best Blofeld, followed very closely by his predecessor Donald Pleasence. Savalas’ talents and screen facility allowed him to play heroes and villains with equal ease, and he is the perfect physical and intellectual foe for Lazenby’s Bond.

Alongside Lazenby, the film is probably most famous for its soundtrack. The instrumental main title track by John Barry is as iconic as the character’s Monty Norman tune, and Louis Armstrong’s ‘We Have All The Time In The World’ remains synonymous with Bond’s most heartbreaking moment. It’s significance was drawn upon for Daniel Craig’s final outing, giving Bond fans a subtle warning to have the tissues at the ready.

It’s a shame Lazenby made the very unwise but understandable move to step down after one film, as the next Bond adventure really feels like a desperate attempt at getting back into a safe space by hiring a slouching, iffy-wigged Connery, who farts his way around Las Vegas for the promise of an obnoxiously big check. This was in part due to the film’s lukewarm critical and financial reception. It was not a box office failure in any sense, but not the kind of Bond-buster Saltzman and Broccoli had enjoyed with Thunderball and You Only Live Twice.

Looking at it now, OHMSS is a Bond adventure oddly ahead of its time that has rightly grown in stature over the years, and is perhaps the best 007 film of that decade!


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