James Bond Retrospective: Review of ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

(I am a pretty huge James Bond fan, so with the new SKYFALL coming out November 9th, I thought it would be cool to re-watch every Bond movie and review them on the site, counting down the days until the latest one is released)

This was the only Bond movie I never really saw as a kid.  I saw clips of it, and maybe a scene here or there on television, but I actually never sat down to watch it until 2006.  To put it bluntly, I hated it.   It was just all wrong to me.  But if you’ve been reading all of my Bond reviews so far, you will know that my tastes have been changing throughout the years, so I sat down to re-watch this with a very open mind, especially since this IS highly regarded amongst hardcore Bond fans.

Okay, this plot is kind of all over the map, so I’ll do my best here.  Bond meets Tracy when he just so happens to be passing by as she attempts suicide by walking into the ocean.  It turns out this crazy chick is the daughter of a mob boss named Draco.  007 decides to use his connections to find the notorious leader of Spectre, Blofeld.  But Draco wants Bond to marry his daughter because… well, there really never is a good explanation other than she needs a dominate man to take charge of her.  Whatever….  Anyway, Bond goes undercover as a homosexual (though it was unclear at first) allergy expert in a secluded hideout in the Swiss Alps.  Turns out Blofeld is hypnotizing slutty girls with allergies.  And the reason is…. well, something to do with world domination, I guess.  Of course, Blofeld finds out about Bond’s true identity and big chases scene ensue until the inevitable Bond Finale with tons of explosions.

The pre-title sequence is probably the best thing in the movie.  It starts off with M looking for Bond, then it shows the secret agent driving a car only to be passed by a car driven by a beautiful woman.  This is Tracy, whom stops the car and walks into the ocean.  Bond chases after her.  While trying to revive her, 2 thugs attack.  The fight scene is cut very rapidly, and most of the time the shots match.  It has a rhythm that puts the viewer on edge, as it’s not smooth.  It’s messy fighting, so the quick cutting sort of fits.  Then it ends with Tracy driving away, while George Lazenby says, “This never happened to the other fella”, and then breaks the fourth wall by smirking into the camera.  Then Bam!  John Barry’s ultra-energetic score blasts its way onto the soundtrack.  Not a bad way to introduce the world to a new Bond (though why the bad guys attacked them doesn’t make any sense if you actually think about it).

But, the movie has to have a plot, which I found quite ridiculous.  The first half was a bit better in the story department, because the whole plot wasn’t known yet.  Bond is introduced to Tracy in typical fashion playing cards, then of course he beds her.  But there are also a couple of fist fights in the first 30 minutes.  Again, they are fast, furious, and exciting, but the quick cutting makes it sloppy.  When the shots do match, it’s rousing.  When they don’t, it’s distracting and becomes very jarring.  Then after Draco tries to get Bond to marry Tracy by offering info on Blofeld, we’re treated with some pretty out-of-character (for a Bond movie) mushy montage sequences between 007 and Tracy that would have been more at home in something like LOVE STORY.  This IS a James Bond movie, right?

The second half has our hero posing as a gay doctor.  First of all, no one really says he’s gay.  In fact, I didn’t realize that he was posing as gay until one of the girls characters said, “I thought you didn’t like girls?”.  It’s a plot point that didn’t really need to be in there.  But there are some okay action set pieces.  One is an extended ski chase and has a few thrills.  Oh yeah, there is another ski chase during the daytime too.  The finale when all hell breaks loose has some neat moments, though when Bond shows up out of nowhere sliding like a penguin on his belly across ice, it made me face palm.  I did enjoy (to a certain extent) the bobsled fight between Bond and Blofeld.  It’s so ridiculous that it’s hard not to like it.

But, yeah, I still didn’t like the movie!  To put it plainly, this it’s a mess.  Where should I start?  Well, I guess we can start with George Lazenby.  This was his first and only turn as Bond, replacing Sean Connery.  This would be no easy feat for the greatest of actors.  But Lazenby isn’t even a GOOD actor. He may look the part, but that disappears as soon as he opens up with mouth, with his voice sounding like his nose is constantly plugged.  There were many moments where I had trouble understanding him.  And he’s boring.  He’s more like James Bland.  I would gladly take Connery’s lazy performance from YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE over Lazenby ‘s any day of the week.  Diana Rigg is an odd choice for a Bond girl.  Sure she’s pretty, but she looks and sounds too much like Julie Andrews.  Do you think Julie Andrews would make a good Bond girl?  I didn’t think so either.  All of Bond’s other conquests aren’t very sexy or interesting.  The short-haired English girl was especially annoying.  And then there’s Telly Savalas as Blofeld.  Now, I love Telly, but he’s just NOT Blofeld.  He’s just playing Telly.  It wouldn’t be so bad if Blofeld wasn’t already an established villain in the series.  With the exception of his cat, there’s nothing even remotely the same about the master villain.  He should have been called someone else.

Which brings me to my next gripe.  In the last movie, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, Blofeld meets Bond and barely escapes with his life.  In this one, when Blofeld meets Bond (who is undercover) he doesn’t even recognize him!  And wouldn’t Bond be the least bit worried about being recognized?  This is a glaring flaw that bugged me throughout the whole movie.  Another thing.  Blofeld has always had an army of master villains working for him.  He more or less acted like a General as the other bad guys did the dirty work for him.  In this one, Blofeld uncharacteristically works controls, actively hypnotizes people (he would normally have his cronies do this, I would think), skis while shooting an automatic machine gun, jumps, runs and is an expert Bobsled driver.  I don’t know what he’s like in the novels, but what I gathered from the previous films was that he was a mastermind.  He wouldn’t really do anything physical unless it was absolutely necessary.  Maybe I’m looking too much into this, but it bothered the shit out of me throughout.

Now the romance:  I’m sure it was all in the novel, but from watching James Bond bang countless chicks in the first 5 flicks, him falling in love was hard to swallow.  I guess if we saw some genuine chemistry between Lazenby and Rigg, but we don’t.  She doesn’t seem any more special than any other Bond girl, so I didn’t really understand why 007 pops the ultimate question.  That’s right.  He proposes to her.  Something I don’t think Bond would ever do.  It come completely out of left field.  But if it’s in the book, I guess I have an issue with the book too.

Peter Hunt, who was the editor of the previous Bond films, steps in as director this time.  He’s not very good.  The editing is all over the place and the camera placements don’t make a whole lot of sense at times.  The script doesn’t make much sense either and is out of character with the rest of the series.  I will say this.  John Barry’s score may possibly one of his best, using some extra jazzy riffs and some late-60’s electronic bass themes.  It’s terrific!

I’m about to go into spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know how the movie ends (I won’t go into detail, but just the manner of how it ends), stop reading. 

I will give the filmmakers credit for doing something incredibly ballsy at the very end.  Even though it’s quite abrupt and is a bit silly if you think about it, I appreciated how dark it was.  For a big budget action film, it’s super downer of a way to end the film.  This scene also contains Lazenby’s only moment of real acting, and it’s surprisingly effective.

Even Sean Connery wouldn’t have been able to save this one, though it would have been better by a smidgen.  But the movie has bigger problems than just Lazenby.  The plot didn’t make sense to me in the Bond universe, the direction is sloppy as hell, and Blofeld doesn’t act like Blofeld.  I’m starting to regret my decision to go back and watch all the Bond movies.  After 6 movies, I can only recommend 2 of them fully.  Maybe I like the idea of bond more than I like the actual movies?  These early ones were supposed to be the best I thought.  This is the first one, though, that I would say is flat-out bad.  Besides not being a terribly good Bond entry, it’s also a poorly made film.  ★½ (out of ★★★★)

- Originally rated M for Mature, but would be rated PG-13 today for violence, sensuality and brief nudity (from a Playboy magazine).  Oh yeah, and innuendos. 

- Running time: 2hrs 21min. 

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Categories: Austin Kennedy, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews

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7 replies

  1. Right on with this review. A putrid Bond movie. The worst Bond ever. The worst Blofeld ever (although you are right about Telly Savalas being great otherwise.). Diana Digg totally wasted. Apparently a gay director thinking it was funny to suggest Bond was gay. Action optically sped up instead of being filmed properly. And I disagree with you about John Barry’s score– his weakest and most repetitive score. Whew.

  2. Glad you were also bothered by the romantic, getting-to-know-you scenes with Louis Armstrong, a what the hell moment for sure. I was not bothered by the gayness as I was the 10 minute explanation of the genealogy work. Lazenby was a fine understudy, my opinion is he was not Bond, but his own character. Like the way you said Telly was not Blofield, George was not Bond. Except for M and Moneypenny interactions, you lose emotional attachment to the Bond/Connery storyline. And the fact that Blofield did not even recognize Bond, proves it all the more. And how did the cat survive the lair explosion? And why is it only seen once the whole film, Blofeld gets to just abandon it every time and yet it somehow reappears? I don’t know why but I loved the final scene with Moneypenny crying till the credits. He finally finds something he cares about, more than his country, and it is taken from him. I agree with Greg, I did not like the music at all. What I enjoyed so much about this film was how Bond was on his own. No gadgets really (I hate how gadget heavy Connery Bond films are) no British support (Swiss protection law, and his backup guy watching over him was pathetic) only his lover and her powerful father (who ultimately helps rescue her, since M said it was personal and he owed no debt to her). In this film, Bond gets a taste of love and freedom, where he reaps the reward and appreciation for his work. He tries to distance himself from his work to no avail in the end. The film has pretty good action, and some gripping scenes, but is nowhere near the best.

  3. i totally aggree with you. i hate that movie all the way. in my opinion, its the worst movie EVER!

  4. I’m old enough haha to have seen all of the Bond films in theaters on the big screen the way they were meant to be seen. The first one I was allowed to see around the age of 14-15 was Diamonds are Forever when it was first released in 1971, but shortly after that the earlier films were released to theaters as two sets of triple features, first Dr. No/From Russia With Love/Goldfinger and then a few weeks or months later Thunderball/You Only Live Twice/OHMSS. Either the theater I watched at was smart enough or they were instructed by the promoters to show them in the correct order, which was a great way to experience the first six more or less back to back to back and back to back and back. The Bond films have always kind of fallen down in terms of choppy editing and even the two greatest Connery films fall prey to a few scenes of faulty back projection (From Russia With Love), model work (the helicopters in FRWL and explosions and planes in Goldfinger). This would get even worse by OHMSS and Diamonds, the end of Diamonds was so cheap they’d merely smear some color across the frame to simulate a helicopter explosion! Growing up OHMSS was actually my third favorite (I thought Thunderball was a little too slow even the first time I saw it). Ironically in theaters you don’t notice back projection problems as much as you do on a small screen or even big screen TV (especially in modern times of high-def). The Bond films were actually famous for the choppily edited fight scenes, which were considered landmark film editing in the day (if you’ve ever been in a fight, the sense of adrenaline and speeded up motion actually make sense). Luckily they didn’t over-crank the Bond-Grant fight scene in From Russia With Love or the great bathtub-ending scene in Goldfinger. OHMSS the film follows the Ian Fleming book pretty faithfully including killing off the wife at the end, so any plot problems (I didn’t personally have a problem with it) are with the original author. Watching OHMSS in the years since I go back and forth on the effectiveness/quality of Lazenby every time I see it (but in character I do prefer him to Craig and almost to Dalton and Brosnan, Roger Moore was always fine to me but I still consider Connery by far the best) . . .the author above makes a great point about Lazenby’s overly nasal voice . . . keep in mind that at the time Diana Rigg was coming off the hugely popular TV Avengers, so she was considered a natural to be a Bond girl . .. though her fighting prowess appears to come out of nowhere, unless 007 spent their short relationship giving her some judo tips hahaha. OHMSS was supposed to be made I believe after Thunderball, but logistical problems forced them to shelve it and do YOLT instead . . . imagine a Thunderball era Connery in OHMSS, I think would have been great unless Connery got as dispirited as he ended up in YOLT and quitting afterwards, which had as much to do with being hounded throughout Japan by the press as it did with his money feud with the producers. Lazenby was very effective in the death scene and even some hardcore Connery fans question whether Connery would have done as well.

  5. continuing so much to say about OHMSS and the fascinating Lazenby interlude . . . keep in mind that while OHMSS made only half of what YOLT did, it was still one of the top-grossing films of 1969 . . . the producers were happy enough to offer Lazenby a seven picture deal, which Lazenby foolishly listened to his agent and turned down any more Bonds . . . on the dvd special features you can find Lazenby grousing about how his agent told him Bond was an anachronism that would never last into the 70s . . . part of the reason you have the problem of Blofeld introducing himself to Bond in both YOLT and OHMSS is that OHMSS was going to be made after Goldfinger but was delayed for two movies because of logistical problems (mainly a dearth of snow in the desired shooting areas). . . in the books 007 meets Blofeld for the first time in OHMSS and then chases and kills him in the following YOLT . . . the producers and writers struggled with the continuity conundrum from YOLT, even suggesting that Bond having undergone plastic surgery so that Blofeld doesn’t recognize him . . . in the end they decided to just ignore it altogether . . . one way to solve the problem is to view OHMSS as a one-time one-film reboot, if you can ignore Lazenby fondling the props from the previous films and the scenes from the previous films in the title sequence . . . in that case in Diamonds Connery’s bond is merely pursuing Blofeld after what happened in YOLT (note that the opening scene in Diamonds is a Japanese setting!). . . I saw OHMSS around the time I was learning to ski, and the 007 soundtracks meant a good deal to me . . . I listened to them over and over again, and remember this was before video, even before ABC bought the broadcasting rights starting in 1972 (it was a BIG DEAL back then for hollywood movies to start showing on network TV) . . . particularly ABC butchered OHMSS, cutting it into two parts and adding narration! . . . . so the ski scenes, the music and being a Diana Rigg fan from the Emma Peel days undoubtedly influenced me to ignore the other problems with the film (chief being Lazenby) and rank it ahead of Dr. No, Thunderball and YOLT . . . it would have been an entirely different film if done after Goldfinger, with Connery in his prime and who would they have gotten in 1964 to play Tracy? I know Catherine Deneuve was in the works at some point . . . still today if I was forced at gunpoint to watch either OHMSS or any of the Daniel Craig movies, I would always choose OHMSS . . . for that matter I would choose either of the two worst Roger Moore movies (Golden Gun and View to A Kill) over Craig’s Bond . . . Roger Moore has called Craig the best Bond ever, surpassing even Connery. Connery has praised Craig in the role, saying he finally returns the sense of menace and unpredictability to the character. . . I disagree with Moore and agree with Connery . . . to me tho Craig just doesn’t have the classic look. . . apparently when they were recasting after Brosnan it was neck and neck between Cavill and Craig, and Craig won the role both because Barbara Broccoli clearly has the hots for him and probably more importantly because Craig was the better known actor . . . Cavill of course is now Superman but one wonders what sort of Bond he would have made . . .that said, when I saw Craig in Lara Croft Tomb Raider in 2001 I thought he might make a good Bond but by 2006 he had not aged well . . . tho he looks fine in other movies, why they have to make him look so wretched as Bond I have no idea . . . I’m betting on the whole it’s mostly female viewers who like Craig better than the other Bonds . . . the only Craig film I’m even remotely partial to is Casino Royale, which is completely ruined by Eva Green as Vesper . . . she does redeem herself in the actual drowning scene (much in the same way Lazenby redeems himself in the Tracy death scene), but after that on the roof with Craig she can’t even convincingly play dead! I also suspect Craig initially had problems with the dreadful script for the dreadful Skyfall because he was making noises about leaving and even stating that he should never have taken the role in the first place . . . of course now a billion dollar Skyfall later he has changed his mind and signed up for more Bonds . . . bringing back the Goldfinger car for Skyfall is among the worst Bond producer decisions ever, cuz it has no logical relationship at all to the Craig reboot, and what’s really laughable is the car was built well before Craig was even born . . . Craig was born in 1968 . . . when I saw Live and Let Die in the theaters in 1973 I liked Moore in the role but still ranked it below all the previous 7 . . . today I would put it ahead of Dr. No and Thunderball but below OHMSS and YOLT. . . most people think Spy and Moonraker are the best Moore films, but like From Russia With Love Live and Let Die benefits from the most naturalistic film-making . . . Live and Let Die possibly better in that respect, no falling apart with cheese special effects, unconvincing rear projection and poor model work (the helicopter in FRWL) . . .the only model I spotted in Live and Let Die was when they blew up the poppy fields, though probably parts of the hang glider were also a toy

  6. Great movie, terrible review.

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