Ian Flemings’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” starring George Lazenby

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This is a strange beast of a movie, the first proper Bond film without Sean Connery.  While today we expect a new Bond every few goes, in 1969 this was a new and scary prospect.  Everything had to be reconsidered for this installment.

This film starts with familiar faces M and Moneypenny discussing the fact that Bond has gone missing. We then cut to Bond driving, but it is cleverly shot in such a way that we don’t yet see his face. He drives to a beach, where he spots a woman in the scope of a rifle that he keeps in his glove box. The woman is walking into the sea, the most dreamy of suicides.

Bond rushes to stop her. He carries her to the beach, and after reviving her, we at last see his face as he greets the woman. “Good morning. My name is Bond, James Bond.” Before this conversation can go any further, they are beset by three armed men, there for the lady. While Bond beats up the men, the woman runs away to her car, getting the hell out of there. Upon realizing he has been ditched, Bond quips “This never happened to the other fella.”

The whole open is pretty clever about telling us that they know that we know that this is new territory. It is playful, and it shows a self-awareness that I don’t consider typical for the franchise. This is not to say that it entirely works; the seemingly random suicide is confusing when the focus should be on the confusion of  what is up with the new guy.

The credits still have the standard gross naked lady silhouettes, but it also presents a montage of characters from the previous films, serving as an insecure reminder that this movie is still part of the larger series.  There are no lyrics to the opening score this time.  It’s pure John Barry and the John Barry orchestra. I dig the theme, it’s moody and decadent.

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After the credits, Bond follows the suicide lady to a hotel and its attached casino. He plays some baccarat, where he finds and assists suicide lady, who is named Contessa Teresa di Vincenzo, “Tracy” to her friends.

The Contessa seems to have a deathwish, which Bond keeps thwarting.  First, Bond covers her stake when she purposely loses a bet she cannot pay. Then he fights a dude in her room. Then, when he finds her in his room, she draws a gun on him.

Bond is unflapped by this display, after all she is only a woman. He disarms her, and then grills her for information. He slaps her hard when he doesn’t like an answer. “I can be a lot more persuasive than that,” he leers. Yuck. She explains that all she wants to do is sleep with Bond in order to settle her debt to him. Again, yuck.

When Bond wakes up after boning her, she is gone, having left the money she owed him on the nightstand. This does manage to make the sex less creepy.

Twenty minutes into the film and there is no villainous plot, no clear goal for the hero to pursue. When Bond gets held up at gunpoint again, I’m left to wonder what a James Bond movie with no villain would look like. What if the entire film was just a steady, aimless progression of sex, fights, car chases, and baccarat without a SPECTRE plot? Would the audience enjoy that? Would James Bond?

At any rate, Bond has been summoned by a European gangster named Draco. This guy is very hospitable as far as kidnappers go. He is also the Contessa’s father, and he has a proposition for Bond.

Draco has decided that he wants Bond to marry Tracy. As he puts it, “What she needs is a man to dominate her. To make love to her enough to make her love him.”  Vile as this notion is, as we have seen with Pussy Galore, it is sort of Bond’s specialty.

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Bond offers Draco a deal: He will marry Tracy if Draco can provide Bond with the location of Blofeld. Seriously, what the fuck?

Having made his deal, Bond slinks into the office, tossing a hat to remind us that he is James Bond. “Same old James, only more so!” Moneypenny exclaims as he grabs her ass. Bond’s flirting with Moneypenny seems to have turned cruel. It has degraded from two-way playful banter, to nothing more than an asshole leading-on a lovestruck fool who could do better.

In M’s office we learn that Bond has spent the past two years trying and failing to find Blofeld, and now he’s being pulled off of the case. Enraged, he resigns.  M ignores the resignation and gives Bond two weeks leave with which to find Blofeld.

Draco arranges for Bond and Tracy to re-meet. She is instantly suspicious and correctly assumes that her father has offered information to Bond in exchange for marrying her. She compels her father to provide that information freely to Bond, without obligation, and then she storms off.

Bond chases her, they embrace and have a montage depicting a lengthy courtship. Well, lengthy for Bond. The film has become an actual romance. This is a weird new place for a James Bond film.  I don’t believe sociopathic Sean Connery could have ever gone here.

Bond does eventually get to buisness and follow Draco’s lead. He does some spy shit, although for Lazenby, spy shit seems pretty laid back. Part of spying seems to be sitting around reading Playboy while a machine cracks a safe.

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What Bond discovers is confusing. Blofeld wants to con his way into becoming nobility and has been talking to a heraldry expert hoping to sell himself as “Count Bleuchamp.”   Bond decides to pose as this heraldry expert, Sir Hillary Bray, to get close to Blofeld.

This ruse gets Bond invited to Blofeld’s non-profit allergy clinic on the top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps.  I’m not an expert in allergy clinics, but I don’t think most of them are on the top of mountains.  Or that they are normally full of armed guards.   Or that all the bedroom doors only open from the outside.  Also, at this particular clinic, all the clients are beautiful young women.

Once Bond arrives, he puts on a kilt. I do not know why.  Bond is not cool in this movie.  We’ve abandoned the style of the 60’s and entered the hideousness of the 70’s and James Bond in a kilt is the transition point.

Bond, in disguise as Hillary, is comically dull. He plays the character as gay, as unmasculine as possible.  It is supposed to be funny, but it seems a strange choice to make the new Bond spend a lot of time being as un-Bondlike as possible.

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Bond-as-Hillary eventually gets to meet Blofeld-as-Bleuchamp.  Blofeld has also been recast, this time played by with jovial menace by Telly Savalas.  Somehow, in the time between last film and this one, Blofeld has lost his wicked facial scar.

The two meet and neither show any sign of recognizing each other, despite having tried to kill each other at the end of the previous film. This almost makes meta-sense, as both men were played by different actors, neither of which look or act anything like the actor currently playing a character pretending not to be that character.

But no, really. Why doesn’t Blofeld recognize Bond? Since the film has gone to lengths to assure us that this is the same world as that of the previous films, it doesn’t make sense.  The best way to square this might be the fan notion that this is in fact a different “James Bond.” The idea that “James Bond” is a fake name given to successive agents within the film universe is fairly silly, and clearly nothing the filmmakers ever intended, but it seems to make more sense than what we’ve actually been presented with in this film.

At any rate, later that night, Bond breaks out of his room to bang a couple girls with allergies. So much for his romance with Tracy. By sleeping with these ladies, Bond learns that Blofeld is hypnotizing these women into not having allergies.

Blofeld eventually captures Bond, revealing that while he may not have recognized Bond as being a person that he had previously met and tried to kill, he saw right through his disguise as an expert in heraldry. So he might as well tell Bond his plan.

Blofeld is going to sterilize all life on Earth if a ransom is not paid. He will accomplish this by using hypnotized allergy-cured young women armed with cosmetic sets of death. I’m a guy that likes to use “dumb” as a superlative, and this is amongst the dumbest supervillain plots I have ever witnessed.  Unfortunately, there is no panache to the procedings. There is no sense that this is a sublimely ridiculous thing. It is played dully straight.

Things improve somewhat when the villains chase Bond down the mountain on skis. Bond spends the next 35 minutes of the movie trying to escape from Blofeld, which should be way too long, but actually really works well. First he climbs across a cable car cable, then he skis down the mountain, then he fights his way to a crowd. Attempting to blend in to the crowd, an ice skater abruptly stops in front of him.

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It is Tracy! Between the directing and the performance, it genuinely feels wonderful to see her at this moment. This is the first time a James Bond movie has caused me to feel genuine emotion, and I’d like to think it is the same for the character, that this is the first time James Bond has felt an emotion other than bloodlust or horniness.

Tracy gets him to her car, and amazingly, the pursuit continues, now a car chase. She drives like an action hero, driving apparently being the one non-sexual action trope a woman of this time and genre are allowed to do as well as men.

They hide in a barn. Bond declares his love and asks Tracy to marry him. He declares his intent to quit his job because “an agent shouldn’t care about anything but himself.”  And he means it.

Lazenby Bond is an actual human being. It is horribly disorienting. Tracy, performed by Diana Rigg of Avengers fame, is great. She completely sells herself as the one woman worthy of Bond’s love, but the esteem of James Bond should not hold any value at all. The core of the earlier Bond films has been that Bond is a monstrous sociopath.

The producers seem to have decided that if the franchise is going to outlive Connery, they need to explore new dimensions of Bond, flesh him out as a real character. It feels completely wrong, but it is a fascinating misfire.

In the morning, Blofeld and his goons chase Bond and Tracy some more, on skis again. There is a shocking, gruesome death as a henchman is pulped by a snow machine into pink mist, followed by a spectacular avalanche. Bond is left for dead as if he weren’t James Bond, while Tracy is captured by Blofeld.

Blofeld has decided to seduce Tracy for some reason. Probably because she is a countess, right? But that is never spelled out. Meanwhile, the U.N. Has decided to accede to Blofeld’s demands. Bond decides “fuck that” and calls Draco to form up a posse.

Bond and his gangster friends assault the mountain base with a helicopter in a truly great action piece while Tracy murders the hell out of some henchmen. Tracy is the first woman in one of these movies that seems to have the respect of the filmmakers. Which is sad, given that the two most important men in her life traded her like a commodity.

The gang blows up the base,  and Draco cold-cocks Tracy so they can escape without Bond. Meanwhile, Bond and Blofeld escape on foot, leading to Bond pursuing his quarry in a bobsled chase that is truly dumb. Blofeld is defeated in a way that appears non-fatal, but Bond seems to assume him dead.

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Some time later, Bond and Tracy get married. M, Moneypenny and Q are in attendance. Amidst the festivities there is a moment between Moneypenny and Bond where it is clear that Miss Moneypenny’s heart has been broken. And Bond gets it. All Bond can do is throw his hat at her one last time, and drive off. There is weight and honesty in this scene completely unbefitting of a Bond film. It is oddly affecting.

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So Bond and Tracy drive off, bantering like two newlyweds deeply in love, when Blofeld drives by and shoots Tracy dead.  In shock, Bond cradles his wife’s lifeless body in his arms and cries. The End.

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Holy shit. That’s a hell of an ending, dark, moving, and daringly unsatisfying (and problematic case of refrigerator syndrome).  I love it, and it makes me wish this movie had really gone for it. Against all logic, the love story angle worked, largely through the talent of Rigg. They came close to making a real, grounded James Bond movie. Unfortunately, the whole allergy-hypnotized women plot and other cartoonishness undercut the serious stuff they were doing.

This was Lazenby’s only appearance as Bond. His Bond is not at all cool.  He isn’t an unstoppable kill monster.  He’s just a guy in a film that tries to be more than it is able to be.  This wasn’t a great movie but it tried to do something different with Bond, and I like that, even if it didn’t work at all.

3 thoughts on “Ian Flemings’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” starring George Lazenby”

  1. I love to ski.
    I love fast cars.
    I loved the musical score except for ‘What a Wonderful World’
    Sorry, Louis.
    Fight scene with Bond vs Draco’s men was good; both in action and sound.
    Things may have been different if Bond hadn’t overslept in the barn.

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