‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969): The best Bond, the best Bond girl, the best Bond movie

Recently having endured the latest—and I pray to God last—James Bond abomination (no, I didn’t pay to see it, and yes, that DVD screener was later used as target practice), I was in desperate need of some corrective movie therapy. Stat. So…since that particular abortion, No Time to Die, decided to lift elements of an earlier Bond opus to bolster its own pathetic dramatic credibility, what better revenge could there be against Barbara Broccoli’s all-out assault on the Bond mythology than to review her superior host material: the Christmas-themed 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, still the best James Bond epic, featuring the best James Bond (George Lazenby), the best Bond villain (Telly Savalas), the best Bond music, and the best Bond girl (the entirely delectable Diana Rigg). Merry Christmas, Babs, and piss off.

By Paul Mavis

On a lonely Portuguese beach, British Secret Service agent 007, James Bond (George Lazenby), spies the beautiful Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), who, in her red Mercury Cougar, just blasted by his Aston Martin DBS. With the aid of his rifle scope, he sees her walking into the surf to commit suicide.  Rescuing Tracy, he introduces himself, only to be set upon by thugs. As he dispatches them, Tracy runs away. 

Checking into the Hotel Palácio, Bond later encounters Tracy at the casino when she loses at chemin de fer, claiming to have no money. Chivalrous Bond stakes her; however, as further debasement, the self-destructive Tracy offers herself sexually as repayment. Later that morning, Bond is kidnapped by henchmen who work for her father, Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), the head of the European crime syndicate Unione Corse.

Far from wanting to kill Bond for sleeping with Tracy, Draco wishes to reward the low-paid civil servant Bond with a one million pound dowery, should he marry the troubled Tracy. Bond refuses, insisting Tracy needs a psychiatrist…but Bond agrees to continue to see her in exchange for Draco helping him locate Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), the head of SPECTRE and Bond’s arch nemesis.

This barter will prove useful after Bond is relieved of his duties on “Operation Bedlam,” the Secret Service mission to kill Blofeld. A resentful Bond initially submits his resignation from the service to “Double O” branch secretary Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), but she intercedes with their superior, “M” (Bernard Lee), and instead a two week vacation is granted, giving Bond the chance to work with Draco.

Attending Draco’s birthday party, Bond gets his lead on Blofeld without obligation, a condition insisted upon by a hurt Tracy. Still…he stays and spends time with her, as she falls in love with Bond. Bond then visits Blofeld’s lawyer’s office and learns that Blofeld is seeking to obtain a royal title (the Count Balthazar de Bleuchamp) through the services of the London College of Arms genealogist, Sir Hilary Bray (George Baker).

Impersonating Sir Hilary, Bond goes to Blofeld’s lair: Piz Gloria, a clinical allergy-research institute built high atop the Schilthorn in the Swiss Alps. There, 007 discovers the true nature of Blofeld’s research:  biological warfare, with his 12 beautiful allergy patients—his “Angels of Death”—hypnotized into sleeper agents who will induce sterility in entire strains of cereals and livestock if Blofeld’s ransom isn’t paid and if 100% compliance with the vaccine mandate isn’t obtained. Blofeld discovers Bond’s subterfuge, but Bond manages to escape with Tracy’s help. Will Bond find true love with her…and what will be her fate when she’s kidnapped by Blofeld?

Growing up in the pre-cable, pre-VCR days, you had to be a seriously hard-core Bond enthusiast to get a “ping” when you mentioned George Lazenby’s name. Having replaced Sean Connery in the role of James Bond, Australian fashion model Lazenby, a complete unknown to moviegoing audiences, anchored one of the world’s top five-grossing movies of 1969-1970 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  And yet…you wouldn’t be far wrong if you assumed the paying public deliberately blanked on him (and frankly, the movie itself) once a flabby, sneering Connery was brought back into the Bond role for 1971’s Diamonds are Forever (a million and a half plus percentages buys off a lot of so-called integrity). It’s almost as if, by some weird, strange pop culture agreement on the part of millions of ticket buyers, this massive box office hit, starring this charismatic, handsome newcomer, didn’t exist any longer.

VHS and DVD rescued OHMSS from critical obscurity, with new admirers of director Peter Hunt’s epic singling out Lazenby for praise. However, I’d bet the average moviegoer still would be hard put to properly place Lazenby and his single outing within the Bond franchise (aided in no small part by Bond production company Eon deliberately downplaying it for decades). Ask anyone to name a Sean Connery or Roger Moore Bond and they’ll throw out at least two or three titles. Follow that up by asking, “Who’s George Lazenby and what Bond flick did he headline?” and 999 times out of 1000 you’re going to get a blank look. To this day, more’s the pity.

It’s one of the big injustices in movie history. Taking into account what role Lazenby was stepping into, and then looking at what wound up on the screen, his performance in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is nothing short of astounding. There can be little argument that for a few years in the middle of the 1960s, Sean Connery’s “James Bond” was the single most identifiable cinematic character in the world. The worldwide level of recognition for “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” was most certainly on the same cosmic level as those two record holders, Charlie Chaplin and Mickey Mouse, but with the added one-two punch of fantasy displacement. Men the world over didn’t want to dress and act like the Little Tramp…and women didn’t want to sleep with a rat.

…unless of course that rat was suave and handsome and cruelly opportunistic, as Connery brilliantly essayed agent 007. Simply put: almost every guy wanted to be Connery’s Bond, and every woman wanted to f*ck him. Shockingly (to the public, at least), after five Bond movies, Connery stated he had had enough. He wanted out. Connery the “actor” gave the reason that he was bored with the role, which certainly showed in his fifth outing, 1967’s You Only Live Twice (it’s a performance that alternates between somnambulant and contemptuous). Money was also a factor, too; the Bond producers paid him comparative peanuts under his contract while they raked in millions. But I’m betting just as much of his frustration centered on not being able to step into a toilet, anywhere in the world, without someone pestering him. After awhile, you’d go crazy with that kind of attention.

So imagine you’re an actor in good standing in 1968, maybe with a resume of movies or television work in your background, and perhaps even training in the theater, too, and you’re asked to step into a role that is certainly the most iconic cinematic character of the decade, a role that was played by an actor that connected with a worldwide audience on an almost primitive level of sexual and male fantasy identification. Now…you want that job? You want to follow up Sean Connery as the world’s most desirable, most deadly man in cinema, knowing you’ll be directly compared to your predecessor, and almost certainly found wanting? What idiot would sign on for that losing proposition?

I guess a cocky Australian fashion model/TV commercial pitchman, that’s who. Supposedly, lots of names were thrown around as Connery’s replacement, including future Bonds Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton, with Moore declining when scheduling allowed him another series of TV’s The Saint, and Dalton allegedly saying “no” because he thought himself too young (yeah…not buying that story). How Lazenby came to the attention of the Bond producers is the subject of as many stories as Lazenby has had hot dinners, I gather. I recommend you see Lazenby’s documentary, Becoming Bond, where he details his (latest) version of what happened. Suffice it to say, I’d rather have someone tell me a good story than the truth any day, and Lazenby’s a terrific raconteur.

What’s known for sure is that Lazenby had only print ad work and some 30-second TV commercials from his “Big Fry” chocolate ad campaign as an introduction to producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.  The exact details of how he scammed/convinced/cajoled them and director Peter Hunt into putting a complete novice into literally the movie role of the latter 20th century, aren’t important. What is important is that those hardened pros would never have risked at least seven million 1968 dollars on someone they didn’t think could hold his own against the audience memory of Sean Connery. Wearing Connery’s old suit and getting Connery’s (toupe’s) haircut might have got him in the door (another Lazenby story), but Lazenby had to have had something more to hook those moneymen and Hunt into backing him.

And if you had to boil that “something” down to one thing, I guess “supreme male confidence” is as good a starting point as any for Lazenby. Check out some of the 1968 newsreel footage of Lazenby talking to the world press for the first time, when the Bond producers announced him for the role. He’s only 29-years-old, and he’s had zero experience doing what he’s doing (let alone any acting), opening himself up for worldwide scrutiny…but he handles each question with aplomb, sounding thoughtful and mature, like a seasoned pro. Lazenby may now state he was “faking it,” worried that he was in over his head, but it sure doesn’t show in those interviews.

Nor in OHMSS. I defy any theater instructor, any acting coach, any veteran director or producer, to watch Lazenby in his scenes, and assert that this is a performer who has never before even read a line of dialogue. Laying aside any considerations of how he stacks up next to Connery, it’s remarkable he can simply walk and talk at the same time, considering the pressure he was under, the accomplished actors he’s working with, and his total lack of even the most rudimentary acting experience.

Acting in a school play when you’re 8-years-old is terrifying—imagine being a model with no experience stepping onto a loud, busy, confusing movie set, delivering dialogue for the first time against veterans with intimidating resumes like Savalas and Baker and Rigg, while having to hit all the marks set for you.  Do that…and at the same time, somehow create the personal aura of glamour and suaveness and violence and sex necessary to transform into one of our most famous movie characters, “James Bond.” It’s not an overstatement to say Lazenby’s Bond is certainly one of the most impressive debuts by an amateur in the history of motion pictures.

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Often forgotten is the fact that director Peter Hunt was also a “one and done” Bond alumni, at least in terms of helming one of the franchise titles. Having edited all of the previous Bond movies, he was promised repeatedly a shot at directing…but he still wasn’t first choice for OHMSS. He only got the job after YOLT’s Lewis Gilbert turned it down.

Determined to ditch all the gimmicks and gadgets of the previous Bond outings, Hunt wanted OHMSS to be as close to Fleming’s novel as he could get, believing, as did the literary reviewers, that Fleming’s book was one of the best Bond novels and therefore needed no significant cinematic embellishments or inventions. He also wanted the movie to look different, opting for a harder, more realistic edge to the cinematography and production design. Above all, he wanted OHMSS to stand completely outside the previous movies, openly stating he was trying to make the best entry in the series.

In the opening teaser sequence, Hunt delivers on his promise to break away from the established Bond formula. For Lazenby’s “gun barrel shot” intro, the dapper, trim Lazenby strides camera left and then stylishly drops to one knee, firing his pistol (the only Bond to kneel). The effect is, in a word, cocky. In previous script versions, Lazenby’s Bond was to undergo plastic surgery in the movie’s first sequence, in order to explain to audiences why Sean Connery wasn’t starring. Instead, Hunt has Lazenby driving his Aston Martin DBS, breaking up Lazenby’s face into a series of tight close-ups, teasing us as to what the new Bond will look like…while adding a touch of mystery and even objectified sexuality with these partial reveals (and once we do see Lazenby, we realize how closely his craggy handsomeness matches Fleming’s description of the literary Bond).

Unlike previous “Bond girls,” Rigg’s introduction is focused on her emotions, not on her sexual allure. She’s committing suicide, creating a far more serious opening vibe than had ever been in a Bond movie (“wait…Bond movies are supposed to be fun?” we think), made strange and ethereal by John Barry’s moody, dreamy music. Hunt heightens the almost surreal feel of Tracy’s near-suicide by having Bond and her suddenly set upon by violent thugs, with acrobatic Lazenby landing outrageously exaggerated blows in the surf before drowning a man in the sand, putting us off kilter again with this rapid, violent exchange (the cutting by future Bond helmer John Glen, under Hunt’s supervision, is visceral and fast).

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If Hunt blows Lazenby’s expected, “My name is Bond, James Bond” intro to Tracy (an obvious studio insert, with a too-happy Lazenby looping the line in a far too chipper manner, considering what just happened), he more than redeems that serious misstep by undercutting our expectations, having Tracy run away from her rescuer (isn’t she supposed to fall into Bond’s arms, we wonder?), followed by Lazenby, confidently half-grinning, speaking directly to the audience: “This never happened to the other fella.” It’s a hilarious fourth-wall break, and one that nicely ends any residual feelings we may have for Connery and Bond. There’s a new, younger, fitter Bond on the screen…and he’s just as much of a charming smart ass as the old one (the formula-breaking continues as Lazenby “runs” into the Maurice Binder credit sequence featuring not a pop song with lyrics, but John Barry’s kick-ass fuzz-buster instrumental).

So much of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, from small details to big themes, is either about changing the Bond formula Broccoli and Saltzman had created, or improving it. For the expected “Bond goes to M’s office” sequence, Lazenby gets a snappy little Panavision pan as he expertly hooks his Trilby (I’ll bet that looked cool on a huge screen). Moneypenny, looking quite flustered with Lazenby’s hands-on attention, perfectly sums up Hunt’s approach: “Same old James…only more so!” as Lazenby palms Maxwell’s rear off-screen (he even gets to kiss her on the lips…something Connery never did).

While Lazenby’s exchange with Moneypenny is physically hotter than previous ones, his run-in with M is the series’ iciest, with M openly contemptuous and dismissive of Bond (the suggestion being that he feels Bond can’t cut it anymore with “Operation Bedlam”). Whereas the Connery encounters with Bernard Lee felt like a naughty freshman being dressed down by a crusty college don, Lazenby’s is realistically “busy, irritated boss waves away employee he actively doesn’t like” (later, we get a softer encounter with M and Bond, this time at M’s swank estate—another series first).

Connery’s Bond may have been irritated with M’s often irascible tone, but you would never think he’d quit the Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Hunt’s Bond does, though, drinking a toast to a portrait of the Queen in his spartan office (another series first, and another expansion of the Bond world that gives OHMSS such a sweeping feel).  We learn that Bond has royal blood (Sir Thomas Bond, Baronet of Peckham, with the family motto, “The World is Not Enough”), something that would have sounded silly tacked onto Connery.

While Connery had a veritable toy store of gadgets to aid his espionage efforts, Lazenby is given exactly one: a bulky safe-cracking/Xerox copier combo that has to be hoisted up to him on a crane. Hunt, contemptuous of the gimmicks in the previous movies, humorously has a bored Lazenby read a Playboy while the copier/cracker does all the work.

When skirt kilt-wearing Bond (there’s a change!), as Sir “Hilly” Bray, arrives at Piz Gloria, he finds a Blofeld far more robust and athletic than the faceless, effete, cat-stroking spectre we’ve seen in the Connery Bonds. To maintain his cover, Bond/Bray is forced to seem “intellectual” rather than sexual (which Blofeld’s “Angels of Death” take as him being gay), while he’s seen recoiling from physical activity (Hunt even has Lazenby fall on his ass, trying to ice curl). All of this is completely outside of the previous Connery interpretation. At night, with Bond on the prowl, Hunt further lampoons the established formula of Bond’s seductive power to convert female enemy agents (sleeping with two of the women doesn’t counter their brainwashing), while encouraging us to laugh at Bond’s technique (he uses the exact same seduction lines on both women).

OHMSS’ most drastic break with the Bond formula is in the treatment of the “Bond girl,” Tracy, and her relationship with Bond. When the 2006 Casino Royale remake came out, there were actually critics writing nonsense like, “Bond finally gets serious,” and “Bond finally finds love,” either not knowing about OHMSS or deliberately dismissing it as coming from another era (and therefore seeing it as hopelessly outdated, as so many newer “critics” seem to do with any movie made before their own time).

However, the increasingly dire, dour, doomed romance direction of the Craig Bonds (reliably hilarious in their Wagnerian self-seriousness and their elephantine execution) is hardly new to the series; one only needs to look at OHMSS to see the perfectly balanced Bond epic that incorporates spectacular action sequences (that bobsled run is still tops), with a Bond open to love (he’s hardly emotionally pinched and cramped and tortured like goblin Craig)…open to marrying a woman that he takes as an equal.

After Bond saves her life, and then “saves” her reputation at the gaming tables, we’re given a portrait of Tracy whose statement to Bond—“People who want to stay alive play it safe”—is the ironic flipside of Bond’s own credo. His life, which he wants to keep, is driven by the danger and death he continually courts. Tracy does the same…but wishes her own death as the ultimate result. That’s why she’s willing to play the games that she does with Bond, particularly after she sees how rough he plays.

Unlike other female characters in the Bond series, Tracy, not Bond, is in charge of their dynamic—that’s completely unheard of in the Connery Bonds. After Bond pays her debts, she commands him, “Come later,” to her hotel room, with no allowance for saying “no.” When he does eventually meet her in his room, she pulls a gun on him, flatly offering to kill him for a thrill—a foolish threat unless she wanted a reaction from Bond.

Which she gets, as he almost breaks her arm. Still, Bond doesn’t just “take” Tracy (at this point, a likely outcome for the Connery Bond). He tries to reason with her, telling her she owes him nothing—neither money nor sex. It’s Tracy who initiates sex with Bond—a major departure from the Bond myth—and it’s Tracy who leaves a sleeping Bond in the morning (she even pays him off like a hooker, with casino chips in his bedside stand).

When Tracy’s father kidnaps Bond to try and convince him to date and marry her, he explains her psychology, telling Bond she’s one of those people who “burn the heart out of their souls by living too greedily,” (he also states a young lover of hers died, which triggered her excesses). Willing to accept blame, though, for spoiling her rather than guiding her, Draco sadly offers, “I gave her too much…and it brought her nothing.” Where in the previous Connery Bonds is there a female character with that kind of layered, problematic backstory?

Director Hunt’s vision for Bond, through Richard Maibaum’s script (with Simon Raven adding some dialogue specifically for Piz Gloria scenes), finds him unreceptive to Draco’s offer of money for Tracy’s love. Telling Draco she needs a psychiatrist, Draco counters, “What she needs is a man to dominate her, to make love to her enough to make her love him!” In other words: Sean Connery’s Bond. But Lazenby’s Bond rejects this notion, his face showing disapproval as Draco speaks (while the “007” theme, in a creepy, unpleasant arrangement, is laid over his words—amplifying Hunt’s rejection of the cinema Bond mythology). Bond’s simple answer, “You overestimate me, Draco,” would never pass the lips of Connery’s Bond. Never.

Even Bond’s rather caddish agreement to still romance Tracy in exchange for info on Blofeld is eventually redressed. After Tracy insists that her father “pay” Bond with the Blofeld info without any obligation to her, Bond chases after a crying Tracy. Tenderly wiping away her tears, Bond gently offers, “Tracy, I was always taught that mistakes should be remedied. Especially between friends. Or lovers,” (importantly, Hunt shoots this over Lazenby’s shoulder—the emphasis is on Tracy, not Bond).

What follows is the much-maligned love montage sequence with Bond and Tracy, with Louis Armstrong’s We Have All the Time in the World playing over it. What the critics never seem to spot here is the importance of seeing Bond in romantic, happy situations. Connery’s Bond only kills, f*cks, or gambles, with all three of them accompanied by delightfully nasty quips.

Lazenby’s Bond, however, is shown here as just a man, spending time with a woman he’s developing feelings for (remember: he owes nothing to Tracy, by her request—he already has the Blofeld information), and who in return is falling in love with him. The James Bond of old would have skated out of there immediately to pursue Blofeld’s lawyer. Not the new James Bond. He’s staying because he truly cares about a woman. Remarkable.

In a further layering of the Tracy character—clearly the single most important female character in the entire Bond franchise—Bond is actually saved by Tracy. On the run from Blofeld’s assassins, a tired, exhausted Bond looks genuinely frightened as Blofeld’s henchmen close in on him at the small alpine festival…that is, until Tracy skates up to him, offering aid. Telling him, “Stay close to me, James!”, she gets him to her red Cougar, but she drives, not him (you think Connery would allow that?).

And she continues to stay behind the wheel (he could have told her to move over), even when further pursued at the stock car rally by Blofeld’s henchmen. Rigg, looking absolutely delicious here in her furs, is clearly delighted to be smashing around that car, her face animated and laughing as her tongue is charmingly stuck between her teeth. Tracy, not Bond, saves them.

Later, as they hide out in a barn, Bond may be the one to finally say, “I love you. I know I’ll never find another girl like you. Will you marry me?”, but he says so in the supine position, while Tracy occupies the power position over him—Tracy is in charge again. Talented Rigg and Lazenby are particularly good in this quiet, romantic scene—prior to it, we’ve had enough groundwork laid out so we can believe that thrill-seeking Bond would give up his lifestyle for her, and that his love would save her. Anyone laying out that old charge that OHMSS would have been more successful had Connery starred in it, can’t see that Connery’s previous portrayal—his particular Bond persona—wouldn’t have allowed him to be believable in this type of scene. Lazenby’s newness to the role, along with his unpolished, honest technique, works perfectly alongside veteran thesp Rigg.

Having found love with Bond, Tracy’s arc completes itself when, kidnapped by Blofeld at the Piz Gloria, she fights to stay alive. Initially trading quips and poetry with a clearly interested Blofeld (Rigg and marvelously gallant/creepy Savalas are wonderfully funny, bouncing jumbled up quotations from Yeats and James Elroy Flecker off each other), suicidal Tracy is now Tracy the fighter, swishing away at Yuri Borienko with a broken bottle, before dispatching him with the aid of a sweet MCM wall divider.

SPOILER ALERT This evolution of the Tracy character—unprecedented for any character in the previous Bonds, let alone any female—is why OHMSS’s tragic ending comes with such an emotional wallop. We’ve come to care about this now-married couple (that’s bizarre even writing that, since the husband is “James Bond”), and we’re actually on the verge of believing that Bond, too, has changed, that he’s become a human being who can share and receive love. Putting a bullet through Tracy’s head is a shocking slap in the face to our changed expectations, eliciting a gut-punch reaction from the viewer that was never summoned up in the previous Bonds (much has been made about Lazenby doing two takes of this last shot—one crying, one not, as if the non-crying one used was inferior—but he’s superlative here: quiet, still, devastated, his face buried in Tracy’s, as the last sound we hear is of him weeping).

When, exactly, Lazenby made the decision to quit the series is up for grabs (I’ve heard/read him say several different versions over the years); however, by the time On Her Majesty’s Secret Service hit theaters in America in December, 1969, it was already being reported in the press. Considering the movie’s incredibly downbeat ending, considering the public—who hadn’t even bought a ticket yet—was being told this guy they didn’t even know was already rejecting fame and fortune by refusing to do another Bond, it’s positively shocking that Broccoli and Saltzman weren’t doing cartwheels on Connery’s lawn when they saw the phenomenal grosses coming in for OHMSS. With those two factors, combined with the natural resistance the public would have had in accepting anyone stepping into Connery’s shoes, OHMSS shouldn’t have made a dime. But it did. Lots of them.

Once safely fired, the producers may have stated Lazenby was the reason OHMSS grossed below You Only Live Twice…but I don’t remember coming across any similar carping when Connery did the same thing prior to the filming of You Only Live Twice. Was Connery blamed when YOLT pulled in less money than the previous epic, Thunderball? Nope. Lazenby was too convenient a scapegoat, particularly if he helped the producers along with his on-and-off screen behavior.

Tales abound about his attitude and swelled head (sending back company cars because they were the wrong color; acting snippy with the producers’ wives—always a big no-no). From what I’ve read and heard, he was told on one hand by Saltzman to act like a star (perhaps in a misguided attempt to give Lazenby confidence), while on the other he was (perhaps) ignored by his director when he needed him the most (watch the rather full-of-himself Hunt in an interview…I can see that happening). Rigg, in a more recent interview, seemed to distill it all: “He was really good, wasn’t he? And attractive and sexy. He was just difficult offstage.” But, then again…we’re often told she disliked him intensely. Everyone’s got a different story.

I saw OHMSS at the drive-in when I was 5 or 6, and the only thing I can remember from that viewing are flashes of the skiing scenes—not surprising, considering how breathtaking they are to this day. Why did so many people pay to see this Bond movie when, according to the Bond producers, they were already disposed to rejecting it? Curiosity at the time about the new Bond certainly was a factor, regardless of what historians and Eon Productions say now. No doubt the spectacular action sequences were a come-on, too, with Bond crossing over into the new permissiveness for screen violence like never before (you could argue that that “henchman in the snow plow” grind-up pretty much brought splatter gore into mainstream moviemaking). Word of mouth, too, had to have been good, to rack up those kinds of grosses.

After a tubby Connery was poked and prodded back into the role, Lazenby and his movie (and Hunt, for that matter) could be safely blamed for all of OHMSS’ supposed ills, and then quickly forgotten. That’s at least Eon’s story, but other sources have recently come up that point to the Bond producers actively pursuing Lazenby long after he quit Bond (even offering him a million dollars per picture), only to settle on, ahem…John Gavin. John Gavin for Diamonds are Forever. John Gavin. The other guy in Psycho. One of the most colorless, boring guys to ever grace the big screen.

Would Bond have ended there if Gavin had starred? I’d bet yes. So, I don’t put too much faith in the claims that Cubby and Saltzman were these casting gurus who always knew precisely what was right for Bond at all of the franchise’s various turning points, with Lazenby being the only misstep. Not if John Gavin was actually signed (reportedly, he was paid in full after getting canned one week before shooting started on DAF).

Of course now, the future of Bond is…well, I mean, who cares, right? It’s been over for a long time. The last time the franchise really mattered was…who knows? “Mattered?” That’s pretty strong for this franchise. What were once reliable entertainments—even “event” moviegoing experiences for audiences—have long-since succumbed to smaller and smaller dividends, Daniel Craig being the most glaring example.

How we’ve come from Connery and Lazenby, through glib farceurs like Moore and Brosnan (with a bit of small-scale grittiness from Dalton along the way), to the constipated “Frog King” grotesque known as Craig, Daniel Craig, is, frankly, beyond me. You’d have to ask Mrs. and Mr. Barbara Broccoli about that. Now that she’s threatening to further alter the Bond mythology by making him “non-binary” or of a different race, is either pandering for publicity, or she’s truly as suicidal as Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (if you think it’s racist and phobic for me to suggest Bond stay an English white male heterosexual, let me know when they reboot Shaft starring Lachlan Watson).

So when I watched No Time to Die the other night and heard the producers lifting OHMSSWe Have All the Time in the World, I wasn’t really all that surprised. It was the final swat at the bastard child that has always embarrassed Eon (the “mistake” that turned out to be the best movie in their franchise). I read a few reviews that suggested Mrs. Broccoli and the director were “honoring” OHMSS by lifting the song, but that’s horsesh*t.  

What they’re trying to do is borrow a little legit cred from the franchise’s best movie, to manufacture some believable emotion in a movie that has none. It’s an insult. The song belongs in only one Bond movie, but Babs & Company are going to use it, “correctly” this time…while tarnishing the original’s rep for good measure. Going so far as to actually kill James Bond (<oops—not sorry late spoiler alert) just shows the utter contempt Babs has for the original vision her father helped create. But I guess it’s not surprising when the finest example of that vision was disavowed by her father, as well.


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5 thoughts on “‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969): The best Bond, the best Bond girl, the best Bond movie

  1. What a great, thoughtful review. I couldn’t agree more about No Time To Die’s tacky use of this film’s music to manufacture emotion. The Craig era has been such a letdown, from his lack of chemistry with actresses and surly demeanor to the films’ insistence on Marvel-style continuity (and Blofeld’s ridiculous connection to Bond.)


  2. When was the last time a Bond movie mattered? Try “Moonraker.” Before then, Bond set trends. With “Moonraker” Bond ceded its role to Star Wars mania and followed them. I love some of the post-Moon movies (particularly FYEO and TLD). But from Dr. No Bond led. He did not follow. Esp. no George Lucas.


  3. Speaking only for myself, the last time the series *really* mattered was Timothy Dalton’s all-too brief run as the last James Bond I honestly liked. After that, it vacillated between the vacuous excess of the bland Brosnan’s focus-group pandering as the “People’s Choice” (but not MINE) and the pretentious arthouse try-harding of Craig’s miserable miscast mumbling mope (who was only good for making fun of and laughing at). Having said that, I’ll always cherish the awesomeness of “OHMSS” and the late-period climax of “The Living Daylights” as the true highlights of the CLASSIC Series run of 16 movies in the first 27 years that mattered most.


  4. Agree 100% that OHMSS is the best Bond. I do disagree that Moore is a “glib farceur”. He brought his own energy to Bond and I always think of him as the “continuation” of the Lazenby Bond (following the brief, past-his-prime return of Connery in DAF). Just think of the scene in the Spy Who Loved Me when Moore spits out “That’s enough!” after Barbara Bach mentions his late wife. “Sensitive?” Bach’s Agent Triple-X inquires. “About some things, yes.” is Moore/Bond’s icy reply. Great moment.


    1. Wow. Your *support* for Moore’s “own energy” as the “continuation” of the Lazenby Bond comes across as more of a hyper-exaggerated fanboy recollection and less of the accurate, measured reply it deserved. Which is exactly the kind of parroting the party-line dilettantism I always find personally annoying to witness from latter-day “defenders” of Moore who just want to look “cool.” And not because they actually appreciated and respected his contributions to the series’ legacy (which I certainly do).

      IIRC (with the benefit of accessible DVD rewatches to confirm it), Moore calmly but firmly stated “all right, you’ve made your point,” to which Bach’s “you’re sensitive, Mr. Bond” is replied with “about certain things, yes” in his stern but steady tone-of-voice that befitted the Man’s professionalism and dignity.

      If anything, YOUR version of Moore’s “spitting out” his “icy reply” sounds more applicable to Pierce Brosnan’s perpetual try-harding to prove HE’s such a “serious” actor with “serious” over-acting and “serious” furrow-browing and “serious” eye-squinting as the “serious” modern-day Bond because he’s so “serious” about being just as cool as Connery and better than Moore. But seriously, Brosnan was an embarrassment, right down the his over-enunciating such words as “betray” to sound like “BEEE-twayyyyy” that proved he hadn’t learned anything since his hysterically awful Taffin outburst of “Then maybe you shouldn’t be living HEEEEEEEEEEEEEERE!!!!!!!”

      Methinks with so much to dislike about Brosnan’s run, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to revisit his first (and most grossly OVER-rated) Bond movie “Goldeneye” without the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia and overhype. Because with all the delusional apologist sycophants who STILL cling to the “received wisdom” chicanery of that being his only “good” Bond movie (let alone the greatest one in the series – yeah, right), I think a second opinion is in order. Because IMHO, all of Brosnan’s Bond movies were terrible.


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