On Her Majesty’s Secret Service…But Not For Long

Summer of ’69

Sean Connery: seven films

Roger Moore: seven films

Timothy Dalton: two films

Pierce Brosnan: four films

Daniel Craig: (most likely) five films

George Lazenby: One…just one…Yep, solo uno.

In the late 1960s, there was a question on James Bond producer Albert Broccoli’s mind. Could he continue the Bond franchise without Sean Connery?

Before filming You Only Live Twice, Connery was categorically done with the Bond franchise. His relationship with Broccoli and the other producer Harry Saltzman had deteriorated and become icy. Plus, Connery had lost interest in the character and was frustrated by the time commitment of the part and of promoting the films. The franchise made it difficult to pursue other roles, and he was afraid of typecasting. Connery wanted out, and he did get out.

Connery in You Only Live Twice
Sean Connery (left) in a You Only Live Twice production photo. Connery and Albert Broccoli’s relationship by the time of You Only Live Twice was icy, to say the least.

Come the release of the film in 1967, Broccoli does the then unthinkable, he begins his search for a new Bond. It was a risk. Connery was hugely popular, and audiences might not take to a new guy. But search Broccoli did. He eventually settled on unknown, 29-year-old, Australian actor George Lazenby.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was Lazenby’s first film. Prior, he’d been a model and he’d starred in a few commercials. That was it. He hadn’t even done a guest spot on a television show. Cleverly, Lazenby, wearing a suit that was ordered but uncollected by Connery, talked his way into a meeting with the producers and director Peter R. Hunt. Sporting a Connery-esque haircut and a Rolex, Lazenby lied about his acting credits. Afterward, he confessed to Hunt that he made it all up. He wasn’t really an actor. Hunt laughed, telling Lazenby that the young man had “managed to fool two of the most ruthless bastards in the business. You’re an actor.” So, Lazenby had secured the role in what some call the best Bond movie of all time.

Bond charms the wild and rebellious Countess Tracy di Vicenzo (played by Diana Rigg), the daughter of crime boss Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti). Draco offers Bond one million pounds if he’ll marry Tracy. Bond refuses but agrees to continue the relationship if Draco will reveal crucial information that will lead Bond to Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), the head of the evil SPECTRE organization. Bond gets what he wants and goes undercover as a genealogist researching Blofeld’s family. In reality, 007 is attempting to uncover what Blofeld is up to at clinical allergy-research institute in a secluded part of the Swiss Alps. To gather more information, Bond makes love to a number of foreign women staying at the clinic. But Blofeld has ulterior motives for these young women that Bond may not uncover in time to stop a global catastrophe.

As I said, Lazenby’s acting resume in 1969 could be written on the palm of your hand. One must not pre-judge based on this and this alone. Many other actors have astounded audiences their first time out of the gate. I mean, Lazenby doesn’t but others have.

It’s odd that what many people will probably watch this for, Lazenby’s first and only outing as 007, is actually the film’s weakest link. He’s dull. Very dull. He acts like he’s charming but he isn’t, he’s not intimidating, and all I really get out of him is lame puns and jokes that became even more prevalent in the series in the Moore era. And—I hate to even bring this up but—I didn’t find him all that handsome either. So what is his appeal for the women in this movie? They act like he’s this otherworldly beautiful man with a winning personality, but we’re not shown any of that. It’s just a lot of tell.

Bond surrounded by Bond girls
007 woos many a woman in the film, but God knows what they see in the plank of wood that is Bond and his personality.

This seems to be in line with other opinions I’ve read that go along the lines of, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the best Bond film but it features the worse James Bond.” I obviously agree with the latter, but unfortunately, I can’t agree with the former. The rest of the movie is okay. Just okay.

While I’m sure the plot is always on point and moving forward, it’s slow going and always feels like it’s meandering. It takes its time getting to the juicy bits and the tension is killed in the meantime because everything takes so darn long. It was almost like watching a boring family slideshow of their skiing trip. That’s my meandering way of saying the pacing is horrible.

I have nothing against Diana Rigg, but she and Lazenby have no chemistry. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, more than most Bond films, centers in a big way around its romance. The love story isn’t the main focus the majority of the time, but it plays a tragic, pivotal role. When the film gets to those sad bits, it was difficult to care when I hadn’t been emotionally invested in Lazenby or his romance. So it felt hollow. It doesn’t help that Tracy drops out of the movie for a looong time. And I mean long. I didn’t time it, but it was at least an hour. She was absent for so long that I actually began thinking she wouldn’t appear again after the film’s first half even though I knew that couldn’t be the case.

Tracy holding a gun on Bond
Bond and Tracy’s love story is a pivotal component of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but a lack of chemistry ruins it.

Director Peter R. Hunt delivers fast-paced and frenetic action through fast cuts and speeding up the footage during 007’s fistfights. But the sped-up footage gimmick doesn’t save the action scenes from unimaginative and completely forgettable choreography whether Bond is on his feet or his skis. I’m serious when I say all I can remember of the fights is someone breaking a table.

Clearly, 1969 cinemagoers disagree with me because they answered Broccoli’s question with a resounding “yes!” at the box office. The film made a whopping $22.7 million in the U.S. and $82 million worldwide, making it the 10th highest-grossing film of 1969 in the U.S. and the second-highest worldwide. But for Lazenby, his time with Bond was over. Lazenby was convinced the ’70s would see the end of the franchise. Films had become too sophisticated, he thought, with movies like 1967’s The Graduate and 1969’s Easy Rider (which I also reviewed for the Summer of ’69). He also felt the character was out of touch with the liberated ’70s. So, despite his initial enthusiasm and immersion into the role, Lazenby didn’t continue with his seven-film deal.

George Lazenby in Who Saw Her Die?
George Lazenby sporting a mustache and longer hair in the 1972 film Who Saw Her Die?, his first film after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Lazenby showed off a beard and even longer hair at the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service premiere. The Bond producers weren’t pleased by Lazenby skirting the normally clean-cut Bond image.

Connery said he might have continued with Bond if his stories were as good as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That might be why he did one more official Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever (1971), before saying never again. But thankfully, Broccoli knew this time that the franchise could succeed with another actor. He brought on Roger Moore, and the rest was history.

So, while I may be missing something and don’t see the appeal of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I can say it accomplished one thing: proving that Bond had more to it than one talented Scotsman. Personally, I’d rather just pop in Goldfinger.

Written by Tim Rosenberger

Tim Rosenberger is a Midwest journalist with a passion for film, a Star Trek phaser in the bathroom, and a last name that’s always spelled wrong. He’s a lover of all film genres and time periods but does lean towards pre-1960s movies, with a particular love for the ‘30s and ‘40s. A film blogger, video reviewer and podcaster in his spare time, he lives with his wife, a cat who hates him, and his adorable and way cuter than your child daughter.

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  1. Trivia: Front, centre & just above the frame in the group shot of Bond surrounded by harem? Joanna Lumley, aka Patsy Stone of Ab Fab.

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