The Curator of Schlock #337 by Jeff Shuster
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The Bond everyone forgets.
Okay. I got a little tipsy last night on too much of the bubbly. I wake up wearing nothing, but a pair of red polkadot boxer shorts. My right arm has a bloody gash. No doubt someone in the house was doing some late night snacking. Oh, and there’s a kangaroo sleeping at the foot of my bed. I dare not wake her. Help!
We’re going to ring in the new year with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a much maligned James Bond movie that I found holds up better than you’d think. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the first in the mainline Bond movies to feature a James Bond not played by Sean Connery. This time around, Australian model George Lazenby takes on the role of Britain’s top gentleman spy. It was distinct from the Bond movies of the era as it supposedly follows the novel quite closely.
Why is this movie worth your time? I think it’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a James Bond epic. The movie begins with 007 rescuing a beautiful young woman from drowning herself in the ocean. Her name is Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), but she goes by Tracy. Her father is Marc-Ange Draco, head of a vast European crime syndicate. Draco offers Bond a deal: court his daughter and he’ll give Bond a clue to the whereabouts to Ernst Stavro Blofeld, leader of SPECTRE and Bond’s arch nemesis. Also, if Bond decides to marry her, Draco will give him a dowry of one million pounds.
Tracey is furious when she becomes aware of her father’s arrangements with Bond and forces Draco to give up the information on Blofeld and let Bond leave, but Bond is intrigued by Tracey enough to see her for a time. Anyway, turns out Blofeld is keen on getting recognized as a count and is seeking the aid of genealogist Sir Hilary Bray (George Baker). Blofeld requests Bray meet him at his allergy clinic in the Swiss Alps to finalize his claim to the title of Count Balthazar de Bleuchamp. Bond goes in impersonating Bray and discovers that Blofeld has sinister plans for the world.
Let’s get out of the way what doesn’t work in this movie. There are too many callbacks to earlier Bond movies in the first act. We see clips from the first five Bond movies during the credit sequence. Later, we see Bond cleaning out his desk after giving M his resignation from MI6 and we hear music cues from Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Thunderball with each item he removes from his office. This makes me nostalgic for Connery which is a huge mistake when introducing a new actor as James Bond. Also, when Bond is disguised as Sir Hilary Bray, they overdub Lazenby with George Baker. That wasn’t clever and it undermines your new actor.
But when the ruse is discovered and Bond is face to face with Blofeld, this is where the movie hits its stride. It’s here that Lazenby is James Bond. And then the movie turns into one prolonged chase scene and it doesn’t let up. Bond skis down the Swiss Alps pursued by agents of SPECTRE gunning for him. When he gets to Swiss village below, he hides among the citizens enjoying Christmas festivities, but the bad guys are closing in and this will be the end for Bond, but then Tracey shows up in his darkest hour and rescues him. This is the love of James Bond’s life, the woman that he’ll marry, and the woman that will change him forever. You get all this from a movie made over fifty years ago. Not a bad way to spend your time.
Jeff Shuster (episode 47, episode 102, episode 124, episode 131, episode 284, episode 441, episode 442, episode 443, episode 444, and episode 450) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.