On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

After five films, the unthinkable happened. Sean Connery was no longer James Bond. In fact, during the filming of You Only Live Twice, he wasn’t even on speaking terms with producer Albert Broccoli.

Who would be James Bond? In a field of contenders that included John Richardson, Hans De Vries, Adam West, Robert Campbell and Anthony Rogers, an unknown Australian named George Lazenby got the part after the producers saw him in a Fry’s Chocolate Cream advertisement.

For his audition, Lazenby pretty much showed up as Bond, wearing a Rolex Submariner wristwatch and a Savile Row suit that had been ordered for, but not picked up by Connery. He even went to Connery’s barber at the Dorchester Hotel. What sealed the deal was a fight test where Lazenby broke the nose of stuntman Yuri Borienko (who was once British pro wrestler Red Staranoff).

There’s also the perhaps urban legend George Lazenby talked his way into meeting director Peter R. Hunt and producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. After lying about his acting roles, he got a screen test. Lazenby then confessed to Hunt that he had made it all up and that he wasn’t really an actor. Hunt laughed and told him, “You just strolled in here and managed to fool two of the most ruthless bastards in the business. You’re an actor.”

Lazenby was offered a contract for seven films. A combination of him wanting to be part of the swinging 60’s and an agent that convinced him that secret agents would be out of favor soon. I hope he fired that guy.

Believe it or not, this is probably my favorite Bond movie. It’s one of the few where Bond’s character makes forward emotional progress. And it’s full of amazing set pieces and Telly Savalas.

Bond saves a woman on the beach from committing suicide by drowning. She disappears afterward, but he runs into her later at a casino and learns that she is Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg, who was also on The Avengers).

Before she can thank him, Bond is attacked. The next morning, he’s kidnapped and taken to Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti, The Night Porter). Draco — the head of a crime syndicate — informs him that Tracy is his daughter and offers Bond a million pounds to marry his daughter. 007 refuses, but agrees to keep dating her if Draco reveals where Blofeld is.

Bond threatens to resign from MI6 before heading back to romance Terry anew and that leads him to an allergy clinic high in the Swiss Alps, run by Blofeld and his twelve Angels of Death, female patients who he has cured of all allergies.

It all leads to Blofeld putting the entire world at hostage, MI6 forbidding Bond to stop him and our hero enlisting the European crime families to battle Blofeld (who has somehow become the much more attractive Savalas).

The end of this movie shocked me as a child and still impacts me today. After Bond marries Tracy in Portugal, they pull over to remove flowers from their car. Blofeld and his henchwoman Irma Bunt drive by and murder Bond’s wife. And that’s how the film ends.

Virginia North — who made such an impression in just five films (Deadlier Than the Male, The Long Duel, Some Girls Do, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and this movie) — plays Olympe, Draco’s girlfriend.

Blofeld’s Angels of Death, who have been hypnotized to spread his Virus Omega, are played by Angela Scoular (Buttercup from Casino Royale), Catherine Schell (Madame Sin), Julie Ege (The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires), Jenny Hanley (Scars of Dracula), Anouska Hempel (Tiffany Jones), Mona Chong (The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole World), Sylvana Henriques (who was the fan dancer in the title sequence for You Only Live Twice), Dani Sheridan, Ingrid Back, Zaheera and Helena Ronee (Five Dolls for an August Moon).

Saltzman had planned to adapt The Man with the Golden Gun in Cambodia and use Roger Moore as the next Bond, but that region was politically unstable. Moore then signed up for another season of The Saint.

Peter Hunt, who had edited the first five Bond movies, finally convinced Broccoli and Saltzman that he deserved a chance to direct. He said, “I wanted it to be different than any other Bond film would be. It was my film, not anyone else’s.” It would be the last Bond film that he worked on.

This is a film full of plenty of references to the past films, starting with Bond saying, “This never happened to the other fellow.” The credits reference the past five movies and Bond’s office has souvenirs from Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Thunderball.

Lazenby had difficulty learning how to act and dealing with the star power of his co-stars. I feel bad for him, but I love the story of how the crew was paid in cash for the entire films per diems. Seeing Lazenby with a suitcase full of cash, Telly Savalas invited him to a late-night poker game and the famous Player’s Club member cleaned him out. Producer Harry Saltzman was so upset, he joined the game and won back the money for Lazenby.

I share the belief that if Connery had been Bond in this movie, it would be everyone’s favorite. It would have been the perfect ending for him in the series, but instead, he would return for the next film, Diamonds Are Forever.

As for Lazenby, his career has taken him from giallo like Who Saw Her Die? and Bond-like appearances, like him playing “J.B.” in the 1983 TV movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair, where he helped Napoleon Solo and Illya Nickovitch Kuryakin, showing up with his tuxedo, Walther PPK and Aston Martin. He’s also Drew Stargrove, the Bond-style character in Never Too Young To Die. There’s also the documentary Becoming Bond, where he discusses how he got the role and what happened next.

As I said before, this is my favorite Bond movie because of how it moves the character forward. Other than Skyfall, it’s the only movie where he cries. It’s also the only film in the series in which the main villain (Blofeld), and his sidekick (Irma Bunt), survive, and are not arrested or killed. Bunt was to return for Diamonds Are Forever, but sadly Ilse Steppat, the actress playing her, died from a heart attack a week after this movie premiered.

2 thoughts on “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

  1. Definitely in my Top 5 Bond flicks and the book is just as excellent. It’s a shame that Lazenby had to feel the potential effects of being “type-cast” because I feel like if he continued onward and took that contract, “Diamonds Are Forever” especially would have been a much more compelling flick. Not that DAF isn’t enjoyable, but it’s more whimsical and campy. Connery’s motive for revenge on Blofeld didn’t seem as legitimate after how epic the adventure was in OHMSS.

    Liked by 1 person

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