Does It Look Like It’s Our First Time: ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

A rather weird entry into the canon

Once again we return for the inimitable “Does It Look Like It’s Our First Time?”.  We’re changing up our methodology a bit this week, I’ll be doing our standard piece as a solo mission while CJ will be working up an editorial piece on the film. This week’s entry is a bit of an odd duck so let’s dive right in to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service!

Cold Open

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s cold open is a bit unique. After a sequence where M openly wanders where 007 might be, we cut to Bond driving down the road. Suddenly he drives his car onto the beach and runs to the water to save a woman from committing suicide by walking into the ocean. It’s as he’s walking out of the water that we see his face for the first time and GASP it’s not Sean Connery. Some new guy has taken over the role! At this point Bond gets into a rather poorly staged and edited fight and then, cue credits.

Music

Yet another diversion from what had become established series norms, while OHMSS does have a theme song, sung by Louis Armstrong, the version with the lyrics is not used over the credits. Instead the film opts for an instrumental version. Nonetheless it’s quite a good theme song, however the rest of the music for the film is rather unremarkable.

Plot

Ok this is a weird one so do your best to follow along. There are two plots in the film which converge and diverge throughout. One is the romance of Bond and Tracy di Vicenzo, the woman he saved from drowning herself. A wide assortment of reasons bring them together and Bond is smitten, but duty comes first. For you see Tracy’s mob boss father has discovered the location of Blofeld and Bond must spring into action before returning to marry Tracy. Still with me? Well, Bond goes undercover as a genealogist, which for some reason requires him to wear a kilt and a ridiculous assortment of shirts and ties, as he tries to figure out Blofeld’s plot, which seems to revolve around using a fake allergy-curing clinic to hypnotize women so that he can hold the world’s food supply for ransom by threatening to use said hypnotized girls to sterilize all manner of livestock and crops. Confused? Me too. From there we have a lot of skiing and snow fights and it’s all a rather absurd affair. It’s simultaneously a textbook Bond film and not at all typical.

Villain

As mentioned before, Blofeld is back and, per series tradition as this is a new appearance, he must be played by a new actor. This time it’s Telly Savalas, and I honestly prefer him to Donald Pleasance from the previous film. He’s less quirky and more menacing. There’s a gravitas to the performance and, while his plan is absurd, he sure sells the heck out of it. He also is responsible for the line “I have taught you to love chickens” and any villain who works that line in has to be respected. More importantly, by the end of the film he manages to hold the claim of being one of the only villains to personally hurt Bond.

Bond Girl

While there are many different female characters in this film, several of which Bond sleeps with, there’s only one true Bond girl and that’s Tracy. Tracy isn’t just your typical Bond girl though. She’s arguably one of the two most important Bond girls in the series, and that’s because she actually matters. She’s one of a very small number of Bond girls to melt Bond’s heart, and the only one he marries. That their married bliss is tragically cut short when she is gunned down by Blofeld only underlines this.

Bond (actor/performance)

This had to be a confusing moment for a lot of fans the first time around. After negotiations with Connery broke down, he was replaced with model turned actor George Lazenby. Lazenby isn’t a bad Bond. He brings a new emotional vulnerability to the role and presents the character in a very different manner than his predecessor. That being said there are some flaws. Gone is the intensity of Connery’s Bond, and Lazenby brings nowhere near the same amount of physicality to the part. Combined with the fact that he decided to leave after just one performance, thinking the franchise wouldn’t survive the 70s, it makes it hard to define his Bond. It’s a worthy effort but it honestly leaves more questions than answers.

Gadgets

There are none. OHMSS is a weird exception to the franchise’s escalation in that it really lacks many of the elements that defined the franchise for so many years.

Stunts/action

The action in this film is… not great. Without the physicality that Connery brought to the role the crew resorted to editing tricks to try and sell the action and it doesn’t really work. That combined with the film’s insistence on making non-snowboarding winter sports cool (there are multiple skiing and luge based action sequences) it just kind of lands with a thud. Tip to aspiring action directors: a man on skis will never look intimidating. Never. Just give up on that dream and make it easier on all of us.

Locales

So much snow! A large portion of this film is set in the Swiss Alps and it’s all well and good, but it just isn’t as exotic or exciting as any of the other environments that the previous films have been set in. With the villain’s lair being a glorified ski lodge, there’s just something missing.

Iconic Moments

Does Bond in a kilt and a frilly shirt count? There honestly aren’t that many iconic moments in this film. You would probably need to count the first recast in franchise history and Bond’s wedding in that category, but beyond that they just don’t produce many moments that we truly associate with the franchise. That hasn’t stopped every film in the franchise that features snowy environments from homaging the film, it’s just that the homages in question are rather dull.

Cringe Factor

I want to start by saying it’s nowhere near as bad as You Only Live Twice, but it’s still pretty bad. Gone is the racism of the previous film, instead replaced with some super cringey male-female interactions. From Tracy’s father basically offering to sell her to Bond and openly stating that she just needs some good loving to sort out all of her emotional problems, to Bond seducing multiple women by telling them that he is gay but they’re the special woman that turned him, this film has some problems. It’s always important to understand that these films are a product of the time in which they were made, but it’s honestly stunning to realize how much attitudes have changed since their release.

Final Thoughts

This is a really interesting addition to the canon. It eschews many of the standard franchise tropes and dares to marry off the main character. It has a bonkers plot, Lazenby puts on a fine performance, and it’s all in all one of the better put together entries in franchise history. It’s just not very remarkable at any one thing. Overall it’s a good film, just not one that I’ll be in a hurry to revisit in the near future.

  • lakefxdan

    I will say that my matriculation from casual fan to fanatic involved learning that this — certainly with competition today from entries such as Skyfall — was felt to be the best entry and favorite of many hardcore Bond fans (I have good reason to believe this includes uber-fan Raymond Benson, who wrote some of the 007 novels released under the publishing rights as well as the “Bedside Companion” encyclopedia of the franchise). All the elements are there — and while I have come to appreciate Lazenby’s portrayal one has to admit that with Connery in the role, this would have been the ne plus ultra. (Instead, we are left with the possibly quintessential movie 007 being Thunderball and the best performance he gave in From Russia With Love.) Some of the elements here, like the extended action and the use of a name actress in Diana Rigg for a mature, centered (eventually) Bond “girl” with a true relationship with the man, are helpful balances for the weaknesses in Lazenby’s casting.

    How you fail to appreciate the score astounds me. The orchestral theme, which is almost literally an inversion of the “Bond theme”, both grounds the action and seems to offer a preview of the downbeat ending. This is 007 with consequences, the thing that Bond films almost never have (beyond trivial, one-act jeopardy setups). It may be rear-projection in both cases, but Bond MacGyvering his way out the tram cables, and then forced to flee on a single ski, seem to count as iconic images to me — and the snowblower bit seems well-remembered if the punctuating quip weren’t so awkward. And the central chase sequence — which I call a three-act chase — is prolonged and tension-filled, with Bond expressing real fear at moments. Of all the themes this is the one that sticks the most in my mind and reminds me the most of the accompanying action.

    And certainly the mountaintop restaurant (which was really named Piz Gloria) is one of the most iconic “lairs” in the entire series. The way in which a Bond homage such as the redoubt assaulted by the team in the deep dream level of Inception resembles the Piz Gloria assault should lay that matter to rest. This is definitely quintessential 007. The whole skiing bit just shows off how the Bond approach, certainly in this era, was to explore every possible variation of a gag [in the stunt sense].

    And yes, there are sexism problems, but Tracy is (after recovery from her suicidal ideation) self-assured, capable, and a dependable ally for Bond. Indeed, the relief that Bond expresses on encountering her during the Alpine chase mirrors their earliest interaction — he saved her life, now she saves his. It’s something that many later 007 entries would try and fail to duplicate in terms of creating more “feminist” Bond women. (The final element, of course, does sacrifice her in character definition terms for the man, so it’s … of its time as you note.)

    Gadget-wise it does ratchet that back (before becoming an even more central element in especially the Moore outings), but in a story-strengthening way — we see his super spy pistol in the opening sequence, but he uses the sight to find Tracy in the surf, presaging how he would be stranded without his tools later on and more reliant on his wits and ingenuity. The other main ‘gadget’ of course is the photocopier, which was portable and pretty advanced for the time, and the whole delivery and extraction sequence is clever and insouciant. There’s also an attention on iconic cars, like Tracy’s appropriately sexy Mercury Cougar. And as far as iconic fights go, I think that Grunther getting impaled on some perfectly cast (er, “casted”?) artwork is definitely up there.

    Anyway, sure it isn’t perfect, and on earliest viewings Lazenby is easily the weakest actor of them all, but watching it again and again I savor the great moments it serves up.

    • For some reason this comment was flagged as spam and I only just now noticed it and approved it. Sorry for the delay!

  • BadChessPlayer

    Do snowmobiles count as not cool? I hope not as I think that the Bond series is long overdue a snowmobile chase.

  • Μακης Λ

    My love and my respect is not enough for Lazenby. Ο.Η.Μ.S.S. is not as
    ”Casino Royale”, where Bond is at the beginning and has no past. Lazenby
    looks more like a young bodyguard – or like Bond in the early years –
    and not with the agent 007 that the movie needed. The movie was a
    success. The success (the smallest in the history of the series) is due
    to the dynamics of the Bond films, in the particularity of the film, in
    the experience of the actors in the other roles, in director and the
    curiosity for the new Bond. Until now the producers did not provide the
    role of Bond in a model that is no actor and is completely novice. The
    film was shot as in the book. Bond is an experienced man in the book and
    movie. Connery is Bond for the audience. So I ended in Stanley Baker (
    1928-1976 ). He looks like Connery and play like Bond ( see ”Ιnnocent
    Βystanders” 1972 and secondly ”Last Grenade” 1969 ) and he was one of
    the best actors in his time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8CT-4LvqHc https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vstr-jhCjVY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn7ZNjpMwQU https://www.youtube.co/watch?v=GU2QOMoHbgw&t=0s