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'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' (1969) — An Analysis

Arguably, the greatest Bond film today is still On Her Majesty`s Secret Service, George Lazenby`s only film as James Bond.
Arguably, the greatest Bond film today is still On Her Majesty`s Secret Service, George Lazenby`s only film as James Bond.
Property of Eon Productions

Despite public opinions around Goldfinger, most James Bond fans consider the DEFINITIVE Bond film is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, directed by Peter Hunt. Although he did not immediately follow Terence Young as director, Hunt’s contribution to Bond had started since Dr. No as an editor. He is as well considered THE most important director in the entire Bond series alongside with Terence Young, however his continued involvement was more substantial.

He would continue to edit four more Bond films from From Russia With Love to You Only Live Twice. He originally was not brought on to edit YOLT since he was currently preoccupied servicing the film as second unit director. When the film started to have problems in the post-production stages, Hunt subscribed his expertise once again only under the agreement that he would get to direct the next Bond film. Producers Broccoli and Saltzman had absolutely no problem with that considering they enjoyed Hunt immensely.

Hunt believed that the James Bond movie series had great potential for delving more into the emotions and souls of the characters. It was something that was not entirely explored to great detail in the previous Bond films, and no action oriented films or TV exploits really had taken that route. The novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a very deep and touching book by creator Ian Fleming, and Hunt felt the film version should be no less different.

Hunt employed Bond alumni screenwriter Richard Maibaum to work on the adaptation completely on his own as Hunt started to design the film in his mind. He wanted a very realistic and human style that remained closer to the way Terence Young had envisioned his films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Thunderball). However, Hunt would also have to deal with a much larger problem than just designing his film. He had to find a new actor to portray James Bond. Sean Connery had resigned from the series after You Only Live Twice to pursue other work that was unlike Bond entirely (he however would later return for Diamonds Are Forever and Never Say Never Again).

Hunt tested hundreds of actors, but none seemed to resemble a credible version of Bond (they were really looking for another Sean Connery type, and not so much for an open-minded perspective on the character). Despite the extraneous testing and auditioning, Hunt discovered his man, or more correctly the man discovered him.

A model turned TV commercial actor named George Lazenby stumbled upon their lists. Hunt had noted there was something about Lazenby that seemed absolutely right even though Lazenby himself started to doubt that he could land the role that was made starstruckingly engraved in people’s minds by Sean Connery. Hunt continued his testing, but after Lazenby’s extremely successful fight sequence test and love scene test, Saltzman was convinced and Hunt was extremely pleased that he found their man (particularly, the one he favored out of all of them). Because of Lazenby’s only available realism he displayed in commercials, Hunt found him the perfect clean slate to mold into a very realistic and human interpretation of Bond. And that’s exactly how Bond is explored in the film.

OHMSS employs great elements of suspense in all the action sequences creating a very believable feeling that Bond was more than ever in absolute danger and the possibility of him not going on as a clear fear. One thing was for sure in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service-- Bond does not seemed to be distracted by some exorbitant sense of pleasing the audience or just doing his job on screen. For Lazenby’s entrance into the role of Bond, Hunt introduces him in a very similar way that Young did for Connery.

We first see him smoking cigarettes and driving an Aston Martin before seeing his face. Bond is passed by an angry woman in a red convertible tearing down the road. His curiosity soon leads him to discover the woman attempting to commit suicide. He runs to the rescue in the very romantic emerging sunrise from the ocean and while waking her up, brushes her hair with his hand in a very tenderly way. As she wakes back up and looks at her rescuer perplexingly, Bond utters his famous means of stating his identity: last name, then full name. Suddenly, a man comes out of nowhere aiming a gun at his head. Classic elements of romance and surprise with that spice of panache.

Hunt also directed OHMSS with a great sense of respect and love for the series. He symbolizes the character of Tracy Di Vicenzo Draco (played by Avengers heroine Diana Rigg) with flowers. After they embrace after an unusual argument, the camera tilts up to a rose bush behind them on the balcony. She leaves the next morning leaving a rose behind on Bond’s bed. And of course during the lovingly beautiful wedding, flowers are the entire theme complete with her in a flower gown and flowers in her hair.

OHMSS makes use of Bond’s history as cover when investigating Blofeld’s Piz Gloria and develops more into Bond’s human side when he simply listens and has a conversation about the future of Tracy with her father. Hunt also does a very respectable job in how he displays the great Telly Savalas as Blofeld throughout the picture.

The sinister leader of SPECTRE is seen as a very realistic, but extraordinarily destructive man willing to do anything to silence Bond. Blofeld and Bond have a very brutal fight that can be considered also one of the greatest sequences in history that goes full circle with Blofeld first chasing Bond down the slopes to Bond chasing Blofeld down the same slopes to bobsleds. Lazenby has been credited as the most socially likeable, but most brutal of all Bonds when it came to dispatching the villains as Hunt directs it and Lazenby performs it.

Hunt’s ability to emphasize a great epic, heartfelt romantic quality and sense of wit in the film’s design makes OHMSS a superior film to most action films for all time. For the film’s extremely shocking end, the emotion of Bond is certainly seen at its height when Bond’s proclaimed love of his life is shot dead by Blofeld at the end of the film only minutes after the wedding. Bond says before and afterward, ’’We Have All The Time In The World,’’ which becomes the film’s signature line that represents in many ways Bond’s desire to live a normal life like everyone else, and the tremendous loss in his arms. Bond then cries into her white veil blocking his tears to prevent being seen by the rest of the world.

The importance of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the painful past involving lost love and an absolute hatred for the murderer that it suggests for Bond is later touched upon in later Bond films, such as Diamonds Are Forever, Casino Royale '72, Live And Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, The Living Daylights, Licence To Kill, Goldeneye, and Tomorrow Never Dies in specific scenes (there’s a nod to it in The World Is Not Enough, but it is barely explored).

But On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, although without a famous Bond-playing actor, becomes more important and greater than any speculation on whoever actor makes the best Bond when it becomes all too obvious that with the Everyman Bond of Lazenby that it doesn’t matter who is ’’better’’ when OHMSS is the definitive emotional Bond opus (as well also considered one of the greatest action films of all time that would set the path to more Bond films and other classic emotional action pictures of that genre like Raiders Of The Lost Ark), that isn’t remembered for the star only.

All thanks to Peter Hunt’s crew and George Lazenby and company’s masterclass performances.

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