Prior to making his one and only appearance as 007, George Lazenby had worked as a male model and acted in commercials; he should perhaps have stuck to the old day job. Filling Sean Connery’s shoes – albeit briefly – he is unfortunately the main reason that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is not considered one of the series’ greats, which given an unusually heartfelt plot and spectacular action sequences, Peter Hunt’s film had the potential to be.
Hunt – who edited Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger – took hold of directorial reins for the first time with Bond #6, the only film in the entire franchise to see the secret agent wed one of the women he beds. It must be noted that Connery, as part of his ninja training in You Only Live Twice, had taken “a wife” but gave a false name and the marriage was an operationally convenient one. Doesn’t count.
The lucky lady who says “I do” to Commander Bond? Diana Rigg. Channeling action-filled experience from The Avengers TV series, Rigg’s character, Tracy, has plenty of attitude, an icy exterior (that melts fairly rapidly) and a troubled past which all add a depth of character unseen in previous ‘Bond girls’. She is more than equal to her beloved and often upstages him in terms of screen presence.
As ludicrous as Lazenby may look in full beige riding gear, or posing as a genealogist in Sherlock Holmes fancy dress, or even in kilt, sporran and white frilly cravat, his physicality is a welcome distraction from a fairly wooden performance. His running, jumping, punching, judo-chopping brute of a 007 is a step up in action terms from Connery and as obviously staged as the fight scenes may be there’s a greater sense that the man from Down Under could really handle himself.
The one liner: Just a slight stiffness coming on…in the shoulders (Bond – not talking about his shoulders)
The film begins with Bond in existential crisis, having spent two years unsuccessfully searching for Blofeld after the rocket-in-a-volcano debacle. On the verge of quitting the employ of Queen and country for good, he comes across evidence that points to a laboratory atop an Alp in Switzerland where Blofeld is conducting biochemical research. Back in the game.
A man stroking a familiar white cat, introduced by a high angle shot from above his bald dome, is revealed to be Telly Savalas (Kojak, The Dirty Dozen). A harem of unbelievably thick bimbos with allergy problems are hypnotised – “I have taught you to love chickens” a stellar line in the script – as part of Blofeld’s plan to control the world’s economy. Putting such faith in a group of girls who barely have a brain cell between them seems foolish from the evil mastermind’s point of view but Ernst knows best when it comes to world domination.
Where On Her Majesty’s Secret Service really does excel is a series of superb set pieces. Other than the dodgy screen-fronted close-ups, the ski chase is superb; James and Tracy – pursued by Blofeld’s right-hand lady Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) – inadvertently enter a rally race on a snowy track which is spectacularly filmed; there’s a full-on avalanche, a bobsled run at break-neck speed with a stray hand grenade and a helicopter assault on the mountain-top lair. It’s breathless and breathtaking stuff which elevates the film considerably.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – which runs to a hefty 2 hours 20 minutes – ends poignantly for all involved. Only Casino Royale many years later would capture the same kind of heartbreak for Bond. Lazenby’s solo Bond has it all, but one or two vital ingredients are not quite shaken and stirred satisfactorily.
IMDB informs us that 2016 will see Lazenby hitting the big screen (or maybe straight to TV?) once more in Dracula: Killer on the Catwalk – it may be some time since his modelling days, but this sounds like it’s right up his street. Despite any criticism I may have, the Australian is one of only six men who can say “I played James Bond.” And you can’t argue with that.