Lazenby's voice is more suave than sexy-sinister.
But he could pass for the other fellow's twin
on the shady side of the casino.
- Alexander Walker, Evening Standard (December 1969)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Film: 1969 (#6)
Book: 1963 (#11)
Bond crosses paths with a self-destructive woman named Tracy, to her father's relief; he believes Bond is exactly what she needs. He offers Bond a gift of his choice in return for courting Tracy; Bond chooses information on Blofeld, whom he has been tracking unsuccessfully ever since the end of the previous film. Blofeld, it develops, is running an allergy clinic in the Swiss Alps (no, really), which of course is the cover for a semi-diabolical scheme, albeit one with modest goals. Bond falls in love with Tracy, kicks Blofeld around, foils his scheme, and gets married ... but if you think that means a happy ending, then you have not been paying enough attention.
Book vs. Film
This might be the most faithful adaptation until the latter half of the latter Casino Royale. In general the film improves on the book in a number of little ways (cleaner plot links, etc) but the two don't differ on any major or minor plot points.
At the beginning of the book, Bond is annoyed enough by MI6 continuing to chase after SPECTRE that he threatens to resign; he thinks SPECTRE is dead. In the film, of course, it's M who wants Bond to lay off hunting for Blofeld, and Bond threatens to resign over that - very much the opposite. See also the remarks on general continuity below.
A better Bond than a lot of people think he is. Looks good in everything he wears, no matter how ridiculous (as befits a former model); neither Connery nor Moore could say that. Not necessarily very suave - he radiates a little too much of the blue-collar for that - but fakes it well. Brutal when he has to be, including a fight which completely trashes a hotel room (he doesn't forget to snag some caviar on a toast point as he exits). Willing to consort with mobsters if it gets him what he wants. Reads someone else's copy of Playboy while cracking a safe - then carries it off with him. Flirts with twelve women at once - though not especially well, and to the detriment of his cover. Wears nothing under his kilt.
Lazenby is not an especially good actor. But Bond is not, in my opinion, a role calling for a great actor. The biggest weakness of Lazenby is that he doesn't really know how to display any realistic-looking emotions onscreen; but then, how often is Bond called upon to have any genuine emotions besides anger? (Besides, he does better than Timothy Dalton, who can't even do anger.) The fact that this happens to be the one film in the lot where Bond is called upon to actually react to a genuine personal tragedy on the spot is just Lazenby's bad luck. And one cannot imagine that Connery's reaction in that scene would have been any better, frankly.
The short answer is that if you like the way Bond is written in this film, then you need to go read some Fleming books. This is Fleming's Bond, for better or worse, and that includes some of the more wooden aspects of Lazenby's style.
Diana Rigg. That is all.
All right, no, that's not quite all. But Tracy is immune to criticism. Rigg plays her as such a pronounced individual that you don't really care how she wavers about Bond or how her character appears to vary from moment to moment - it just all works.
"Teresa was a saint. My name is Tracy."
The "angels" are pretty much the only other women in the film (the odious Irma Bunt, although well-played, does not count here), and unfortunately they're where the film stores all its tee-hee smirking bits. Fortunately, they're almost completely ancillary and the handful of scenes they're in are easily ignored.
In October 1967, EON began to search for a new Bond. Saltzman said at the time that they had ruled out Roger Moore because they felt he was too associated with The Saint. Any number of gentlemen auditioned (including Timothy Dalton, who was deemed too young), but George Lazenby had impressed Broccoli and Saltzman in prior interviews, and impressed director Peter Hunt and his stunt coordinator George Leech during a fight-scene test where he reportedly accidentally broke the nose of the person he was fighting.
Richard Maibaum, back as screenwriter, gave a great deal of consideration to the problem of explaining a change in actor for Bond. There was a real concern at the time that Bond was only a success because of Connery, and EON wanted to make certain that audiences would "buy" the idea that this was still Bond, just played by a different person. (One is tempted to draw a wry contrast between this and "Doctor Who," where British audiences had accepted someone other than William Hartnell in the role only a couple of years before. But perhaps the bar was lower there.) Maibaum considered putting in lines about extensive plastic surgery, but eventually - and I think correctly - decided not to bother to explain at all. In fact, by leaving in the "other guy" line, he was not just admitting the audience knew what was what, he was inviting them in to share the joke. It worked.
The first choice for Teresa di Vincenzo was reportedly Brigitte Bardot (please note that Tracy is blonde in the book), until she signed on to do Shalako ... opposite Sean Connery. Oh well. Catherine Deneuve was asked by Saltzman and turned him down. Diana Rigg had just finished her run on "The Avengers"; she was reportedly delighted to audition and Hunt was delighted to have her.
Although both Rigg and Lazenby were cast as far as Hunt was concerned (Rigg, by the way, was paid more than double for the film what Lazenby was - a fine change from her inadequate Avengers wages!), and UA brass had been shown test footage of them, UA was still clearly not sold that a new Bond would work. In September 1968, UA president David Picker flew to London to try to persuade Connery to come back. Only after Connery gave him a flat "no" did UA allow EON to announce Lazenby's hiring.
As Connery had predicted after the previous film, EON wanted to make this on a somewhat smaller budget, and the obvious thing to go was a behemoth Ken Adam set. Instead they scouted for potential real locations. What Hunt found was the site where the Schilthornbahn company was building the world's highest circular restaurant (at a little under ten thousand feet above sea level). The Swiss goverment was reluctant to grant permits until EON offered to pay for an interior refit (including a mechanism to make the inside of the restaurant rotate) and build a helicopter landing pad (a desirable means of emergency access, since the only other way up was the cable car). In total, EON paid out some $60,000 in costs at that site, which was still less than paying Ken Adam for another million-dollar volcano! The restaurant, by the way, still exists (although it is no longer the highest), and bears the name it took on for the film: Piz Gloria.
Lazenby reportedly began to have trouble almost from day one. He was overwhelmed by it all; he didn't realize he was going to have to be Bond 24/7. (If only he had talked to Connery!) He also didn't feel like he was getting the acting help he needed, especially from his director, who had his hands full with the complex mountain filming and other difficulties. Lazenby compensating for his discomfort may partly explain why he began to get a reputation for being arrogant with the crew and the other actors, most of whom had considerably more film experience than he did.
However, one story which may not be true at all is the reported friction between Lazenby and Rigg. Lazenby denied, then and now, that they got on poorly; Rigg has never, to my knowledge, talked about it. There were on-set incidents at the time, made much of by the scandal sheets, that may just have been the two of them teasing each other. Lois Maxwell said in an interview later that he and Rigg were actually having an off-set relationship and that any friction was because Lazenby chased other women as well. Maxwell also added that Rigg joined Lazenby after filming for downtime in Naples.
The film was loaded with tricky sequences, and it was running behind schedule due to a mild winter (not enough snow!) and other difficulties. To help get it back on track, John Glen was brought in as second unit director. (Glen feels they had deliberately added a lot of action because they were scared to let Lazenby stand still and try to act.) Glen did the bobsled run sequence - which EON built for the film, and which Broccoli insisted on testing personally, to Glen's alarm.
The unsung hero of both the bobsled and ski chase sequences was former downhill racer Willy Bogner, who was able to get steady footage from a body-mounted camera while skiing backwards - or, in the case of the bobsled run, following the bobsleds down the run on skis. He will turn up in this saga again.
Lazenby went through the entire shoot without a contract. UA had presented him with one, and he had apparently given it to a lawyer friend to read. Meanwhile, he had started talking to film producer Ronan O'Reilly, who convinced Lazenby that the Bond films were over, that the audience had changed. Lazenby, out of his depth and pressured in different directions by various people, decided his first Bond film would also be his last.
Peter Hunt's first Bond film as director would also be his last. Despite his excellent work on this picture, he too had apparently had enough of Bond, and he would not return to the franchise in any capacity.
Public and critical reception to this film has been very strange. The film itself received a positive-to-mixed critical reception at time of release; some reviewers liked the film but had their doubts about Lazenby. After that, it seems like for a couple of decades it was fashionable to pick on this film and make a joke out of Lazenby, which I suspect was largely fueled by people who were just parroting cultural hearsay and had never actually watched it. In the last few years, I've seen the conventional wisdom start to come around again, which suits me just fine, because I believe this is a pretty damned good Bond film.
It has the best score of any Bond film to date, some of the best photography, a reasonably good plot apart from some shaky bits, snow stunts which set the mold (so much so that the franchise in effect reused them more than once), Moneypenny's finest hour, and in Tracy a strong contender for the best female character ever in a Bond film, certainly the strongest one prior to the major overhaul beginning at Goldeneye.
I grant that this is not a flashy Bond film in some ways. It probably does run a bit long (2:20; it was the longest of the lot until the second Casino Royale). It has almost no fancy gadgets, and while the action sequences are solid, they don't have much in the way of raw spectacle. But I don't think it needs any of that. The film has only two major weaknesses for me: the "angels" and the general handling of Blofeld.
The only sequence in the film I routinely fast-forward past on rewatches is Bond's crude flirtations with the various "angels." It feels like material taken from a particularly low-grade sex comedy and it grinds the film to a halt for me. Lazenby apparently had a reputation for chasing the women; I hope this wasn't representative of his real conduct! At the very least he could have used better material. It's also a complete breach of his cover, and inconsistent with the way Bond has been presented to us so far in the film - it feels like an idiot-plot style misstep, put in only so Blofeld has some basis to bust him (and surely just quizzing him on heraldry could have done that). Also, the angels themselves are vapid and annoying; not even Joanna Lumley can redeem herself, not with the material she's given.
I'm not sure if the problem with Blofeld is that EON and company were just very bad at casting him, or if the problem is that Blofeld is almost impossible to cast. Supervillains are always difficult, but it seems to me that they could have easily come up with three Blofelds more genuinely sinister than Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, and Charles Gray. Anyway, the bigger problem with Blofeld here is one of continuity. Fleming very clearly conceived of Thunderball - OHMSS - You Only Live Twice as a trilogy, in which Bond learns of Blofeld, meets him, is seriously damaged by him, tracks him down, and eventually does kill him at considerable cost to himself. Almost a mutual destruction, in fact. The films, on the other hand, have no regard for this larger arc at all. It's not just a matter of them being filmed out of order, although that certainly didn't help. Bond Films:
The problem arises because OHMSS is a largely faithful adaptation of the novel in which Bond and Blofeld meet for the first time, [while] You Only Live Twice dispensed with all but the vaguest props from Fleming's novel. Thus, in the film series, Bond and Blofeld meet for the first time - twice. ... This problem is compounded by Diamonds Are Forever, which steadfastly refuses to follow on from the end of OHMSS [by not mentioning Tracy's death or any of its fallout]. In fact, Diamonds Are Forever opens in Japan, as if the film is intended to follow on from the end of You Only Live Twice. The audience is expected to treat [OHMSS] as some sort of aberration ....
I stopped worrying much about continuity in Bond films years ago, but the quoted paragraph above has a point.
One reason I credit/blame the McClory team for Blofeld's supervillain cartoonishness is because of the way Fleming handles him when left to his own devices. Fleming wrote two books with Blofeld after McClory. In one of them, Blofeld uses his vast powers of villainy for ... recognition of his right to the peerage and amnesty for his crimes. Sort of a step down from previous capers, eh? And in the other, he has fled to Japan and is quietly running an (admittedly bizarre and deadly) garden, committing no apparent crimes or world-conquering schemes at all. Fleming never did seem very comfortable with the idea of a supervillain; whatever his other faults, he did try to keep within the bounds of plausible reality as much as possible. Which doesn't mean he's not capable of having his characters be evil; Blofeld's act at the end of this film is arguably the nastiest thing anyone has done to Bond in his long career.
This is the one "swinging Sixties" Bond we get, however vaguely, and it may be for the best. Bond is not a type to embrace trends, other than the occasional fashion mistake. About the only notes of real-world relevance in the script are its disgust with the United Nations (an indication of how people were beginning to lose faith in it - a few years later, a plot to blackmail the UN would no longer be even remotely plausible) and a reference to a very real outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the UK in 1967.
If you haven't read the books, you won't know that the casino in the early sequences of this film is meant to be Royale-les-Eaux, the location in Casino Royale ... and that Bond is there because he returns there once a year to visit Vesper Lynd's grave. Bond had planned to marry Vesper - a neat little bit of foreshadowing which does not get conveyed to the film.
The Bond crest and motto is not an invention of the screenwriters, but is, like almost everything else here, straight Fleming. The relevant parts of the script were specially vetted by the College of Arms for accuracy.
The world is not enough.
If you're wondering what the man who dubbed both Goldfinger and Tiger Tanaka looks like, you can see Robert Rietty briefly in this film as the Chef de Jeu, one of the casino staff at the baccarat table (I don't know which one, though). Speaking of dubbing, Gabrielle Ferzetti (Draco) is dubbed by David de Keyser, and George Baker, who plays Sir Hillary Bray, dubs Lazenby during the parts where Lazenby is pretending to be him. There is also a persistent story that Joanna Lumley dubbed some of the "angels" whose English was not so good.
There are at least thirty minutes of extant footage floating around somewhere that were cut before release, including a long chase sequence on foot after the scene in the College of Arms.
Peter Hunt had asked the Swiss army to plant explosives in summer of 1968, hoping that by spring 1969 there would be enough snow to film a genuine avalanche. Unfortunately, during the bobsled filming, the avalanche fell on its own. Later attempts, including detonating the explosives anyway, didn't produce anything sufficiently awesome. John Glen cobbled together the avalanche in the editing room from library footage plus a better avalanche he engineered in a different valley in May 1969, plus the aftermath of the puny one.
A dead goat was thrown into the snowthrower to get what I now refer to as the Fargo shot.
While the prominent appearance of a Playboy magazine may well have been a paid promotion, it may also be a shoutout to the fact that On Her Majesty's Secret Service was originally serialized in that magazine.
Lazenby tried to do his own stunts whenever possible, against the wishes of the insurers. They drew a firm line at the ski stunts - none of the ski shots is Lazenby actually skiing; every time you see his face in a ski sequence it's an insert. But he did manage to do some fight work, and during one sequence, he broke his arm. When Bond is taken to Blofeld's lab at Piz Gloria, Lazenby's broken arm in its cast is hidden by his coat. This is why Blofeld's guard so politely takes his coat off; Lazenby couldn't. IMDb says (take this with a grain of salt) that the guard removing the jacket was played by Yuri Borienko - the ex-wrestler whose nose Lazenby broke in the fighting screen test.
This was Ilse Steppat's (Irma Bunt) only English-language role. She died very shortly after the release of this film. The character was not brought back along with Blofeld for this reason.
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