×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Revisiting 1969’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’

50 Years of James Bond

If there’s one Bond movie I could take back — as in, undo and make like it never happened — it would be “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Is it an awful movie? Objectively speaking, no (although it does feature one of the worst endings ever inflicted on an audience). But as a Bond movie, it’s an abomination.

I knew this as a child, and I still feel that way now, revisiting it a quarter-century later. There’s a reason I only saw “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” once when I devoured the others multiple times, watching and re-watching them over the years. Simply put, George Lazenby is not 007. He’s a ponce. He’s a light-footed, dandy-acting pretty boy who stepped into Sean Connery’s role uninvited and demonstrated what Bond could have been had everything gone wrong: a snide, unappealing, upper-class twit who thinks he’s better than everybody else. The man wears his tuxedo with ruffles, for crying out loud!

For all I know, Lazenby is closer to the Bond of Fleming’s imagination, but coming on the heels of Connery’s magnetically appealing blue-collar Bond, he was something of a disaster. Of course, it was a daunting task to begin with. Whoever followed Connery would have the impossible challenge of either trying to match his appeal or somehow alter it in such a way that we wouldn’t always be comparing them in our minds.

But how can you help it when the opening sequence goes wrong, the girl gets away and Lazenby turns directly into camera and says, “This never happened to the other fella”? Bond was hardly the only hero who’d been played by multiple actors. Tarzan and Superman, to name just two, had changed hands plenty. And yet, the casting of Lazenby revealed a certain weakness in the character itself, suggesting that rather than being an inherently compelling persona, Bond is only as interesting as the actor who plays him.

Now, let’s breeze past nearly all the other elements that drive me crazy about this film (casting Telly Savalas as Blofeld, pretending an arranged marriage to Diana Rigg amounts to true love and sending Bond in undercover as a gay Scotsman) and get to that awful ending. You can’t wrap a formula action movie with the assassination of the hero’s wife. “OHMSS” presents Bond’s honeymoon as its happy ending, then kills the bride in a drive-by shooting, only to linger on the bullet hole in the windshield like it’s some sort of poetic statement. That simply isn’t done.

A stunt like that might work in a European art film, or even at the beginning of a Bond movie, potentially inspiring a “this time it’s personal” mission (a la “License to Kill,” when 007 sets out to avenge the murder of Felix Leiter’s wife), but to end on such a note is a violation of everything the fantasy-laced spy series has sworn to deliver — requiring none of the nerve it took to freeze Han Solo in carbonite at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Don’t give me the “but that’s how it happened in the novel” excuse either, since producers Saltzman and Broccoli hardly swore to literary fidelity when they started telling these films out of order, changing details and inventing storylines at whim. And if they were so faithful to Fleming’s vision of the British spy, they would never have cast an Australian male model (Lazenby) to replace a Scottish Mr. Universe contestant (Connery). So there.

Popular on Variety

Revisiting 1969's 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'

More Film

  • PATRICK

    Watch Trailer to San Sebastian’s ‘Patrick,’ Sold by The Match Factory (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN —  Sales house The Match Factory is launching exclusively via Variety the trailer of “Patrick,” Gonçalo Waddington’s debut feature, as the film world premieres in the Official Selection at the San Sebastian Festival. Screening in main competition, “Patrick” recounts the story of an eight-year old Portuguese boy, Mario, who is re-discovered years later [...]

  • Brad Pitt stars in ONCE UPON

    Quentin Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Gets Oct. 25 China Release

    Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is scheduled for a China release on Oct. 25, three months after its U.S. debut. The mainland opening will hit after the country’s National Day holiday in the first week of October, which this year marks a key and politically sensitive anniversary — the 70th year of [...]

  • THE-CURSE-OF-THE-HANDSOME-MAN-photo2

    Filmax Acquires International on ‘The Curse of the Handsome Man’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Barcelona-based boutique studio Filmax has acquired international rights to Argentine producer-director Beda Docampo’s “The Curse of the Handsome Man,” produced by Ibón Cormenzana’s Arcadia Motion Pictures alongside Cados Producciones and Damned Besso –based in Spain—in co-production with Cecilia Díez’s Zarlek Producciones (“Medianeras”) in Argentina. The film is backed by Spanish public broadcaster [...]

  • La-mala-familia

    Javi Tasio Talks ECAM Incubator Title ‘La Mala Familia’

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Via their BRBR collective, filmmakers Nacho A. Villar and Luis Rojo have directed award winning music videos, and commercias. Now they’ll make the leap to features with “La Mala Familia,” a gritty urban drama set in the outskirts of Madrid. Variety spoke with the film’s producer, Javi Tasio, who developed this project at ECAM’s [...]

  • Charlie-Chaplin-and-Horse-Roy-Export-Co

    Carmen Chaplin to Direct ‘Charlie Chaplin, a Man of the World’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — Director-producer-actress Carmen Chaplin is set to direct “Charlie Chaplin, a Man of the World,” a theatrical documentary feature which will add a hardly-explored new facet to the creator of the Tramp, one of the most iconic cinema characters in popular consciousness, plumbing Chaplin’s Romani roots and heritage. Marking the first time that [...]

  • Incitement

    'Incitement' Wins Ophir Award for Best Picture, Becomes Israel's Oscar Submission

    “Incitement” was the best-picture winner at Israel’s Ophir Awards on Sunday night, automatically becoming the country’s choice to vie for the international feature film Oscar. The winning film, a drama about the period leading up to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist in 1995, had its global premiere at [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content