WFTB Score: 9/20
The plot: 007’s faltering mission to hunt down Ernst Stavro Blofeld is given a shot in the arm by an encounter with the beautiful but unpredictable Teresa di Vicenzo. Tracy, as she’s known, has a shady father desperate for Bond to take her off his hands and as a dowry and incentive, a link to Blofeld. James follows up the connection and finds a Swiss hideaway full of beautiful but potentially deadly women; but what is Blofeld’s master plan? And will the women distract Bond from what seems to be true love at last?
I may have mentioned once or twice before that my attitude towards a certain Commander James Bond is not exactly one of unbridled admiration, and however much one part of me wants to own the whole collection for the sake of completeness, another is determined to pay as little as possible for it. Widely acknowledged to be the black sheep of the Bond family, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service seemed like a good title to buy on video for the princely sum of 20p.
While indulging in a spot of relaxation, secret agent Bond (George Lazenby) meets the beautiful but unstable Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), or simply Tracy, wandering into the sea and later losing money she doesn’t have on card tables. The wild child intrigues Bond, but when Tracy’s father Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) – no stranger to infamy himself – proposes that he marry her for a cool million pounds, the eligible bachelor declines, until he mentions the name Blofeld anyway. Bond is just about to be chucked off the hunt for the SPECTRE mastermind, so the information Draco can give him is vital. Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) handily prevents Bond from resigning, and with a fortnight’s leave 007 heads off to the offices of Blofeld’s lawyer Gumbold. There, he learns that the bald baddie (Telly Savalas) is laying claim to a French title, so he assumes the identity of a genealogist to gain access to Blofeld’s laboratory, high up in the Swiss Alps. Bond discovers a bevy of lovelies being ‘cured’ of their allergies through hypnosis, and is baffled: what could Blofeld want with them? And, when Bond’s cover is blown, will he ever set eyes on his proposed bride again?
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is remembered for two things, the first being the sole appearance of tall Australian Lazenby as 007. Popular wisdom attributes the poor reception of the film to Lazenby’s deficiencies as an actor, but although he’s no Olivier (and more pertinently, no Connery), he’s no worse than Roger Moore would prove to be in Live and Let Die.
Lazenby certainly can’t be blamed for the undercooked plot, which has him stranded for a long time in the institute for lovely women, a scenario owing more to Carry On than vintage Bond despite the luscious scenery it affords (and I don‘t mean the women, though check out one of them being utterly filthy with a banana). He can’t, presumably, be blamed for the wretched one-liners that punctuate the script during his various escapes from peril (‘He had lots of guts?!’ oh, come on). Also, unless he was really bad at fighting, he can’t be blamed for the style of the action scenes, which are so frantically edited that it’s near-impossible to tell what’s going on in most of them: a strange interlude in the local village suggests that it was indeed a stylistic decision rather than a cover-up to spare the actor’s blushes.
In fact, when it comes to the second thing that OHMSS is remembered for – its uncharacteristically emotional ending – Lazenby does rather well. I won’t reveal too much about the end for those that don’t want to know, but Bond’s partnership with Tracy is explored in exhaustive detail (for Bond) and is quite convincing. Rigg is excellent as Tracy and her ambiguous vivacity helps to offset some of the weaker parts of the film, such as Telly Savalas’ unthreatening Blofeld or the varying quality of the stunts on display: much of the skiing is excellent, but it’s cut in with obvious rear projection shots that don’t look part of the same scene at all. The climactic bobsleigh fight is hit and miss, too, effective parts juxtaposed with less convincing shots, and all cut together in the hyperactive style mentioned previously (and culminating in another woeful ‘quip‘). Still, though there is frankly too much skiing, it does lead to a dramatic avalanche which is well realised.
OHMSS is absolutely the curate’s egg of Bond movies. On one hand, a weak plot, a disinterested villain, a father punching his daughter unconscious for her own good and a number of poor effects; on the other, an athletic Bond, a strong heroine, a decent sense of its inherent silliness and the best ending in the entire series until, and possibly including, Casino Royale (which echoes this film, if that doesn’t give the game away). It even has one of the best songs in the Bond universe – All the Time in the World – sitting close to one of the worst – Do you know how Santa Gets Around? Whatever issues it has, Lazenby is not one of them. 007 is perfectly adequate, as is the film as a whole, and it’s folly to think that Moore, Connery or anyone else would have elevated this to another level.
Oh, and just to add my own twist, when I opened the case to OHMSS I discovered that the wrapper hadn’t been taken off the tape: in other words, the film had been bought and donated however long after without ever being watched by the original owner. Their prerogative, naturally, but I dread to think what rubbish (Octopussy?) they might have watched instead of giving this unfairly maligned effort a go.