On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Ernst Stavros Blofeld and James Bond do not recognize each other.  I wonder why?

WHO IS JAMES BOND?  Well, funny story, one that does not need to be recounted here.  Suffice to say, James Bond is young again, which counts for something.  He’s dapper, classy, amused and amusing, can still fight fiercely and kill without remorse.  Because the year is 1969, he’s even now anti-authoritarian, going “off the res” to get the bad guy.  Because the year is 1969, he is also deeper and more complex than before.  It’s bad enough for poor George Lazenby that he had to follow Connery, who owned the part from the first shot of him in Dr. No, but Lazenby also need to reinvent Bond as a thinking, feeling, loving human being.  He’s not unlikeable as Bond, but let’s face it, he’s not good enough to make us forget the man he refers to as “the other fella.”

There’s a scene in Act II where Bond sits in a lawyer’s office, leafing through an issue of Playboy while a machine cracks a safe for him.  That’s about all you need to know about this Bond — except that after he’s cracked the safe, he walks off pocketing the Playboy centerfold.  So: lazy, likes pornography, swipes pornography.  Goosebumps yet, ladies?

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT?  Blofeld is back, and this time he wants…a title.  Yes, you read that right.  Blofeld has concocted a virus that will wipe out all life on earth, unless the British College of Arms grants him the title of Count of Bleauchamps.  Good plan, Blofeld!  And an excellent follow-up to your gigantic, multi-billion dollar scheme to end the world by maybe starting a nuclear war by kidnapping astronauts.

There is an unfortunate lack of ticking-clock in Majesty.  Blofeld’s newest plan-to-destroy-the-world isn’t even announced until the end of Act II, and involves no rockets, explosions or nuclear bombs — just a handful of hypnotised women with perfume atomizers, which he has told them, explicitly, not to touch until he says so, which should be enough to guarantee his plan going off without at hitch.

WHAT EXACTLY DOES JAMES BOND DO TO SAVE THE WORLD?  Majesty, actually, boasts one of the most interesting scripts of the whole series.  There is an air of Raymond Chandler pervading the whole thing: Bond falls for a girl who’s “trouble,” makes a morally iffy deal with her gangster father, tradinginformation about Blofeld in exchange for agreeing to marry the girl.  He goes under cover to investigate Blofeld’s secret hideout, a development never used before in a James Bond story, as obvious as it would appear to be, and in a bizarre twist worthy of Chandler, finds that Blofeld’s secret hideout is also a not-for-profit allergy clinic for terminally horny women.  (The troubled girl also comes to a very Chandleresque end.)

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY?  Blofeld is now played by the demonstrably not-British Telly Savalas, who apparently got the part via appearing in The Dirty Dozen, the only movie of 1967 more successful than You Only Live Twice.  There’s nothing wrong with Telly Savalas, but he can’t compete with the manic menace of Donald Pleasance and his British accent is as poorly articulated as his plot to destroy the world: -10 points.  On the other hand, near the end of the movie, Blofeld jumps up and finally throws the fucking cat off his lap with a undignified yowl: 1 point.  1 point for the Alpine Sexy Woman Allergy Clinic, -1 for not getting Ken Adam to design it.

WOMEN: The big news here is that Bond is in love, and near the end of the movie gets married.  Of course he screws at least two other women on the way to the altar — all for the good of Queen and Country, naturally.  Tracy is a worthwhile, complex character, smart and angry, a woman not easily won and resistant to male domination.  The problem is that the principle actors have less chemistry than — than — well, than a thing with very little chemistry, I suppose.  An empty chemistry set!  Ha!  No?  Okay, let me work on that.

NOTES: Some truly gorgeous late-60s photography.  In general, the production design is lusher, more sophisticated, more serious, less colorful, less cartoonish than the earlier movies.

In the opening scene, Lazenby makes the reference to “the other fella,” a move designed to get the topic off the table.  It provokes a laugh, but the pressure to out-do Connery while simultaneously reinventing the character is obvious and detrimental.  The title sequence is a veritable clip-show of old Bond moments, as though the producers are saying “Hey!  Remember those great old Bond movies?  This one is just like those!”

Lazenby gets by, but he never owns the part.  If he’s trying to be hip and counter-cultural, he’s failing.  The flouncy shirts he wears throughout don’t help.  He gets credit for not recalling Connery, but the weird thing is he seems to be doing recon work for Roger Moore — as though the movie were a demo reel to tempt Moore into the part.

And yet there are many worthwhile ideas going on in Majesty.  For instance, the idea of Bond Cut Loose is a great idea, although it’s not fully explored here.  Bond is, potentially, a fascinating case study of male power fantasies, and the notion of what he would do if he were not constrained by his superiors contains worlds of possibilities.  As it happens, what Renegade Bond does is is fall in love, track down Blofeld, then team up with gangsters (instead of the CIA or ninjas or whoever the frogmen were in Thunderball) for the big action sequence.

Louis Armstrong sings the love song that pops up at the end of Act I.  That would seem to be counter-intuitive to a movie trying to reinvent Bond as a 60s-style antihero, but keep in mind that Armstrong was, at the time, a legend undergoing a huge, late-career boom thanks to his hit version of “Hello Dolly.”  For the purposes of analogy, it would be like Bob Dylan recording the song for the next Bond movie.

Bond and Blofeld stood face to face in You Only Live Twice, and yet neither of them recognize each other when they meet in Majesty.  This is not explained, and seems unfair to me.  The old Bond could recognize Felix Leiter three faces in a row, this one can’t get a bead on the guy he’s been looking for for two years.

Once it shows up, Act III moves at a nice clip, with many well-staged fights, chases and explosions.  But the stakes are uncinematic and psychological; Blofeld’s plan has no physical presence.  We’re not trying to “defuse the bomb,” we’re just trying to unplug a radio transmitter.

Bond, famously, gets married to Diana Rigg at the end of Majesty, but the real chemistry onscreen, oddly, is between Bond and Moneypenny.  We get the impression that there really is love lost between the two of them, that if Bond could really turn his back on the whole “Bond thing,” what he’d really want to do is settle down with a nice girl like Moneypenny.  But in 1969, Bond had both his own reputation and his myriad competitors to contend with, and his seemingly mutual affection for Moneypenny had to be left at the altar. hit counter html code


46 Responses to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
  1. timdenee says:

    I haven’t seen this one! Is it as much the primary source for Austin Powers as it seems?

    I’m really enjoying these write-ups by the way, so thanks for that.

    • Todd says:

      Y’know, I have no idea where Austin Powers came from. In fact, when I first saw a preview for Austin Powers, I spake aloud to my wife, “That can’t possibly be successful; it’s a parody of something that never existed!” There was no short, bespectacled, hopelessly lame, Carnaby-street-wearing super-spy in the 1960s. Myers just kind of made that up all on his own. If Austin Powers is a parody of anything, it’s Bob Rafelson’s The Monkees. Austin Powers is like if Bob Rafelson decided to do an energetic send-up of James Bond instead of The Beatles.

      Of course, I was proven correct, and no one ever heard of Austin Powers again.

      • Anonymous says:

        According to some backgrounds on Myers, Austin Powers just started as a joke, Myers used the phrases and English accent as inside joke with his wife, etc.. the English-jokey phrases made them laugh, light bulb turned on and it became a movie, much in the same way a favorite riff developed into song (or in the case of the Rolling Stones, whole series of albums and industry of tours). There was no object of affection to parody, but the period was one of styling, a VH1-MTV view of the 60s secret-agent through recallng short-attention span clips that mix up Peter Sellars and the rest of the British lot.

      • I’ve seen Meyers say in interviews that the glasses came from the Ipcress File, and the chest hair is a nod to Sean Connery.

        As I recall, he referred to Connery as a “yeti.”

        I think I see a bit of Derek Flint in there, too, but I could be reaching.

        And of course, his first female partner (at the start of the first movie) is more than a little Avengers-esque.

        • craigjclark says:

          Actually, there’s a lot of Flint in there. For one thing, that’s where his telephone ring comes from.

          Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies are also a definite inspiration.

      • papajoemambo says:

        Dr Evil trivia

        Doctor Evil, the character, is a direct swipe at Lorne Micheals who not only uses teh phrases “Throw me a bone here” and “Gotta give me the inf-foe…”, but he did the zippit thing once in a story conference to Myers, and does the pinky thing when he laughs.

        Myers’ brother Paul loved the character like crazy, and described the him to me, a few months before the movie came out, as “Mike playing Lorne Micheals, if Lorne Micheals was played by Donald Pleasance in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE”.

  2. planettom says:

    I have to admit, this is my favorite Bond movie. Just because it is unlike all the others in many respects, and very close to the Ian Fleming novel. And I think Lazenby does a decent job. And he marries Mrs. Peel!

    It’s also fun spotting faces among the allergy nymphos. Like the shape-changer from SPACE:1999, and Patsy from ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS.

  3. black13 says:

    You will now need to mention that Connery manages to recognize Blofeld with even yet another face right off the bat when they meet in Diamonds. 🙂

    And I recall that Roger Moore saw John Steed off to an equally ignoble end a few movies later. Of course, that was while Moore was also pretty much seeing the Bond franchise off to an ignoble end, but you’ll get to that…

  4. laminator_x says:

    My favorite Bond film too.

    Lazenby’s bond semed most like a real person to me. Dalton came close in this respect, but not quite. (Note, I haven’t seen the new Casino Royale yet.)

    What’s Blofeld’s big plan for revenge? Drive by shooting. No sharks with frickin laser-beams or whatever. He goes after Mr & Mrs Bond with a machinegun while their gaurd is down.

    I really look at all of Bond’s later pointless womanizing and shrugging off the deaths of his later paramord in light of never having gotten oveer Tracy.

  5. teamwak says:

    Third favourite Bond as possible contender for favourite theme tune.

    Loved the ski chase and the demise for the following skiiers too; ice plow and skiing off a cliff!

    And Diana Rigg is stunning and independant too.

    Its even got a young JoannA Lumley as one of the girls in the programme. Shes from a small fishing town called Morcambe, if I remember.

    Lazenby wasnt a bad Bond at all.

    • Todd says:

      The ski chase is great, as is the death by snow-blower. What I groan at is Bond’s kiss-off line, “He had a lot of guts.” Just once I’d like to see Bond witness a gruesome death, look appalled, shake his head and walk sadly away. That’s what he does after he kills the guy in Dr. No, and it does a lot to humanize the character. The thing that makes it worse is that more than once in Majesty, Bond mutters his funny kiss-off lines when he’s utterly alone, talking to no one but the audience. It’s just a nagging reminder that he’s trying to live up to some preconceived ideal instead of being that thinking, feeling human being we’re talking about.

      • teamwak says:

        The glib quips were now the stock in trade for Bond at this point, but they were still striving to add some humanity into the old dog. Isnt Bond upset when he sees his friend/contact hanging dead in the ice? He certainly showed his human side when Diana Rigg is shot.

  6. curt_holman says:

    “Lazenby also need to reinvent Bond as a thinking, feeling, loving human being.”

    I just saw Casino Royale (the new one) and was struck by how Daniel Craig, and the movie around him, succeed almost exactly where Lazenby/OHMSS fell short.

    The film has one of my favorite Bond scores, and I love how the teaser-trailer of The Incredibles (the one with Mr. Incredible struggling to put on his belt) uses it.

    • I was about to mention the score myself — glad someone else did.

      John Barry’s scores haven’t come up much in these threads (apart from the title songs) but they’re a crucial part of the whole Bond aesthetic. And I think he outdoes himself with this one.

    • planettom says:

      I think on the DVD commentary of OHMSS, the director makes the comment that the main reason they decided on instrumental, no singing, during the title sequence, was that they realized that no Shirley Bassey-type would be able to belt out a song with the lyrics, “On Her Majesty’s, Secret…………Service!” without sounding like Ethyl Merman.

  7. craigjclark says:

    Interestingly enough, Danny Peary actually includes this film in his book Cult Movies 3, primarly because it was such a departure for the series.

    I used to play poker with a guy who was a huge Bond nut. One night we played with this movie on in the background. Suffice to say, it failed to make much of an impression.

    • Todd says:

      I think one of the failures of Majesty is that it takes such strides toward being a departure, yet in the end wants to also be a formula Bond movie. It was competing with movies like Easy Rider — the cinematic world was moving on and James Bond didn’t know where to stand.

  8. greyaenigma says:

    Interesting. Apparently I’ve seen this one, relatively recently, although I have virtually no recollection of Lazenby himself.

    Maybe he should have tried plying Blofeld with lollipops.

    • Todd says:

      Who loves ya, Blofeld?

      • zqadams says:

        An interesting note and tie-in to another of your occasional topics. According to Wikipedia (which is not generally a valid source for research, but here quotes others), Bruce Timm patterned his version of Lex Luthor after Telly Savalas as Blofeld.

        • Todd says:

          That may be true, but Bruce Timm’s Luthor could eat Telly Savalas’s Blofeld for lunch and have room left over for Charles Gray.

  9. moroccomole says:

    Count me as another geek whose favorite Bond this is. No chemistry between Lazenby and Rigg? You really think so? Huh.

    • Todd says:

      That’s how it struck me — and apparently it was thus on the set as well. The two of them had an extremely public falling-out right after the movie’s release, which had a noticeable effect on the already uninspired box-office.

      And her makeup is awful, but I’ve noticed that the woman’s makeup in the early Bond movies tends to look awful, especially in this digital age.

      • moroccomole says:

        Perhaps, but Hollywood history is packed with couples who legendarily hated each other off-screen yet smoldered in front of the cameras. (Harrison Ford and Sean Young in Blade Runner leap to mind.)

        In fact, there was an entire episode of Friends where Chandler was dating an actress who was doing a play where she makes out with a hot guy; at first, he’s not bothered, because he figures their on-stage chemistry means they don’t like each other in real life. But later in the run, where the two get awkward each other during performances, Chandler starts to worry.

  10. A suggested line:

    “The two actors have less chemistry between them than Anakin and Padme.”

    I have to admit that I enjoy this film. It certainly has the only truly shocking end in a Bond movie.

    Roger Moore’s Bond is the only Bond I really have any gripes with. From what little I’ve been able to watch of him in the role, it just looked like women jumped into bed with him because the script told them it was time to do so. I have yet to sit through an entire Moore Bond installment.

    Oh, and the Bond movies I really dig:

    *You Only Live Twice
    *On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
    *License to Kill (which I don’t think of as a Bond movie so much as an entertaining revenge story)
    *The first half of Die Another Die
    *Casino Royale

    I haven’t seen Thunderball or Dr. No in their entirety, though.

    • Todd says:

      “The two actors have less chemistry between them than Anakin and Padme.”

      Okay, you got me: they’re freakin’ Gable and Lombard compared to Anakin and Padme.

    • craigjclark says:

      I can already tell I’m going to be one of the few Roger Moore apologists when those start rolling in. The first Bond films I saw were For Your Eyes Only (which, to my nine-year-old imagination, was the height of sophistication), Octopussy and Live and Let Die and, for better or worse, they shaped my opinion of what the character was about. Later on I caught up with The Man with the Golden Gun, and was less impressed with it, which is probably why I never caught up with either The Spy Who Loved Me or Moonraker.

      And I freely admit that the old boy was starting to look a little wheezy in A View to a Kill, but at least that one has Christopher Walken as the villain.

      • rennameeks says:

        That begs another question: are moviegoers drawn to the first actor they saw play the role? Sort of like how Kevin Smith fans tend to cite the first one of his films that they saw as their favorite.

        • All I can say is that I saw Roger Moore Bond movies on tv before I saw any other actor in the role, and I didn’t like them.

        • Todd says:

          Well, I couldn’t get past the first five minutes of Clerks, but liked Chasing Amy and Dogma quite a bit.

          • craigjclark says:

            I saw Clerks when it was first in theaters and haven’t looked back. I was even an extra for a day in Jersey Girl since he shot it in and around Philadelphia.

          • rennameeks says:

            Clerks is hard to watch on a number of levels (at least to me), though Clerks II isn’t (optimism vs. pessimism, huzzah).

            I personally saw Mallrats first, so I was more motivated to stick it out through Clerks, just by association. Brodie’s one of my favorite non-traditional anti-heroes.

        • dougo says:

          The first one I saw was Moonraker. Suffice it to say, it was all uphill from there.

      • I think you were lucky on the Moore ones. You haven’t seen the two bad-but-incredibly successful ones that really define Moore’s Bond for most people.

        I’m a big defender of the the first three you saw (and, actually, Man with the Golden Gun, but that may be cause I’ll watch Christopher Lee in anything happily), which makes it odd that I have generally negative feelings about Moore’s Bond, when I like four out of his seven films in the part – a better score than Connery, really. Never thought of it that way.

    • rennameeks says:

      Are we talking Jake Lloyd and Natalie Portman Anakin-Padme? Or Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman Anakin-Padme?

      *sadly has very limited Bond moviegoing experience and is taking all of this analysis in with great fascination*

      • Todd says:

        Are we talking Jake Lloyd and Natalie Portman Anakin-Padme? Or Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman Anakin-Padme?

        Oh good lord, take your pick, they’re both abysmal.

        I apologise for the Bond-centric nature of the current week. If it makes you happier, I have Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia on my “to watch” stack.

        • craigjclark says:

          Alfredo Garcia? Gah, I watched that once about a decade ago. I can’t imagine wanting to sit through it a second time.

          Personally, I’ve been immersing myself in Criterion’s edition of F for Fake and its attendant supplements, the most edifying of which is Orson Welles: The One-Man Band, which features clips from various unfinished projects that he worked on in the last two decades of his career. I’m also mulling over the possibility of catching The Hoax while it’s still in theaters, but first I want to see what Hot Fuzz is all about.

        • teamwak says:

          As long as you dont confuse it with Bring Me The Head Of Mavis Davis you will be fine.


          I have heard of Alfredo Garcia before as one of Pekinpah lesser known works. A review on IMDB has a great quote “And this is one of Michael Medved’s 50 worst movies of all time – what more of a recommendation do you require?”

          Let us know if its worth tracking down.

        • rennameeks says:

          I don’t mind in the least – this is saving me a lot of time in having to watch them to see which ones actually have some semblance of a plot (which I generally prefer the movies I watch to have). Besides, I like MST3k and this is a screenwriter’s non-visual version of it, in a sense. 🙂

  11. senordildo says:

    I’d place OHMSS as the absolute best of the entire series, including Casino Royale. The editing, direction, and score (the Armstrong song may not have been hip, but I can’t think of a better love song) were certainly never bettered. IIRC, Blofeld was not merely asking for a title–he wanted a full pardon first, with the title thrown in. The movie implies that snobbery proved to be his achilles’ heel.
    Telly Savalas seems to me vastly superior to Donald Pleasance’s campy, nonthreatening and sedentary Blofeld. And whereas Connery and Pleasance never really connected, I think the level of hatred between Bond and Blofeld in OHMSS helps give the movie urgency (Savalas is wonderful at sneering with contempt), and the third act stakes are enhanced by Blofeld capturing Tracy.
    The supposed feud between Lazenby and Rigg was mostly a press creation–Lazenby said that he occasionally got on Rigg’s nerves. In any case, I think there’s a certain chemistry between them, aided by the uniqueness of the love story: for the first time Bond has to prove himself to the heroine, and convince her that his feelings are genuine–the scene of Bond confronting Tracy at Draco’s birthday party beats any of the self-conscious love scenes in Casino Royale.
    As for the Blofeld/YOLT conundrum, my own preferred explanation is that OHMSS pretends that YOLT never existed, which is fine with me–by adapting YOLT first the filmmakers fouled up, since in the books YOLT is the direct sequel to OHMSS and features Bond’s final revenge upon Blofeld.

  12. ladylavinia says:

    He’s not unlikeable as Bond, but let’s face it, he’s not good enough to make us forget the man he refers to as “the other fella.”

    I can honestly say that not once do I ever think about Connery, while watching OHMSS . . . despite the references to “the other fella”. Apparently, Lazenby was good enough . . . at least in my eyes.

    Blofeld is now played by the demonstrably not-British Telly Savalas, who apparently got the part via appearing in The Dirty Dozen, the only movie of 1967 more successful than You Only Live Twice. There’s nothing wrong with Telly Savalas, but he can’t compete with the manic menace of Donald Pleasance and his British accent is as poorly articulated as his plot to destroy the world: -10 points.

    What an odd criticism to make, considering that Donald Pleasance used an obviously fake Middle European accent, while portraying Blofeld in YOLT. And Pleasance had “manic menace”? Really? Never noticed. I guess I was too busy laughing at his performance.

  13. jbacardi says:

    Armstrong was, at the time, a legend undergoing a huge, late-career boom thanks to his hit version of “Hello Dolly.”

    Armstrong hit with that song in 1964, five years before OHMSS…

    • Todd says:

      When an artist gets to be that age, five years doesn’t seem like much time.

      • jbacardi says:

        That’s true, I suppose. I used to own that 45; it was one of the very first records I ever had bought for me at the tender age of 4.

        I’ve really enjoyed reading all these Bond overviews, by the way- good show, old chap!