Bondathon #6: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Posted: March 20, 2016 in Movie Review
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On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Director: Peter Hunt

Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Ilse Steppat

Those who consider James Bond to be an emotionless character have clearly never seen “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Though still an action-packed spy thriller where seemingly everyone is trying to kill 007 with each step that he takes, the sixth Bond film is at its core a deeply personal, passionate story. Bond has found himself in tight spots before, but this is the first time we’ve seen his vulnerable side. The women he encountered were all lovely, some even quite capable of holding their own. Bond rarely if ever had a problem getting them into bed, even the ones who turned out to be evil. But they’d always merely been a part of his mission. None of them had ever actually won his heart. It is this angle that makes “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” no less than the most well-written and most compelling James Bond film of all.

On a beach in Portugal, James Bond (George Lazenby) notices a woman appearing to be in the act of committing suicide by drowning. Feeling a sense of obligation, Bond puts a stop to it just in time. Later, the two meet again at a casino. The woman is in the middle of a baccarat game for which she is losing money. For the second time, Bond comes to her rescue. She repays Bond for his good deeds both in the figurative sense by inviting him to her hotel room for the night, and in the literal sense by leaving him the money she owed him from the card game.

Kidnapped the next morning and brought face-to-face with Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), the head of Unione Corse… the world’s 2nd most prominent crime syndicate behind that of SPECTRE… Bond is informed that the woman he saved is Draco’s daughter, Tracy (Diana Rigg). Draco explains that Tracy has led a troubled life, including a dead mother and an adulterous husband who died in an auto accident while riding with his mistress. Draco believes that Bond’s act of heroism has not only turned his daughter’s life around for the better, but that Bond is the sort of man who should be Tracy’s husband. Draco even offers monetary payment if Bond agrees to marry her, but Bond refuses to even entertain the idea unless Draco shares all information he has on the whereabouts of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), SPECTRE’s leader who has eluded MI6 for the past two years.

At the moment, Bond’s #1 obsession is still finding and capturing Blofeld, so much so that he’s willing to resign from MI6 just to be able to go after the bastard… orders be damned. He gets a couple of weeks of vacation time, instead. He uses them wisely, first attending Draco’s birthday party, where Tracy insists under threat of disowning her father that Bond be given the information he wants. Tracy has experienced enough deception in her life to sense when she’s a pawn in someone else’s game. With that, she bolts from the party, wanting very much to avoid being hurt again. Bond immediately gives chase. What Tracy hadn’t counted on was that Bond’s feelings for her were genuine. From there, the two begin a romantic relationship.

Blofeld’s trail leads Bond to Switzerland, where the criminal mastermind is currently posing as Count Balthazar de Bleuchamp, corresponding with genealogist Sir Hilary Bray to back up his claim on the title. Under the guise of Bray, Bond goes to meet Blofeld at his base in the Swiss Alps. What Bond finds initially appears to be a clinic developing a cure for all allergies. Twelve female patients there seem to show signs that said cure is working. But this is Blofeld we’re talking about, so of course it’s all a ruse. Blofeld’s real goal is to wage germ warfare upon the world. Perhaps because Bond simply cannot help himself, he sleeps with several of the women, sneaking into their rooms when Blofeld’s henchwoman Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) isn’t watching them like a hawk. Bunt eventually catches him in the act. Between that and a slip-up in conversation with Blofeld, the jig is up and Bond’s true identity is revealed.

The first of several chase sequences ensues. Escaping his would-be captors, Bond skis down the mountainside before arriving in Lauterbrunnen. It is there that Tracy finds him, having pressed her father for Bond’s whereabouts. Blofeld’s agents, led by Bunt, shoot at them and engage them in a car chase which ends up disrupting a local auto race. Retreating to a secluded barn, Bond asks Tracy to marry him, which she accepts. The next morning the chase resumes for the third time, once again on skis, this time with Blofeld as part of the attacking force. He creats an avalanche which eventually catches up to and traps both Tracy and Bond. When Bond emerges and escapes, he does so to find that Tracy has been taken captive.

Back in London, Blofeld’s demands have been read, understood, and are close to being followed. He means to destroy the world’s agriculture if he’s not given a full pardon for all past crimes and legitimately recognized as the Count de Bleuchamp. Meanwhile, Bond’s priorities have changed. Yes, he still wants to bring Blofeld down, but now it’s become more of a personal matter of saving the woman he loves from a position of mortal danger. Because M (Bernard Lee) has forbidden him from attempting anything resembling a rescue operation, Bond appeals to Tracy’s father, who gladly offers up several of his men, three armed helicopters, and his own services. Together, they destroy Blofeld’s facility and rescue Tracy. Blofeld himself escapes, but Bond engages him in a bobsled chase. It ends with Blofeld caught up in a tree branch, his neck severely injured.

The happiest day of Bond’s life has arrived. He and Tracy get married, to the delight of all who are closest to them. A short time after while driving away, Bond briefly stops the car to remove the flowers from the hood of the Aston Martin. As Mr. and Mrs. Bond speak of their love for one another, their desire for children, and thankfulness that they’ve found each other, a general uneasiness settles in for the audience. That’s your gut telling you that, if something looks too good to be true, it usually is. Another car passes by, driven by Irma Bunt and Blofeld. Bunt aims a machine gun at the Aston Martin and fires. One bullet passes through the front windshield and strikes Tracy in the forehead, killing her instantly. His beautiful day turned into a nightmarish hell, Bond weeps openly over Tracy’s body.

No matter how many times I’ve watched “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the ending always rips out my still-beating heart. It leaves me shaken AND stirred. I become so invested in the progression of the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Bond that it makes it all the more devastating when it is snuffed out so tragically. But it’s the only way that the story can end, for Tracy was set up as a tragic figure from the moment we (and Bond) first laid eyes on her. It’s arguably the most pivotal moment in the entire franchise. The effects of Tracy’s death, though her name will never be spoken aloud again, will be felt for years to come and it will forever be a touchy subject for Bond.

George Lazenby catches a lot of hell for his performance as James Bond, in particular from fans of Sean Connery. That is Lazenby’s only flaw: the fact that he isn’t Connery. But what Lazenby’s detractors seem to forget is that Connery had been burned out enough by the time of “You Only Live Twice” that his own performance wasn’t up to snuff. Anyone who wishes for it is asking for the Connery of “From Russia With Love” or “Goldfinger,” not the one who’d played the part enough times to get tired of it. You don’t want a disinterested party headlining this movie, or it wouldn’t be nearly as wonderful as it is.

With all due respect to Lazenby, he’s not the reason to watch this movie. Diana Rigg (who was gifted with the sexiest voice in the history of mankind) is more than just the best of all the Bond girls. She’s the only one of Bond’s female counterparts to completely and utterly outclass him. Every single frame she appears in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” she commands your absolute and total attention. After not long at all, it’s easy to understand what Bond sees in Tracy. Nearly fifty years later, watching Diana Rigg’s guest appearances on “Game of Thrones,” I note that her performance has lost none of that same no-nonsense spirit that made her so enjoyable in this movie. Because of Rigg, even though I know what’s coming, I still hope against hope that this time the newlyweds will ride off to begin the rest of their lives together. Love is inherently risky, and only those who play it safe will ‘survive.’ We think we have all the time in the world… until we don’t. James Bond understands that as well as anyone.

 

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Your review has been handled with great care! This one is the hardest to critique and sum up, but you did it very well. It is my favorite largely because of Diana Rigg. You are exactly right when you say that she outclassed Bond and simply owns the film. When I think of this movie, it is her performance which I really remember. I am guilty of the same wish at the end of the film, even though I know how it will always end.

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