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007: On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
OHMSS Ultimate Edition cover
For any number of reasons, On her Majesty's secret service is an anomaly among the Bond films. The most obvious difference is the presence of George Lazenby in the role of 007. Lazenby, a model with no prior acting experience, convinced the film-makers that he was the man for role following Sean Connery's departure from the series with You only live twice. Known primarily in the UK for his 'beefcake' presence in a Fry's chocolate television advertisement, Lazenby, an Australian, suitably impressed the producers with his good looks and physical prowess during a fight sequence staged as a screen test. Another notable difference in this Bond film is the directorial debut of long-time Bond editor Peter Hunt, who willingly took on the massive task of overseeing the logistics of this epic production.
Screenwriter Richard Maibaum makes a bold departure from the established formula, sticking closely to Ian Fleming's source novel (one of his best) and downplaying the hardware and gadgetry. It was Peter Hunt's vision to bring the basics back to Bond and develop his character as well as the characters of those surrounding him. Artistically, he made the correct choice as the 007 of OHMSS is a complex, sometimes haunted, soul who finds his life revitalized through a love affair with Tracy di Vicenzo, whom he later marries. Although the audience is fully prepared for the tragic consequences of the wedding (Bond cannot continue his sleuthing with a wife in tow, a la The thin Man series), the sequence in which Tracy is murdered is a profound and devastating moment. In essence, the Bond films fully matured with this movie, even if future entries would return to the reliable formula of gadgetry and spectacle.
Although OHMSS was routinely dismissed by critics who cited Lazenby as a brave but disappointing successor to Connery, the intervening years has been notably kinder to both the films and its star. Indeed, due in no small part to Peter Hunts inspired direction, OHMSS generally ranks among the top films with the fans. Likewise, Lazenby has emerged as a very popular contributor to the series and has enjoyed large enthusiastic related events. In summary, OHMSS is a brilliant thriller in its own right and justifiably ranks among the best Bond films ever made, but the films terrible grossing and poor choice of actors has reduced our rating of the film to 2 stars.
Mission Assignment (may contain spoilers)
In the course of his obsessive mission to locate Blofeld, James Bond rescues the beautiful but bored Countess Tracy di Vicenzo from suicide. Agent 007 later learns that she is the rebellious daughter of Marc Ange Draco, the most powerful organised-crime kingpin in Europe. Draco makes Bond a proposition: if 007 marries his wayward daughter and tames her wild ways, Draco will use the enormous resources of his organisation to locate Blofeld. Bond declines to marry Tracy but does agree to date her. Eventually, a genuine romance blossoms.
Bond learns that Blofeld has a massive head quarters called Piz Gloria located in the Swiss Alps. Posing as Sir Hilary Bray, a representative of the College of Arms in London, Bond arrives at Piz Gloria ostensibly to trace Blofeld's family tree. Agent 007 is exposed and captured by Blofeld, who informs him he intends to hold the United Nations to ransom under threat of biological warfare. Blofeld has sent numerous beautiful women throughout the world, all of them hypnotized to unleash deadly germs upon receiving his command. Bond, assisted by the daring Tracy, makes a dramatic escape but his lover is captured by Blofeld. Bond and Draco lead a massive raid on Piz Gloria during which they succeed in rescuing Tracy and thwarting Blofeld's scheme. After a hand-to-hand battle aboard a racing bobsled, Bond presumes his enemy has been killed.
Agent 007 and Tracy marry and set off on a much-deserved honeymoon, as the debate the number of children they will have. Suddenly, tragedy strikes when Blofeld and his henchwoman Irma Bunt speed by and spray the couple's car with machine gun fire, mortally wounding Tracy. A heartbroken Bond is left to cradle in his arms the only woman he has ever truly loved.
Marketing & Merchandising
Before production had been completed on On Her Majesty's Secret Service, George Lazenby stunned the producers by announcing that this would be his one and only Bond film. Influenced by bad advice from radicals who convinced him that 007 would never survive into the 1970s, Lazenby gambled that playing Bond just once would ensure a future as a leading man. Ignoring Cubby Broccoli's warning that he needed to establish a track record first, he refused to sign a multi-picture deal, leaving the producers to promote OHMSS with a 'one-shot' star. This was a nightmare to the marketing departments, who opted to emphasize the character of James Bond at the expense of Lazenby the actor.
Consequently, the American teaser poster omitted Lazenby's face and replaced it with a silhouette. His name was also moved below the titles, with 'James Bond 007' receiving the star billing. Lazenby did appear on the magnificent regular release cinema poster, which was beautifully designed by Frank McCarthy and Robert McGinnis. Three featurettes were also produced showing the behind-the-scenes production of the movie: Shot on Ice covered the car chase in the stock-car race, Above it All showed cameraman johnny Jordan's daring methods of filming the ski sequence whilst suspended from a harness beneath a helicopter and Swiss Movement concentrated on interviews with the cast.
The fallout from Lazenby debacle seemed to affect the merchandising, as few colectables were produced beyond the standard soundtrack album and film edition of the book. For this reason, OHMSS tie-ins are highly treasured by collectors and command big money on the fan circuit. Among the more interesting items to be produced was a line of vehicles from Corgi Toys, which included Tracy's Cougar, Campbell's Volkswagon, two bobsleds (one bearing Blofeld's piz Gloria emblem, the other featuring a '007' logo) and two gift sets which today are among the rarest of all collectables. Rumour has it that a replica of Tracy's wedding ring bearing the words 'We Have All the Time in the World' was reproduced by Arts Galore of London. To this day, no one can vertify if the product was actually made, as one has yet to appear on the internation collectors' market (Its value would be such that it could be exchanged for the real edding ring.)
Location filming was truly international in scope, with sequences shot in London, Switzerland and Portugal. Most striking, of course, are the scenes shot in the Swiss Alps in and around the small villages of Murren and Lauterbrunnen. The Schilthorn mountain played host to Blofeld's Piz Gloria. In reality, his lair was an uncompleted restaurant situated at its peak. The producers, having been frustrated in their search for a suitable location, were jubilant at the picture-perfect setting of the restaurant. They immediately offered to furnish the interior and also to build a permanent helipad as part of the deal. Today, in the commemoration of the film, the restaurant (which is accessible only by cable car) bears the name Piz Gloria abd remains one of Switzerland's most exotic tourist attractions.
Director: Peter R Hunt
Writers: Simon Raven, Richard Maibaum, Ian Fleming
Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas
Genre: Action, Adventure, Romance, Thriller
Release date: 18 December 1969 UK
Film number: 06
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George Lazenby - James Bond
Diana Rigg - Tracy Di Vicenzo
Angela Scoular - Ruby Bartlett
Telly Savalas - Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Ilse Steppat - Irma Bunt
Yuri Borienko - Grunther
Gabriele Ferzetti - Marc Ange Draco
Bernard Horsfall - Campbell
George Baker - Sir Hilary Bray
Bernard Lee - M
Lois Maxwell - Miss Moneypenny
Desmond Llewelyn - Q
Top Secret dossiers
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Vehicle article
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Gadget article
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Music article
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Character article
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Trailer
On Her Majesty's Secret Service Opening titles
Revealing mistakes: Mat visible beneath false floor in fight scene.
Continuity: At the beginning when Bond drives out on the beach, a ship can be seen in the distance against the raising sun. During the fight,the sky is stormy and the ship is no longer visible.
Continuity: Bond's tie can be seen changing positions while in mid conversation in the scene where Draco and Tracy drop him off in front of Gumbold's office building. Bond's neck tie can be see tucked inside his coat, then dangling in the next shot, then tucked back inside his coat.
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The Box Office
One of the great injustices conerning On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the widely held belief that the film was a box-office failure. In fact, with over $65 million grossed worldwide it was a considerable hit for a film budgeted at $7 million. What is true is that OHMSS performed weakly in relation to the previous Bond films. Mixed critical reaction was partly responsible, but another factor was the film's running time of two hours and twenty minutes, which reduced the number of daily showings in cinemas. The US market proved to be particularly soft and the film's status was further hampered by many cinemas pairing it with another film. However, the enthusiasm pf fans for OHMSS has been amply demonstrated by the film's ultimate success in the home video market.
Date Published: 16 October 2010 Last Updated: 14 June 2011