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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Retro Review: Something’s Different

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BY October 11, 2020
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Now we’ve come to the sixth movie in the James Bond series. It’s also the one that’s provoked the most anxiety so far. However, we’ll discuss that and more in this Retro Review of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. If you haven’t been here before, then all you need to know is that a Retro Review is what it sounds like. It’s a review of something–a book, a movie, a game, etc.–that’s not fresh out of the package. Right now, for example, I’m watching the James Bond series, with which I had little familiarity beyond the most common cultural touchstones.

And if you are new to this series, then start at the beginning with Dr. No.

This Movie Is a Departure in Some Ways

By this point in the series, Sean Connery was done with Bond. He’d already begun chafing against the whole experience. The marketing, which declared that “Sean Connery IS James Bond,” didn’t help. Connery was also feuding with Bond producer Albert Broccoli. Understandably then, he wanted to exit, divorcing himself from the character and exploring new opportunities.

secret service retro review image via Eon Productions and United Artists

Broccoli and director Peter R. Hunt cast Australian George Lazenby after they saw him in a chocolate bar ad. It would be Lazenby’s only outing as Bond; he passed on signing a multi-film contract. Apparently, he didn’t like the controlling environment of the Bond set. Besides, he wanted to make more modern movies. The 1970s would go on to become one of the most influential decades for film, and Lazenby sounds like he had his finger on the pulse. But is he in touch with Bond? Well, we’ll get to that.

On Her Majesty’s Plot Summary

This movie is also a departure because it’s one of the few in the Bond series to hew closely to the original novel. That’s hardly a selling point to me, though. I haven’t read any of them, but I’ve read examples to know that they’re packed with the “isms”–racism, sexism, and homophobia…ism. The Bond of the film series isn’t the most progressive fellow, but the Bond of the books? Whew, Lord. He’s comparing non-white characters to primates and deciding that suffrage screwed up ladies’ hormones.

So, yikes. As for this story’s plot, it finds Bond facing off against Blofeld (Telly Savalas) once more. Yes, he just did that. He’s doing it again. This time, Blofeld plans to attack the world’s food supply. He’s holed up in the Swiss Alps, orchestrating this complicated mission. It involves a dozen women, a rainbow coalition that Blofeld refers to as his “Angels of Death.” His other minions are brainwashing the women to carry out bacteriological warfare. Neat.

secret service retro review image via Eon Productions and United Artists

We get into the tainted meat of the plot, though, only after at least an hour and such of the other plot. In this other story, Bond makes time with Countess Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg). At first, he’s only making nice so her father, crime boss Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), will help him find Blofeld. But then he falls for her. That doesn’t stop him from banging at least two of the Angels of Death, though. (He’s smitten, not dead.)

Bondology: A Bond Film Without Bond Standards

In this section, I usually talk about the fun stuff of the movie. You know, things like Q’s magical gadgets and the screaming theme song. Well, this section is going to be shorter than usual, because this movie has none of it.

Now sure, some Bond purists out there are furiously tapping away at their keyboards, dusting off old Disqus accounts just so they can yell, “What about the radioactive lint?” Yeah, what about the radioactive lint? Can you really say that irradiated fluff got you as excited as, say, the DB5’s ejector seat? I didn’t think so.

Apparently director Hunt didn’t like all the gadgetry of the previous movies, so that’s why there’s less emphasis on them here. Boo this man.

In addition, there’s no pop star belting the theme song. That’s mainly for the relatable reason that they couldn’t think of a way to work the phrase “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” into a song. There is a theme song, but it’s an instrumental. I also understand that a lot of Bond fans place the film’s score as a whole as the best (or one of the best) of all time. I haven’t seen all of the movies yet, obviously, so I hesitate to place them. (This is me, obscuring the fact that I actually have no memory of the score. I’m sure it was fine?)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Retro Review

Alright, I’ve tap-danced long enough. Now is the time to reveal the hard truth. For this Secret Service Retro Review, I will start with a neutral observation. This film made its debut in 1969 and as such, it’s a lot flashier in some ways than previous outings. And by that, I’m referring to the wardrobe. Sure, Lazenby’s Bond is still soigné, sporting duds straight from Saville Row–he’s not a farmer. But this Bond also experiments with fashion in a way we haven’t seen since he dazzled us with his thighs in Goldfinger.

secret service retro review image via Eon Productions and United Artists

To wit, he wears one suit with a ruffle-front shirt that is clearly an inspiration for Austin Powers. This Bond may be about to settle down, but he’s still groovy, baby.

Okay, I’m still tap-dancing. I mentioned my anxiety over this film and that was mainly because I was nervous about seeing someone else as Bond. Unfortunately, what I feared the most met me halfway. That’s because the actual hard truth is that this is the first Bond movie I have not enjoyed. I’ve mentioned in the past that some Bond films were slow to start or overlong. This, however, is the first one that felt like a chore to watch. It felt interminable. There is some interesting action once they get to Piz Gloria, the Swiss Alps location, but, again, that only comes after the sedate majority of the film.

In addition, while George Lazenby seems like a kind man, I never warmed to him as Bond. It always felt like I was watching one of those countless Bond parodies, instead of the real thing. This was Lazenby’s first major role and he does his best, but he has big shoes to fill. And for me, it just wasn’t there. Finally, while Diana Rigg was unsurprisingly good, I didn’t buy the relationship between her Tracy and James. Maybe Q could’ve spent less time on the lint and injected some chemistry there.

But of course, your mileage may vary. What did you think of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Tell us your thoughts in the comments or on our socials.

featured image via Eon Productions and United Artists

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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