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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Action > Thriller > James Bond > On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Special Edition DVD-Video)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (First MGM DVD-Video Version)


Picture: B+     Sound: B-     Extras: B+     Film: A-



If Sean Connery had played Bond in this sixth official installment of the James Bond franchise as produced by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman – (this excludes Barry Nelson’s 1954 turn as Bond in Casino Royale which aired on American television, and Woody Allen’s 1967 spoof of the same title) -- undoubtedly this would have been the best Bond ever made, period.  (Certainly, a memorable Bond moment was lost when Lazenby and not Connery was chosen to impersonate Sir Hilary Bray by dawning a Scottish kilt!)  But what is even more interesting is that this was almost the case after Thunderball (1965), due to winter scheduling conflicts however, Connery went on to shoot the mediocre You Only Live Twice (1967).  This is not to say that George Lazenby, the Australian model turned actor who was discovered by way of a “Big Fry” commercial does a bad job as Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).  In fact, his subtle blend of rugged charm, cockiness, and brutality signify a Bond unlike any other and all but make up for his minor deficits in other areas.  It is even likely that if he had blue eyes, the facial scar, and had arranged his hair to fall in that peculiar black comma as specified by Ian Fleming in the novels, he most probably would have been exactly what Fleming had in mind.  (Though it turns out, ironically, that George Baker, the actor who plays Hilary Bray, was Fleming’s actual suggestion in the franchise’s infancy.)  Instead of Connery or Baker, we get a Lazenby who relies more on the previous films and Connery’s persona than the novels for his own interpretation of Bond.


In this not-surprisingly packed DVD we find out in “Inside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, an intriguing behind-the-scenes documentary, that Lazenby decided to have his hair arranged exactly like Connery’s. . .by Connery’s very own barber!  This is just one of many nods to “the other fellow” that emerges throughout shooting this film – and it is simultaneously this particular production’s biggest strength. . .and, perhaps, its biggest weakness.  It is admirable that they did not totally dismiss Connery’s invaluable contribution to the series --especially since he would return two years later in Diamonds are Forever (1971), but from a Maurice Binder Title Sequence that references all of Connery’s former missions to an office scene where Lazenby reminisces over gadgets from previous films, accompanied by the appropriate musical cues, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS henceforth, as fans refer to it) may have had one homage too many.  It is unfortunate that even today only a Bond aficionado can actually name him, while the casual dilettante, on the other hand, hasn’t even heard of him – or thinks that he was an experimental Bond that even pre-dated Connery.


But amateurs aside, a true Bond fan will note that while Lazenby’s performance is awkward in some parts -- mainly where he is required to be debonair, this is almost to be expected; Pierce Brosnan suffered from a similar awkwardness at certain moments in Goldeneye (1995), and Timothy Dalton never quite got it right.  Only Connery – and to a lesser degree Roger Moore – ever pulled off flawless performances their first time out in Dr. No (1962) and Live and Let Die (1973), respectively.  But Lazenby’s own contradictory cocksureness and self-effacing insight into his own naiveté on his first outing in subsequent interviews featured on this disc is telling.  Barbara Broccoli’s recollection of a perturbed Lazenby sulking because he was not invited to an on-set party fascinatingly reveals not only how playing Bond was already beginning to affect Lazenby’s personality, but also the strong leadership of Cubby Broccoli, who promptly rebukes his “star” for such self-absorbed behavior.


Still, Lazenby’s unique, swashbuckling swagger is firmly established in the Pre-Title Sequence where his Bond is first introduced merely as a dimpled-chin cigarette smoker, immaculately tailored in a tuxedo, bowler, and shades before bolting from his Jaguar-like Aston Martin to go fisticuffs with a pair of armed bodyguards and rescue Diana Rigg’s Teresa Di Vicenzo, or Tracy, from a suicide attempt.  Ironically, though director Peter Hunt began his career with the Bond franchise as an editor on Dr. No before landing the coveted director’s chair, Hunt, I think, missteps by allowing editor John Glen to cut an opening fight scene which is choppy, and obviously achieved by shooting at a lesser frame rate before projecting the film back at regular speed.  Though this is the effect he went for, it might seem a bit primitive and jarring for an audience of today. Eliminating frames has proven to be a much more effective way to edit fight sequences, as one can observe when comparing the battle scenes of Mel Gibson’s ambitious Braveheart (1995) to Tony Scott‘s vainglorious Gladiator (2000).  Even Peter Jackson’s brilliant Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) suffers from this choppy editing style in the scene at Edoras where Viggo Mortenson’s Aragorn admits to Eowyn that she has “some skill with a blade”.  (But then again, Carrie Thiel, the combat choreographer there only had one day to prepare Miranda Otto for that sequence.)


Still, what Hunt manages to accomplish in this film through his stunt arranger George Leech in terms of action is extraordinary.  Shot with real Panavision scope lenses, the anamorphically enhances picture restored on this disc is very good, but not great; and the same could be said about the sound.  Yet, when combined with John Barry’s pulsating theme (now on CD from the original masters and with bonus tracks from Capitol Records), OHMSS is still a genuine thrill as Lazenby lashes, thrashes, and crashes his way from Portugal to the Swiss Alps in a barrage of exceptional action spectacles.  From a slugfest with Draco’s (Gabriele Ferzetti) henchmen; to a highwire dangle courtesy of stuntman Richard Graydon that redefines the cliffhanger; to a riveting ski-chase that is only occasionally disrupted by the conventional and cheesy rear-projection that is used for close ups, this film distinguishes itself as an action classic.  Even Diana Rigg gets in on the action in a broken bottle standoff with Telly Savalas’ Blofeld during the film’s climax!  No doubt OHMSS also features some of the best 2nd unit action of the series, thanks to the photography of Egil Woxholt & Roy Ford and John Glen, who also edited the film, nearly eclipsing the subsequent ski and snow sequences of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), For Your Eyes Only (1981), and The Living Daylights (1987) – but, of course, the latter two were directed by John Glen; thus, making it a bit difficult to eclipse yourself.   But hands-down, Willy Bogner, Jr. and Alex Barbey’s ski sequence and bobsled chase in the middle act mounts to some of the best stunt action realistically, as opposed to formalistically, recorded on celluloid acetate.


That anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 frame does manage to still hold up considering this DVD was originally issued in 2000, coming from a print that captures much of the dye-transfer three-strip Technicolor print.  This has softness and other problems by simply not being a High Definition transfer; this beats the first letterboxed edition from the old 12” LaserDisc.  Ted Moore, B.S.C., took a break from the series as well, leaving the cinematography to fellow B.S.C. member Michael Reed.  As for the sound trouble, the film was issued in optical monophonic sound theatrically, instead of a potential multi-channel remix from with those stereo music masters; we have this sometimes harsh Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono.  This was not much of an improvement over the old PCM CD 2.0 Mono on that LaserDisc, but there is a misperception this film was stereophonic on VHS.  What happened was that when MGM/UA reissued all the Bond films on VHS, OHMSS was monophonic, but had a Dolby Surround logo on their boxes.  That was a big error.


MGM must be congratulated for taking the time to pack a 20-part series with so many extras; and for working closely with the Ian Fleming Foundation to ensure that that the goods, were in fact – good.  As far as features go, while I must admit that I have been impressed with the extras on all of the Bond DVD’s without exception, the features on this disc are worth noting further.  While the “Above It All” Featurette is an appreciated nod to the unsung heroes of the 2nd unit like daredevil-aerial cameraman John Jordan, as the last documentary cited on the back of the packaging it is still no more than a tantalizing appetizer that while whetting the cineaste’s appetite, should not be saved for last.  Likewise, “Inside Q’s Laboratory” is a rather odd choice for this DVD’s special features since the film’s content per Hunt’s own insistence -- in counter-cultural Bond tradition -- is rather scant of gadgets . . .with the exception of the automatic safe-cracking device that Bond employs while reading a Playboy magazine.  (Perhaps a nod to the fact that it was in Playboy where Fleming’s novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had first been serialized, but the Bond producers, heirs and Hugh Hefner's landmark magazine have had a great relationship early on.)  The chipper Peter Hunt is delightful to listen to in his commentary as he expounds on his own “cunningness” in some very telling directorial choices: for instance, having Lazenby play Hilary Bray first, as opposed to Bond, to get comfortable with the character and the crew; in insisting on having the climactic avalanche even when “Cubby” and the Swiss army seemed resistant to the idea; and on his own ability to make certain that the scene with Bond’s marriage proposal to Tracy would not only be romantic, but also. . . have a sense of humor.  According to the commentary Hunt seems all too pleased with himself here and other places throughout the film – even pointing out his own cameo appearance as a reflection in the Universal Exports sign which opens the film in what is articulated on the third audio track as a rather literal nod to auteurism, or the idea that a film actually “reflects” its director’s personality. 


All in all, this is the Bond series at its most daring.  Risky stunts, risky casting, and a risky plot that sticks very close to a novel where the unthinkable happens: Bond gets married.  Veteran Bond screenwriter, Richard Maibaum must be given credit for not attempting to lighten the novel’s dark and unsettling ending, marking this film, perhaps right beside From Russia with Love (1963), For Your Eyes Only (1981), and License to Kill (1989) as offering both a Bond and a dramatic premise with the most psychological complexity and depth of the series.  I must wonder why Hunt never took the helm of another Bond film after so skillfully navigating Lazenby’s debut outing.  It would be interesting to note what this Bond film might have looked like in the hands of Connery and say Terence Young, or even John Glen, for that matter.


In terms of narrative, OHMSS offers a somewhat non-traditional plot.  Though after 20 films, we have now seen Bond left to his own devices by two other means -- having his license to kill revoked in License to Kill and being disavowed in Die Another Day (2002) – here Bond quits MI6 partially due to his frustration with a mission called Operation: Bedlam, whose chief objective is to apprehend or destroy the most memorable and spoofed Bond villain of all time, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  Blofeld is the mastermind behind the infamous criminal organization SPECTRE; and, in an interesting attempt at continuity that is common in the novels but rare in the films, M removes Bond from the mission because of Bond’s previous failures at apprehending him, subtly referencing, of course, From Russia with Love, Thunderball (1964), and, most recently, You Only Live Twice (1967), where Blofeld’s face is shown for the first time as played by Donald Pleasence.


On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the most interesting Bond films because of how much the drama derives from character and not plot device.  Bond is obsessed with Blofeld and dictates his resignation when M refuses “Her Majesty’s” support, but when Lois Maxwell’s adoring and adorable Miss Moneypenny changes the resignation for a two week leave of absence without Bond knowing, it is difficult to know who is more grateful, M or Bond.  Though M’s “thank you” to Miss Moneypenny after Bond has left is a welcomed gesture of warmth and affection from M for both Moneypenny and Bond that is rarely displayed in the late Bernard Lee’s distinguished but gruff and stern characterization. What follows, however, is an enduring confrontation between Bond and Blofeld at the Piz Gloria, Blofeld’s remote hideaway in the Swiss Alps where he has been secretly brainwashing a throng of exotic beauties to be prepared to spread a worldwide virus if he is not granted international amnesty by the West and allowed to claim his newfound title of Comte de Bleuchamp.  But the real spine of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is not Blofeld’s scheme, but the relationship of Bond and Tracy – where Bond is actually matched up not only with an equal, but a troubled three-dimensional character with a pension for action, one night stands, and psychological baggage that rivals that of even Bond himself.  Of all the attempts to match Bond with a female equal – Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and the laughable and degrading characterization of Halle Berry’s Jinx in Die Another Day, this matchup is the most compelling and the most satisfying.  Perhaps this timeless pairing results from the fact that after Connery’s resignation while filming You Only Live Twice, the filmmakers returned to the source of the Bond series’ success -- the Fleming novels -- and not box-office appeal when they conjured this film that falls just short of masterpiece.  Next to From Russia with Love, Thunderball -- and Dr. No to a lesser degree -- this is the most faithful film to what Fleming actually wrote down.  When you stack this along side an excellent Bond girl, a classic villain, a classic theme –“We Have All the Time in the World”, the late Louis Armstrong’s last recording – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service plays even 30 years later as a fascinating disc that is impossible to ignore.  In fact, it could be stated that one cannot truly know Bond or the Bond series without knowing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.



Since this review, a new upgraded version has been issued with usually better sound and picture, which you can read more about at:






- Gregory Allen



Gregory Allen -- filmmaker, scholar, and critic -- is an assistant Professor in the Cinema and Digital Arts Department at Point Park University, and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh.  He also oversees the student film production organization The Sprocket Guild www.sprocketguild.org and can be contacted at info@sprocketguild.org.


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