Starring George Lazenby as James Bond, Diana Rigg as Countess Tracy di Vicenzo, Telly Savalas as Ernst Blofeld, Gabriele Ferzetti as Marc-Ange Draco and Ilse Steppat as Irma Bunt
Directed by Peter R. Hunt, produced by Eon Productions and released by United Artists.
In 1969 Richard M. Nixon was President of the United States, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister of England, Mao Zedong was The Chairman of the Communist Party Of China and Leonid Brezhnev was the General Secretary Of The Central Committee. Ho Chi Minh, leader of North Vietnam passed away. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin were the first humans to set foot on the Moon. In January the Beatles give their last live performance playing on the rooftop of the Apple office, in September John Lennon announces he was leaving the band. And on December 18th, 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service made its theatrical debut.
While in Portugal Bond sees a woman on a beach trying to commit suicide. After he saves her he is attacked by a group of men while she drives away. Later that night while playing Baccarat Bond sees the same woman, she loses a hand and can’t pay off the wager so Bond covers her. She invites him back to her room, to settle the debt, however when he arrives he is attacked but manages to defeat the thug. Upon returning to his room he finds the mysterious woman waiting for him. When he wakes up the next day she is gone so he heads out for a game of golf but is greeted by a group of armed men including the thug from the night before, and is forced into a car.
Bond is driven to the home of Marc-Ange Draco, the head of the Union Course, a European mafia. It turns out the mysterious woman, Countess Tracy di Vicenzo, is his daughter. Draco thinks that all she needs is the love of a good man like Bond and offers the agent a million Pounds get married. Bond turns him down but as a reward for saving Tracy 007 asks for help in tracking Blofeld.
Bond returns to London only to find that M has ordered him off the Blofeld case, James is so angered that he tries to resign from the Service but instead is given a two week vacation. He is invited to Draco’s for a birthday party where the mobster gives him information that Blofeld has been meeting with a Swiss lawyer, Gumbold. Bond breaks into the office and discovers that Blofeld is calling himself Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp and is trying to prove a link to the Bleuchamp heritage. Bond figures he can get close to Blofeld by pretending to be a researcher for the London College Of Arms.
Disguised as Sir Hilary Bray, Bond travels to Blofeld’s medical research center, Piz Gloria, high in the Swiss Alps. The clinic is supposed to be curing people’s allergies but in truth Blofeld is using it to brainwash women from all over the world. Bond soon gets involved with several of the patients while pretending to be investigating Blofeld’s family claims. Meanwhile his assistant tries to gain access to the mountain top but is captured by Blofeld’s guards. The assistant is tortured and killed.
One night when Bond sneaks into the room of a patient he discovers Imra Blunt, Blofeld’s Femme Fatale. They knock Bond over the head and when he comes to he finds himself in Blofeld’s office where the two confess they know of each other. Blofeld tells Bond his plan to send biological agents home with the women, dubbed the 12 Angels of Death, and once they release it the disease will wipe out one species in each country. Blofield will demand a ransom from the world and unless they are met he will expose a random nation to his biological warfare.
Bond is locked in the tram control room but he manages to escape through the cable opening. He overhears how Blofield will command the women to release the biological toxins and then he grabs a pair of skis. Blofield’s agents spot him and chase him down the mountain. He manages to get to a nearby village where he runs into Tracy and they drive off in her car, with Blofield’s henchmen in close pursuit. They manage to escape but get caught in a blizzard and have to spend the night in a barn.
The next morning Blofield’s henchmen catch up with Bond but he and Tracy have escaped on skis. Another downhill chase ensues and Blofeld causes an avalanche. He captures Tracy and thinks Bond is buried alive, but Bond escapes and makes his way back to London. When Bond asks to launch a rescue mission M denies it and tells James that the U.N. has decided to give into the villains demands.
Bond decides to go on his own and contacts Draco for help. They assemble a strike team and attack Blofeld’s institute. After a fight Bond manages to get the names of the Angels of Death and blows up the main communication center. Draco rescues Tracy but leaves Bond behind. Bond follows Blofeld to a bobsled run and a chase ensues. Blofeld and Bond end up on a sled and just when the villain is about to win he hits an overhanging tree branch. Bond continues down the hill until he crashes.
The movie then goes to the marriage of James and Tracy. As they drive away on their honeymoon a group of people start honking at them so they decide to pull over and remove the flowers from the car. While Bond is cleaning the car Blofeld and Blunt drive by and open fire, they miss Bond but kill Tracy. As the film ends he is holding her saying they have all the time in the world.
About The Film
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the sixth Bond film and is based upon the tenth novel. The producers wanted it to be the fourth film but they had trouble securing shooting permits in Switzerland and then a warm winter delayed the production. Also the lawsuit over Thunderball had ended so Eon decided to go into production on that film instead. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was released 4 years later than planned.
The novel On Her Majesty’s Secrete Service was part one of a three part story line. Although they had already filmed You Only Live Twice (part two) they stuck to the plot of the book. One of the key problems was that Bond had met Blofeld at his lair in the previous movie but now they didn’t recognize each other. The writers wanted Blofeld to have had extensive facial reconstructive surgery in the storyline but it was left out. No explanation is given why the two fail to know each other.
Since the movie Goldfinger the theme songs had contained lyrics incorporating the films title but the producers found it difficult to come up with a song featuring the lyrics On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so they chose to go with an instrumental version. The song relies on the Moog system, an early version of synthesizers.
The movie does contain a lyrical song, We Have All The Time In The World, the love song for James and Tracy. The song was written by John Barry and the producers hired Louis Armstrong to perform it and it turned out to be his last recorded song.
James Bond as played by George Lazenby. Sean Connery had played Bond in the first 5 films but he had grown tired of the roll, plus he began to have major clashes with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the head producers of the Bond series. Despite being offered a million dollars to reprise the roll Connery passed. The producers had to recast the roll.
After a long search they decided to go with an unknown, George Lazenby. They considered a story line having Bond undergo facial reconstructive surgery but felt that they would stick to the new actor just being Bond. There was a worry that fans might not like a new actor in the roll but the film turned a profit.
George Lazenby had been a model and was invited to try out for the roll by Cubby Broccoli, the head of Eon Productions. Lazenby is the fourth actor to play Bond and the second in the Eon Production series. There was a lot of tension during production including having his voiced dubbed during one scene so Lazenby passed on playing Bond again. He continued acting but 007 would remain as his largest roll. Lazenby is the only Australian to play James Bond.
Countess Tracy di Vicenzo aka Mrs. Bond, as played by Diana Rigg. The character has mental problems and is suicidal. Her father believes the love of a good man will save her but ultimately leads to her death. She is shot by Blofeld’s femme fatal Irma Bunt.
Diana Rigg was a well known actress in England and was offered the roll after playing Emma Peel on the British TV show The Avengers. She took the part in hopes of becoming better known in America thus expanding her acting opportunities. There were many rumors of clashes between her and Lazenby although both denied it. She is best known to modern audiences as Lady Olenna Tyrell on the HBO series Game Of Thrones.
Marc-Ange Draco as played by Gabriele Ferzetti. Draco is the head of Union Course, a European criminal organization. He tries to recruit Bond to marry his daughter in hopes that 007 will straighten out her life. He also aids Bond in attacking Blofeld’s research center in order to rescue Tracy.
Gabriele Ferzetti is a well known Italian actor staring in a number of films. He was cast for the part after director Peter Hunt had seen him in an Italian mafia movie. The producers felt his Italian accent was hard to understand so they had his lines dubbed by David de Keyser.
Ernst Blofeld as played by Telly Savalas. Blofeld is the head of SPECTRE and in other films he is referred to as #1. However in this movie there is no mention of the international criminal organization and the characters aren’t referred to by code numbers, the villain is working for his own self interests.
There had been a negative response to Donald Pleasence playing Blofeld so the producers decided to go with a stronger personality. After seeing Savalas’ performance in The Dirty Dozen they figured the actor would be right for the roll. He is best remembered for playing Kojak in the American TV series.
Irma Bunt as played by Ilse Steppat. Blunt is Blofeld’s second in command and oversees the 12 Angels Of Death. She is the classic Femme Fatal along the lines of Rosa Klebb. At the end of the film she attempts to shoot Bond but ends up killing Tracy instead. Bunt appeared in the book You Only Live Twice but the film came before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so the character had been left out of the movie.
Ilse Steppat had been in numerous movies in her home country of Germany but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service turned out to be her only English speaking roll. The producers planned on her returning in Diamonds Are Forever but Steppat died shortly after the release of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and they decided to not recast the roll, the character was written out of the series.
The 12 Angels of Death were the women at Blofeld’s clinic. They were being brainwashed to distribute the villain’s biological agent in their homelands. Each dressed according to their nationality. The concept of the sexy mind controlled slave wasn’t new to the movies but was a new idea in the Bond films.
Q played by Desmond Llewelyn. Q branch had been featured in every Bond film since Dr. No however in this movie Q only makes an appearance at the first of the film and then in the wedding scene, he doesn’t supply Bond with any gadgets.
Although the film series became known for their clever spy gadgets they are mostly absent in the film. In the opening M and Q are discussing radioactive lint that can be traced but the scene has nothing to do with Bond or his mission.
When Bond breaks into the lawyer’s office he is aided by a computer, about the size of a carry on suitcase. Bond hooks it up to the safe and it cracks the combination. Bond then uses the same device to copy the documents inside. In the 1960’s copiers and printers were large clunky machines so this device would seem rather futuristic.
When Bond infiltrates Blofeld’s mountain fortress he uses a small camera to take photos of the Angels Of Death but there isn’t anything special about it.
Bond mostly has to improvise his escape from Blofeld’s lair. He uses a ruler to bypass the electronic door and tears the pockets out of his pants to protect his hands while climbing along the tram cable.
Blofeld gives the Angels of Death a perfume kit as a Christmas present. Inside is an atomizer that contains the biological toxin he plans to release on the world. It also contains a radio disguised as a compact which the Angels will use to receive their instructions.
In the movie Bond drives an Aston Martin DBS. There is no mention of gadgets in the car and Tracy is shot through the windshield so it isn’t fitted with bulletproof glass. There is a compartment containing a collapsible sniper rifle but Bond only uses the scope to spy on Tracy when she is on the beach.
Since there was a new actor playing Bond the producers decided to do a tribute to the previous films. The opening sequence has a montage of characters from the previous films. When Bond tries to resign he pulls objects from his desk including the Thunderball pocket re-breather, Red Grant’s garrote watch and a knife from Dr. No. In the scene where Bond breaks into the lawyer’s office a janitor is whistling the theme from Goldfinger. In another tribute to Connery when Terry runs away from Bond at the opening of the film James turns to the camera and says “This never happened to the other fellow”.
In the film we learn a little more about Bond. We discover he is of Scottish decent (a change Ian Fleming had made to the character as a tribute to Sean Connery) and his family motto is Orbis Non Sufficit which translates as The World Is Not Enough. This will be the title of a later Bond film.
We also learn why Bond has such a cavalier attitude towards other people. Mostly he is seen as a person who is only interested in himself and his selfish pleasures but the truth is he fears that if he gets too involved with anyone they can end up like Tracy. He doesn’t mind risking his own life for the job but he can’t stand the idea of someone he cares about dying because of him, so he puts up a psychological wall of separation.
In 1930 there was an outcry from local censorship boards about the increase in sex and violence in movies. In order to keep the peace the Motion Picture Association of America established the Motion Picture Production Code which became known as the Hays code, after Will Hays, the top censor in Hollywood. The code established a set of rules about what could or couldn’t be seen on screen. A film that met the standards was labeled Approved, if the film failed the code it wasn’t allowed in theaters.
In 1952 the Supreme Court ruled that movies were protected free speech and did not have to be subjected to rules of censorship boards. This ruling combined with the end of the Studio System, which formerly gave the big studios control over actors, producers and distributors, meant that more independent films were flooding the market and being shown in independent theaters. The movies began to ignore the Hays code and the MPAA knew they had to do something.
In 1968 Jack Valenti, the head of the MPAA, came up with a new system, instead of determining what movies could and couldn’t be shown they gave them a letter rating:
G for General audiences, all age levels
M for Mature audiences, parental discretion advised
R for Restricted, no one under the age of 16 admitted without a parent or guardian
X for no one under the age of 18 admitted.
The code would undergo more changes in the future which gave On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the distinction of being the first Bond film to be rated under the new system and the only one rated M.
With the new attitude and rating system the level of violence in the film increased. In one scene Bond brutally beats up a henchman. In another a henchman misses a ski jump and lands in the path of a snow clearing machine. Normally the camera would pan away but in this movie we see blood spewing out of the snow blower.
In the 1960’s filmmakers began experimenting with visuals and editing to reflect the concept of the psychedelic era. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service played around with these techniques, the hotel fight scenes used stills and quick cuts. Blofeld’s hypnotizing of the Angels Of Death used rainbow lights that had become popular at concerts and discos. This did not play well with the audiences and was dropped in the next film.
When Bond is waiting for the lawyer’s safe to be cracked he finds and reads a copy of Playboy. The magazine is the February 1969 issue. It was included as a tribute to the magazine since it ran a serialized storyline of Bond in 1964 while the producers were promoting the movie Goldfinger.
While feeding the Angels of Death hypnotic suggestions Blofeld uses a reel to reel computer tapes and his message is delivered via cassettes. In 1969 it was high tech.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service received a mixed reception. The film earned half as much as You Only Live Twice, the first in the series to not do better than its predecessor. Many critics didn’t like Lansby’s performance considering it too brutal and lacking the humor of Sean Connery. Several of the comments made by Bond that were supposed to be humorous came across as cold and a little sinister. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is still argued by Bond fans over where it should rank in the series.
To learn more about On Her Majesty's Secret Service visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Her_Majesty%27s_Secret_Service_(film)