On Her Majesty's Secret Service (film)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) is the sixth spy film in the James Bond series, based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming. Following Sean Connery's decision to retire from the role after You Only Live Twice, Eon Productions selected an unknown actor and model, George Lazenby, to play the part of James Bond. During the making of the film, Lazenby announced that he would play the role of Bond only once.
|On Her Majesty's Secret Service|
|Directed by||Peter R. Hunt|
|Produced by||Harry Saltzman
Albert R. Broccoli
|Screenplay by||Richard Maibaum
|Based on||On Her Majesty's Secret Service
by Ian Fleming
|Music by||John Barry|
|Edited by||John Glen|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$82 million|
In the film Bond faces Blofeld (Telly Savalas), who is planning to hold the world ransom by the threat of sterilising the world's food supply through a group of brainwashed "angels of death". Along the way Bond meets, falls in love with, and eventually marries Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg).
This is the only Bond film to be directed by Peter R. Hunt, who had served as a film editor and second unit director on previous films in the series. Hunt, along with producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, decided to produce a more realistic film that would follow the novel closely. It was shot in Switzerland, England, and Portugal from October 1968 to May 1969. Although its cinema release was not as lucrative as its predecessor You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was still one of the top performing films of the year. Critical reviews upon release were mixed, but the film's reputation has improved greatly over time.
In Portugal, James Bond – agent 007, sometimes referred to simply as '007' – saves a woman on the beach from committing suicide by drowning, and later meets her again in a casino. The woman, Contessa Teresa "Tracy" di Vicenzo, invites Bond to her hotel room to thank him, but when Bond arrives he is attacked by an unidentified man. After subduing the man, Bond returns to his own room and finds Tracy there, who claims she didn't know the attacker was there. The next morning, Bond is kidnapped by several men, including the one he fought with, who take him to meet Marc-Ange Draco, the head of the European crime syndicate Unione Corse. Draco reveals that Tracy is his only daughter and tells Bond of her troubled past, offering Bond one million pounds if he will marry her. Bond refuses, but agrees to continue romancing Tracy if Draco reveals the whereabouts of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE.
Bond returns to London, and after a brief argument with M at the British Secret Service headquarters, heads for Draco's birthday party in Portugal. There, Bond and Tracy begin a whirlwind romance, and Draco directs the agent to a law firm in Bern, Switzerland. Bond investigates the office of Swiss lawyer Gumbold, and learns that Blofeld is corresponding with London College of Arms' genealogist Sir Hilary Bray, attempting to claim the title 'Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp'.
Posing as Bray, Bond goes to meet Blofeld, who has established a clinical allergy-research institute atop Piz Gloria in the Swiss Alps. Bond meets twelve young women, the "Angels of Death", who are patients at the institute's clinic, apparently cured of their allergies. At night Bond goes to the room of one patient, Ruby, to seduce her. At midnight Bond sees that the 12 ladies go into a sleep-induced hypnotic state while Blofeld gives them audio instructions for when they return home. In fact, the women are being brainwashed to distribute bacteriological warfare agents throughout the world.
Bond tries to trick Blofeld into leaving Switzerland so that MI6 can arrest him without violating Swiss sovereignty. Blofeld refuses and Bond is eventually caught by henchwoman Irma Bunt. Blofeld reveals that he identified Bond after his attempt to lure him out of Switzerland, and tells his henchmen to take the agent away. Bond eventually makes his escape by skiing down Piz Gloria while Blofeld and his men give chase. Arriving at the village of Lauterbrunnen, Bond finds Tracy and they escape Bunt and her men after a car chase. A blizzard forces them to a remote barn, where Bond professes his love to Tracy and proposes marriage to her, which she accepts. The next morning, as the flight resumes, Blofeld sets off an avalanche; Tracy is captured, while Bond is buried but manages to escape.
Back in London at M's office, Bond is informed that Blofeld intends to hold the world to ransom by threatening to destroy its agriculture using his brainwashed women. Apart from money, Blofeld demands amnesty for all past crimes and to be recognised as Count de Bleuchamp. M tells 007 that the ransom will be paid and forbids him to mount a rescue mission. Bond then enlists Draco and his forces to attack Blofeld's headquarters, while also rescuing Tracy from Blofeld's captivity. The facility is destroyed, and Blofeld escapes the destruction alone in a bobsleigh, with Bond pursuing him. The chase ends when Blofeld becomes snared in a tree branch and injures his neck. Bond and Tracy marry in Portugal, then drive away in Bond's Aston Martin. When Bond pulls over to the roadside to remove flowers from the car, Blofeld (wearing a neck brace) and Bunt open fire on the couple's car. Bond survives, but Tracy is killed in the attack. When a police officer arrives to help, a tearful Bond cradles Tracy's body and says: "It's all right. It's quite all right, really. She's having a rest. We'll be going on soon. There's no hurry you see, we have all the time in the world."
- George Lazenby as James Bond – MI6 agent, codename 007.
- Diana Rigg as Countess Tracy di Vicenzo – A vulnerable countess and Marc-Ange Draco's daughter, who captures Bond's heart. Like Honor Blackman in Goldfinger before her, Rigg had come to the notice of Eon Productions through her work on The Avengers, where she played Emma Peel from 1965–68.
- Telly Savalas as Ernst Stavro Blofeld aka Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp – Bond's nemesis, leader of SPECTRE and in hiding. Savalas had appeared in The Dirty Dozen in 1967, leading to Broccoli suggesting him to director Peter Hunt, for the role, in place of Donald Pleasence, who had appeared in You Only Live Twice. Both Broccoli and Hunt felt Pleasence was unsuited to the more physical side of the Blofeld role in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
- Gabriele Ferzetti as Marc-Ange Draco – Head of the Union Corse, a major crime syndicate and Tracy's father (uncredited voice by David de Keyser).
- Ilse Steppat as Irma Bunt – Blofeld's henchwoman who assists in the attempts to eliminate Bond, and although they fail to finish him off Bunt eventually manages to kill Tracy. Said to be the most successful piece of casting in the film, the Bunt character did not appear in the film You Only Live Twice, although she did appear in the novel. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was Steppat's last role: the 52-year-old died of a heart attack on 22 December 1969, four days after the film premiered.
- Bernard Lee as M – Head of the British Secret Service.
- Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.
- George Baker as Sir Hilary Bray – Herald in the London College of Arms, whom Bond impersonates in Piz Gloria. Baker also provided the voice of Bond while he was imitating Bray.
- Yuri Borienko as Grunther – Blofeld's brutish chief of security at Piz Gloria. In his role as a stuntman, Borienko was one of the people assisting with Lazenby's audition: Lazenby accidentally broke his nose, which helped him get the part of Bond.
- Bernard Horsfall as Shaun Campbell – 007's colleague who tries to aid Bond in Switzerland as part of Operation Bedlam. Campbell has been called the film's "Official Sacrificial Lamb".
- Desmond Llewelyn as Q.
- Virginia North as Olympe – Draco's lover Nikki van der Zyl provided the uncredited voice for Olympe, making On Her Majesty's Secret Service her sixth Bond film in succession.
- Geoffrey Cheshire as Toussaint
- Irvin Allen as Che Che
- Terry Mountain as Raphael
- James Bree as Gumbold
- John Gay as Hammond
Blofeld's Angels of DeathEdit
The Angels of Death are twelve beautiful women from all over the world being brainwashed by Blofeld under the guise of allergy or phobia treatment to spread the Virus Omega. A number appeared in the representative styles of dress of their particular nation. Their mission is to help Blofeld contaminate and ultimately sterilise the world's food supply.
- Angela Scoular as Ruby Bartlett, an English girl at the clinic suffering from an allergy to chickens, whom Bond also beds. Scoular also played Buttercup in the 1967 comedy Casino Royale.
- Catherina von Schell as Nancy, a Hungarian girl at the clinic whom Bond seduces.
- Joanna Lumley as an English girl. Like Diana Rigg (and Honor Blackman in Goldfinger), Lumley would appear alongside Patrick Macnee, although her role was in a spin-off from The Avengers, as Purdey in The New Avengers.
- Julie Ege as a Scandinavian girl. Ege was a former Miss Norway who also starred in a number of Hammer Film Productions.
- Jenny Hanley as an Irish girl.
- Anouska Hempel as an Australian girl.
- Mona Chong as a Chinese girl.
- Sylvana Henriques as a Jamaican girl.
- Dani Sheridan as an American girl.
- Zaheera as Zara, an Indian girl.
- Ingrit Back as a German girl.
- Helena Ronee as an Israeli girl.
The novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service was first published after the film series started and contains "a gentle dig at the cinematic Bond's gadgets, Broccoli and Saltzman had originally intended to make On Her Majesty's Secret Service after Goldfinger and Richard Maibaum worked on a script at that time. However, Thunderball was filmed instead after the ongoing rights dispute over the novel were settled between Fleming and Kevin McClory. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was due to follow that, but problems with a warm Swiss winter and inadequate snow cover led to Saltzman and Broccoli postponing the film again, favouring production of You Only Live Twice.
Between the resignation of Sean Connery at the beginning of filming You Only Live Twice and its release, Saltzman had planned to adapt The Man with the Golden Gun in Cambodia and use Roger Moore as the next Bond, but political instability meant the location was ruled out and Moore signed up for another series of The Saint. After You Only Live Twice was released in 1967, the producers once again picked up with On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Peter Hunt, who had worked on the five preceding films had impressed Broccoli and Saltzman enough to earn his directorial debut as they believed his quick cutting had set the style for the series; it was also the result of a long-standing promise from Broccoli and Saltzman for a directorial position. Hunt also asked for the position during the production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and he brought along with him many crew members, including cinematographer Michael Reed. Hunt was focused on putting his mark – "I wanted it to be different than any other Bond film would be. It was my film, not anyone else's." On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the last film on which Hunt worked in the series.
Screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who had worked on all the previous Bond films bar You Only Live Twice, was responsible for On Her Majesty's Secret Service's script. Saltzman and Broccoli decided to drop the science fiction gadgets from the earlier films and focus more on plot as in From Russia With Love. Peter Hunt asked Simon Raven to write some of the dialogue between Tracy and Blofeld in Piz Gloria, which was to be "sharper, better and more intellectual"; one of Raven's additions was having Tracy quoting James Elroy Flecker. When writing the script, the producers decided to make the closest adaptation of the book possible: virtually everything in the novel occurs in the film and Hunt was reported to always enter the set carrying an annotated copy of the novel.
With the script following the novel more closely than the other film adaptations of the eponymous source novels, there are several continuity errors due to the film taking place in a different order, such as Blofeld not recognising Bond, despite having met him face-to-face in the previous film You Only Live Twice. In the original script, Bond undergoes plastic surgery to disguise him from his enemies; the intention was to allow an unrecognisable Bond to infiltrate Blofeld's hideout and help the audience accept the new actor in the role. However, this was dropped in favour of ignoring the change in actor. To make audiences not forget it was the same James Bond, just played by another actor, the producers inserted many references to the previous films, some as in-jokes. These include Bond breaking the fourth wall by stating "This never happened to the other fellow", the credits sequence with images from the previous instalments, Bond visiting his office and finding objects from Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Thunderball, and a caretaker whistling the theme from Goldfinger.
In 1967, after five films, Sean Connery resigned from the role of James Bond and—during the filming of You Only Live Twice—was not on speaking terms with Albert Broccoli. The confirmed front runners were Englishman John Richardson, Dutchman Hans De Vries, Australian Robert Campbell, Englishman Anthony Rogers and Australian George Lazenby.
Broccoli and Hunt eventually chose Lazenby after seeing him in a Fry's Chocolate Cream advertisement. Lazenby dressed the part by sporting several sartorial Bond elements such as a Rolex Submariner wristwatch and a Savile Row suit (ordered for, but uncollected, by Connery), and going to Connery's barber at the Dorchester Hotel. Broccoli noticed Lazenby as a Bond-type man based on his physique and character elements, and offered him an audition. The position was consolidated when Lazenby accidentally punched a professional wrestler, who was acting as stunt coordinator, in the face, impressing Broccoli with his ability to display aggression. Lazenby was offered a contract for seven films; however, he was convinced by his agent Ronan O'Rahilly that the secret agent would be archaic in the liberated 1970s, and as a result he left the series after the release of On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969.
For Tracy Draco, the producers wanted an established actress opposite neophyte Lazenby. Brigitte Bardot was invited, but after she signed to appear in Shalako opposite Sean Connery the deal fell through, and Diana Rigg—who had already been the popular heroine Emma Peel in The Avengers—was cast instead. Rigg said one of the reasons for accepting the role was that she always wanted to be in an epic film. Telly Savalas was cast following a suggestion from Broccoli, and Hunt's neighbour George Baker was offered the part of Sir Hilary Bray. Baker's voice was also used when Lazenby was impersonating Bray, as Hunt considered Lazenby's imitation not convincing enough. Gabriele Ferzetti was cast as Draco after the producers saw him in an Italian Mafia film, but Ferzetti's heavy Italian accent also led to his voice being redubbed by English actor David de Keyser for the final cut.
Principal photography began in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland, on 21 October 1968, with the first scene shot being an aerial view of Bond climbing the stairs of Blofeld's mountain retreat to meet the girls. The scenes were shot at the now famous revolving restaurant Piz Gloria, located atop the Schilthorn near the village of Mürren. The location was found by production manager Hubert Fröhlich after three weeks of location scouting in France and Switzerland. The restaurant was still under construction, but the producers found the location interesting, and had to finance providing electricity and the aerial lift to make filming there possible. Various chase scenes in the Alps were shot at Lauterbrunnen and Saas-Fee, while the Christmas celebrations were filmed in Grindelwald, and some scenes were shot on location in Bern. Production was hampered by weak snowfall which was unfavourable to the skiing action scenes. The producers even considered moving to another location in Switzerland, but it was taken by the production of Downhill Racer. The Swiss filming ended up running 56 days over schedule. In March 1969, production moved to England, with London's Pinewood Studios being used for interior shooting, and M's house being shot in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. In April, the filmmakers went to Portugal, where principal photography wrapped in May. The pre-credit coastal and hotel scenes were filmed at Hotel Estoril Palacio in Estoril and Guincho Beach, Cascais, while Lisbon was used for the reunion of Bond and Tracy, and the ending employed a mountain road in the Arrábida National Park near Setúbal. Harry Saltzman wanted the Portuguese scenes to be in France, but after searching there, Peter Hunt considered that not only were the locations not photogenic, but were already "overexposed".
While the first unit shot at Piz Gloria, the second unit, led by John Glen, started filming the ski chases. The downhill skiing involved professional skiers, and various camera tricks. Some cameras were handheld, with the operators holding them as they were going downhill with the stuntmen, and others were aerial, with cameramen Johnny Jordan – who had previously worked in the helicopter battle of You Only Live Twice — developing a system where he was dangled by an 18 feet (5.5 m) long parachute harness rig below a helicopter, allowing scenes to be shot on the move from any angle. The bobsledding chase was also filmed with the help of Swiss Olympic athletes, and was rewritten to incorporate the accidents the stuntmen suffered during shooting, such as the scene where Bond falls from the sled. Blofeld getting snared with a tree was performed at the studio by Savalas himself, after the attempt to do this by the stuntman on location came out wrong. Glen was also the editor of the film, employing a style similar to the one used by Hunt in the previous Bond films, with fast motion in the action scenes and exaggerated sound effects.
The avalanche scenes were due to be filmed in co-operation with the Swiss army who annually used explosions to prevent snow build-up by causing avalanches, but the area chosen naturally avalanched just before filming. The final result was a combination of a man-made avalanche at an isolated Swiss location shot by the second unit, stock footage, and images created by the special effects crew with salt. The stuntmen were filmed later, added by optical effects. For the scene where Bond and Tracy crash into a car race while being pursued, an ice rink was constructed over an unused aeroplane track, with water and snow sprayed on it constantly. Lazenby and Rigg did most of the driving due to the high number of close-ups.
For the cinematography, Hunt aimed for a "simple, but glamorous like the 1950s Hollywood films I grew up with", as well as something realistic, "where the sets don't look like sets". Cinematographer Michael Reed added he had difficulties with lighting, as every set built for the film had a ceiling, preventing spotlights from being hung from above. While shooting, Hunt wanted "the most interesting framings possible", which would also look good after being cropped for television.
Lazenby said he experienced difficulties during shooting, not receiving any coaching despite his lack of acting experience, and with director Hunt never addressing him directly, only through his assistant. Lazenby also declared that Hunt also asked the rest of the crew to keep a distance from him, as "Peter thought the more I was alone, the better I would be as James Bond." Allegedly, there also were personality conflicts with Rigg, who was already an established star. However, according to director Hunt, these rumours are untrue and there were no such difficulties—or else they were minor—and may have started with Rigg joking to Lazenby before filming a love scene "Hey George, I'm having garlic for lunch. I hope you are!" Hunt also declared that he usually had long talks with Lazenby before and during shooting. For instance, to shoot Tracy's death scene, Hunt brought Lazenby to the set at 8 o'clock in the morning and made him rehearse all day long, "and I broke him down until he was absolutely exhausted, and by the time we shot it at five o'clock, he was exhausted, and that's how I got the performance." Hunt said that if Lazenby had remained in the role, he would also have directed the successor film, Diamonds Are Forever, and that his original intentions were concluding the film with Bond and Tracy driving off following their wedding, saving Tracy's murder for the pre-credit sequence of Diamonds Are Forever. The idea was discarded after Lazenby quit the role.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the longest Bond film until Casino Royale was released in 2006. Despite that, two scenes were deleted from the final print: Irma Bunt spying on Bond as he buys a wedding ring for Tracy, and a chase over London rooftops and into the Royal Mail underground rail system after Bond's conversation with Sir Hilary Bray was overheard.
The soundtrack for On Her Majesty's Secret Service has been called "perhaps the best score of the series." It was composed, arranged and conducted by John Barry; it was his fifth successive Bond film. Barry opted to use more electrical instruments and a more aggressive sound in the music – "I have to stick my oar in the musical area double strong to make the audience try and forget they don't have Sean ... to be Bondian beyond Bondian."
Barry felt it would be difficult to compose a theme song containing the title "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" unless it were written operatically, in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan. Leslie Bricusse had considered lyrics for the title song but director Peter R. Hunt allowed an instrumental title theme in the tradition of the first two Bond films. The theme was described as "one of the best title cuts, a wordless Moog-driven monster, suitable for skiing at breakneck speed or dancing with equal abandon."
Barry also composed the love song "We Have All the Time in the World", with lyrics by Burt Bacharach's regular lyricist Hal David, sung by Louis Armstrong. It is heard during the Bond–Tracy courtship montage, bridging Draco's birthday party in Portugal and Bond's burglary of the Gebrüder Gumbold law office in Bern, Switzerland.  Barry recalled Armstrong was very ill, but recorded the song in one take. The song was re-released in 1994, achieving the number three position during a 13-week spell in the UK charts. A Hal David song entitled "Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?" performed by Danish singer Nina also featured in the film in several scenes.
The theme, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", is used in the film as an action theme alternative to Monty Norman's "James Bond Theme", as with Barry's previous "007" themes. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was covered in 1997 by the British big beat group, the Propellerheads for the Shaken and Stirred album. Barry-orchestrator Nic Raine recorded an arrangement of the escape from Piz Gloria sequence and it was featured as a theme in the trailers for the 2004 Pixar animated film The Incredibles.
Release and receptionEdit
On Her Majesty's Secret Service was released on 18 December 1969 with its premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square in London. Lazenby appeared at the premiere with a beard, looking "very un-Bond-like", according to the Daily Mirror. Lazenby claimed the producers had tried to persuade him to shave it off to appear like Bond, but at that stage he had already decided not to make another Bond film and rejected the idea. The beard and accompanying shoulder-length hair "strained his already fragile relationship with Saltzman and Broccoli". As On Her Majesty's Secret Service had been filmed in stereo, the first Bond film to use the technology, the Odeon had a new speaker system installed to benefit the new sounds.
Because Lazenby had informed the producers that On Her Majesty's Secret Service was to be his only outing as Bond and because of the lack of gadgets used by Bond in the film, few items of merchandise were produced for the film, apart from the soundtrack album and a film edition of the book. Those that were produced included a number of Corgi Toys, including Tracey's Cougar, Campbell's Volkswagen and two versions of the bobsleigh—one with the 007 logo and one with the Piz Gloria logo. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was nominated for only one award: George Lazenby was nominated in the New Star of the Year – Actor category at the 1970 Golden Globe Award ceremony, losing out to Jon Voight.
The film topped the North American box office when it opened with a gross of $1.2 million. The film closed its box office run with £750,000 in the United Kingdom (the highest-grossing film of the year), $64.6 million worldwide, half of You Only Live Twice's total gross, but still one of the highest-grossing films of 1969. It was one of the most popular movies in France in 1969, with admissions of 1,958,172. Nonetheless this was a considerable drop from You Only Live Twice. After re-releases, the total box office was $82,000,000 worldwide.
The majority of reviews were critical of either the film, Lazenby, or both, while most of the contemporary reviews in the British press referred to George Lazenby at some point as "The Big Fry", a reference to his previous acting in Fry's Chocolate advertisements. Derek Malcolm of The Guardian was dismissive of Lazenby's performance, saying that he "is not a good actor and though I never thought Sean Connery was all that stylish either, there are moments when one yearns for a little of his louche panache." For all the criticism of Lazenby, however, Malcolm says that the film was "quite a jolly frolic in the familiar money-spinning fashion". Tom Milne, writing in The Observer was even more scathing, saying that "I ... fervently trust (OHMSS) will be the last of the James Bond films. All the pleasing oddities and eccentricities and gadgets of the earlier films have somehow been lost, leaving a routine trail through which the new James Bond strides without noticeable signs of animation."
Donald Zec in the Daily Mirror was equally damning of Lazenby's acting abilities, comparing him unfavourably to Connery: "He looks uncomfortably in the part like a size four foot in a size ten gumboot." Zec was kinder to Lazenby's co-star, saying that "there is style to Diana Rigg's performance and I suspect that the last scene which draws something of a performance out of Lazenby owes much to her silken expertise." The New York Times critic AH Weiler also weighed in against Lazenby, saying that "Lazenby, if not a spurious Bond, is merely a casual, pleasant, satisfactory replacement."
One of the few supporters of Lazenby amongst the critics was Alexander Walker in the London Evening Standard who said that "The truth is that George Lazenby is almost as good a James Bond as the man referred to in his film as 'the other fellow'. Lazenby's voice is more suave than sexy-sinister and he could pass for the other fellow's twin on the shady side of the casino. Bond is now definitely all set for the Seventies." Judith Crist of New York Magazine also found the actor a strong point of the movie, stating that "This time around there's less suavity and a no-nonsense muscularity and maleness to the role via the handsome Mr. Lazenby".
The feminist film critic Molly Haskell also wrote an approving review of the film in the Village Voice: "In a world, an industry, and particularly a genre which values the new and improved product above all, it is nothing short of miraculous to see a movie which dares to go backward, a technological artefact which has nobly deteriorated into a human being. I speak of the new and obsolete James Bond, played by a man named George Lazenby, who seems more comfortable in a wet tuxedo than a dry martini, more at ease as a donnish genealogist than reading (or playing) Playboy, and who actually dares to think that one woman who is his equal is better than a thousand part-time playmates." Haskell was also affected by the film's emotional ending: "The love between Bond and his Tracy begins as a payment and ends as a sacrament. After ostensibly getting rid of the bad guys, they are married. They drive off to a shocking, stunning ending. Their love, being too real, is killed by the conventions it defied. But they win the final victory by calling, unexpectedly, upon feeling. Some of the audience hissed, I was shattered. If you like your Bonds with happy endings, don't go."
Critical response to On Her Majesty's Secret Service has become much more positive in recent years. Film critic James Berardinelli summed this up in his review of the movie: "with the exception of one production aspect, [it] is by far the best entry of the long-running James Bond series. The film contains some of the most exhilarating action sequences ever to reach the screen, a touching love story, and a nice subplot that has agent 007 crossing (and even threatening to resign from) Her Majesty's Secret Service. The problem is with Bond himself ... George Lazenby is boring, and his ineffectualness lowers the picture's quality. Lazenby can handle the action sequences, but that's about all he masters."
The American film reviewer Leonard Maltin has suggested that if it had been Connery in the leading role instead of Lazenby, On Her Majesty's Secret Service would have epitomised the series. On the other hand, Danny Peary wrote, "I'm not sure I agree with those who insist that if Connery had played Bond it would definitely be the best of the entire Bond series ... Connery's Bond, with his boundless humor and sense of fun and self-confidence, would be out of place in this picture. It actually works better with Lazenby because he is incapable of playing Bond as a bigger-than-life hero; for one thing he hasn't the looks ... Lazenby's Bond also hasn't the assurance of Connery's Bond and that is appropriate in the crumbling, depressing world he finds himself. He seems vulnerable and jittery at times. At the skating rink, he is actually scared. We worry about him ... On Her Majesty's Secret Service doesn't have Connery and it's impossible to ever fully adjust to Lazenby, but I think that it still might be the best Bond film, as many Bond cultists claim." Peary also described On Her Majesty's Secret Service as "the most serious", "the most cynical" and "the most tragic" of the Bond films.
Brian Fairbanks differed in his opinion of Lazenby, saying that the film "gives us a James Bond capable of vulnerability, a man who can show fear and is not immune to heartbreak. Lazenby is that man, and his performance is superb." Fairbanks also thought On Her Majesty's Secret Service to be "not only the best Bond, it is also the last truly great film in the series. In fact, had the decision been made to end the series, this would have been the perfect final chapter."
The filmmaker Steven Soderbergh writes that "For me there's no question that cinematically On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the best Bond film and the only one worth watching repeatedly for reasons other than pure entertainment ... Shot to shot, this movie is beautiful in a way none of the other Bond films are"  The director Christopher Nolan also saw On Her Majesty's Secret Service as his favourite Bond film; in describing its influence on his own film, Inception, Nolan said, "What I liked about it that we've tried to emulate in this film is there's a tremendous balance in that movie of action and scale and romanticism and tragedy and emotion."
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 82% rating based on 44 reviews. IGN ranked On Her Majesty's Secret Service as the eighth best Bond film, Entertainment Weekly as the sixth, and Norman Wilner of MSN, as the fifth best. The film also became a fan favourite, seeing "ultimate success in the home video market". In September 2012 it was announced that On Her Majesty's Secret Service had topped a poll of Bond fans run by 007 Magazine to determine the greatest ever Bond film. Goldfinger came second in the poll and From Russia With Love was third.
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- 1968 James Bond – OHMSS: Photogallery at Walter Riml