Ask any 007 connoisseur that age old question about which is the best James Bond movie and the answer they are likely to give is this one, the 6th in the series and the one only to star the face of Fry’s chocolate, Australian himbo George Lazenby in the signature role. For whatever Lazenby’s limitations as an actor (rule of thumb, he’s good at action, stilted at everything else), this is the Bond flick blessed with the best plot, a genuine sense of emotion and a spirit closest to Ian Fleming’s novels that have seen it grow in critical/fan stature in the years since its release where it was greeted with outright derision.
Once the movie has reassured audiences with a clips package from the Connery era, highlighting treasured supporting characters and props, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service does all that it can to break the traditions that were seen as defining Connery’s tenure. Firstly, after a pre-credit fight on a beach, Lazenby turns to the camera and quips “This never happened to the other fellow”, the first time a Bond movie breaks the fourth wall. Then, out went the traditional brassy, brazen theme song and in came a rollicking John Barry instrumental that still sounds cool to this day (As counterbalance, the lovely, wistful Louis Armstrong ballad ‘We Have All The Time In The World’ gets an outing later).
Also OHMSS sees Bond rely much more on his wits than the usual plethora of Q dept wizardry. To infiltrate Blofeld’s lair, Bond disguises himself as nitwit geneaologist Sir Hilary Bray (Lazenby dubbed in these scenes by George Baker) for some nicely comic moments. But the real big jump from previous Bonds to this one sees James Bond falling in love. Bond’s romance with Tracy Di Vincenzo, the daughter of a European crime lord, forms a major part of the movie and is painted with surprising sensitivity. Giving the best performance by any actress in a Bond film, Diana Rigg (like Pussy Galore’s Honor Blackman, an Avengers alumnus) is more than a match for 007 — in one scene she actually saves Bond’s life — and gives her potentially embarrassing scenes with Lazenby a touching, tender quality. As a result, OHMSS has the most moving vignettes in the entire series; Bond wiping away Tracy’s tears at her father’s birthday party, their joyous wedding and the heartbreaking finale that sees Tracy gunned down in cold blood. Still shocking today, it’s impossible to imagine a contemporary Bond film ending on such a downbeat note.
That said, it’s not all doom and gloom. Series editor/2nd Unit Director turned main director Peter Hunt marshals the action (night-time skiing, a car chase through a stock car race, a helicopter attack on Blofeld’s mountain hideaway) with ruthless efficiency and there is still the odd space for a throwaway gag: as a Blofeld goon is splattered in a snow plough, the viscera is greeted with a “He’s got guts.” But it’s the changes in tone and pace that make this Bond so memorable — the only lingering doubt remains is how much better it might have been with a more natural. charismatic actor in the tux.