Throwback Thursday examines films from the past—“classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.
Not all winter films have to be ruminations on the seasons or existential crises. One of my favorite James Bond productions is one I would consider a winter film since the majority does take place in the chilly and gorgeous Swiss Alps. That favorite happens to be 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
With Sean Connery leaving the franchise after five films, the producers conducted a huge manhunt for the new Bond. They finally settled on Australian model and actor George Lazenby. He didn’t have a lot of acting experience, but the producers felt they could mold him into their perfect Bond. He looked good in a ’60s tux and could balance the rough-and-tumble fight scenes with an added emotion that Sean Connery probably couldn’t pull off.
If you’re a member of the human race, you can probably determine the bulk of the plot for this film: a sinister bad guy decides to do something really sinister and it’s up to Bond to come to the rescue of his country and at least one femme fatale. In this, there’s no difference from the films that preceded it. However, this time (spoiler) Bond actually falls in love and gets married. It’s the only film in the entire franchise in which Bond shucks off his too-cool persona and decides to give it all up for the woman he loves. (A solid argument could be paid to Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, but he never married her.)
Who could make Bond give up his womanizing ways? None other than Diana Rigg, playing Countess Tracy di Vicenzo. Rigg (coming off of a hot streak from the television series The Avengers) was a suitable “name” to counterbalance the unknown Lazenby, and in the film, she radiates a ’60s feminine beauty that captivates both the camera and Bond. Not only is this the one film in which Bond falls in love and gets married but, depending on how you look at it, it could also be the Bond film where he sleeps with the most women. There are at least two in the mountain hideaway that he infiltrates, but it’s implied that he visited all of the female “patients” at the villain’s clinic. It might be that the producers were thinking they couldn’t show him getting frisky with every woman due to censors (he’s primarily a two-woman man per film), but they could at least imply the heck out of it right before he confesses his love to the countess. Or, this could just be wishful fanfic from yours truly.
There’s some amazing ski and bobsled (yes, bobsled) sequences in the film that are a highlight of action choreography and cinematography. We also get the quintessential Bond villain in Blofeld, played this time around by a scenery-chewing Telly Savalas in all his baritone glory. A Bond villain always has a subordinate to do his dirty work, and that role is filled by Ilse Steppat as Irma Bunt, a short, no-nonsense woman who ends up delivering a fatal blow to Bond’s new wife. She definitely takes a page from From Russia With Love’s Lotte Lenya (minus the homoerotic subtext) in her clinical precision.
There’s an interesting idea in Bond’s dealing with Tracy’s father, who is a reputed criminal. Bond is so intent on getting Blofeld that he ends up relying on another villain to get what he wants. He actively goes against his superiors and beds down (both literally and figuratively) with criminals to get the job done.
I mentioned earlier that I didn’t think Connery could have pulled off the emotional depth this film required. If you watch the final scene(s), try to picture Connery in this version of Bond. He couldn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong; I love Connery and his Bond, but he’s never been an emotionally large actor. Connery brought the suave, Lazenby brought the emotion, and Roger Moore brought the humor. All three embody different sides of the same character.
Unfortunately, Lazenby was so horrible to work with on set that he only got one shot at Bond, and the producers paid a huge sum to Connery to come back for one more film before finally settling on Moore to get them through the ’70s and ’80s. This ranks up in my top five Bond films, from the fun plot, great villain, and gorgeous women to the beautiful theme song by Louis Armstrong, amazing fight scenes, and emotional depth. Someday I might regale you with the others in my top five; until then, enjoy.
This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.