George Lazenby's underappreciated 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' is one of the best Bond movies in the 007 canon
It is also one of the most underrated Bond films, perhaps because some viewers tend to skip it once they run into a mostly unrecognizable 007. It's fair to say that if Lazenby had played him a few more times, audiences would have likely ended up appreciating him more
James Bond is a highly unique individual. He's the world's greatest secret agent. He dresses to kill and while at it, he's also got the license to kill. He's suave, charming, fit and most importantly, beds women with consummate ease. His character has given men a look at how to live the high life - one imbued with sophistication, grace and danger. What Sherlock Holmes is to fiction, Bond is to cinema. And then there are those few actors who have managed to dish out impeccable performances as the super spy.
Sean Connery epitomized Bond with his debut 1962’s 'Dr. No'. His chutzpah set him apart— playful one minute and cold the next, he also infused the wry humor the agent was known for in the novels. His success in portraying he character meant he went on to star in six more Bond movies. Connery, however, took a break from playing the character, and in the most unusual of ways, an Australian model, George Lazenby, stepped into the shoes of the character in the 1969 movie, 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'.
This one-off turn, starring an unknown entity, has divided fans ever since, with some calling for it to be struck off the roster and others arguing that it's possibly the best Bond movie ever. The movie was based on the '63 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming. In the film, Bond faces Blofeld (Telly Savalas), who is planning to hold the world ransom by threatening to sabotage 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 arc provides the movie the most unusual ending to a Bond movie ever. While the movie went on to get mixed ratings from critics, Lazenby came under heavy fire for his portrayal of the iconic character. Derek Malcolm of The Guardian was critical 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." Adding to this was Donald Zec in the Daily Mirror who was was equally condemnatory of Lazenby's acting abilities, comparing him unfavorably to Connery: "He looks uncomfortably in the part like a size four foot in a size ten gumboot."
Critical response to 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' remains divided. Many fans, especially fans of Fleming's original, regard it as one of the best Bond films made. Other critics name it as one of the less popular Bond films. Nonetheless, it is widely considered one of the best and most faithful adaptations of Fleming's original novels.
In his defense, Lazenby felt he hadn't come off that badly as Bond. He also added that there were creative differences. In an interview with Telegraph, he said, "I can't complain because I didn't come off so bad after all,” Lazenby said in 1970. “What they were telling me to do worked and yet, on the other hand, what I said I would like to do might have worked better, and you'll never know that."
'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' was, in fact, a serious movie and in all fairness, Lazenby did a great job, even if his appearance was a one-off. His off-screen troubles and differences coupled with bad publicity ensured that this was a movie that people were ready to miss. To make up for Connery's absence, the script also gave Lazenby ample lines to remind people that his Bond wasn't a lot different from Connery's. He was a better expert on alcohol, exquisite foods, and he was an expert knife-thrower.
It is also one of the most underrated Bond films, perhaps because some viewers tend to skip it once they run into a mostly unrecognizable 007. It's fair to say that if Lazenby had done a few more Bonds, audiences would have likely ended up accepting him.
Writing in 2014, Guardian's Stuart Heritage sang praises of the movie's greatness and lauded its contribution to the canon. "In the 45 years since it was released, it stands out as one of the best 007 films ever. Possibly even the best. It has the best soundtrack. It pushes the character into difficult new places. And that ending: that's not just a great James Bond ending, it's probably in the top 10 film endings of all time," he wrote.
With Daniel Craig's upcoming 'No Time to Die' rumored to have borrowed the plotline loosely from the '69 semi-flop, it remains to be seen if Craig can do a better job than Lazenby, especially when it comes to playing a Bond who's more human. Like Tracy Bond in 'OHMSS', Craig has Lea Seydoux's Madeline Swann by his side and Ernst Stavo Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) will be back in Bond 25.
Maybe, just maybe, people will flock back to watch 'OHMSS' after 'No Time to Die' and probably better appreciate the movie and Lazenby, who introduced a more human Bond, a feature that was picked up by Sam Mendes and manifested in the latest incarnation of 007 in Craig.