There’s a lot of good stuff in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, some of it really good. Director Hunt and editor John Glen have a great time with the fight scenes. The film opens with a hurried, though a playful introduction to George Lazenby in the title role, then moves immediately into one of the frantic fight scenes. There’s a lot of sped up film in Majesty, but it only ever works for the fight scenes. Glen cuts out extra frames, forcing the viewer to hurry up. It’s awesome.
Otherwise, technically, the film is somewhat uneven. Hunt’s direction isn’t bad and he clearly likes shooting the exteriors, but they’re the only time (other than those fight scenes) there’s much energy. Cinematographer Michael Reed has a questionable handling of day for night shooting, a technique the film needs a lot and Reed never gets it right. Some excellent music from John Barry, some not so excellent music.
So, overall, uneven technically.
As for the story, again, uneven. Lazenby finds himself romancing Diana Rigg, sort of against his will, in his question to destroy villain Telly Savalas. Savalas comes off as campy, not villainous. Lazenby might bring some camp to the Bond role, but he combines it with actual charm and likability. Not so for Savalas. He’s often just silly.
Rigg’s great. The movie underutilizes her, ignores her, but she’s still great. She even makes it through some of the more misogynistic dialogue (directed at her, not from her).
Majesty is also a little weird with its willingness to make Lazenby’s Bond such a shallow pig. Getting distracted from a mission to look at “Playboy” magazine, for example, doesn’t seem particularly responsible for a secret agent. The plot keeps him away from the MI6 regulars (Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn) for much of the film. In a lot of ways, Majesty feels like a spoof of itself.
Still, the action’s good–save Reed’s “nighttime” photography and Glen giving up on doing anything interesting with the editing in the last quarter–and the film moves. It’s occasionally excellent, usually decent.
Then it closes with a tone deaf, way too long ending and Majesty collapses.
It’s unfortunate. It should be better. Most of the necessary pieces to make it better–to make it good–are readily available in cast and crew.
Directed by Peter R. Hunt; screenplay by Simon Raven and Richard Maibaum, based on the novel by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Michael Reed; edited by John Glen; music by John Barry; production designer, Syd Cain; produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; released by United Artists.
Starring George Lazenby (James Bond), Diana Rigg (Tracy), Telly Savalas (Blofeld), Gabriele Ferzetti (Draco), Ilse Steppat (Irma Bunt), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Bernard Lee (M), George Baker (Sir Hilary Bray), Angela Scoular (Ruby) and Desmond Llewelyn (Q).