Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on April 10th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)!
The fall of the studio system in the 1950s resulted in the indentured servitude style contracts between studios and actors going the way of the doe-doe bird. Replacing it was the much more reasonable multi-picture deal between. Today, such agreements are the studio standard, particularly with comic book flicks. But back in the 60s, the Bond franchise was one of the first film series to cut such a deal. As such, EON Productions locked Sean Connery (Zardoz) in for several pictures before shooting reel on Dr. No (1962). But seven years and five movies later, Connery had become disenchanted with not only his role but also producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Thus, Connery let the heads of EON Productions know that You Only Live Twice would be his one last turn as Bond.
As a result, the producers need a new Bond so that they could finally adapt the 1963 novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the tenth in the series.) However, while the production was lacking a new 007, they at least had a director at the helm. Peter R. Hunt (Shout at The Devil) had served as an editor on the first five Bond flicks. Following that, Hunt was promoted to assistant director on the previous entry. Finally, as a reward for all his hard work, he was handed the reins for the film in review.
Still, casting a new 007 was ultimately up to Broccoli and Saltzman more so than the director himself. Which means, the producers were looking anywhere and everywhere for a new leading man. Hell, Batman himself, Adam West, was supposedly offered the part as he and Broccoli were pals. If that’s true, I’m personally thankful that The Bright Knight turned down the offer. Future 007 actor Timothy Dalton (Doom Patrol) was also offered the opportunity, but he turned it down feeling he was too young to play the role at the time.
Meanwhile, upon hearing that the role of 007 was up for grabs, a then-unknown George Lazenby (Batman Beyond) decided the part would be his. Thus, he immediately went out and bought a tailored suit; just like Connery wore as Bond. After that, Lazenby headed to Connery’s barber, where he requested the actor’s haircut. It was in this barbershop where the ambitious young man met Cubby.
Taken with Lazenby’s passion, the co-producer granted Lazenby a meeting. During his interview, the then-wannabe thespian lied to the producers. While Lazenby had a legitimate career as a male model, he had no acting experience whatsoever. Despite his lack of experience, Lazenby boasted an obscure yet extensive resume — albeit a bogus one.
Thanks to his charm and air of rugged masculinity, the model-turned-actor advanced to a meeting with the director the following day. Upon making Hunt’s acquaintance, Lazenby admitted that he was indeed not an actor. But Hunt was so impressed by Lazenby’s confidence that he agreed with EON and hired him despite his lack of skills as a thespian. Of course, it helped that the new Bond actor could fight due to being a real-life brawler. So, at age 29, Lazenby became (and remains) the youngest actor to play Bond.
While hiring a genuine novice as a film’s star is an inspired choice, a film of such stature needs some star power. Thus, for the first time in the series, a name actress would be cast as a Bond girl. Diana Rigg, who had just wrapped up her run as heroine Emma Peel on the popular British TV series The Avengers (1961-1969), was cast in the role of Teressa “Tracy” Draco in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As Tracy, Rigg arguably portrays the first Bond girl who gives our hero a real run for his money.
Then there’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who once again is Bond’s menace. Except this time around, Donald Pleasance was replaced as Blofeld by Telly Savalas (Kojak) simply because Hunt felt the previous actor didn’t possess the physicality for such a villain. This recasting represents one of the few mistakes I feel Hunt made with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. While Savalas is serviceable as 007’s archenemy, the actor also cannot seem to shake his lollipop TV persona as Kojak.
With Hunt fresh at the helm — and a mostly new cast and crew — everyone involved embarked on telling the most unique Bond story to date:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service follows James Bond 007 (Lazenby) on a fortnight’s respite from MI-6. Bond uses his vacation time to get a lead on S.P.E.C.T.R.E. leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Savalas). To acquire such information, he goes to one of Blofeld’s former business associates, Draco (Gabrielle Ferzetti). The tycoon agrees to fill Bond in on Blofeld’s whereabouts on one unique condition — 007 must agree to enter into an arranged relationship with Draco’s headstrong daughter, Tracy (Rigg). Legitimately interested on both romantic and professional fronts, Bond must now build a relationship with Tracy, as well as go undercover to pursue Blofeld in the mountain town of Piz Gloria, Switzerland.
Like many other Bond fans who have come around to this picture, I think On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the better entries of the 60s, if not the franchise. See, this film tries to be something as fresh as the snow on the mountains of Piz Gloria. This picture simultaneously harnesses the energy and cynicism of the late 1960s. In doing so, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service becomes a massive Franchise Expansion as it breathes new life into 007s adventures! Not to mention refreshing enthusiasm on the parts of the director and Lazenby. Hunt brings action as we’ve never seen, particularly on the ski slopes. And while Lazenby may lack acting experience, he brings the absolute confidence that Bond must have. Along with all that, this film allows Bond to have an actual loving relationship with Tracy.
However, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service does have one major flaw. You guessed it! With a 142-minute runtime, this film is too long! The pacing meanders quite a bit, allowing the story to get lost on narrative tangents. Still, except for Goldfinger (1964), I think the entry in review is the second-best Bond picture of the decade in which it was made.
Alas, the moviegoers of the time did not share that opinion as they outright rejected the picture. Such a reaction, along with some personal choices, made Lazenby’s portrayal of Bond here the only one he would ever give. Thankfully though, over the years, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has gained a more favorable place in the canon of 007. If you disliked or flat-out disregarded this film in the past, I implore you to give it another go.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is available on Home Video.
James Bond will return for another installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with Diamonds Are Forever (1971)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on April 10th!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-