OHMSS’s 40th anniversary Part V: the film’s legacy

Forty years after its release, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has one of the most mixed legacies of the James Bond film series.

1. While profitable, it would be the first film in the series not to be considered a hit and a major financial success.

2. It scared away producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman from further faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming stories. It wouldn’t be until 1981 (and after Saltzman departed the series) when For Your Eyes Only utilized large portions of two Fleming short stories that much of Fleming’s plots appeared in a film.

3. A combination of No. 1 and No. 2 caused the series to go in a much lighter direction in the 1970s. There wasn’t even a hint of the unhappy ending of OHMSS, which concluded with Bond’s bride perishishing.

4. Despite all that, OHMSS is viewed by many hard-core Bond fans (or “the base” in the language of politicians) as one of the best, if not the best film in the series.

5. Even if you don’t buy into No. 4, it features one of the best of John Barry’s 11 scores for the series, one that Barry has referred to as his “most Bondian.”

6. It had a terrific performance by Diana Rigg as Bond’s doomed bride. While fans debate about George Lazenby’s turn as 007, his Bond was more vulnerable than the one by Sean Connery. It contributed to a film, under the guidance of director Peter Hunt, that took more chances than its immediate predecessors, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. There was still spectacle, but there was emotion to go with it. It’s a unique chapter in the film story of 007, one that hasn’t really been matched since.

OHMSS’s 40th anniversary Part IV: George Lazenby’s on-the-job training

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was never going to be an easy project: difficult locations, a long schedule and a rookie actor in the place of Sean Connery as James Bond.

The rookie was former model George Lazenby, selected from five finalists vying to play 007.

The documentary Inside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service went into great detail about how Lazenby was dogged by show business reporters who wrote about a rift Lazenby had with co-star Diana Rigg. It also discussed how the new actor was surly when Dana Broccoli, the spouse of producer Albert R. Broccoli, organized a party while on location in Switzerland.

Lazenby would walk away from the role, a move he conceded was a bad one during a 1994 007 fan convention in Los Angeles. For Lazenby, the whole thing wasn’t a happy experience, including tension with director Peter Hunt and paying his own way to promote the film in the U.S.:

OHMSS’s 40th anniversary Part III: Peter Hunt shakes up the 007 franchise

In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, James Bond had a co-star of sorts: director Peter Hunt.

Hunt, who had been with the Bond film series from the beginning, had the biggest impact on the 007 franchise by a director since his friend Terence Young directed Dr. No in 1962. He pressed for a return to Ian Fleming after producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had ditched the author’s novel and retained only the title and some characters of You Only Live Twice. His drive inspired Richard Maibaum to write perhaps his best script of the series (helped by Simon Raven, who punched up the dialogue in some key scenes).

Hunt was film editor of the first three Bond films, supervising editor for the fourth, Thunderball, and held that role plus second unit director on You Only Live Twice. OHMSS would be Hunt’s 007 swan song but he made an epic Bond adventure which, for the first time, included an unhappy ending. Back in 2002, after Hunt passed away, HMSS’s Rob Cotton wrote an appreciation of Hunt’s contribution to the series and, especially, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

In the economic sense, Hunt was unsuccessful. OHMSS wasn’t the financial blockbuster (though it earned a profit) of Goldfinger, Thunderball and to a lesser extent, You Only Live Twice. In the artistic sense? Well, Hunt directed what amounts to the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming James Bond novel and a film that some Bond fans say is ranked at or near the top of the series. Also, of all the directors who’ve worked in the series, Hunt was bold enough to work with the least-experienced Bond actor. All in all, whatever you think of the film, Hunt’s impact not only on OHMSS but the series itself is huge.

OHMSS’s 40th anniversary part II: John Barry teams up with Louis Armstrong

Composer John Barry was back for his fifth straight 007 score with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Except this time, his music would be used to introduce a new Bond. Barry, in a U.K. documentary, called it his “most Bondian score ever because I poured everything in because it was a new person.”

Instead of a title song, Barry opted for an instrumental. At this point, the Bond series had not had a song for the main titles that didn’t use the film’s title. Instead Barry and Hal David seized upon the phrase from the novel and film, “We have all the time in the world” and turned into a song used for a montage of Bond’s courtship of Tracy, the woman he would marry. Louis Armstrong, a legendary performer but in ill health, was signed to perform it. Despite Armstrong’s health issues, and producer Albert R. Broccoli’s initial balking at the singer’s asking price, the song became one of the highlights of the movie. Here’s the documentary’s take on the story:

And while we’re at it, here’s Barry’s main title instrumental:

OHMSS’s 40th anniversary Part I: The men who would be Bond

In a few short weeks it will be the 40th anniversary of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The film is a) one of the best, if not the best, James Bond movies; b) the “first major hiccup” in the Bond series (as TCM weekend host Ben Mankiewicz put it in introducing Diamonds Are Forever when that film was shown on TCM in May; c) the rare Bond film with an unhappy ending.

It’s such an important film to the Bond series, we figured it was worth the same treatment we gave to Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary. The best place to start is with the obvious: it was the first film in the official 007 film series not to star Sean Connery.

The reasons for that have been much written about, including Connery’s tiring of the role *and* feeling unappreciated and underpaid (particularly in comparison to the paychecks Dean Martin was getting for the Matt Helm film series). You can’t have a Bond movie without a Bond, so somebody had to be chosen.

Life magazine gave its readers a view of the five finalists in a collage of photographs taken by Loomis Dean.

The late Peter Hunt, the film’s director, described in the documentary Inside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service there were numerous potential Bonds tested. The Life photos gave a hint of that, including actor John Richardson performing a love scene. Also shown was a shot of actor Anthony Rogers’s screen test. Others under consideration were Hans De Vries, Robert Cambell and an Australian model named George Lazenby.

Life also showed actors auditioning for other roles including Agneta Eckemyr doing a screen test, apparently for the role of Tracy, 007’s doomed bride. In that photo Hunt can be seen in the lower right.

In the end, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman went with George Lazenby, the least experienced of the five 007 finalists. The move would have a major effect on the film.