As Christmas Day dawns upon us, I reflected on what’s been occupying my television for nearly two months. One of the select few streaming services to approximate the cable & satellite TV experience, PlutoTV, just so happened to be the culprit. But more specifically, the many exploits of a certain British super-spy were what seemed to be the remote’s frequent designation. The first 20 of Bond, James Bond’s cinematic adventures had played continuously on a channel where they were the star attraction, with one in particular catching my attention for the purposes of this writing: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the sixth film to feature the character & first to not feature Sean Connery in the role.
The reader, should they not be aware already, might be wondering why this one film would pertain to the Yuletide season. The reason is simple: During Bond’s latest attempt to foil the schemes of one Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), that persistent arch-enemy with a penchant for white cats, the audience realizes it’s Christmas as Blofeld’s current pawns, a bevy of gorgeous sexpots, are receiving gifts by a tree. Or so they think…as shortly after they begin to open these “presents”, Blofeld puts them in a trance, by similar methods to how he has previously brainwashed them into thinking they’ve been treated for various kinds of bogus allergies. Because you see, after being finally revealed to Agent 007 in his previous encounter with him during You Only Live Twice (1967), Blofeld has retreated to the Swiss Alps, trying to pass himself off as the heir to an aristocratic ancestry, & supervising the treatment of the aforementioned allergies in a clinic that is really his latest base of operations. All the while cooking up a sinister new extortion scheme: for in the “gifts” these women (of various nationalities) are receiving, there are the implements that shall spread a devastating infertility virus across the globe once they return home, particularly effecting agriculture, which in turn would effect the world’s food supply. But, the potential for it to spread to mammalian life (including humans) looms as a dire possibility, & Blofeld is the only one who holds the answer to a cure, of course.
More eagle-eyed viewers will probably take note of the season when watching Bond hazily wake-up from being clobbered by a SPECTRE stooge, the first thing he catches sight of being a Christmas tree in Blofeld’s personal chambers. And to top it off, the film was released in December of 1969, three for three.
With Secret Service comes various thoughts from yours truly, only select ones being shared today. Not only is it a personal fave of mine, but it also has become one of the fanbase over time, after having a mixed reception upon release, mostly from critics. So too, was the reception of Australian-born George Lazenby, the actor who followed in Connery’s footsteps. From car salesman, to model, to Bond, Lazenby had quite the interesting path to playing the famous sleuth. For a long time, & perhaps still to the casual viewer, Lazenby was “that one guy” who only played Bond once, & thus was seemingly unable to cement himself among the more iconic actors to take the part (again, to the casual).
A variety of elements contributed to Lazenby walking away, whether it be slack from producers Harry Saltzman & Albert Broccoli (something which Connery sympathized with him over, having not got along with Saltzman in particular), a personal tendency towards basically being a hippie (something that his agent played upon by suggesting that Bond would be “out of touch” with the coming 1970s), & mostly a care-free, down to Earth personality that didn’t adhere to the contract-obliged workings of the movie business.
Though not directly stated, Lazenby’s globe-trotting, troubled romance with another Aussie, which had lead him to London & eventually into the Bond role, might have also played a factor, as Lazenby’s commitments to the role sabotaged a potential rekindling. Lazenby’s walking away did hurt his acting career to an extent, with only Italian & Hong Kong made pictures being his outlet for awhile, the latter being of note, as he was to have lunch with Bruce Lee on the day he died, & would’ve been an eventual co-star. Whatever acting opportunities he may or may not have missed out on thanks to walking out on the next 7 Bond films, Lazenby ultimately found happiness with a wife & five children whilst having a career as a real estate agent, so it wasn’t all for naught.
As a closing thought/musing, one can’t help but wonder what Sean Connery would’ve brought to the role in this outing, had he not become disillusioned with his Bond fame & clashed with producers. Secret Service represents the culmination of the SPECTRE story arc that was built up through Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Thunderball (1965), & You Only Live Twice (1967), the famous Goldfinger (1964) being the only one to seemingly disregard the evil organization. Telly Savalas’ take on Blofeld might very well be the best the character has ever received, & seeing him act opposite Connery would’ve been a treat.
While that would have contributed to a higher note for Connery to go out on than say Diamonds Are Forever (1971), officially at least, perhaps the tragic love story that plays a crucial part in this entry of the series might not. Depends on who you might ask, as some may say that the love of Bond’s life being murdered by a vengeful Blofeld right after their wedding, could be an appropriately ironic end to the pursuits of a womanizing secret agent, having used nubile females as tools in his pursuits, only to have the one that stole his heart be ripped away.
It would’ve made for a compelling acting challenge for Connery, but perhaps Lazenby’s own ill begotten experience with love (at the time) added just the right amount of pathos to help On Her Majesty’s Secret Service be all the more unique among its fellow 007 adventures.