On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with George Lazenby as 007, Diana Rigg as not only his Bond Woman but his legal wife by the end of the film, and Telly Savalas as Blofield, and costing less than previous films at $7 still made of $80 and all things considered was a more serious, less humorous and better film than the last two made with Connery.
Even after four decades my reaction towards Lazenby is the same. It was a noble effort but there was something missing. This was more than the obvious fact that he was not Connery and different. The issue was one of credibility and he did not communicate as the kind of man who would be content with his licence to kill however much the target were justified on behalf of the state and he certainly was not the kind of personality who was able to engage in general killing, albeit usually in self defence, of the enemy in which Bond was required to engage in the film productions and in the books. He was closer to the kind of person who could be a real spy as a man of conscience and integrity, as well as daring and courage I felt he would not survive the selection process for either role and certainly he lacked the sexual charisma to have women want to drop their knickers the moment they came into direct contact
The film begins with Bond in Portugal where he prevents a woman committing suicide on a beach that he happens to be passing noting the sports car and her attractiveness. For some unexplained reason the men supposed to be her security fight with him. Later he sees the same woman at the Casino and she gives the impression of inviting him to her room after he has paid her debts and where he provides caviar and champagne, but she is not there, only the henchmen of her father who kidnap Bond and take him to meet Marc-Angel Draco, the head of a European crime Syndicate Unione Corse. Although he does not appear have a title his daughter does Contessa di Venenzo, presumably she was previously married but why she wanted to take her own life is also not disclosed. The father admits she is a headstrong young woman independent of him but because Bond saved her life and she appears interested in him he suggests marriage with the payment of one million as a dowry. Bond expresses interest but only if he provides a lead to the whereabouts of Blofield. Back in London M does not support Bond’s obsession with Blofield who he has been trying to track down for two years so he resigns although Moneypenny changes his letter to a request for two weeks paid holiday, to save face on both sides. It has to be said that in the films the relationship between Bond and M is a prickly one but while M appears to respect and depend on the work undertaken by Bond, Bond does not appear to have any liking or respect for his boss.
Bond uses the leave to accept an invitation from Draco to attend his birthday party at which his daughter is expected to attend. She is incensed that Bond has been invited and bullies her father to revealing his information about Blofield as a test to see if Bond is really interested in her. They have a genuine romance but then part, although it was not clear to me why there was no continuity except that Bond needs to follow up the lead about Blofeld which involves an unconventional breaking of the safe of the lawyer said to know the whereabouts and created as a visual for the audience. The breakin establishes that Blofield is the head of a clinical research institute at the top of a mountain in Switzerland and is seeking via the lawyer to establish himself as the legitimate Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp, although why he wants to do this is also not explained.
Bond arranges to replace the Sir Hilary Bray, a Scotsman, from the College of Arms and arranges to travel to the Institute to interview the would be Count, inspect the evidence he has assembled and persuade him to journey away from the fortress to the location of the family residence and burials centre for the final verification so he can kill him. At the institute Bond finds that all the patients are attractive sex starved young woman and he finds it difficult to keep up satisfying those who show particular interest. The young women are bossed by a Klebbs type villainous assistant Irma Bunt who rules the girls and keeps the guest under virtual lock and key, although this does not stop Bond getting out of his room and into the beds of some of the young women. During one such encounter Bond discovers that Blofield is using a form of hypnotic mind control to cure the psychological aspects of the allergies but also to take subconscious control for a purpose yet to be disclosed but which they will have no knowledge of, except that the young women come from all parts of the globe as have other patients in the past. Bond has one local contact who attempts to reach him but is captured and tortured before being killed and who reveals that Sir Hilary is Bond. I also have to record that while Isle Steppat is convincing as Bunt Telly Savalas is Telly Savalas and unconvincing as Blofeld.
The course of treatment ends as Christmas approaches and the girls are given a vanity case as a present but told not to touch one item of make up. That none of them or the other women previous trained attempt to do so is another credulity challenge, These item contain bacterial material by which Blofeld on behalf of Spectre intends to hold the world to ransom. Bond manages to escape after being captured but not killed, again begging the question why not and tries to avoid the search being made for him led by Bunt joining the crowds attending a large Christmas fair which includes ice skating, stock car racing and various stalls for food, drink and souvenirs. Fortunately he meets up with the Countess who had been told by her father where he is. He fails to make direct contact with London to warn of what is to happen and the couple get involved in the Stock car race, escape and then have to hold out in a barn because of a snow storm.
In the morning Blofeld and his men all super excellent skiers are making a search of the outlying premises but when they reach the Barn, Bond and the Countess are on skies making their next attempted get away. Blofield sets off an avalanche which traps the couple. Because Bond is not visible it is assumed he had been buried and killed while the Countess is visible and alive and captured, The only justification why she is not killed is that Blofield fancies her and seeks a formal alliance through marriage with her father.
Bond survives and makes his way to London where he finds that the world’s powers are prepared to pay up and M refuses Bond permission to go for Blofeld at the Institute where the tapes are kept which will trigger the women to undertake their assignment if the ransom is not paid. Bond contacts the father of the Countess and they make successful aerial assault on the fortress which they then destroy.
Blofeld escapes using a bobsled on an official run with Bond in close pursuit and Blofeld is shot out of the course and appears to be killed ensnared in a tree branch with Bond making the quip about branching out. For some unbelievable reason he does not check out that the man is dead or ensure that Irma Bunt is rounded up. He has only himself to blame for what happens next. Bond and the Countess are married in a great celebration at which M Moneypenny and Q all attend the wedding and reception provided at great cost and many flourishes by the European head criminal. although in fairness he and his men at the cost of many lives did save humanity from potential extinction.
As the couple set off on their honeymoon and stop to take off the decorations on the car, Blofeld drives past with Bunt firing at them as they pass. The Countess is killed in what is a moving last scene and which makes good much of the rubbish before.
It is as a consequence of this event that You only Live twice , the book, has meaning, explaining the state that Bond is in and why he has been demoted and the good fortune of meeting up with Blofeld and this time ensuring that he is dead by killing him by hand. I should also mention that among the Angels of Death as the young women at the Institute are known and with whom Bond has a relationship are Joanna Lumley and would appear in the New Avengers after Diana Rigg concluded her role in the original series and as did Honour Blackman (Goldfinger). Another Angel was Julie Ege, the former Miss Norway who came to England to improve her knowledge of the language, starred in Up Pompeii with Frankie Howard and a number of Hammar films, and was something of a socialite, if I remember correctly.
The book is the second of the Blofeld trilogy commencing with Thunderball and d ending with You only Live twice and not Diamonds are Forever which was the next film and the final Connery although as I have shown the studio altered the storyline in earlier Fleming books to make Smersh Spectre and have Blofeld appear without showing his face.
Whereas in the film it is Bond who searches for Blofeld in the book it is M while Bond believes Spectre has ended and Blofeld with it and he is about to resigns because M refuses to reassign him.
As in film he does save her honour at the gambling table when she cannot pay the accumulating debt. It is after this incident that she attempts to commit suicide and both are taken by her father’s men to see him against their respective wills where the marriage proposition is presented. Bond then agrees to romance the woman but only from wanting her to stop the suicides attempts and while Draco does advise Bond that Blofeld is in Switzerland it is the College of Arms which contacts to advise of the approach of Blofeld to become the Comte. The book explains that Blofeld has had plastic surgery which enable the use of a different actor in the film. Blofield plan is only directed at the UK and Ireland and against the agriculture rather than the civilian population. Apart from the introduction of the Christmas setting and the capture of the countess the rest of the book including the avalanche appears to be faithfully reproduced in the film. Fleming had stayed at a sports club in the Alps which the Nazi’s converted into a research establishment on Asiatic races.
I also learned from Wikipedia that Draco is the nickname given to Sir Francis Drake and which was also the basis for Draco Malfoy in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series where by coincidence I am also viewing again with the first films completed and will form the subject of the next writing after Hunted and other updates on my main work project.
I also discovered in the book Bond does not attempt to present a different personality when playing the role of the representative of the college of Arms and which grates in the film as his performance as a boring upper class English noble did not work at the time, and even more so now.
I also suggest that Lazenby and Rigg do not make a likely couple although I must confess I have always found women like Rigg, Diana Doors, Honour Blackman, Margaret Lockward, Joan Collins and even Elizabeth Taylor as she matured intimidating. Now Jean Simmons, Julie Christie and Jenny Agutter are a different order of class and interest although top of the list of crushes has always been the Europeans Ingrid Bergman and of course Bardot.