From Switzerland With Love: The Majestic James Bond Epic Returns to the Big Screen With 007 In Person
Unlike James Bond’s martinis, the July 8 screening at the Landmark of the 1969 Swiss-shot 007 thriller On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with star George Lazenby appearing in person is likely to shake and stir you. This is because — although it’s often overlooked — Majesty’s is arguably one of the top 10 of the 23 Bond movies produced by the Broccoli/Saltzman series that debuted in 1962 with the classic Dr. No. Here’s why the action packed Majesty’s is among the better Bonds in what has proven to be moviedom’s most lucrative film franchise ever:
The breathtaking Swiss Alpine scenery, especially of the Schilthorn — where the Bond supervillain has his lair, not far from the Jungfrau — is simply spectacular and should still wow auds, especially when seen as originally shot: on the big screen. The skiing sequences, with stunt skiers Luki Leitner and Willy Bogner, are simply mind-boggling. Switzerland — which has figured in many 007 adventures, as early as 1964’s masterpiece Goldfinger — is nothing less than a Majesty’s co-star, almost as beautiful as a Bond Girl!
Speaking of which, Diana Rigg — who was cleverly cast fresh from playing Emma Peel on the popular 1960s mod espionage British TV series The Avengers — is one of the best actresses to ever play a Bond gal. In fact, Rigg’s character, Countessa Teresa di Vicenzo, aka Tracy, is the only Bond Girl to marry the suave secret service agent! And fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones hit series can see Rigg — who currently portrays Olenna Tyrell on Thrones — when she was young and red hot enough to get James to propose to her.
The supporting cast also boasts one of the best Bond supervillains: Telly Savalas as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the “Number 1” of the global criminal organization SPECTRE, who often wears a Mao jacket and strokes a pussy (a white blue-eyed Turkish Angora). The pre-Kojak Savalas’ earlobe-less Blofeld arguably ranks alongside of Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No and and Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger as one of 007’s best (or worst!) archenemies hell-bent on world domination (what else?).
Also on hand are the usual suspects in the series inspired by Ian Fleming’s spy novels: Bernard Lee as the no-nonsense spymaster M, head of the MI6 intelligence agency that (along with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth!) licenses 007 to kill; Desmond Llewelyn as Q, the quartermaster of eccentric gadgets and weaponry who’s perpetually frustrated by Bond’s treatment of his inspired inventions while out in the field; and Lois Maxwell as M’s flirtatious secretary Miss Moneypenny, who must reconcile herself to losing her beloved James to Tracy.
Last but not least for the reasons why Majesty’s is one of the top 10 Bond pics is its leading man. Model George Lazenby rode portraying Europe’s Marlboro Man to starring in his first feature in one of the world’s most coveted roles. 007 aficionados will recall that Majesty’s is the first film in the franchise that did not star Sean Connery, who after five outings as Bond left the series after 1967’s Japan-set You Only Live Twice. Stepping into Connery’s big shoes was no easy feat for the novice actor, but the six’ two” Lazenby acquitted himself well in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
In addition to being Lazenby’s first major movie role and the first post-Connery Bond produced by the Broccoli/Saltzman team, Majesty’s had a number of other firsts: The Australian-born Lazenby was the first non-British actor to play the part and remains the only thespian to star in the Bond franchise who is not from the UK or Ireland (where Pierce Brosnan was born). At age 30, Lazenby remains the youngest thespian to have portrayed Bond. He is also probably the only actor to portray the MI6 agent wearing a kilt. And, as said, this is the only film in the Broccoli/Saltzman movies wherein James Bond actually gets married.
For this film historian’s money, Lazenby was a better Bond than Brosnan and Timothy Dalton, and was superior than Roger Moore in about half of the latter’s seven depictions of the debonair secret agent. In a 2013 interview I did with Lazenby for the Swiss Deluxe Hotels’ magazine Ambiance, he forthrightly stated that his favorite screen version of the British agent was portrayed not by himself but by: “Oh, Sean Connery! That’s what made me interested in Bond in the first place. I wasn’t an actor, but I could remember going to a movie and saying to myself, ‘Hmm, I wouldn’t mind being that guy. He gets all the women, he wins at gambling, he gets rid of the guys who get in his way’ — how about that for a life? When the job came up I just said, ‘Get out of my way guys, I’m coming in. I’m gonnabe an actor.’ [Laughs.]”
Of the current screen incarnation of Bond, Lazenby generously gushes that Englishman Daniel Craig “does it very well, doesn’t he? I saw one of his movies, the first one he did [2006’s Casino Royale] and he had a lot more acting experience than I had. So he carried himself quite well. Except there’s a dark side to Bond now — there’s a darker side. Whereas in my day, he was a lover and a killer — now they just seem to be killers. [Laughter.]”
Over the years Lazenby has continued to act and in June 2013 he returned to the spotlight and the scene of the crime at the Swiss Alps for the opening of Bond World, a museum atop the Schilthorn where Blofeld’s headquarters and much of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was shot on location. As Lazenby told me: “They set it up to make it look like James Bond. I came in on a helicopter on the mountain, where I worked for six months. Flew up from Murren up to the Schilthorn, where the [Piz Gloria] restaurant is. There were 300 guests and the restaurant was revolving. And I was at a non-revolving table [laughs] and all these people were passing by, waving as I was having dinner. There were fireworks as well, there were a lot of press there…A stuntman, one of the girls from the film and a second unit director were there.
“There’s also a museum designated to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service underneath the restaurant; it goes right around the restaurant. There’s a lot of stuff that reminds me of that time: There’s a board and if you touch a button it shows part of the film. You’ve got statues of me hanging about and posters — even a piece of a helicopter is in the museum. Not to mention photos of many of the other people in the film and what not.”