George Lazenby was a mostly unknown Australian model when he was chosen as the guy to step into the shoes vacated by Sean Connery after 5 Bond films. He was given such a hard time by the press during filming that really, he had lost before he was ever given a chance. Still, even though 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service has the reputation of a flop, it made more than 12 times its budget at the box office. Sadly, many factors led to the role being re-cast again after this movie came out, and Lazenby has gone down in history as a bit of a joke. A joke only to those that haven't watched the movie, of course. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is at worst a top 3 Bond movie, with possibly the best Bond girl of them all, and Lazenby himself as a terrific Bond.
It starts off with Bond saving a woman (Diana Rigg, famous as Emma Peel from the TV series The Avengers) from drowning herself in the ocean. He's swiftly attacked by two men, whom he brutally dispaches of. There's a terrific looking fist fight in the waves between Bond and one of the men, and the battle continues onto the sand. The scene also contains the famous line, after Rigg has escaped, where Lazenby observes to himself "This never happened to the other fella". Through the usual Bond movie machinations, James ends up at the mountain top hide out of Ernst Blofeld (Telly Savalas), where Blofeld is subliminally training groups of women as his agents of terrorism. Savalas is magnificent as Blofeld, turning in what I consider to be the best villainous performance in the entire Bond series. He's smooth (especially with that wonderful voice of his), intelligent, and just an all around cold hearted bastard. In short, he's everything you'd ever want in a villain, and Savalas plays him to perfection.
If there's one thing that many people take away from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it's the unusual impact that the Bond girl has on the film. Rigg disappears for the middle third of the movie, but when she's on screen, she's probably my favorite Bond girl. She matches Bond's wits, she's very independant, and she's a hell of a driver too. When she and Bond get together, Bond hasn't conquered another woman, they've entered into it as pretty much equal partners. It doesn't hurt that I've long had a crush on Rigg and she looks terrific in the movie.
Because he only did the one movie, Lazenby is at best an afterthought to most people when considering the actors who've played Bond. That's a shame because although he doesn't have the cocky charm of Sean Connery or the physical intensity of Daniel Craig, he has a nice mix of the two. He carries himself in a way that we believe he could bed these women and kick the asses of these guys. He also gets a couple of scenes to show some real acting ability, and he plays them nicely.
The action scenes are some of the best in the Bond series, with a famous ski chase down the mountain at night, a car chase through the icy roads, and (my personal favorite) a tremendous helicopter siege of the Blofeld compound. Peter Hunt had been an editor on all the previous Bond pictures and finally gets his chance to direct here. He doesn't disappoint, and keeps the movie going along at a fairly brisk pace, which is good because until 2006's Casino Royale, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the longest Bond movie, running 140 minutes.
Lazenby quit the series even before the release of the movie, feeling that Bond was a bit out of place and wouldn't last any longer in the new cinema of The Graduate and Easy Rider (he has since acknowledged how terribly wrong he was). It was announced as a firing, that Lazenby had angered producer Albert R. Broccoli with his youthful cockiness (at 30, Lazenby is the youngest actor to portray Bond) and sense of entitlement, which Lazenby admits were both true. Still, it was Lazenby who made the poor decision to get rid of him as Bond, and the series suffered for it. On Her Majesty's Secret Service has few of the silly gadgets that had come to dominate the Connery era (and would later dominate the Roger Moore era) and focuses more on story and character, which causes the action scenes to not need any sprucing up with gadgets. Essentially, it was the truer to Ian Fleming's books Bond movie that nobody really seemed to realize they wanted until Casino Royale. And it stands only behind Casino Royale as my favorite Bond movie. Maybe some day it, and Lazenby, will get the fair shake they deserve.