A long-ago post, the poorly and on-the-nose titled “My Top 10 Opening Scenes,” sparked a friendly debate about my choosing of the opening scene of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as number 10. The disagreement wasn’t over my choosing of it – we agree on that. The issue was Lazenby. George Lazenby. Or, as I like to call him, the Bastard Bond.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would not have worked with Sean Connery in the title role. Connery brought with him too much baggage, and by the time of You Only Live Twice, was sleepwalking through the role. The near-deity status of Connery’s Bond is Connery’s own worst enemy – when seeing Sean Connery play James Bond, you see Sean Connery play James Bond.
Lazenby, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity. No one knew what to expect. It allowed the production team to do whatever they wanted, and be free to tell a different sort of Bond story.
Sure, Lazenby had his faults. Some were a direct result of some leftover Connery playfulness on the part of the writers – the overblown costume changes – and some generally pedestrian direction in the quiet bits (as much as I love the Bond series, I will always fault the quality of the direction. Extremely pedestrian). Many were due to Lazenby’s inexperience and unrefined (some would say nonexistent) acting ability.
Lazenby’s Bond is a young, virile Bond – not the relic of time past that Connery had become. The fight scenes had an aggressiveness to them that hadn’t been seen in a Bond film (the Red Grant fight from From Russia With Love being the noteworthy exception). He is not the cocksure, supremely confident Bond of Connery. He’s cocky. He’s arrogant. This is not Bond as an iconic BOND. This is a human Bond, played by an actor completely in over his head, and figuring it out about halfway through the film. Until Timothy Dalton, this was the first time Bond was human and not an over-the-top pulp fantasy.
The relationship between Diana Rigg’s Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo and Lazenby’s Bond is the most human and effective relationship in a Bond film (surpassed only recently by Daniel Craig and Eva Green in Casino Royale). This was a Bond in love. This was a Bond willing to marry. And you believed it.
And then she was taken from him in the most painful scene ever put into a Bond film.
This film was a set-up for Lazenby’s Bond. Lazenby was initially contracted for seven films. Taking the advice of a jackass, he bowed out after one, saying that Bond was a relic of the 60s, and wouldn’t carry on in the “free” seventies.
Thanks to the aforementioned jackass and Lazenby’s idiotic move to listen to him, when we see Bond again, it’s Sean Connery on a mission. He wants vengeance. But it’s the iconic BOND. He’s not human. When you see Connery, you don’t feel one iota of the pain that Lazenby felt. Five minutes in, we wipe our hands, and it becomes the trainwreck that is Diamonds Are Forever.
Now, this brings up the question – would Lazenby have gotten better in the role? Absolutely. I genuinely feel that he could have become a great James Bond. Unfortunately, he was (through every fault of his own) relegated to being the slightly wilted lettuce on a Sean Connery sandwich.
Do I think Lazenby is the best Bond? Not at all. But, I don’t think he deserves the unfair hate. Sean Connery is the iconic Bond. Roger Moore is the buffoon Bond. In his time, Timothy Dalton was the closest to Ian Fleming’s Bond. Pierce Brosnan could have been great, but was saddled with three awful films and one great one. Daniel Craig (whom I had wanted for Bond for two years), is now the most representative of Fleming’s Bond, and my personal favorite.
In Craig’s Bond, I see a continuation of what Lazenby would have become. Driven by vengeance, an unstoppable force.