James Bond movies, part 2: George Lazenby, and Connery returns

[Start with part 1]

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Famously, the only outing of the second official Bond, George Lazenby — a man who was offered a seven-movie deal but walked away after one, only to sink without trace. Which is a shame, because he could have been good. He’s quickly drawn into a fight in the pre-titles sequence, and there is a blunt physicality in the way he handles himself that is much more convincing than anything Connery achieved.

Unfortunately, once he has to start acting, he’s much less impressive, and comes across more as an enthusiastic schoolboy than Connery’s twinkling-eyed but cold-hearted assassin. His delivery of any given line is OK, but when he gets into dialogue and has to say several lines together you realise that his intonation is the same on each one. It’s very unnatural. Of course, that’s forgivable given that Lazenby was not really an actor, but a model. That’s why I say he could have been good: presumably if he’d stayed on he’d have got coaching and improved his delivery.

Not only does OHMSS give us a new Bond, but also new Blofeld, much more physical than Donald Pleasance’s version. Telly Savalas doesn’t look a lot like the Blofeld of You Only Live Twice, but he’s much better suited to the skiing, bobsledding and gunplay. As a more hands-on Evil Genius, he doesn’t need a powerful henchman; but he does have the repulsive Irma Bunt, clearly intended to channel Rosa Klebb.

Unfortunately, the one area where OHMSS entirely fails to convince is right at its core: the love story between Bond and Tracey that sets up the assassination at the end. In the book, this is sold much more effectively; the film can only fling Bond’s out-of-nowhere marriage proposal at us cack-handedly. It’s been justified, more or less, by a Two Young Lovers montage in the middle of the film. It ought to be too cheesy to work, but gets away with it due entirely to Louis Armstrong’s beautiful song We Have All The Time In The World.

I’d have liked to see another Lazenby film. But instead …

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Sean Connery was persuaded to return, but in a film that belongs firmly to the Roger Moore era, with its absurd mid-desert Moon-Buggy chase and kooky sidekick murderers Wint and Kidd. It comes across as a film that has no clear idea what it’s trying to achieve — a feeling exacerbated by Blofeld turning up again, looking completely different from either of his previous incarnations. Would it really have been too much to ask for Charles Gray to at least wear a bald wig?

Really, the whole thing is a mess. The plot makes even less sense than usual (what are Wint and Kidd trying to actually achieve? Why would they want to kill Bond at the end?) Perhaps Connery’s don’t-really-care-any-more attitude seeped into the rest of the production team, but for one reason or another, it all feels terribly by-the-numbers. Even Shirley Bassey’s theme song seems half-hearted compared with her classic performance in Goldfinger.

I very much like the moment in the Marvel Avengers movie where Agent Coulson tells Loki that he’s going to lose “because you lack conviction”. That describes Diamonds Are Forever perfectly. (Come to think of it, why am I even writing about this, rather than very much better Avengers? Ah, another time.)

By the time Bambi and Thumper turn up for the most unconvincing fight scene in any Bond movie (and yes, I am counting the outer-space shoot-out in Moonraker) any vestige of Fleming’s character has evaporated, and the stage is set for Roger Moore to slip easily into place.

More on that next time.

15 responses to “James Bond movies, part 2: George Lazenby, and Connery returns

  1. I keep meaning to go back and rewatch all these, but I recall them being very uneven .. what is with Blofield and bringing him back over and over and over .. good lord :) Perhaps best to be very selective and watch just a few of the key greats… or is it worth doing them all? are any _that bad_, or just not so great?

  2. I’m very curious to see what you say about Roger Moore. Last year I ended up watching a couple of old Bond movies (though, unlike you, I had no interest in watching the entire series) and the one that I find myself thinking most about is Live and Let Die. It is not a good movie, but I think there is something great about Roger Moore performance — a combination of genuine brutality with a nicely physical charisma. I don’t think it would be possible to keep that tone over an extended sequence of movies (and Moore didn’t) but I do find his presence in that particular movie fascinating.

  3. Well, to be fair Blofeld does not recur that often. In From Russia With Love he is very rarely glimpsed, and if I recall correctly not even named. He is similarly backgrounded in Thunderball. Then of course he is the Big Bad in three consecutive films (You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever). Finally an unnamed but suspiciously Blofeld-like bald baddie appears in the pre-credit sequence of For Your Eyes Only. So six appearances, but only three of them substantial. You don’t even see his face in the others.

    Perhaps best to be very selective and watch just a few of the key greats… or is it worth doing them all? are any that bad, or just not so great?

    A few are really pretty dire, so that it was a struggle to get through them. Most are at least good, undemanding fun. I think if I was going to aim for a highlights package, I’d go for one from each Bond. And my choices would be:

    1. Connery: Goldfinger
    2. Lazenby: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (not a difficult choice!)
    3. Moore: The Spy Who Loved Me
    4. Dalton: The Living Daylights
    5. Brosnan: The World is Not Enough
    6. Craig: Casino Royale

  4. NickS, I won’t comment on your comment because I’ll be writing about LALD next (maybe even this evening). But I will say I found your reading of that film fascinating. All will become clear.

  5. Pingback: James Bond movies, part 3: Roger Moore | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  6. 1. Connery: Goldfinger
    2. Lazenby: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (not a difficult choice!)
    3. Moore: The Spy Who Loved Me
    4. Dalton: The Living Daylights
    5. Brosnan: The World is Not Enough
    6. Craig: Casino Royale

    Perfect! Theres my playlist for the next few looong nights when the babies are up and sick :)

  7. Pingback: James Bond movies, part 4: Sean Connery returns again | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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  9. Hm. With Diamonds Saltzman and Brocolli were trying to achieve a lighter, campier, more openly frivolous, *Americanized* Bond movie, more than that, they, UA, and Guy Hamilton wanted to achieve a *hit*. Which they did. For all I enjoy its junkiness, Diamonds is the point when the Bond movies really slip from being *their own thing* to chasing trends (hence americanization, blaxploitation, “chop socky” etc), it’s only with Spy that being Bondian by drawing on past Bonds helps them gain their own identity of a sort again (tho’ an early draft would have had Goldfinger’s brother!). Then again, Guy Hamilton was brought back for Diamonds in an attempt to emulate the success of Goldfinger but without a strong Fleming plot and characters to draw on (the failure of OHMSS seems to have been chalked up to its very *Flemingness* quite apart from its Lazenbyness) even if Tiffany Case, Wint & Kydd, and a couple of plot elements were retained in mutant form.

  10. Oops, that should be Wint and *Kidd*, I must’ve been thinking of Sam Kydd. Wint and Kidd were killing off people to close down the pipeline (this is more of a problematic holdover from Fleming’s rather different novel which may be oddly low-key but entertains not least for Ian’s unconvincing american gangsters called, if memory serves, the Spangled Mob. I liked Tiffany too, Jill St John certainly has appeal on-screen but is shifted into bimbo mode in irritating fashion. Not that I necessarily dislike bimboes!) while they reappear at the end because, uh, they *really* liked Hairnst Campro Blofeld?! No, because it’s a spin on the endings of From Russia and Goldfinger and it’s stupidly amusing. Political incorrectness and dubious undertones aside, I find Wint and Kidd entertaining as characters they’re such callous, unusual-looking, oddly polite weirdoes. I’m not proud.
    On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is my favourite Bond movie, it had me at “this never happened to the other fellah”. Seriously, Lazenby is much better than he’s given credit for despite his obvious inexperience and he’s a great physical presence; John Barry’s score is unassailably great; Peter Hunt does a good job as director; the cinematography and editing is excellent; Diana Rigg is supremely self-possessed yet oddly vulnerable; Savalas makes a great *different* kind of Blofeld; the snowbound landscape is memorable; the scenes with Bond and the girls are joyfully faux-innocent yet vulgar; the scene in which a desperate Bond is pursued through the festivities is touching, and the finale is so tragic and abrupt. I prefer this to Casino Royale (Craig/Campbell) by some way, it is not obviously trying so hard to be “real” and emotional, it is what it is. It is Bond.

  11. Well, I can’t agree that it’s better than the Craig Casino, but otherwise I am pretty much in agreement as regards On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s only Lazenby’s one-note acting that lets it down, really.

  12. My problem with Casino Royale is that though it is exactly the sort of tougher more Flemingian Bond that Brosnan had wanted to make, it is *exactly* what you’d expect a modern back-to-basics Square One Bournian Bond revamp (I refuse to use the term “reboot” in a filmic context. Ugh) to be like. It brought with it it’s own pseudorealist conventions, exemplified by the scene in which Vesper shivers under the shower aghast at the violence she’s witnessed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film but it’s also perhaps a little self-satisfied with its relative rawness, the end result : Quantum of Solace.
    The other thing that really annoys me about Casino is that it seems a little ashamed of being a Bond movie to the point that it could almost not be one. One could argue that is because of its fidelity to the novel, in which Bond becomes Bond (or, actually, in which Bond reaffirms his beliefs – that his disgust with his job had caused him to doubt – and returns to being Bond in the face of Vesper’s “betrayal” and SMERSH’s dastardliness) yet the Bond *movies’* style is something other. Quantum illustrated what happens when you take it too far but Casino obviously contains those problems to an extent. It’s a poser, how do you make a modern Bond movie that is *unashamedly* a Bond movie but also isn’t too generic or afraid to be more Flemingian (in an updated and less politically dubious sense) or pompous?
    We agree on OHMSS at least. ;)

  13. I’ve read in many places that Casino Royale and especially Quantum of Solace are “Bourne-ish”. Maybe I’m at an advantage in never having seen any of the Bourne films (though I am still waiting for them to make one called The Bourne Shell). That lets me see the Bond movies on their own merits.

  14. Pingback: James Bond movies, part 6: Pierce Brosnan | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  15. Pingback: James Bond movies, part 1: Sean Connery | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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