[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.