With 'No Time To Die' fast approaching cinemas, we're looking back over the six actors who played Bond - Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, and George Lazenby - and making cases for and against them, as well as their best and worst movies.
George Lazenby as Bond is often a pub quiz question. It's either name the actor who played Bond only once, or for a bonus point, name the movie in which he starred. The circumstances in which a former mechanic and car salesman ended up playing the world's most famous spy are as outlandish as the world in which he exists. Yet, it happened. If you're looking for an entertaining examination of his story, seek out the documentary 'Becoming Bond'.
Before he was skiing down the side of a mountain, George Lazenby convinced the casting director and Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli that he was the man to replace Sean Connery. Watching 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' back, it's remarkable how simultaneously different and familiar his performance is to Connery's. He's vulnerable in parts, yet callous and brutal the next. Lazenby's Bond was less of a sly assassin and more of a caddish thief. He impersonates a heraldry expert, for one. He steals documents to prove his theories on Blofeld, not to mention the fact that he's on a first-name basis with a criminal kingpin and is only friendly enough terms with him that said kingpin tries to convince him to marry his daughter to help... cure her of whatever malaise it is that haunts her?
It's perfectly nutty to describe the plot of 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' - Bond is induced to marry the daughter of a criminal kingpin so he can find out where Blofeld is, who is planning to wipe out the world's farming industry in an extortion plot, all while pretending to be a Scottish academic who's infiltrating a jet-set ski resort owned by Blofeld. Indeed, out of all of the Bond movies of the classic era, 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' provides ample opportunity for lampooning and parody.
We're of course talking about 'Austin Powers' here. The '60s mod set design of 'Austin Powers' is clearly influenced from 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service', as is the plot device involving Bond and Tracy di Vicenzo, not to mention Blofeld's "Angels of Death" and Dr. Evil's fembots. Yet, beyond this, George Lazenby's Bond was very much the man of the moment. He famously turned up at the premiere with long hair and a beard. He'd been consulting an astrologer for a number of years, and walked away from Bond after just one movie because he felt that Bond was going to be archaic in a few years' time and he didn't want to be stuck in a seven-movie contract.
With the benefit of hindsight, Lazenby's decision is like that of Dick Rowe, the A&R man who turned down The Beatles. Rowe famously told Brian Epstein that guitar bands were on the way out. Lazenby felt the same about Bond. Yet, it's in this detachment and devil-may-care attitude that his portrayal of Bond becomes all the more compelling. You see fragments of the conflicted killer that would go on to define both Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig's run with the character. Of course, this being the tail end of the sixties, there's a healthy dose of hopelessly outdated tropes. Bond slaps around women, sleeps with them, there are the double-entendres and the sexual in-your-endos, and there's even a psychedelic scene where Bond witnesses hypnosis. Telly Savalas, who'd later go on to play a hardened New York cop in 'Kojak', is here playing... an American version of Blofeld? Maybe?
Had Lazenby stuck around for more than just one movie, you'd have to wonder where the franchise would have ended up. For sure, director Peter R. Hunt had some out-there ideas, but they worked and the strong visual sense that the movie had has impacted others. Christopher Nolan and Steven Soderbergh both cite it as the best of the franchise. In fact, Nolan homaged 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' by setting the entire third act of 'Inception' in a skiing resort just like it.
Although it's somewhat neglected, 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' and George Lazenby represent an intriguingly nuanced, experimental representation of a stock character. The poster promised Bond and the movie was "far up, far out, far more" and it was all of those things. That it took years, decades even, for Bond to come back to a place like this speaks to how the franchise itself is built on repetition and standards. George Lazenby's Bond wasn't anything of those. He was far too unique to do it again. That's what made him a real special agent.
So, over to you - does George Lazenby's Bond rank in your estimation or has he skied off the side of a mountain? Vote in our poll!