So, you’ve been chosen to replace Sean Connery as James Bond.
Viking Night: On Her Majesty's Secret Service
By Bruce Hall
December 6, 2017
First of all, congratulations! You’ve just become part of one of the world’s most storied film franchises. Fame and fortune - not to mention cars, women and the world’s finest toupe are now at your disposal. We hope you enjoy your time as James Bond, and have not in any way been influenced by the fact that your predecessor gave all this up because rabid fans kept trying to crawl in his windows at night.
Before we begin, let’s take a moment to review your credentials. I want to make sure I’m reading this right, because some of this can’t possibly be right.
You are Mr. George Lazenby, former used car salesman and male model from Australia. You certainly look the part, with all those muscles and that cleft chin. I can see why they liked you. It also says here that you stole one of Mr. Connery’s suits and barged into the audition room. They gave you the part despite your never having acted a day in your life. I assume you’re so brazen due to your background riding horses, swimming in the ocean, sweet talking the fairer sex, shooting guns and throwing knives.
Why, you could almost be James Bond yourself!
Let’s get you to a voice coach, teach you how NOT to walk like John Wayne and make you a millionaire. We’ll get around to signing that seven picture contract AFTER we make the movie.
I’m confident we in no way will come to regret that.
With minor embellishment from myself, that’s how that dude who was James Bond only once got to do it. Connery had indeed quit, and strapping Australian George Lazenby had indeed taken his place. The year was 1969, and the film was given a title not quite as long as the wait until your next birthday - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This would be the most ambitious Bond movie yet, based on Ian Fleming's 1963 novel of the same name. In it, Bond tangles with his nemesis, marries his equal (different person) and hits a room full of supermodels while wearing a kilt.
Let’s pause and expand on that. One day, while smoking cigars and speeding around awesomely in his expensive sports car, Bond (Lazenby) is passed by a beautiful woman in an even more expensive sports car. He follows her down to the sea where she attempts to drown herself - only to be rescued by Bond. For that, he is rewarded with an ambush. Again, because he is awesome, Bond utterly destroys his attackers in one of the most thrilling fight scenes of the early films.
For that, he is rewarded with the mysterious woman speeding away without her shoes, as well as one of the dullest opening title sequences in franchise history.
Yes, poor James Bond. The woman turns out to be (say it with me) The Fabulously Wealthy Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg, who is either the hot lady ninja from The (original) Avengers or that sassy old lady from Game of Thrones, depending on how long it’s been since your first birthday). It also turns out that her father Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) is a big fan. He considers Bond to be the ultimate man - perhaps even man enough to tame The adventurous and independent Contessa and produce some children.
Sure, the sentiment is a little obsolete. If anything, Draco might point the finger at himself for not providing a more structured, communicative environment for his child. Then again, what do I know? No doubt it’s difficult being on time to all those piano recitals when there’s always someone needing to be beaten with a pipe or slowly lowered into a pit of scorpions.
Bond points out that married life wouldn’t really be his jam, but he’d be perfectly happy to string Tracy along for a while in exchange for information. Bond is itching to bring down the terrorist organization SPECTRE - a much greater threat than anything Draco might be involved with.
So basically, Bond’s reply to the offer of marriage to a brilliantly talented, fantastically wealthy Contessa is basically:
“Don’t really want to marry her but I’ll show her a good time, if you make it worth my while.”
Friends, that is a baller move. Can you imagine saying that to a girl’s father, let alone a man who may very well own a scorpion pit?
Not only that, but this is the “B” story. The main plot involves Bond hunting down Blofeld (Telly Savalas), leader of the aforementioned SPECTRE. A quick thinking 007 makes assistance with the case a prerequisite of his deal with Draco, who readily agrees. Next thing you know, Bond is well on his way to settling a longstanding grudge with his arch enemy. And, his not quite on the level relationship with Tracy eventually drags the Contessa into the middle of it.
OHMSS (as it came to be called be people who have to write about it) is an unconventional Bond film that pushed boundaries in many ways, aside from the choice of lead. This is a more serious film than the previous two, and Lazenby’s Bond is more businesslike (though no less randy) than his predecessor. There’s also somewhat more of an emotional investment here, and while it doesn’t manifest itself until late in the film, it’s more than worth the wait. Bond finds the female version of himself and wouldn’t you know it - falls in love.
It’s an emotional side of Bond we wouldn’t see again until many years later. I’m not saying I need to see the man in love, I just tend to appreciate it when he takes some time to lick his wounds. It makes him feel more like a vaguely interesting hero and less like a flippant sociopath.
On the whole, OHMSS is easily one of my top three favorite Bond films. And, Lazenby is one of my top three Bonds. He’s no worse an actor than Charles Bronson, and with much of the last half of the movie being a pair of super badass action sequences, I am never not amazed at how well he excels in that area. He’s easily the most physical Bond prior to Daniel Craig.
And for my money, OHMSS contains some of the most satisfying action in the franchise.
Savalas would seem a curious choice for Blofeld, taking the character from a squat, pale British guy in the previous movie to a slightly taller dude with a stupendous tan and a faint New York accent. Still, he’s suitably sinister and the personal flourishes he adds to the character make me miss him as much as I miss Lazenby. Diana Rigg’s Contessa is every bit Bond’s equal and the time she gets to shine in the film’s closing half hour makes her the most underappreciated of all Bond’s interests.
Special commendation must be issued to Ilse Steppat as Irma Blunt, the spiritual successor to From Russia With Love’s Rosa Klebb. She is a truly formidable henchwoman, and it’s a shame she passed away before she could reprise the role.
Folks, don’t pass on Lazenby, and don’t pass on On Her Majesty’s...oh, you know the rest. I wish Lazenby hadn’t walked away, but if nothing else he gave us a taste of the Bond we might have had. A more grounded, interesting and physically dominant Bond franchise than we have even today.
Godspeed, Mr. Lazenby. It was fun while it lasted.