There’s something about George Lazenby’s chin dimple that reawakens my Kirk Douglas obsession.
“This never happened to the other guy” quips 007 at the end of the pre-credits sequence of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In case any viewers had been napping through this preliminary beach skirmish, the guy rescuing Diana Rigg from the surf is not Sean Connery. The new Bond on the block is Aussie George Lazenby, who makes his debut in the sixth film of the series and suffers the indignity of having his voice dubbed in some scenes (by George Baker). He also falls in love, gets married and is widowed — all within the space of 142 minutes. In between there’s the usual heady cocktail of sex, violence, ribald jokes and some jaw-dropping Alpine action. Some things don’t change.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has long been my favourite James Bond film — despite the fact that it doesn’t feature the muscular presence and sardonic wit of Sean Connery. That might sound as perverse as saying you prefer a glass of Cava to Dom Perignon ’57, but there’s something about Lazenby’s chin dimple that reawakens my Kirk Douglas obsession.
The story of how gorgeous George won, and then lost, the role of a lifetime within the space of just one movie merits a film — or at least a blog — all of its own. If you watch the interviews he gave before, during and after production, you’ll get a flavour of what it was like to be plucked from relative obscurity to play one of cinema’s most iconic characters. The 29-year-old model clearly wasn’t picked for his acting ability, but he carries off the Savile Row tailoring with aplomb.
Peter Hunt’s film is ostensibly about the fiendish bioterrism plot that Blofeld (played by Telly Savalas) has been cooking up in his Swiss mountain retreat, Piz Gloria. But the die-hard romantics know this film is really about Bond’s unlikely transition from a philandering, Teflon-coated man of action to a lovestruck schoolboy. He spends so much time trying to save poor little rich girl Tracy Di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg) from various perils — including herself — that there’s no time to road-test any of Q’s gadgets.
Lazenby only had one film in which to make his mark on the franchise, so how do the actor and the film measure up in those crucial areas?
Variations on a theme
Bond theme music used to be synonymous with brassy Welsh singers and daft lyrics. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has to make do with an instrumental theme, because even a lyricist as accomplished as Don Black would have struggled to shoehorn that title into a 2-minute ditty. John Barry’s rousing instrumental remains one of the best of the series. Like the Bond theme it hits you right between the eyes, from those opening bars that imitate a hail of gunfire. Then there’s Louis Armstrong’s lovely “We Have all the Time in the World”, which plays over a very un-Bond-like romantic montage of 007 and Tracy on a series of dates. Perfect.
Sun, sea and snow
I’m a bit of a Europhile when it comes to Bond locations. Give me From Russia with Love any day over Goldfinger or Diamonds Are Forever. With no Ken Adam sets to blow you away this time, OHMSS begins on a beach and relies largely on spectacular Alpine scenery, before concluding in a sun-drenched Portugal. Oh, and there’s Bond’s little trip to Gumbold’s dingy-looking office in Berne, an episode that has a pleasingly Harry Palmer feel about it.
Old slaphead returns
It’s no real suprise to find that arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld is back — this time in the form of a pre-Kojak Telly Savalas. If you find the change of Bond disconcerting, how about the transition from a horribly scarred Donald Pleasence (You Only Live Twice) to this new, cosmetically enhanced version of the bald megalomaniac? Apparently he’s done something to his ear lobes too, and it’s all in the pursuit of some fancy aristocratic title.
Lazenby should thank his lucky stars he wasn’t cast in Thunderball — a film replete with tedious underwater sequences. As well as the usual fisticuffs, George’s 007 gets stuck into stock-car racing and a climactic bobsleigh race with Blofeld. But arguably the highlight of OHMSS is the skiing, including Bond’s downhill plunge after escaping from Piz Gloria and his flight with Tracy from Blofeld and his henchmen. The real star here is ace cameraman Willy Bogner, who did some extraordinary work in capturing the piste action as he skied backwards.
A (pretty) decent proposal
Crime boss Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) offers Bond a cool £1 million for the hand of his troublesome daughter, Tracy. Smitten he may be, but one look at Piz Gloria’s Alpine Room has Bond treating Blofeld’s Angels of Death like his own personal harem. With a bevy of international beauties including Anouska Hempel, Joanna Lumley and Catherine Schell, who can blame him? Then he goes all soft and makes his own proposal to Tracy — in a cow shed of all places. I’m not sure Sean Connery could have maintained a straight face during this startling transition, but Lazenby seems almost tender.
Call me Tracy
Looking for character development in a Bond film, can be an unrewarding task — particularly among the female cast members. With due apologies to Judi Dench fans, Diana Rigg’s performance is head and shoulders above any other actress in the series. You’d expect the woman who played Emma Peel to more than hold her own in the action and repartee stakes, but she brings real pathos to a woman whose fate seems determined from her opening sea-side suicide attempt. Her brutal assassination (reputedly) drew some real tears from the grieving groom.
Sean Connery had his moments — remember that unmanly towelling romper suit in Goldfinger? In his guise as genealogist Sir Hilary Bray, the pipe-smoking George gets to don a cape, a kilt, a cardigan and yet more of those ruffled shirts. Well, nobody’s perfect.
(This post was brought to you as part of James Bond January, hosted by Paragraph Film Reviews (http://paragraphfilmreviews.com/.)