Ah, George Lazenby. Whenever I hear the song of my favorite Scandinavian singer Sondre Lerche, Like Lazenby, I am always reminded of everybody’s favorite black sheep of the Bond family. It had been years, when the Lerche song was released in 2009, since I saw the Aussie’s first and only Bond outing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I told myself to watch this film again but never got round to doing it until last week when, in preparation to create a Bond special that we’re planning for our magazine, I bought the movie on DVD. And it surprised me to realize that hey, Lazenby wasn’t that bad.
Hear me out. First of all we have to remember that James Bond is not exactly a difficult character to play. All he has to do is show up, find out who’s messing around with the world at any given time, check back with M and catch the bad guy while traveling to exotic locations and romancing the ladies. It’s not like he’s the brain of MI6 operations who has to deal with a suspected treason by someone who is an upper echelon of an esteemed agency and conduct an investigation in secret like George Smiley. Bond movies essentially are boy fantasies – the cool gadgets, the swanky cars, the dashing suits and the impossibly gorgeous ladies. If Le Carre is the thriller of the so-called espionage genre, Fleming is the romance of the genre.
There is no need to hire someone like Gary Oldman to play this bloke. Of course it does help if your Bond can act too, but we don’t need an Oscar winner in this role. In fact, given the amount of action set pieces the movies have and the crazy stunts the character is given to do, it’s better to have a physical actor as Bond. It just so happened that the first Bond actor Albert Broccoli got was Sean Connery, who by the time he took on Bond in Dr. No, had already had a considerable amount of acting experience. Lazenby’s ‘mistake’, if we could put the blame on him, is that he was the one Broccoli gave the role to after Connery got even better at acting and was already established for playing Bond. In my opinion, it was a case of ‘being in the right place on the wrong time’. Perhaps if he were to play Bond after Roger Moore…
But looking at the movie itself, I could find nothing exactly wrong with Lazenby’s acting. He was said to be a bad actor by some of the hoity toity critics of the time but, looking back, I find most movies in the past were acted in a certain way. I’m a child of the ’80s and a product of ’90s. I wasn’t born yet when Connery, Lazenby and Moore started their Bond tenure. So when I looked back to Bond in my formative years (after discovering him in mid ’90s through Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye) I wasn’t fussed about how Lazenby acted. I looked at the film, found out the story and decided that, well, it was good enough for me.
Today OHMSS even seems like the best Bond film so far in terms of story. It is ridiculously compelling: Bond wanted to go after his archenemy Blofeld but was denied by his superior, so he turned to a criminal boss with connections that could help him. He met the woman who fascinated him so much that he genuinely wanted to marry her and settle down. And after he took down the villain with their help and finally married her, she was killed on their way to their honeymoon in a vengeful drive-by shooting. Sure, a more capable actor would’ve delivered Bond’s words to the policeman at the of the film in a more poignant and emotional way. But even with the way Lazenby said it, I could already feel the pain. Imagine that happening to you on the day of your wedding. You don’t need a better actor to convey just how insanely heartbreaking that was; it was horrible enough the way it was.
Lazenby’s lines were a little silly but most Bond lines were silly before Daniel Craig revolutionized the role and made his cold expressions work for him. Perhaps he was rather stiff in certain scenes but that didn’t diminish the fact that he cut a handsome figure, be it in a suit, kilt or ski gear. Some of his Australian accent seeped through the dialogue but Connery, too, had a brogue. And if his expressions in certain scenes weren’t emotional enough, you can say the same of about two dozens actors in Hollywood working today who play lesser roles than James Bond.
Some of the resentment towards this man probably also stemmed from the fact that Lazenby renounced the role after his alleged bad experience making the movie. He could’ve probably played in more Bond movies if he wasn’t in a hurry to end his ties to the studio. If it’s true what is said about how he claimed the producers treated him like he was an idiot then perhaps the fault goes both ways. (I imagine some producers and filmmakers could be utter snobs and creative differences are a common occurrence in the industry. Surely this happens even to the best of them.)
This, however, has no bearing on the fact that Lazenby didn’t make OHMSS an awful film. In fact, many fans will agree with me that OHMSS is actually one of the best Bond films. Certainly if people are still remembering the film today, be it because they like Diana Rigg’s amazing performance as Tracy Draco or because they want to remember how bad Lazenby is like me, then Lazenby had already done his job in keeping this movie alive throughout the years.
It is my opinion that there is no good or bad Bond, although there are good and bad Bond films. Whoever plays Bond, he is there to make sure the movie works. Lazenby, whether you hate him or love him, had done just that. In my eyes, he has done Her Majesty and the 007 institution a decent – if unappreciated – service.