Welcome to another week of 007(x3) Weeks of 007. We have finally made it, for the moment anyway, out of the Connery era, hitting the sole George Lazenby Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” This moment, too, maybe puts us outside the classic era.
Here is the thing with “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” in general and George Lazenby in particular – whatever he said and the producers said about the movie and his work in it and his attitude in general, I just don’t think anyone could possibly have succeeded at the time. Connery was James Bond and whomever came in next had to fail. Not only that, but now that I have used the word failure, I’d also like to point out that it’s completely wrong, “OHMSS” is a good movie, it may not feature that iconic stuff we were talking about last week with “You Only Live Twice,” but it may be a better movie.
I mentioned a while back that in some corners there is a belief to which I do not subscribe about the name James Bond going along with the number 007 and that every new actor actually representing a different individual who is taking on the name and number. “OHMSS” is the movie that you can first point to in arguing for that position, and you can do it in the pre-title sequence where Lazenby looks at the camera as he loses the girl and says that “this never happened to that other fellow.” Later, despite having met face-to-face in “You Only Live Twice,” Bond takes on someone else’s identity, Hilary Bray, to get close to Blofeld and the two actually have a conversation where Blofeld at least pretends as though he thinks Bond may Bray. If Blofeld recognizes Bond (because they met before) that conversation doesn’t happen. Bond doesn’t even go to Piz Gloria as Bray because Blofeld would call him out immediately.
You can actually look at these two things and help build an argument about there being more than one Bond. But, the ability to build an argument and being right aren’t the same thing.
I think it misses the obvious point that no one thought this sort of stuff mattered. Lazenby looks at the camera in the pre-title sequence to acknowledge to the audience that while he is James Bond, people shouldn’t expect the same sort of Bond necessarily that they got with Connery. It is a joke, an aside, nothing more. And, as for Blofeld not recognizing Bond immediately, it’s just a storytelling device. The attempt to link all the Bond movies together in some sort of logical fashion is noble—and something I certainly engage in and will discuss when we get to some Brosnan/Craig moments—but never intended by the producers. That is to say, there are logical inconsistencies from one movie to the next because it was never important to make sure that there not be logical inconsistencies.
No, that isn’t proof, but proof of the negative is difficult to offer.
That all out of the way, the thing that really strikes one watching “OHMSS” is the film’s incredible desire to show you that this is still a Bond film; sure, it’s a different guy playing the role but it’s still a Bond film. It starts right there in the title sequence where, as the credits roll, you get memorable moments from previous Bond movies and then continues during the film itself. There is a particularly great scene where Bond is cleaning out his desk and you see things like Honey Rider’s belt and knife (want a logical inconsistency between films, tell me how Bond has that in his desk, how did he possibly get that?) and get music from the various movies as we see the memorabilia. It is all as if the movie is repeatedly reminding us, “No, really, this is a Bond movie.”
I also find myself constantly amazed here with just how much this isn’t one movie, but rather two. The entire Tracy story and Bond’s dealings with the Unione Corse could be lifted out without little to no affect on the Blofeld/Piz Gloria stuff. Yes, there is a little bit of overlap, but Bond could easily be saved by a random woman, not Tracy, after his escape from the mountaintop and M could just as easily have agreed to the assault for the climactic battle.
So, then, why is the Tracy stuff there? Why give Bond this particular love interest and story of their romance? He doesn’t need another reason to hate Blofeld, so it isn’t a question of pushing the movies forward after this one. No, it’s something else entirely.
The reason it’s there is to give Lazenby something different from Connery’s Bond, to make him stand out more than just in his use of a ruffled shirt (I am not okay with that shirt, for what it’s worth). It goes back to the pre-title breaking of the fourth wall – this is Bond, just a different Bond; the series is going to continue with new actors and you can expect each one to bring something slightly different to the role and different to the sort of stories we’ll see.
Poor Lazenby. I can’t escape that feeling, poor Lazenby. There is just too much going against him for it to ever work long term. I don’t think it’s coincidental that after Connery’s one-off return, we get Moore who plays the role in the most films and for the longest period of time. Lazenby paved the way for that, he’s the sacrificial lamb.
We have all the time in the world (save Lazenby, naturally). “OHMSS” closes with this incredible, emotional, amazing scene. The way Bond reacts when the police officer pulls up as he’s holding Tracy is one of the best scenes in the franchise. What a great moment for Lazenby and the character. Not iconic like some of Connery’s stuff, but a great moment.
What I wish is that there was a second Lazenby film. What if it were Lazenby’s Bond out seeking revenge in “Diamonds are Forever?” Would it work? Would Craig’s Bond then have gone off for revenge in “Quantum of Solace” after the events of “Casino Royale?” Can they only have told the story for Craig because Connery came back for one movie? The ripples could actually be rather large and the answers are unknowable.
It is, in the end, impossible to discuss “OHMSS” without looking at Lazenby, thinking about what was, and contemplating what might have been. It is a great movie. It is the first time we see Bond skiing in the franchise, it moves away from some of the formulaic moments Connery found himself in towards the end, and sets the stage for what is to come. But, you just can’t talk about it without talking about Lazenby.
And so, there you have it. That is the tale of George Lazenby, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” and the way it is (according to me). We didn’t even get to Diana Rigg, and I love Diana Rigg. 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return next week (with that first fellow) in “Diamonds are Forever.”