With Sean Connery gone (at least temporarily), producers took an opportunity to reinvent 007 a bit. Out with the classic tuxedoes and in with trendy turtlenecks, ruffled shirts, and ascots. This is the James Bond parodied by Austin Powers, but don’t get used to it because like George Lazenby, mod James Bond won’t last.
We’ll get to the problems with Lazenby in a minute, but you can see the producers struggling with their first cast change. Worried that audiences wouldn’t respond to 007 without Connery, they made a much bigger deal than they would in subsequent replacements–even having Lazenby wink at the camera and say “this never happened to the other fellow” in the pre-title sequence. This probably made the fact that Lazenby turned out to be a one-night stand kind of humiliating–they had really invested a lot into him. So perhaps it’s no surprise that cast changes take place with little fanfare going forward.
Still, if Lazenby was only going to be in one Bond movie, he was lucky enough to stumble onto a fan favorite–and one of the all-time best. So who’s down for a James Bond love story?
It’s been two years since Blofeld escaped at the end of You Only Live Twice and his trail has gone cold. Luckily, Bond meets a suicidal girl with a crime lord father, and the father agrees to help 007 in exchange for Bond cheering his daughter up. James, who graduated with honors from the School of High Drama Lifestyles, is intrigued. The girl, Tracy, sees through the arrangement because she’s not stupid, but Bond promises to make it up to her. Cue a montage of them hanging out together and falling in love. But duty calls when Tracy’s father, Draco, gets a clue about Blofeld’s whereabouts.
007 follows the clue to an alpine allergy clinic. He goes there undercover, finding a harem of women being treated for allergies. In his element, 007 struts around in a kilt and beds two patients. In a twist surprising exactly no one, Blofeld is behind this. The ‘patients,’ are being brainwashed to return home as agents of biological warfare. Before you know it, James has escaped and reunited with Tracy, gotten engaged, and Tracy has been kidnapped. It’s a whirlwind, really. James teams up with Draco, saves Tracy, seemingly defeats Blofeld, and marries the girl.
It seems Bond is headed for a happy ending (pun intended). He’s even retiring from MI6 to be with Tracy. Alas, it is not to be. As they depart for their honeymoon, the very much alive Blofeld drives by with his Henchman Irma Bunt, who pumps 007’s signature Aston Martin full of lead, killing Tracy.
Bond movies were becoming flimsy on plot and big on action sequences, but this one puts a focus on story and it pays off. You are able to believe in Bond’s relationship with Tracy because they spend time together (maybe not enough to get married, but oh well). Her death is an emotional moment in a series not exactly known for its emotional heft. Putting the story first also allows the movie to build suspense. Like I said: if Lazenby was only going to be in one Bond movie, he lucked into starring in one of the best.
It certainly helps that Telly Savalas and Diana Rigg are wonderful as Blofeld and Tracy. This is a classic Bond movie for good reason.
The Man Playing Bond
Lazenby was invited to do a screen test based on a commercial he did for Fry’s chocolate. Lazenby found out who did Sean Connery’s suits and hair and went to them, figuring that looking the part would only help him. At the barber, he ran into producer Albert Broccoli, who decided he had gumption. Sadly, once filming began, Lazenby clashed with the crew and his costars, acting entitled and like he was too good for the role that was about to make him famous. Before OHMSS was even in theaters he was doing interviews about how he believed Bond was dated and he saw himself moving on to better things. Producers told him to go for it, and they parted ways. But don’t feel bad, because Lazenby
had a great career is probably happy wherever he is now.
Lazenby’s Bond is more affable and lighthearted than Connery’s. And while it isn’t too hard to tell that Lazenby wasn’t experienced at acting, he’s not the worst actor to play 007 by far. Fun fact: Timothy Dalton took himself out of the running to play 007 believing that he was too young. Twenty years later, he became 007 in The Living Daylights.
You mean other than getting married and becoming a widower in one fell swoop? We have our first action sequence set on skis. These will become a trademark of the Roger Moore years, so get ready. We also see M’s house for the first time, which won’t happen again until Casino Royale in 2006. Oh, and we learn that the Bond family creed is “The World is Not Enough.” I wonder where we’re going to hear that phrase again …
None! Producers intentionally steered clear of gadgets after complaints that they were taking over (and ruining) the series. This enlightened moment won’t last–when Sean Connery returns for Diamonds Are Forever they’ll revert to the old ways, then gadget usage will really ramp up once Roger Moore takes the lead.
Well, there’s that blonde guy who barely speaks and basically just follows 007 around before getting caught and killed by Blofeld. But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even have a name (I’m too busy not caring to check). So this category goes to Bond’s brief father-in-law Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti). He’s the most cooperative, kind crime lord ever.
It seems fitting that the lady to finally get 007’s icy heart is something of a basket case. Growing up with a gangster father was hard on Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg). Eventually, she began acting out, becoming more and more reckless. She’s basically a good-hearted lady with baggage problems–like James (well, minus the good-hearted part). Now, this is a Bond Girl. She’s smart, useful in a fight, and beautiful. She’s also emotionally vulnerable, funny, and tender. In other words, she’s not a cartoon, which too many Bond Girls are. In a very wise move, producers didn’t hunt down a beauty queen who can’t speak English this time. Director Peter Hunt knew it would take a good actress to make Tracy believable. Diana Rigg, already well known in the UK for The Avengers, was a smart choice. How good is she? Well, Rigg allegedly grew to dislike Lazenby so much that she ate garlic before every love scene they had to film–and she still sold the love story for all it was worth. She just might be the best Bond Girl ever.
Supporting Bond Girl
Technically, James sleeps with Ruby (Angela Scoular) and Nancy (Catherine Schell) at the, um, allergy clinic, so they qualify. Technically. But really, aside from a pun about Scottish dick size, they don’t add much to the story.
He doesn’t have the over-the-top insanity that Donald Pleasance brought to the role, but Telly Savalas manages to be a highly effective Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He oozes intelligence and menace without much in the way of theatrics. Maybe I’m biased, though, because I’ve always thought Telly Savalas was kind of badass. I mean, he’s Kojak. The man is just full of charisma. Anyway, he’s a perfectly appropriate Blofeld for a movie that dialed down the camp. And it’s nice to see Blofeld actually having enough screentime to spread his wings a bit. For the first time, we really get the sense that this is the perfect nemesis for 007. Just as tenacious, but smarter. And wouldn’t you know it: a less campy Blofeld is a lot scarier than the psychotic nutjob Pleasance portrayed.
No-nonsense German comrade Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) comes from the Rosa Kleb school of villainy. She spends most of her time lording over the allergy clinic in a sweater from the Mrs. Voorhees collection. She rules the place with an iron fist. When Bond has the audacity to escape the clinic, she proves that she isn’t just a glorified schoolmarm–she’s also willing to get her hands dirty. In fact, she’s the one doing the shooting when she and Blofeld decide to crash the di Vicenzo-Bond wedding. Brrr. Producers originally planned to bring her back in Diamonds Are Forever, but Steppat passed away the same year OHMSS was released.
Louis Armstrong recorded “We Have All the Time in the World,” but oddly it doesn’t play over the opening credits. Instead, a snazzy instrumental song (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service“) takes that spot. Armstrong’s song plays as a sort of love theme over the montage of 007 and Tracy getting to know each other. I suppose it’s possible producers made a conscious decision to call back to Dr. No, which used an orchestral theme during its title sequence. Introducing a new Bond could be seen as a sort of reset, I guess. The Armstrong song is fine–it’s good but not great. With anyone other than Armstrong singing it, it would be overly saccharine.
Bond saves Tracy from suicide-by-beach, then saves her from two thugs. When all is clear he mugs for the camera and says “this never happened to the other fellow.”
Is there any question? It’s got to be that terrible moment when James and Tracy leave their wedding thinking they have all the time in the world, only to have it cut cruelly short. Incidentally, there was a nice moment between James and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) just before he left, in which they exchanged a meaningful look before he tossed her his hat–just like he always did in the office. Lois Maxwell played this beautifully. Her Moneypenny isn’t a sad spinster pining for James the way later incarnations are. She always kept her dignity. Anyway, it’s a heartbreaking, important moment in the Bond series.
Grades: Movie: 5/5; Bond Girl: 5/5; Villain: 5/5; Henchman: 4/5; Theme Song: 3/5