Is this the face that launched a thousand ships? Considering that George Lazenby only starred in one ‘James Bond’ film, the answer is unequivocally, no. Fresh, young, good looking, Lazenby had it all, attributes exemplified in the greatest role in showbiz. Then he did the unthinkable.
Fresh from filming the brilliant On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Lazenby walked from the part many would give their left hand for. Since then, Lazenby has become a pop culture indictment for any other actors seemingly miscast in their role, while his contribution to the series has frequently been summed up as uneventful. Long time Bond veteran Desmond Llewelyn himself said that Lazenby was not an actor, while the Australian actor himself frequently admitted that he wished he made at least one more film.
How would that have fared out? It’s an interesting speculation. Lazenby had the ability to become a very memorable James Bond. Had he continued in the role until 1985, he would have been the same age as Roger Moore was when the latter started his 00 career!
As it stands, Lazenby’s sole performance is quite a strong, even if he is a little reticent in places during the film. Filmed following after Sean Connery’s departure in 1967, Lazenby was encouraged to portray James Bond as if he were playing Connery’s Bond, rather than Lazenby’s.
No, Lazenby was not the greatest actor in the world. But who honestly watches a Bond film for Oscar-worthy performances? Timothy Dalton has frequently, albeit arbitrarily and unfairly, been slated for his ‘actorly’ performance, one which has kept from him topping ‘Best Bond’ polls. Movie audiences like action heroes for their charm, agility and humanity. These attributes that Lazenby could bestow, and more.
Out of all the Bond’s to date, Lazenby had the greatest physical prowess. Unlike Moore, Brosnan and, to a certain degree, Dalton, Lazenby had a physicality that proved that he could handle himself in reality, without resorting to the physical bombastistism of Daniel Craig. Wherein many of the actors seemed to play James Bond, in many ways Lazenby was James Bond. He had the necessary arrogance, swagger and bravado to pull off the look of a true assassin.
Re-watching the scene wherein Lazenby breaks the grip of Diana Rigg’s, he does it perfectly. Staring directly at her face, he reaches out and snaps her hand, without a flicker of any hesitation. It’s this moment that best defines how good a Bond he truly was, containing a sense of cool with a physical agility none of his Bondian compatriots had.
On the downside, Bond’s throwaway quips, mastered by Connery and frequented by Moore, did not have come naturally to Lazenby. Glaringly, his flippant ‘this never happened to the other fella’ is ingratiating to listen to, he might as well have winked at the camera. Nor did he have Connery’s animal magnetism, despite his natural good looks, making his sexual conquests in Piz Gloria that bit more awkward to believe than his predecessor.
But it’s the moments where Lazenby eschews Connery’s performance that he really comes into his own. It’s his added humility that comes across strongest. Watching Bond reprimanded by his boss ‘M’ in two scenes, the first being removed from his pursuit of Blofeld, the second being told later in the film that ‘M’ is refusing to help furnish his private vendetta.
The look of embarrassment and defeat is palpable within these scenes, the type no other Bond actor could have portrayed. Timothy Dalton would have enveloped himself with hidden rage, as would Daniel Craig, while Pierce Brosnan would have put on a cheesy smile to hide his humiliation. Sean Connery’s Bond would likely have walked away with a look of nonchalance, knowing that the Service will be lost without him, while Roger Moore’s Bond would likely have treated the situation as a glorified joke that happened to feature him as the punch-line.
Lazenby, however, plays it straight up. He has the look of a man who has been told off by his parents, accounting for his audible look of disappointment, proving that Bond is something most audience’s seemingly have forgotten; human. Certainly, Lazenby’s emotional display of the famous lines We Have All The Time In The World following the death of his newly married bride has a resonance neither Craig nor Brosnan could muster in Casino Royale and The World Is Not Enough during similar scenes respectively.
If Connery was suave, Moore comic and Dalton dark, then Lazenby must have surely been the romantic Bond, a youthful idiot trapped in a world of violence and despair.
Clearly, he didn’t have all the time in the world, as Sean Connery returned for the following film Diamonds Are Forever , eschewing the film’s darker tone for humour and bravado, a trait that would haunt many of the subsequent film’s until 2006. But Lazenby, if not perfect, was the right man for the job, and his sole mission had much more depth to it that normally attributed.
Eoghan Lyng is a James Bond enthusiast and obsessee. Other James Bond reports can be found on his Twitter @EoghanLyng.