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.
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June 4th, 2014 at 16:36
Lazenby definitely doesn’t get a fair shake and after hearing how awful it was by my parents, I found that I didn’t agree with their assesment when I finally saw the film as a teeenager. OHMSS is one of my favorite Bonds. I’d be curious as to what would have changed had Connery stayed on for one more, particularly that final scene.
June 7th, 2014 at 19:12
Lazenby could have been a good Bond if he did at least one more film. Evryone likes to imagine how Connery would have done in OHMSS, but Connery wouldn’t have pulled off some of the scenes that Lazenby does, especially the ending. It was fortutious that Lazenby got got be Bond for thios film because EON was set to follow both Goldfinger and Thunderball with OHMSS, but circumstances forced them to adapt other Fleming books instead. By all rights, Connery should have done OHMSS before You Only Live Twice, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I’m glad we have Lazenby’s one Bond film to watch and rewatch for the ages.
July 1st, 2014 at 17:25
My opinion is, Sir Connery was too good, perfect all the way, nobody can’t beat it !
July 2nd, 2014 at 13:19
Considering his lack of formal training and lack of acting experience it was a good performance. Imagine Lazenby with a little more maturity and some acting lessons – I think we would have had a great Bond.
July 5th, 2014 at 07:04
George Lazenby had the physical presence for the role, and the unenviable task of trying to fill Connery’s shoes. OHMSS is easily the best written of the Bond series, and like Lazenby, director Peter Hunt had the unenviable task of taking 007 in a totally different direction. It was a bold move, that ended up making OHMSS one of the top five films in the series. We wouldn’t see this kind of serious, quality acting again, until Timothy Dalton made his Bond debut in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS . I loved Connery, but when he came back in the inferior DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, the series took a downward plunge that wouldn’t start recovering until director John Glen took over and did 5 in a row. George Lazenby is to be commended for making one very memorable James Bond outing!
July 24th, 2014 at 03:19
What an insightful article, Eoghan. I too believe that Lazenby deserves more credit for his performance as Bond. He did have a physicality and a vulnerability that worked well. I’m a big Connery fan, but it is hard to imagine Connery handling the final scene with the quiet yet devastating sadness that Lazenby portrayed. It’s a shame that Lazenby was misguided for eschewing the Bond franchise the way he did and for making an idiot of himself behind the scenes. He simply lacked the maturity and foresight that would have enabled him to be a big star, and possibly one of the best Bonds.