Bond: The Lazenby Year

It is reputed that Sean Connery and Cubby Broccoli weren’t even on speaking terms during the shooting of You Only Live Twice, so it came as little surprise to those that made the films when Connery announced he would no longer play James Bond. But Bond was big business; Broccoli and Saltzman were determined that their beloved money-maker would not end on the whim of the actor who played him. Their audaciousness had already taken something most considered a risk and turned it into a licence to print money; they would continue in that vein in asserting that Bond could continue without Connery.

The first cycle of change for the Bond series followed at the tail end of the Sixties. With the Connery era over—so everyone thought, anyway—it was time to find the man that would replace him. In 2012, after six men have adorned the tux and strapped on the Walther PPK, it’s easy to forget how bold a move this was, and the man who was game to follow Sean Connery would have to be a brave or stupid man indeed—or perhaps a little of both.

George LazenbyCandidates this time included John Richardson, Hans De Vries, Anthony Rogers, and American Robert Campbell. But Broccoli’s choice was a young actor by the name of Timothy Dalton. Dalton, who was 22 at the time, was honoured by the offer but ultimately declined it feeling he was too young and that following on from Sean Connery was crazy.

Australian model George Lazenby, born in the same city as this reviewer, caught Broccoli’s eye when he wore a Rolex wristwatch, dressed in a Savile Row suit never collected by Connery, and demanded the former James Bond’s barber cut his hair like the Scotsman. But it was not an instant sell, and the confident 28 year old Aussie endured test after test before finally winning Broccoli and Saltzman over. After convincing them of his confidence, his Bond-like arrogance, his appeal to the ladies, Lazenby sealed the deal by knocking down a stuntmen in a screen test.

George Lazenby was now James Bond.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had been a film on the producers’ wish list for some time, but various production challenges had postponed its creation while Connery was still in the role. Former Bond editor Peter Hunt was given the director’s chair, and, taking his cues from inaugural Bond director Terrence Young, he wanted to return Bond to the less gadgets/more character driven style of the first two. Lazenby was not an actor, and the producers and Hunt spent a lot of time couching him on movement, voice, and all manner of thing to ready him.

The confident young former model was chomping at the bit to prove himself, but began to resent the tight leash being kept around his neck. From Lazenby’s own accounts, he was too big for his boots. He assumed, because he was now James Bond, that he was a star and should be treated accordingly. Of course, in his youthful arrogance, he failed to realise that Connery himself was required to go to school, so to speak, and learn to walk before her could run in the role. Unlike Connery, Lazenby also didn’t have any industry experience or the foresight to realise what his arrogance was doing, and both his performance and public perception would suffer for it.

On Her Majesty's Secret ServiceConsidering the leap he took from a model that did commercials to a lead actor in one of the most coveted roles in cinema history, Lazenby ain’t half bad. Confidence he never lacked, his physicality is equal to Connery’s, but his performance overall is inconsistent. At some points in OHMSS, he is all over it—you’re immersed, Bond is before you; in others, especially against seasoned professionals like Dianna Rigg, Bernard Lee, and Telly Savalas, he’s a bit hit and miss. But he never missed so badly as to be unworthy of the film or the role.

Where he did miss badly was in how he conducted himself, and it began to off put his director, the press, and, most dangerously, his bosses. Some of his press interviews, especially when being compared to his predecessor, are quite defensive and did nothing to endear him to an already sceptical audience.

OHMSS, when all is said and done, is an outstanding Bond film, and out of the 23 now in existence it constantly rates as one of the top 5. It is well paced, character driven, has jaw dropping cinematography and a capable leading man who showed great promise in the role. Had Lazenby checked his ego, this reviewer has no doubt he would have been even better in the following movies, but it wasn’t to be.

"Bond is a brute. I've already put him behind me. I will never play him again. Peace - that's the message now. –George Lazenby to the LA Times, November 1969.

By the time shooting had finished, relations were strained between the actor and his producers, and he was convinced that Bond’s days were over. Lazenby’s agent at the time, Ronan O’Rahilly, announced to the press before the film’s release that OHMSS would be his one and only turn as 007. It outraged his bosses and his co-stars, with many commenting on his ungratefulness and lack of humility.

When the film did finally open, it was a financial success, earning 82 million dollars after rerelease and being one of the highest grossing movies of 1969, but wasn’t close to the grosses of Connery’s last picture, and audiences were less kind to the new leading man.

Lazenby burned his own bridges, both with the producers and the fans, but nothing can take away that he was the man that followed Sean Connery—by all accounts an impossible feat— and he pulled it off. Time has been kind to Lazenby’s solo turn, and deservedly so. His refreshingly honest and self-deprecating opinions about his time in the role have also allowed audiences to put any negativity aside and enjoy OHMSS for what it is: an outstanding action thriller. And as Bond, Lazenby will go down in history as a promising one. What might have been?

Check out part one of the Bond series - Bond: The Connery Era - (1962-1967, 1971)

Check out part three of the Bond series - Bond: The Moore Era - (1973-1985)

Check out part four of the Bond series - Bond: The Dalton Era (1987-1989)

Check out part five of the Bond series - Bond: The Brosnan Era (1995-2002)

Check out part six of the Bond series - Bond: The Craig Era (2006- )

Also, don't miss our review of Bond 50, the massive set of all 23 James Bond movies meticulously remastered on blu-ray.