After years of being unfairly maligned as the Pete Best of the 007 film series, George Lazenby finally gets to tell his side of the story in The Other Fella, an autobiography due to be published in 2012.
Personally, as a long-time James Bond fan, I believe Mr. Lazenby never got the credit he deserved. Although trying to “replace” Sean Connery as the iconic superspy was a no-win situation at the time, Lazenby’s portrayal of Bond and the movie itself has undergone a dramatic reevaluation throughout the years.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a curious anomaly in a number of ways.
For a start, Diana Rigg was more than just the best “Bond” girl in the series. Besides being intelligent, strong-minded and elegant, Rigg was the only woman that Bond truly respected. When he fell in love with her, you believed it because you understood the reason why. (Unfortunately, it was that same strength of character that kept Rigg from being a bigger star than she was. Hollywood had no idea what to do with a woman who refused to objectify herself.)
It’s also why the conclusion was so shattering emotionally. Rigg wasn’t a prop to be tossed aside casually, so for a cold-blooded secret agent who killed people for a living, this was a tragedy that would follow him for the rest of his life. None of the subsequent Bond movies would ever come this close to humanizing the 007 character. It was the only time that death wasn’t treated as a punchline to a sick joke.
But the other reason this particular Bond movie worked so well was George Lazenby, a gifted actor who had the bad luck to follow Sean Connery. Although it was vilified at the time, I thought casting Lazenby was an inspired choice. Lazenby was a ruggedly handsome man who carried himself with a sly confidence, and was able to artfully negotiate that precarious balance between knowing how to kill a man if he had to while ordering the proper bottle of wine. Connery and Lazenby were men, not callow pretty boys carrying a fake Walther PPK. It’s why the relationship he had with Rigg felt like a love story starring two adults as opposed to an zit-faced adolesscent practicing corny pick up lines he studied from his daddy’s “Playboy”.
In comparison, Roger Moore was a fraud who should have played James Bond’s butler. But then, it was easier for Moore to ease into Bond’s Aston Martin because of all the flak Lazenby got. Plus, in spite of being Connery-free, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service turned a tidy profit, oddly enough. If the films stayed with Lazenby, I think the 007 franchise would have been smarter, more mature and realistic. Instead, once the matinee-idol blandness of Moore was firmly in place, the movies began their downward spiral into terminal silliness.
Every time I watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the words “might have been” keep echoing in my head.