An Article by Ed Harris
142 minutes, Directed by Peter Hunt, Starring George Lazenby, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas
George Lazenby’s sole effort as Bond is actually quite remarkable when you think about it. The film was a huge risk; the producers were replacing a hugely popular actor with an unknown and untried model who had done some commercial work but no true acting. To the filmmaker’s credit, they do everything in their power to make Lazenby’s debut as spectacular as possible. They had a rather tough road ahead of them as Sean Connery was one of the biggest stars on the planet based solely on the James Bond films. As a result, the public had taken to identifying him as James bond, a difficult situation when he stepped down from the role and another actor had to be found after his departure from the series in 1967. The producers searched high and low for the next James Bond. They found him in an untried model whose only on-camera experience had been a series of commercials. What they ended up with was one of the best films in the series.
The gun barrel gets us off to a great start and I love the remix of the theme. It has a very cool sound to it that just simply works. Also very nice is the intro of Bond, a neat little reworking of the introduction in Dr. No only this time it’s as he drives down the road. This has the effect of not only giving a solid introduction to the new James bond, but also reassuring the audience that they’re looking at the same character from the previous five films, a strategy that is carried through the main title sequence. Lazenby’s reading of the famous intro line is delivered well, though at times his voice has a bit too much of an Australian accent (given that he’s from Australia one really can’t hold that against him). The ensuing fight with Draco’s men after he stops Tracy from committing suicide is one of the best in the film, I especially like the moment where the one goon leaps on him from above and he simply tosses him off like he’s nothing. The line that caps off the teaser is a nice little joke that leads to a very nice main title sequence laced with clips from the previous five films to further drive home the fact that he is Bond.
The hotel scenes do something very smart, which the rest of the first half of the script does as well, which is to basically follow the source novel pretty closely with a few changes here and there. Diana Rigg’s casting as Tracy is perfect. She has a very nice working chemistry with Lazenby; the relationship evolves slowly and naturally with Rigg playing the part cold enough to make her initial lack of attraction plausible but not so cold that when the falls in love it comes off as merely a plot convenience. Rigg’s chief contribution to the film from a marketing standpoint is her association with her Emma Peel character from the “Avengers” TV series. She gives the film a bit of star power along with Telly Savalas that takes a bit of the edge off the casting of an unknown as Bond.
Another element of the hotel scenes I enjoy is the employment of a rather sly sense of humor; Bond’s line about knowing “a little about women” is a nice nod to the fourth movie and the film keeps up the slyness for most of the first third of the movie. It works fine with Lazenby’s bond since he needed to be established as Bond, making the references an actual filmmaking tool rather than a gimmick. This wouldn’t have been quite as necessary with someone along the lines of Roger Moore (already known from television) or Michael Caine (maybe the biggest star in England outside of Connery at the time). In fact, with either of those men the sly references would come across as gimmicky and a bit too cutesy for their own good.
One last element I want to touch on is the wonderful fight with Draco’s man in the hotel room. Like the kitchen fight in The Living Daylights, it’s a short but boisterous bit of action that showcases Lazenby’s toughness and is just sheer fun to watch. Another fun bit comes the next day as Bond is taken to Draco’s place. His casual, utterly nonchalant reaction to Draco’s men is a great humorous touch and his brief scuffle with them outside Draco’s office is decent though the sound effects are just a tad overdone.
The scene with Draco is very nicely done; it was a smart move to not have Bond show interest in Draco’s proposition concerning Tracy until he hits upon the notion that Draco could help him find Blofeld. Gabriele Ferzetti gives a likable performance as the mobster, slightly reminiscent of Pedro Armendariz’s job in From Russia With Love. Lazenby also does a decent job in the scene, listening with casual disinterest until the aforementioned idea comes to him. It’s perfect that James Bond would get involved in a relationship like this for business purposes. It fits the Fleming characterization and the film plays it out smartly, not having Bond truly in love until the absolute last possible moment.
Lazenby plays the impulsive side of Bond rather well in the scene with M where he resigns. Bernard Lee is wonderfully abrupt and we truly get the sense he’s upset with Bond for not being able to find Blofeld. Lazenby’s byplay with Moneypenny at the start of the scene is nice and subtle and his dictation of his resignation is suitably harsh. The sly humor returns a bit as Bond goes through his desk and the payoff to the scene is a nice moment between Bond and Moneypenny.
Up next is the only flaw the movie has, though admittedly it’s done well enough and I can’t think of anything better off the top of my head. The development of the Bond/Tracy romance works just fine, it’s well scripted and acted but the romantic montage just seems rather out of place for a Bond film. It works to give us a different side of Bond, but it is overdoing it very slightly. The one saving grace of the montage is that it segues neatly into the best sequence in the entire film; Bond in the lawyer’s office. This is maybe the best blending of Bondian style with Hitchcockian suspense in the series. John Barry does a masterful job building suspense with his music and Peter Hunt’s shot selection combined with razor sharp editing from John Glen makes the scene crackle with an intensity that has been seldom matched in the series since. In a nice touch, the relationship aspect is kept alive with a cutaway to Tracy and Draco as she reveals that she is in love with Bond but Bond is not in love with her. It’s a good moment, and absolutely necessary since she vanishes from the film for the better part of an hour.
The subsequent scene with M leads us to the Piz Gloria segment of the film. Bond’s brief scene with Sir Hilary Bray takes us to the train station where Bond is picked up by Irma Bunt, played with an amazing level of stern menace by Ilse Steppat, though at times her accent is a bit too thick to understand what she’s saying. Still, a very good job of playing what has since turned into a rather amusing cliché; the unsmiling German villainess. Lazenby’s portrayal of “Bray” is amusing. He looks a little like Peter Sellers and it’s very funny to see Bond playing at being the ultimate bookworm. The humor continues with his introduction to the girls, Lazenby plays it very relaxed and it’s truly amusing to see him just boring the girls to death.
This brings us to Blofeld. I enjoy Telly Savalas’s take on the character, though it rather odd to he him getting in on the action towards the end of the movie. In a lucky coincidence, there is an unintentional reference to the previous film where Bond put a throwing star into the man’s wrist. Since Savalas has a quite noticeably withered looking index finger, it lends a nice little connection to the last film. That aside, he plays the man with his usual blend of charm and menace, creating a wonderfully low key villain. As it’s been noted before, there are a few flubs within the structure of the scene. They take only a little bit away however and the overall quality of the film more than makes up for them.
Bond’s escape from his room is a neat little bit of business, inventive and refreshingly low tech. One of the things I enjoy about the film is the almost total lack of gadgets. In fact, pretty much everything in the film is rather low tech and simple. It’s a nice break from the previous two films where the level of outlandishness was raised about as high as you can go without going too far (a flaw a few of the Moore Bond’s sadly have). His seduction of Ruby is good, though the “chicken therapy” that interrupts the scene is an amusing bit of weirdness that kind of breaks the mood though I see what they were going for. The one thing that saves it from being just really out of place is that it places a little foreshadowing about Blofeld’s plan. Another aspect of this scene is the notion that Bond is being unfaithful to Tracy by sleeping with Ruby. As the last scene with Tracy indicates, and as we will see when Bond escapes from the compound, Bond only falls in love after Tracy saves his life.
The buildup to Bond’s capture is nicely done with the local agent trying to contact him and being driven away by Blofeld’s guards. Blofeld’s eventual reveal of his plan is well played by Savalas. He downplays it nicely, emphasizing menace over theatricality. The plan is just realistic to be plausible without coming off as overly serious, but also low key enough so that it doesn’t show up the romantic angle (the real story of the film).
From here, we get maybe the longest extended period of action/suspense in a Bond film. The escape sequence is a real showstopper beginning with Bond escaping from the wheel house and scaling along the cable. It’s a truly scary scene as Bond is nearly crushed several times. From here, we get some sneaking around as Blofeld put his plan into effect. This leads to the terrific ski chase, wonderfully scored by Barry and performed flawlessly by the stunt team and actors. This leads to a very inventive fight in a shed full of bells which I’ve always enjoyed.
Capping off the escape is the reintroduction of Tracy into the story. Her ensuing rescue, culminating in a gleefully destructive demolition derby (literally) gives Bond a real and honest reason to fall in love with her, which he does. I feel that the reason the film has been overlooked so often is the very thing that makes it such a unique, wonderful entry in the franchise. It inverts the importance of the plotlines. In the typical outing, the main plotline is the usual “megalomaniacal villain with a doomsday weapon” scenario while any romantic angles are left for the secondary plotline. Here though, the action oriented plotline is given a secondary, almost superfluous status and the primary story ends up being the development and tragic end to a romance. The scene in the barn where Bond proposes is well done and nicely written so the proposal comes off as natural rather than forced.
The following morning ski chase is another well done bit of action with the ensuing avalanche a novel way of ending things. Admittedly it’s really just a way to get Tracy captured but it works well enough. The following rescue is great, something out of an Alistair MacLean novel with the actual rescue getting done quite quickly, all the better to move us along to the final showdown with Blofeld. There are a few neat touches in it that I really love. Diana Rigg suddenly going into “Emma Peel” mode and fighting with one of Blofeld’s henchmen is a great touch and Bond sliding on his belly firing a machine gun is a great image. I also love the bobsled fight; it gives the audience a really good showdown with Blofeld (that honestly should have been saved for the next film) that has a nice gag at the end.
The wedding is nicely done with not too much sentiment but enough honest emotion to keep from sounding phony and the sad ending works extremely well. It’s a real gut punch of an ending since unless one has already read the novel beforehand; there is literally no foreshadowing at all. It comes out of the blue and is a real shocker. Lazenby plays it well, showing as much emotion as Bond should show. The Bond Theme playing over the end credits is a nice reassurance for the audience that Bond will be back, despite his loss.
In the end, George Lazenby did a remarkably good job considering he had no previous acting experience. Granted he basically does Sean Connery’s Bond for the most part but since he was not really an actor and Connery was the logical person to model oneself after, his choices make sense. He handles the action very well, we always believe he can take out whomever he’s sparring with. He handles what humor there is rather stiffly but honestly, the humor is not really ever associated with him enough to make or break his performance. He gives a very good performance with only his lack of experience holding him back. It’s a shame he bowed out of doing any more, I would have liked to have seen another film or two with him as Bond.