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Monday, January 13, 2014

007 Feature #2 - On Her Majesty's Secret Service featuring Lazenby...George Lazenby

As you can tell from the opening video, this is a Monday Matinee that is all about Bond...James Bond.

This is the second of six James Bond themed entries that will take us right into mid-February 2014, and if you're womdering why I've decided to make this a six-part feature, it's because there are six men who can make the claim that they have played James Bond at least once in their lives.  And interestingly enough, as of January 2014, all six actors are still alive.  So, I thought that I would do an entry on each of the six Bond actors by choosing the film that I either liked the best, or that I have a personal memory of.

Of course, for the second actor to play Bond, the decision of which film to feature was the easiest one to make.  After all, he did only play Bond once and only once.

He also happens to be as of this writing the only Bond to be born and raised outside of the UK.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the second actor to play Bond...the Australian born George Lazenby.

And today's film spotlight happens to be the one and only film Lazenby starred in...1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Have a look at the opening titles below.

Now, I'm not sure which story is more interesting...the one about how Lazenby won the role of Bond, or the reasons behind why he decided to quit the Bond franchise after just one movie.

At the time, Sean Connery - who had played Bond for the first five movies in the Bond franchise - decided to walk away from the role while filming 1967's "You Only Live Twice".  He had grown disenchanted with the role that made him a star, and he wanted to leave the franchise to avoid being typecast as Bond.

(For the record though, I don't think that Connery needed to worry about being typecast, as he had no trouble getting roles since his final Bond film.)

Anyway, with Connery confirmed to be out for the sixth Bond film, producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman knew that they needed to find a new actor to play Bond, and quickly.  Following the release of "You Only Live Twice", a casting call was issued to find the new Bond, and from what I hear, thousands seemed to be interested in the role.  After what seemed like endless auditions, the final five up for consideration were John Richardson, Hans De Vries, Robert Campbell, Anthony Rogers and Lazenby.

In the end, all it took was a chocolate bar commercial for Lazenby to be considered for the part!  Apparently Broccoli and director Peter R. Hunt watched Lazenby in the commercial and thought that he was worth giving a shot.  And besides, prior to watching that commercial, Broccoli happened to cross paths with Lazenby at a barber shop, and he offered Lazenby an audition, thinking that he had just the right look to assume the role of James Bond.

Of course, at the audition, Lazenby committed what most would consider a deal breaker when he accidentally punched somebody in the face!  Of course, while most auditions would end at this point with the actor being thrown out, in this case it worked as Broccoli was impressed by his ability to show aggression on cue.

In fact, Lazenby was so well-received by the producers that he was immediately offered a seven-film contract as Bond!  Now, just to put things into perspective here.  Had Lazenby honoured his commitment to the seven-film contract, he would have played the role right up until 1983's "Octopussy"!  That's quite a long stretch as would have been guaranteed work for the next fifteen years of his life and I am sure that he would have been set financially for the remainder of his career.

Instead, Lazenby decided to walk after just one film.

In November 1969 - one month before the film's December 18 release - Lazenby announced that he decided to quit the role of James Bond after just one film, as he had grown disillusioned with the role, and had begun feuding with the producers of the film.  I'm honestly not sure what Lazenby did to get out of the contract, but I imagine that his agent had something to do with it.  After all, it was the agent's idea for George to pull out of the Bond franchise in the first place.  But at the end of it all, it was a decision that Lazenby lived with and embraced, as he grew a beard and let his hair grow out to distance himself from the suave, sophisticated look that James Bond was well known for.

It's a tough call to determine whether George Lazenby made the right choice.  I mean, obviously for Lazenby it was the right decision for him...but I often wonder if he would have done well in movies like "Live and Let Die", "Moonraker", and "For Your Eyes Only".  But, we'll never know as Sean Connery returned for 1971's "Diamonds are Forever" and the other films were released with...well...we'll get to that Bond next week.

Admittedly, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was a film that I didn't get to watch until I was in my late twenties.  Apparently many people consider this film to be the "forgotten Bond film", and it's definitely one of the hardest Bond films to locate.  And, I'm actually kind of sad about that fact because the film itself is quite good.  I mean, yes, I'll admit that George Lazenby wasn't the best Bond actor, but when you consider that he only did one film, it seems kind of unfair to judge it too harshly.  Again, I would have loved to have seen Lazenby do at least two more Bond films, just to see if he would have gotten better at it, but I suppose Lazenby had his reasons for only doing one.

But as far as plot goes, it had a very interesting one.  Of course, I won't spoil everything, so here's a brief synopsis.  The main bad guy in this film is Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played by Kojak himself, Teddy Savalas), leader of SPECTRE, who is in hiding.  But even though Blofeld is in hiding, he still finds a way to create trouble in the world.  He has a harem of twelve different women from one of twelve different nations, and he has successfully brainwashed every single one of them to become his "Angels of Death".  Their purpose?  He plans to use them to destroy the global agriculture of the planet, which would cause a global food shortage and collapse entire nations.  The only way that Blofeld will even consider aborting that plan is if the government grants him amnesty for all his past criminal acts, and officially recognizes him as the current Count de Bleuchamp.

But anybody who knows James Bond knows that he does not negotiate with terrorists.  So he does everything he can to bring Blofeld out of hiding and put an end to his crimes before he has a chance to act on his threats.  But before he has the chance to do anything, he is charmed by a young woman who he saves from drowning at a beach, and before you know it, he ends up having a romp in the hay with her.

And when Bond is later kidnapped from the hotel by a group of men, it is revealed that the kidnapping was orchestrated by Marc-Ange Draco, the head of the European crime syndicate "Unione Corse".  Turns out that the woman that Bond rescued and bedded was one Countess Teresa "Tracy" di Vicenzo (played by Diana Rigg), the only daughter of Draco.  And Draco makes Bond a rather fabulous offer.  If he marries his daughter, he will reward Bond with a sizable dowry.  Of course, Bond refuses the offer, as he was never really a one-woman man...but he does agree to work with Draco to lure Blofeld out of hiding.

But as you will see if you watch the movie (and that's why I'm being very vague with the plot on purpose), Bond seems to have a very special connection with Tracy, and she makes Bond do something that he never thought possible.  And while most Bond movies end on a happy note, this one probably has one of the most melancholic endings of the whole Bond film series.  But again, you'll have to watch the movie for yourself.

But I do have some trivia for you.

01 - While the song is not heard in the opening credits, the official Bond theme for this movie was recorded by Louis Armstrong.  Have a listen below.

02 - Sadly, Ilse Steppat, who played Blofeld's henchwoman Irma Bunt, passed away of a heart attack at 52 years old on December 22, 1969...just four days after the film premiered in theatres.

03 - Sean Connery was offered a million dollars to return for this movie, but declined the offer.

04 - Interestingly enough, George Lazenby was 30 years old when this film debuted...the same age Sean Connery was when he first began filming "Dr. No".

05 - The film exploited the "breaking the fourth wall" technique a lot in explaining the switch from Connery to Lazenby.

06 - Lazenby actually suffered a broken arm while filming the ski scenes in Switzerland.

07 - Until 2006's "Casino Royale" was made, this movie was the longest running Bond movie at just under two and a half hours.

08 - Listen closely to the scene in which Bond passes a janitor in the hall.  The janitor is actually whistling the theme song for 1964's "Goldfinger".

09 - A body double had to be used for Diana Rigg for the ice skating scene, as Diana did not know how to ice skate.

10 - Brigitte Bardot was considered for the role of Tracy.

11 - The photo of Tracy's mother was actually a photo of Diana Rigg's mother.

12 - This is the only Bond film to be filmed entirely in Europe.

13 - Even though the actors had changed, in Germany, the same voice actor dubbed Bond's voice in the German release of the film, confusing some audience members!

14 - Adam West was actually offered the part of Bond, but turned it down as he always felt that a British actor should play Bond.  Of course, Lazenby was from Australia...

15 - Another person who was offered the role of James Bond was then 25-year-old Timothy Dalton.  He turned down the role then...but...well, tune in to Week #4...

16 - Believe it or not, Telly Savalas invited Lazenby to a poker game and nearly cleaned him out of all the cash he brought.  But thanks to Harry Saltzman joining the game mid-way through, Saltzman ended up winning most of Lazenby's money back!

17 - The film has two stars of "The Avengers" in this movie - Diana Rigg and Joanna Lumley.

18 - The body doubles in the skiing scenes were played by former Olympic athletes.

19 - A Rolex watch that George Lazenby wore in this movie sold at Christie's auction house for over forty thousand dollars in 2003.

20 - The last Bond film to use an instrumental theme in its opening credits.

So that wraps up our look at George Lazenby as Bond...James Bond.  He may have only made the one movie, but at least it was a movie that was quite good.

Next week on January 20, we'll be looking at the third James Bond in the series...and as it so happens, one of the SEVEN films he made was the very first James Bond movie I remember seeing.  But which one is it?  You'll find out next week!

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