On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: George Lazenby leaves a lasting impression
James R | On 11, Sep 2021
With Sean Connery officially too old and bored with 007, it was time for a new, younger James Bond, someone with all the charisma of an Australian model. Enter George Lazenby, everyone’s fifth favourite James Bond. But Lazenby – known at the time for his work on Fry’s Chocolate adverts – remains an underrated 007, managing to balance physical heft and low-key charm with a genuine emotional vulnerability.
That’s thanks to Tracy (played wonderfully by Diana Rigg), who proves more than James’ match and ends up making an honest man out of it – and their final moments before the end credits (soundtracked by Louis Armstrong’s We Have All the Time in the World) remains the boldest move ever made by the 007 franchise. “That never happened to the other fellow!” Lazenby quipped after the New Wave-esque opening sequence, and he’s not kidding: Lazenby did things with Bond in this outing that no other actor has really done since, and, as a result, shaped 007 for generations and incarnations to come.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that the film is also one of the most faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming’s books, sticking closely to the page and thereby departing from the big screen formula that erupted into silliness with Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Despite its epic, sometimes slow-moving 140-minute runtime, the film is an understated thriller, one that largely involves a single location, even as it also covers everything from dodgy hypnotism that’s right out of The Avengers to suspicious earlobes. The latter belong to Telly Savalas, who steps into the shoes of Blofeld, who is calculating a scheme to brainwash and poison the world.
But by setting things in Blofeld’s icy, remote secret base, the film also lets Lazenby do one other definitive thing for Bond before the film’s moving final blow: take to the slopes for some skiing action. Director Peter Hunt, who worked as an editor and second unit director on Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, steps up to the helm with aplomb here, by co-ordinating six minutes of glorious snow-bound action.
Cameramen Willy Bogner and Alex Barbey film the action on skis from a low level, while Hunt and his editor John Glen (who would go on to direct Bond films too) make sure the action is clear to follow, whether that’s through long takes, simple but effective costuming, a deft use of trees, cliffs and stuntman Vic Armstrong – who skis with one foot and pulls off any number of jumps and flips. That plus some shenanigans involving cable cars set the standard for 007 action sequences in the future, with films such as The Spy Who Loved Me, The Living Daylights and The World Is Not Enough scrambling to scale such icy heights. Lazenby wouldn’t return to 007 again, with Sean Connery back again two years later for Diamonds Are Forever, but he left a lasting legacy that still lingers today.