Tuesday, November 11, 2008


While I don't fully intend to spend this entire week geeking out about James Bond, there's at least the possibility I'm going to wind up doing just that. As jazzed as I am about Quantum Of Solace, I have other plans for the weekend and may not see it right away. (And yes, I might as well admit it: Since Timothy Dalton's debut, I've seen every Bond picture save one on opening night. The exception was Tomorrow Never Dies, and I did have an excuse: I was getting married. Possibly significantly, Bond fandom outlived the marriage.)

Anyway, much has been made about the newest being the first direct sequel in Bond history, and critics (many of whom have not, most likely, either read any of Ian Fleming's novels or spent much time with the older films) claim Daniel Craig is the toughest, yet most vulnerable, and certainly the most serious Bond of all.

Two words: George Lazenby.

Most hardcore Bond fanatics rate On Her Majesty's Secret Service near the top of the list, yet even most of those who rank it as their favorite tend to be get somewhat defensive, taking the if-Connery-had-starred-in-it-everyone-would-recognize-its-greatness attitude. Personally, I love everything about this movie, and I'll take it further: If Connery had starred, it wouldn't have worked at all.

As great as Connery was, his Bond (and, apparently, at that point, the actor himself) could be a bit of a dick. He was swaggering and smug, supremely sure of himself, but his haughty mien and impeccable manners couldn't quite cover up a thuggish streak. In Thunderball and You Only Live Twice especially, it was impossible to believe he was ever in any real danger because he never seemed remotely vulnerable; certainly he lacked any sensitivity, or any real streak of humanity.

The braintrust at Danjaq Ltd. knew they wouldn't have Connery for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and they knew after the awesomely over-the-top climax of You Only Live Twice they couldn't possibly get any bigger. So they deliberately downscaled, made the story and characterizations more important, and by doing so they chose to make Bond, for the first time, a credible human being.

Oh, sure, a human being who can outski, outsled, outfight and outdrive almost anyone. But still prone to human feelings. Like love.

And here, of course, is what for so long made this movie notorious: It's the Bond film with the downer ending. Spoiler warning here, I guess, although if you're bothering to read this, you likely are familiar with the film. Anyway, here's the ending:

Yes, a Bond film ended not only with the villains getting away, but triumphing, leaving our grief-stricken hero in tears. And as you can see, Lazenby pulls this scene off magnificently.

In fact, he's great throughout the entire film. He's more than capable in the action scenes, he handles the throwaway quips nicely, and yes, he truly seems to be in danger, both physically and emotionally.

And Connery couldn't have done that. It's impossible to imagine him summoning the proper emotion for that final scene. Yes, Craig could do it, as Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan could have as well, but except for Craig, none of them were ever called upon to do any such heavy emotional lifting during their tenures in Bondage.

Unfortunately, OHMSS made significantly less at the box-office than previous Bonds. In addition, Lazenby reportedly behaved like a prima donna during the production and promotion of the film, and either quit or was fired after this one effort, allowing the producers to wave huge stacks of money in Connery's face to persuade him to come in to the fold for one more mission.

For all the hoo-ha about Quantum Of Solace being a direct sequel to Casino Royale, the opening scene of Diamonds Are Forever does seem to carry on from the ending of OHMSS, with a righteous Bond on the vengeance trail of his wife's killer. Unfortunately, that scene has very little to do with the rest of the movie--and is very badly staged, to boot--but it's tempting to imagine what would have happened if Lazenby (and perhaps more importantly, director Peter Hunt) had returned. Surely the next film would have addressed Bond's emotional arc more directly, and been, if not a direct sequel, at least a more worthy follow-up.

And then, maybe the seventies wouldn't have been seen as such a dark time in Bond's history.