For some, this is the Star Trek V: The Final Frontier of the James Bond canon, the strange terrible oddball that is only ever purchased so that one can have a complete set. For others, this is the “Trial of a Timelord” arc from Doctor Who, a misunderstood masterpiece that deserves boatloads more love.
I’m not sure if I’d take such an extreme view, but this is definitely a movie to be discussed. George Lazenby, an Australian model-turned-actor, took over the role from Connery who decided he wasn’t a fan of the role anymore, and then did not return for any sequels, citing differences with the filmmakers. And so, not only were audiences faced with a new Bond, but they weren’t really given much time to get to know him. AND, on top of all that, audiences got to see a different, vulnerable side to Bond that many responded well to. Many involved with the project said that Lazenby could have been the best James Bond ever if he had stayed and accepted the seven picture deal he was offered. But none of that happened, and so we are left with a single, odd, imperfect-but-intriguing movie that just sits there, begging to be explained.
Plot-wise, it doesn’t quite fit into the timeline established by Connery’s films. In this film, Bond (Lazenby) is still on the hunt for Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), whom he has never met. After serendipitously meeting the unstable-but fascinating Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), daughter of renowned crime boss Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), both parties realize that they have something to offer one another. Draco believes Bond can offer Tracy some stability and therefore help her, and Bond hopes to move into Draco’s inner circle where he may learn of the whereabouts of Blofeld. After courting Tracy for some time and falling in love with her, Bond learns of a lead from Draco that leads him to Blofeld’s Alpen facility in Switzerland. Posing as a genealogist, Bond learns that Blofeld is not only seeking to have his claim to the title of Count de Bleuchamp recognized officially, but is going to threaten the world with a deadly virus that will destroy the world’s crops and livestock unless his demands are met. Using a bunch of beautiful girls from all over the world that have been hypnotized into becoming walking weapons, Blofeld plans to disseminate the pathogen worldwide. And so Bond must operate on the razor’s edge of maintaining his loyalty to MI6 and giving in to his desire to bring Blofeld to justice (a goal MI6 has lost interest in), all while fighting not to lose Tracy to the dangers she becomes embroiled in.
Despite it’s length, the movie manages to be well-plotted and engaging, balancing the romantic and action plots fairly well. The acting is quite good (especially from Savalas and Rigg), and the heartbreaking ending is beautifully poetic, if a bit tonally out of character for the series. Lazenby himself is sort of the shaky pin that doesn’t quite hold the whole erector set together.
First off, I would like to say that Lazenby looks the part beautifully. He’s got the charisma and charm. And he’s not that terribly bad of an actor, but he’s not the best at delivering Bond’s signature one-liners. In one scene, after a henchman hilariously falls into a rather conveniently placed snowblower/muncher/devastator, leading to a darkly comic snow/gore fountain, Bond turns around and says, “Well, he had a lot of guts…” and suddenly the audience feels really uncomfortable because the moment has been ruined. Connery had the dark comedy of the character down very well and, no doubt, would have given that line the sarcastic bite needed to make it work, but Lazenby sort of fumbles it. As I was re-watching it, I found myself noting that he was at his best when he wasn’t speaking, which is unfortunate.
I also must say something about Bond’s wardrobe in this. Connery looked good in everything he wore in any Bond film, even if it was a pair of absurdly short, tight pants that no one in their right mind would wear today. Lazenby’s costumer must have felt that James Bond’s idea of fashion was to go ALL OUT all the time. When we first meet him, he’s wearing a super ruffly tuxedo shirt that looks like a sea anemone. Later, he’s sporting outrageous, garishly pinned cravats, and then later a ridiculously lacy piece of neckwear that I just learned is called a jabot.
|Here is a picture. The one Bond wears is about 3 feel longer and rufflier.|
I get that that jabot is a traditional acoutrement, and when he’s in full kilt, it kind of works, but it’s SO DISTRACTING, especially in one scene when he leans forward over a naked girl in bed, working his magic on her, and all you can focus on is this absurd lacy thing hanging down like some sort of extreme Gandalf-esque neck beard. I’m exaggerating a little bit, but not much. It’s very silly.
I find myself wondering if Blofeld recognizes Bond right away and decides to play with him a bit. It’s not a perfect theory since Blofeld spends a lot of time explaining to Bond how he figured out his identity, and Bond doesn’t do much to hide his appearance except don some glasses and alter his voice.
Another theory could be that this is a prequel (sort of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom of the series), but one scene has Bond going through mementos from his last adventures while obvious musical cues (such as an excerpt from “Underneath the Mango Tree”) play, refreshing the audience’s memory that this is, in fact, the Bond they know and love. So, we’re left wondering if Bond is searching for Blofeld because he escaped at the end of the last movie, or because he’s trying to find the head of SPECTRE whom he’s only heard about secondhand. The plot makes more sense if this is their first meeting, but the chronology of the movies subverts that. Make of it what you will.