The Road To Spectre: Lazenby's Early Exit, Connery's Return (1969-1971)

With 007's most notorious villainous organisation set to make its return in Spectre later this year, and the James Bond franchise celebrating fifty years in cinema with its last installment Skyfall, Ben has taken the opportunity to take in every Eon Productions Bond film in order, from the series' beginnings in 1962 to the present day. Now pay attention...

'Whilst Lazenby as the lead is undoubtedly a key issue, to lay all of On Her Majesty's Secret Service's problems directly at his feet is entirely unfair'.

The films that marked the Bond franchise's transition from the 1960s to the 1970s saw the first genuine period of uncertainty, perhaps even crisis, for both the series and its future. Sean Connery's desire to leave the role of 007 had germinated following Goldfinger, growing during Thunderball and You Only Live Twice to the point where he was reportedly not speaking to series producer Albert Broccoli whilst making the fifth film. Connery's exit meant a new actor playing Bond on the big screen for the first time, with the part ultimately going to George Lazenby, a choice roundly criticized upon his debut in the role in 1969.

Unfortunately, time has done little to improve Lazenby's brief tenure in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Whilst never terrible, Lazenby simply fails to imbue his version of the secret agent with the same swagger and charisma Connery had embodied from Dr. No onwards. To be fair, Lazenby is far more convincing during the action and fight scenes, with the extended ski chase sequences during the final act some of the film's most enjoyable of all. Unfortunately however, as the longest Bond film yet (a title it would hold onto until the Daniel Craig era), On Her Majesty's Secret Service has some serious pacing issues, failing to deliver much action at all for the first ninety of its bloated one hundred and forty minutes.

An opinion which has gathered momentum in recent years is to declare On Her Majesty's Secret Service as one of the strongest Bond films helmed by one of the weakest Bonds. But, whilst Lazenby as the lead is undoubtedly a key issue, to lay all of the film's problems directly at his feet is entirely unfair. Peter R. Hunt, directing his first and only Bond film after serving as editor on the previous five, seems decidedly unsure on the tone he wants for his film. The gadgetry is dialled down considerably, but the camper style is more prevalent than ever; Hunt even has Bond inexplicably break the fourth wall during the pre-titles sequence. The casting issues don't begin and end with Lazenby either. Telly Savalas as Blofeld fails to achieve anywhere near the success of Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice and, thanks to some clumsy scripting and direction coupled with his lack of suitability for the role, at times feels like a different character all together.

Thankfully, Diana Rigg as Tracy Di Vicenzo counterbalances these shortcomings by providing one of the most well-rounded and satisfying love interests seen in a Bond film before or since. The entire romantic subplot between Bond and Tracy is undoubtedly On Her Majesty's Secret Service's strongest element, feeling well-structured and providing a number of pleasingly emotional scenes, with Rigg bringing out the best of Lazenby's performance away from the action.

Initially contracted for seven appearances as 007, Lazenby chose instead to leave the franchise after a single film. Whilst casting for a new Bond recommenced, at this stage there was only one man the studio executives at United Artists wanted to put on the black tux once again...

Connery was lured back to the series for one more turn as Bond for a salary of $1.25 million - a record amount for a single-film deal at the time. A film that has come under considerable critical fire from its initial release onwards, Diamonds Are Forever is in many ways a perfectly satisfying entry into the series. Whilst there are definite moments throughout where Connery looks and feels too old for the part, and others where he has clearly lost his enthusiasm for the role, there are also a satisfying amount where the actor brings a pleasing vitality back to Bond after Lazenby's muted performance. A mid-film car chase through the streets of Las Vegas is particularly memorable, providing one of the film's highlights whilst proving that Connery was finishing his time as Bond well before Bond finished him.

There are other elements to enjoy here too, such as the genuinely unsettling homosexual hitmen Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) - criticised for their exaggerated characterisation when the film was released, but who in hindsight feel ahead of their time when compared to the likes of Skyfall's Silva. Charles Gray becomes the third actor to take on the role of Blofeld, improving considerably on Savalas' take on Bond's nemesis despite being given by far the most extravagant and theatrical version of the character to deliver.

The main problem with Diamonds Are Forever is the irksome feeling that pretty much everyone involved is simply going through the motions throughout. Whilst previous Bond films may have adhered to a formula, there was always an underlying enthusiasm to them, something which this seventh outing too often lacks.

The plot is relatively basic, offering an unremarkable diamond smuggling narrative which gives way in the second half to a somewhat ridiculous SPECTRE master plan. This is also arguably the most cartoonish Bond film released up to this point in the series, with Bond's escape from a research lab by joyriding a moon buggy through the desert perhaps typifying the approach of returning Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton. It's not enough to stop Diamonds Are Forever from being an entertaining watch for much of its running time, but it does hammer home how seriously the Bond franchise needed freshening up at this point in its history.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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