We’ve stumbled into, quite possibly, the most EPIC pre-screening interview in the history of interviews when TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz must navigate the dangerous minefield that is George Lazenby, also known as “THAT” James Bond. Yes, Lazenby the cad, the lady killer, the one time car salesman, the Aussie with a “walk” that resembled a bloke swaggering out of a pub on a Friday night, is in full storytelling mode this particular Friday night, and Mankiewicz is not just doing his best to try and keep the dialogue on point, but is killing it in the laugh-out-loud department. In fact, these two should go on the road, as Lazenby continually, obsessively takes every question into the rocky terrain of past conquests and jabs at the “weaker sex,” in general, and Mankiewicz ever so deftly, gets the train back on the tracks, with a giggle, a double entendre and a not too obvious blush.
“You really ARE James Bond,” Mankiewicz quips after Lazenby relates one story about filming that devolves into him having an “affair with a secretary during lunch in the stuntmen’s tent.” “Affair” being the catch-all word for Lazenby’s myriad of conquests.
According to Bond Number 2 (if you’re NOT to count David Niven, Peter Sellers and even Woody Allen in the unofficial “one-off” Casino Royale that almost singlehandedly destroyed the entire 1960s), he had no acting experience when a friend told him that due to contract breakdowns, Bond Producer Albert Broccoli was looking for a new 007. Lazenby claims to have gone to Sean Connery’s barber to get the exact same haircut, purchased a Rolex, snuck into the casting director’s office, and striking a pose, stated, “I hear you’re looking for James Bond.”
Several meetings and tall tales told later, Lazenby was James Bond. He didn’t get along with Director Peter Hunt for what would appear to be a miscommunication, that grew into a Cold War between the two that resulted in neither talking to one another for the duration of the filming. Lazenby joked,” It was my first film. I just thought the actors never spoke to the director.”
The now legendary falling out that Lazenby had with producers following production, which included him being labeled difficult, meant that he couldn’t work again. He continually used the term, “someone got a phone call,” which seemed to be the answer whenever he would lock a job. He was inked to play the lead role in the television series The Equalizer, but on the day the pilot was to be shot, he received a call from the producer. “Sorry, mate, we got a call.”
Lazenby’s ironclad contract with Broccoli meant he couldn’t work in any English language film. So he jumped at the chance when Bruce Lee showed an interest in working on a Hong Kong film with him. Lazenby arrived in town during one of the worst hurricane’s in its history. In the midst, he got his meeting with Lee. Then three days later, the iconic Martial Arts master passed away.
With all of this bad luck, Lazenby in the 80s, showed some recalcitrance in several interviews, believing he brought on his own misfortune. Today, he seems a tad “less” apologetic. But there’s no denying this somewhat mysogynist, politically incorrect cad has charmed the — well — socks — off the audience and Mankiewicz as well.
The film itself, On her Majesty’s Secret Service, is a delicious confection of pure Bond perfection. As Mankiewicz so aptly put it, “This is the best Bond.” And even with the successful Bond reboot which has seen Daniel Craig rival Bond favorite Sean Connery, with superb scripts that the genre hasn’t seen since the 1960s, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service solidly delivered an entertaining film with a solid, fleshed out story first, a Bond film second. The action sequences, fast, rough, cut with precision by future Bond director John Glenn, have seen no equal until the remake of Casino Royale which was a tip of the hat to both this specific film, and the Jason Bourne series.
Bond falls in love, and the object of his affection is none other than the Avengers’ skin-tight leather clad beauty herself, Diana Rigg. And for the first time, his love interest is his equal. She’s spontaneous, forward thinking, a great driver and can handle herself in any situation, just like her fiancee. Bond also gets to face Blofeld, this time portrayed by a smooth, shrewd, violent yet effete Telly Savalas (still this writer’s favorite super villain). The action set pieces are also unequaled. The first of many (to come) ski sequences, a bobsled chase to end them all, a car chase through a demolition derby, and several no-holds-barred hand to hand combat scenes that still have not been matched, culminating in a wedding and the most shocking and abruptly harsh ending to any Bond film. This is the one all Bonds should be measured against.
Of course, Lazenby blinked during renegotiations, Sean Connery returned one more time for Diamonds Are Forever (let’s all just agree to pretend Never Say Never Again was never made) and then the Roger Moore era (for better or far worse) ushered in a cartoonish 007 that took decades to “right” itself.
Lucky for us all, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has not only stood the test of time, but flourished since and changed a lot of minds over what makes a great Bond. Sean Connery may be the best, but this gem is definitely the best Bond film. Just ask Ben Mankiewicz.