Contrary to popular belief, George Lazenby’s sole outing as James Bond was not the result of poor box office sales. In fact, the movie wound up being the ninth highest grossing movie the year it came out. According to IMDb, the actual reasons for him not returning were one or combination of the following: the producers didn’t like Lazenby’s cockiness which drove him to ski down a mountain when he wasn’t supposed to and breaking his arm which set filming back, the tabloids laying into Lazenby as a poor choice to replace Sean Connery and word getting back to the producers that Lazenby thought Bond was a character that couldn’t last in the new social awareness of the burgeoning 70s.
I wonder what it was like for audiences back then to accept a new actor playing James Bond. By the time I became a fan of the series (or was born, even) several actors had played the part, so it was easy for me to understand, but sitting down to watch this fellow Lazenby–who does look quite a bit like Connery–might have been a bit jarring. I’d have to do a lot more research than I want to put into this, but I’m sure there had been actor changes on television and in movies at the time, so it wasn’t completely unheard of. You’d think the Brits would have an easier time with it considering the changes made on shows like Doctor Who and The Avengers. Heck, the Bond movies themselves had a lot of actor changes, especially when it came to Blofeld.
Anyway, I’m a fan of this movie. I think Lazenby borrowed from Connery’s version of the character but added his own elements. The suave sophistication that we’ve come to know and love comes through, but this Bond seems a bit fiercer than the previous incarnation. His fight scenes seem brutal by comparison, with Lazenby–or rather his stunt double–putting his full body into every punch. The lack of music during some of these scenes adds to coldness of the battles. Lazenby also brought his cockiness to the screen, but without letting it get the best of him or Bond, something that wasn’t really there with Connery. Connery was more confident, this Bond feels just the slightest bit cocky. He even gets to take the character into places hinted at but never really seen before in the films with him actually falling in love and caring about a woman as more than another sexual conquest, someone to be protected or an asset to be handled. Damn that ending is sad.
And man, there’s a lot going on in this movie. Bond almost quits, goes undercover to finally get Blofeld–plaid by Telly Savalas this time–meets a woman he actually loves and SPOILER loses her to his dangerous profession. And that’s not even considering all the action set pieces. From the opening fight on the beach to the wild hypnosis scenes and the bevy of beautiful ladies to the epic ski battle, this movie has plenty to look at.
There’s only two things that bug me about this flick. First off, it’s insanely long clocking in at 142 minutes. That makes it the second longest movie in the series right behind the feels-too-long Casino Royale. I will admit that OHMSS doesn’t necessarily feel long, but glancing at my watch while this thing is on and checking to see how much more of the movie is left made me feel tired. The other craw-sticker is the idea that Bond could go undercover with a pair of glasses and expect to fool Blofeld. These guys were face to face at the end of You Only Live Twice and yet it takes a missed fact from Bond in his cover identity while talking to Blofeld that tips him off to the villain. I admit to missing details here and there, but even if the bad guys knew it was Bond the whole time, it feels like a foolish plot on Bond’s part. Was this explained somewhere and I missed it? But, those are just quibbles really. How can you not love a movie that has a bobsled shoot out?