It’s nothing all that spectacular to make a case that Sean Connery was “the best” James Bond. Anyone can do it. In fact, most everyone who is a die-hard Bond fan, at one time or another, has done it. Scan over the comments made on the first part of this series that covered Connery’s tenure—you’ll see there are few surprises. A lot of people think Sean Connery IS James Bond. Wasn’t there even a slogan to that effect? (Answer: Yes.)
Do people accord him this adulation because he was the “first” to play Bond? Because he wasn’t the first, of course. Anyway, if “firsts” were automatically the best, we’d all be talking about how Elmo Lincoln was the untoppable Tarzan, Charles Ogle the finest Frankenstein’s Monster, and Maurice Costello the elementary choice as the screen’s most scintillating Sherlock Holmes. Did Barry Nelson really give the definitive 007 performance in the “Climax!” broadcast of Casino Royale?
Want to get really sticky? Connery isn’t even the first person to appear as James Bond in the official Eon series. Stuntman Bob Simmons is—since he is the person who walks into frame during the famous “gunbarrel” opening of Dr. No.
Connery didn’t make the most films in the official series, either. In this respect, he falls behind Roger Moore by one, Connery’s six to Moore’s 0-0-7. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Never Say Never Again doesn’t count.
Australian model/actor George Lazenby got—and continues to get, in my opinion—sort of a bum rap when it comes to his performance as Bond. He only had one movie to prove himself (a self-inflicted term limitation, to be sure), but he served as Her Majesty’s deadliest secret agent in the most important story of the series. And, onscreen at least, he did everything right.
A Model Bond
Lazenby wasn’t the first choice to replace the departing Sean Connery, but Timothy Dalton had the good sense to turn the part down as he felt he was too young. More on Dalton later, of course. Roger Moore, popular as television’s The Saint, similarly was unavailable to become the new James Bond. More on Moore later, of course. It was a TV commercial that originally brought Lazenby to the attention of Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who took a gigantic chance on the ruggedly handsome actor with little experience after seeing the dapper Lazenby in person getting his hair cut at the barbershop—a “chance” meeting that Lazenby reportedly went out of his way to arrange. Sealing the deal for Broccoli and co-producer Harry Saltzman was the athletic prowess Lazenby displayed during fight scene screen tests.
The single Bond film starring Lazenby would turn out to be perhaps the most faithful adaptation of any of the Ian Fleming novels, boasting a fair amount of the series’ “bests.” So, who says he’s not in the running?
Many things distinguish OHMSS as a standout Bond film, not least of which is Lazenby’s smooth and sensitive interpretation of what had come to be regarded as a one-dimensional character despite Connery’s considerable charm. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, Bond fans, it’s time to watch it again and appreciate just how much charisma and ruthless cool Lazenby brings to the role. But, let’s get on with the superlatives:
Most Faithful to the Fleming Novel
Richard Maibaum, who possessed scripting credits on an astounding 13 films in the series (his last was Licence to Kill), provided a screenplay rich with gripping dialogue and an emotional sweep that has never been equaled in the franchise. And, viewers new to Bond from the Daniel Craig reboot Casino Royale may not truly appreciate just how ballsy it was to remain true to this book’s vicious climax. The action always feels organic to the plot, and it’s tough to overstate how brilliant a script has to be in order to sell a wow-that’s-cheesy moment like Blofeld’s hypnosis session with his coterie of female assassins—“You love chickens…” Speaking of 007′s bald-headed, cat-stroking arch-nemesis…
Best Blofeld: Telly Savalas
Yes. I said it, and I’ll always be willing to defend it. His “spilling the beans” monologue is one of the series’ finest. This Blofeld is not one for sitting around, either. He leads the ski chase after 007—“We’ll head him off at the precipice!” With all due respect to Donald Pleasence, Charles Gray, and the multiple fellows whose faces we never saw, the man who was not yet Kojak delivers a definitive Blofeld of oily menace. Plus, for once, we really believe he could kick Bond’s tail in the Red Grant style…but obviously, such vulgar displays of brute physical strength would be beneath him.
Best Bond Girl: Diana Rigg as Tracy di Vicenzo
There’s been an obnoxious habit practiced by the Bond PR machine ever since the series (arguably) outgrew its Playboy-era sensibilities. Every time the new “Bond girl” is cast, everyone goes out of their way to talk about how the latest Bond girl is “different.” Bond’s equal, and so on. Most of the time, that’s nonsense and a flimsy attempt to get the fairer sex more interested in the series. “What, the girl’s no sex object, but the equal of Bond? Let’s go, honey!”
Tracy, as portrayed by Diana Rigg, is the real deal. Not just because she’s the only gal who got Bond to (Spoiler Alert for those from Mars) pop the question, but because the former Emma Peel plays her complex part with emotional and physical fire.
One scene between Rigg and Lazenby that’s of special note is their confrontation in Bond’s hotel room, relatively early in the film, when Tracy shows up in magnificently skimpy nightwear and pulls Bond’s own gun on him.
It’s a moment we see played out over and over again in Bond. Just before—or just after—Bond has bedded a woman, he believes she may be about to betray him if she hasn’t already. The interrogation is always hard, with the girl protesting, “You’re hurting me.” Bond is always unmoved, and always responds with the threat of doing much worse to her if she doesn’t talk.
Their exchange here is riveting because it’s one of the most well-written and hardest-edged in the series, with her provocative threats met by the Bond who’s ice-cold as he twists her wrist and slaps her face. And yet, they’re already falling in love—as only those who point guns at one another and slap each other around can do in the 007 films!
Best Toss of the Hat
It was a fun little recurring joke in the Bond series. Inside the offices of Universal Exports, we’d see Bond’s Trilby-style hat fly past Moneypenny and land crisply on the coat rack. It was a clever and humorous way for Bond to let M’s loyal secretary know a fresh flirtation was about to be underway. This time, not only does it result in a great wedding tradition joke, the gesture really means something, and it provides series regular Lois Maxwell with the series’ most poignant moment of the relationships she had with the first three Bond stars.
Most Memorable Climax
Who can ever forget the ending? Lazenby is alternately tough, tender, witty, thoughtful, and classy in OHMSS, but this moment in the film is a high-stakes scene that would break even seasoned actors, and Lazenby delivers perhaps the most important moment in the series’ entire history with skillfully understated power. It’s devastating. Would Connery have done the scene as well? We’ll never know, so it’s pointless to compare when what’s here is so satisfying.
Bonus: Best Revival Trailer
Doesn’t this make you want to see the movie again…right now? It’s taken more than a generation, but many of the Bond films have, at last, become at least partly ”dated.” When it comes to the films’ original trailers, you can really see how differently coming attractions advertising was cut together way back when. What’s fascinating here is that the very modern feel of this trailer reflects quite accurately how much Lazenby’s sole outing has retained more of its juice by comparison with many of its predecessors and successors.
The tragic arc of OHMSS, and the mixed results associated with Connery’s one-off comeback in Diamonds Are Forever led the Bond family to move in a bold new direction, tailoring the next seven installments of the series not only to the times, but to the performance style of the third actor to wield the Walther PPK.
Next: Moore, Roger Moore