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(Credit: United Artists Digital Studios)

Revisiting the brilliance of George Lazenby's debut as James Bond in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'

This is the series masterpiece. Laden in snow petalled ski slides, there hides a modest maturity made painful in the silhouetted stains by which James Bond’s wife lies dead. In a film more studious than the buckets of thinly veiled travelogues carted through the seventies, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service made leaps for itself by steering away from the contemporary, exhibiting a composition tellingly more au courant in the jittery Daniel Craig era. That it captured the zeitgeist of its era with such dignified style shows the skilfulness which merits Majesty’s a platform to re-watch with intellectual, rather than mere populist, attention.

This was a film as brittle and as real as the most unromantic of Craig’s work, with a romanticism steeped in the loneliness of the uncoupled spy. That it starred such a diverted lead, whose trim orange turtlenecks echoed the nattiest of sixties wear and tear, only made the film’s more potent that bit more staggering. He didn’t have the actorly menace of Timothy Dalton or the louche leisured step of Sean Connery, but George Lazenby worked with balletic precision, pummelling enemies with riotous zest, cascading in the mass reverie of leathered and watered debris. His unsophisticated acting style earned him a reality sorely missing from a series relishing underwater cars and satelites. And it was a portrayal lonelier, darker and more rounded performance than many of the madcap adventures that deviated from Ian Fleming’s pen work in decades to come. While Connery was laconic, Moore glib, Lazenby had the courage to be real, his tear stained closing monologue the starkest moment the series has yet trodden. In what proved an epoch of a scene, subsequent superlative entries Licence To Kill, Goldeneye and Casino Royale proved their worth by asking more of Bond than their missions.

In 1969, audiences required more than popcorn. Outside the cinemas, John Lennon admonished Britain’s involvement with The Biafran War, Vietnamese bomb raids entered the news serials with serial repetition and a Bogside Riot started The Troubles which haunted Ireland for thirty years. Rock ‘n’ Roll had taken a violent turn, literally so under Charles Manson’s command, with the base Mick Jagger writing from a darker caveway on the seamy Let It Bleed. The Beatles, Bond’s greatest pop adversary, called time on the decade they’d seamlessly conquered with a mercurial medley brimming with the exquisite joy they’d spent a decade espousing. Bond paid time on the ’60s with steelier authenticity, breaking the viewers vision with broken shards of glass. Lazenby, who’d wept when he’d first read the source novel, understood the gravitas the ending scene needed. He couldn’t have carved a greater legacy if he’d tried.

Truth and cognisance got him the job, while truth and cognisance were what he needed to leave the job. Longer the beards had grown and freer the teenagers walked in their bare skin at American festivals. There was a libidinous nature to the Bond series, but masked in a pornography of violence, they dated beside the primordial classics Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy. Economical in their escapist natures, Lazenby’s trajectory would be empty of the ceremonial Universal Soldier and spiritual No Time To Die with additional Bond films to his CV.

Director Peter Hunt ruefully noted: “Had George Lazenby been more sensible and had Brocolli and Saltzman been more sensible with him, I think he would have been a very credible Bond”. He needn’t have worried. Credibility was key to Lazenby’s success in the movie.