By the time of “You Only Live Twice,” Sean Connery was bored with playing James Bond, and had nothing more to add to his interpretation of the character. This was the also the first Bond movie that broke with the storyline of the novel. In retrospect, it seems paradoxical that it was the first Bond not scripted by Robert Maibaum, who later became infamous for his unfaithful adaptations. The movie, at least the first half, wasn’t so much bad, as confused and uninspired. By the time the closing credits rolled, it was obvious that something had to change if the series was to continue.
The first thing was to find a new James Bond, and the second was to get Maibaum back as the screenwriter. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” turned out to be the best adaptation of a Fleming novel, but George Lazenby proved a less than perfect James Bond. He wasn’t bad, though, and had he stuck around for a few more pictures, he may well have grown into the part. Lazenby had a good understanding of the character, but was too inexperienced an actor to pull it off at first try. He did his best acting work as James Bond impersonating Sir Hilary Bray, perhaps because the spectre of Connery wasn’t breathing down his neck, Connery himself was never too convincing when assuming cover identities. Did anyone really believe he could pass for a Japanese man in “You Only Live Twice?”
Lazenby was best when he was in action. As a fighter, he was every bit Connery’s equal. As a lover, he was much less so. I believed he was in love with Tracy, but not that he required the use of both elbows when making love to her. Neither did he engage as well with his adversaries. But there was something compelling about him, and one wanted to believe that he could be James Bond. The trouble, ultimately, was his refusal to play Bond off-screen, and he was fired fre om the publicity tour when he refused to cut his hair and dress like his character for the fans. So he was dropped, Connery returned for another picture, and then Roger Moore, for better or worse, stepped in and made the role his own for the next twelve years.
George Lazenby was forgotten, but many now rate “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service “as one of the very best James Bond movies. Most feel it would have been even better with Sean Connery.
Next: Timothy Dalton