Saturday, April 7, 2012

50 Years of 007 - Unofficial Lazenby

Cody takes a look at the times when George Lazenby played Bond without playing Bond.

After starring as James Bond in the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Australian model/actor George Lazenby asked Eon Productions to let him out of the seven film or seven year contract that he had signed with them. Amid the rise of the counterculture movement, Woodstock, the success of Easy Rider at the box office, and the miltary action in Vietnam, Lazenby's manager had convinced him that Bond's time was over, people wouldn't be interested in watching a suit-wearing government agent anymore. Of course, Lazenby and his manager were proven to be very wrong. Forty-three years later, Bond is still going strong, while leaving the role basically hobbled Lazenby's career. He's racked up a good number of credits, but remained off the mainstream radar.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service was Lazenby's one and only time playing James Bond. Offically. But years later, he did make a couple unofficial, tongue-in-cheek returns to the character in non-Bond productions.

The first was in The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair, a TV movie follow-up to the '60s television spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Interestingly, when U.N.C.L.E. executive producer Norman Felt was initially developing the idea for a spy show, he turned to a writer whose spy novels were being successfully adapted to the big screen - Ian Fleming. Fleming came up with some ideas and character names, one of the names being Napoleon Solo. Solo would be the main character of the show to be titled Ian Fleming's Solo. That was the plan, until Eon Productions heard about Fleming being involved with another spy project. Not happy with this news, Eon threatened legal action over the use of a Fleming character named Solo, since one of the gangsters in Goldfinger also had that surname. So as not to cause trouble, Fleming left the TV show and signed an affidavit assuring Eon that the TV Solo had nothing to do with the Goldfinger Solo. Felt agreed to change the title and over time the project became different than it would've been with Fleming.

Starring Robert Vaughn as secret agent Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as his Russian partner Illya Kuryakin, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was very popular and even spawned a short-lived spin-off called The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., with a lead character named April Dancer, another name thought up by Fleming. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ran from 1964 - 1968. Fifteen years later, Vaughn and McCallum were brought back together for the TV movie, and at one point Solo appears to cross paths with a certain other spy character created by Ian Fleming.

Lazenby's special guest appearance happens during a car chase. Solo, with a Russian ballerina in the passenger seat of his convertible, is being pursued through the streets of Las Vegas by a few carloads of dangerous men. They speed through an intersection, right past a silver-grey Aston Martin DB5 with "JB" license plates. At the wheel as JB is Lazenby, wearing a white dinner jacket. Recognizing Solo as an ally, JB decides to join in on the action.

Much like Aston Martins tend to be in Bond films, JB's vehicle is fully loaded with gadgets that he uses to get the villains off Solo's tail. One carload of baddies is taken out by the watersprayers in the back of the Aston, another is blasted with rockets fired from the front.

They can't outright say that JB is James Bond, but they're definitely not subtle with their hints at who it's supposed to be. After watching one of the crashes he causes, JB breaks the fourth wall - as Lazenby did in OHMSS with the line, "This never happened to the other fella" - looking into the camera and smiling, "Shaken, but not stirred." When Solo's passenger realizes who the helpful man in the Aston Martin might be, she gets very excited and exclaims, "It's just like On Her Majesty's Secret Service!"

When the threats are eliminated, JB pulls up beside Solo's convertible, the two Fleming creations nod to each other, then JB drives out of the movie. In all, his car chase cameo lasts just over 3 minutes.

The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. first aired on April 5, 1983, which was quite a year to be a Bond fan. All three Bond actors to date had some Bondian action that year. Lazenby's cameo was the first, in June the Roger Moore Bond film Octopussy came out, and in October was the release of Never Say Never Again, Sean Connery's own unofficial return to the character.

I especially enjoy that all this happened in 1983, because that's also the year I was born.

Lazenby's second return to "Bond" came in 1989, in an episode of the revived Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series.

An anthology series hosted by Alfred Hitchcock, the original iteration of Presents had run from 1955 - 1962, and continued on into 1965 under the title The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Alfred Hitchcock Presents was brought back for another four seasons starting in 1985. Despite the fact that Hitchcock died in 1980, he was still able to host the mid-to-late '80s show through the use of stock footage. The black & white host segments from the '60s were colorized and placed as bookends around the new episodes. Sometimes '80s episodes were remakes of '60s episodes, sometimes they were new stories.

One of the '80s show's new stories aired on April 15, 1989, one of the last episodes of the final season. Entitled Diamonds Aren't Forever, a play on the title of the Bond film that followed On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it stars George Lazenby as a suave spy who we never learn the full name of.

The episode begins with a plane plummeting from the sky as the voiceover of a villain cries out that he and his superspy adversary are going to Hell together. The voice of Lazenby replies, "'Fraid not. Cheerio."

The Lazenby-portrayed spy escapes from the plane with a Union Jack parachute, which he uses to bring himself down to an easy landing right outside the front door of a nice countryside hotel while a tune called "My Guy's a Spy" plays on the soundtrack.

After removing the parachute pack from his white dinner jacket, Lazenby enters the establishment and tells the woman behind the check-in desk that he has a reservation. "My name is (a loud clatter from offscreen drowns out his line), James (more noise from offscreen)."

This happens throughout the episode; we get that the Lazenby character's first name is James, but whenever his last name is spoken, something happens to make it inaudible. And thus, legal issues are avoided.

The hotel is full oddball characters, including a man who's there with his psychotherapist to work out his issues (he used to blackout and wake up surrounded by blood and bodies), an aspiring actress desperate to be a star, a suicidal man who has trouble talking to women, a hulking handyman, and the peeping tom bartender who takes a bit too much pleasure in his hobby of taxidermy. At one point, James orders a martini from the weirdo bartender and specifies that it should not be stirred.

There's more going on at the hotel than just the surface strangeness - using his watch to tune in to a television broadcast meant specifically for him, James is told by his boss that one or more of the guests is actually a Soviet spy. James and the Soviet are both there to retrieve a golden egret statue.

Soon hotel inhabitants are being knocked off and it's up to James "..." to stop the killer, ferret out the Soviet spies, and obtain the golden statue, all within the confines of a 30 minute TV episode.

Along the way, he gets into a physical confrontation with a couple of the suspects, during which he gets to repeat two quips from Connery Bond movies - "Shocking" and "He got the point." In the end, a gun is pulled on James and the camera cuts to a P.O.V. shot through a scope that the gun aimed at him doesn't actually have. James fires at his would-be assassin and the scope shot turns red.


He's not really playing Bond in these, and they both lean toward spoof territory, but Lazenby's '80s Bondian performances are quite fun to watch. I thought Lazenby did a good job in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and he's entertaining in these unofficial appearances. I would've liked to have seen him play Bond in more movies, and these '80s TV roles are an interesting look at what it might have sort of been like if he had stayed in the role.


  1. Excellent post! 1983 WAS a good year for Bond fans - starting with that cameo! I think they teased it in the TV Guide that week - because I remember not being surprised - just delighted, when GL turned up as James Lazenby turned up as JB. I would have been watching the movie anyway, because while at that point I'd never seen the original series - I loved reunion TV movies like this and watched ALL of them. 1983 continued to be one of my favorite 007 years, because I got my driver's licence (Brit spelling) that year and took myself to both Octopussy and Never Say Never Again on opening night.

    I never saw the Alfred Hitchcock episode - I'd heard of it - but missed seeing it - it sounds cool - wonder if it's on YouTube?

    Thanks for the Lazenby love - always liked the guy wherever he turned up - and may I recommend Saint Jack and The Man from Hong Kong?

  2. Being able to see the Bond events as they happened in '83 is even better than being born that year.

    I believe both of these Lazenby appearances are bouncing around the internets. I do intend to watch more of his movies one of these days, it seems some of most interesting ones are the hardest to get.

    - Cody