Apr 23, 2008

Diamonds Aren’t Forever: George Lazenby’s Forgotten James Bond Performance

Although he only played James Bond once officially in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby didn’t shy away from cashing in on the image–and even reprising the role in an unofficial capacity–later in his career. Probably most famously, he turned up driving an Aston Martin DB5 as "JB" in The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1983). Less well known is his guest spot on the Eighties revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, credited as "James ..."

In 1988, Lazenby appeared on an episode of the USA anthology series entitled "Diamonds Aren’t Forever." We hear some off-screen voices describing him as a superspy over stock footage of an airplane, and then we see Lazenby lowered into the frame in a parachute harness in front of a rural bed and breakfast. (Yes, it’s an odd setting for an ostensible Bond pastiche!) I should note that he’s not supposed to be being lowered; he’s supposed to actually be parachuting in. The program revels in its low production values, but that really doesn’t excuse them. After landing, Lazenby trades in on mixed Bond iconography, shedding the Union Jack chute to reveal an immaculate white dinner jacket. All the while, a terribly cheesy Bondian theme tune blares, culminating in the chorus, "My guy’s a spy!"

Once George has checked into the B&B, he takes a backseat for a while to the cast of eccentric screwballs sharing the lodging. In a nod to the director whose name the series posthumously exploits, they’re all stock Hitchcock types, played for laughs: taxidermists, psychos, frigid psychoanalysts. Things play out a bit like the opening moments of The Lady Vanishes, but the comedy fails once you realize that this is it; no one’s getting on any train; we’re stuck in this hotel with these oh-so Eighties, sub-par day players. Luckily, we know the whole affair lasts only half an hour, minus commercials, so the prospect of more Lazenby keeps us watching.

George, it should be said, rises above his surroundings. He has fun with the role and embraces the production’s overall silliness. And why shouldn’t he? The entire episode is, after all, crafted around his presence. He introduces himself by saying, "My name is–" only to be drowned out by a loud crash, "James– " more noises. This becomes a running gag. In his hotel room, Lazenby receives a videotaped briefing addressed to "Mr. James [static]." His mission (which apparently he chooses to accept) is to retrieve some sort of Macguffin before a Soviet spy (posing as one of the other guests) can get his or her hands on it. Simple enough.

Lazenby clearly enjoys instructing the barman not to stir his martini, and has fun with the script’s playful, intentionally bad double entendres. When another character asks if he’s a bird lover, he replies, "Well, in a manner of speaking." Yes, it’s a groaner, but I’ll be damned if ol’ George doesn’t pull it off! He always did have what it took to deliver Bondian banter, and age has only improved him. Too bad this is the only sort of thing he got to show for it in the Eighties.

When the hotel proprietor is done away with (guests argue over whether the proper term for the murder weapon is "sickle" or "scythe"), James ... assembles all the guests in the lobby for interrogation, but has to confess that "drawing room sleuthing is really not my forte. I’m much better at big action-type situations." He goes on to insist, "We all have our specialties. I swear that if any one of you were chasing me in a rocket sled, you’d be minced tarts."

The woefully cheap-looking Alfred Hitchcock Presents (not to be confused with the wonderful black and white series whose title it borrows) certainly doesn’t have the budget for rocket sleds (whatever those are), but it does manage to offer up its own version of an "action-type situation." Several thugs (for some reason) attack Lazenby, and he defends himself with chairs and fists. Something that’s supposed to sound like the Bond theme kicks in on the soundtrack, but it much more closely resembles Bill Conti’s disco score to For Your Eyes Only. Lazenby satisfies fan curiosity (and perhaps his own) by offering his interpretations of some classic 007 one-liners, explaining that one impaled foe "got the point," and dryly intoning, "Shocking!" after electrocuting another with a bulbless lamp, ala The Spy Who Loved Me. (The lamp, I mean, obviously, not the line!)

Eventually a villain is revealed, and gets as far as, "Goodbye, Mr. James–" before being shot by the requisite big-haired hottie, who turns out to be Lazenby’s ally and lover. Another baddie pops up at the last second, but our hero turns and fires at him, like Daniel Craig at the beginning of Casino Royale, as a gunbarrel-like target sight swallows him up. On that iconic image, credits role and we get a longer reprisal of that "My Guy’s A Spy" song.

The "Diamonds Aren’t Forever" episode of USA’s revived Alfred Hitchcock Presents is a nice curiosity for Lazenby fans like myself, but hardly essential. You’re better off using your resources to track down one of his hard-to-find Seventies action films, like Stoner. I don’t know if the updated Alfred Hitchcock Presents (which utilized colorized versions of Hitch’s famous introductions from the original series) was any good when it first began, but by this point it’s mainly tired gags and embarrassing production values. Despite all that, though, I must admit that there’s a certain undeniable thrill for anyone who loves On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in seeing George Lazenby reprise his most famous role, no matter what the circumstances!

1 comment:

Paul Bishop said...

Great review! I'm sure the moments of Lazenby are worth watching. Too bad the rest of the program and the production values sucked.

It's kind of sad in some ways, but I'm glad Lazenby got the work. I have always felt he got short srift for his turn as Bond. OHMSS is a superior Bond outing in many, many ways.