This is one of those Bond movies that divides people. Many make the mistake of letting George Lazenby ruin it for them. That’s a shame, because so many other things about the film are pitch-perfect — and in all fairness, Lazenby was not that bad. He just suffers from having to follow Connery. Given time, he probably would have matured into an excellent Bond.
Be that as it may, OHMSS is a great Bond film in spite of its one-time star. The ski and bobsled chases are thrilling, expertly crafted sequences that are among the best action set pieces in the entire series. The avalanche is impressive, even considering that some of it involves stock footage. John Barry, as always, does a great job with the score and even surpasses himself this time. Diana Rigg is unforgettable as Tracy. Like the early films, gadgets are minimal. And there’s that final scene…
So what is there to quibble over? Well, as mentioned, there’s Lazenby — or, more accurately, the fact that Lazenby is not Connery. Once the decision was made that Connery could be replaced, whoever came first was obviously going to have the worst time of it. Lazenby is wooden at times, but is convincing in the fight and action scenes and clearly can handle himself. I’d put odds on him over Roger Moore in a brawl. Hell, maybe even over Connery — at least, the Connery of “Diamonds Are Forever.”
Part of the reason I think Lazenby gets a bad rap is that his arrogant, immature attitude behind the scenes (which has been well documented), and the fact he basically pissed away the role of a lifetime (I mean, would an unknown without any prior acting experience get the chance to play Bond today?), make it difficult for people to separate the actor from the actual performance he gave, which really is not all that bad.
But watching him, you can’t help but think, “You idiot! Not only could you have been a great Bond, but you could have changed the course the series took.” Had he stayed, would the films have detoured into silly comedy of the sort we got with Roger Moore? (Then again, without Moore’s popularity all those years, would we still have Bond movies today?)
You almost want to shout this at Lazenby, but something tells me he’s had this conversation with himself more than a few times…
One really glaring problem is an unforgivable lapse in continuity. In this film, Bond goes after Ernst Stavro Blofeld, this time played by Telly Savalas. (Like Felix Leiter, Blofeld is played by a new actor in each successive appearance.)
Despite the fact that they met face to face in the previous movie, Blofeld clearly does not recognize Bond when they first meet this time, presumably because the secret agent is wearing glasses and a kilt. Maybe he’s just as dumb as the people in the Superman comics are for not seeing through Clark Kent’s clever disguise, but I doubt it. What happened is that director Peter Hunt wanted to be completely faithful to the Fleming novel, and in the series of books, OHMSS comes before “You Only Live Twice.” So to deal with that plot point, they would have had to change the story in some way.
But in this case, being faithful to the book should not come at the price of ignoring what has been established in the previous movies. It’s just dumb, and mars an otherwise great movie. They could have just added some dialogue early in the film saying Bond had plastic surgery to avoid detection by his enemies, or something.
As far as Savalas, he’s too rough and too American for a role that is clearly meant to be a smooth, European criminal mastermind — and yet I prefer him over both Donald Pleasance in the previous film and Charles Gray in the next one, because he has something neither of those two can muster — a menacing presence. Ironically, the best Blofeld (apart from the unseen presence in the earlier films) was Max von Sydow in the knockoff “Never Say Never Again” (a remake of “Thunderball”) — too bad he had only one or two brief scenes.
Overall, this is a terrific Bond film despite the awkwardness of Lazenby and the miscasting of Savalas. The movie is at its best during the exciting snow sequences, of which there are thankfully plenty. It’s nearly two and a half hours, but seems to fly by at a much faster pace. Sadly, it would be more than a decade before we’d get another Bond film that had a story and characters as good, as interesting or as compelling.
Overall rating: 9 out of 10.