Thursday, June 16, 2011

Culture Shock 06.16.11: Let us now praise George Lazenby

Let us now praise a sort of famous man.

Of all the actors who have played James Bond on the big screen, one always gets short shrift.

No, I'm not including the various "James Bonds" of the farcical 1966 version of "Casino Royale." That would force me into a completely unnecessary digression about Woody Allen's turn as Jimmy Bond.

I'm talking about George Lazenby.

His tenure as 007 was brief, and his performance in that one Bond film is generally regarded as wooden, but of all the actors who every slid behind the wheel of 007's tricked-out Aston Martin, Lazenby is the toughest.

In his prime, he could probably take on Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig simultaneously. (I'm not sure about Timothy Dalton, though. Dalton has gotten really good at going full psycho in his most recent performances. I wouldn't put anything past him.)

You see, Lazenby actually has black belts in multiple martial arts and was friends with Bruce Lee. In a fight, he could probably hurt you.

When Connery, the man regarded by most 007 aficionados as the best Bond, retired from the super-spy franchise — temporarily, as it turned out — Lazenby became his unlikely successor. Not easy shoes to fill, especially if you are a model-turned-actor in his first movie role, which the Australian-born Lazenby was.

Despite Lazenby's bad rep, most of those same Bond aficionados will admit Lazenby's sole outing as 007, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," is one of the strongest entries in the series. It features arguably the best Bond girl in Diana Rigg ("The Avengers") and Telly Savalas as arguably the best Blofeld.

If he'd stuck around, Lazenby could have grown into the role and become one of the best Bonds ever. Instead, he took probably the worst career advice ever and hung up his Walther PPK after just the one film.

After that, acting jobs became hard to find, and Lazenby returned to the Far East to make movies in Hong Kong and Australia, but not before a detour to Italy to make the 1972 thriller "Who Saw Her Die?" in which he plays a father searching for his daughter's killer and displays some acting chops absent from his Bond performance.

Back in Australia, Lanzenby appeared as the villain in 1975's "The Man from Hong Kong," the first feature film by Anglo-Australian director — and Quentin Tarantino favorite — Brian Trenchard-Smith ("BMX Bandits").

This is the movie that most sets Lazenby apart from other Bonds.

Not only does Lazenby do his own fight scenes, which include letting the hero, played by Yu Wang of "Master of the Flying Guillotine," beat him up, he also does his own stunts.

That includes being set on fire.

Unfortunately, "The Man from Hong Kong" isn't currently available in the U.S., but the Lazenby/ Yu Wang fight scene and the story behind it is one of the highlights of the recent documentary "Not Quite Hollywood," which chronicles the wild and dangerous world of 1970s and '80s Australia cinema.

How dangerous? Well, Lazenby ended up burning his arm doing that stunt. And, according to some accounts, he might have punched Trenchard-Smith afterward. (For the record, Lazenby says he doesn't remember punching his director, but if he did, he's sorry.) Actually, anyone who survived to talk about making movies in Australia in the '70s is probably a pretty tough guy. Trenchard-Smith had to set himself on fire before Lazenby would do it.

So, I'm not saying George Lazenby is the best James Bond. But I am saying he's definitely the 007 I'd want with me in a fight. And that deserves respect.

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