Monday, May 15, 2017

Becoming Bond: The Lazenby Affair

If George Lazenby had re-upped with the James Bond franchise producers, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would probably be remembered as the best Bond movie ever. It featured Telly Savalas as Blofeld, Diana Rigg from the Avengers and Joanna Lumley from The New Avengers as Bond Girls, and Louis Armstrong’s final chart-topping hurrah, “We Have All the Time in the World” as the theme song. Yet, Lazenby didn’t, so now he is known as the one-and-done Bond. Arguably, it was the worst case of career self-destruction in movie history. However, Lazenby spins it as well as he can in Josh Greenbaum’s documentary profile, Becoming Bond (trailer here), which releases on Hulu this Saturday.

Lazenby is happy to admit to Greenbaum he was just a working-class bloke in Australia, who only came to England in pursuit of Belinda, the great love of his life. After a bit of scuffling, he fell into a successful modeling career. Unfortunately, he succumbed to the temptation represented by his female counterparts, thereby sabotaging his relationship with Belinda yet again. Frankly, the newly single Lazenby pursued a lifestyle that would make James Bond look like a celibate Trappist. He managed to catch the eye of an agent who arranged meetings with the director and co-producer of the first non-Connery Bond film, Peter Hunt and Harry Saltzman, which turned out to be dates with destiny.

So, what happened? Contrary to popular belief, Majesty’s Secret Service was a huge hit. Lazenby was offered a huge contract for six more Bond pictures, but he turned it down, for reasons he still has trouble explaining today. It is fair to say he chafed at some of the contractual controls they wanted to exert over his career, but frankly he obviously could have used their guidance.

Greenbaum’s novel approach intersperses close-up interview segments of Lazenby dishing on his notorious life with dramatized vignettes, in which actors play the Aussie Bond and the major figures revolving around him. It keeps things rather lively and certainly gives us a taste of the wild times. The only drawback is Josh Lawson, who is far too sleight of stature for the broad shouldered Lazenby. In contrast, Jeff Garlin and the ageless Jane Seymour are both quite scene-stealing scenery-chewing riots as Saltzman and Lazenby’s vampy agent Maggie.

Still, it is rather striking (and ultimately quite poignant) how much time Lazenby and Greenbaum devote to Belinda, the one who kept getting away. In fact, Becoming Bond starts out as an ironic pop culture documentary and evolves into a bittersweet love story. Fear not Bond fans, there are still plenty of juicy behind-the-scenes details.

Indeed, Bond is the focus of Becoming Bond, because it is the association that defines Lazenby’s career. However, it seems strange Greenbaum omits Lazenby’s stint with Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest. He was supposed to team up with Bruce Lee, but the martial arts legend died before their scheduled lunch meeting. Instead, Lazenby made the awesome Stoner with Angela Mao Ying and the fan favorite The Man from Hong Kong with Jimmy Wang Yu. There have to be some crazy stories from that time, but did Greenbaum think to sign Lazenby for a sequel? Regardless, it is quite entertaining to hear the forgotten Bond have his say. Recommended for all James Bond fans and anyone who enjoys movie-making gossip, Becoming Bond starts streaming this Saturday (5/20) on Hulu.