Saturday, December 02, 2006

Licence to kilt: "Nice legs, 007!"

I haven't seen Casino Royale yet but I've heard many gushing words of praise about Daniel Craig's reinvention of James Bond; these include "He's grittier than Sean Connery and Roger Moore were" and "He's more sensitive, a New Age 007". The latter observation derives largely from the fact that this is the first Bond film since 1969 to show the philandering spy in a serious relationship. He even, dare one say it out loud, falls in love!

Ah, 1969. That was the year man landed on the moon, the Beatles gave their final public performance, Woodstock happened, Wal-Mart was incorporated...and James Bond wore a skirt, courtesy a couple of scenes that featured Australian actor George Lazenby (in his sole appearance as the super-spy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service) in a Scottish kilt - the plot has Bond posing as a heraldry expert.

Chauvinistic jokes about this sequence were all the rage at the time: Connery's Bond could charm any woman out of her skirt within 10 minutes of their acquaintance, young men boasted on their hero's behalf; but if Lazenby were around, he'd probably put the skirt on. (“Ol' George Nearly Kilt the Bond franchise” was a typical tagline.)

On Her Majesty's Secret Service has been a conundrum for 007 fans. On the one hand, many critics and aficionados consider it the definitive Bond movie. It had all the elements the series is loved for, some outstanding action scenes, a strong villain (played by the menacing Telly Savalas), a very appealing heroine, Teresa di Vicenzo (played by the classy and reasonably well-respected TV actress Diana Rigg, who no one would ever dismiss as just another Bond Girl) and the strongest relationship in the entire franchise. Bond actually marries Teresa, and her tragic death in the climax gives the movie the unhappiest ending of any 007 film.

On the other hand, very few people were able to warm to the Australian's performance in the lead. He was beaten before his feet even touched the ground – any actor replacing Connery would have been in a no-win situation. However, time has enabled us to see Lazenby in a kindlier light. It's true that he wasn't as charismatic as his predecessor (how many actors were?), but his laconic portrayal was just as valid as Connery's loveably raffish one (and probably truer to the spirit of the Ian Fleming books – not that that was ever a priority).

Lazenby's regular-guy-doing-an-irregular-job take on the character would probably have been better received if On Her Majesty's Secret Service had been made today; by most accounts, Daniel Craig has gone the same route in the new film. Besides, in our world, where a leading male icon can appear on a magazine cover wearing a sarong, even the kilt scene might have worked quite well – Lazenby's 007 was being metrosexual decades before the word came into use, secure enough about his masculinity to be unmindful of the skirt riding above his knees even as he charms the ladies at a party.

P.S. This is a good time to remember that one of the major candidates for the new Bond was Orlando Bloom, whose very name suggests tights and bloomers, and whose most famous film role thus far has been as a fairy (okay okay, Elf, same difference!) named Leggy Lass.

[A composite of a couple of short pieces I've been doing about the Bond men.]

1 comment:

  1. have you seen the new bond yet? I would be very interested in reading what you make of it...