So far this series has looked at the first five films in the James Bond franchise, all of which starred Sean Connery. But while filming the last of those five, You Only Live Twice, he decided that would be his last film. Some say the reason he made that decision was that he was hounded by the international press during the shooting of the film in Japan, including an incident where someone tried to get a photo of him using a restroom.
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With the big-name star not returning, the producers had to decide who to choose as his replacement for the next film. That next film would be based on Ian Fleming’s novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is actually the 11th of Fleming’s novels and takes place before You Only Live Twice.
A number of actors were considered for the role, including Adam West and Roy Thinnes, but eventually the producers settled on a relative unknown who was a model and wanted to become an actor. His name was George Lazenby.
Diana Rigg won the role of “Tracy”, the girl who would steal Bond’s heart and the only woman James Bond has married on-screen thus far in a real (legally binding) wedding. There were 12 other beautiful women in the film that were part of the sinister plans of “Ernst Stavro Blofeld”. Telly Savalas took on the role of the central villain this time with his henchwoman “Irma Bunt” played by Ilse Steppat. Tragically she died only four days after the film’s premiere.
Lazenby’s Bond kept up traditions, bedding two of the “Angels of Death”, the women Blofeld planned to unleash on the world. But it also altered traditions, taking the humor and tongue-in-cheek joking to a higher level. That and Bond scoring with more than one woman would become trademarks of a future James Bond, Roger Moore. It is worth noting that of all the adaptations of Fleming’s Bond novels, this movie stays most true to the original material.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is considered by many to have flopped, but this is not accurate. Made for a smaller budget than the two prior Bond films, while it didn’t break the $100 million mark in box office, it did rack up $87 million and was definitely a hit. It was the #9 film for the year 1970 in the U.S. and there’s no question it made money for the producers and the studio. But Lazenby wouldn’t return for the next film and after considering a slew of other actors, the producers turned back to Sean Connery.
It took a salary of $1.25 million in 1970 era dollars to get Connery to sign on for one more Bond film and this time it would be Diamonds are Forever. Burt Reynolds was offered the role of Bond but passed. Producers actually signed an American actor, Joe Gavin, but then did a flip made the deal with Connery. In the end, Gavin got paid not to play Bond.
Diamonds are Forever is actually the fourth of Fleming’s Bond novels and once again, major changes in the story take place. The novel is all about a diamond smuggling ring run by two brothers and Bond closes down the ring by killing the brothers one at a time. The film involves diamonds but only to construct a space-based laser that could start World War III.
Connery plays Bond for the final time in an official Eon production (he does return to play Bond again in a Kevin McClory film Never Say Never Again in 1983). Jill St. John is the main Bond girl as “Tiffany Case”, while Natalie Wood’s sister Lana plays “Plenty O’Toole”. Charles Gray is the third actor to play “Ernst Stavro Blofeld”, who appears as the chief villain with Bruce Cabot playing “Bert Saxby”, who is allied with Blofeld. Norman Burton appears as yet another actor to play “Felix Leiter”.
Critics weren’t kind to Diamonds are Forever, with many claiming Connery was too long in the tooth to be playing the British super-spy. One critic described Bond’s problems in this film as situations that even “Maxwell Smart” could escape. But despite the critics, this was another smash hit. $116 million in box office on a budget of $7 million meant there would be more Bond films. But who would take on the role now? Sean Connery was done. George Lazenby wouldn’t be returning. Part IV of “Countdown to Skyfall – A History of the James Bond Franchise” reveals the next Bond and what his first film will be.
To be continued…
James Bond will return