Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Legacy Of Mrs. James Bond 007


This morning, word got around online that the great actress Diana Rigg had passed away at age 82. Most obituraries highlighted that she was Emma Peel in The Avengers series in the ‘60s, and Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones, but for many fans her defining role was as the one woman in entire 25 film run of the James Band series who married the super spy.

After five films in which Sean Connery portrayed 007, the actor wanted out and opted not to reprise the role in the sixth entry in the franchise. The unknown model, George Lazenby, took over the iconic Bond part for ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, and was paired with leading lady Diana Rigg as Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (nickname: Tracy).

Despite Lazenby’s inexperience, he had good chemisty with Rigg, and it felt plausible that Bond had found his true love, after he had yet again saved the world – this time from a deadly worldwide virus (hmm) that his arch enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) was attempting to inflict.

Moments after 007 and Tracy have a lovely wedding ceremony in Portugal, Bond pulls over his car (an Aston Martin, of course) on the winding mountain road to remove flowers from the car’s hood. Suddenly a vehicle containing Blofeld and his henchmen rapidly appears, and perform a deadly drive-by. Rigg’s Tracy dies instantly from a headshot, while Bond cries and tells a passing motorcycle cop: “It
s all right. Its quite all right, really. Shes having a rest. Well be going on soon. Theres no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.” (This was also the title of the Louis Armstrong-sung romantic theme song for the film)

This shocking killing is undeniably the saddest moment in the entire James Bond canon. It devastated me when I first saw the movie as a kid on TV, and it’s still a powerful scene over 50 years later.

Although he was in one of the series’ best entries, Lazenby was a Bond one-timer, and Connery was tempted back into the fold with the next film, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. The 1971 film opened with Connery’s 007 scouring the world to find Blofeld in order to take revenge for the death of his wife.

Now, her name was never mentioned but audiences just knew that’s what the deal was. After Bond supposedly takes down his greatest adversary – “Welcome to Hell, Blofeld” – Tracy is again, not referenced in the rest of the movie, but that’s not surprising as DIAMONDS was intended to be an cheeky old school exercise in GOLDFINGER-style colorfulness (Shirley Bassey was even back to sing the theme!).

Roger Moore took over for 1973’s LIVE AND LET DIE, but neither it nor its follow-up, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN had any mention of Mrs. James Bond. Since Moore signified a re-booting of the series (of course, nobody said reboot back then – the concept didn’t exist), so maybe they had left behind the idea that Bond had a wife who died tragically.

But then there was 1977’s THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, arguably Moore’s finest film as 007. In one scene, Bond’s latest lady, Barbara Bach as Russian agent Major Anya Amasova statically states his resume to his dismay.

Major Anya Amasova: “Commander James Bond, recruited to the British Secret Service from the Royal Navy. Licensed to kill and has done so on numerous occasions. Many lady friends but married only once. Wife killed…”

James Bond: [interrupts her] “Alright, you've made your point.”

Major Anya Amasova: “You’re sensitive, Mr. Bond?”

James Bond: “About certain things, yes.”

There we get that Moore’s Bond is indeed the same Bond from ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, and that he’s still profoundly hurt by the experience of her murder.

Four years later, the point is driven home by the opening of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981). Moore’s 007 visits the grave of Teresa Bond, as she’s identified on her tombstone along with the inscription “1943-1969, Beloved Wife of James Bond,” and “We Have All the Time in the World.”

The next and last time there was a mention of Bond’s long slain wife was in LICENSE TO KILL (1989), which was Timothy Dalton’s second and final film as Bond.

When Bond’s best friend CIA agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison, reprising the role from LIVE AND LET DIE) gets married, his new bride Della (Priscilla Barnes from Three’s Company!) offers to through her garter at 007 saying, “You know the tradition? The next one who catches this is the next one who...”

But Bond deflects, “No. No. Thanks, Della. It's time I left.” After he exits, Della asks Felix, “Did I say something wrong?” Felix: “He was married once, but it was a long time ago.”

20 years to be exact. Technically this is the last reference in the franchise to Bond’s long lost flame, but in Pierce Brosnan’s 007 debut, GOLDENEYE (1995), there is a notable line from 006, Alex Trevelyan (Sean Bean), that seems to have some resonance about Bond’s past:

Alex Trevelyan: “I might as well ask you if all those vodka martinis drown out the screams of the men you've killed, or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for the dead ones you failed to protect.”

Daniel Craig, whose fifth and final Bond adventure, NO TIME TO DIE, is slated for later this year, never had to deal with the issue of having his wife die, but did have in CASINO ROYALE, a true love in the form of Vesper Lynd (Eve Green) whose death affects him greatly.

That is indeed sad, but c’mon, her impact will never come anything close to that of Rigg’s Teresa/Tracy. The tributes I’ve seen today from folks about the how the character got to them at an early age can’t be denied.

Of course, we don’t have all the time in the world, but the short time we had with Mrs. James Bond will just have to do.

R.I.P. Diana Rigg

More later...

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