Bond: You Only Live Twice
After THUNDERBALL came out, the whole world went James Bond crazy. Suddenly, everyone was making spy thriller. There was the Matt Helm film series with Dean Martin, the Derek Flint movies with James Coburn, Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in a trio of films made by Bond producer Harry Saltzman, THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, THAT MAN IN RIO, KISS THE GIRLS & MAKE THEM DIE, DEADLIER THAN MALE, etc... On TV, there was I, SPY, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, GET SMART, IT TAKES A THIEF, and many others. In 1967, Columbia Pictures released the Bond spoof CASINO ROYALE (the studio owned the rights to that novel due to a previous deal made with author Ian Fleming), starring Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven and many others. With so much competition, how could the Bond series remain competitive?
PLOT: After faking his death to throw S.P.E.C.T.R.E off his trail, Bond head to Japan, to investigate the disappearance of several American & Russia rockets. While there, Bond will finally come face to face with his arch- nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence).
REVIEW: For me, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE marks the end of the golden age of Bond. Sure the series would go on and produce many entertaining films (including my all time favourite which will be revealed soon), but in many ways this truly was the end of an era. Connery was getting sick of the series, and the producers were having trouble figuring out how to continually raise the bar with each subsequent entry.
In an effort to compete with the many other superspy movies out there, they decided to make this film a massive, all out action extravaganza. Roald Dahl, of all people, was brought into write the screenplay. The film itself is a very entertaining affair- with some beautiful Japanese locations, and some amazing stunt work. The second half of the film is a tad preposterous, with Bond hooking up with some ninjas to lead an all out assault on S.P.E.C.T.R.E headquarters, which of course is housed in a hollowed out volcano. To me, the film almost seems like a spoof of the other Bond films rather than a serious entry, but it’s still a heck of a lot of fun, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.
This is my big problem with the film- Connery. It’s pretty obvious here that by this time he wanted out, and he doesn’t bring the same energy to this outing that he did in previous instalments. He’s still good of course, just not as good as he once was. Supposedly he was having a hard time dealing with the fact that people thought he was interchangeable with Bond. He almost caused an international incident when he arrived in Japan, sans toupee, and dressed casually. People probably expected him to walk around 24/7 in a tux, while Connery longed to be respected as a versatile actor. Another thing that pissed him off was the fact that his brother, Neil, a plasterer from Edinburgh, starred in a Bond knockoff of his own, called OPERATION KID BROTHER. The producers of that film somehow got not only Adolfo Celi & Daniela Bianchi to appear, but also secured the services of Bernard Lee (M) & Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny) to play thinly disguised versions of their characters. Feeling that they were participating in the exploitation of his brother, Connery supposedly gave them the cold shoulder during filming. Once the film was done- he quit the series, only to return in 1971 for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, and in 1983 for NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, which was produced by another studio (more on that in a few instalments).
We get three Bond girls in this one. There’s Akika Wakabayashi as Aki, an agent with the Japanese SIS who assists Bond throughout the film. She’s pretty much the central Bond girl for the fist 2/3 of the film, before buying the farm in a memorable poisoning scene (which was payed homage to in GROSS POINTE BLANK). Bond then hooks up with another agent, Kissy (Mie Hama), who he actually marries in a mock ceremony to establish his cover as a Japanese fisherman (note- Connery never even looks slightly convincing in this disguise). There’s also a villainess named Helga Brandt that Bond nails in order to escape S.P.E.C.T.R.E’s clutches. All in all, the Bond girls are on the weak side in this. Aki would have been a fine Bond girl, but she’s knocked off, and here replacement, Kissy, doesn’t get enough screen time to really be established as a true Bond love interest (although that doesn’t stop him from shagging her on top a nuclear submarine while Moneypenny watches- seriously).
BOND MUSIC: We get another great score by John Barry, and a terrific theme song sung by Nancy Sinatra- which Robbie Williams sampled it for his song “Millenium”.
BODY COUNT: 21 souls meet their untimely end at the hands of James Bond in this one- although if you count the number of foot soldiers killed by the Ninjas the body count is probably at least 60.
NUMBER OF WOMEN BOND SLEEPS WITH: 4- Aki, Helga Brant, Kissy, and some girl who sets him up in the opening credits.
BEST ONE- LINER: “Bon Appetit”- after knocking a henchman into a pool of piranhas.
BEST DOUBLE ENTENDRE: “Oh, the things I do for England”- after seducing his hot S.P.E.C.T.R.E interrogator.
BEST GADGET: Q gives Bond a gyro copter that fits in a suitcase (called Little Nellie), but my favourite gadget comes from Bond’s Japanese ally, Tiger- a cigarette that also doubles as a single shot pistol. For a heavy smoker like Bond, this should be standard issue.
RECEPTION: Due to secret agent overkill, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was not as successful as THUNDERBALL or even GOLDFINGER, but it still made an impressive $43 million in the U.S, and $111 million overseas.
GRADE: 7.5/10- silly but still tons of fun.