Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967). Director: Lewis Gilbert.

The film version of Fleming’s novel hasn’t got a whole lot to do with the book, although it does retain the Japanese setting and the master villain is still Blofeld. The character of "Tiger" Tanaka (head of the Japanese Secret Service) is also carried over from the book, as is the Ama diving girl called Kissy (the sexy Mie Hama). In this new storyline Blofeld is using his own spaceship to hijack manned rockets out of orbit, hoping to cause a war between the Russians and the Americans. Inexplicably Bond’s death is arranged and announced and he is even buried at sea amidst headlines, but this whole business seems contrived merely to fit in with the film’s title. You Only Live Twice is highly entertaining and has top-notch production values, including Freddie Young’s striking cinematography, Ken Adam’s stunning production design, and pretty sharp editing by second unit director Peter Hunt (who would helm a Bond feature himself in the future). This is a very well-made movie. Even the models and miniatures (copters, space ships, buildings, volcanoes) seem more like something out of the 80's than the 60's.

Highlights include the plane trap that horny Bond is suckered into by Helga Brandt (aka No. 11), played by lusciously sinister Karin Dor; the attack on the mini-copter "Little Nelly" by big copters that seem like malevolent dragonflies; and the poison-on-a-thread business that inadvertently kills Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) when Bond himself was the target. There’s a scene with piranha in the novel – in the film Blofeld sends No. 11 into a pool full of them because she failed to kill Bond. Blofeld was behind the scenes in two previous Bond movies (From Russia with Love and Thunderball) and Bond finally meets him face to face in this entry, with Donald Pleasance properly weird and sinister (perhaps a little too weird) as Blofeld. Charles Gray, who plays the murdered Dikki Henderson in this film, would play Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever. Although the word S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is never mentioned, one imagines that Blofeld would need the services of that group to pull off this caper, and he is still referred to as "Number One." (Spectre was also mentioned in the film version of Dr. No, although not in the novel, as the group did not exist before Fleming wrote Thunderball.)

Roald Dahl’s screenplay is lively, and there are plenty of memorable action scenes and fisticuffs. The sexism involving the geisha girls and the Japanese opinion of women is so outrageous that it’s almost comical. This reaches its nadir when Tanaka tells Bond that as cover he must marry a woman with "a face like a pig." As he waits by the altar, two supposedly "homely" women approach, but the third, who is beautiful, of course, turns out to be the bride. Tanaka tells Bond that the geisha girls are fascinated by his hairy chest. "Japanese men have beautiful bare skin," he tells Bond. Bond replies, "Bird never make nest in bare tree." Sean Connery, giving his usual slick one-dimensional performance, is unconvincing as a Japanese – at his height (6 ft. 2), it’s a wonder they even bothered with the deception (even in the novel this aspect seems foolish). John Barry’s music is, as usual, excellent, with a compelling theme song sung competently by Nancy Sinatra. Lewis Gilbert directs with aplomb. [Question: Are the American astronauts still on Blofeld’s ship when Bond blows it up? This seems unclear.] The next Bond movie was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; Majesty was actually published before You Only Live Twice, which served as a sequel to that book. The same cannot be said for the film versions, of course.

Verdict: Good show, 007! ***.

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