What’s it About?
Agent 007 and the Japanese secret service ninja force must find and stop the true culprit of a series of space-jackings before nuclear war is provoked.
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
“You Only Live Twice”
7 out of 10
[about to make love to Helga Brandt]
James Bond: “Oh the things I do for England.”
Why start with the 5th Bond film for my first Bond review? Because I left it to chance. I felt like being random and I spun my big Bond Wheel and voila! It landed on “You Only Live Twice.” YOLT is the fifth Bond film to star Mr Sean Connery and the very smooth, smart and sexually confident James Bond. Very loosely based (actually almost in name only) on the novel by the same name by Ian Fleming. The screenplay was written by Roald Dahl (Matilda, The Witches). It is the first to be directed by Lewis Gilbert (Alfie, Sink the Bismarck, Educating Rita) who went on to direct “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker” after which he became famous (or in some circles, infamous) for the over the top, comedic and epic scope of the Roger Moore films.
YOLT is neither epic or really that over the top. It falls almost in the middle. It has a very traditional Bond-esque opening where we treated to a very deceptive start. A United State spaceship in orbit around the earth is hijacked by another unidentified spacecraft. The US suspect it to be the Russians but the Brits believe it could be the Japanese since the spacecraft landed in the waters off the Japanese coast. In proper fashion they send 007 to check things out and to investigate.
James Bond is sent to Tokyo after faking his own death and confronting “M” about the dangers of being undercover for too long and the seriousness of the situation. The “M” and Bond moments throughout Connery’s films are one of the best constants of the movies and they are witty, biting and hilarious to behold. “M” is played with the stunning timing of a comedic actor and the intensity of a tax audit by Bernard Lee, who steals every scene from under Connery.
Having Bond go East and jumping right into the Japanese culture and inner circle of their spy ring is a great idea. It shows progress, finesse and an increase of danger and scope. Bond has to adjust and adapt to his Asian counterparts and he does with a wink in our direction and a smarmy bit of machismo. Even as he watches a Sumo match he plays it as if he belongs there and has seen a million matches before. There are plenty double twists, spy lingo, booby traps and a very athletic and brutal fight sequence where furniture gets tossed around. DP Freddie Young also treats us to a long reveal shot of an awesome chase / fight scene.
He teams up with the very alluring Bond Girls (In this order) Aki and Helga Brandt (Akiko Wakabayashi and Karen Dor) . Brandt has the better chemistry since of course she has the meatier role of the femme fatale. During these scenes Connery’s Bond is ever the dominant but is shown eventually that he isn’t always in control. Not a bad thing.
So, lets get to the best parts. The Little Nellie sequence / copter chase. “Little Nellie” is sent to Bond via Q (Desmond Llewyln) and we get the routine and funny repartee between Q and Bond. Q, as always, detests Bond’s cavalier attitude with his equipment and Bond really lets Q have it by doing not one but two close flybys with the whirly-bird. YOLT is the first time we are treated to actually seeing Blofeld, the leader of SPECTRE. Here he is played by the brilliant Donald Pleasence (Dracula 1979, Halloween and Fantastic Voyage) and he plays it deadly and straight. Before he is revealed we are treated only to his voice and by the time we do see him, scar and all, Gilbert has set up his villian’s more terrifying traits by his actions and dialog alone. It is just brilliant.
Pleasence plays deadly right through his make-up and he relishes in getting rid of some of his enemies in ways that Austin Powers fan will most likely chuckle at. It is a bit dated but it’s too tongue in cheek not to love.
John Barry’s music is classy but a bit redundant in parts. The title song by Nancy Sinatra is elegant lean but reported to be glued together from 25 takes or so. The we get (spoiler free) the huge payoff where all sides get into the fray of trying to stop SPECTRE from starting WWIII by stealing everyone’s spacecraft’s. There is a nifty, fake lake that will be remembered by the most jaded Bond fans forever.
There are ninjas, piranha, self destruct mechanisms. Everything to keep us Bondheads happy. I can only gripe about some of the flat set up scenes in the beginning and at times we are bogged down by lingering establishing shots of the beautiful Japanese countryside. I’m nit picking though. I can strongly recommend this Connery entry even if his execution in parts is lazy. Enjoy, gang. Another Bond review coming soon!