Saturday, July 21, 2012

You Only Live Twice - Bond and the Giant Peach

You Only Live Twice - 1967

Bond: Sean Connery
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Produced by: Harry Saltzman & 
Albert R. Broccoli
Theme: "You Only Live Twice" performed by Nancy Sinatra 

You Only Live Twice has always been one of my favorite Bond movies. I think it goes back to watching it as a young boy at sleepovers. What's not to love about this movie from a young boy's perspective? You've got space travel, volcanoes, Bond in his own fully armed mini-helicopter, a dog fight with helicopters, ninjas, and a large-scale battle sequence. And for young boys who haven't noticed girls yet, it's not too heavy on the kissy kissy. Sure Bond bed's his now formulaic three girls: an ally and a henchwoman who both get killed and a main Bond girl, but there aren't really any sex scenes. And even the main Bond girl somehow manages to be attractive but not overly sexy in spite of spending the bulk of her screen time in a teeny tiny bikini. So if you come to this movie as a teen-aged boy, I could see why it might not rank high on your list of favorites.

Still, it's not all that surprising that this movie skews a bit young given that it was written by Roald Dahl. That's right, the same man who penned James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The BFG wrote a Bond film. He'd written one screenplay previously but it hadn't been produced. Otherwise his primary qualification was that he had been close friends with Ian Fleming.

The film was directed by Lewis Gilbert who would later direct The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Perhaps not surprisingly, all three of those films have essentially the same plot. But more on that in future posts.

The movie held up pretty well for me viewing it as an adult. Except for an opening sequence in Hong Kong, the film takes place entirely in Japan and plays a little like a National Geographic special. Of course at the time there was no Travel Channel or internet, so a Bond film was as close as many people would ever get to visiting Japan. Dahl himself complained that the novel You Only Live Twice was essentially a travelogue with no plot. He did a good job of inserting the plot from Dr. No while keeping the travelogue feel.

I also found Bond much more interesting in this film. He's not as incompetent as in Goldfinger, but he does get captured, twice. It does more than just make him vulnerable; it also creates tension. What's he going to do? How's he going to get out of it?

This movie also marks the first time we see Blofeld's face. It had been hidden in every previous film, and through most of this one until the very end when Bond gets captured (for the second time). He's performed by the eminently creepy Donald Pleasence. If you wonder where Michael Myers got the inspiration for his supervillain in the Austen Powers movies, you've found it. It's something to behold.

And speaking of supervillains, we also have our first full scale assault on a superlair. Yes, Dr. No had one, but Bond blew it up on his own. This time around we have a full army of Japanese secret-police ninjas attacking. When you watch the climactic battle sequence, pay attention, because you're going to see it again later on, several times.

The most unfortunate part of the movie comes when, in order to blend in on the small fishing island he needs to infiltrate, Bond "becomes Japanese". Now, keep in mind it's the head of the Japanese secret police that puts Bond through this process, but basically they throw a wig on him, some different eyebrows, some makeup and BAM suddenly Bond looks Japanese. Except he doesn't really. He looks like a Scott with funny hair and makeup, and he speaks Japanese with a Scottish accent. It's ridiculous.

You Only Live Twice is the first of three "final" Bond films for Connery. He announced his retirement during filming in Japan. Now originally, the producers were going to make On Her Majesty's Secret Service first and then You Only Live Twice. That's the order of the novels. They switched them because OHMSS required searching for snowy alpine locations, and I guess they were lazy. YOLT could all be shot in one location. I bring this up because the Bond franchise would have been very different had these movies been switched.

For one thing, Connery would have ended the role on a somber note, if he could have pulled off falling in love and settling down. I'm not convinced he could have pulled that off, but the general public would have accepted it more from Connery. George Lazenby, Connery's successor, might have stood a chance if his first movie had been a revenge film instead of a love story. If Lazenby had gotten a second movie, would we ever have had the campy Roger Moore years? It's all impossible to speculate, but tantalizing nonetheless.

It's time I start ranking these in my order of preference, now that we've got a few under our belt. Here's my current list:

  1. Goldfinger
  2. From Russia With Love
  3. You Only Live Twice
  4. Dr. No
  5. Thunderball

1967 Context
President: Lyndon B. Johnson
Queen: Elizabeth II

The first Super Bowl is played.
The Summer of Love happens in San Francisco.

Best Picture Nominees:

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