MoM’s Our Word is Our Bond series continues with a look at You Only Live Twice (1967) starring Sean Connery and Donald Pleasence. Tim Wickens becomes our special agent on assignment in Japan for this latest review.
You Only Live Twice would be one of the last Bond books to be published in Ian Fleming’s lifetime. It is one that is very heavily influenced by the Bond films. One word that seems to keep coming up when people describe the book is ‘travelogue’. I have not read it, but that is not a flattering description.
For the movie adaptation the famous author Roald Dahl was brought in.Dahl called it Fleming’s worst book. In fairness to Fleming, Dahl’s script led to a rather one dimensional film with a few good action sequences but no funny one liners.
Unless using the code phrase “I love you” between men is your idea of funny.
Cold war tensions reach new highs as the Soviets and the Americans suspect the other of hijacking their rockets during pace missions. James Bond (Sean Connery) appears to be killed but, hence the title, it is only a ploy to enable the secret agent (who everyone seems to know) to work his magic to discover who really is landing these hijacked spacecraft in the Sea of Japan.
Bond and Japanese Secret Service leader Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) confess their love for one another (remember that code phrase?) and set off to uncover that Osato Chemicals is working for SPECTRE. Bond becomes Japanese, a terrible disguise, even having a fake marriage to a fake local, Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama). Kissy is really one of Tiger’s operatives. After a crash course in becoming a ninja, Bond and Kissy set out to discover SPECTRE’s hideout is in an island volcano. It is here Bond and the audience come face to face with the head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence). We have a huge climatic action-packed ending befitting a Bond film.
Sean Connery decided this would be his last go at playing James Bond (though of course our history books tell us it turned out otherwise). Connery is the only character that has any sort of depth. Unlike other Bond entries we are left with a cast of lifeless, forgettable characters. Connery’s departure after this film epitomized coming full circle. The faceless head of SPECTRE is finally revealed. This revealing of Blofeld would be one of the most lasting impressions, as today we remember Donald Pleasance’s scar-faced Ernst Blofeld by what it inspired in Mike Myers as Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films.
We have three main female stars, who, put together, do not add up to even one memorable character. We have Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), and Helga Brandt (Karin Dor). Brandt is a poor lifeless SPECTRE assassin, while Aki only aches for Bond. Kissy is the standout of the three but she dons a very similar bikini, one that looks to be Honey Ryder’s (Ursula Andress) from Dr.No (1963). I must admit though Dor is a redhead, it is Hama that caught my eye the most. Of course we have regulars M (Bernard Lee), Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), and Q (Desmond Llewelyn) all in tow for practically blink-and-you-will-miss-them appearances. Familiar faces Burt Kwouk, best known for Cato of The Pink Panther series fame, and Charles Gray, who in a few years would graduate to Bond villain Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), are the more recognizable faces in the supporting cast.
In discussing or reviewing many a Bond film special mention must be given to the film’s score.No one more so deserves that mention than the series’ main composer John Barry. Barry adds the flavor of Far East sounds to the film’s score while Nancy Sinatra sings the theme song. In my opinion it is her best vocal performance though the final product is from a mishmash of different takes (Barry claims as many as 25).
Two of the major highlights involve action sequences. The first is the rooftop chase and fight, Director Lewis Gilbert uses some very good aerial photography to bring out more from the scene. Secondly we have Little Nellie, Bond’s one man mini helicopter. Don’t let the word ‘mini’ fool you, Little Nellie has guns, missiles, rockets, and a flame thrower. Again it is the aerial photgraphy that takes precedence. The battle sequence with Bond in Little Nellie against SPECTRE helicopters is a sequence worthy of a Bond film.
When compared to the Connery triumphant trio of Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), and Goldfinger (1964), it is evident You Only Live Twice does not make the grade. It pales in comparison in terms of memorable characters. It is a film with splices and elements of other Bond films before it, grafted to itself. I would not call it the worst Bond film, but I much prefer most of (if not all) Roger Moore’s outings over this. It has action, a slightly faced-paced story, even some outer space sequences, but not enough originality or strong characterizations to make it really stand out.
Having said that, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was just around the corner, a film which in my opinion would become the best in the entire series.
MoM Rating: 5/10