James Bond and You Only Live Twice (1967)

You Only Live Twice (1967) – First, the bad news. The movie, early on, includes a scene in which Bond sits watching a Sumo wrestling match. This is the first scene, for me, during this viewing, in which Connery’s wig fails him.

Backing up a bit, the first Connery balding shock for me, ever, as opposed to just the Sumo bad rug in YOLT, came when he was swimming underwater in Thunderball (1965). The strands of his untoupeed hair wafted up in the water, too thin by far, for the hirsute superspy. But wait. Could that have been his double? Wow. Both Bond and his stunt guy (Bob Simmons, who also came up with the fight gags. Bob was one of the first to break down fights into cuts, which has led to the absurd extremes of today, wherewhen some fights are 100% quick cuts and totally fabricated and incomprehensible. It’s an outrage.) going bald at once? But wait again. There is an underwater scene like that in YOLT. That’s probably what I’m thinking of. The memory is 43 years old,  after all.

It meant that he had to go, that thin hair, and now, four decades later, Bond’s hairpieces in YOLT haven’t held up stylistically for this viewer. His rugs are dated in the way that a spiked toupee today would be dated in 2050. Connery went the hairless route gracefully in his career, like Bruce Willis and Billy Zane and unlike Burt Reynolds and Travolta. If Burt has ever appeared au natural in a movie, please let me know. I’ve seen him in more wigs than those ladies down at the nursing home.

Connery announced that YOLT was his last Bond flick before shooting even started. He was sick of the whole thing. His hair and his age had nothing to do with it. In fact, as he aged, Connery lost that goofy pouty look about the mouth. He looks great in YOLT, the perfect Bond. Except for those scenes with the rug.  He and Broccoli were on the outs over $$ issues, and Connery begrudged the time the movies took to make and promote. The Japanese fans on location drove him nuts. The Bond films did make the heretofore penurious Connery a rich man, though, and he was able to move his parents out of their tenement in Edinburgh.  As an actor, however, he didn’t miss the fact that the franchise was moving toward gimmicks and formula and away from character and any sort of dramatic class.

But enough about the man’s hair and dudgeon. On to the movie. It’s rated PG. PG, and it starts out with Bond in bed with a young Chinese woman, he commenting that Chinese women taste different than Russian women do. One chicken, the other fish, I presume. And then the bed gets flipped up, Bond is machine-gunned, and the bed is flipped back down to reveal him dead, “in the line of duty,” with a little discrete blood soaking into the sheets. PG. But wait. I forgot that there was no PG-13 until after a heart got ripped out of a living guy’s chest (at least it was a guy) in the PG Temple of Doom, and that was 16 years after YOLT. Explains why I got so many glimpses of nude women in the 70s.

The YOLT intro music is one of my favorite Bond theme songs. John Barry did good on that one. Possibly the only Nancy Sinatra recording I ever liked. 28 takes to make it, with her scared the whole time after flying over to London and walking into a room that contained, in addition to Barry and Broccoli, an orchestra that seemed, to her, to number in the hundreds.

Wrt the movie: nice shot of a ’59 Chevy Bel Air as it pulls into traffic in Tokyo.

When YOLT the novel was published in 1964, I eagerly snapped it up. I waited for each new Bond book to come out and… and what? Checked it out of the library? Or did the Signet paperback come out at the same time as the hardcover book did? Can’t remember… But anyway, I got my hands on the book and enjoyed it, though it didn’t strike me as one of the best of the ouvre. In it, Bond goes to Japan to deal with a crazy doctor, Shatterhand, who has set up a suicide garden behind high walls, for suicidal citizens to sneak into and die. Turns out that the doctor is Blofeld, who killed Bond’s bride in The Spy Who Loved Me, which was written before YOLT. YOLT was filmed out of sequence because TSWLM needed winter and it wasn’t, at the time. Can’t remember more than that about the book, except that Bond’s Japanese opposite number was a tough dude named Tiger Tanaka, and the two of them drank a lot of saki and played paper/stone/scissors while drunk. Guess who won? Also, I remember that Bond, who goes to live in a fishing village where the young women dove down for pearls or fish, if it’s a fishing village, bare-breasted, opines that the women were beautiful but that their nipples were coarse. The rotter. Plotwise, perhaps Fleming was stretching a little by the time he wrote YOLT. He died the year that it was published (The Man with the Golden Gun, Octopussy, and The Living Daylights were published posthumously).  But any Bond was better than no Bond. At least he died several decades before The Wall fell. He didn’t have to figure out what to do with Bond then, unlike an author like John Le Carre, who was stuck with a writing career full of spies who were suddenly in from the cold.

Three years after the book, the movie arrived. Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay, borrowing some plotting from Harold Jack Bloom and others and claiming it as his own. Dahl  and Fleming were buddies and as far as I know, Dahl didn’t think much of the movies made from Fleming’s books; but he took the money. The movie begins with a giant alligator satellite eating a U.S. satellite with one astronaut in it and another snipped off to spin off into space. (Apollo 13 launched three years later and in spite of a lot of problems, did not have to deal with a spacecraft-eating satellite  chasing it.) This was at the height of the space race, so…  it’s topical. Forget Blofeld in a castle with a suicide garden. Here he’s the prototype Dr. Evil, ensconced in the largest, most expensive movie set ever built, trying to top the spectacles in Thunderball and moving ever farther away from the zeitgeist of the Bond books and the original Bond movies. Although credit where due: the director flew all over Kyushu looking for a castle like the one in the book and couldn’t find one – but spotted the cool volcanoes there and Dahl made the switch. The inside of the volcano is a hellava set. The Bond franchise was so big by then that UA (or Eon. I can’t follow the money between production companies and distributors) couldn’t say no to Broccoli and Salzman if they wanted something, and production designer Ken Adam convinced them that they wanted the set. Motorists could see the building when driving between London and Oxford and local residents demanded a tour of it as recompense for the inconvenience of the traffic and nighttime gunshots that they had to endure because of its presence. Richard Harland Smith in a TCM review suggests that the thing is a reincarnation of the Dahl Willie Wonka chocolate factory.

For the lover of practical (mechanical or physical) effects, a movie like YOLT is swell. No CGI. Things got built to look at. Ben Hur (1959)? Real stadium, real race track, real chariots, real horses. The audience anticipation was terrific. I mentioned somewhere else how Samuel Bronston built huge sets out in the Spanish countryside. Nowadays, a $150 million budget is mostly about salaries and computers. Nothing wrong with CGI, that’s for sure, but the real thing is still the real thing.

Just to put my thoughts about YOLT in context: when JFK included From Russia With Love on a list of favorite books and told a reporter that Ian Fleming was a favorite for bedtime reading, I went out, just like a lot of others, and acquired the first Bond book, Casino Royale. After that, I tracked down the other Bond books that Fleming had written up to then (maybe up to Goldfinger). After that, I waited eagerly for every new Bond. In the ’60s, Playboy began publishing best-selling authors in the magazine. I never liked reading Bond in magazine format, but Fleming wrote some short stories (including Quantum of Solace – so blame Fleming for the title) and that’s where the stories appeared (or not. Can’t remember if Playboy serialized a book or what. But when I told folks that I was just buying the magazine for the stories in it, I wasn’t totally lying).

I tend to forget now that back then, it was the books that I cared about and couldn’t wait for. I was on a road trip in Florida with three young women and on our big night out in Miami, I ended up staying back in our room because I had just got my hands on the latest Bond out – maybe The Spy Who Loved Me. I was still sitting on the couch reading it when the three young women came back. None of them had met a Bond type, obviously.

It was back then that I also discovered Matt Helm (the book, not Dean Martin) and Travis McGee, who first appeared in The Deep Blue Good-Bye (1964). John D. McDonald, R.I.P.

And speaking of R.I.P., Fleming was a heavy smoker and drinker. As the ambulance attendants wheeled him away during his final heart attack at the age of 56, in 1964, he thanked them and told them that it had been a wonderful life and he wouldn’t change anything. Gone. His br0ther Peter, a noted travel writer, survived him. Maybe Ian didn’t regret anything, but we, his loyal readers were pretty bummed. Often imitated, never duplicated (what product was that?).

Dr. No (1962) – Saw it at the drive-in with Charlotte while home from college. My attention was divided but I liked it ok. The climax sagged but Ursula Andress didn’t. Watched a bit of it the other day and was sad to see that some of Connery’s expressions looked goofy.

From Russia With Love (1963) – This one excited me. As a reader of the books, I wanted the same spy-like flavor in the movie. At the time, the fight with Robert Shaw on the train was the most violent I had seen.

Goldfinger (1964) – Went over to Glendale from college with friends to see it. Liked it, except that it ended in Kentucky. Not exotic.

Thunderball (1965) – Harvard Squre Cinema. The movie was a knockout. I had to run out to the bathroom multiple times, and it was down a long flight of marble stairs in the basement. Harry Cohn (or one of those old studio moguls) measured movies by how many times he used the bathroom while watching them, but I’ve never been clear whether more pit stops was good or bad. Fleming was gone, so now it was going to be movies or nothing.

It says something about the impact that these movies made on me that I can remember where and when I saw them.

In 1966, the Bond spoof Casino Royale came out. Peter Sellers, David Niven, and Woody Allen all played Bond. Ursula Andress and Orson Welles were in it. Sellers had made Lolita, Strangelove, two Clouseau movies, What’s New Pussycat, and The Wrong Box, and was a mega star. Woody Allen hadn’t made his first movie yet; he was moving from stand-up to acting and at the time was just a funny guy. I remember the movie as being ok, but for us Bond lovers, especially with Fleming dead, it was a disappointment.

You Only Live Twice (1967) – Biggest commercial hit for a Bond film up to that time. Connery mailed in his license to kill. Or left it on Broccoli’s doorstep in a brown paper bag full of burning dog poop.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – Like all the other Bondophiles, I was on pins and needles waiting for OHMSS. Lazenby? What kind of name was that for the star of a James Bond movie. But he did OK. I was ready to see him in the next one. One little problem with OHMSS was that Diana Rigg was a bigger star than the Bond guy. And after her stint in The Avengers, I think that most of us thought of her as tougher and smarter than him as well. Another problem was Telly Savalas (R.I.P.). Telly as Blofeld? Telly Savalas, Maggott of The Dirty Dozen (1967), and appearances on every popular TV show that ever aired in the 60s? Really?

Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – Connery back, but for me the movie jumped the shark with scenes like the driving on two wheels down a narrow alley (not even counting the switch from the two right wheels to the two left wheels on entering and exiting) and Lana Woods getting tossed out of a high hotel window (hotel windows still opened in ’71) into the pool. Woods did a spread after that for Playboy, so that was good. Too bad her sister didn’t join her. How could Bond jump the shark, you ask, but before Roger Moore showed up, the franchise was… well, not realistic, but a little more… something… serious? Freighted with Connery’s natural gravitas? Not in this one, though. Connery donated his salary to his Scottish International Educational Trust. Jill St. John also took me out of the movie. Like Savalas, she was just too Hollywood or something. Just now I was conflating her with Angie Dickenson, but only because Dickenson had that same affect on me in movies like Point Blank and Rio Bravo – just not what I wanted.

Then a dozen years in the wilderness. Seven Bond movies. Forget Telly Salavas and Jill St. John and jumping the shark: I never liked Moore for Bond and I never liked the turn toward humor that the franchise took. I saw all the movies but the only memory that occurs is for Moonraker (1979). We headed down to the New Varsity in Palo Alto for my birthday. We got there late, bought our tickets, and couldn’t find an empty seat inside. I was pissed. When I finally saw the movie, though, I did like Jaws… The whole Roger Moore thing was Cubby Broccoli’s fault. I liked Cubby the Mouseketeer and I like broccoli when it’s cooked right, and for all I know Cubby Broccoli was a wonderful guy, but whether he went to Heaven or Hell when he died, he’s probably still trying to explain to the big guy there why he screwed up the franchise with Moore. For me, the magic was gone forever. Sure, I still watch them and enjoy, but it’s not the same.

When Moore finally had the grace to realize that he was too old to make another Bond movie and the franchise turned to Timothy Dalton, I had moved on psychologically. Henceforth, I liked the movies, watched them multiple times, but Connery was Bond and the rest was feathers. Dalton had the gravitas, though. He had the glower, the weight. I was satisfied. So of course it didn’t last. Pierce Brosnan signed up. I like Brosnan. I liked him in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). I can almost remember him in The Lawnmower Man (1992) and Mars Attacks! (1996). I liked him in The Tailor of Panama (2001) and Evelyn (2002) and The Matador (2005), and I really liked him, and Liam Neesom, in the underappreciated Seraphim Falls (2006). Wonderful career choices. But he never had the weight, the dark side that I want for Bond, and the Moore goofiness clung to the Brosnan movies, recurring from the Moore era. And the shark jumped the shark with the invisible car and ice palace. Q, Desmond Llewelyn, R.I.P.

Daniel Craig, like Dalton, has got the crazy anger working. If you’ve got a license to kill, show me a little psychosis, for Pete’s sake.  Roger Moore, cold-blooded killer?? At this point, though, the franchise is all about figuring out what a British spy should be doing these days. How to stay relevant. In Quantum of Solace (2008), we get some green eco-plotting. At least the writers (and the producers pulled in Paul Haggis to polish the Craig films – the only guy to write two Oscar winners in a row. Purvis and Wade, who wrote two earlier Bond films did the screenplays for Casino and Quantum) are trying.

But back to YOLT. Early in the film, the presumed-dead Bond is given a Naval burial at sea in Hong Kong harbor. You can dump bodies in Hong Kong harbor? Legally, I mean, with a twenty-gun salute? When land-based naval officers pass on, they’re slid into the sea from the nearest destroyer? Does the family get to come? (Bond’s subsequent rescue underwater was filmed in the Caribbean; perhaps the Thunderball unit hadn’t packed up to come home yet.)

Lewis Gilbert got the call to direct; he sent it to voice mail, twice. He’d done action movies like Damn the Defiant (H. M. S. Defiant) (1962), as well as dramas like Educating Rita (1983) and Alfie (1966), and he wasn’t interested in doing a Bond cinqual.  He was eventually persuaded by a crew that included Dahl;  Freddie Young, number-one cameraman working in England at the time (Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962)); Ken Adam; and Gilbert’s editor, Thelma Connell. The film’s megabudget helped. Gilbert finally accepted and in the end  did two more Bonds after YOLT. He found a six-month shoot waiting,  with four or five units in place around the world.

An example of Freddie Young’s work: Bond and Tanaka stand with towels wrapped around their waists. The camera zooms gently in, so that as the towels fall away, the frame only reaches down to their hips.

And I notice a goof in the movie! Maybe the only goof I’ve ever noticed in a movie, so I’ve got to give it some love. Bond is being driven about in a sports car by a young Japanese woman in a white head scarf. Driver on the right. In one quick scene, she’s on the left.

Another goof, which I missed: an English compatriot makes Bond a martini and tells him that he was careful to stir it, not shake it. Bond nods approvingly. I can understand the compatriot (who in a later Bond movie plays the arch-villain) getting mixed up (no pun intended), but what was Connery thinking at that point in the scene? He’d been Bond for five movies.

The movie blurs the line between halters/shorts and bras/panties.

This is the one where Bond is trapped in a small plane as the female villain bails out and he plunges toward the ground. Also the one with the mini gyrocopter, which hasn’t caught on I guess, since I don’t see any flying around 40 years later, but it’s still pretty cool. Neither have jet packs, which Bond also used, in Thunderball, caught on, as Pretty Bird (2008), the Paul Giamatti/Billy Crudup vechicle, will attest. This is also the one with the gigantic in-the-volcano set, as I mentioned above, designed by Ken Adams and built for a million dollars, back when that number meant something more ,than the price of  a modest home in Palo Alto.

Production budget $9.5 million. Gross revenue $43 million (domestic), $111 million (worldwide).

I  was thinking about that female villain (Helga Brandt, played by Karin Dor, who is still out there getting it done, on stage and in TV – one of the few females in the Bond ouevre who was able to resist his chick-magnet appeal). One way to tell that she was cold-blooded: when the piranhas ate her, there was no blood. And apparently they ate her whole outfit, too, as there weren’t any scraps of  fabric floating to the surface either. And cold-blooded?  Bond is in bed with Tanaka’s assistant, post-you-know-what, dozing, when she is cruelly murdered.  “She’s dead,” Bond says, and then the next day is back in training, dah dee dah, and shortly after that, is getting facial surgery by a team of women who are, for no good reason, dressed in white shorts and halters. Wait. It’s the same team that bathed him and whatever earlier in the movie… And then he’s getting married, as part of his cover, to Kissy Suzuki, who in her first shot looks like Julie Andrews. I remember now. In the books he is cold blooded, except when he’s hot blooded.

Question for fans: Is this the only Bond movie where the bad guy shouts, “Kill Bond! Now!”?

That is one patient Persian cat.

Until Blofeld pulls the trigger, that is. You can see the cat on the ground for a couple of frames and then it’s gone. Took the crew two days to find it again on that mega-set and it would never work in films again. The cat wrangler sued.

Best trick in the movie: Bond and Kissy climb out of the water after swimming for their lives, and stand on the shore looking up at a distant volcano. Quick montage of climbing shots and they’re lounging at the top of the mountain. Lounging  and smooching, looking scrubbed and chipper. I didn’t think Kissy looked especially Japanese in this movie, but she is, and was a  star (now an environmentalist). Since I’m watching Red Beard (1965), I’ve tried to picture her in a Kurosawa film of the 60s. I can’t. But she starred in King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) and when she wasn’t learning English fast enough for YOLT, she announced that, if fired,  she’d kill herself because of the dishonor. Old school. Anyway, then Kissy and Bond whip down the inside of the volcano and once they’ve figured out what’s what, Kissy zips back up to the top and down the slope, all in the dark. Now that’s a day’s hike! She’s next seen swimming back to her home island. Includes a stint underwater as a helicopter spots her in the dark and tries to machine-gun her. She’s a veritable Energizer  bunny. And then she’s back at the volcano, still in her immaculate white halter-and-pants set, running back up the slope again,  this time with Tanaka and a small army of ninjas. Get her on a bicycle, for the full triathlon. How did Bond survive their wedding night? Then down into the volcano on a rope, running around, shooting a bad guy and then dropping the gun and doing a lot more running and cowering, then swimming out under the exploding volcano into the open sea, to finally clamber into an inflated raft with Bond for some final canoodling before the credits roll. An Olympic performance. All hail Kissy.

6 Responses

  1. You, sir, are a mad genius. Your writing’s all over the place; incoherent, chaotic, and brilliant.

    • oh, dear. my therapist insisted that i write a simple outline and then stick to it, using no compound sentences or semicolons. he isn’t going to like the incoherent and chaotic bits and cause he’s such an egotist, he’ll positively hate the brilliant bit.

  2. I used to love this. My favourite Bond when I was younger (and still one of my favourites, despite (or because) of the cheese).

    By the way, as with the commentator above, love your voice.

  3. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was the first Bond movie I ever saw, but it was on TV and edited for broadcast. Because of the sentimental value, it’s one of my favorites.

    And you saw Dr. No in a drive-in!? Now THAT I would have loved to experience!

    Excellent write-up, BTW. Very, very interesting.

  4. If there were topless girls diving, it was probably for pearls, at a place called Toba. Been there with the fam; if there are diving girls they are now modest. Toba is also a long ways from Kyushu, but geography and cinema have never been good friends.
    Doesn’t look like Mie Hama (Kissy) did anything with Kurosawa, but I saw at least one movie with Toshiro Mifune in her bio. Also in Kitchen, which I saw long ago when I was still mucking around in comparative Japanese aesthetics. (Long, long ago.)

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