The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.
Synopsis: Agent 007 and the Japanese secret service ninja force must find and stop the true culprit of a series of spacejackings before nuclear war is provoked.
Stars: Sean Connery, Donald Pleasence, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Running Length: 117 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Bouncing back from the iffy Thunderball (which still was a phenomenal success), the producers of the Bond franchise brought in a new director, advertised that James Bond would die, and created some of the more impressive set pieces of Connery’s tenure as 007. The result is a pleasing fifth film for James Bond but one that doesn’t linger in the memory any longer than it has to.
James Bond does indeed “die” in the movie…in fact, he’s a goner before the opening credits start to roll. As Nancy Sinatra begins her song over Maurice Binder’s impressive designs, Bond has apparently been gunned down in a Murphy bed hit. As we all know, thanks to decades filled with more sequels, Bond is merely faked his own death with the assistance of her majesty’s secret service.
You Only Live Twice is more notable now as the clear inspiration for Mike Myers spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. From the swinging vibe of Bond’s animal instincts to the chrome domed look and outfit of his nemesis, Blofeld (a wickedly taut Pleasence pre Halloween and From Beyond the Grave) you can see where Myers drew some concepts from. Never mind that Blofeld will take on several different looks throughout the series…but I’ve always found Pleasence’s take on the role to be the most naturalistic and threatening in tone.
Not that there is very much of threaten in the film as many of the situations, lovers (this was a real yawners for Bond girls), and one-liners seem old hat to Bond. Connery looks checked out for much of the picture and it’s easy to see why he stepped away from the series for the next entry…maybe it was just an oversaturation with the world of Bond. When released in 1967, Connery has been averaging one Bond film a year and it’s understandable that a certain staleness would set in.
Looking at the film now, it’s hard to swallow some of the more racist tones of the film. Bond’s adventures lie mostly in Japan and at one point he has his features altered to look more Japanese (cringe!) and then has a faux marriage to a Japanese woman (double cringe!) to maintain his anonymity while searching for Blofeld’s volcano fortress. Some of the themes of the picture would never be acceptable today so it’s best to just take these awkward moments as they come without holding too much against the series of Bond himself.
You Only Live Twice may not be a Bond film you’ll need to return to twice…but it does wind up bridging the gap nicely for the films that lay ahead. I love the title track and much of the splendid production design. With a droll villain that would inspire a totally different themed series and solid (if slightly uninspired) direction from new director Gilbert…it’s a fair entry to take in.