Director: Lewis Gilbert
Starring: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Donald Pleasance, Karin Dor, Mie Hama, Charles Gray, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell.
Music: John Barry
Title song: performed by Nancy Sinatra
Loosely based on the novel by Ian Fleming
After the passing of Ken Wallis last week (on September 1st), I thought it was fitting, and high time, I had a look at You Only Live Twice. Wallis was a leading exponent of Autogyros, and flew Little Nellie in the film.
You Only Live Twice is the fifth film in the James Bond series, and while not the best of the early films, it is one of the most popular. When you mention the James Bond movie series most people think of this film and the final climatic battle inside a volcano. Sean Connery returns as secret agent 007 and is gunned down in bed during the pre-credit sequence. After his resurrection (hence the title) he is sent to Japan to find out who has been stealing spaceships. Throw stunning location photgraphy, ninjas, and a deadly pool of piranha fish, and they all add up to an exotic cocktail.
One of the highlights of the film is that we finally get to see Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of über evil organisation S.P.E.C.T.R.E. After several films of just seeing his hands stroking a white cat, Blofeld’s face is finally revealed. And he looks like Donald Pleasance, albeit with a giant facially scar down the right hand side of his face. For the younger generation who have grown up on Austin Powers, Dr. Evil’s appearance is clearly based on Pleasance and his depiction of Blofeld.
You Only Live Twice is also the Bond series first excursion into outer space science fiction. Ian Fleming’s original novel, there are no hollowed out volcanoes or space ships. Blofeld’s villainous lair was a Castle Of Death. The fanciful screenplay for the movie was written by Roald Dahl, the prominent children’s author – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches and many others. After a suitable castle couldn’t be found, the script was changed to feature a hollowed out volcano.
Two other differences between the book and the film are caused by chronology of the films. The films were not filmed in the order of the books and some of the cliff-hangers from the novels have had to be jettisoned for continuity sake. For example, in the book of You Only Live Twice, Bond is a complete nervous wreck at the start, because his wife was killed at the end on the previous book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But the films were made in reverse order. You Only Live Twice came first, then On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Also the ending has had to be changed, because at the end of the book of You Only Live Twice, Bond has lost his memory and heads to Russia to fit together the pieces of the past. This is only resolved in the opening of the next book,The Man With The Golden Gun. This whole subplot has been jettisoned.
One of the most divisive features of You Only Live Twice is the pull out all stops approach adopted by the film makers. If you like your Bond stories grounded in reality, this is not the film for you. But if you like everything BIGGER and BETTER than what had proceeded it, then you’ll find this to be thoroughly entertaining. One reason for the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach, was possibly a response to the competing rogue production of Casino Royale, starring David Niven and Peter Sellers. EON Productions had to go all out to protect their franchise. Another reason is Thunderball was such a huge, huge success, expectations were high for the next film, and they clearly didn’t want let the audience down.
Now, let’s look at the Bond girls. You Only Live Twice is a festival of flesh for Sean Connery. The first Bond girl he encounters is Tsai Chin, who plays the scheming woman who tries to do away with 007 in the pre-title sequence. During the late sixties, Tsai Chin was a busy actress. Her most prominent role was that in Fu Manchu’s cruel daughter Lin Tang in Harry Alan Towers five film, Fu Manchu series. Then she disappeared from the screen for twenty years only to resurface again in the early nineties. She was worked solidly ever since including a cameo as Madame Wu in 2006 version of Casino Royale. But back to You Only Live Twice – Bond’s next contact and conquest is sprightly Japanese agent, Aki, played by Akiko Wakabayashi. Another Japanese Secret Service agent that Bond gets along well with is Kissy Suzuki played by Mie Hama. As the story progresses, as a cover story, Bond has to take a wife and Kissy is the lucky girl chosen to perform this duty. That brings us to the bad girl. The best Bond films all have a good bad girl (if that makes sense) – and You Only Live Twice has one of the better ones in Helga Brandt, who is played by popular German actress Karin Dor.
While, as I stated earlier, You Only Live Twice may not be one of the strongest Bond films, it is pure eye candy from first frame till last, and many of the gimmicks used in the film would appear in countless imitators. Little Nellie, piloted by Ken Wallis is a great example. You can find another Wallis autogyro in the Eurospy flick, Dick Smart 2.007. Anyway, here’s to Mr. Wallis – who’s work in this film ignited the imagination of many a young boy and girl.
If you haven’t seen You Only Live Twice for a while – or dare I suggest, never seen it at all – maybe now’s the perfect time to revisit it.