You Only Live Twice (1967)

YOLT002Director: 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.

Wallis_LittleNellie

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 - by Ian Fleming

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.

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You Only Live Twice (1967)

Target For Killing (1966)

AKA: The Secret Of The Yellow Monks
Country: Austria / Italy
Directed by Manfred R. Kohler
Stewart Granger, Karin Dor, Rupert Davies, Curt Jurgens, Klaus Kinski, Scilla Gabel, Adolfo Celi, Mollie Peters, Erika Remberg, Luis Induni
Music by Marcello Giombini

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the great actors from the 1960s who were at the forefront of the Spy Boom, Stewart Granger isn’t an actor that comes readily to mind. I guess that’s because his contribution to the spy genre were a few middling Eurospy films. Granger’s career wasn’t going too well at this time and he’d take any job that came along. Amongst his output were Red Dragon, Spy Against The World, Requiem For A Secret Agent and Target For Killing.

Target For Killing is a muddled affair, but reasonably entertaining on a throwaway level. But if you happen to be a Bond fan there are a few compelling reasons to watch the film. All of them are cast members. Let’s start with Thunderball – we have Adolfo Celi (sans eyepatch) and the beautiful Mollie Peters (sans mink glove, but in a bikini and a bath tub). Then we have our leading lady, Karin Dor, who would appear in You Only Live Twice a year later. Incidentally, Dor also appeared in Spy Against The World, but not in the same segment as Stewart Granger. However it did also feature Klaus Kinski, who also appears in Target For Killing. Am I painting a nepetitious little picture? Then finally we have Curt Jurgens who appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me, which is just another one in his long line of contributions to the spy genre.

Target For Killing is not the best Eurospy offering out there, and to be honest the English dubbing is pretty ordinary, but it is far from the worst either. After witnessing Granger’s turn as a hard bastard in Sergio Sollima’s Requiem For A Secret Agent it’s good to see him return to playing a likable, suave and sophisticated gent once again, and if the story is a bit confused, then does that really matter? Well in fact it does. I don’t mind that Eurospy films are occasionally silly and feature climaxes that could only be described as ‘dodgy science’, but if you are going to introduce a weird scientific element, run with it – play it for all it’s worth. Here, they have a premise about a ‘mind weapon’ and telepathy, but it only seems tacked on to the side. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s find out what it’s all about!

The damsel in distress in Target For Killing is Sandra Perkins (Karin Dor), and we meet her on a plane bound for Montenegro. Behind the curtains a sexy stewardess mixes Miss Perkins a drink, adding something a little extra to the concoction. She brings the drink out and walks down the aisle, but as she is about to hand over the drink, a clumsy man in the seat opposite, stretches out and accidentally knocks the tray and sends the glass flying. The clumsy oath is James Vine (Stewart Granger), who, as we all know dear readers, is a secret agent.

Vine’s intervention has caused a bit of a stir in the cockpit. You see, the two pilots – one who happens to be Klaus Kinski – and the stewardess work for a despicable fellow called ‘The Giant’ (Curt Jurgens). The Giant has ordered that Perkins be killed. Without any weapons at their disposal, and knowing that The Giant will not tolerate failure, the flight crew decide to bail out with parachutes and let the plane crash.

Vine notices the crew leaving, but doesn’t think anything of it until he see three parachutes open out of his window (he must have been looking down). Realising that something is wrong, he convinces Perkins to go with him to the cockpit. It may seem like a catastrophe waiting to happen. but it isn’t all doom and gloom, because Vine was once in the airforce. He takes to the pilot’s seat and has Perkins man the radio. It has been a while, be he manages a rough old landing.

Now why would anybody want to kill a nice girl like Sandra Perkins? Well it appears that in three days, on her twenty-fifth birthday she is set to inherit a filthy amount of money. If she is dead, the money will go to other interested parties. Why is The Giant’s interested in Perkins and the redistribution of the money? Well he’s not actually an evil mastermind. He is evil, but he is not the mastermind. He’s more like a branch manger for an un-named evil organisation. From his Montenegro branch office, which happens to be in a monastery, he performs all sorts of illegal activities. And that’s why James Vine has come to Montenegro. He’s not here to protect Perkins, but is here to track down and shut down The Giant. But back to the point at hand, The Giant has been instructed by his superiors to kill Perkins.

The thing with The Giant that stops him from just being another underling is that he has hired some quality underlings of his own. The first is his evil henchwoman, Tiger (Scilla Gabel). She gets around in a pair of tight fitting black leather pants and wields a machine gun with unrivalled expertise. Then there is The Giant’s evil seductress, Vera Stratten (Mollie Peters). She uses her body to get to her targets. And finally there is Dr. Yang (Luis Induni), who is an expert on telepathy and torture. He has a special gift of getting into peoples minds, which causes them to lose all free will. The Giant and his cadre of hench-people are a formidable target for James Vine.

Worth a quick mention is the absolutely fantastic soundtrack by Marcelo Giombini which features a fantastic fuzzy electric guitar. Whenever the story seems to be losing pace and purpose, the guitar kicks in and you just ride with it until the movie finds its feet again.

I want to like Target For Killing and I want to recommend it to everyone, but in all fairness I can’t as a spy film. But if you’re interested in the cast, then go ahead, track a copy down. If you’re interested in swinging spy guitar grooves, track a copy down. If you’re interested in empty lightweight espionage thrills, track a copy down. Oh yeah, and if you’re interested in Scilla Gabel in black leather pants, then track a copy down. If none of those categories appeal to you, then you’re going to have to look elsewhere for espionage thrills.

Target For Killing (1966)

Prisoner In The Middle (1973)

AKA: Warhead, Sabra Command, Mission Overkill
Director: John O’Connor
Starring: David Janssen, Karin Dor, Christopher Stone, David Semadar, Art Metrano
Music (and Sound Effects) by Synchrofilm Inc.

Apparently The Prisoner In The Middle (and all the other names this film goes by), although made in 1973, was not released until 1977. That may indicate that it is a bit of a turkey, but it isn’t that bad. Sure it’s a pretty low to the ground effort, but I have watched worse (and I am sure will continue to do so in the future). The film opens with an active nuclear bomb sitting on desert sand, it’s parachute billowing in the wind. The bomb itself, looks like an accessory from the Bat Mobile. It is a very odd shape, black with fins, and has a giant, bulbous red light, which flashes instead of a nose cone. It’s not very aerodynamic at all.

To bring the viewers up to speed, and in typical spy film fashion, a typed message runs across the bottom of the screen. This one runs a little longer than most:

URGENT REPEAT URGENT! — CODED FROM PENTAGON TO AMERICAN EMBASSY ISRAEL — TOP SECRET ASSIGNMENT — CODE NAMED “SUNBIRD” — B52 — ROUTINE FLIGHT NNR 743 — MECHANICAL PROBLEMS…OFF COURSE — ACCIDENTALLY JETTISONED NEW TOP SECRET NUCLEAR WARHEAD OVER JORDANIAN DESERT NEAR ISRAELI BORDER — IMPERATIVE LOCATE ANTHONY STEVENS — NUCLEAR ARMS EXPERT — ON LEAVE JERUSALEM AND ASSIGN TO MISSION —

There is more to the message, but I think you get the gist of it.

So naturally we are in Jerusalem, and here’s where we meet Anthony Stevens (David Janssen). As was the fashion at the time, he is wearing a beige safari suit. As he wanders around, checking out the tourist sites, he is approached by a C.I.A. operative. It’s time for Stevens to find out what we already know.

His mission: He has to parachute into Jordan alone, Find the bomb and destroy the detonator before anyone else can get their hands on it. No sooner than he has received his instructions, we see him parachuting down into the desert. Armed with a Geiger counter, he starts searching for the weapon.

On a desert road, in a bus, Lieutenant Liora Schulman (Karin Dor), an Israeli soldier, is traveling with a group of school children. She is assigned to protect them. The kids are singing and joking around. Hidden in the dunes, on the side of the road is a mortar, and it fires as the bus passes. The bus explodes and everyone is killed except Liora. The perpetrators are the Palestinian Liberation Army, who have slipped across the border to carry out the attack. As the PLA approach the bus, to check the results of their heinous handiwork, Liora picks up a machine gun and mows them down. All except one, their leader, Malouf (David Semadar), who looks like Frank Zappa. He escapes, driving off in a jeep.

Have you ever noticed, that in films where barbaric acts are perpetrated on children, how we rarely see the carnage? (this film shows a little bit.) What we are always shown is a doll or a teddy bear amongst the wreckage. Well, that happens here too. Liora picks up a teddy and stares almost blankly at it. She is in shock. Then the flood of tears start.

Malouf has fled back to Jordan and is in hiding. The Israeli army assemble a team of soldiers to go in after him. The team of sixteen, is headed by Captain Ben-David (Christopher Stone), and Liora is second in command. The team, armed to the teeth, cross the border and a mine field in search of Malouf.

Meanwhile, Stevens has found the bomb. But as he starts to deactivate it, he is captured by Malouf and his men. As the PLA load the missile onto a truck, Ben-David and his soldiers arrive at the scene. A gun battle takes place. Both sides are keen to possess and take control of the nuclear weapon. Stevens caught between the two warring armies, clearly is ‘The Prisoner In The Middle’.

The story itself is quite okay (in a Six Million Dollar Man kind of way), if a bit simple. Afterall, we are talking about a genre that prides itself on convoluted plots, with double and triple crosses. In this movie, everybody is exactly as they seem. Not being the plot, the weaknesses of this film are the casting, and the acting. Janssen is clearly too old (and possibly has one too many chins) to be playing this kind of role. And the acting in places is truly awful. But having said that, The Prisoner In The Middle is serviceable, but I wouldn’t put it high on your list of ‘films to see’.

This review is based on the Flashback Entertainment DVD

Prisoner In The Middle (1973)

The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962)


AKA: The Invisble Claws Of Dr. Mabuse
The Invisible Horror
Directed by Harald Reinl
Lex Barker, Karin Dor, Siegfried Lowitz, Wolfgang Preiss, Rudolph Fernau, Werner Peters
Music by Peter Sandloff

An appreciative audience has gathered at the Metropol Theatre to witness an Operetta. As the musical performance proceeds, in a viewing box at the back of the theatre, a set of binoculars follows the performers on stage – only these binoculars appear to be floating, as if an invisible man was holding them. No prizes for guessing who? So begins The Invisible Dr. Mabuse, a 1962 production, once again featuring Lex Barker as FBI agent Joe Como (Barker also appeared in The Return Of Dr. Mabuse, as Como). Como is a big lug. he seems to walk into more traps than he sets, but with sheer brute force, he manages to slug his way out of trouble.

Back at the Metropol; after the show, Nick Prado, an FBI agent snoops about backstage. One of Mabuse’s henchmen, Clown Bobo (Werner Peters – who managed to survive at the end of the last Dr. Mabuse picture) releases a trapdoor underneath the agent. The agent falls to a lower level of the theatre. Soon he is surrounded by Mabuse and his goons. We don’t actually see Mabuse; we see his shadow on a wall. The agent is questioned about the creatively titled ‘Operation X’. He says nothing and for his trouble is tortured and killed.

Mabuse’s henchmen dispose of the body clumsily on a wharf, and soon the police are involved. And in from America, the FBI send Joe Como to replace the dead agent. As the German connection, this time we don’t have Inspector Lohmann (maybe he finally got to go on his fishing trip?), and instead have Inspector Brahm (Siegfried Lowitz). Brahm is a bit more clandestine than his predecessor. He doesn’t have an office at police headquarters; he is located secretly at the back of an optometrist. Como immediately suspects Dr. Mabuse, but Brahm is skeptical. Everybody knows that Mabuse died at the end of the last film.

At the heart of this mystery, is ‘Operation X’, which is a top secret experiment being conducted by Professor Erasmus (Rudolph Fernau). Nobody has seen the professor in months because he keeps himself locked in his laboratory. No prizes for guessing what type of experiments he is working on. Yep, invisibility. And the authorities are now concerned that Mabuse (or some madman pretending to be Mabuse) has now acquired the Professor’s secret.

All the clues lead back to the Metropol theatre and seem to centre around the leading lady, Liane Martin (Karin Dor – Bond fans will remember her as the wicked Helga Brandt from You Only Live Twice“Mr. Osato believes in a healthy chest!”) In this picture she is the object of everyones affection and attention. Professor Erasmus has fallen in love with her and goes to see her perform every night. Dr. Mabuse wants her, because through her, he can control Erasmus. And finally Joe Como wants her because…well, he’s the star of the movie. the big lug has to get the girl at the end.

This movie (if you don’t mind old black and white films from Germany), is perfect popcorn fare. It has everything you could want, from punch-ups, gun play, a damsel in distress, mad scientists, and an invisible army of men attempting to change the fate of the world. There’s even a hint of Phantom Of The Opera to it, with much of the action taking place within the depths of the theatre. I enjoyed this very much, and although not to everyone’s taste, if this sounds like your cup of tea, I would recommend this entry in the Dr. Mabuse series.

Director Harald Reinl, scriptwriter Ladislas Fodor, and actors Karin Dor and Rudolph Furnau would work together again of the Bryan Edgar Wallace ‘krimi’, The Strangler Of Blackmoor Castle, which too, is a great deal of fun.

This review is based on the Retromedia USA DVD

The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962)