Tuesday 19 February 2013

You Only Live Twice

Another Pleasence
Valley Sin Day

You Only Live Twice
1967 UK
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C

With a screenplay by noted children's writer Roald Dahl, You Only Live Twice is a pretty good Bond film with lots and lots of stories surrounding it which I could talk about: the recasting and reshooting of Blofeld, the frightened cat that got lost for days/weeks in the volcano set, the almost suicide of one of the leading actresses who wasn’t working out until she was welcomed back and switched roles with another actress. Loads of stories but too many to tell on one of my small reviews.

Instead, I’m going to just write about some of my own observations on the film and if I find them leading into stories, so be it. I also want to push a speculative idea about the pre-credits sequence of this and a much later Bond film, The World Is Not Enough... but I’ll circle around back to that in a minute.

I first saw this movie as part of a double bill with either Thunderball, From Russia With Love or Diamonds Are Forever, back in either 1973 or 1974, and since then I must have seen it maybe a dozen times over the intervening years. It’s a quite powerful Bond film with a bit more of an epic feel than the previous movie, although I can’t explain why that is since the underwater battles in Thunderball were what epic excess is all about. Maybe it’s the great, hulking volcano interior set designed by Ken Adam, where Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld has his villainous lair, that helps gives the feeling of everything being generally larger than life. Whatever it is though, this Bond film has a certain sense of power to it which maybe some of the other directors in the series sometimes lacked.

Looking back on it now, I find the editing to be a lot more jumpy than I remembered. In a lot of sequences in the film, editor Peter Hunt takes natural “journeys” and “routines” and instead of showing A followed by B followed by C followed by D, for instance, he just cuts straight from A to D in this one and relies on the collective brain of the audience to just fill in the gaps. It used to work fine on me because I never noticed it before, but viewing it this time around it felt a little more jarring in some places.

This was supposed to be Connery’s last film in the series and knowing that nowadays, he does look kinda unhappy in the role in certain key scenes... playing things maybe a little more glumly than usual. Maybe my brain is just making that up but he just doesn’t seem that enthusiastic in the role anymore. This wasn’t his last Bond film, of course, as he would return in both the EON series film Diamonds Are Forever and, of course, the non-EON Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again, in the 1980s. But more on those when I get around to watching them again.

So maybe some of Connery’s performance is a bit wooden but he certainly still carries the movie on his able shoulders and he has some excellent co-stars, especially in the form of famous Japanese actor Tetsurô Tanba, who was in such things as the original version of Hari Kiri (alongside the great  Tatsuya Nakadai) and Three Outlaw Samurai. He was also in some pretty interesting Japanese exploitation movies including one of my all time favourite, outrageous Japanese movies, Bohachi Bushido: Code Of The Forgotten Eight!

Add to this an excellent John Barry score (and a “pieced together from a gazillion different, challenging takes” song sung by Nancy Sinatra) which includes the third use of his 007 sub theme which was first heard in the gypsy camp shoot out in From Russia With Love, in a fresh and brilliant arrangement for the scenes with the gyrocopter “Little Nellie”, and you have a sure fire winner of a film. I read a book about the music of the James Bond films just recently (reviewed here) and I was surprised that the author didn’t mention the, to me quite obvious, fact that the opening title theme to the next Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, started out life in the music to this film. There are a few instances in the film, most notably highlighted on the original release soundtrack album on the cue Fight At Kobe Dock - Helga, where a complicated base line is the absolute dead spit of the bass line on which the main theme to the next film is hung on, albeit in a slightly simpler form than it is here. I don’t think I’m wrong on this count... go check it out!

The film also has a memorable pre-credits sequence which actually turns out to be more like three pre-credits sequence... and I have a theory about this but this theory also applies to the Brosnan starring The World Is Not Enough... so I’ll start there.

The pre-credits sequence of The World Is Not Enough is actually three pre-credits sequences joined together. You have a) Bond escaping from the bank in Balboa, followed by b) a debriefing session with M, followed by c) the assassination and subsequent, epic speedboat chase (one of my personal favourite Bond pre-credits sequences). However, this all goes on for a bit and, anyway, why three? Now, I’ve never seen this confirmed anywhere but it’s my belief that the bank scene in itself was originally meant to be the pre-title sequence but then it was deemed to be not exciting enough maybe (I’d agree) and so they let the film play through and used the speedboat chase to be the climax of the pre-credits. No idea if that’s right or not but that’s my personal belief. I reckon the titles were originally supposed to have started with Bond sliding down into them, not falling into them and had to be slightly adjusted at a later stage.

Now then, back to You Only Live Twice. 

You have the film starting with such “British resident USA guys” as Ed Bishop and Shane Rimmer, plus Barry’s iconic and driven fugue accompanying the equally iconic kidnapping of a spaceship by SPECTRE. There is an establishing shot of a radar dish shortly after and I believe that’s where the original credits were supposed to have started, especially when the first graphic image on screen of a parasol or whatever is obviously a parody of the satellite dish... however, I think the producers lost faith in the pre-credits sequence not having Bond in it and chickened out and recut things around as this is followed by a United Nations style conference and then followed by the machine gunning to death of James Bond... which then leads into the credits. I think this was a case of the film-makers changing their minds because of the lack of the main protagonist before the credits in this one but, as it happens, it does tie nicely into their almost obsession with having some movies in the series starting with the apparent death of the hero...

From Russia With Love had Bond garroted to death before revealing it was another character wearing a Bond mask, for example, and Thunderball teases the audience with a glimpse of the initials JB on a coffin. So this intro, where you see Bond seemingly betrayed and then machine gunned to death (before being “resurrected” in the post credits sequence), is certainly in keeping with the style of a couple of the Bonds that had gone before it and, of course, it’s still a preoccupation with the producers of these movies to this day. Last year’s Skyfall (reviewed here) started off with a pre-credits sequence which left Bond shot dead until a point a little later in the film. Another tradition that the latter film revisited amongst others.

You Only Live Twice is a good, solid entry into the Bond series and, although not the best of the Connery Bonds, it could certainly make a good jumping on point if you’ve never seen one of these things before. A respectable and highly recommended addition to the series, then, but, the best was yet to come...

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