Monday, 24 September 2012

MOST SECRET - You Only Live Twice


1967- The Year 
You Only Live Twice, the fifth Bond film couldn't have chosen a more turbulent and hectic year for its release (Assuming films choose any such thing). It was a good year for me; both my wife and myself were born in '67, the year remembered for the Summer of Love. Actually, however, love was rather thin on the ground; Vietnam was escalating and the Six Day War ended with Israel occupying the West Bank in Gaza. Domestically, race riots threatened to tear the United States apart, while Che Guevara was captured and killed.
Musically speaking, it was a time for optimism, with debut albums from The Doors, Pink Floyd and the Velvet Underground (& Nico), plus the Beatles confirmed their dominance with the legendary Sergeant Pepper album.
The sixties tidal wave of technological advancement continued unabashed, too; the heart transplant, Concorde and the first cryonic preservation of a human being all debuted in 1967. At the movies, people flocked to see A Fistful of Dollars and The Jungle Book, the first Super Bowl was won by the Green Bay Packers and Elvis married his sweetheart Priscilla in Vegas.
Appropriately enough, Space was a regular feature in the news that year, with the Superpowers and the UK signing the Outer Space Treaty and the naming of the first Apollo crew. Tragedy marred the conquest of space though; the Apollo fire killed three US Astronauts, and the USSR lost its first cosmonaut when a parachute failed.

Births and Deaths in 1967; Kurt Cobain, Vin Diesel, Julia Roberts and the splendid Jamie Foxx all took their first bows, alongside two future stars of Licence to Kill, namely Talisa Soto and Benicio del Toro. Bowing out were artists Edward Hopper and Magritte, actors Spencer Tracy, Jayne Mansfield, Vivien Leigh and the fantastic Basil Rathbone. The Beatles manager Brian Epstein died, as did Otis Redding. The British hero Donald Campbell died when his boat flipped on Coniston Water during a World speed record attempt.

The Music; John Barry's score for You Only Live Twice is a soaring, evocative work that deserves a place in any top ten – it really is inspiring, bringing the oriental theme of the film to life. Nancy Sinatra's rendition of the title track is possibly the best of the series, rivalling even Burley Chassis (Sorry Dame Shirley) with her triumphant Goldfinger and sparkling Diamonds are Forever.

There's a Plot, right? (SPOILER ALERT)
Wisely, the producers decided to break ranks and depart from Fleming's original – the previous films had been fairly faithful to the books, but now it was time for re-interpretation. Roald Dahl might seem an unlikely choice, but his screenplay helps lift this outing into the realm of the very best. It's one of my favourites, largely due to the script.

Here goes; Russia and America are both losing Astro/Cosmo-nauts, each, quite naturally blaming the other. War seems certain, so, for some reason only little old Britain can save the day...
Bond fakes his own death, rather ingeniously, complete with burial at sea – handily, though, he is retrieved by divers and taken aboard a Submarine where his shroud is cut open, revealing our man is alive and well. Suspicions point to Japan, so 007 goes to see the local MI6 man Henderson (Played with charm by Charles Gray, later to return as Blofeld in Diamonds), but he is murdered. Bond kills the assassin and discovers he came from the industrial giant Osato Chemicals. On the run from the Osato HQ, Bond is rescued by the lovely Aki, who tricks him into falling, literally, into the office of Tanaka – Japan's wily answer to 'M'. Ah so!. Bond then goes back to Osato posing as a businessman, but Osato sees through 007's cover and orders the sexy Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) to kill him.
After some malarkey with a helicopter and a magnet, Brandt (Still sexy) manages to fail to kill Bond in a confusing plane sequence and ends up being fed to the piranhas. Who owns the fangy fish? - why, Blofeld of course. (Here played by Donald Pleasance, the evil SPECTRE mastermind is the quintessential Bond baddie – see the Austin Powers movies for satisfyingly funny proof.)
Rather than just ask for any old helicopter, Bond sends for trusty old Desmond Llewellyn – yes, it's the 'Q' sequence, and what a sequence!. Pernickety as ever, Q has brought Little Nellie, which turns out to be a build-it-yourself miniature Gyro-copter – (If you are the one person living in a cave that hasn't seen this film, its worth it for Little Nellie alone) A look around the volcanic landscape of the area – and a dogfight with helicopters later and Bond is sure something's dodgy about the area. The Soviets lose a capsule to SPECTRE, ramping the tension up a notch, but our man is now busy training – for some reason – to become both Japanese and a Ninja to boot. Even using the cover of a newly wed couple, this has to be one of the silliest plot devices in a Bond film, with Sean Connery ending up looking like a six foot tall member of the Three Stooges in a kimono. Moving on...

Bond and his new 'wife' Kissy Suzuki (!) find out that what seems to be an innocent lake in a dormant volcano is; ta-daaa! Blofeld's secret base, complete with retractable metal roof, mono-rail, heli-pad and rocket launching/recovery facility. Yes, the now-legendary Ken Adam's $1,000,000 set really does deserve its place in the hall of fame – the gigantic set the perfect backdrop to Blofeld's maniacal scheme...

Bond sneaks in, rescuing the Astro-men, but is rumbled by Blofeld, whose own rocket is poised to capture the American space capsule, ensuring US nuclear reprisals against the Russians. Luckily, Bond has a rocket-firing cigarette and uses it to cause mayhem as he opens the hatchway to allow Tanaka's ninjas to abseil into the base. An enraged Blofeld shoots the hapless Osato, Tanaka saves Bond from a similar fate by flinging a shuriken* into Blofeld's wrist. Bond hits the self-destruct on Blofeld's rocket, Blofeld hits the self-destruct for the base. BIG old explosion; the surviving good-guys swim for it and are saved by submarine. Hooray!.

Toys for the Boys
YOLT features a smattering of gadgets throughout; from Bond's safe-breaking gizmo and Little Nellie to the arsenal at Tanaka's Castle of Ninjas. Among the fun-stuff there is the previously-mentioned rocket-fag and some rather high-tech looking rocket guns; actually Gyrojet pistols and rifles. Made in the USA, these featured gas propelled projectiles, but were notoriously inefficient – one round would blast through a target whereas the next might simply fall to the ground hissing furiously. Elvis Presley owned one of the pistols in his collection. 

Slightly older-school were the Katana swords and the shuriken, ** known as 'Ninja-Death Stars' amongst British children of my generation, but originally intended as distraction weapons. Thrown to the face or chest, these sharpened metal stars would cause terrible injury, allowing the user to either escape or draw his sword to finish the job.

Unlike the previous outing, Bond's trusty Aston is not seen. However, (the lovely) Aki drives a real stunner; a Toyota GT2000. Originally a hard-top, the producers felt the car unsuitable for filming, hence the convertible model seen in the film. (In addition, I heard rumours of Connery banging his head on the roof of the original and demanding a replacement.)

So there it is; a fantastic, exotic and timely adventure that certainly stands the test of time. Granted, the deference of the women seems quaint, as does the notion that, once more only a British agent can save the World. This was Connery's last film as Bond... at least that was his intention. Tired of the pressure of the role (He was even hounded in the bathroom by Japanese reporters), unhappy with the amount he was paid and keen to prove himself as a widely capable actor, Sean Connery announced his retirement from the Secret Service. Happily for us, his retirement was temporary...

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