Text by Jacques Stewart: check
Link to have-your-own-opinion discussion thread: check
007th Minute ready for take-off: check
Prompted mostly into doing this at the expense of more meaningful pursuits and good works, herewith the fifth of this thunderously self-indulgent series of ludicrous moments and the same old jokes. The others you’ll find on your DVD shelf.
No, that isn’t really quite fair.
Prompted mostly into doing this at the expense of more meaningful pursuits and good works, herewith the fifth of this thunderously self-indulgent series of ludicrous moments and the same old jokes. The others you’ll find at
here, here, here and here.
Better. Still, the fifth one of any sort of ongoing fictional enterprise must present some sort of challenge to those who will administer it unto us. By this stage, the stock characters are established and may well have developed into “favourites”, for good or ill. The general beats of the entertainment have emerged, and these must be worth maintaining to ensure people keep coming back to enjoy more of it. However, there’s going to be a risk that you just bask in the transient popularity, go over the same stuff again and instead of bothering to test the expectations you yourself have created, you just reproduce your previous claptrap, to diminishing returns. The particular danger is that the audience, the audience that you thought you would be pleasing by capitulating to their lack of creativity, will turn on you for yours, making them pay (in both money and time and fleeting relationships) to sit through the same old guff again. Too much change, however, and you will have raped their childhood, or something. The ungrateful swine. Too many film series and television programmes to mention; none of which, I hasten to add, have lasted fifty years.
“Give the people what they want” is only viable by interpreting “what they want” as being “they want the same, but different”. Which, obviously, makes it really, really easy for you to meet that childish demand.
You Only Live Twice is a from-many-counties-visible hilltop memorial to this sameness, but differentitude lark. It’s recognisably mashing us through the by-now anticipated and expected sieve of Bondyness but is a textbook example of balancing that against doing so in a different and challenging, unsettling flavour, like ordering a Martini and instead of finding an olive in it, there’s a parsnip, or visiting an aged aunt for a slow-tick of an afternoon of cake and half-remembered anecdotes about unlikely family feuds, and then noticing she’s tattooed her face with the words “I Love Rimming”. That the film has become a bit of a series’ whipping boy for fond lampoon – more of a spanking boy, then – an ostensible archetype of recognisable shorthand for the daftness of the entire 50-odd hours of 007, is of itself an unknowing celebration of how successful the series (generally…) is at stretching itself, not beyond recognition, but into unexpected variations, bit like what appears to have happened to Roger Moore’s face between his last two films. You know it’s the same thing, but it’s all gone a bit “new”. That the excess of You Only Live Twice – and a subtle film it is not – is hardly the most challenging target for parody doesn’t undermine the film or the series, but hopelessly holes the thing mocking it, because it doesn’t seem to grasp that the film isn’t representative of the Bond series, either before or after. The variety of the Bond series only exposes the creative limitations of choosing to take the mick out of its most cheese-dream moment. There isn’t a fifth Austin Powers film, notably. Bond hurtles on. The latest Bourne seems to be some sort of half-arsed midquel of events happening during the previous one which itself happened during the one prior to that which leads one to believe that the fifth one will be based on a deleted scene from The Bourne Identity in which Matt Damon done a guff. Bond hurtles on. Harry Palmer’s been, gone, never coming back, was there a fifth; who cares? Bond hurtles on. Let’s see what Mission:Impossible Chapter V comes up with. Let’s see if, for our fifth tenner, they dare do something like…
I doubt it. It’ll be precision-tool designed out of paranoia (not gleefully sledgehammer-crafted in total confidence) to demographically meet all the test-screening percentage approvals of the “best bits” of the previous ones and have something about those exciting things called “computers” in it and probably try to have some sort of “story arc” in it. Nadgers to story arcs. If, on the other hand, you had just witnessed Thunderball and would now be told that the next one would involve a short shouty bald pantomime villain going bonkers in a volcano, space rockets being eaten whole, Sean Connery with a camera on his head, Fifty Shades of Charles Gray and possibly the worst impersonation of a Japanese man since Breakfast at Tiffany’s or that time you looked in the mirror and pulled your eyes to the sides and went “I am Japanese, if you please”, you’d be thrilled (and if not, seriously mentally ill) that they hadn’t bothered listening to your yet-to-be-invented internet whining that the gunbarrel must be at the start or that we must have closure on the story of the nuclear scientist who drops off the Disco Volante at the end of Thunderball or DINK HAS TO RETURN, and just got on with providing you with novel entertainment in the vain hope that you might accept it for what it is and dare to, y’know, enjoy it.
This film wouldn’t be made now. Not only because I suspect it would cost about $500million but there may be some fear of failing to be sufficiently in thrall to some unaccountable and unimaginative typing that you were going to do something “wrong”. The supposed democracy of the internet is a tyranny over free creativity. It’s in doing practically everything “wrong” that this comes out so well. Breaking the rules you created yourself must have been a thrill. Sticking to the rules because someone you don’t know and/or could afford to have killed, apparently so much better versed in how you do your job than you are, types up that you must, can only be hugely frustrating and uncomfortably limiting. If, of course, paid any heed at all. After all, you don’t go round to their workplace and show them how to mop down the peep-show booth, do you?
You Only Live Twice is the epitome of not paying heed.
So, as we reach the 007th minute, how has this manifested itself? Oh, something to do with outer space and gobbly projectiles and weird peace conferences and James Bond catching his death of bullets and not having, as he was rather looking forward to, the very best “duck”. That sort of not paying “heed”, that sort of giving us James Bond, giving us thrills and epic music and threats at the level of “completely impossible for anyone else to resolve” and international widescreenery, the stuff we come to expect, and throwing it at us in an entirely new, mixed-up way. James Bond is dead; long live James Bond. Many more times.
And as The Master tells us that they’re too late, not even a renegade Time Lord can help with this one, whilst Sean Connery oozes into the sheets (hmm), we come to…
0.06.00 – 0.07.00 You Only Live Twice
The strangeness continues. We’ve come to expect some roaring Welshness by now, and instead we have muted strings and Nancy Sinatra’s soft, sleepy, soothing tones. Stop getting Bond wrong! You’re not playing by the rules, it’s not right and it’s not fair and my dullard’s pea-brain, one that demands that you are trapped by the limits of my underpowered imagination, simply cannot cope. Neon fan things drift across a young lady’s face, it’s all rather drifty, slipping into unconsciousness and I suspect that’s the idea. There is, of course, a theory that You Only Live Twice, largely because it’s ludicrous, is a manifestation of the dreams of a dying Bond, that everything that happens from hereon in is the heightened unreality of a mind adrift. There’s something in it, and it does go to explain some of the creative choices taken, although it’s slightly undermined by the fact that it was all a bit Space Marchy bonkers before Bond got himself teabagged (by which I mean perforated, not something else (honest)). Countering that is the famous deleted concluding scene when Bond does indeed wake up after the ending that we do see, him being prodded from underneath by M’s “submarine”, that long hard powerful thing that’s full of seamen. Not sure why they cut that.
Just when we thought this wasn’t really Bond, here comes a red-hot spurt and we know we’re in safe hands/sticky fingers with Maurice Binder “on the job” as t’were and, look, they’ve told us it’s SEAN CONNERY in letters that must have been, on a cinema screen, about a mile high. The red spurty things are going insane at this point. What’s of note is that it’s SEAN CONNERY in Ian’s Fleming’s You Only Live Twice. It’s not Sean Connery as James Bond in, etc. It’s SEAN CONNERY we have come to see, SEAN CONNERY who has rather overtaken the character in prominence and SEAN CONNERY who will therefore quite understandably go off in a bit of a miff sometime pretty soon, grumbling about not actually being James Bond, look no hair, and leaving the producers with a bit of a problem in replacing SEAN CONNERY as thingywhassname, you know, that bloke. You can begin to appreciate why, when this sort of thing is happening. Admittedly, the same credit appeared for Thunderball, although the letters were slightly smaller and it was probably done because there would have been McCloryesque squabbling over whose James Bond he was. Obviously all the posters for this one did keep screaming that Sean Connery IS James Bond, although it’s plain by now that it’s James Bond who needs to be identified with Sean Connery rather than the other way around. James Bond IS Sean Connery would have been nearer the truth.
It’s stuff like this sort of credit that makes these damn difficult shoes to fill, and it’s remarkable that they continue to do so with success. Whilst I think that Roger Moore may have had the benefit of a ROGER MOORE in… a couple of times (may yet check if bothered), and so he should because he defined other aspects of the past 50 years, the others are lagging behind a bit here. They are (for a couple of them, anyway) actors playing a part; this, this is iconography. Self-perpetuated and, hindsight wisdom spurting up like one of these lovely lava flows, probably not the wisest move on the part of producers wanting to establish that the character is bigger than the performer. To an extent, it also plays into the hands of those who are disconcerted that this is not a James Bond film; obviously it’s not, it’s a SEAN CONNERY film. A documentary crew followed him around a promotional tour of Japan and waited to see what happened. Sister, were they ever in for paydirt! Look at him, he has a great time, all spacesuity and mini-helicoptery and having cosmetic surgery-y and stopping world war three-y. James Bond hasn’t done that sort of thing before, so that must mean SEAN CONNERY is better. SEAN CONNERY’s life is just weird, man. Those who claim he looked bored and disengaged fail to appreciate the point of the documentary; he was trying to relax but even when having a few days off touring Japan, things just keep happening to SEAN CONNERY to the point it becomes comically wearying for him. Nice wander through local places of interest: ends up getting married. A nice morning having a brisk row: nearly gets gassed to death. Rambling through the hills: falls into a death crater of evil. Books into his hotel: is plied with bad booze by a raddled old queen. A comic tale of mishaps and misadventure. His complaints about being followed into the loo or being photographed eating some lunch were the least of it.
“in Ian Fleming’s… You Only Live Twice” Well, that’s pretty moot, innit? Retaining very little of Fleming’s splendid – but deathdripped – novel save for a few character names and the odd nod here and there, the pirhanas for example, its claims to association with the book are, on the face of it, a bit thin. Up until now, the films had done their best to “adapt”; this is more about “survive”. Adaptation would have meant a pre-credits of the events of OHMSS being condensed into five minutes (I’d suggest that would be “difficult”, especially as one must retain the scene about hypnotic love for chickens) and then after a suitably doom-laden song by a popular singer of the day, let’s say Tiny Tim, Bond is depicted swigging spirits in the park, gets himself banished to Japan, has to eat live fish and get berated every thirty seconds by a grumpy old man, wanders about a bit (a lot), and then it all goes insane and he “dies”, just after he’s made a Mini-Me with an island girl of questionable intelligence. “Quite dark”. But there’s more of the book here than popular wisdom suggests. Bond does “die” although this time it fools his enemies rather than his chums; he still gets his obituary though. The dark beats of doom are still there, Tanaka’s still a patronising twerp, we get a decent amount of travelogue and a desire to show us Japan as being a strange old place, and the island girl (who doesn’t merit a name) is still tempted by the Dim Side of The Force. The ultimate mythical concept that that Bond must enter a dragon’s lair to slay it, a dragon who never leaves that lair mark you, is still there, even if the book version had an old crone and some hostile shrubbery and the film one has a monorail and cosmonauts. I know which lair I prefer. On balance, there’s enough Fleming in there, amidst all the mad spacerockets and helicopters and Siamese vodka, and I’d hasten to add that the death of Aki is a nice Flemingesque addition of utter, utter cruelty. Great.
Right, so here comes something else to disconcert us: that’s a long list of names of people I have never heard of and (and I accept this is both ignorant and probably highly racist, sorry) they all seem massively exotic and it’s a bit discomfiting. I’d heard of Cathy Gale. These people, this Wakabayashi and Tamba, Hama, Shimada and Karin Dor, who the hell are they? There’s not much here to cling onto, my being indolent and Western and utterly ignorant of their contributions to the cultures of their own nations, and this is a good example of the prevailing use of “a top international cast” by the producers, to not allow us to come to this with preconceived notions of our previous experiences of their other performances. (This is why I fear a bit for my reaction to Mr Bardem’s imminent Julian Assange). And, anyway, no-one’s going to be allowed to overshadow SEAN CONNERY are they? This may be why I cannot appreciate GoldenEye (one of the reasons anyway). In casting both Sharpe and Cracker, and familiar faces like Dench, Bond S. and Michael Kitchen, it comes across as one of those ITV Drama specials that run over several nights (feels like it) and often imports a minor American TV performer to help overseas sales. Is it William Katt? No? Jan-Michael Vincent then? No? Jeff Colby off of Dysentery? No? Go on then, who is it? The Actor Perce Brosnon? Hmm. Remind me. Oh yes, Scarecrow & Mrs King. Yes, yes, I think I know him. Isn’t he about eighty, though?
There’s a woman lying down as scorching liquid pours towards her. Move, lovey, or that’s really going to hurt.
Ah, something more reassuring now, the usual old gang turning up but, of course, because this is You Only Live Twice, they’re not going to turn up in London but can be found either at the bottom of the sea in M’s “private submarine”, dear God, or in a pair of shorts in which you could stage a circus. Interesting that Lois Maxwell is billed first in this list, although she deserves it for two splendid moments, the first early on, in sharing a lovely exchange with First Sea Lord Bond along the lines of how he “found” the girl to which his uncontrollably Bond and all-you-need-to-know-about-the-Bond-and-Moneypenny-“relationship”-response is “Which girl?”; the second is being invited, with pleasure, at the end of the film to shove that periscope right up [nameless girl] and boot her off the submarine and have Bond all to herself hahahahaha what the hell’s he done to his eyelids, he looks like he’s had a stroke, urr don’t fancy him no more.
The early Moneypenny exchange does, of course, include one of the more outrageous character points in the series, Bond’s claim that he went to Cambridge. Writing as an Oxford man, I can only agree that he’s certainly stupid enough to have done so. I suspect the deft hand of Dahl here, bearing in mind that all the Burgess, Maclean, Philby stuff that exposed the nasty, dirty, hollow nature of espionage was contemporaneous to these Bond films informing us that, au contraire, being a spy is all good fun and wetsuits and dolly birds and it never rains and you get great cars, “bejongers, is Karin Dor smuggling two stolen nukes under her blouse?”, etc. Still on the lookout at the time for the fourth man, here we have another Cambridge spy. It’s a joke, quite a good one really, albeit the further the series goes the more one comes to the conclusion that Bond does do rather a lot of protecting of the interests of the Soviet Union and one wonders whether he was actually joking at all.
Desmond Llewelyn, well, it’s Q, here it comes, a bit of Q, got to have a bit of Q apparently. Nothing against the man personally, at all, but even now it’s getting a bit tired. Rescued by the fact that the scene at least gives us a practical gadget in Little Nellie and this leads to some magnificent photography as she zips around. There are beautiful moments of Bond luxury in her take-off, her sweeping over the bay and – especially – seen from above, chased by gooncopters. The fight is perhaps a bit easily won, on reflection, and it was a bit stupid of SPECTRE to call attention to themselves quite so obviously – but then intelligence isn’t amongst their arsenal. Counterintelligence is, and their actions here are indeed counter to intelligence.
Charles Gray. Oh dear God, Charles Gray’s Henderson, a one-man leer machine, one part Noel Coward, several parts Uncle Monty and possibly the most hilarious performance in the film (in a good way – in a bad way, the most hilarious performance is from The Nameless One proclaiming that “There. Must. Be. A. Hidden. Tunnel”, just as Bond’s trying to investigate her hidden tunnel). I think Gray’s little skit is splendid and, naturally as it’s You Only Live Twice, subversive. Why have the British entrusted secrets to this lascivious bekimonoed old flopsie? Why does he give Bond the wrong drink and why does Bond agree to it, other than out of fear that otherwise the man might unleash his own Predator Rocket? Why isn’t the film actually about the further adventures of “Dick” Henderson and his young chum, the doorman at the Russian Embassy who procures “other things” for him (I think he means rent boys, y’know), instead of which we have to sit through a load of daft old nunchukas? Why does Bond insist on whacking him about (although he probably likes it)? How is he such good friends with Tanaka; did they do as Bond will do, and share a bath? Quite why this five minutes was sufficient casting call for playing international gangster and murdererliser of women Ernst Stavro Blofeld later in the series is a bit of a mystery, but by the big hairy monkey himself, I am very glad he did. Fleming’s Henderson was an escapee from HM Prison Ship Australia and kept going on about Pommie Poofters. I’d call Young Mr Gray’s performance “absence of denial”. I mean, it’s not as if he appears to be Australian, is it?
“and Bernard Lee as M.” I suppose it’s possible that an Admiral would (possibly) have access to a submarine but it does seem slightly excessive and unlikely, as does the stated deadline for Bond to sort it out of “about three weeks”, which is nice and leisurely and gives him time to do a bit of touring around and get married etc. Preposterous though it may be for M to have a sub, at least M’s where M should be when dealing with minions, in an office, the same but different, not rolling around in bed or preparing to get into the bath. That wouldn’t be different; it would be sickening. There’s not much one can really observe about Bernard Lee’s M, because the words would be futile to describe how indelible the performance was, right from the start. M stands for Missed.
A particularly erupty bit o’ Binder gives us Donald Pleasance, Worksop’s finest, providing a performance that’s perhaps most kindly labelled as “broad”, as if playing to the back row of the largest theatre on Earth or, for that matter, the inside of a hollowed-out hill. In providing us with Blofeld, a character from before – the same. In providing this Blofeld – different. Very. The Blofeld we have encountered up until now, played by “?”, actually The Artist Formerly Known as ?, is a hard bureaucratic facilitator of villainy, admittedly not terribly fond of the concept of Wrongful Dismissal (just try taking that to a tribunal, number 9), but pragmatic and resourceful, even if developing a bit of a voice of doom in Thunderball (it’s probably a reaction to the cat). Here, however, he’s a total loon, possibly driven mad by “being thwarted” in the past but also perhaps because someone’s just taken a massive spoon to his boiled-egg skull and cracked it open. Or that cat’s going to have get its claws seen to. Or it is in fact a dorsal vein (look it up and, if at work, do so on someone else’s computer).
Alternatively, the amount of money he must have had to invest to get this one underway would make anyone lose sleep and go a bit uppity, especially since Thunderball starts with an (exciting, this) remuneration committee meeting at which it seems SPECTRE’s basically on its uppers. Seems he’s abandoned the cabinet-style of government now; he liquidated all of them when they found out that Project Astonishingly Expensive Volcano wasn’t just a cool name for a review of the expenses policy. The one consistent feature is his style of exit interview for redundant staff, although that’s become totally whacked-out too. Seemingly uninterested in his clients’ desires, whatever the hell they are, halfway through the film he basically ignores them and then starts pursuing his own agenda, whatever the hell that is. It’s total pantomime, delivered in a gloriously sinister squeakbark and beamed in from somewhere quite, quite mad. He also has a lovely bemuscled blond buff bodybuilder kicking around and just the thought of what goes on in the apartment late at night is a really quite upsetting one. Fortunately for us all, he’s so off his tiny tennis-ball head that he announces, in full earshot of Bond, how one blows up the rocket. You clot. Throw yourself to the fish. It’s a distinctive leadership style and when one scours the shelves of WH Smith at Euston, you’ll find his three volume management guide on a 3 for 2 deal: Volume 1 – Scream, Scheme and Killer Bream – Persuasive Management Techniques for the Modern Maniac; Volume 2 – Lose Those Earlobes In Ten Days (Or Some Of Your Money Back If You’re Foolish Enough To Ask) (comes with free hypnosis CD, mainly about chickens); Volume 3 – MBWA – Management By Walking Around vs. MBSAMAP – Management By Sashaying And Mincing About Pointlessly.
However, let’s not forget that Fleming’s Blofeld is utterly clownbrained by the time of his You Only Live Twice, so I suppose, generously, that this is a “homage” to that. I suppose.
Right, so Peter Hunt is now edging ever closer to power and is not only Supervising Editor but is Second Unit Director too. It’s such a shame he only had the chance to direct one Bond; he appears pivotal to the early success. Another one much missed.
David Middlemas is back supervising the production, making sure it doesn’t stay out late at night and get itself up the duff, a production which by all accounts was “tricky” and the art director was Harry Pottle which is a ) a most magnificent name and b ) patently reminiscent of a young man who would wave his wand about excitedly and lots of stuff would shoot out of the end. Maurice Binder.
Don’t get so close to the lava, dear! Not with all that lacquer on yer head. These titles, a dangerous attitude to general health and safety aside, are a bit more restrained than the last lot, as is the song. “Restraint” and You Only Live Twice are not mutual concepts, but these are nice, calming moments before the eruption of total absurdity to come. Talking of eruptions, John Stears finally gets a reasonably prominent credit and it’s well deserved because he made an empty volcano spew lava, which is pretty good work, really. There’s loads of good stuff in this one – rocket guns, deadly helicopters, sucker suits that one can wear under one’s other clothing without anyone actually noticing, outer space stuff that looks a bit wobbly now but was probably pretty spiffing back in the day and big explosions going off in the biggest set you’ve seen in your life whilst a billion ninjas plummet to the floor. The winner of the Special Visual Effects “academy” award for 1967 was Dr Doolittle; well, that can just knob right off, frankly. Where were its explosions and billion ninjas, then? It’s a disgrace.
Bob Simmons finally manages to break free of the hold the make-up boys had over him, and celebrates gloriously by running over dock rooftops and beating people up. It’s interesting to note that Special Effects and Action Sequences get a joint credit together, on their own. That seems to be laying down a marker for where everything’s going from this point on.
Coming towards the end of this 007th minute and we’re told some things about the cameramen. Lamar Boren’s still underwater – I do hope he’s not still there, he’d be a bit wrinkly by now; Second Unit by Bob Huke (B.S.C. – which probably does now stand for Bastard Sean Connery) but perhaps most notably, John Jordan for the aerial unit. We sit and we sneer, we criticise, we inflict our empty uncreative thoughts and some people were really, painfully hurt making it, and all they wanted to do was entertain us. Shame on us all.
And love is a stranger, who’ll beckon you on, and as the stranger, George Lazenby, does his beckoning on, we reach
It’s a confounding minute, and totally inhabits the world of You Only Live Twice with its twisting of our expectations. The title sequences prior to this have been all shouting and sleaze; we have come to expect this by now. This 007th minute, however, is mellow, slightly threatening but generally docile. The film will now confound us even further by being anything but that and imploding with excess, as it proceeds to demonstrate that Ken Adam is a genius, SEAN CONNERY, despite being made to look ridiculous in most of the costumes, is entirely at ease with what’s going on and John Barry, well, John Barry is peerless.
As far as the film tells us anything about the series, it demonstrates the willingness to change things about even in the teeth of previous success, yet still keeping hold of recognisable elements, just giving them a before-their-time-was-up scrub; later more explicitly demonstrated with Moonraker to For Your Eyes Only and Die Another Day to Casino Royale. They could have gone off down the same sort of lines as Thunderball – which seems grounded and gritty in comparison – but instead twisted everything into loony mock-horror, wild designs and global-scale threat. Perhaps it’s that last bit element that provides the reason why, although I admire its colossal testicles, I find it a bit alienating – there’s an awful lot going on in the film that isn’t really focussed on SEAN CONNERY any more. It is opened out into command centres and The Pentagon and you know you’re in trouble in one of these things when Shame Rimmer hoves into view. There are an awful lot of speaking parts in the latter half of the film and it may become incapable of holding together all the elements. Unlike Thunderball, which seems to cope with its own ambitions, this one is bursting out, unrestrained, flinging stuff at one in the hope most of it hits. Fortunately, it just about retains its own (demented) coherence but it does seem ever at the moment of waking up and vowing never to eat Camenbert again. Perhaps it is true, James Bond is a bit lost in all of this hardware and panic and vast arenas and the cold industrial look of it, shuffling about and waiting to save the day. As an exercise in both satisfying and disrupting our expectations it’s still pretty bloody good, though.
So, the 007th minutes so far have: set up our hero: established a threat: boomed a tune and “girls” at us: exemplified the series’ habit (often good, often bad) for seeing how far things really can be pushed and, now, demonstrated total confidence in giving us the same, but different.
And then came a 007th minute that did all of that, and more.
James Bond will return in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Jacques Stewart’s bathtimes are never that interesting.