Tuesday, March 27, 2012

You Only Live Twice [1967]

About two months after the release of the spoof Casino Royale -- and about a year and a half after the titanic success of the previous film in the series, Thunderball -- the fifth 007 adventure starring Sean Connery hit movie screens around the world.

In some ways, the Bond phenomenon had peaked with Thunderball; that film's sheer size and scope were so large, and its reception so massive, that to do anything other than try to top it must have seemed like lunacy.

As a result, the Bond producers did virtually everything they could think of to make sure that topping Thunderball was exactly what happened.

Did it work?

In my opinion, it definitely did NOT work.  A lot of Bond fans hold this film near and dear, but I am not one of them; for me, this is the point at which the series began its slide into mediocrity.

That's not to say there isn't plenty here to enjoy, though, so let's take a trip to the Far East and see how the Double-0 Rating System stands the journey.

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

It was fairly public knowledge that Connery didn't much want to return to the series for the fifth installment.  The incredible Beatles-like reception that both Goldfinger and Thunderball had prompted brought Connery a great deal of unwanted attention from his adoring fans (some of them decidedly TOO-adoring).  He was finally tempted back for the role, but it was somewhat against his better instincts.

Sadly, that antipathy toward the role shows.  Connery frequently seems bored and distracted during You Only Live Twice, and shows all too little of the wit, charm, and toughness that made him so dynamic in the role during his first four films as 007.  There are several reasons this could be the case: perhaps Connery simply wanted to get the project over with; or perhaps director Lewis Gilbert was simply not as adept at coaching him as were Terence Young and Guy Hamilton; or it might even have been that Connery knew the screenplay was ridiculous, and reacted accordingly.

Whatever the case, Connery is simply not as good here as he was in the previous Bond films.  Case in point: his near-complete non-reaction to the tripping of the alarms in Osato's office.  Previously, Connery might have shown some alarm of his own, and helped to give the scene some tension and human interest as a result; instead, he plays it without any concern at all, and the scene seems lesser for it.

Still, this IS Sean Connery, and he can exude cool seemingly without even trying ... and just because that seems to have been exactly what happened in this film, that doesn't mean he isn't still fun to watch. 

Points awarded: 004/007


Main Villain:  I'm about to commit what many Bond fans may see as being heretical.  Here goes: Donald Pleasence as Blofeld is awful.  Awful.  He is completely free of menace, of charisma, of charm, of anything interesting.  Blofeld, you may recall, orchestrated the events of both From Russia With Love and Thunderball (and, by implication, Dr. No), and it simply doesn't seem credible that such a bland, puny figure as Pleasence strikes in this movie could have built an organization capable of mounting those operations.  I don't buy it.

A lot of this is the fault of the screenplay, which gives Blofeld nothing interesting to do.  He has no real characteristics, apart from having a cat, a scar, and a Mao suit.  Would the vast numbers of henchmen required to operate SPECTRE actually follow this man?  I don't see it.  Sure, he's got a pool full of piranha that he can dunk them in if they get out of hand, but wouldn't that just make his office incredibly smelly?

Pleasence is on shaky ground right off the bat.  Armed with the deep, resonant voice of Eric Pohlmann, Blofeld had been a highly memorable -- if sparingly used -- part of the previous films in the series.  Pleasence tries to match Pohlmann's speech patterns, but his voice has none of the basso profundo that we've heard before, and as a result, it feels a bit as if one of Blofeld's kids is sitting in his chair while he's away, pretending to be Daddy for a while.

Pleasence's Blofeld is sometimes held up as one of the series' better villains.  I disagree vehemently; I think he's perhaps one of the worst.  The look of the character is somewhat iconic, true, but I don't think that counts for much in the long run.  Points awarded (Main Villain): 002/007

Henchmen:  I'm not impressed by Pleasence as Blofeld, nor am I particularly impressed by his henchmen.

The main one, I suppose, is Helga Brandt, played by Karin Dor.  Brandt is -- right down to the long, luscious red hair -- a complete ripoff of Fiona from Thunderball.  Sadly, Dor is not as interesting a screen presence as was Luciana Paluzzi, and on top of that, Brandt is poorly-written compared to Fiona Volpe.  For example: she decides to kill Bond, so she tries to do so by ... taking him up in an airplane, trapping his arms beneath a piece of wood, and then parachuting out of it, leaving him to die in the crash.  That's just stupid.  Instead of wasting one bullet, you waste an entire airplane?!?  Plus, doesn't your boss have access to piranha?  Shoot Bond, dump the body in with the piranha; problem solved.


Teru Shimada plays Mr. Osato.  He's not bad; he exudes at least a modicum of the type of power, affability, and menace that make for good Bond villains.  But the screenplay gives him nothing to do, and so he ends up being a moderately-well-portrayed nonentity.

My favorite henchman in the movie is Peter Fanene Maivia, playing Osato's unnamed driver.  He's a big, burly Asian man, which to my gaijin eyes means he reminds me of Oddjob.  Maivia gives it his all, but he's a glorified stuntman in this movie, and he doesn't have the character quirks of an Oddjob to make him stand out.

Points awarded (Henchmen): 001/007

Total points awarded (SPECTRE): 001.5/007

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:  Since she's the one Bond ends up "marrying," I suppose you have to say that Kissy Suzuki, played by the lovely Mie Hama, is the film's primary Bond girl.

She's one of the least-interesting ones of the series, too: a complete non-entity of a character.  She seems to exist for virtually no reason other than to run around in a bikini, and while my dingus is okay with that, my brain isn't. 

Points awarded (Main Bond Girl): 001/007

Secondary Bond Girls:  Previous films in the series are frequently labelled as being highly sexist in nature (there are scenes in all of them except for From Russia With Love that have been referred to as rape scenes, or rape fantasies at best).  I take issue with those arguments, but there is simply no denying that You Only Live Twice is practically drowning in misogyny.  The scene at Tanaka's bathhouse is one of the most tasteless in the entire series, and the statements that Japanese culture is one in which women exist to serve men are not only sexist, but also possibly racist.


Leaving that aside, the secondary Bond girls are scarcely more interesting than Kissy Suzuki is.  Akiko Wakabayashi plays Aki, a secret agent who dupes Bond for no good reason, and then fucks him for no good reason, and then dies for no good reason.  Wakabayashi is pretty, but -- at least in English -- she isn't a very good actress.

We've already talked about Karin Dor as Helga Brandt; there's nothing much more to say about her here.

The only other Bond girl of note is Tsai Chin, playing Ling, a duplicitous (?) Chinese girl who plays a part in Bond's pre-credits "death."  She doesn't make much of an impression, apart from uttering one of the worst lines of dialogue in the entire series ("Darling ... I give you very best duck!").
Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls): 000/007.  Not just bad, but offensively bad.

Total points awarded (Bond Girls): 000.50/007

(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/StuntsYou Only Live Twice is a bit of a mixed-bag in the action department.  There is some good stuff, and some bad (he said, apparently feeling his readers would have no idea how to decode the meaning of the phrase "mixed bag" -- sheesh...).  The fight fight between Bond and Osato's driver is fine: high-energy, not overly silly, with plenty of little bits of business (and big ones, such as the couch gag) to keep it interesting.  The scene in which Bond slides down a trapdoor into Tanaka's office is deeply stupid, but it's executed pretty well, and ends up being fun because of that.  There's a car chase that is poorly executed ... until a helicopter shows up and uses a big magnet to drop the enemy car into the ocean. 

That's dumb as hell, but groovy on a comic-book level.

A big fight scene at a loading dock doesn't work at all; it's poorly directed, and poorly choreographed, and has virtually none of the energy that a big setpiece like that ought to have.

On the other hand, all of the ninja training scenes are cool, as is the big, iconic ninja assault at the end of the movie ... although the fact that they are ninjas ends up being 100% irrelevant to the story.


I also like the Little Nellie scene quite a lot.  As a whole, this movie isn't particularly distinguished in terms of its action, but more of it works than doesn't.


Points awarded (Action/Stunts): 004/007

Editing:  Peter Hunt's final editing job for the Bond series is a competent affair, one that keeps the film movie at an admirable pace.  I suspect that without Hunt at the splicer, the movie would have been even more tedious than it already is, which probably makes him -- along with John Barry -- one of the film's VIPs.  There's no inspiration here, though; perhaps Hunt, like Connery, was nonplussed by the unexceptional material.  There is a decent amount of stock footage, most of which is blended in pretty well with the production footage; I guess that counts for something.  Points awarded (Editing): 004/007

Costumes/Makeup:  Helga's black dress is lovely, as are virtually all of the Japanese costumes (especially Kissy's skimpy bikini), so let's give the costuming department some credit.
However ... is Sean Connery actually supposed to look Japanese?  In terms of the story, he obviously is.  In actuality, though, he looks about as Japanese as Barack Obama does, which is to say not very.  I was well into my twenties before I even figured out that that was what was going on in the movie; a friend had to point it out.
Does this man look Japanese?

It's one of the worst makeup jobs in the history of Hollywood, and while making Sean Connery look Asian was a tall, tall order, it would have been better not to try than to fail this utterly.  Four points for the costumes, zero for the makeup; points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 002/007 
Locations:  As you may have noticed, I've been pretty hard on this movie so far, and for what I feel are good reasons.  I don't like the movie much, compared to many of the other films in the series.  However, you'll not catch me failing to give credit where I feel credit is due, and I've got virtually nothing bad to say about the locations we see in this movie. 

The production made excellent use of Japan, and may even have helped to rehabilitate its image in American eyes (if '60s-centric Mad Men is to be believed, a lot of older Americans still despised the country at this point in history).

The sumo-wrestling scene doesn't make a ton of sense plotwise, but it makes for outstanding production value.  The ninja academy looks great; the fishing village looks great; the countryside during the Little Nellie scene looks great. 

Mie Hama was on location in front of a blue screen for this shot, methinks.

Location-wise, this one is a success.  Points awarded (Locations): 006/007

Total points awarded ("Oh, James..."): 004/007

(5)  Q Branch

Bond's Allies:  You get your standard scenes with M and Moneypenny, and the change in venue -- from MI6 headquarters in London to a submarine -- is kinda cool.  Also, Q shows up in Japan wearing short pants, much to Bond's chagrin.  These are all fun scenes, and it's valuable to have them as a part of the series, but by this point it is clear that they are contributing nothing vital.

Bond's most important allies in the film are the ones within the Japanese secret service, tops among them being Tiger Tanaka, played by Tetsuro Tamba.  Tamba is great, despite being saddled with having to inculcate Bond into the misogynist ways of the Land of the Rising Sun. I would have liked to see Tanaka show up again in the series at some point.  Perhaps the new producers could hire Ken Watanabe for the role...?

Also bearing mention, I suppose, is the character of Henderson, a British agent who has been living in Japan for years.  He's not much of a character, but he's played by Charles Gray, a smarmy actor who is best known for his role as the narrator of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I don't much care for Gray here, and I care for him even less when he turns up -- playing a different character -- in Diamonds Are Forever a couple of films down the line.

Points awarded (Bond's Allies): 003/007

Direction:  This is a bad movie, but should Lewis Gilbert get all of the blame for that?  Certainly not.  I don't think he's particularly good with actors -- his work on Alfie notwithstanding -- but he shoots things competently, and occasionally does something memorable: Aki leading Bond down the corridor toward the trapdoor comes off quite well, and I love the use of shadows on the ground during the Little Nellie sequence as a way of alerting us to the fact that Bond is being pursued.  Still, this is such a notable step down from previous Bond films that I can't help but blame Gilbert for a large part of that.  Points awarded (Direction): 002/007

CinematographyYou Only Live Twice was filmed by Freddie Young, who had won an Oscar for his work two years previously on Doctor Zhivago.  He'd won another before that for filming a little movie called Lawrence of Arabia, and would win yet another several years hence for his work on Ryan's Daughter.  No slouch, that Freddie Young.  His three Oscar wins were for movies directed by the legendary David Lean, and while Lewis Gilbert was clearly no David Lean, that didn't prevent Young from doing top-notch work on You Only Live Twice.  Some of the studio-bound scenes feel a wee bit flat, but for the most part, this is a lovely film, one that takes beautifully-photographed advantage of the Japanese setting.
Points awarded (Cinematography): 006/007

Art Direction:  Say what you want about how ridiculous this movie may be, but one thing in undeniable: production designer Ken Adam did gloriously good work on You Only Live Twice.  Blofeld's lair, housed as it is inside an inactive volcano, may be silly in logical terms, but it also looks like a dream brought to life.  It's one of the grandest sets ever achieved on film, as far as I'm concerned; the fact that I wish it was in service of a better film is irrelevant.  The thing has a functional mini-monorail, fer Chrissakes!
Apart from that, the rest of the film looks pretty great, too: from M's submarine stateroom to Tiger Tanaka's office to the Japanese bathhouse to the Osato Chemicals sets, Adam did what may well have been career-best work here.



Points awarded (Art Direction): 007/007

Special Effects:  Effects guru John Stears had won an Oscar for his work on Thunderball, and he comes close to topping it here.  The outer-space effects are quite good, as is virtually everything that takes place in Blofeld's volcano lair (especially the landing sequences within them). 

Some of the lava effects are dodgy, as are a few exploding-helicopter shots; and there is a board Connery has to break in order to escape an airplane that is visibly pre-broken, as well.  However, those carps shouldn't detract much from the fact that these were, for their day, cutting-edge effects.  Inexplicably, Stears was not even nominated for the Oscar, which he ought to have won for the second time.  (The Oscars also failed to nominated Ken Adam's glorious sets, opting instead to reward Camelot.)  Points awarded (Special Effects): 006/007

Gadgets:  The most notable gadget in You Only Live Twice is probably Little Nellie, the autogyro that Q brings to Bond.  The damned thing actually worked, and was piloted by Ken Wallis, its creator!  As far as gadgets go, that one is awfully memorable.
You've also got to love -- despite its goofiness -- the helicopter with the giant magnet, which the Japanese secret service apparently uses to drop enemy cars into the ocean.  It's dumb as a sack of catnip, but lovably so.
Another notable gadget is the exploding cigarette that Bond employs at a crucial moment while a captive of Blofeld.  It isn't one of Blofeld's better moments, permitting Bond that final smoke. 

Points awarded (Gadgets): 006/007

Opening Credits:  Maurice Binder returned for his third go-round as main titles designer, and this is one of his better efforts for the series.  The serenity of Japanese culture is juxtaposed with the chaos of the lava imagery, and that juxtaposition is way more complex and compelling than just about anything in the actual movie itself.



Speaking of compelling, you can quite clearly see the nipples of some of the models; in silhouette, granted, but there they are.  How did that get past the censors of the day?  Points awarded (Opening Titles): 006/007

Total points awarded (Q Branch):  005.14/007

(6)  Mission Briefing

I've got nineteen things to say about this movie's screenplay, which was written by one of my all-time favorite authors, Roald Dahl:

  • Bond's "death" during the pre-credits sequence is pointless, given that everyone for the rest of the film immediately recognizes him.
  • Henderson making Bond's drink "stirred, not shaken" is funny in a meta kind of way, but this, too, is fundamentally silly.  If a low-level agent like Henderson is familiar enough with Bond's drinking habits that he get could even that close to knowing how to prepare a martini for him, then Bond must be the world's all-time least-secret secret agent.  I get that this is just a joke, one designed to get a chuckle out of people who have seen the other films.  However, this may mark the very moment in which the Bond films turned into comedies -- which, with the exceptions of On Her Majesty's Secret Service and (arguably) For Your Eyes Only, they would remain for the next twenty years.
  • If Osato is knowledgeable enough to know that he needs to have Henderson killed before he can tell Bond some crucial info, why not also have Bond killed during that scene?
  • Why doesn't Aki simply tell Bond that she's taking him to see Tiger Tanaka?  It seems a lot more efficient to simply say, "Hi there, I work for the Japanese version of M, to whom I am currently transporting you" than to kidnap the guy.  That's just dumb.
  • Why don't the Japanese agents speak more Japanese?
  • What, exactly, is so important about the photo of the Ning Po that Osato keeps the photo in a safe?  I don't understand, and continue to not understand once the photo is obtained.
  • Why does Osato not have Bond killed before he gets outside, where he is more easily rescuable?
  • When Bond is watching the footage of the car being dropped in the ocean, where is that footage coming from?  Do the Japanese have a fleet of skyborne security cameras we aren't privy to?  Stupid.
  • Nobody at the Kobe docks has a gun that they can use to shoot Bond?  Not a single one of them?  The henchman orientation program -- pardon the pun -- really needs some serious revamping.  Blofeld is perhaps pouring too much energy into piranhas, and too little into training.
  • Why does Helga fuck Bond?  Why not just kill him then and there?  Why go to the bother of playing along with him and then wasting an entire airplane?  Will she at least get a write-up for being that careless with SPECTRE property?  Stupid.
  • Bond turning Japanese is perhaps the single worst plot point in the entire series, up to and including Brotherfeld in Spectre.  They don't even actually shave his chest!  WORST ... PLAN ... EVER!
  • Aki's poisoning is also pretty lame.  You're telling me that SPECTRE is capable of sending an assassin INTO A NINJA TRAINING ACADEMY?!?  If this is the case, the assassin should have just shot him in the head.  That makes a lot more sense than dribbling some poison down a string.  Idiots.
  • Bond's ninja training doesn't amount to much, since he puts exactly 0% of it to use.  He does, of course, receive another assassination attempt.  I find it hard to put any credence in the idea that SPECTRE can continually infiltrate ninja schools -- which, one must assume, are difficult to get accepted into -- and yet can't seem to do much of anything else right.
  • Why is it Bond who has to get married and become a fisherman?  Wouldn't it make more sense for Tanaka or one of his underlings to take on that part of the mission? Maybe they just all wanted to humiliate him by telling him they were were totally going to make him look Japanese, chucklechucklechuckle...
  • Does SPECTRE just lose track of Bond?  Why don't they just have him killed while he's in the village?  Surely they didn't fall for that disguise...
  • Does it seems like Blofeld is spending a shitload of money based on a faulty assumption: that nobody will be able to figure out where these mysterious spacecrafts are landing?  That idea seems like it ought not to have gotten out of the committee stage...
  • Where, exactly, was Bond hiding those suction cups?
  • Do all of those Japanese SPECTRE employees live on-site?  If so, what must the overhead on an operation like that be?  Where is all this operating capital coming from?  Or, if they all commute in to work each day, does it seem likely that all of them would have successfully kept quiet about the operation all this time?  This is the problem with super-secret villainous organizations; they beg too many questions, and it's just hard to believe that a chump with a cat obsession and a gimpy eye could keep it all running.
  • Why doesn't Blofeld put a bullet in Bond's brain the second he sees him?  And for that matter, wait a second ... how does Blofeld even know it's Bond?!?  This is supposedly some Japanese dude!
This movie's screenplay is just a piece of shit.  Points awarded (Mission Briefing): 001/007

(7)  The Music

Title Song:  Nancy Sinatra wasn't a particularly gifted singer, but apart from that, it's hard to find much of anything bad to say about her version of "You Only Live Twice."  It remains a pretty fine song to this day, and with those lovely Maurice Binder opening titles playing, it's really quite lovely.  Points awarded (Title Song): 006/007

The Score:  This isn't one of my favorite Bond scores by John Barry, but it's certainly a good one.  The melody that forms the basis of the title song is lovely, and gets puts to good use throughout the movie.  The menacing outer-space music is one of Barry's better Bondian contributions, and his score during the fight-at-the-Kobe-docks sequence helps make an otherwise boring setpiece seem more exciting than it actually is.  Then, of course, the music during Bond's "wedding" to Kissy Suzuki is just gorgeous; possibly to a detrimental degree, even, considering that it lends an air of genuine romance to a scene that might be better-served with none.  Still, gorgeous music.  Points awarded (The Score): 005/007

Total points awarded (The Music): 005.50/007


Double-0 Rating for You Only Live Twice:  03.09/007

That's officially the worst score yet for a movie in the main series of films, which seems justified, considering that it's easily the worst film in the series as of 1967.  Many Bond fans will disagree with me on that score, and that's fine.  There are certainly things about You Only Live Twice that I love; I think it's a bad movie overall, but that doesn't mean I don't hold it close to my heart despite its perceived deficiencies.

The tally so far:

006.37 -- Thunderball
006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
004.76 -- Dr. No
003.09 -- You Only Live Twice
002.55 -- Climax!: Casino Royale
002.38 -- Casino Royale [1967]  
Speaking of holding movies close to my heart, You Only Blog Twice will return in ... On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
But first: leftover screencaps!

Why did I take this 'cap twice?  Let's assume I had a reason, but I don't remember it.


Until next time...!


  1. Nice observations. Love the art on the album & posters. Your fun blog & other sites have inspired me to rewatch the entire series in semi-order. I hadn't seen this one since junior high, I recorded it from TV onto a Betamax tape & viewed it many times. (Betamax. I feel old.)

    About Aki, not a very developed character like you said, whose motivation for sleeping with Bond isn't really explained, but I didn't notice those things in junior high. I always had a soft spot for her, & felt sad when she was poisoned. Just think, a beautiful woman sleeps next to you, probably just after great sex, & she's cruelly & silently murdered. By poison drops flowing down a string from the ceiling. I haven't seen that in any other movie still, maybe it's in other Japanese ninja films. The way she turned her face in close toward the string, & then the closeup of her lips licking the poison drops that fell onto them was a turn on. And then she dies, ah, such a shame. I just now only noticed how Bond doesn't even register any sadness for this girl that saved him twice; terrible.

    On your point about Bond not using his new skills from the ninja academy: One can argue that his use of the suction cups on his hands & knees to stick to the wall as he enters the volcano headquarters should count. He is wearing the full ninja outfit. And I guess the gray color makes sense because the rock walls are gray too. And later when he's fighting henchmen in Blofeld's control room, he uses judo (or maybe aikido?) to dispatch each one that runs toward him. Maybe that counts? Not that important, I know.

    Connery's loss of interest is pretty evident, he even looks a bit thicker in his midsection. Not too fat, but certainly not as trim as in the previous films. It's most noticeable in the volcano scenes where he has the gray ninja outfit on. The complete outfit along with the headpiece makes him look like a pudgy baby. (Sorry James.) It's less noticeable in other scenes. Or is he actually thinner in those? I think they usually shoot on location first, then come back to the studios. Did the Bond crazy Japanese press & fans make him feel like he couldn't go out & so he stayed in his room a lot & just ordered room service for him & his wife? That could explain his gaining weight by the time they filmed at the Ken Adam volcano set.

    So I agree, not one of the better ones, but nice to watch for nostalgia & some sexyful parts.

    1. You know, I think that if one misses certain things about these movies in junior high -- and lord knows I certainly did -- then that is not merely okay, but preferable. Junior high is a time for being slightly oblivious, and the Bond movies are a pretty good vehicle to enable that.

      I wish I could rewatch this movie through those eyes, actually. This one and "Diamonds Are Forever" (along with "The Spy Who Loved Me") are the ones I've soured on the most as an adult, and that bums me out, because they were three of my favorites as a child. But there are things to love in all three, even as a grumpy sourpuss of an adult. That scene with Aki getting poisoned is one of them; I'm glad you singled it out, because I agree that it's very well done.

      "Sexyful"! Great. I'd love to see Tiger Tanaka show up in one of the Daniel Craig movies. He's cool.

      I like your hypothesis about Connery's fluctuating weight. It makes sense to me. It bums me out a bit that he turned into a bit of a slouch for this movie, but by all accounts his public life had become thoroughly miserable thanks to all the hoopla over Bond, so I suppose I can understand where he was coming from. I mean, sometimes it's easier to just blow off work and eat some ribs, you know?

    2. Haha Ribs! It is disappointing. I think if the producers had given him more money like he wanted, he would've had a better attitude. In the Everything Or Nothing documentary, United Artists executive David Picker says the producers renegotiated their contract with UA after each film got more successful, so they were making a lot of money. And Picker thinks the producers should have paid Sean more. Aside from the invasion of his privacy, Sean was also in real danger in the previous film when a shark swam right up to him after it got past a gap in Ken Adam's plexiglass barrier. The designer seems pretty amused in the commentary when he says he neglected to tell Sean he couldn't get enough of the plexiglass to do it properly. (Yikes Ken, how could you?) I seem to remember an old interview where Sean says he didn't have a manager or publicist then. But he definitely needed someone to negotiate for him since he was so unhappy.

      It would be great for Tiger to meet Craig. And although they'd never do this particular scene, I just made myself smile imagining Craig in Japanese makeup. Then again he is looking a lot stranger in Skyfall all on his own.

      I understand how you can sour on those 3 you mention. Not the greatest when you look back on them. I'm just jaded myself in general from having seen so many great classic films over the years. Where do you think Skyfall fits on your scale, in the top half, bottom half, middle? I expected too much because of all the glowing reviews & grosses. It was fine when I was watching it, but after I was underwhelmed. I don't seem to agree with popular opinion anymore. It's the same thing with the last 2 JJ Abrams Star Trek's. The hype got me interested. They look new, nice & shiny, but they didn't grab me. I guess I'll have to wait a while for your official Skyfall review to discuss that in more detail.

    3. Oh, I definitely tend to take Connery's side in terms of that pay dispute. Good lord, how many millions of dollars got made on those first few movies? Without Connery, that doesn't happen. The fact that he didn't get a raise is shameful.

      The thing with the shark is just plain horrifying. Great anecdote; if I were Connery, I'd have walked off that set and never come back as long as the responsible parties were employed.

      "Everything Or Nothing" is phenomenal. WHY OH WHY is that not available on Blu-ray yet?

      As for "Skyfall," what I'll say is this: I did some tentative rankings about a year ago just to see where the movies I hadn't written about yet would end up. "Skyfall" did very, very well. But that's no guarantee that it'll do so when I write the post for real. "GoldenEye" did very poorly during those initial rankings, only to rise significantly when I put my thinking-cap on and actually contemplated certain things.

      Nothing says for sure that the opposite won't happen with "Skyfall."

      Time will tell!

  2. It has come to my attention via the most recent episode of James Bond Radio that Peter Fanene Maivia, who plays the burly henchman who attacks Bond with a sofa, is the uncle of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

    How cool is that?

    Speaking of Johnson, I'd love to see him pop up in a Bond film as a CIA agent or something. That'd be boss.

  3. In regards to Aki and Kissy, I think You Only Live Twice did a turnabout in which the audiene expected Aki to be the lead...only to be killed off two thirds of the way in. Kissy on the other hand, was introduced much too late in the film when the action was already in full swing....so there wasn't any time to get to know her or have her character developed...so she was just basically the obligatory girl that Bond ends up in at the film's finale because that is the way Bond films ended.

    1. Good point.

      Part of me feels like I might be too harsh toward this movie. It's just . . . DAMN, I really don't like Pleasence as Blofeld. And even if I did, the character as presented here is such a letdown compared to the expectations built up in FRWL and "Thunderball" that I think the movie would be a disappointment.

      At least to me. A lot of people don't see it that way, which is as it should be. What fun would it be if we all had the same opinions on everything?

  4. It's funny.. I never really considered this a bad Bond film, yet reading through your review I find myself agreeing, or at least seeing your point on most of the issues..

    After watching his performance in Thunderball, you can certainly see that Sean has lost a bit of spark in this one, but to his credit, I don't think he lets it slide to such a degree that it harms the film.. And maybe this only stands out as being a bit sub-par because his other performances were as great as they were.
    So yeah, in short, he isn't as memorable as Thunderball or Goldfinger, but at no point do I personally get the impression that he is sleepwalking through the part..

    I've never really hated this version of Blofeld either, I totally see your point in him being hard to take seriously and I do agree that other Blofelds do better, but I think the nostalgia goggles might prevent me from hating on him as much as you ;)

    I will agree though, that the supporting cast is on the boring side, with the exception of Tanaka, who for me ranks as one of my favourite Bond allies.. And I'm fully on board with Tanaka (or at least a Tanaka-like figure) returning in a future film!
    The rest though.. Yeah, not much to care for..
    I used to like Aki when I was younger, because it always seemed to me that Bond seemed to actually be developing feelings for her.. He certainly seems upset when she dies..
    Looking back, considering how quickly he gets to fornicating with Kissy, his stunned reaction seems to me as being more guilt-based, as he knows this woman has suffered a terrible death, that was meant for him!
    Speaking of Kissy, she shows up too late in the movie for me to really get invested in her, and Helga Brandt, like you said, is just a poor man's Fiona Volpe.

    Sean Connery as an asian? Yeah.. that's not happening.. even my 8-year-old self didn't buy that..

    Even with all that said, I can't bring myself to hate the movie, for nostalgic reasons..
    This was the first classic (old-school? what is the correct word for Bond movies that predate your birth, really?) Bond that I watched.. Having only seen The World Is Not Enough and Tomorrow Never Dies at the time and loving them, my father then drove to a Blockbuster and rented this to show me "the original Bond, Sean Connery".. I had seen a picture of him, and found it hard to accept this guy as Bond, having been used to Pierce Brosnan.. But after seeing the movie, I immediately accepted it, not only that, but I became curious to see more, including the other Bond actors.. So I credit this film for kickstarting my interest in Bond for real, and therefore it will always have a special place in my heart, even though I will fully agree that a lot of things about it are ridiculous, and will never consider it an all time classic..

    Like I said earlier.. Nostalgia can be a funny thing at times..

    Also, as an aside.. I love the music for this film, theme song included.. I will admit that nostalgia have probably played a role here too.. But as a musician, I find the theme tune to be an exquisite piece, right from that beautiful riff, through the oriental touches, to the interesting and at times unusual melody line..
    I agree that Sinatra was not a strong singer, but in my opinion, she gives the song exactly the vocal it needs.. where the previous songs all had dramatic and bombastic vocals, this benefits enormously from Sinatra's more restrained vocals, so that the majestic elegance of the music can rise and stand on it's own.
    Is it the best Bond song ever? No
    Is it my favourite Bond song of all times.. I'm gonna say yes, there are other songs that have moments that rival it.. but none of them stand on their own as a great piece of music quite like this does in my opinion..
    All credit to John Barry and his wonderful ear for interesting melodies!

    1. A few responses:

      * A mediocre Connery performance is still better than most other actors' top efforts. So while I'm down on him in a few of his post-"Thunderball" movies, it's only in a relative sense.

      * It makes complete sense to me that other Bond fans would love this version of Blofeld. Hell, I kind of love him, too, when I can put those rose-tinted glasses on and see him the way I saw him three decades ago.

      * Tanaka is GREAT. Maybe a little too male-chauvinist from a modern perspective, but I can forgive that. When I was a kid I always looked forward to the scene where he shows up.

      * I feel what you're saying regarding Aki. I liked that plotline when I was younger, too. I think a remake of the movie could effectively combine her with Kissy and end up with a really solid character.

      * It's funny...I don't remember ever being troubled as a kid by the Bond-as-Japanese thing. So much so that I'm not sure young me actually understood that that was what was happening. The makeup is weak enough that that would be forgivable.

      * Your story about your Dad renting the old Bonds is terrific, and it's close to my own Bond story. I grew up on Moore, and my Dad got me to watch the Connerys on television by telling me I was going to see the "real" Bond. I bet some version of that has happened with literally millions of fathers and sons. How cool is that?

      * You are almost certainly correct about Sinatra's vocals being well-suited to the song. It's a hell of a tune; not sure why I only gave it a 006 rating, to be honest. Robbie Williams would be upset with me.

      Thanks a bunch for all these comments! I'm loving reading them.

    2. No problem! Thanks for the blog! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and you make some excellent points and observations!

  5. If you think Pleasance was bad, you should see the pics of the Czech actor he replaced after filming had started ... The Making Of documentary on the DVD/Blu Ray is one of the best in the series. Top tip: if you want someone to fly your helicopter, get a kamikaze pilot!

    I think the 'stirred, not shaken' line was a genuine mistake - although how they made it is beyond me.

    As you say, this film stands on its sets and locations.

    Mie Hama was in both of Toho Studios 'King Kong' movies in the 60s - she's quite a decent villain-with-a-conscience in the second one.

    1. I've seen those photos! I can't bring the actor's name to mind right this second, but I agree that he looked out of place.

      I totally agree about the DVD making-of documentary. Those are all great, though. I think it's a real shame that in effect, no such thing exists for many of the modern films.

      That's good to know about Mie Hama. I'd like to see those movies one of these days.

  6. You Only Live Twice ranks high as my "Guilty Pleasure" Bond movie; like, it's bad, but I enjoy watching it.

    The whole scene at the beginning where Bond's death is faked is very entertaining - then later you realize there was absolutely no point to it. I guess that in a nutshell summarizes many of the scenes in the movie (such as Bond "turning Japanese").

    I think what I enjoy most about this film are the various snippets of witty dialogue: "Mr. Osata believes in a healthy chest" ("really"); "I get it from the doorman at the Russian embassy, among other things"; "I might just retire to here"; "I give you best duck" (of course, substitute an "F" for the "D" and you get what she's really saying). The list goes on.

    My question is, does this movie have the most attempts on Bond's life? It seems as though every couple of minutes someone is trying to kill him.

    Anyway, I dig seeing Japanese chicks in bikinis, so that alone makes the movie watchable, but I completely agree that this is the film where camp and comedy started to take over.

    1. I totally get this being a "Guilty Pleasure" Bond movie. It still counts as that for me, too, I'd say. I'm very harsh toward it in this post, but the bottom line is that if you sat me down in front of it right now, I'd still enjoy watching it.

      You might be right about the sheer number of attempts on Bond's life. That'd be a good statistic to chart movie-by-movie!

    2. Yes, I've thought about that. The problem I always run into is those times when Bond is just being chased, do they all count as an attempt to kill him? Some are obvious, like the pre-title ski scene in Spy who Loved Me, of course they are trying to kill him. But others, like Bond being chased across the rooftops in Living Daylights, they're maybe just looking to capture him.

      Also, if I may state the obvious, with all the failed attempts to kill Bond in YOLT, Blofeld doesn't even attempt it when he first has the chance.

      There must be some rule in the Bond Universe where Blofeld and Bond just are not allowed to kill one another (at least not until "For Your Eyes Only"). Or maybe the rule is that it must be done only through some wildly elaborate means from which there are numerous possibilities for escape.

    3. I might have given "Spectre" a thumbs-up (despite my many, many problems with it) if Bond had just shot Blofeld in the head at the end.


    4. I suppose we pretty much knew that wasn't going to happen.

    5. Yeah, there was no way they were going to do away with the character after finally getting him back. Except that kind of DID do away with him by (A) changing who he is so much and (B) making a movie that left virtually nobody wanting to see another Blofeld movie anytime soon. So why not have just taken him out with a bang instead? Ah, well.

  7. Bryant -- I have to say that, much as I want to take you to task at times for being unfairly harsh in your critiques of some aspects of these films, once I finish reading your replies to other reader's comments I find that you're so refreshingly open to other points of view and willing to reconsider your opinions that I find my objections fading away. And that's a very nice quality you have!

    Having said all that, however, I have to agree with many of your critiques here. And yet, even acknowledging all of that, none of it keeps me from loving a lot of this film.

    The nostalgia effect is definitely a factor -- I have vivid memories of my big brother taking me to see this in Chicago when it was first released. Same with 'Diamonds'. (I saw 'Majesty's' on my own at a matinee.) And I have such warm memories of those experiences that I can't really be entirely objective about the films. Yet I don't have a guilty pleasure enjoyment of 'YOLT' -- I just really enjoy it in terms of its action set-pieces (I definitely like the Kobe Docks sequence more than you do -- especially the iconic aerial section), music, cinematography/locations, jaw-dropping production design and much of the cast. Is Connery as good here as in his four previous outings? Nope. But he's still Sean Frickin' Connery as James Frickin'Bond and that's good enough for me. And I think Pleasance's sheer creepiness as Blofeld balances his relative lack of screen time or in-depth dialogue. You and I both like Tamba as Tanaka and agree that Helga Brandt is a weaker Fiona Volpe knock-off, though I like Aki and Kissy more than you do.

    So, all in all, though I know there's a growing degree of silliness in 'YOLT' and I don't like it nearly as much as Fleming's novel (one of my faves), I still would place it in my own list of top 10 favorite Bond films. And basically I'd have to say it's a perfect example of a film in which the total is MUCH more than the sum of its parts -- at least for this particular Bond fan.

    1. "I find that you're so refreshingly open to other points of view and willing to reconsider your opinions that I find my objections fading away. And that's a very nice quality you have!" -- Thank you! That means a lot to me. I can be an argumentative type when I'm leaving comments in other places; I don't intend to be, that's just how it comes out. Here, for whatever reason, that tends not to happen. I (amazingly) get very few negative comments, so that's part of it. Maybe a little vestigial Southern hospitality, too. Beats me! But I'm glad; if I were constantly getting into arguments here, I'd just close the comments and that'd be that, because life is too short for that sort of thing.

      "The nostalgia effect is definitely a factor -- I have vivid memories of my big brother taking me to see this in Chicago when it was first released." -- Oh, absolutely. I've got fun nostalgic memories of seeing it on television, which is very different, but the nostalgic pull is still there. I think sometimes that when I go into an overly negative mode in discussing one of these movies, it's because (would-be) objectivity has triumphed over subjectivity and produced tension between my present and my past. I don't want anyone -- least of all me myself! -- depriving me of my nostalgia. And yet, it does happen sometimes. But then, sometimes that process reverses itself (that's been my journey with "Moonraker," for example).

      "I have such warm memories of those experiences that I can't really be entirely objective about the films." -- And that's how it should be! One thing I wish I could make more obvious to anyone reading these posts is that I almost NEVER want to do anything to try to talk anyone out of loving one of the movies. I'd rather use that energy to try to talk someone into loving one they might not already love. Doesn't keep me from being critical sometimes, of course; but my intent there is to figure out my own feelings, not impose them on anyone else.

      "Is Connery as good here as in his four previous outings? Nope. But he's still Sean Frickin' Connery as James Frickin'Bond and that's good enough for me." -- Absolutely. At his worst, he's still awfully good.

      "Fleming's novel (one of my faves)" -- That was always one of mine, as well. I'm VERY much looking forward to rereading all of those as the second phase of this blog. I hope to start that process this month, or perhaps in June.

  8. You seem like SUCH a decent chap, Bryant, as well as being sharp and perceptive! I tip my razor-rimmed hat to you, sir!

    1. Just don't fling it at me! Those things are hard to outrun, you know.

  9. Added a ton of Blu-ray screencaps.

  10. Is it me, or does Tanaka's voice (which is obviously dubbed) sound identical to the Blofeld in FYEO? The laugh is especially similar.

    1. "I ... love you."

      Apparently, it WAS the same guy: Robert Rietty. He also dubbed Strangways in "Dr. No" and, more impressively, Largo in "Thunderball." How about that!