2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 5: YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)
TWICE IS THE ONLY WAY TO LIVE Fittingly for a film that opens in Earth orbit, this is the moment big screen Bond first escapes the gravitational force of Fleming’s novels. Originally published in 1964, You Only Live Twice was a strange, fatalistic tale, an evocative collision of pulp and poetry saturated with the imagery of death (little wonder – Fleming wrote it while recovering from the first of the heart attacks that would ultimately claim him). More fairytale than thriller, it found Blofeld stalking an ancient Japanese castle in a suit of Samurai armour, tending a nightmarish Garden Of Death whose poisonous horticulture baits the young and suicidal. The filmmakers retained the book’s Japanese backdrop but, fearing the box office gamble of straying too far from their own killer formula, chose to throw out the story and craft their own adventure, injecting space age spectacle and traditional spy-flick kicks in place of Fleming’s high weirdness. To pen the film they hired Roald Dahl – an unproven screenwriter, but a friend of Fleming’s and a man whose mordant, macabre short stories hinted at the mix of wit and kinkiness the Bond films demanded. But just a hint of folkloric shiver remains among the ultramodern thrills: there’s a forbidden cave, a disfigured demon who hides beneath a metal lake and a kiss on a secret mountain where the sky itself kills the unwary. Elsewhere, beads of poison drip down a wire like deadly pearls into the mouth of a sleeping girl; the moment feels torn from a storybook.
“BAD NEWS FROM OUTER SPACE!” There’s a simple, matchless excitement in the white circle that prowls the screen in the opening frames of any Bond film, loaded with promise and possibility. We wait for its enticing blankness to fill with our first glimpse of some new and exotic locale, some tantalising hint of the caper to come. This time it’s a breathtaking leap: an image of a space capsule among the stars, the blue curve of the Earth sliding past below. Sure, Dr No may have dabbled in mad scientist sci-fi, and Thunderball may have strapped a jet-pack to 007’s back, but this is a startling new frontier for Bond. It’s a burningly topical choice of arena, though – in 1967 the world’s superpowers were locked in a race for the moon, the Apollo landing a long two years away. There was a real sense that the true Cold War was taking place far above the planet. Bond himself would only leave Earth’s orbit in 1979’s Star Wars-chasing Moonraker, but the silent, remote battleground of outer space is where the true stakes play out in You Only Live Twice. The sight of SPECTRE’s alligator-jawed spacecraft, its maw opening like an evil steel bloom, is one of the single most brilliant visuals in the Bond canon.
“EXTORTION IS MY BUSINESS!”You Only Live Twice is the movie that finally unmasks Blofeld. Not too quickly, though. Until his final confrontation with 007 he remains a collection of sinister cues: a beige-jacketed arm, an octopus-emblazoned ring, a white cat. A man with the private piranha pool of a truly well-appointed supervillain, his crazed half-shriek of “Kill Bond! Now!” is hard to square with the calm, dapper bureaucrat of Thunderball and From Russia With Love. “Allow me to introduce myself,” he declares, his voice loaded with exquisitely foreign menace. “I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld.” And there’s Donald Pleasence, looking like a scarred egg, his face positively melted with evil. Pleasence was, in fact, a replacement Blofeld – Czech actor Jan Werich was originally signed to play the world-grasping SPECTRE mastermind, but was dismissed after five days of filming for not being sufficiently sinister. “He looked like a rather benevolent Father Christmas,” recalled director Lewis Gilbert.
FLIGHT OR FIGHT “Oh, she’s a wonderful girl… quite small, very fast!” Taking to the Japanese skies like some rocket-loaded wasp, Q’s gift of Little Nellie is one of the more unlikely but most beloved vehicles in Bond history. And Bond clearly loves her too: for once he listens to the gadget-master’s instructions without his usual barely concealed base note of mockery (though naturally he can’t resist buzzing Q after lift-off). There’s a cute functionality to this personal gyro-copter and, as we see it assembled before our eyes from parts in crates, an unmistakable whiff of the Great British Shed about it. In real life it was the creation of Wing Commander Ken Wallis, war veteran and inventor – production designer Ken Adam heard him chat about the craft on the radio and, sensing a potential big screen crowdpleaser, instantly phoned the BBC to be put in touch. Adam reimagined the single-seater autogyro as a compact “war machine”, armed with flamethrower, blazing machine-guns and air-to-air missiles – a handy arsenal for engaging SPECTRE aircraft in hostile airspace.
UNDER THE VOLCANO Concealed below a sliding lake, Blofeld’s volcanic headquarters is the definitive supervillain lair: a secret underground nest buzzing with boilersuited paramilitary activity and the thrum of monorails. “I knew if it didn’t work I would never work in movies again,” remembered Ken Adam, who asked for $1 million to construct the movie’s centrepiece set – a budget-bruising sum in 1967, and more than the entire cost of Dr No. Broccoli didn’t even blink. So ambitiously outsized was the undertaking (it even boasted its own working heli-pad) that the crew of plasterers and riggers demanded danger money for the towering set’s construction. Once completed, cinematographer Freddie Young requisitioned every last lamp in Pinewood Studios to actually light the gargantuan stage. With its monstrous air of grim, industrial menace, this showpiece set was proof that the once modest Bond movies were now dreaming bigger and bolder than anyone else in cinema. The world was not enough…
TURNING JAPANESE Matched to the dreaming strings of John Barry’s most romantic score yet, the Japanese location lends a welcome exotica to You Only Live Twice. Fleming was not only a thriller writer – he was an accomplished travel journalist too, and he brings that sharp, inquisitive eye to many of his Bond tales. This movie has a little of that travelogue shimmer. Tokyo itself is a thrilling collision of old and new – neon signs and impatient car horns mix with rickshaws and bicycle bells, while Bond strolls confidently through the dazzling chaos in a sharp suit, the unshakable international traveller, 20th Century man incarnate. The bright white gleam of Aki’s gadget-laden Toyota– yes, for once the Bond girl has the wheels, and earns the Corgi toy – makes an effective contrast to the shadowy cool of Tiger Tanaka’s ninja force, the first appearance of the ninja in Western pop culture (“The art of concealment and surprise, Bond-san!”). Best not to dwell on Connery’s undercover makeover from hulking Scotsman to Japanese fisherman – it’s a moment that punctures the fantasy more than any improbable gizmo in the ’80s films.
TRIV AND LET DIE
The producers originally intended to make On Her Majesty’s Secret Service before You Only Live Twice.
Toho Studios – creators of the Godzilla films – supplied soundstages, crew and female stars.
You Only Live Twice marks Lewis Gilbert’s first Bond film as director (he would return for The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker in the ‘70s).
Production designer Ken Adam spent three weeks scouring two thirds of Japan, flying seven hours a day, hunting for the perfect location for Blofeld’s base.
The true life ninjas hired for the climax turned out to not like heights – they baulked at the idea of descending on ropes from the roof of the 148 ft tall set.
The Little Nellie sequence was actually completed in Spain. Japan didn’t want rockets fired over one of their national parks.
This is the first time that we see Fleming’s hero in full naval uniform – a reminder that he’s Commander Bond (Royal Navy Reserve).
Before Nancy Sinatra recorded You Only Live Twice, Julie Rogers sang a very different, ultimately discarded title song. Listen to it here.
JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE