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Thursday, July 06, 2017

You Only Live Twice

Taking a break from my look at Roger Moore Bond films, I go back fifty years to the release of You Only Live Twice, after which came the first of Sean Connery's retirements as 007 (he would come out of retirement twice). It's a solid Bond film, full of the usual tropes, and gave us the lair under a volcano.

As I read about The Spy Who Loved Me, I was reminded that much of that film was "borrowed" from You Only Live Twice. In the older film, a criminal organization (SPECTRE) steals space capsules from both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., hoping to start a war (in The Spy Who Loved Me, it's submarines). There's a large evil headquarters to destroy, complete with metal doors that are supposedly impregnable. There is no memorable henchman, but the key villain, Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) does get away. He's been back many times, and is still alive after Spectre. Both villains in these films prefer ichthyological murders--Curt Jurgens uses a shark, Blofeld piranha. There is even a cigarette used as a weapon in both films.

There is also the usual misogyny. Bond has sex with by my count four women (two die, one by piranha) and three are initially resistant but succumb to his charms. When he meets the head of the Japanese secret service, Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) he is treated to a bath, tended to by four geisha girls. Tanaka tells him in Japan, the man is boss, and Bond grunts agreement. Later, to go under cover as a Japanese man (ludicrous on its face) he marries a a female Japanese agent. "Is she pretty?" is all he has to ask. Tanaka has a good joke by telling him she's a pig, but she ends up to be the beautiful Kissy Suzuki (she is not referred to by name in the film, but is in the book, in which she bears Bond a child and dies).

The action is fairly usual. There's a fight with about a hundred dockworkers, a chase with Bond riding in a mini-helicopter, and then the apocalyptic ending, with Bond managing to destroy the evil spaceship before it can snatch another American one (when I first saw this as a kid, I was horrified by the death of the astronaut in the pre-credits sequence, who is left on a cut tether in outer space, probably to asphyxiate).

Again there's the endless resources of SPECTRE, with its employees in red and yellow jumpsuits and lots of guys in lab coats and clipboards and someone counting down to help us out (as well as having its own space program). The only departure from the usual Bond film is that it is set almost entirely in Japan. Bond admits he had never been there before (odd, since he was a Naval Commander during World War II) but did take a first in Oriental languages at Cambridge, so can speak the native tongue.

It's no wonder Connery tired of the role. He was coaxed back for Diamonds are Forever and the non-canonical Never Say Never Again. In my opinion, though, he did make the best Bond.

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