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You Only Live Twice (1967)

Main image of You Only Live Twice (1967)
35mm, colour, Panavision, 116 mins
DirectorLewis Gilbert
Production CompaniesEon Productions, Danjaq LLC
ProducersHarry Saltzman, Albert R.Broccoli
ScreenplayRoald Dahl
Original novelIan Fleming
PhotographyFreddie Young
Music John Barry

Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond); Akiko Wakabayashi (Aki); Tetsuro Tanba (Tiger Tanaka); Mie Hama (Kissy Suzuki); Teru Shimada (Osato)

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James Bond fakes his own death and goes to Japan in disguise to discover who is launching rockets that are destroying Russian and American spaceships.

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Following the record-breaking success of Thunderball (d. Terence Young, 1965), Eon Productions were at their most confident and bullish about seeing off emerging parodies and pastiches, such as the Matt Helm spy films and the 007 spoof, Casino Royale (1967).

Consequently, the budget of $9.5 million stood at almost ten times that of Dr No (d. Young, 1962), and for the first time Ian Fleming is forgotten as the screenplay virtually ignores his novel. With Richard Maibaum - who had worked on all previous Bond scripts - unavailable, the children's fantasy writer Roald Dahl was hired to fashion a screenplay, advised that, as long as he adhered to the formula of the past films, "anything goes".

Dahl shrewdly exploits the international tension concerning the 'space-race' by crafting a plot around attacks of American and Russian satellites. SPECTRE plans to plunge the two power blocs into a World War and, in keeping with existing fears over Red China, events imply that ultimately, Beijing is the scheme's driving force.

But in terms of perceived national identity and the gadgetry which now threatens to submerge Bond, the most interesting inclusion is Little Nellie, the small autogiro 007 employs for an aerial reconnaissance. 'Little Nellie' can be viewed as emblematic of the film's repositioning of 'Little England'. This 'plucky' but apparently undersized fighter raises smirks when first seen by foreign agents, but swiftly establishes respect by effectively overcoming enemy forces.

However, these aerial battles lack tension as Lewis Gilbert's direction is frustratingly erratic. Several ninja training scenes, for example, are sloppily handled, with several fighters tumbling to the ground for no reason. But the sequence in which Bond makes a rooftop escape, dispatching guards in hand to hand combat, is beautifully shot, with a languorous pull back and John Barry's sweeping score slowly overwhelming the crunch of punches. By now the audience knows what to expect from such moments, and Gilbert dares to admire it from afar.

Sean Connery's efforts are also a mixed bag. His powerful, prowling presence would be sorely missed on the next Bond picture, but he had already indicated a reluctance to return to the series, and this performance lacks the brio and urgency which characterised his earlier outings.

Overall, You Only Live Twice boasts the grandeur and spectacle to guarantee interest, but it remains vivid without being vivacious. Box office takings fell, and Eon recognised a change of direction was urgently needed.

Gavin Collinson

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Video Clips
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Adam, Ken (1921-)
Binder, Maurice (1925-1991)
Broccoli, Albert R. (1909-1996)
Connery, Sean (1930-)
Gilbert, Lewis (1920-)
Gray, Charles (1928-2000)
Kwouk, Burt (1930- )
Lee, Bernard (1908-1981)
Llewelyn, Desmond (1914-1999)
Pleasence, Donald (1919-1995)
Young, Freddie (1902-1998)
James Bond
James Bond: Sean Connery