You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967) is nothing like the source material it takes its name from. Scripted by novelist Roald Dahl, the movie is an over-the-top adventure that has Bond immerse himself in Japanese culture, train with Ninjas, and drop a henchman in a pool of killer piranhas. This is where Bond enters the stage of camp, but that does not detract from the movie. You Only Live Twice does not completely shed realism in favor of cartoonism, as some of the later films would. While the backdrop is unabashedly silly at times, Connery’s Bond is more suave and sleuthing than in Thunderball, displaying the most accomplished detective and spy work to date. In this regard, the movie signals asynchronous shifts in the Bond canon, hinting at the title agent’s more professional skill, while making the plots more absurd and byzantine.
The movie also marks the on-screen debut of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, portrayed by Donald Pleasence. Even as a kid, Blofeld’s depiction in the early films never truly affected me. My feelings about the character have not changed. He still remains pale and nondescript, not enough caricature supervillain, not enough evil genius. Nevertheless, his presence carries a lot of weight, giving SPECTRE a face that carries through other films.
The stand-out scene of You Only Live Twice is a gadget-based gimmick set piece that is only peripherally related to the plot. Bond masterfully commandeers a gyroplane, nicknamed Little Nellie, and takes out a set of pursuing helicopters. There is a powerful flamethrower, rocket missiles, and machine guns. The scene features spectacular camerawork with some incredible in-air shots that create a strong disorienting effect. The Connery inserts and the long shots of the aircraft are well-balanced, making the scene feel real and impactful. My favorite moment, however, is the beginning of the scene. Director Lewis Gilbert removes any extratextual audio from the soundtrack, allowing the machine noise to take over. Bond first spots the helicopters as shadows on the mountains. He then turns around and sees them following him. This is all effectively conveyed through a match cut and point-of-view shot.
You Only Live Twice, at the very least, speaks to the technical virtuosity of the Bond franchise, delivering breathtaking stuntwork that makes it impossible to take your eyes off the screen.
This blog will return with … On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.