Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice - poster final

Cinema Monolith: 6/10 This film is part of the Cinema Monolith collection!
IMDb: 6.9/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: **½ out of 4

Released in the UK and in the US on June 13, 1967
Not rated
117 minutes

Directed by Lewis Gilbert

Written by Roald Dahl, based on the novel by Ian Fleming

Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Tetsuro Tamba, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Donald Pleasence, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Burt Kwouk, Tsai Chin

The Bond franchise stumbles a bit as, sadly, the early Sean Connery era comes to an end. Here, Connery is back for a fifth go-around as British secret agent James Bond, who is sent to Japan after his superiors at MI6 fake his death (hence the title) so he can covertly investigate the puzzling disappearances of orbiting US and USSR spacecraft; of course, SPECTRE is involved, as is nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Series newcomer Lewis Gilbert took over the directorial chores from Terence Young, and like the Young-directed Thunderball before it, Gilbert had You Only Live Twice playing out fresh, exciting, and respectable, with an intriguing pre-credit sequence, some straightforward and authentic espionage scenes, a great fight in a downtown Tokyo office building, and Bond witticisms that were short, sharp, and to the point. His camerawork and framing weren’t bad, either, and showed a nice level of common sense restraint. Unfortunately, all of this lasted for about an hour, when suddenly the story—along with our attention—just withered and died.

Why, with such potential, was the film’s second half unable to keep pace with the first? For my money the blame should be placed entirely on screenwriter Roald Dahl (Roald Dahl? The guy who wrote children’s stories? Are you kidding?), who for whatever reason ditched the initial common sense tone of his screenplay—and anything related to Ian Fleming’s novel, actually—and concentrated instead on such waywardness as Bond’s transformation into a Japanese fisherman (for cover), his staged wedding to a local girl (again for cover), and his involvement in a fast-track ninja training class, which was slapdash and quite unnecessary; you’re a secret agent…just go in and take care of business!

The screenplay’s main conceit was a bit far-fetched, too, even for this series: a SPECTRE rocket not only takes off undetected from Japan and swallows enemy capsules in space, but returns to Earth undetected and lands upright in a dormant volcano. Add to that the atrocious process shots that took me right out of the action, and the hyperactive yet ho-hum battle inside the volcano at the conclusion, and you have my least favorite of the first five Bonds. Yet with all that, I would have to say that this is necessary viewing if you’re a fan of the films; otherwise, there are better ones to be searched out and enjoyed.  (6/10)

You Only Live Twice

2 comments on “You Only Live Twice

  1. Popcorn Nights
    4/29/13

    With you on this one – it has been a while since I watched it but remember it being one of the poorer early Connery films (in fact the following one, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is one of my own favourites and I think Lazenby should have been given more of a go). I guess the fact that this one was the main basis for Austin Powers says it all…the whole volcano thing is ridiculous even by Bond standards, as you say!

    • Todd Benefiel
      4/30/13

      I’ll admit, the volcano set was awesome, and it was interesting to watch the film’s DVD documentary and see photographs of its construction, but otherwise…imagine the nonsensical nature of it all when you consider the situation from the context of the story: SPECTRE spent how much time and money to build a fortress inside a VOLCANO, without anyone knowing, just so they could hijack spacecraft and provoke war between America and Russia? Say WHAT? Was there no better, faster, and more economical way to go about doing this?

      It’s been a while since I’ve seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but it’s next on my list, and a review should be coming soon. I do remember being disappointed with George Lazenby in that one, but then again, if George had been Bond in the first five films, and Sean had been cast for the sixth, I no doubt would consider Connery the interloper!

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