When it’s on: Saturday, 23 June (3.10 pm)
…and ‘Twice’ is the only way to live!
You Only Live Twice is one of my favourite Bond movies, and for the life of me I’m not sure why. It’s a crazy film, utterly preposterous in many, many places, with the central character by now so far from the human spy of the early entries and attaining superhero status that it lacks all credibility. Some bits make no sense, such as the scene where a chopper wielding a giant magnet lifts a car that’s pursuing Bond into the air, then dumps it into the sea. Bond watches the ‘drop’ from a video feed, but who’s filming it? There’s the infamous surgical procedure that disguises 007 as a Japanese man, not to mention the jaw-dropping pronouncement that in Japan, men come first, women second. Sean Connery’s clearly disinterested performance should send the entire affair crashing over the edge, whilst the final unveiling of Ernst Stavro Blofeld dishes up Donald Pleasance, more slightly creepy than the globe-striding megalomaniac who’s been lurking in the shadows for four movies. All told, it’s sheer hogwash.
But good hogwash. Several elements really ramp up the quality, beginning with John Barry’s score. An obvious choice he may be, but Barry’s a composer whose music I’ll always listen to, and this is one of his finest pieces of work. Inspired by the Far East, his score for You Only Live Twice is as luxurious as thick chocolate, in love with the film’s Japanese setting and its sense of both wonder and action. Ken Adams was once again in charge of production design, and for this served up one of his finest creations, a hollowed out volcano that doubled as SPECTRE’s lair. It’s incredible to think that the cavernous set really looked that big. It had to, people running along the floor like insects, ninjas dropping in from quite a height. Visually, it just beats everything that came before out of sight. Bond spends quite a sizeable portion of the film searching for Blofeld’s base, and the message when he stumbles across it appears to be that whatever you could imagine, no matter the scale, what’s filmed will always be bigger and more spectacular.
After the aquatic (lack of) fun dished up in Thunderball, the volcano must have been an amazing feast for 1960s eyes and chimes perfectly with the film’s determination to pile up the visual treats. It’s all helped along by Freddie Young’s cinematography. The award winning Director of Photography (Young came to You Only Live Twice with Oscars for his contribution to Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, two epics shot on an enormous canvas) is behind all those gorgeous shots of volcanic landscapes, the expansive Japanese vistas at sunset, orange rays spilling over Bond as he arrives on the shore.
Roald Dahl’s screenplay job involved just two demands – the Japanese location and hollowed out volcano base. The rest was up to him, and Dahl just went for it, stuffing his script with spectacle and thrills. As daft as the magnet-wielding helicopter is, it’s certainly off the scale of what people might imagine. Little Nellie, Bond’s flatpack chopper, looks like great fun to pilot. SPECTRE’s plan to play the superpowers off against each other by sending a rocket into space that ‘eats’ their own vessels is just mental. There must come a point, even for an evil organisation, when they start wondering why they bother with all this – surely the cost of building the base and developing ships into orbit is so prohibitive that there’s just no point. Why not spend a fraction of the cash on a limitless supply of assassins to do away with Bond? Or just invest the money wisely and live off the profits?
But so what, right? Where would the fun be in such a prissy evil plan, not when there are dead volcanoes in a rural part of Japan just waiting to be developed into domains of black-hearted deeds? There are better Bond films than You Only Live Twice, but few come with such high production values, such an aim to please and similar levels of guilty wit. It’s nothing more or less than splendid nonsense.
You Only Live Twice: ****