007(x3) Weeks of 007 #5 – "You Only Live Twice"

Welcome to another edition of 007(x3) Weeks of 007. This week it’s movie number five in the James Bond franchise – “You Only Live Twice.”

Growing up, “You Only Live Twice” was my favorite Bond movie. From the volcano lair to Bond’s trip down the slide to see Tanaka in his underground office to Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld, “You Only Live Twice” somehow spoke to me.

Watching it now, right on the heels of the four earlier Bond movies, it feels somewhat more derivative than the others. The massive fight in the volcano lair is a riff on the “Thunderball” underwater fight which itself is a riff on the “Goldfinger” Fort Knox fight. Additionally, Bond’s fisticuffs with Blofeld’s henchman in the lair smacks of the fight with Oddjob.

I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike the movie, I like it, I just see it differently now. I spent the first few weeks talking about the Bond formula and what was required for it and how early it was developed. By “You Only Live Twice” it had gone somewhat from being a formula to being formulaic.

“Dr. No,” as you might remember, doesn’t feature a pre-title sequence, so the one here in “You Only Live Twice” is the fourth one for the franchise, and it’s the third time in a pre-title sequence where the audience is led to believe that Bond is dead or playing dead. First there is Red Grant killing the Bond lookalike in “From Russia with Love,” then there is the Jacques Bouvar (JB) funeral in “Thunderball” and now there’s Bond “getting shot” and faking his death here (no, no references in “You Only Live Twice” back to the Bouvar funeral). Only “Goldfinger” did it differently which is something I find really interesting as “Goldfinger” is the epitome of a Bond movie.

The other thing that really strikes me with “You Only Live Twice” is just how many classic moments exist across these first five Bond movies. Sure, there are greater and lesser entries into the franchise, but each of these first five movies has something in it that influenced film as a whole or is remembered by the culture at large. I don’t know that as we move forward in the rewatch we’re going to see that with all the Moore’s. I know we won’t with the Brosnan’s, Dalton’s, or Craig’s.

So, what do we have that influenced the world at large with “You Only Live Twice?” I have mentioned them both already – Pleasence’s scarred Blofeld and the volcano lair.

While we have seen bits and pieces of Blofeld in other Bond movies, this is the first time the two men meet face-to-face and Pleasence is just incredible. Look at the way, in the scenes before we see his face, where he pets his cat. Other Blofeld’s did it in a nice, loving way. Pleasence is doing it in a maniacal way; he’s not soothing the cat, he’s got a tic, and the cat has to be uncomfortable.

As for that Volcano lair, it’s a thing of beauty (Ken Adam is again the production designer on the movie). The very notion of using an inactive volcano for a villain’s lair is what makes the Connery films the larger than life experiences they are. When you think of Bond movies in general, one of the things you consider are the crazy, over the top lairs, and Dr. No definitely has a good place, but there really isn’t one in “From Russia with Love” (Ken Adam didn’t work on the movie), Goldfinger’s horse farm isn’t really one, nor is Largo’s yacht. To date in our rewatching of the movies, this is the best one. It may be the best one in the whole franchise.

Last week as you may recall, I said I was getting a little bit tired of M pushing Bond away from Moneypenny and that I wanted to see what a full interaction between the two might be like. With “You Only Live Twice,” right as the banter hits its peak, there’s M chiming in and breaking stuff up… only he doesn’t quite. Instead, he reminds Moneypenny to give Bond the code phrase for the mission, “I love you,” which the two play with for a moment before Bond heads off. He isn’t forced away from the conversation by M, but it ends anyway. I still want to see a conversation in which M doesn’t get involved, but this is closer than we’ve gotten before.

Finally, Charles Gray. I don’t know about you, but when I see Charles Gray I think of him as The Criminologist in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Every time. That may say more about me than him as he had a long and distinguished acting career, but it’s what comes into my brain first. In any case, here he is in “You Only Live Twice” as Bond’s contact in Japan, Henderson. And, yes, in a couple of week’s we’ll see him again in “Diamonds are Forever” where he plays Blofeld. I have to check, but that may make him the first actor to play two vastly different, and important, roles in two different Bond movies. He won’t be the last person to do that, but he may be the first.

I really feel like if Connery’s time as Bond ended with “You Only Live Twice,” it would’ve been the perfect conclusion. They have advanced the SPECTRE story, we have seen everything get bigger both in terms of sets and stakes, and it really feels like a great moment to step away. Which, of course, Connery did… until he came back for one last hurrah in “Diamonds are Forever” before sort of coming back again for one last hurrah in “Never Say Never Again.” I am really excited to rewatch “Diamonds are Forever” because it’s never been one of my top Bond movies, but right now I still kind of wish this had been the last Connery.

Next week, of course, we’ll get a new Bond before we get an old Bond the week after and then another new one. The times, they are a-changing.

007(x3) Weeks of 007 will be back next week with “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and that famous breaking of the fourth wall.

photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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