The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

You Only Live Twice

With any of the actors who have played James Bond during their careers, there has been ups and downs, even with the best and coolest 007 around, Sean Connery. He starts off sprinting out of the gates with Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball, four of my favorite Bond movies. Then there's 1967's You Only Live Twice, still a good, solid Bond movie, just not on the same level as his other entries.

While in orbit around Earth, an American space shuttle suddenly disappears, swallowed up by another large spacecraft. Just weeks after, a Russian space shuttle suffers the same fate, and both world powers seem on the brink of a nuclear war. In hopes of investigating the disappearances without being hunted down, MI6 agent James Bond (Connery) fakes his own death and goes to work. The last reports of the "abducting" spacecraft were somewhere near Japan so Bond heads there to investigate. The only problem? The spacecraft genuinely seem to have disappeared. There is little to no trace of them, but everything manages to find points to Spectre's involvement. With another American spacecraft launch fast approaching, time is running out for 007.

As a huge fan of movies, James Bond films are like westerns for me. I'm going to find something to like even in the bad ones. A bad Bond movie is still a Bond movie, and therefore better than many spy/espionage flicks. From director Lewis Gilbert, this is one of those middle of the road entries, not a classic and not a complete bomb, just somewhere in between. The franchise visits Japan for the first time, and the locations don't disappoint. Nancy Sinatra's theme -- listen HERE to 'You Only Live Twice' -- is one of the better Bond songs, and was sampled years later by Robbie Williams in Millenium. John Barry's score is as spot-on perfect as always. Even that impossible to duplicate 1960s style is there so what's missing? A franchise for the first time leaning toward a caricature of itself.

Of his six official Bond films and one unofficial (Never Say Never Again), I've always thought this was Connery's weakest effort. He had already stated he wouldn't be back for another film, and the same energy isn't there, both in his performance and the movie on a whole. It's not entirely his fault to be fair. The story has Bond "becoming" Japanese, going through several plastic surgery-like procedures and learning how to be a ninja in two or three days. It's one of the bigger stretches the Bond franchise has taken, and that's saying something. He isn't aided by some of the weaker Bond girls in any of the movies including Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), a Japanese agent working at his side, Kissy (Mie Hama), his fake wife turned fellow agent, and Helga (Karin Dor), a Spectre assassin.     

Filling out the cast are some oppositely pretty cool performances that help balance out the weaknesses. Japanese actor Tetsuro Tamba plays Tiger Tanaka, Bond's Japanese counterpart who works with him in the investigation. Where some fans had an objection to a black Felix Leiter in Casino Royale, think of this one; an Asian Felix Leiter equivalent. Cool performance, an agent with ninja skills. Donald Pleasence makes a short but effective performance as Ernst Blofeld, the head of Spectre dead-set on taking over the world after the U.S. and Russia destroy themselves. Teru Shimada plays Mr. Osato, a business owner who's a front for Spectre's activities. Before playing Blofeld two films later in Diamonds Are Forever, Charles Gray makes a quick appearance as Henderson, a source Bond uses. And what would a 007 movie be without M (Bernard Lee), Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) and Q (Desmond Llewelyn)?

What does make 'Twice' memorable is the action, shot on a grand scale that few other Bond films can rival. The most obvious is the finale, Bond, Tiger, Kissy and a small army of ninja agents descending into a Spectre fortress hidden away in a dead volcano. Production designer Ken Adams designed and built a gigantic set that is a sight to behold. The finale is appropriately epic -- making up for some of the lower parts earlier -- as ninjas battle Spectre henchmen. How could that not be cool? An earlier aerial sequence is just as impressive, Bond in a mini-helicopter dueling with four full-size and heavily armed helicopters with some amazing aerial footage. Watch it HERE. There's also a car chase with a memorable payoff featuring the disposal of the nameless baddies, and in the originality department, Gilbert shoots an action chase on foot by helicopter, Bond running and fighting from Spectre henchmen on the top of a wharf warehouse.

Through it all, the problem is that is becomes a caricature of it all. 'Twice' provided much of the ammo for all the Austin Powers spoofs, and produced one of the great Simpsons episodes of all-time in You Only Move Twice featuring super-villain Hank Scorpio. Over the top is a valid description. It's still good, just not as good as the other more classic Connery-Bond pairings.

You Only Live Twice <---trailer (1967): ** 1/2 /****

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