Wednesday, April 22, 2015

You Only Live Twice (1967) | Story

Plot Summary

Someone is stealing US and Soviet rockets from orbit and the superpowers aren't happy! Can James Bond and Britain solve the mystery before those maniacs blow up the earth?!


Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli's plans to produce On Her Majesty's Secret Service had been postponed by the sudden availability of Thunderball as source material, but they didn't come right back to it afterwards. Instead, wanting to take advantage of the Bond movies' huge popularity in Japan, they decided to adapt You Only Live Twice.

I wasn't able to find out exactly why Terence Young didn't return to direct YOLT after Thunderball, but I did learn that even though the previous movie had been a huge financial success, Young had become frustrated with all the underwater shooting and had pretty much abandoned Peter Hunt to finish editing the film alone. Maybe that had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, he was replaced by director Lewis Gilbert. who originally turned down the job, but was convinced to do it because of the huge built-in audience it would bring him.

Richard Maibaum, the defining voice on the first four screenplays, wasn't available for YOLT either, so the producers hired Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, etc. He'd been a close friend of Ian Fleming, but he was an untried screenwriter and didn't think the YOLT novel had a filmable plot. He jettisoned most of it, keeping primarily the Japanese setting, a few characters, and some nods to particular story elements.

How Is the Book Different?

Since the US-Soviet space race had captured the world's attention, Dahl made that the center of the movie. Fortunately, it fit well with a change that Cubby Broccoli wanted to make concerning Blofeld's hideout. Broccoli had scouted Japan for a seaside castle like the one in Fleming's novel, but learned that Fleming had made that up. Tsunamis make it foolish to build castles on the coast. Instead, Broccoli discovered a dormant volcano with a lake in its crater. That would be the site of Blofeld's operation.

In addition to Blofeld, Dahl kept Tiger Tanaka and his organization (including the ninja training facility) and diving girl Kissy Suzuki (though she's one of Tanaka's agents and an orphan in the film instead of a former actresss living with her parents as in the book). He also kept Bond's disguising himself as a Japanese fisherman, though that doesn't work at all onscreen. All that remains of Blofeld's garden of death is the piranha pool in his office, but there's also sort of a nod to Bond's obituary from the end of the novel, since the movie opens with Bond's supposed death and a newspaper headline reporting it.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

Of the various elements from the novel that sneak their way into the movie, the biggest one is when Tanaka takes Bond out for a bath. It's not an exact replay of the scene from the book, but it serves the same purpose in the story.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

The movie does weird things with a couple of characters. Dikko Henderson isn't a racist Australian bastard in the movie, but a snooty Englishman who's adopted some Japanese culture while refusing to give up all of his own. As much as I dislike the movie Henderson though (more on that tomorrow), the real crime is what they've done to Blofeld. I'll have more to say about that on Friday, but dang that is not the villain Fleming wrote.

Cold Open

Dahl's newness to the Bond series is felt right away with the cold open. Instead of continuing the previous films' trajectory of increasingly more exciting sequences, YOLT opens with a plot-heavy series of three scenes. First is the space walk in which a mysterious rocket opens up and swallows a US capsule (killing an astronaut in the process). There's a good two minutes of boring control room chatter before the second rocket even shows up. I imagine that might have been fascinating to audiences in the mid-'60s, but it's a long, slow, two minutes today.

After that, the movie cuts to some kind of summit meeting where the US and USSR stubbornly threaten each other over the crisis while Britain calmly, but sternly encourages them to focus their attention on finding a third party. Britain's portrayed as a powerful mediator, which is really interesting considering the novel's theme about Britain's declining influence in the post-WWII world.

Finally, the cold open cuts to Japan where Bond is supposedly investigating the rocket's disappearance, since the mysterious rocket supposedly landed somewhere around there. But we don't see any investigating, because Bond is immediately shot and killed in bed. There's no action anywhere in the cold open; just this cliffhanger. Sadly, that lack of excitement will plague the rest of the film.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. Thunderball
2. Goldfinger
3. From Russia With Love
4. You Only Live Twice
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Movie Series Continuity

Bond obviously didn't die before the credits. It's all MI6's trying to fool SPECTRE into thinking they'd got rid of him. Which makes sense because they've known all about him since From Russia With Love. What doesn't make any sense is that MI6 actually goes to the trouble to bury the real Bond at sea. Couldn't they just have dumped a dummy or something? The way Bond gets on board the submarine is convoluted and unnecessary.

Once he's there though, we get another hatrack gag when he tosses his naval cap onto one in Moneypenny's office. And we've now set a precedence for M's taking his entire office and staff into the field. This will happen a few more times in the series and it's never convincing to me.

After his briefing, Moneypenny tries to give Bond a Japanese phrase book, but he tells her that he "took a first in Oriental languages at Cambridge." The obituary in the novel doesn't mention Cambridge, but it comes up again later in the movies.

Following up on Bond's excellent knowledge of alcohol from Goldfinger, Bond knows the correct temperature for serving saké. And speaking of alcohol, there's a strange bit of discontinuity when Bond meets with Henderson, but I think I'll talk about that tomorrow.

Finally, Blofeld makes an odd comment about Bond's being the only agent SPECTRE knows who uses a Walther PPK. I thought it was pretty firmly established in Dr. No that those were standard issue for Double-O agents, of whom we saw in Thunderball that there are nine. I might be adding 2 and 2 and getting 5, but this looks like a ridiculous case of the movie series' getting too big for itself. Audiences associate the Walther PPK with Bond, so the villains apparently do too. The snake is eating its own tail.

If you haven't guessed yet, I really don't much care for You Only Live Twice.

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