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“I shall look forward to personally exterminating you, Mr Bond”
In a departure from the norm, “You Only Live Twice” did not use the plot of the novel that it was supposedly based on, and during it’s production, Sean Connery announced that he was giving up the role of Bond. SPECTRE is planning to set the great powers of the world against each other, fuelling cold war paranoia on both sides by capturing first an American, then Russian spacecraft. With each side blaming the other, Bond investigates in Japan, eventually discovering a secret base hidden inside a volcano. In a spectacular conclusion, Bond manages to destroy SPECTRE’s spacecraft but Blofeld escapes, setting the base to self destruct .
Lewis Gilbert directed this, his first Bond film having been talked into it by Cubby Broccoli and the script was written by Roald Dahl who had been a friend of Ian Fleming. Toho studios, most famous for their series of “Godzilla” films supplied Japanese soundstages and actors, while Pinewood studios again provided a British base. A large amount of location filming took place in Japan attracting huge crowds and causing problems for the production team. Cast as Kissy Suzuki, Bond’s love interest was Mie Hama, an established Japanese actress who was sent to England to receive vocal tuition…and then dubbed anyway! She swapped roles at the last minute with Akiko Wakabayashi who eventually played Aki.
Ernst Stavro Blofeld is finally revealed in full, embodied by the king of screen evil himself, Donald Pleasence who clearly glories in every second of screen time given to him. Pleasance’s version of Blofeld would become that most associated with the character and provided the basis for many a spoof. Pleasance initially had many ideas for portraying the villain including a hump and a limp but was eventually persuaded to wear only a scar across his eye, which the actor found uncomfortable. German actress Karin Dor makes a striking appearance as Helga Brandt, a SPECTRE assassin, who comes to a suitably grisly end as Blofeld drops her into a pool of piranhas. What is it with these evil geniuses and their pets?
One of the more memorable gadgets introduced in this film was the miniature autogyro “Little Nellie” which caused the production a number of problems, most notably when the cameraman’s foot was sliced by one of the blades. Nancy Sinatra was contracted to sing the title theme, composed by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse and Maurice Binder again contributed a fabulous title sequence incorporating Japanese iconography.
Though it’s a tight, well directed and spectacular action movie, the highlight being the storming of the volcano base by seemingly thousands of Ninjas, the real problem is Connery himself who had become bored with the role and was actively seeking to distance himself from the character to avoid typecasting. With Connery seemingly half asleep throughout the film, the real star this time is Ken Adam who designed a gigantic set to represent the interior of the volcano base costing $1 million. Though again performing well at the box office, many critics found the formula increasingly stale and desperate, feeling that it was increasingly pushing the boundaries of what was believable.