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You Only Live Twice
Remind Me
You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice

Though only four years had passed since the character of James Bond, Agent 007 of Her Majesty's Secret Service, had made him famous and assured the former bricklayer, milkman and leisurewear model a personal fortune, Sean Connery balked when Eon Pictures partners Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli pitched him their next Bond adventure, You Only Live Twice (1967) in the spring of 1966. Connery's dissatisfaction with the annual gig had grown with each new film, as intrigue and intelligence were more and more supplanted in the scripts by gimmicks and an over-reliance on technical gadgetry. Connery also groused about the time commitment required to promote each film and there was also a question of the money. Although the franchise had lifted Connery from the depths of obscurity and poverty to a level of affluence the Scottish actor had never known (as late as the mid-60s, Connery's parents continued to live, by choice, in a two-bedroom tenement flat in Edinburgh), he remained irritated that the sum total of profits earned by the Bond films was not being distributed evenly. Connery was also annoyed that other film stars (namely Richard Burton), whose projects didn't generate nearly the revenue as the Bond films, enjoyed a larger profit share. Connery eventually relented and took the paycheck but by the time cameras rolled on You Only Live Twice in Japan that summer, he was no longer on speaking terms with "Cubby" Broccoli and was quick to tell junket journalists this would be his final mission.

Fresh from his success with Alfie (1966), which had made a star at last of jobbing British actor (and Connery pal) Michael Caine, director Lewis Gilbert was approached to take the reins of You Only Live Twice. Not keen on being handed a protagonist whose story had been told four times already, Gilbert refused the offer – twice. To sweeten the deal, Broccoli and Saltzman assured Gilbert that they welcomed fresh ideas at this point in the arc of the franchise and the partners put their money where their collective mouth was; the film was budgeted at a then-extravagant $6 million, with a sixth of that amount going to sets alone. This budget was fully six times the cost of the first Bond film, Dr. No (1962), double the budget of Goldfinger (1964) and half a million more than was spent on the last entry, Thunderball (1965), the first of the series to be shot in Panavision. Further, novelist Roald Dahl had been retained to write the screenplay, rounding out a roster of newcomers to the Bondwagon whose number also included Academy Award® winning cinematographer Freddie Young, DP of choice for David Lean. Gilbert also was allowed to bring aboard his own editor, Thelma Connell, although she was let go by Eon after turning in a three-hour rough cut of You Only Live Twice. Peter Hunt was brought in to pare the film down to a manageable 117 minutes and was retained by Saltzman and Broccoli to direct the next Bond chapter, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), for which Sean Connery was conspicuous in his absence.

Known principally (if perhaps unfairly) as a children's book author, Roald Dahl might have seemed an unlikely choice to pen a necessarily formulaic James Bond scenario. Yet the film's syllabus of intrigue, mystery, revelation and heroic action mirror any number of Dahl's fictions - and what is Ernst Stavro Blofeld's hollow volcano headquarters but a reconfiguration of Willie Wonka's labyrinthine chocolate factory, whose beavering, nameless Oompa-Loompas might be considered brothers-in-arms to the white cover-alled S.P.E.C.T.R.E. drones in Blofeld's employ? Yet despite what seem to be obvious parallels, Dahl claimed to find the prospect of writing You Only Live Twice "extremely distasteful." He was a friend and confidante of author Ian Fleming; both had wartime service in their resumes and shared a fondness for gambling and travel. Fleming died the year the source novel was published and Dahl, whose overhaul of the material (by consensus one of the weaker Bond novels) was extensive, may have felt the job was in some way a betrayal of a man he hero-worshipped. Dahl eventually warmed to the project (and enjoyed the money, particularly in light of the debilitating strokes suffered by his wife, actress Patricia Neal) and later claimed authorship of all the script elements, even scenes others involved in the production have attributed to original writer Harold Jack Bloom (The Naked Spur, [1953]), producer Broccoli and even Broccoli's wife Dana. Before his death in 1998, Bloom (who receives only an "additional dialogue" credit) was vocal in claiming all the film's significant plot points as his own and maintaining that his lack of a screenwriting credit was due to the producers' insistence on the Bond films being distinctly British.

By the time Eon released You Only Live Twice in June of 1967, the international spy business had become a bull market. The major Hollywood studios were offering up stiff competition to the Bond franchise in the form of Twentieth Century Fox's Our Man Flint (1966) and its sequel In Like Flint (1967), vehicles for rising star James Coburn, and Columbia's quartet of Matt Helm films (beginning with The Silencers in 1966) starring Dean Martin. On television, NBC's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968) and CBS' Mission: Impossible (1966-1973) attempted to beat Bond at his own game once a week, while CBS' The Wild Wild West (1965-1969) was closer kin to Goldfinger than Rawhide. (The foreign market cash-ins are another story entirely and include the Italian Operation Kid Brother [1967], starring Sean Connery's brother Neil, abetted by legitimate Bond regulars Bernard "M" Lee and Lois "Moneypenny" Maxwell and one-off villains Anthony Dawson and Adolfo Celi.) Nonetheless, You Only Live Twice counted as another unqualified success for Eon, earning back over $100,000,000 in international profits.

If You Only Live Twice is not as warmly remembered or even as respected as Connery's earlier go-rounds, it has proved surprisingly influential. Mike Myers' mega-hit spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) and its two sequels were patterned principally in the mold of You Only Live Twice, with Myers' chrome-domed villain Dr. Evil a dead ringer for Donald Pleasence's malevolent genius Blofeld, from his gray Nehru jacket and signet ring to his distinctive facial scarring and white lap kitty.

Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Screenplay: Roald Dahl; Harold Jack Bloom (additional story material); Ian Fleming (novel, uncredited)
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Art Direction: Harry Pottle
Music: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Akiko Wakabayashi (Aki), Mie Hama (Kissy Suzuki), Tetsuro Tamba (Tiger Tanaka), Teru Shimada (Mr. Osato), Karin Dor (Helga Brandt), Donald Pleasence (Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Charles Gray (Dikko Henderson), Tsai Chin (Ling, Chinese Girl in Hong Kong), Peter Fanene Maivia (car driver), Burt Kwouk (SPECTRE #3), Michael Chow (SPECTRE #4), Ronald Rich (Hans, Blofeld's Bodyguard), Jeanne Roland (Bond's Masseuse), David Toguri (assassin in bedroom), John Stone (submarine captain).

by Richard Harland Smith

James Bond: The Secret World of 007 by Alastair Dougall
Arise Sir Sean Connery: The Biography of Britain's Greatest Living Actor by John Parker
Sean Connery: A Biography by Bob McCabe
Roald Dahl: A Biography by Jeremy Treglown