YOLT’s 45th anniversary: Twice is the only way to live

With You Only Live Twice, which marks its 45th anniversary this month, the James Bond film series made a big turn — it was the first time that Eon Productions felt it should, or at least could, jettison Ian Fleming source material in favor of its own plot.

In doing so, Eon’s fifth 007 movie also became the first time the sum didn’t equal the sum of its impressive parts. Twice included one of John Barry’s best scores. It featured some of production designer Ken Adam’s most impressive work (considering the sets he designed for Dr. No, Goldfinger and Thunderball that was a tall order) and it included photography by Freddie Young, one of the greatest cinematographers in British film history.

And yet….

Eon faced a daunting task in adapting Fleming’s 1964 novel. It was the follow-up to the author’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel, where Bond gets married but loses in bride at the end. Originally, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman intended to follow Thunderball with OHMSS but changed their minds and did Twice instead. Essentially, the story was tossed out and Eon did a Thunderball in Japan.

Thunderball had an Italian femme fatale with red hair (Luciana Paluzzi) while Twice had a German femme fatale (Karin Dor) with red hair (thanks to hair coloring). Thunderball had a big underwater fight with good guys versus SPECTRE. Twice had a big fight in SPECTRE’s volcano headquarters with Japanese ninja good guys versus SPECTRE, with guns and explosives substituted for spear guns and knives. Thunderball had SPECTRE conducting nuclear blackmail. Twice went one better and had SPECTRE trying to start World World III between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. for the benefit of a client, presumably China.

There are many differences between Fleming’s novel and the film. One of the most subtle may best demonstrate the gulf between the two. In Chapter Six of the novel, Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese Secret Service, explains why he addresses the British secret agent as “Bondo-san.”

“James,” he had said. “That is a difficult word in Japanese. And it does not convey sufficient respect. Bond-san is too much like the Japanese word bon-san, which means a priest, a greybeard. The hard consonants at the end of ‘Bond’ are also not easy for the Japanese, and when these occur in a foreign word, we add an O. So you are Bondo-san. That is acceptable?”

In the film, naturally, all that goes out the window and Tiger calls Bond “Bond-san.” A small touch but it amply demonstrates that preserving Fleming’s original wasn’t a high priority.

It didn’t help that Richard Maibaum, a screenwriter for the first four Bond epics, wasn’t available for Twice. Harold Jack Bloom was initially hired to do the script but departed in the midst of the project. Roald Dahl took over; he’d receive the sole screenwriting credit while Bloom was listed as providing “additional story material.”

Twice also wasn’t the happiest of productions. Sean Connery let it be known the fifth movie would be his last and he had to deal with many, many Japanese reporters and photographers. Also, the key role of Ernst Stavro Blofeld — where audiences would see his face for the first time — was recast in the middle of production, with Donald Pleasence getting the role.

Twice was the first time an Eon film failed to top its predecessors at the box office. The 1967 movie sold $111.6 million in tickets worldwide, almost $30 million less than Thunderball. Years later, HMSS editors in evaluating the film did not like it as much as the first four entries in the series.

Still, Twice is hardly a lost cause and many long-time 007 fans like the movie, despite its flaws. Last year, in Suffern, New York, the film was shown on the big screen to a packed house. Here’s a video by Paul Scrabo about the event:

What’s more, Twice would become the template for two future 007 films, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Both would be helmed by Lewis Gilbert, the director of Twice. Many fans, whether they like their 007 serious or escapist, still enjoy the film.

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4 Responses

  1. A lot of similarities between YOLT and TND as well.

  2. ["In doing so, Eon’s fifth 007 movie also became the first time the sum didn’t equal the sum of its impressive parts."]

    I don’t know if I agree with you. Mind you, I don’t consider “YOLT” as one of the best Bond movies. But I don’t have a high opinion of either “DR. NO” or “GOLDFINGER”. And honestly, I would rather watch “YOLT” than the 1962 and 1964 movies.

  3. http://www.shatterhand007.com/YOLT35/YOLT35.html

  4. [...] Mad Men, the popular drama on cable network AMC, had its season finale on June 10, which included not one, but two, James Bond references. The most noticeable was how the episode ended with Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of You Only Live Twice, written by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse. The fifth 007 film made by Eon Productions premiered premiered 45 years ago this month. [...]

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