You Only Live Twice: Beginning of the end of ’60s spymania

You Only Live Twice promotional art

You Only Live Twice promotional art

The 50th anniversary of You Only Live Twice isn’t just a milestone for a memorable James Bond film. It’s also the anniversary for the beginning of the end of 1960s spymania.

The 007 film series led the way for spymania. Over the course of the first four Bond films, everything skyrocketed. Not only did the Bond series get bigger, it created a market for spies of all sorts.

By June 1967, when You Only Live Twice debuted, that upward trajectory had ended.

To be sure, Twice was very popular. But there was a falloff from its predecessor, 1965’s Thunderball. Twice’s box office totaled $111.6 million globally, down 21 percent from Thunderball’s $141.2 million.

The fifth 007 movie produced by Eon Productions didn’t lack for resources.

Twice’s famous volcano set cost $1 million, roughly the entire budget of Dr. No. Helicopters equipped with giant magnets swooped out of the sky. A seeming endless number of extras was available when needed. .

At the same time, the movie’s star, Sean Connery, wanted out of Bondage. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman adjusted his contract. But their inducements weren’t enough.

You Only Live Twice marker in western Japan

You Only Live Twice marker in western Japan

It didn’t help that Broccoli and Saltzman themselves had their own, growing differences. Broccoli didn’t want to take on Connery as another partner — the same kind of arrangement Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen, bestowed upon Dean Martin for the Matt Helm movies.

Finally, there was another Bond film that year — the spoof Casino Royale, released in the U.S. less than two months before Twice. However, anybody who viewed Casino Royale’s marketing or trailers could mistake the Charles K. Feldman production for the Eon series.

As this blog has discussed before, Twice has a lot going for it. Ken Adam’s sets were spectacular. John Barry’s score was among the best for the Bond series. It was also the one film in the series photographed by acclaimed director of photography Freddie Young.

In the 21st century, fan discussion is divided. Some appreciate the spectacle, viewing it as enough reason to overlook various plot holes. Others dislike how the plot of Ian Fleming’s novel was jettisoned, with only some characters and the Japanese location retained.

With this year’s 50th anniversary, the former may be celebrated more. The movie’s scope, even its posters, aren’t the kinds of things you see these days.

The longer-term importance of the movie, however, is that Twice symbolizes how interest in the spy craze was drawing to a close. Bond would carry on, but others — including U.S. television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy — weren’t long for this world when Twice arrived at theaters.

Why Sam Mendes directing Bond 25 isn’t a good idea

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

A major non-007 Sam Mendes project, a movie adaptation of The Voyeur’s Hotel, has evaporated, according to the Deadline: Hollywood website. That’s because of a documentary coming out concerning the person who is the the same subject as the non-fiction book.

That has gotten some James Bond fans wondering if Mendes could be available to direct Bond 25 (whenever it gets made) after helming Skyfall and SPECTRE.

To quote a retired comic, “Oh, I hope not.” Here are some reasons why.

He’s never sounded enthusiastic about directing a third Bond film: In July 2015, he told the BBC that, “I don’t think I could go down that road again. You do have to put everything else on hold.”

In May 2016, according to a story by The Associated Press, he said: “I’m a storyteller. And at the end of the day, I want to make stories with new characters.”

Directing a Bond film is a big undertaking. If he has even the slightest doubt (and it sounds he has big doubts), he shouldn’t attempt it.

Enough with the homages: Skyfall had homages to past Bond films, including bringing back the Goldfinger version of the Aston Martin DB5.

That continued with SPECTRE. The DB5, despite being blown to smithereens in Skyfall, is miraculously put back together in SPECTRE. A fight between Bond (Daniel Craig) and Hinx (Dave Bautista) seemed modeled after a similar scene in From Russia With Love. The Independent published a story listing other homages.

Mendes can’t help himself. The next movie, when ever it may come out, needs a break from homages.

No more boasting:  In an April 2014 interview on The Charlie Rose Show, Mendes said he cast all the major supporting characters, including Tanner.

Problem: Tanner was played by Rory Kinnear, who first portrayed the character in 2008’s Quantum of Solace, a film Mendes had nothing to do with.

Mendes also claimed that in Skyfall “for the first time characters were allowed to age.” Problem: He’s wrong, it happened a number of times in Bond films.

Enough already.

If Mendes comes back, that means Thomas Newman comes back as composer: Newman is Mendes’ guy. Fans have mixed opinions about Newman’s work on Skyfall. He did get an Oscar nomination but didn’t win.

However, with SPECTRE, it was clear that Newman had run out of ideas. He recycled a number of Skyfall music bits in SPECTRE. That’s true not just of the compositions, but the sound and orchestration.

John Barry used the 007 theme in five Bond films (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker). But it had different arrangements and orchestration each time. The repeated music in SPECTRE sounds the same as it did in Skyfall.

What’s more, based on his other work, it’s clear that smaller-scale dramas (such as Bridge of Spies) are more in Newman’s wheelhouse. He’s a talented composer with such films. Bond films just aren’t his strength.

Let someone else have a try on Bond 25. But that won’t probably won’t happen if Mendes is back as director.

007 (or so) observations about Moonraker

A "guilty pleasure" for some 007 fans

A “guilty pleasure” for some 007 fans

Wednesday, June 29, was the 37th anniversary of Moonraker’s U.S. debut. The 11th James Bond film doesn’t get much love from fans in the 21st century. Yet, it was a huge financial success in the 20th.

With that in mind, what follows are some observations about the film:

001: Drax’s disdain for Britain: This may reflect a few bits of Ian Fleming’s third Bond novel that made it into the movie.

The nationality of Drax (Michael Lonsdale) isn’t specified but he clearly isn’t British. He keeps a British butler around, mostly to boss around.

The Moonraker villain also tells Bond that “afternoon tea” is the U.K.’s greatest contribution to Western civilization. Later (after Bond has investigated Drax’s Venice facilities), Drax makes a comment about not understanding British humor.

002: Bond’s physical stamina: As Bond (Roger Moore) agrees to take a ride in Drax’s centrifuge, Holly (Lois Chiles) says “even a 70-year-old” can take “three Gs” (the force of takeover). Holly says most people “pass out” at seven Gs. Bond withstands *13 Gs* before activating a device he got from Q to escape.

003: One of the best (unheralded) scenes of the movie: Bond further investigates Drax’s Venice facilities. For the Moore version of Bond, this represents one of his deadliest miscalculations.

Bond briefly observes two of Drax’s scientists at work. Visually, there are a number of things to catch the viewer’s eyes. When the scientists briefly walk away, 007 moves in further.

Unfortunately, Bond didn’t leave everything as he left it, and the two scientists die as a result. One of the best shots of the film is one of the scientists dying while Bond watches on the other side of a Plexiglass barrier.

Yes, this sequence included the joke that draws groans from hard-core Bond fans (the John Williams theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the entry code). Still, overall, the sequence is a mostly serious one for a very lighthearted movie.

004: The minister of defense (defence to our British friends) plays Bridge with Drax: Others have made this observation long ago, but it is one of the few direct references to Ian Fleming’s 1955 novel. So we thought we’d mention it here.

005: Bond is a cheapskate! No tip, James? You get to stay in the President’s Suite at an expensive hotel in Rio and you stiff the guy on the tip. In From Russia With Love, Bond (Sean Connery) stuffed his tip in the suitcoat pocket of the guy who took him to his Istanbul hotel room. He shows his contempt while *still* giving a tip.

But here? Come on, Bond! The guy is just trying to make a living!

006: Bond’s brief moment of compassion for a fellow MI6 agent: After almost getting killed by Jaws, the MI6 agent in Rio offers to still help bond. He declines, saying she should get some rest.

007: Bond’s cable car reaction: Only 007 would react to a stalled cable car by going to the car’s roof. Only a CIA agent (Holly in this case) would have a first reaction to grab the nearest chain. Also, how many cable cars have a chain laying around?

008: The special effects of the boat chase weren’t that good, even in 1979: Friend or foe of the movie, this was not a highlight.

Seriously, the Spy Commander saw the film five times in the theater and you can could discern what was real and was special effects.. But Albert R. Broccoli & Co. had the good sense to keep up the pace to get past that.

009: Bond momentarily loses his cool: It only lasts a few seconds, but Bond really is annoyed with Jaws (Richard Kiel) after the henchman fishes 007 out of Drax’s pool.

0010: Some of the walls of Drax’s space station seem to be made of cardboard: Ken Adam (1921-2016) was one of the greatest production designers in the history of film. But a few shots in the climatic space station fight indicate the budget was running low.

0011: John Barry deserves every compliment he’s ever gotten for this film: The veteran 007 composer improves almost every scene in the movie with his score. It might not be his best Bond score, but Barry elevates the film throughout.

0012: This film is unique in the 007 film series:  It’s the one time that Eon Productions founder Albert R. Broccoli more or less didn’t have to worry about the budget.

In the 1970s, United Artists and Eon had to confront whether the 007 film series could continue after Sean Connery left for good and after Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman sold his interest to United Artists.

In the 1980s (and beyond), Eon had to deal with budget issues after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired UA in the early part of the decade.

For Moonraker, Broccoli really had (almost) Carte Blanche for making a Bond movie. This really was “the money’s up on the screen.”

 

Live And Let Die: a soundtrack to listen without earmuffs

Design for LIve And Let Die's soundtrack album

Design for LIve And Let Die’s soundtrack album

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

George Martin was the first composer to face the challenge that would later come to Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, Michael Kamen, Eric Serra, David Arnold and Thomas Newman: to replace the role of John Barry in a James Bond movie.

The soundtrack is an important part of every movie, and the James Bond films are not an exception. From Dr. No to Diamonds Are Forever, Barry had put his talent to the service of Eon Productions and set the standard for “the spy music,” either with dramatic sounds for Thunderball, funny melodies for Goldfinger or an Asian flavor for 007’s incursion into the east with You Only Live Twice. No matter what vibe he took, the John Barry cues always fitted the words “spy music.”

But in 1973, John Barry was busy composing a musical and unable to score Roger Moore’s debut in the franchise, Live and Let Die. He suggested George Martin, who had been producer of The Beatles.

It was a huge challenge: a new Bond had to be introduced and a new era in the series had begun. And every time a new actor is seen in the 007 gunbarrel logo, the composer has to adapt his tunes to the interpretative style of the new Bond and other topics of the movie: the script, the settings and the period of time.

George Martin was the first to take up the challenge of following in Barry’s footsteps and passed with flying colors. The score for Live and Let Die is explosive, adrenaline filled and exotic.

Tracks like “Trespassers will be Eaten,”, “Bond to New York” and “Whisper who Dares” capture the adventurist feeling of Roger Moore’s Bond adding an atmosphere of thrills and excitement. “Bond meets Solitaire” and “The Lovers” accentuate the delicateness of Jane Seymour’s Solitaire.

The Caribbean flavor of the film is transpired in tracks like “San Monique,” “Sacrifice” and “Baron Samedi’s Dance of Death” while the main motif of the title song is repeated often through the album, either to cue action sequences like the boat chase or as a source music, in a soul version performed by B J Arnau as James and Felix visit the Fillet of Soul bar.

The main title song, Live and Let Die, was also produced by George Martin who insisted to producer Harry Saltzman to hire Paul McCartney for the title song, warning him he’d drop the project if he refused.

Saltzman, a man hard to convince, went for the deal and Martin wasn’t wrong: the song, written by Paul and his wife Linda the same day they finished Ian Fleming’s novel, was the first Bond theme to get an Oscar nomination and it’s widely admired by Bond fans, brilliantly striking with Maurice Binder’s terrifying and colorful main title sequence.

Just like You Only Live Twice’s Asian feeling, Goldfinger’s swinging melody and Diamonds Are Forever’s luscious sound, Live and Let Die lets the influence of the new decade (the 1970s) fill into the soundtrack in a clever and representative way.

George Martin proved indeed the golden sound of Bond, established by John Barry, could be provided by many talented composers.

TCM has a night of spy films on Jan. 25

TCM logo

Turner Classic Movies will show five spy films the evening of Jan. 25 and early-morning hours of Jan. 26.

Here’s the lineup. All times EST.

8 p.m.: Arabesque (1966), directed by Stanley Donen: Donen had a success with 1963’s Charade, a suspense film that included a bit of humor. That movie also included a score by Henry Mancini and titles by Maurice Binder.

Mancini and Binder reunited with Donen on Arabesque, with Gregory Peck as a university professor who gets involved with spies as well as a woman played by Sophia Loren.

Also present was Charade scripter Peter Stone. However, Stone took an alias (Pierre Marton) and shared the screenplay credit with Julian Mitchell and Stanley Price.

 10 p.m.: The Ipcress File (1965), directed by Sidney J. Furie: James Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman launched a second, less flamboyant, spy film series based on Len Deighton’s novels. This was a source of tension with Saltzman’s 007 partner, Albert R. Broccoli.

The name of Deighton’s spy wasn’t disclosed in the novel that’s the basis of this movie. The character, as played by Michael Caine, was christened Harry Palmer for the film.

For the first of three Palmer films, Saltzman hired a number of 007 film crew members, including composer John Barry, production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt.

12 a.m.: Our Man Flint (1966), directed by Delbert Mann: The first of two spy comedies with James Coburn as Derek Flint.

The movie takes nothing seriously, with an organization called ZOWIE (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage). ZOWIE is headed by Kramden (Lee J. Cobb), who gets exasperated when he’s forced to recruit Flint (who wouldn’t follow orders when Kramden knew him during their military days). Kramden has no choice because ZOWIE computers have pinpointed Flint as the only man who can foil a plot by Galaxy.

The best things about the movie are Coburn’s winning performance as Flint and Jerry Goldsmith’s score. Goldsmith’s music elevates the proceedings. In terms of production values, it looks only slightly more expensive than the television series produced at the time by 20th Century Fox.

2 a.m.: Our Man in Havana (1959), directed by Carol Reed:  The director again collaborates with Graham Greene, who adapts one of his novels. Vacuum cleaaner salesman Alec Guiness is recruited by British spook Noel Coward to do some spying in Cuba before the revolution. The cast includes Maureen O’Hara, Burl Ives and Ernie Kovacks.

4 a.m.: The Prize (1963), directed by Mark Robson: A spy tale starring Paul Newman centered around the Nobel Prizes being awarded in Stockholm. The script is by Ernest Lehman, who wrote 1959’s North by Northwest. Here Lehman adapts an Irving Wallace novel. The cast includes Leo G. Carroll, who was also in North by Northwest and who would shortly take the role of Alexander Waverly in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Jerry Goldsmith provided the score.

Shoutout to Mark Henderson who brought this up on Facebook.

 

REVIEW: a look at SPECTRE’s soundtrack

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer
Thomas Newman became the third composer to do more than one Bond album after John Barry (11 007 scores and David Arnold (five). It happened when Sam Mendes returned for the 007 director chair for SPECTRE, after the success of Skyfall.

With the son of the legendary Alfred Newman being one of Mendes’ favorite musicians, it was almost predictable that Newman would be coming back as well.

By the beginning of October, two tracks from SPECTRE were released through the British radio, disappointing many people as they sounded too similar to Skyfall.

Of course, both Barry and particularly Arnold repeated some of their previous films cues into the Bond film in hand, yet the SPECTRE soundtrack seemed almost a remix of the Skyfall score.

However, when watching the movie, the soundtrack effect grows.

The gunbarrel –back at the beginning for the first time since 2002’s Die Another Day – has a sound reminiscent to Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is not Enough, with the last bars of the James Bond Theme as the blood drips down. It was, unfortunately, discarded from the commercial album, which starts with a track titled “Los Muertos Vivos Están” (The Dead Are Alive).

Track 1 is a pretty cool rendition of the James Bond Theme accompanied by the drums of a Mexican band known as Tambuco.

Something very important to say is that Newman, this time, seems more confident when using the Bond Theme, using it prominently and in full, unlike his previous job where he seemed a bit afraid to repeat his predecessor’s expertise in handling the piece attributed to Monty Norman.

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

More effective uses of the James Bond Theme are heard during the last seconds of “Detonation” (track 23) and “Westminster Bridge” (track 24, very similar to Skyfall’s “The Moors”). An unreleased Bond fanfare is heard at the end of the helicopter fight during the pre-credits sequence, with a piano orchestration leading us to Smith’s theme.

As Vauxhall Bridge (track 2) reminds us to “New Digs” from Skyfall (funnily enough, Bond points out the CNS building as “C’s new digs” in the scene), the third track is almost a cut and paste version of “Brave New World,” also from Skyfall. Yet, Newman manages to change the epic Hans Zimmer-esque sound for a lyrical chorus to enhance Bond’s arrival to Rome aka “The Eternal City,” which is the title given to the track.

The use of the chorus, also present in “Backfire” (track 6) and the end titles (track 26) were perhaps the best thing Newman did and one of the strongest points of the score.

“Donna Lucia” (track 4), used for 007’s seduction of Monica Bellucci’s character, reminds us a bit to Die Another Day, particularly the scene where Pierce Brosnan’s Bond is visited by Peaceful Fountains of Desire.

Romantic pieces are Newman’s strong point as he proves in “Madeleine” (track 9) and “Secret Room” (track 13). The piano notes and the strings make us fall in love with the leading lady and feel some empathy for the death of her father, as she observes her childhood photos on Mr. White’s hidden room in an African hotel. A choral version of Madeline’s theme is reprised during the end credits.

The North African sounds combined with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s shots of the train through the desert are perhaps one of the best audiovisual moments in the whole franchise.

Track 15 is the only time when we hear a rendition of Sam Smith’s theme song, “Writing’s on the Wall”. Newman made his own instrumental version (the first minute sounds very similar to the original) for Bond’s intimate moment with Madeleine Swann on the train.

As Bond escapes a horrid torture by Oberhauser, a piece titled “Tempus Fugit” (track 19) is heard for the second time. Closely similar to another track from Skyfall titled The Bloody Shot, this track first appears as Bond fights Sciarra inside an helicopter atop Mexico City, at the very beginning of the film.

Perhaps the least interesting piece is the atonal “Snow Plane” (track 11), where it seems Newman tried to imitate Bill Conti’s For Your Eyes Only disco score. This scene – where 007 chases Hinx and his goons with a plane across the snowy Austria — needed a more John Barry or David Arnold like sound, a closer feeling to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, way more darker.

Apart from that, it was a nice nod of Newman to add a source piece in the score. Track 18, “Day of the Dead”, features Tambuco and has the actual chorus from the festive mourners, cheering up for the “resurrection” of their deceased ones.

Before the end titles, the composer closes with “Out of Bullets” (track 25), which is a very beautiful version of the romantic piano cue from “Secret Room” and “Madeleine”, combined with a lush sound reminiscent to David Arnold’s romantic sounds from his Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day scores.

In conclusion, the SPECTRE score is indeed special and fits with the conclusion of the story opened in Casino Royale, almost ten years ago. A needed criticism has to be made to the way Newman made that cut-and-paste to the Skyfall score (he should have used the cues in a more subtle way), but it indeed achieves the objective of transporting us to the magic atmosphere of the film’s locations –from the lyrical Rome to the exotic Tangier– in a very pretty way.

Does the title song of a Bond movie really matter?

New SPECTRE poster

New SPECTRE poster

In the past few days, there have been reports, speculation, etc., about who may be perform the title of SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

Here’s a question that isn’t being asked much: Does the title song, or the selection of a title song performer, really matter that much for a James Bond movie?

For example, the 2006 Casino Royale got a lot of good reviews and is held is high opinion by a lot of fans. But very little of that has to do with “You Know My Name,” the song played over the main titles.

Meanwhile, the title song to 1967’s You Only Live Twice, written by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse and performed by Nancy Sinatra, is considered one of the best 007 title songs.

Yet, a lot of fans feel the film You Only Live Twice isn’t up to the standards of the first four Bond films made by Eon Productions. Part of that stems from how it was the first movie to throw out the main plot of an Ian Fleming novel.

For that matter, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is another highly regarded Bond film. It didn’t even have a title song. Instead it had a Barry instrumental for the main titles. It was the last time the main titles didn’t feature a song.

Yes, a good title song can enhance the movie (“Nobody Does It Better” for The Spy Who Loved Me being an example), but it’s rarely make or break. In the 21st century, however, the sort of perspective is in short supply.

An announcement may be coming Tuesday. Meanwhile, over at the MI6 JAMES BOND WEBSITE there’s an attempt to make sense of the latest news.