Only Live Twice
= Highest Rating
Only Live Twice
has so many things going for it, chiefly Sean
Connery returning for the fifth time as 007, that's
it's easy to forgive its numerous faults. Without
Connery, the exotic location of Japan, some fabulous
sets and a memorable John Barry score, it would
certainly dwell with Moonraker
in the cellar of sub-par Bonds.
A mysterious UFO is hijacking both
American and Soviet spacecraft in orbit. Each
nation blames the other for this dangerous disruption
of the Space Race. As the two superpowers prepare
for World War III, British intelligence dispatches
James Bond to run down a lead in Japan — a contact
there claims to have potentially important information.
007's assassination is faked so that enemy agents,
as his boss M puts it, will give him "more
elbow room" once they think he's dead. Fired
from the bow torpedo tube of one of Her Majesty's
submarines, Bond enters Japan covertly, where
he meets in Tokyo with MI6's contact, Mr. Henderson
(Charles Gray, who'd play Blofeld in 1971's Diamonds
Are Forever). In what many consider the series'
most famous blooper*,
Henderson offers Bond a vodka martini that's "stirred,
not shaken." When asked if he got it right,
an approving Bond replies, "Perfect."
Henderson doesn't get to say
much about the vanishing spacecraft before he's
murdered in mid-sentence. 007 catches and kills
the assassin, then disguises himself in the dead
man's overcoat, hat, surgical mask, and two-toned
shoes. Bond is a foot taller than the assassin
but the man's clothing fits perfectly... even
the footwear! (From this point on the movie will
commit one silly faux pas after another, indicative
of either sloppy or rushed filmmaking, or just
an out-and-out "we don't give a damn"
attitude. They're fun to watch for, however.)
Feigning injury, the disguised Bond is driven
by another thug to the high tech headquarters
of the Osato Chemical Corporation, where we're
treated to one of the most robust fight scenes
of the 007 films — even if it's flubbed at the
end when the supposedly knocked-out (or dead)
henchman heaves himself up onto a platform in
Teamed with Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro
Tamba) — head of the Japanese Secret Service —
and two of Tiger's gorgeous female agents, Aki
(Akiko Wakabayashi) and Kissy (the luminous Mie
Hama), Bond investigates Osato and discovers that
the company is really a front for his old nemesis,
SPECTRE. Blofeld's organization has been contracted
by Red China to foment nuclear war between America
and the USSR. (But won't the ChiComs — along with
everybody else — get dosed with radiation too?)
A long-dormant volcano on a remote Japanese island
holds the secret to Blofeld's nefarious plans.
Can Bond and Tiger's crack ninja commandos stop
the countdown to Armageddon in time? Of course!
As mentioned, a lot of the movie's fun factor
comes from spotting the numerous flubs and non
sequiturs. Here are some more to look for:
• After dealing with the sumo henchman in
the Osato building, Bond — who had no idea he'd
find himself in such a situation — suddenly produces
bulky safecracking equipment from his pocket once
he spots an office safe. The gizmo makes a noticeable
bulge in Bond's jacket... which was clearly
not there in previous scenes.
• Bond, only feet behind her,
is unable to catch Aki when she runs away from
him — in high heels.
• Mr. Osato orders Bond (who
is posing as a British businessman) to be killed
moments after meeting him. So a carload of thugs
tries to gun down 007 right in front of the
company headquarters as he's leaving. Talk
about bad publicity...
• Bond watches on a video screen
mounted in Aki's sports car as the same carload
of thugs is dropped by Tiger's helicopter — which
appears dangling a giant magnet within seconds
of Aki's distress call — into Tokyo Bay. So
what camera is taking these pictures?
• In a ridiculously lame
"blue screen" shot, watch as Aki's car
takes two hairpin turns (or rather the film in
front of the car does) while her hands remain
perfectly still on the steering wheel.
• Firing his PPK, Bond misses
two henchmen who are crouching only five feet
away from him.
• To escape a pack of goons
at the Kobi docks, Bond makes two 30 foot dives
off a building onto pallets stacked with tarp-covered
boxes. Naturally, they cushion his fall. So how
did he know the boxes contained marshmallows and
not machine parts? Ouch!
• During the wedding scene,
Bond is pretending to be Japanese with the not-so-successful
aid of a Mr. Spock wig. Watch as the 6-foot-2
Connery puts on the hunched posture of a scoliosis
sufferer so as not to tower over everyone else
in the shot.
• 007 scouts out the perfectly
camouflaged volcano crater in his miniature gyro-copter
and finds nothing. Fortunately for the good guys,
SPECTRE attack choppers pick that moment to engage
Bond in an aerial dogfight. From this action,
Bond and Tiger amazingly deduce that there must
be something about the volcano requiring further
• Blofeld launches interceptor
rockets from his secret volcano base at night.
Even with a "radar blackout" device,
wouldn't the villagers on the island — not to
mention anyone within a hundred miles — be able
to see them taking off? (Shades of Moonraker!)
• Posing as a fisherman out
pearl diving with Kissy, Bond stumbles upon the
secret of Blofeld's lair. Without the slightest
idea of what he'd find that day, it's revealed
that 007 nevertheless had the foresight to bring
along the very devices — suction cups — that enable
him to stealthily penetrate the hidden base.
There's even more silliness
Only Live Twice
to report, like the infamous 'bouncing dead guys'
in one model shot when the volcano base is exploding.
(The entire audience burst into laughter when
I saw this on a double bill with For
Your Eyes Only in a San Jose, California theater
in 1981.) But I don't wish to rag on the flick
too much. It does have good stuff to offer — one
of John Barry's greatest Bond film scores (with
its beautiful title song perhaps the series' best),
the cheesy but fun helicopter battle and Ken Adams'
fantastical sets chief among them. Even a bored-looking
Connery makes a better James Bond than Roger Moore.
Or is it? Is Bond just being polite in accepting
the incorrectly mixed martini?
MGM serves up a superb package of Bonus Features,
including an audio commentary, trailers, radio
spots, and "Making of" doc. The disc
also includes a terrific documentary on the history
of the Bond series' unique titles sequences. It
focuses primarily on the innovative Maurice Binder,
the graphic artist responsible for 14 of the 19
007 films' title sequences as well as the iconic
traveling circles/gun barrel logo that's opened
each Bond flick since Dr.
Great extras notwithstanding,
I can't give the DVD rating of '10'. The surprisingly
worn video transfer could have used a brush-up;
it would also be nice to hear John Barry's lush
score in Dolby 5.1 stereo. (Alas, not here.) 6/06/01
OOP for a couple of years, You
Only Live Twice was reissued in December
2006 by MGM. This completely remastered 2-disc edition
— meticulously restored, given a new 5.1 Surround
audio mix and featuring additional extras — is part
of The James Bond Ultimate
Collection Vol. 4, which also contains four
other 007 films. A Blu-ray release is inevitable.