A Movie A Day #215: Crossplot (1969, directed by Alvin Rakoff)


In swinging London, Roger Moore is ordered by Bernard Lee to track down a model  who is connected to an international conspiracy.

If you think that sounds like a James Bond movie, you’re close.  In Crossplot, which was released four years before Roger Moore took over the role of 007 in Live and Let Die, Moore plays Gary Fenn and Bernard Lee is Mr. Chilmore.  Gary is a playboy and an advertising executive while Mr. Chilmore is his latest client.  Mr. Chilmore has ordered Gary to find a model who can serve as the new “Miss Swing,” but actually, the bad guys are using Gary to try track down a beautiful Hungarian named Marla Kugash (Claudie Lange).  Kugash, the ex-girlfriend of a radical political activist, has knowledge about a conspiracy to assassinate a visiting African president.  It leads to car chases, shoot outs, and a wedding that is ruined when Gary and Marla take refuge in a church.

Crossplot was an obvious attempt to cash in on the popularity of the James Bond films.  At the time that Crossplot came out, Moore was best known for playing The Saint on television.  Crossplot was the first film that Moore made after signing a three-movie contract with United Artists and, had the film been a success, Moore would have returned in the role of Gary Fenn and it is totally possible that he would not have been available to step into Sean Connery’s shoes when Connery announced that he was finished with the role of James Bond.

However, Crossplot was not a success and it is easy to see why.  The plot was overly convoluted and it’s emphasis on “swinging” London (complete with wacky hippies) probably made Crossplot seem dated before it was even released.  It is interesting today mostly as Moore’s “audition” for the role of Bond.  Moore gives a very Bondish performance, complete with arched eyebrows and one liners.  Moore is the best thing about the movie but it is also interesting to see Bernard Lee playing a character far less savory than M.  This was also one of the many 60s Bond rip-offs to feature the beautiful Claudie Lange.  Lange, who would have made a great Bond girl if she’d been given the opportunity, retired from acting in 1973, the same year that Moore appeared in Live and Let Die.

James Bond Film Review: Moonraker (dir. by Lewis Gilbert)


For the past two weeks, here at the Shattered Lens, we’ve been reviewing the James Bond film franchise.  We’ve reviewed the good, the bad, and the ugly of James Bond and today, we’re going to take a look at James Bond at his silliest.  Today, we’re going to review the 11th official James Bond film, 1979’s Moonraker.

Moonraker starts out with a genuinely exciting pre-credits sequence.  James Bond (Roger Moore) is on an airplane when he’s suddenly attacked by the stewardess, the co-pilot, and Jaws (Richard Kiel), the henchman with the steel teeth.  All four of them end up falling out of the plane.  In mid-air, Bond wrestles the pilot’s parachute away from him and uses it to safely land on the ground.  The pilot and the stewardess presumably plunge to a very grisly death.  Jaws, meanwhile, crashes into a circus tent and walks away without a scratch.  This scene pretty much establishes the tone of Moonraker — increasingly implausible action sequences that usually end with some sort of crowd-pleasing joke.  In short, Moonraker is Bond as pure spectacle.  Those looking for another From Russia With Love should look elsewhere.

As for the rest of the film, someone’s stolen a space shuttle and James Bond and CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) team up to find it.  It turns out that the shuttle was stolen by Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), who plans to wipe out life on the Earth and start a new society in space.

That’s right, in space!

Moonraker was made in 1979, at the height of the cinematic science fiction boom.  In the late 70s, everyone was going into space and James Bond wasn’t going to get left behind.  Not surprisingly, it turns out that Drax has a secret HQ in a space station that’s orbiting the Earth and Bond is not only the world’s greatest secret agent but the universe’s as well!

It also turns out that Jaws is now working for Drax and his girlfriend Dolly (Blanche Ravelec) works in the space station.  I know that a lot of Bond fans hate Moonraker because of this very subplot but seriously, just take a look at the happy couple!  They’re so cute together!

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings on Moonraker.  On the one hand, it’s the most over-the-top of Roger Moore’s Bond films and it’s certainly the silliest.  Your reaction to it will depend on just how seriously you take or want to take your Bond films.  Myself, I appreciate Moonraker as a celebration of excess but, at the same time, I can also understand why so many fans of the Bond franchise consider Moonraker to be a low point for the series.

At its weakest, Moonraker feels almost like a generic Bond rip-off as opposed to an official Bond film.  It’s obvious that most of the preproduction attention was devoted to the film’s special effects.  The rest of the film feels almost like an afterthought and several of the sequences feel as if they’ve been lifted from other Bond films.  Bond’s initial meeting with Hugo Drax is reminiscent of the golf game in Goldfinger and both Drax’s evil scheme and motivation appear to have been borrowed from The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Karl Stromberg.

Especially when compared to his witty performance in The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore appears to be simply going through the motions here and he has next to no chemistry with Lois Chiles.  One gets the feeling that Bond is merely with her so that he can brag to his mates back in London that he actually hooked up with someone named Holly Goodhead.  If her name was Holly Smith, he wouldn’t have any interest in her.

On the plus side, Michael Lonsdale makes for a good villain, the film’s special effects still look good over 30 years later, and I like the way that Jaws’ storyline is resolved.  I know that a lot of people hate the fact that Jaws softens up by the end of this film but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Richard Kiel and Blanche Ravalec are so cute together that you simply can’t help but smile at their unlikely romance.

Finally, how can you not enjoy the curiosity value of having James Bond in space?  I’m not a huge sci-fi fan.  Whenever I hear people mention Dr. Who, Star Wars, or Star Trek, my eyes roll up into the back of my head and I end up zoning out for a few hours.  But there’s just something so odd and vaguely inappropriate about the idea of James Bond floating around in a space station with a laser gun.  If nothing else, Moonraker serves as a time capsule of the late 70s, a time when even James Bond could turn up in outer space.

Much like The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker has little in common with the book that inspired it.  The literary Moonraker featured a villain named Hugo Drax but the Moonraker of the title was a nuclear missile.  Nobody went into outer space and there was certainly no one named Holly Goodhead.  Instead, Bond worked (and fell for) a fellow agent named Gala Brand.  It’s a shame that no one has ever filmed a faithful adaptation of Moonraker because it’s actually one of the best of the Bond novels.  Bond and Gala have a genuinely interesting relationship and the book has a melancholy, rather introspective feel to it.  Surprisingly, the end of the book deals with why none of Bond’s relationships last that long and makes an attempt to deal realistically with the psychological consequences of being the world’s greatest secret agent.

Surprisingly enough, the spectacular, effects-heavy Moonraker would be followed by the much more realistic and low-key For Your Eyes Only.  We’ll take a look at that film tomorrow.

Until then, here’s the Moonraker theme song:

James Bond Film Review: The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. by Lewis Gilbert)


For the past few days, the Shattered Lens has been taking a journey through the history of the James Bond film franchise.  Today, we continue that journey by taking a look at 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.  This was the 10th film in the “official” James Bond series and the 3rd to star Roger Moore as 007.  It was also the first of Moore’s films to be embraced by contemporary critics and it’s still considered to be one of the best films in the entire series.  It’s also one of my personal favorites.

The Spy Who Loved Me opens with one of the most of brilliant pre-credit sequences in the history of the franchise.  British and Russian submarines are mysteriously vanishing.  M (a returning Bernard Lee) summons James Bond (Roger Moore) to investigate.  Not surprisingly, Bond is with a woman at a ski resort when the summons comes.  As Bond starts to leave, the woman says, “But James, I need you.”

“So does England,” Bond replies.

Now, this was long before my time so I can’t say for sure but I always like to imagine  that line got some applause when it was first heard in theaters.  It is with that line (and, even more importantly, with his self-assured but humorous delivery of that line) that Roger Moore truly claims the role of James Bond as his own.  No, this scene seemed to be telling us, Moore would never be Sean Connery.  But he would be James Bond.

After leaving the chalet, Bond finds himself being pursued by several Russian agents.  This downhill ski chase, filmed by real people who were truly putting their lives in danger in the days before CGI, is one of the most exciting of all the chases to be found in Bond films and it builds up to a perfect climax.  After Bond manages to kill one of his pursuers, he skis right over the edge of a cliff.  Luckily, he has a parachute in his backpack and, of course, it’s a union jack parachute.  Again, I like to imagine that audiences applauded at this moment.

Bond’s escape leads to the opening credits and, even more importantly, Carly Simon singing the film’s theme song, “Nobody Does It Better.”  Seriously, I love this song.

Both MI6 and the KGB discover that the plans for a submarine tracking system are being sold on the Egyptian black market.  Suspecting that this is connected to the missing submarines, both James Bond and the Russian agent Anya Asamova (Barbara Bach) are sent to Egypt.  Bond and Anya team up to find the plans.  Along the way, they are attacked multiple times by Jaws (Richard Kiel), a hulking man with steel teeth.

Eventually, Bond and Anya discover that the man responsible for the missing submarines is Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a shipping magnate who is planning on destroying the surface world so that he can start a new society underwater.  The two secret agents work together to defeat Stromberg even though Anya assures Bond that she’s going to kill him as soon as their mission is completed.  Remember the man who Bond killed during that opening ski chase?  It turns out that man was Anya’s lover and she’s only putting off getting her revenge so that she and Bond can save the world first.

With its confident mix of humor, intrigue, and spectacular action, The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most popular of the Bond films.  It’s certainly one of my favorites.

Along with From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this is the most romantic of the Bond films.  Roger Moore and Barbara Bach have a very real chemistry and, as a result, you actually care about whether or not Bond and Anya will still be together after the end credits.  As played by Barbara Bach, Anya is one of the strongest of the Bond girls.  For once, Bond and his lover are truly equals.  For anyone who doubts the importance of having a strong Bond girl, I invite them to compare this movie to The Man With The Golden Gun.

For those who are more into action than romance, The Spy Who Loved Me will not leave them disappointed.  This film features some of the best set pieces in the history of the Bond franchise.  Along with the ski chase at the start of the film, there’s also a genuinely exciting car chase that features Bond and Anya being pursued by a helicopter piloted by Caroline Munro.

(Speaking of cars, this film also features one of my favorite Bond gadgets — a car that doubles as a submarine.)

Karl Stromberg makes for an interesting villain.  His plan makes absolutely no sense but he may be the first Bond bad guy to motivated by perverted idealism as opposed to pure greed.  As you would expect from a Bond film, his secret underwater HQ is quite an impressive set.  However, the best thing about Stromberg is that he employs Jaws.  With his stainless steel teeth, Jaws was the best henchman since Goldfinger‘s Oddjob and he proved to be such a popular character that he actually returned in the next Bond film.

One final note: As has often been noted, The Spy Who Loved Me was the first Bond film to have absolutely nothing in common (beyond a title) with the book that it was based on.  This is largely because the literary Spy Who Loved Me wasn’t really about James Bond.  Instead, it told the life story of Vivienne Michel, a Canadian woman who just happens to meet Bond towards the end of the book.  Fleming reportedly considered this book to be a failed experiment on his part and reportedly he only sold the film rights when he was assured that only the book’s title would be used.

That said, I recently read The Spy Who Loved Me and it’s not that bad.  Vivienne Michel is a compelling character and it’s interesting to, for once, see James Bond through the eyes of a lover as opposed to the other way around.  If it is a failed experiment, it’s still an experiment that’s worth reading.

As for the cinematic James Bond, he conquered the sea in The Spy Who Loved Me so it only made sense that, in his next film, he would attempt to conquer space.  We’ll take a look at Moonraker tomorrow.

James Bond Film Review: The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. by Guy Hamilton)


Hi there!  The name’s Bowman.  Lisa Marie Bowman.  Yes, I’ve made that joke a few times over the past two weeks but so what?  Let me have my fun!  And speaking of fun, we’ve been reviewing the entire James Bond franchise here at the Shattered Lens.  Today, we’re going to take a look at 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun, the 9th “official” James Bond film and the second Bond film to feature Roger Moore in the lead role.

The Man With The Golden Gun is Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), the world’s most feared assassin.  Living on his own private island, Scaramanga is waited on hand-and-foot by a murderous dwarf named Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) and his mistress Andrea Anders (played by Maud Adams, who, like me, is a member of the red-headed 2%).  Every few days or so, Nick Nack arranges for a different gangster or spy to come to the island and fight a duel with Scaramanga.  Much to Nick Nack’s disappointment, Scaramanga always manages to win each duel.  However, Scaramanga remains a frustrated assassin because he’s never had the chance to take on (and kill) his hero, James Bond.

Just how obsessed is Scaramanga with Bond?  Scaramanga has his own private funhouse set up on the island and the star exhibit at that funhouse is a wax figure of Bond that Scaramanga enjoys firing golden bullets at.

Meanwhile, in London, MI6 receives one of those golden bullets with “007” etched into the surface.  M (Bernard Lee), not wishing to see his best agent killed, immediately relieves Bond from his current mission.  Bond, along with a painfully dizzy British agent named Mary Goodnight (played by Britt Ekland), responds by setting off to track down Scaramanga on his own.

Bond eventually tracks Scaramanga down to Bangkok where Scaramanga is busy scheming to steal something called a Solex agitator which, depending on who is using it, can either be the key to solving the energy crisis or it can be a deadly, solar-powered weapon.  Bond also discovers that the bullet wasn’t sent by Scaramanga but was instead sent by Andrea who wants Scaramanga dead.

Not surprisingly, this all leads to what you would expect — an elaborate car chase, a Bond girl in a bikini, and a final duel between Bond and Scaramanga.

When The Man With The Golden Gun was first released way back in 1974, the film received some of the worst reviews in the Bond franchise’s history.  A typical review came from Time Magazine’s Jay Cocks who complained that Moore “lacks all Connery’s strengths and has several deep deficiencies”, whilst Lee was “an unusually unimpressive villain.”  In a complaint that would be made about the majority of the post-Connery, pre-Craig Bond films, Cocks also criticized the film’s plot for being too dependent on both Bond and Scaramanga using implausible gadgets.

While most of the Bond films were treated dismissively by critics when they were first released, the majority of them have also come to be seen in a more positive light  as the years have passed.  The Man With The Golden Gun, however, is an exception to that rule.  Nearly four decades after first being released, The Man With The Golden Gun still has a reputation for being a disappointment.  While Christopher Lee has rightly come to be recognized as one of the best Bond villains, the film itself is still regularly dismissed as one of the worst of the Bond films.

The Man With The Golden Gun‘s flaws are pretty obvious.

As played by Britt Ekland, Mary Goodnight is perhaps one of the most useless Bond girls ever and pretty much confirms every accusation of sexism that’s ever been made against the Bond films.  It’s hard not to wish that the role of Goodnight had been played by Maud Adams who, as Andrea Anders, proves to be one of the best of the Bond femme fatales.

Redneck Sheriff J. W. Pepper (Clifton James) was an acquired taste when he first showed up in Live and Let Die and those who were annoyed by his character the first time will probably not be happy when he implausibly pops up in this film, vacationing in Bangkok and somehow getting involved in yet another car chase.

Finally, while Roger Moore’s performance as James Bond has always been rather underrated, it’s hard to deny that he looks a bit ill-at-ease in this film.  As opposed to Live and Let Die (which was clearly written to match Moore’s interpretation of the role), The Man With The Golden Gun feels like it was written for Sean Connery’s more ruthless interpretation of the role.  There’s a rather ugly scene where Bond roughly slaps Andrea to get her to tell him about Scaramanga.  It’s the type of thing that you could imagine Connery doing without a second thought but Moore seems uncomfortable with it.  His Bond simply doesn’t have the sadistic streak that hid underneath the surface of Connery’s interpretation.

That said, The Man With The Golden Gun is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.  The Man With The Golden Gun is one of the Bond films that I always make a point to catch whenever it shows up on television and I certainly had a better time rewatching it than I did when I rewatched You Only Live Twice.  The film moves along quickly enough, the car chases are a lot of fun, and Scaramanga’s funhouse is one of the best of the Bond sets.  

For all of its flaws, The Man With The Golden Gun is saved by its trio of villains. Maud Adams, Herve Villechaize, and especially Christopher Lee give three of the most memorably eccentric performances in the history of the Bond franchise.  They’re so much fun to watch that, if spending time with them also means spending time with Mary Goodnight and Sheriff Pepper, it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make.

The strength of Christopher Lee’s performance as Scaramanga cannot be understated.  There’s something oddly touching in the contrast between Scaramanga the steely assassin with the golden gun and Scaramanga, the insecure killer who is apparently always comparing his accomplishments to the accomplishments of James Bond.  Lee’s Scaramanga is such a compelling character that you almost regret that he can’t, in some way, be allowed to achieve some sort of victory at the end of the film.

But, of course, if that happened then it would no longer be a James Bond film.

As always, regardless of what the critics may have wished, James Bond would return.  Ironically, Moore would follow-up a what many considered to be the worst James Bond adventure with a film that many consider to be one of the best.  We’ll be taking a look at The Spy Who Loved Me tomorrow.

Until then, let’s enjoy one of the most underrated theme songs in the history of the Bond franchise.

James Bond Review: Live and Let Die (dir. by Guy Hamilton)


One year and one day ago the very first James Bond film to star Sir Roger Moore, Live and Let Die, in the title role was reviewed by Lisa Marie, and now it’s time to revisit the eight official film in the series.

With the previous Bond entry, Diamonds Are Forever, we finally see Sean Connery run out of gas when it came to playing the title role of James Bond. Yet, despite the obvious boredom Connery was having in the film the producers of the series were still wanting him to come back for another Bond film. Maybe it was his experience during the production of Diamonds Are Forever or Connery finally decided it was truly time to go the series’ producers didn’t get their wish and were in a rush to find someone new to wear the mantle o Agent 007.

They finally found their new James Bond in the form of English-actor Roger Moore and production on Live and Let Die began soon after.

Roger Moore, for me, has always been the start of the less serious, but much more fun era of the James Bond franchise. His films still had the intrigue and action of the Connery-era, but the writers and producers of the series put in more one-liners and humor in the story. We begin to see the start of this in the previous Bond film (not handled as well and came off as awkward at times), but it was in Live and Let Die and in Roger Moore that this change in the series’ tone finally hit it’s stride.

The film dials back the global domination attempts by the series of villians both SPECTRE and not. This time around Bond must investigate the deaths of three MI6 agents who had been investigating one Dr. Kananga, the despot of the fictitious Caribbean island of San Monique. Kananga (played by Yaphet Kotto) also has an alter-ego in the form of Mr. Big who runs a series of soul food restaurants as a front for his drug business. Every Bond film always tries to out-elaborate the previous one with it’s villains plans. There’s no attempts by Kananga/Big to dominate the world. His plans are pretty capitalistic in a ruthless sort of way. He wants to corner the drug market in the US by flooding the illegal drug market with his own heroin which he plans to give away for free thus bankrupting the other crime lords and drug dealers.

This plan by Kananga actually looks to be very sound and it helps that he has the beautiful seer Solitaire (played by a young and beautiful Jane Seymour) to help him outwit ad stay ahead of his competitors and the law. His plan would’ve succeeded if not for the meddling of one British super-spy named James Bond.

Live and Let Die might not have been as serious about it’s story as the early Connery films, but it definitely had a much more faster pace with more action to distinguish Moore from Connery. One particular famous action sequence involves Bond escaping from Kananga’s drug farm in the Louisiana Bayou country being chased not just by Kananga’s henchmen but by the local police in the form of Sheriff J.W. Pepper who plays the role of fool and comedy relief in the film. Even the smaller action scenes in the film had more life and fun to them like Bond escaping a gator pit by timing a run across the backs of a line of gators to safety.

Where the previous bond film’s attempt at injecting humor and more action into the story were more failures than successes in this film Roger Moore Bond film they worked in due part to Moore’s playful delivery of the one-liners and bon mots the role has become known for of late. Any trepidation that audiences and producers might have had about  Moore taking on the role that had been made famous by Connery  soon went away as this film played out.

Live and Let Die still remains my favorite of all the Roger Moore Bond films and saw it as the highlight of his time playing the character. While the follow-up films were good in their own right it was this initial Moore entry in the series where the writers, Moore and veteran Bond filmmaker Guy Hamilton were able to find the perfect balance of thrilling action and humor that the rest of the Moore-era films couldn’t replicate.

Next up for James Bond…The Man with the Golden Gun.

James Bond Review: Diamonds Are Forever (dir. by Guy Hamilton)


I think it’s a well-known fact that the Austin Powers series was spoofing the spy film of the 60’s and 70’s with it’s main target for laughs being the iconic James Bond character and his international adventures of action and intrigue. The James Bond films with each successive entry became more and more fantastic as the megalomania of each new villain became more and more cartoonish and over-the-top and the gadgets themselves started entering the realm of science-fiction (for that time and era, at least) and back-of-the-comic-book ingenuity. I think the tipping point for the series that took James Bond from action thriller to spoofing it’s own past was with Sean Connery’s last official film as James Bond with Diamonds Are Forever.

To say that Sean Connery was truly getting tired and bored with playing the character James Bond on the big screen would be an understatement. His previous Bond entry with You Only Live Twice showed him pretty much disinterested with the role and one would almost think he was phoning in his performance. After that film Connery had announced his retirement from playing Bond, but after George Lazenby also retired from the role after just one film Connery was soon back for one more ride on the James Bond train.

Diamonds Are Forever once again pits James Bond against his arch-nemesis, the leader of SPECTRE and feline connoisseur, Ernst Blofeld. This time around the role of Blofeld was played by the actor Charles Gray and the film does a good job in explaining why the character has been played by so many different actors in each entry he appeared in. It is in this early sequence in the film that we begin to see that this latest James Bond entry had jumped the shark when it came to trying to keep things even remotely believable. It’s the film’s biggest flaw an, at the same time, what made it such an interesting, fun ride.

Even the plot of the film owes more to the spoofs of the Blofeld character by way of the Austin Powers films as Bond must try to stop SPECTRE from using smuggled South African diamonds from being used to create  weaponized satellite with a massive “laser” that SPECTRE will use to destroy the nuclear arsenal of every superpower then auction off the rights to be the only nuclear power to the highest bidding country. It’s pretty much the the basic foundation of what would be the plot for the first Austin Powers, but with this film filmmaker Guy Hamilton still tried to treat the script as something that was of the serious Bond when it was more 60’s camp through and through.

Diamonds Are Forever may be the weakest of all the Connery Bond films, but it’s groovy sensibilities that celebrated the 60’s (despite the film having been made in 1971) psychedelic, swinging lifestyle poked fun at Bond’s predilection as a suave and charismatic womanizer that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 60’s love-in. Even the action sequences was something that looked more humorous than thrilling whether it was Bond escaping SPECTRE henchmen on a moon buggy to the inept duo assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd looked more at home in an action comedy than a series that was known for serious action.

I would be remiss to not mention that this was the only time the Bond series had a redhead as a Bond Girl in the vivacious form of Jill St. John as Tiffany Case. I would also like to think that the other Bond Girl in the film, played by Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s younger sister), was also a redhead but I’m not entirely sure since most audiences probably didn’t pay too close attention to Plenty O’Toole’s hair color. Either way this would be the only Bond film that would cast what fellow writer Lisa Marie calls the 2%.

Diamonds Are Forever might not have been the sort of return Sean Connery envisioned for himself when he agreed to return as James Bond after taking a film off, but then again this wouldn’t be the first time he would retire from the role only to come back again. Yet, despite all it’s flaws (there were many of them) the film does entertain though probably not in the way it’s filmmakers hoped it would. I do believe that it was this film that finally brought in Roger Moore as the next Bond, but also convinced the film’s producers to tailor the Bond films using some of the humorous aspect of Diamonds Are Forever but tempered to accompany the action in the story.

James Bond will soon return in Live And Let Die….

James Bond Film Review: You Only Live Twice (dir. by Lewis Gilbert)


In the days leading up to the American release of Skyfall, the Shattered Lens has been taking a look at the previous films in the James Bond franchise.  Today, we take a look at the 5th official James Bond film, 1967’s You Only Live Twice.

Released two years after the critically derided but financially succesful Thunderball, You Only Live Twice was a step in a new direction for the Bond series.  As Sinclair McKay explains in his brilliant book on the Bond films, The Man With The Golden Touch,  both the world and the movies changed a lot between 1965 and 1967 and You Only Live Twice reflected that change.  Director Lewis Gilbert and screenwriter Roald Dahl were newcomers to the Bond series and the film they created would serve as a prototype for the flamboyant, big budget espionage fantasies that would come to epitomize many of the later entries in the franchise.

You Only Live Twice begins with one the Bond franchise’s more elaborate precredit sequences.  During these first few minutes, the film rather boldly announces that You Only Live Twice is going to be a bit of a departure from the previous Bond films.  The film begins not with Bond but with two anonymous American astronauts orbiting the Earth in a small capsule.  The two astronauts are blandly chatting with mission control on Earth when, suddenly, another spacecraft approaches and literally swallows the American capsule whole.  One of the astronauts is hurled into space as a result and, as his body spins away, it’s obvious that Bond’s not going to be dealing with something bigger than just another guy looking to hold up Fort Knox.

The Americans blame the Russians while the Russians claim that they’re being framed by Americans and the entire world appears to be on the verge of war.  But as always happens in the Bond films, the British are there to keep everyone from overreacting.  A British diplomat is seen calming down the belligerent super powers and assuring them that MI6’s “best man” is already on the case.

(One of the undeniably charming things about the Connery and Roger Moore  Bond films is the way that the United Kingdom is portrayed as being the world’s unofficial third superpower.)

Cut to Hong Kong, where James Bond is lying in bed and asking his latest conquest, “Why do Chinese girls taste different?”  And, at this point, I think it’s fair to say that Bond is really lucky that he looks like a young Sean Connery.  Suddenly, gunmen storm the bedroom and open fire, apparently killing 007.

Oh no!  I guess the world is doomed, right?  We’re left to consider this sad reality as we watch the opening credits and listen to Nancy Sinatra sing the film’s excellent theme song.

Well, of course, James Bond isn’t really dead.  He faked his death so that he can safely go to Tokyo and investigate who was behind the attack on the space craft.  You Only Live Twice was filmed almost entirely on location in Japan and a good deal of the film’s first half is devoted to scenes of Bond simply observing Japanese culture.  It’s a bit like Lost In Translation with an espionage subplot.

After fighting a few random henchmen, Bond meets Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), the head of the Japanese secret service.  Tanaka seems to spend the majority of his time getting massages from the dozen or so young women who wait on him hand-and-foot.  “In Japan,” he tells Bond, “men come first, women come second.”  “I might just retire here,” Bond replies.  Uhmmm…okay.  Thank you, 1967.

In order to continue the ruse that Bond’s dead, Tanaka arranges for Bond to take on an assumed identity.  After being trained on all aspects of Japanese culture and on how to fight like a ninja, Bond is heavily disguised to look like a Japanese fisherman.  Tanaka arranges for Bond to fake marry a local girl named Kissy (Mie Hama).  Kissy is probably one of the least interesting Bond girls in the history of the franchise.  Beyond walking around in a bikini while wearing high heels, Kissy just doesn’t have much of a personality.

Bond and Tanaka’s investigation lead them to a shady industrialist named Osato and his secretary Helga Brandt (Karin Dor).  Helga is about as close as You Only Live Twice comes to featuring a strong female character.  Not only is she an assassin who has no problem with killing a man who she’s just had sex with but she’s also a redhead, just like me!

Anyway, it’s not until very late in the film that we finally meet Helga’s boss.  If for no other reason, You Only Live Twice will always be remembered for featuring one of the great Bond villains.  After being seen in the previous Bond films as just a hand stroking a white cat, Ernest Stavros Blofeld makes his first on-screen appearance here and fortunately, he’s played by Donald Pleasence.

Looking at Pleasence’s performance today, the natural tendency is to compare his Blofeld to the iconic character that he inspired, Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil.  However, one reason that Dr. Evil became such a popular character is because Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld is one of the great film bad guys.  As delivered by Pleasence in his casually off-center way, every line of Blofeld’s dialogue drips with the promise of perversion and hints of the neurosis that fuels his every action.  Blofeld spends most of the movie hiding out in a secret base that’s hidden inside a hollow volcano.  He strokes that ever-present white cat and uses a pool of piranhas to punish failure.  It is a credit to Pleasence’s performance that you never, for a second, doubt that Blofeld could very well be living in a hollow volcano.

I have to admit that You Only Live Twice is not my favorite James Bond film, though there are plenty of things that I do like about it.  Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn all make welcome appearances and there is a genuinely exciting scene where Bond flies around in a toy helicopter.  Working on his first and only Bond film, Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Young captured some beautiful images of Japan and Blofeld’s volcano lair is one of the franchise’s best locations.

That said, You Only Live Twice often moves a bit too slowly for its own good and, with the exception of Blofeld and occasionally Helga Brandt, none of the film’s supporting characters are all that interesting.  Charles Gray, who later took over the role of Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever, has a nice cameo as a decadent retired intelligence agent but he’s killed off before he can make too much of an impression.  Perhaps worst of all, Connery spends most of this film looking like he’d rather be doing anything other than play James Bond for the fifth time.  By his own account, Connery eventually grew bored with the role and that’s certainly obvious in You Only Live Twice.

Connery’s boredom can perhaps explain why, during the shooting of You Only Live Twice, it was announced that he would not be returning to play the role in the 6th Bond film.  The Bond franchise would continue with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but it appeared that Connery would no longer be a part of it.

We’ll be taking a look at that film tomorrow.