Review: ‘Revisiting 1967’s ‘You Only Live Twice’’

50 Years of James Bond

All your base belong to Ken Adam, the production-design mastermind behind the hollow-volcano hideout in “You Only Live Twice.” It’s the villain’s lair against which all other villains lairs are judged, and it almost doesn’t matter how hokey some of the film’s plot points are (Sean Connery trying to pass himself off as a Chinese peasant? Repeating the same fake-funeral gimmick a SPECTRE operative tried in “Thunderball”?) when you consider the epic half-hour finale that makes maximum use of the insanely elaborate set.


Prior to “Twice,” Adam had used minimal resources to create memorable bad-guy bases for both “Dr. No” and “Goldfinger” (I especially love the memory of Bond eavesdropping on Goldfinger’s long monologue from beneath the model of Fort Knox, a bit of exposition useful to him, but not the assembled group of evil investers, who are gassed to death seconds later). But on his fourth Bond-movie assignment, Adam outdid himself, transforming Pinewood Studios into an elaborate missile silo, complete with a working monorail and functional helicopter pad.


Those who don’t know the Bond franchise so well will surely recognize “Twice” as the template for Dr. Evil’s volcano base, while Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil character is clearly modeled after this film’s incarnation of ongoing Bond nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. It also inspired a hilarious episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer doesn’t realize that his ideal new job is actually working as a henchman for a Blofeld-like villain.


In the previous installments, helmer Terence Young took great care to hide all but Blofeld’s Persian-cat-petting hands. Now, director Lewis Gilbert (coming off the film “Alfie”) and screenwriter Roald Dahl (who also adapted his friend Ian Fleming’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”) finally reveal the arch-villain’s face, and it’s rather terrifying: a bald-headed, cold-blooded Donald Pleasance, marked by a hideously disfiguring scar through his right eye. Considering that Blofeld featured in seven different Bond movies (including “Thunderball” remake “Never Say Never Again,” in which he was played by Max Von Sydow), it’s saying something that Pleasance is the version we remember best.


Gilbert and Dahl bring a different flavor to “Twice.” From the beginning, the Bond films had always been delivered with a wink, but now, Bond seems to be satirizing himself to some degree. His chauvinism is amplified to eye-rolling levels: Told that “men come first, women come second” in Japan, Bond quips, “I just might retire here.” But the script also acknowledges what a scoundrel he can be, as when Tanaka scolds, “My mother told me to never get into a car with a strange woman. But you will get into anything with any woman.”


Bond’s taste for alcohol and cigarettes remains, too, although for the first time, characters warn that both are bad for his health — not that the character is ready to give up any of his vices. Late in the film, when Bond is trapped in Blofeld’s volcano base, it’s an exploding cigarette that saves his life. After being told as much, Bond jokes, “You sound like a commercial.” When I was young, Bond was my guide to both world travel and many high-class pursuits. There’s no telling how many smokers owe their habit to the British spy.

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