Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Monster Madness: The Golden Age of the Horror Film (2014)

Introduction:

I’m a bit of a fan of horror films, if you haven’t noticed by all the horror films I’ve reviewed and talked about on this site. But I do have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the golden age classics. Sure I've seen King Kong and a couple of silent classics like Nosferatu, but I haven't seen too many of the Universal films from the 1930s. This documentary sounded like a good place to start, so I gave it a try.

Summary:

This documentary covers the history of horror films in Hollywood from the silent era with Phantom of the Opera all the way up to the 1940s with Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Along the way you see trailers from the films, hear from folks who worked on them, and of course hear from critics and fans discussing the impact of these classics on modern movies.

The documentary also explores how current events shaped the films and their popularity. This gives you some idea how you could go from a gothic masterpiece like Frankenstein and then about a decade later have a crazy monster mash up of House of Frankenstein. The documentary even includes some surprises like Val Lewton’s films and Mighty Joe Young.

Good Points:
  • Provides a informative mix of plot summary and impact for the classic films
  • Includes some interesting interviews with cast, crew and critics
  • Moves briskly to fit all the key points into a little over an hour

Bad Points:
  • Feels disorganized, doesn’t move in chronological order
  • Moves a little too briskly - a bit more information or films could have been included
  • Hard core fans of this genre will not find anything new here

Overall:

While I’m not well versed in the golden age of horror, I do know a little bit about their place in the scheme of things (watched quite a few of Cinemassacre’s horror episodes). So a lot of the material here was not new to me. It was presented well, but would jump around sometimes, feeling a little less cohesive than it could. This might be a good place to start for newbies, but I think most fans of the genre and film history buffs will find it engaging, but a little lacking.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals:  3
Sound: 3
Acting:  n/a
Script:  3
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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Friday, August 25, 2017

The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956) – MST3K Review

Summary:

Welcome to the old west, Mexico style. South of the border Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison) runs the Rancho Bonito with his buddy Felipe Sanchez (Carlos Rivas). They are doing their best to raise cattle in the shadow of the Hollow Mountain. Unfortunately many of the local villagers fear the mountain and the swamps around it. Few who enter the area are ever seen again. When some cattle disappear after wandering near the mountain, Jimmy figures that they sank into the quicksand. But Felipe is convinced that they were lead astray for a reason.

You see Enrique Rios (Eduardo Noriega) runs a competing ranch in the area, and he is pretty adamant that no gringo is going to get to succeed in the area. Throw in the fact that the local governor’s daughter Sarita (Patricia Medina) is engaged to Enrique but has the hots for Jimmy and you can see all kinds of trouble in the mix. So you have a standard western plot in Mexico. What’s the catch? Well there turns out to be a Beast of Hollow Mountain to contend with as well.

Movie Review:

Crow tries to be a buckeroo.
If you read my review of Reptilicus then you know how I feel about monster movies that spend way too much time on the human characters and only wheel out the monster about half way through the film. Well folks, strap in because The Beast of Hollow Mountain takes this concept to a whole new level of tediousness. Now we aren’t talking about Monster a-go-go levels of “there was no monster” shenanigans. But really the best way to look at this film is that it is a Western first, a love triangle next, a buddy film third, and a story about a little boy and his drunk dad. After all those elements eat up screen time, whatever is left, no matter how small, is left for our titular beast. Seriously, it is about 15 minutes of screen time. If you know that going in, then you might be able to get some enjoyment out of the film.

But, if the Western elements of the story are good enough, they’ll hold our attention. Guess what? They aren’t good. They are very, very dull. If you’ve seen any Westerns of the era then you can pretty much figure out how this is all going to play out. All the tropes are included, fist fights, stampedes, and blazing guns. And yet, the whole thing feels lifeless.

He's the only gringo for miles around.
Part of it is the characters. There is nothing terribly interesting about any of them. Jimmy is a very bland hero. He’s the straight shooting white hat that just wants to make a living on the ranch and talk to Sarita without someone trying to punch him. Some tension or interest could be generated to explain why he ended up in Mexico in the first place, or how he met Felipe. But we don’t get anything. He’s just supposed to be the hero because he’s the only one that speaks without an accent, and he is good at roping trees. I think they missed an opportunity to have Jimmy on the run from the law up north, and his actions in fighting The Beast of Hollow Mountain could be his redemption. Yeah, it is also clich├ęd but it would be more interesting than what we get.

Would you trust these two?
Everyone else falls into Western stock characters 101. Felipe is the loyal friend. Sarita is the love interest. Enrique is the jerk. Pancho (Pascual Garcia Pena) is the funny drunk. Panchito (Mario Navarro) is the cute kid. But actually Panchito gets the most characterization. When his father is devoured by the beast, his despair causes him to do some stupid things, but at least the kid gets to have a story arc. And little Mario does a solid job in the underwritten role.

So obviously the writers didn’t really care about the characters, or the Western plot elements, because they just took a template and slapped some character names in there. Sure they are missing a saloon brawl (replaced by a fist fight in a marketplace) and an old fashioned shoot out. But they have other things going for them – the beast!

Way too much time spent on the love triangle.
Well let’s take a look at that portion of the script. So you have The Beast of Hollow Mountain being hinted at through the bulk of your movie. You have the superstitious villagers refusing to go near the swamps. And um, yeah that is about it. The Beast hardly figures into the Western plot at all. These two elements aren’t meshed together. It almost feels like someone took the end from another movie and just stitched it to the end of a Western film. Because of this, there is no growing dread in this movie. I’m fine with holding the monster back, as long as you give me something to build tension about it. Reptilicus does this by keeping the monster the front and center of the story, even if he doesn’t explode into rampage mode until late in the film. If The Beast of Hollow Mountain had focused more on the missing cattle, and had our hero exploring the hollow mountain and discovering signs of the beast, that might have helped. Drop the love interest and have the hero trying to figure out if Enrique is just messing with him or if there is a monster. Or maybe Enrique does create a fake monster, but is surprised when the real one is revealed. I don’t know, but honestly anything would be an improvement over this pseudo script.

Now some of you Harryhausen fans may be saying to yourself, “This sounds kinda like Valley of Gwangi.” And you’d be right. You see Willis O’Brian, the creator of King Kong had this story idea about cowboys and dinosaurs knocking around for a while eventually he sold the idea and The Beast of Hollow Mountain was adapted from it. Years later Harryhausen managed to wrangle the rights to the concept. He considered O’Brian to be his mentor and he wanted to do the concept right. So Valley of Gwangi was born from the ashes of this stinker.

Hollow Mountain looms behind the cows.
Now The Beast of Hollow Mountain isn’t all bad. This film was shot entirely on location in Mexico in full-blown color. It actually has some gorgeous vistas that get shown off. It is also refreshing to see actual Mexicans playing Mexican characters. None of them are terribly interesting, but at least there is that. Panchito is cute. Um… I’m running out of stuff here. Well, let me put it this way. As dull as the film is, it is not poorly made. Poorly written, yes. But the actual production doesn’t look cheap. It makes sense in its own way. I never get the feeling that the director lost control of the film (like say Cry Wilderness or Avalanche). It looks like we had a professional crew working on this one.

Indiana Jones or Tarzan? Sorry it's cowboy Jimmy.
Let’s talk about the monster a little bit. You can tell from the movie poster that you have some kind of Allosaurus running around devouring cows. Sure enough when he shows up you get an amazing stop motion treat. I say amazing because he stomps around in a jerky fashion that by itself is kind of funny looking. But when he opens his mouth and his tongue is revealed… well to tell you the truth I just lost it. It looks so ridiculous, and was nearly worth watching all the dull cowboy stuff just to get to it. Most scenes with the monster feature stop motion antics, but there are a few scenes where feet and arms interact with the cast. The feet look especially silly. For those last fifteen minutes The Beast of Hollow Mountain is a laugh riot.

Try not to look at the creepy festival masks.
So the movie fails spectacularly as Western and as a monster movie. The script lacks any interesting element, except for the monster and it doesn’t seem like the writer knew how to incorporate the creature into the story. I really wonder if he didn’t have this Western script laying around and just changed the names when they decided to shoot in Mexico, and then cobbled the Monster into the bookend scenes. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. But with something this lifeless do Jonah and the bots have a hope to survive this?

Episode Review:

The Beast arrives, and can't find his six shooter.
Over the years Mystery Science Theater tackled a handful of Westerns. If I’ve discovered anything from those episodes it is that they seem to divide fans. Those who already enjoy Westerns usually find something about those episodes to enjoy. But those that dislike the genre usually find the episodes terribly boring. And for a movie that is already inert, than The Beast of Hollow Mountain is going to be a difficult episode for viewers who don’t enjoy cowboys and ranches. For me, I enjoy The Painted Hills the most of the Western episodes of MST3K. It has interesting characters, a plot involving prospectors and even throws in some helpful Indians. Oh and did I mention Lassie is in it! She is! And she takes the law into her own paws. Lassie is Out for Justice! (cough cough) But I’ll get into that another time.

No, this one is closer to Gunslinger, where the movie is just plain bad, but the riffing really helps get through it. And let me tell you, the movie is test for Jonah and the bots. There aren’t any interesting characters to latch onto. There aren’t any interesting plot twists. There isn’t much of anything. It really reminds me of a Season Six offering. It takes a riffing crew at the top of their game to get through this kind of beast.

The Kirk vs Picard debate gets physical.
Things start off rough with Jimmy and two companions wandering around the swamps looking for cattle. This scene seems to go on way too long and the boys kick in with some high speed riffing. Luckily the sequence has very little dialogue (at least very little that is actually important). So the speed riffing isn’t as distracting as it was in previous episodes. But this is the last time this kind of riffing actually happens in Season 11. From this moment forward, the pacing of the riffs is steady and timed well. So that is a big plus.

There are lots of riffs commenting on how there is no monster to be seen for 85% of the film. At one point Jimmy is looking through some papers and Jonah quips, “I’m looking through the script to see if there is a Beast.” In another scene Tom has Panchito yell, “While you’re looking around, see if you can find a Beast for the movie.”

Even Jimmy doesn't get the chinstrap fashion.
There are some funny riffs on the village and costumes. For some reason Felipe has his sombrero chinstrap just under his lip. The bots keep telling him that he’s doing it wrong, and Crow finally says, “First master the chin strap, then tackle the lasso.” Lots of people are wearing striped pants in this movie, and Jonah has one of the characters shout during the stampede “If I die, turn my pants into a circus tent!” When Pancho and Panchito arrive at an abandoned house near the mountain Crow speaks for Panchito “I thought you said we were going to Chuck E. Cheese.” Jonah replies as Pancho, “Well this isn’t Chuck E. Cheese, but there are mice.”

That tongue is both hilarious and obscene.
In all honestly the best riffs in The Beast of Hollow Mountain come at the expense of the Allosaurus. With his tongue flopping about all over the screen, Tom comments, “He has some real problems. He can’t walk and control his tongue at the same time.” Crow declares him the “Gene Simmons-o-saurus.” And all the guys provide dialogue for the dino as she pursues our heroes around the hollow mountain. Between the goofy animation and riffing this final 15 minutes is really top-notch material.

Tom and Crow bring the festival to the SOL. Jonah
is disturbed.
The host segments are pretty fun, with one stand out moment. For the invention exchange the crew still has Avalanche on the brain. Jonah creates the Disco Cannon, which fires a disco ball into the ceiling to create an instant disco whenever you need one. Kinga creates a hot water cannon for ships to use to melt icebergs. Max injures himself with it. At the first break the bots are really annoyed about the lack of monster in the movie. So they come up with ways to make monster movies more fun. Crow creates a hilarious monster buddy film with lots of frat humor. Tom goes for the arthouse crowd with a nihilistic look at the life of the monster. Sure to garner Oscar buzz, especially with Meryl Streep as the monster. When we come back Tom Servo is inspired by the fashions in the film to create his own line of clothing. This one is pretty silly, and will remind fans of the series of a similarly humorous sketch in Time of the Apes. 

The festival causes terror for all who see it.
But nothing tops what may be the funniest sketch of the whole season. During the film a strange festival plays out in the village, with villagers wandering around in bizarre masks. When Jonah exits the theater Crow and Tom are dancing around in similar outfits to strange music. They don’t say a word, but just keep dancing and dancing in circles around Jonah. What makes this so damn funny is watching Jonah’s reaction go from amused, to disturbed to panic to near insanity. On top of that, we also get to see Kinga and Max reacting to the horror, and they get more and more frantic as the sketch progresses. Patton Oswald’s tearful pleas had me on the ground laughing. It lasts just long enough to give you some good belly laughs before heading back into the theater. The final host segment features Jonah and bots talking about movies that would be better if you threw in a dinosaur attack at the end. When they get to My Dinner with Andre the gloves come off and it is pretty funny imaging Wallace Shawn locked in a Kung Fu battle with a velociraptor.

"It all look so fresh. I don't know where to start!"
I’ve got to say that The Beast of Hollow Mountain is the very example of “your mileage may vary” type of episode. If you don’t mind Westerns, and you know you won’t be seeing any beast for most of the movie, then I’d say give this one a shot. The riffing is solid, the host segments are fun (with one outstanding one) and the last 15 minutes of the movie riffing may be the best they’ve done yet. I know, it is a lot of ifs. I’ve seen some people put this at the bottom of season 11’s episode ranks. But I had a good time with it.

I give it 3 wiggly dino-tongues out of five.


This episode is available on the Netflix download.

Even the cows are trying to get out of this movie.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

And Then This Happened... The Beast of Hollow Mountain

Most of us trust that our dwelling will keep us safe from most types of critters. You expect that the roof and walls will be able to keep out pesky rodents and insects. But you never really consider the possibility of beast or creature attacks. Who would? Most of us live far enough from Godzilla target zones that we feel fairly secure. As for King Kong, well he seems to be stuck on Skull Island, right?

But what about those lesser creatures that don't have the big names, but can destroy with impunity. You know, the Beast of Yucca Flats or even Hobgoblins. Will our homes withstand an attack from them. Well the folks in this scene jus realized that The Beast of Hollow Mountain is making quick work of their run down shack. I guess they don't build run down shacks like they used to. Got a caption for this moment?

And then this happened...


Friday, August 18, 2017

You Only Live Twice (1967)

Introduction:

Sean Connery was back as James for the fifth time in 1967. Spy-mania had gripped the world and you could even argue that the popularity of the genre had already reached saturation point. But things were only going to get more intense, because not only did producers have to worry about making a good movie, they had direction competition, from another film featuring James Bond! It was the first time Bond vs. Bond happened in the theaters, and it wasn’t the last.

Summary:

Super British secret agent James Bond (Sean Connery) is given his most impossible mission yet. After a space capsule form the United States disappears in orbit, the Americans start shouting at the Russians convinced it is foul play. But British intelligence believes that the source of the trouble is in Japan. So Bond is dispatched to do some digging and find out what is going on.

Turns out the diabolical leader of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) has created a monstrous space capsule of his own that can capture smaller capsules and bring them to earth. His goal is to start World War III and then take over the planet in the aftermath. Bond finds himself in constant peril as Blofeld’s minions attack in cars, helicopters and even as mobs of dock workers. Luckily Bond has the entire Japanese secret service on their side. That means ninjas… lots and lots of ninjas. Will Bond save the day, or will he find out what the proverb You Only Live Twice really means?

Good Points:
  • Some gorgeous location shooting in Japan
  • One of the most amazing sets ever used in a Bond film
  • A beautiful song and score composed by John Barry
Bad Points:
  • Is all spectacle and not much substance
  • Sean Connery is a bit flat in his portrayal of Bond
  • For being an iconic villain Blofeld doesn’t do too much
Overall:

Every time I watch this film, I always hope I’ll like it more than I do. But in the end, I’m entertained, but also a little bored by it. As visually impressive as the film can be, it just lacks urgency. It reaches for some impressive set pieces, but all the connective tissue just never really clicks. When is all is said and done this is probably the weakest of the Connery Bonds of the 60s, but it is still a good time.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into orbit.
When you take a look at the James Bond films featuring Sean Conner in the 1960s you see a trend. Dr. No starts out as a fairly low-key affair. It is certainly a thriller, and a well made one too. But the blockbuster status that transformed the series with Goldfinger isn’t really apparent. By the time you reach 1967 and You Only Live Twice everything has changed. James Bond isn’t the only game in town, every studio in the world has gone spy crazy. The market was so saturated with spy films that there were actually two James Bond movies due for release in 1967. That’s right, the crazy Casino Royale featuring Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and Orson Welles was in direct completion with the Sean Connery and company with their take 007.I think it is important to understand the world You Only Live Twice debuted in, because it really explains why the movie is the way it is.

Banzai! It is raining ninjas!
So this film is the fifth of the official franchise. It had an established base to start with, including the cast, much of the crew and all the expectations that go along with a James Bond film. In an effort to stand out from the crowd of imitators and the direct completion from Casino Royale, the creators of You Only Live Twice decided that visual spectacle was going to be the main attribute that distinguished them from the pack. Thunderball was a massive success, and it had featured some really impressive visuals, especially that underwater battle scene between two armies. The creative team decided to up the stakes even higher. The final battle here would be massive, and it would explode against one of the most impressive film sets ever crafted for James Bond film.

Secret lair on a rare ninja-free day.
Production designer Ken Adam returned to work on this movie, after giving the series his distinctive stamp way back in Dr. No. This time he outdid himself. He created a massive secret lair inside a volcano, complete with working doors, helipad, rocket gantry, monorail and plenty of room for extras to run around and get thrown over railings. The set became iconic, not just to the 007 series, but also to film in general. Anytime you had a mad super-genius in a lair of any kind, chances are it would look uncannily like the volcano lair form You Only Live Twice.

7... thousand samurai at Himeji castle.
In addition to the amazing sets constructed for the film, you also get some really impressive location shooting. The film takes place almost entirely in Japan. It is the first time in the series that James Bond has journeyed to the Far East, and the producers wanted to make sure that the audience understood that this production wasn’t faking any of it. In some ways, this turns the movie into a travel log for Japan. You get to see the brilliant neon of Tokyo, the grungy docks of Kobe, a flyby Tokyo tower, the grand castle of Himeji and of course the lovely volcanic islands and beaches.

"Can you explain why there is no color in this room?"
There is a strange thing that occurs in You Only Live Twice that makes it a little less visually dynamic than other films in the franchise. With all the metal, concrete and volcanic rock in the film, the actual color pallet of the movie tends to be rather drab. Even the costumes trend towards grey, white or black. Blofeld’s henchmen stand out so well because of their primary colored outfits, but they are the exception to the rule. It is strange because Japan is bursting with color and yet the film doesn’t really capture that too much. I do wonder if the crew knew that Casino Royale was going for a more colorful psychedelic feel, and decided to go against the grain in that case.

Yeah I don't think Connery feels like he is flying.
The visual effects in the film are pretty impressive for the time. This movie probably has the most special effects of all the 1960s Bond films. You’ve got plenty of action in space, with lots of rockets hurtling through the atmosphere. They do a pretty good job capturing those moments. Some of the rear projection is a bit dodgy, but that has always been a problem with these older films.

The sound effects work is solid for its time. You get the typical gunshots and squealing tires during car chases. But this film features a full-blown helicopter battle, a full-blown ninja attack and rockets taking off. The sound supports the action pretty well and certainly keeps up with the more spectacular moments.

Wedding March for Bond? John Barry is there.
Once again John Barrpy composes the film’s score. He wrote the song You Only Live Twice and Nancy Sinatra provides a lovely rendition of the song for the opening and ending titles. Barry uses the theme throughout the film. It works as a great romantic piece for the three ladies that Bond encounters. But Barry also uses the tune to support some of the travelogue moments, capturing the setting sun over the islands, or boldly erupting as the neon flashes in Tokyo. He even gives us a brassy rendition during the Kobe dock fight. You get a rendition of the classic 007 theme that is primarily used in these 60’s Connery films, and was introduced in From Russia with Love. This time it is given a full workout during the Little Nellie sequence, much more spry and fun than the slow version used during the underwater battles in Thunderball. The famous James Bond theme gets very little air time in this film. It shows up a few times, but is understated. Its biggest performances are for the gunbarrel and finale sequences. Last but not least is a nice tense theme for the space sequences. It is a slow piece that builds in tension as it moves along. It adds weight to the visual effects of those scenes. Barry’s score this time around is less brassy and bold. It has many lovely restatements of the main theme, and really focuses on that as its main identity. It works great in the film, but it lacks the diversity that would come in the next score for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Relaxed, or just kind of bored?
By the time You Only Live Twice rolled into production Sean Connery was pretty tired of the character and the celebrity it had brought him. Filming Thunderball had been tough, with fans crashing the production and creating issues where he was staying in the Bahamas. Filming You Only Live Twice was even more trying. It got so bad that Connery would be mobbed if he so much as showed his face outside his hotel. I have to say, you can tell in his performance in this film. He seems less engaged in the part. He does fine in some key scenes like when Aki is murdered. But other times he feels a little flat, especially in the big final battle scene at the end of the film, where Bond becomes more of a spectator (like us) to all the mayhem around him. His performance in Diamonds are Forever is much worse (he really didn’t want to do that film at all). But you can tell Connery just isn’t having fun in the part any more.

"No seriously" [snicker] "It looks really good on you
Bond-san." [snicker]
Luckily the supporting cast is solid. Tetsuro Tanba is excellent as the Japanese spymaster, Tiger Tanaka, who helps Bond on his mission. He has an authoritative but warm demeanor. I bet you could have made a whole series of Japanese spy films featuring Tiger and they would have been great. I also really like Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki. She is a spy working for Tanaka and helps Bond out a few times with her skilled driving and great sense of timing. It’s a shame she is killed off halfway through the film. Kissy Suzuki is very cute (or kawai if you prefer), but her character doesn’t have too much to do in the film. Supposedly Kissy couldn’t speak much English and her accent was very thick, so she is dubbed for the entirety of the film. I should also note that Charles Grey shows up as Bond’s English contact in Tokyo. It’s a fun performance with Grey playing the proper British gent who is about to go native. Grey would appear in the Bond series again in Diamonds are Forever in a much different role - but oddly, almost the same performance.

And now a big hand for our supporting villains!
Opposing Bond is a set of baddies that features one of the most memorable villains of the entire franchise. But first let’s talk about the supporting evildoers. Teru Shimada plays Osato who runs the company front for Blofeld. It’s a lightly written part, but Shimada handles it well. Karin Dor is his sexy assistant, with a voluptuous figure and red hair. She seduces and then tries to kill Bond. She’s good too, but I always get the feeling that producers were trying to give us another Fiona Volpe from Thunderball. But Volpe’s character had way more impact to the plot and Luciana Paluzzi had more to work with. But really when you are talking about You Only Live Twice you can only be talking about one villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, portrayed by Donald Pleasence.

"Oh I assure you, I'm evil."
Now we’ve seen Blofeld’s hand and cat all the way back in From Russia with Love, but this is our first glimpse of the man. Pleasence gives us a calm, cold and creepy mastermind. His scarred face and gentle voice are a great contrast, and it is easy to see how he became iconic as he sits there stroking his evil cat and plotting World War III. But that said, his outfit and attitude are really very close Dr. No, and that does make him a little less distinctive in the villain department. I actually really like Telly Savalas take on the character in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, more urbane, less creepy and just as calculating.

The rest of the London crew are back. M (Bernard Lee) has a couple short scenes to set up the plot. Moneypenny (Louis Maxwell) flirts a bit with Bond. But it is Q (Desmond Llewelyn) that gets a bit more to do here. His whole scene with Little Nellie is very amusing. He’s just as exasperated with Bond as usual, and once again he is forced to into the field to do his job. I say!

Yeah, this scene isn't in the book.
So there are some minor issues here and there, but why don’t I like this movie more? I mean it is James Bond and Japan – two great tastes that should go great together, right? Well the main issue with the film is the story and the over the top spectacle unleashed on the viewers. You Only Live Twice is based on the novel by Ian Fleming, but only in the loosest sense of the word. The novel takes place in Japan, Tiger Tanaka is in it, and Blofeld is behind the evil plot. But there are no rockets, no volcano lairs, no ninjas, no helicopter battles, and no Sumo wrestlers. It is actually a very dark book, focusing on death and how that locks Bond and Blofeld together. The book actually occurs shortly after the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, so James Bond is an angry man, and that anger drives him. It’s not the kind of story to adapt at this point in the 1960s, and I can understand why the producers went in a totally different direction with the plot.

Turning Japanese? I really don't think so.
They brought in Roald Dahl (yes that Roald Dahl of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach fame) to come up with something a bit different. And yeah, I think he went there and more. Spectacle is the name of the game here and Dahl embraces the idea. He has rockets gobbling up other rockets. He has James Bond die, come back to life, turn Japanese and get married. He throws in buckets of ninjas attacking a volcano lair full of guys with machine guns. Yeah Cold War paranoia is the source of the tension in the plot, but that is about the most realistic thing in the film.

"They are not grey pajamas, Bond-san. Ninjas. We
are ninjas! Don't ruin this for me!"
Here’s the thing, Thunderball went about as over the top as I think the 1960s series should have gone. The pool full or sharks and the ship that transformed into a speedboat were fun and kind of silly, but the whole film was build on legitimate tension and thrills. You Only Live Twice actually takes the comic book mold from Goldfinger and ramps it all up to 11. Bond is once again invincible, always right and pretty much a one man wrecking crew… until he needs to get saved by a squad of ninjas or Aki. The movie is going for silly fun, and while it seems like it worked overall, the movie gets really close to parody mode. The thing is, I don’t think Connery is suited for that kind of approach to the character. Connery can do humor, and his dry wit works really well. But with his underplayed performance You Only Live Twice kinda falls flat. Give Roger Moore a similar script in The Spy Who Loved Me and suddenly you have one of the best James Bond films of the franchise.

Look at the girl, not the sumo butts.
Director Lewis Gilbert does a solid job with the film. The actions scenes are well filmed. As crazy as the ninja attack on the compound gets, we never lose track of where all the key characters are. But I actually like the one on one battle with Bond and the massive thug in Osato’s office. It feels brutal and Bond is outmatched physically, so he has to use some makeshift weapons to get out of it. Yeah it is an obvious nod to Oddjob’s final duel in Goldfinger, but it works almost as well.

This was a massive production with a lot riding on it. Gilbert keeps the whole thing together and coherent. Gilbert would do such a good job he would be invited back to helm The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. So they obviously liked what he brought to the table.

Even a mediocre film won't kill Bond, James Bond.
Unfortunately I always find You Only Live Twice to be one the Bond film from the 60s that I most often forget about. This is strange since so many iconic things happen in this film. Blofeld and the volcano lair are pretty much in every James Bond spoof after 1967. But I also run into casual fans of Bond who think all that happens in Goldfinger. In any case, the movie has its moments, and it shows us how HUGE James Bond had become by this point. But it also shows us how tired the concept was getting. In the end You Only Live Twice won the battle against Casino Royale. But all the other ripoffs like Danger Death Ray, In Like Flint, and even Operation Double 007 came out the same year. It was time for something different. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was just that.

"James, you're not doing the Moonwalk right."

"I can't teach you how to Moonwalk, but have you tried to
do the Timewarp... again?"
"007, your dancing is abysmal. We are going to work on
your Lambada skills."
Little Nellie is ready to dance with some big helicopters.
I always wondered. Is the cat evil too?
"Yes you've come to the right man. I can teach you some
excellent disco movies. I am Pleasance and I am funky."
White bikini is standard volcano climbing gear. Get
with it Bond!
Disco inferno? It was bound to happen I suppose.

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