It contained some of the most memorable 007 movie moments of the 1960s, including one of the biggest sets yet seen in the James Bond franchise. Moreover, audiences were finally given their first sight of the mysterious villain who was intent on causing World War Three, bringing to a climax the anticipation over his identity, built up so teasingly both in the film and in two previous entries in the series: ‘Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld’.
When Ian Fleming first introduced the criminal network SPECTRE in the novel Thunderball in 1961, he created an organisation which has arguably become one of the most famous fictional crime syndicates in popular literature. Along with its evil boss Blofeld, it also became, of course, a major part of the James Bond legend on the big screen, with You Only Live Twice (1967) setting the template for a whole wave of movies with global-scale nefarious schemes dreamt up by super-villains at their heart.
The influence of You Only Live Twice on the subsequent 007 films also remained strong, with the EON franchise even ‘re-imagining’ the concept for the most recent and 24th James Bond movie SPECTRE, directed by Sam Mendes and released in 2015. And, one suspects, like all the memorable Bond baddies we love to hate, we have probably not seen the last of one of our favourite villains or his insidious organisation.
As the British TV channel ITV-4 continues with its autumn Bond films season in the UK, the JBIFC takes the opportunity to celebrate and praise the fifth James Bond movie, with 00(7) items of info about the now-classic spy adventure with Sean Connery, some familiar and others less so.
007 and Counting…
001: As noted earlier, Ernst Stavro Blofeld was first introduced to the world in Ian Fleming’s 007 novel Thunderball in 1961, where he was head of SP.E.C.T.R.E. (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), a global criminal network with its secret headquarters in Paris. It operated under the guise of the ‘International Brotherhood of Resistance Against Oppression’, a kind of cross between a charity and a human rights organisation. Behind the public veneer, the SPECTRE network was utterly ruthless and was primarily concerned with generating profit for Blofeld and its executive board, no matter how this was done. As originally described by Fleming, Blofeld was a physically large man, very tall and weighing over twenty stone. Born in Imperial Germany in 1908, his father was Polish and his mother Greek (‘Stavro’ is a Greek name). His eyes were dark, rather like Benito Mussolini’s, and his face was topped with black crew-cut hair; he did not smoke or drink, and he regularly chewed violet-scented mints. By On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963), however, Blofeld had changed locations to Switzerland and radically altered his appearance: he had lost weight, now had long, silver-coloured hair, no ear-lobes, and wore dark green-tinted contact lenses. He also desperately sought recognition of the aristocratic title of the Count de Bleuville. In You Only Live Twice (1964), Blofeld had again altered his appearance and was now living in Japan, operating under the alias of Dr. Guntram Shatterhand. In many ways, SPECTRE had now become a much smaller organisation, very much under the direct personal control of Blofeld and his evil assistant Irma Bunt.
002: In the EON Sean Connery Bond movies of the 1960s, SPECTRE was first name-checked in Dr. No (1962), and Blofeld himself was first glimpsed (in profile only) in From Russia With Love (1963), where cinema audiences were also introduced to the now famous ‘Octopus’ symbol, used in secret communications or on rings worn by members. Blofeld was also seen in profile again in Thunderball (1965). When it came to transferring Fleming’s novel of You Only Live Twice to the big screen, however – apart from Blofeld, Tiger Tanaka, and the Japanese location – very few elements of the original novel were retained. Author Roald Dahl (1916-1990), the man chosen by the Bond producers to pen the storyline for EON’s fifth Bond movie, dropped much of Fleming’s original story (which centred on a remote Japanese castle with a ‘Garden of Death’). More radically, even though he had only seen one Bond movie himself (Goldfinger), he decided to tap into and build upon some of the more ‘sci-fi’ concepts seen in the series (the producers had quickly ensured that Dahl saw the other three Bond films). He thus delivered a screenplay with a space-age theme, which cannily played upon fears of nuclear war and the growing interest in the 1960s in new forms of advanced technology. In hindsight, it was a good move: nearly the whole world had seen images of the first space launches on their TV sets, and it gave Bond a very contemporary feel. In fact, once he had settled upon his basic storyline, Dahl really got stuck in and turned in the first draft in only six weeks (with some additional material by writer Hal Bloom). Dahl later said in interviews that he had been especially influenced by the American Gemini space project and its space-walks.
003: Perhaps to partly appease a now clearly unhappy Sean Connery (who had grown restless over his James Bond commitments), some heavyweight new crew members were recruited to oversee You Only Live Twice. A surprise choice was the award-winning director Lewis Gilbert. Gilbert had recently made the very successful social comedy Alfie, with Michael Caine, a movie which had been highly praised by the critics and became one of the smash-hit films of 1966 in the UK. Its gritty social message about back-street abortions had been hard-hitting and quite ground-breaking. Gilbert had, at first, declined EON’s offer to direct a Bond film, but was talked round by a persuasive Cubby Broccoli, who pointed out that Gilbert would have the ‘world’s biggest audience’ seeing his work. Moreover, as Broccoli was undoubtedly aware, Gilbert had directed a number of war movies and certainly knew how to handle a large production. Similarly, another new face on the Bond crew was the cameraman Freddie Young, who had just won an Academy Award for his superb cinematography on David Lean’s epic Dr. Zhivago. This pairing of Gilbert and Young proved to be a winning combination. Gilbert had excellent ‘people’ skills and was popular on set. He quickly gained the confidence of Broccoli, and he was able to get on especially well with Connery. As Gilbert himself put it in his memoirs, ‘I accepted Cubby’s offer and thoroughly enjoyed making the picture’. There is also something very beautiful about Freddie Young’s camera work on You Only Live Twice, with some superb use of colour and location.
004: Another key ingredient to the film’s winning ‘look’ was the hugely imaginative work of the production designer Ken Adam (1921-2016). Adam had played an instrumental role in the identification of suitable locations for You Only Live Twice, even travelling to Japan on a recce mission with Cubby Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and Lewis Gilbert. When they were searching the Japanese coastal areas for a castle of the type described in Fleming’s novel, Broccoli, Gilbert and Adam (scouting in a helicopter) came across a set of volcanoes and, after inspecting one of the extinct volcanic craters, Gilbert and Adam became really excited about the possibilities; the idea was hatched to have Blofeld’s base in a volcano instead of a castle. Granted a huge $1 million budget by Broccoli, an eager Ken Adam set about designing Blofeld’s massive rocket base on the huge back lot at Pinewood studios in England, in what famously became one of the largest enclosed sets ever built for a movie. Just this one set alone took a construction crew of 250 men to build. It used a huge amount of steel, had a retractable roof, a working monorail and was big enough for a helicopter to easily land inside it. It also housed a rocket which could partly lift off (such is the power of the movies!). The results were stunning, and a battle filmed inside the volcano set involving numerous extras and about 30 stuntmen formed the dramatic climax to the movie.
005: An additional bonus for the film was the return of Peter Hunt, which resulted in some excellent editing work on the final cut of the movie. After all his hard editing work on Thunderball (which arguably had saved the movie), Hunt made it clear that he would like to direct the next Bond adventure. When it became obvious that this was not going to happen, Hunt had resigned as principal film editor on the series and, for You Only Live Twice, was replaced by Thelma Connell. However, when the Bond producers were conducting their location scouting in Japan for the new film, they had come across Hunt; Cubby Broccoli, sensing an opportunity to patch things up, talked Hunt into returning to the series, but this time as Second Unit director on the new movie. As things turned out, as well as his excellent Second Unit work, Hunt ended up agreeing to carry out a great deal of last-minute and (at the time) uncredited editing on the film in early 1967, effectively working as the Supervising Editor. Gilbert had assembled a cut that was 133 minutes in length, and Thelma Connell valiantly struggled to get it in shape. Hunt came to the rescue yet again, as he had on the previous Bond film. His reward was to be offered the full director’s job on the next 007 entry, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And here’s something that has intrigued You Only Live Twice fans ever since: when he took over the main primary editing duties from Thelma Connell, Hunt – in order to tighten the running time on the film – cut about 15 minutes worth of footage from the movie. We wonder what happened to that footage?
006: One of the big highlights of You Only Live Twice was the final ‘reveal’ of Blofeld in the form of actor Donald Pleasence (1905-1995) , who was best-known to international audiences for his role in the prisoner-of-war film The Great Escape (1963), but had also specialised in playing rather sinister figures, such as in the British horror comedy What a Carve Up! (1961). As many fans now know, the Czech actor Jan Werich was initially cast as Blofeld, but after some brief filming with him was carried out Lewis Gilbert thought the bearded Werich looked too benign and more like Father Christmas than a dangerous Bond villain (he could also barely speak English). Gilbert raised his concerns with Broccoli, who agreed with the director’s misgivings. A disappointed Werich was thus replaced with Pleasence. But what is not often realised is that Werich worked on the movie for about five days, and some of Sean Connery’s ‘reaction’ shots to the big Blofeld ‘reveal’ were actually in response to seeing Werich. A key decision was then taken to reinforce the shock value of seeing Blofeld for the first time: Pleasence was provided by the makeup artists with a disfiguring scar on his face, with some grafted skin stretched partly over one of his eyes. This final eerie facial look, however, was only settled upon after some experimentation with a hump, a limp, and a lame hand! But, partly due to some well-written dialogue between Connery and Pleasence, the Bond versus Blofeld confrontation and repartee worked very well, and the bald-headed arch-villain became one of the most memorable features of the early Bond series. In fact, he has become something of a cultural icon. Significantly, perhaps in a nod to his own nostalgic fondness for the Donald Pleasence interpretation of Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, director Sam Mendes was keen for the Christoph Waltz version in SPECTRE (2015) to have a damaged eye. Indeed, as the February, 2016, issue of Cinefex noted, the final visual ‘look’ of Blofeld in the climax to the SPECTRE storyline was especially important: Mendes wanted Blofeld’s appearance to reference the version seen in the film You Only Live Twice, and a number of versions of Blofeld’s damaged eye were apparently tried out by the makeup department before the final one was settled on. It was almost as if history was repeating itself!
007: Finally, one of the big ingredients worthy of high praise in You Only Live Twice was undoubtedly the superb music composition work of John Barry (1933-2011). Recorded over six days in April and May, 1967, Barry’s music subtly combined guitar and brass with some very melodic and appropriate Japanese elements. The main title song alone, performed by Nancy Sinatra, was a beautiful and haunting theme song, with some atmospheric lyrics by Leslie Bricusse which played brilliantly on the themes of ‘death’, romance and love in the movie. When matched with some excellent main titles designed by Maurice Binder, which played upon the dramatic but beguiling sight of lava flows and Geisha women, the song was compelling and highly memorable for cinema audiences. The song proved a big hit for Nancy Sinatra, even reaching Number 11 in the UK pop charts, while the main soundtrack did particularly well in America. Importantly, Barry’s soundtrack for You Only Live Twice proved to be a key inspiration to a whole new generation of composers and singers, including Bond soundtrack composer David Arnold and the hit singer Robbie Williams. The song Millenium (1998), written and sung by Williams, was a great tribute to John Barry’s music for You Only Live Twice, which utilised some key melody elements from the main title song. Similarly, David Arnold, for example, has in past interviews paid generous homage to Barry’s work on the movie and has described how listening to the music as a teenager was a truly ground-breaking experience for him, which left him with a burning desire to compose for movies himself.
Did You Know?
Some of Ian Fleming’s biographers have argued that the James Bond author ‘borrowed’ the name ‘Blofeld’ from Tom Blofeld, a Norfolk farmer who was chairman of the Country Gentleman’s Association and also a fellow club member of Boodle’s, the London club where Fleming often went to eat regularly. He had also been a contemporary of Fleming’s at Eton school. Incidentally, Tom Blofeld’s son is the famous British cricket commentator Henry Blofeld.
Rare publicity still of Donald Pleasence on YOLT set