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You Only Live Twice (1967)
Underrated Bond thriller (possible minor spoilers)
You Only Live Twice has been receiving bad reviews that are sometimes unjustified. The fifth film in the series, taking place in Japan is, admittedly, overlong and episodic, but it is also a triumph in the most important level for the Bond films: it is very entertaining. Here are some pros and cons of the film:
- the exotic setting is well used, it is not merely a background, but a part of the story. The Japan of YOLT is modern and unstereotypical, unlike the exotic locations of average studio films of the period.
- Tiger Tanaka and the two Japanese Bond girls are somewhat strong characters that do not become racial or national stereotypes. Particularly the girls are more resourceful than previous Bond belles.
- the film looks glossy and slick, with great cinematography and Ken Adam's wonderful modernistic sets, particularly Osato's office and the volcano set.
- John Barry's score represents the musical peak of the series, with rich Japanese flavour, as in the gorgeous music for the wedding scene. Other musical highlights (in addition to the main title song) include the film's opening burial in the sea scene and the space music.
- the film should have been about twenty minutes shorter, compressing the latter part of the story, such as the fight with the helicopters and 'Little Nelly' and the volcano scenes which drag on badly.
- Donald Pleasance is not the right man to portray Blofeld, even though he was a good actor. He is not menacing enough and looks like a pompous rat in the part.
- Helga Brandt's part is too small. After all, she represents an interesting first in the Bond cycle: a woman who appears to have been seduced by Bond but who is not. But she is way too easily disposed of after she fails to kill Bond. Karin Dor makes no impact in the role, despite being a charismatic actress capable of good performances, as in Hitchcock's Topaz, in which she gives the best performance in the film.
- despite much of the film was shot in Japan, the atmosphere is still very studio-bound, due to the constant use of obvious, shaky rear projections for the outdoor scenes and meticulous sets for the indoor scenes. I do not usually mind these type of flaws in older films but in YOLT they particularly stick out for some reason. This is why there is a certain claustrophobic feeling about the film. Some of the special effects are not that special, even for a 1967 film, even though You Only Live Twice was an expensive film at that time. Compare the space scenes to the ones that appeared in 2001 A Space Odyssey only a year later.
Nevertheless, YOLT is highly enjoyable entertainment fit for repeated viewing, and is still one of the better Bond films made so far.
The Ultimate Bond?
Goldfinger was to become the film that most other Bond films were compared to. Being the third Bond film, Goldfinger is the one where the balance between humour, glamour and excitement was discovered. The previous two films were more like average spy thrillers with a dose of glamour. In this film the futuristic sets of Ken Adam, a colourful, larger than life villain, John Barry's breezy score and tongue-in-cheek approach to the goings-on that became some of the most identifiable trademarks of the Bond films came of age, so to speak.
There are still some rough edges (like the somewhat cheesy music as the action shifts to Miami), but as one compares the plotting of Goldfinger to the previous films as well as to the ones that came after it, it is quite clear that this is the film that is the one that is the biggest influence to the other films in the series.
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Flawed epic that still delivers
After the magnificent Lawrence of Arabia, director David Lean tried to make another big, epic film that focuses on individuals and their actions during important historical times which in Zhivago is the Russian revolution. This time Lean didn't succeed quite as well.
The biggest problems of the film are caused by the screenplay. Doctor Zhivago centres on the actions of the three main characters: doctor and poet Yuri Zhivago, his childhood friend Tonya and his mistress Lara. Unfortunately these main characters' motivations are not always clear to the viewer, resulting in a lack of emotional connection to their plight. On the other hand, some of the supporting actors such as Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson and particularly Rod Steiger stand out as somewhat more interesting characters because of their rather straightforward motives that lack the passion of the Yuri-Tonya-Lara triangle.
On the other hand, Klaus Kinski's anarchist character is too small a role to be justifiably included in the film. And Tom Courtenay's poorly played Strelnikov is also a man whose motivations are unclear because the viewer does not know anything about his personal feelings, except that he was Lara's husband or fiancé at some point and survived a demonstration that became a slaughter carried out by the Cossacks. Tom Courtenay is simply wooden.
Also, the political background is a bit too distant in relation to the love story, and the film is too long.
David Lean was a master director and his strong storytelling improves the flawed script. His skill in not making a long film seem uninteresting or too slow in pace was remarkable. In addition to this, his visual style is strong and he seemed to know how to best photograph those wide vistas of Russia (actually shot in Spain and here in Finland).
Freddie Young's cinematography (though this time only in Panavision instead of Super Panavision 70 that was used in Lawrence of Arabia) is excellent and there's not a bad word one can say about the sets or the costumes. The feeling of the period is wonderfully created.
In the end, one does feel that the story of Yuri Zhivago was ultimately touching and the film's structure of having Alec Guinness as a guide and occasional narrator through Yuri's life in flashback is economical and works very well.
Doctor Zhivago is flawed but nonetheless a classic epic and the kind of film that Titanic and Pearl Harbor tried to be (and failed miserably).
Casino Royale (1967)
Campy, colourful fun.
Casino Royale is a magnificent demonstration of what the late-and mid-sixties was all about. This insane carousel of events and characters does not seem to have a script according to which to work (which was pretty much what happened with the film's bloated budget and troubled production).
David Niven plays his character in his usual suave manner, while Peter Sellers is playing his part almost straight, which is a bit pity since the rest of the film so wildly irrational. There's also a large number of stars in often regretfully small roles, and a few unknowns, who should have become bigger stars (Barbara Bouchet, for instance). The cinematography is 1960's gorgeous and glossy and the sets are accordingly meticulous, generally speaking. Burt Bacharach's score is delightfully cheesy and suits the mood of the film perfectly. The song 'The Look of Love' is great as well.
I feel slightly ashamed of giving a positive review of this film, because it is known that the mish-mash end result was not wholly intentional, but was born out of desperation to complete the film somehow. There are stories of last-minute rewrites, changes in the whole general direction of the film, Sellers not turning up on the set and refusing to work with Welles, whom he saw as giving off "bad vibes", etc.
Nonetheless, Casino Royale is a very enjoyable leftover from the sixties and is miles ahead recent Austin Powers films in terms of sheer imaginativeness.
One of the worst Bond films
GoldenEye marked the return of Bond, this time played by the newcomer Pierce Brosnan. While he seemed to be a promising new person to fit the Bond character, the film itself left much to be desired.
The new Bond film is more like any other action film, thus less interesting. Brosnan is still very stiff in his role (though in the two next films he's getting better). The "sexist misogynist dinosaur" talk between him and M are embarassing, the Bond series is NOT the place for such quasi-feminist lines, particularly when delivered seriously. The right way to criticize Bond's sexism is via humour and witty remarks (as in Thunderball and The Spy Who Loved Me) instead of laughably stone-faced dialogue as in GoldenEye.
Sean Bean is one of the unthreatening, worst villains, with simply stupid lines, again laughable in their "serious" presentation, especially the one about "how do you silence the screams of those you have killed" or something like that. Just plain awful.
The action sequences are the ones that work the best, with a good teaser in the beginning and the memorable tank ride, though the sight of Natalia running around the exploding Severnaya radar station with obviously made-up stains on her face and mussed-up hair is unintentionally funny.
I know that logic is not one of the most important features in Bond films, but how exactly did that tank driven by Bond manage to get ahead the speeding train? It was distracting.
What really sinks this film is one of the most important elements of any film but which in GoldenEye does great harm: the awful, awful, awful score by Eric Serra.
Despite a nice title song, GoldenEye is better left unseen.
À nous la liberté (1931)
Marvellous early sound film
Clair's À nous la liberté is a wonderful satire of modern mass production, magnificently shot, directed, decently acted and with impressive sets. The satirical content is stressed but not too on-your-face. The main reaction to the film is delight.
Some of the sequences were an obvious inspiration to Chaplin, whose masterpiece Modern Times resembles this film quite a lot both in the way it looks as well as thematically.
The picture and sound quality, at least in the version shown on Finnish TV, are superb which is surprising considering the age of the film.
The music is good and well used, except the songs which are slightly irritating. Still, this is a great and pleasing film with a very amusing scene in the end, taking place at the opening of a new factory.
Good but lacking something
While O.H.M.S.S has earned its cult reputation and is one of the better Bond films, there's an uneasy feeling about it that may be due to George Lazenby.
Don't get me wrong, Lazenby did a decent job in his first role, particularly because he hadn't acted before. What I'm trying to say is that the Bond character itself is so different from the previous films and is more three-dimensional, which may not be a positive feature in this case. Someone more seasoned actor who could have played it more closely in relation to the already established character, would have suited the role better. Now the film has a new, a bit uncertain actor giving a new face and more emotional features to Bond, O.H.M.S.S seems almost like a totally different kind of film than the usual in entertainment-oriented series, particularly with its sad ending. It's as if the film were one of the 'unofficial' Bond films. Since the formula of the series is the thing that works and draws the viewer into watching it, the result is a sense disappointment.
Some minor things annoy a bit: Bond's frilly shirt, Blofeld's skiing glasses, clumsy rear projections, Angela Scoular's character, Bond's odd impersonation of the coat of arms expert and those awful 1969 orange colour that appears always somewhere in the interiors. Though these are points of complaint can be considered to be petty niggling, they just increase the uneasiness one experiences while watching the film.
But the film is generally good, with some wonderful skiing footage, good performance by Rigg, stylish direction and John Barry's best score (You Only Live Twice being the closest competitor) in the series. Barry's music is at times rousing and exciting, then tender. Also, the then new synthesizer is used well and discreetly enough, as one of the instruments.
So O.H.M.S.S is a bit difficult to watch, but worth the watch, if only because of the novelty value and because of Barry's music.
Slow, beautiful film.
Charles Chaplin's final American film, Limelight has often been blamed for being talkative and self-indulgent. While this may be true to some extent, these features are essential to a film that is supposed to be both openly autobiographical and philosophical, about Chaplin himself and to be his cinematic testament, if you like. Therefore I wouldn't use these features in a negative sense.
The film proceeds rather slowly and melodramatically, the structure of the story is not as refined as in Chaplin's earlier films, and his direction is not as fluid as before, but neither is it as static as in his last two films. Despite all this, Limelight is highly effective emotionally.
Among the most impressive points are an engaging performance by Bloom, a comic performance with Buster Keaton at the end and a beautiful music score which deservedly won an oscar when the film was reissued in 1972.
Despite its minor flaws, Limelight is a beautiful, sad story with a vivid atmosphere. It is difficult to put into words, but this is one of the most emotionally engaging and touching films I have ever seen. A masterpiece.
Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Slightly unsatisfying but interesting
Truffaut's first and only film in English, Fahrenheit 451 is not his best, probably due to problems with communication, Truffaut and Oskar Werner's disagreements on the set and the fact that the setting is an uncomfortable mix of obviously 1960's Britain with some futuristic sets and costumes.
One of the biggest causes for the slowness and the certain detachment of the film is caused by Oskar Werner, an Austrian actor who is not bad, but not very charismatic and a distinct accent that remains unexplained in the film.
There is a constant sense of movement, though, carried out by Montag, probably inspired by Hitchcock's I Confess. Many times we see Montag just moving around with the camera following him, which allows us to concentrate on his character and which lends Montag's character certain integrity. Nicholas Roeg's cinematography is good-looking. The ending of the film is very beautiful and as a whole, one may be willing to overlook some weaknesses and enjoy the film.
Finally, a special mention should be given to Bernard Herrmann's score which is one of the most beautiful and haunting ever written.
Clumsy but OK, a slight improvement over the previous film
As interviewed by Truffaut, Hitchcock said he was not interested in political films. Then he made Torn Curtain and Topaz, unsuccessful cold war thrillers with awkward, childish anticommunist messages.
Although not as bad as Torn Curtain, Topaz is still one of Hitchcock's least memorable films. It was filmed in various locations around the world, but seems fairly uninteresting. The cast is varied, having no real stars. Main character, played by Frederick Stafford, comes from the George Lazenby-Jean-Claude van Damme school of acting. At least he doesn't seem to have strained his facial muscles by moving them.
In addition to the weak main character, there are many unfocused supporting characters: John Forsythe (belonging to the Frederick Stafford school of acting), Dany Robin (as the wife, almost as naive as Julie Andrews in Torn Curtain), Per-Axel Arosenius (in a dull role, simply annoying) as well as Michel Piccoli and Philippe Noiret, who are good in their disappointingly marginal roles. Karin Dor and John Vernon are very good in their roles.
There's some suspense in the film, once again unlike Torn Curtain. There doesn't seem to be much coherence in the story; characters come and go and the shift from one continent to the other is abrupt. Maurice Jarre's score is also incoherent.There are too many musical elements: the rousing march at the beginning, the electronically enhanced suspense music and the love themes are not connected to one another. Still, it's not as bad as John Addison's music for Torn Curtain.
True to Hitchcock's tradition of having at least one memorable shot in each film, in Topaz it is the magnificent murder scene between two lovers, made as if it were a love scene, with sexual implications. I won't reveal more, but it's a great scene.
Hitchcock was in trouble with this film from the start: he didn't have the story completed when he was beginning to shoot, he didn't have a satisfying ending (he shot three endings) and when the film was completed, he had to cut 17 minutes from it in order to receive distribution for the film in Britain by Rank. All this contributed naturally to the incoherent nature of the film, and despite these troubles, Topaz is surprisingly good. What's more interesting, the edited 17 minutes will apparently be restored on the new video release of the film.