Film number five already. It’s been five years in the world of James Bond films, and five months in the Blogalongabond collective’s epic quest to document every aspect of the screen life of James Bond, one month at a time. You Only Live Twice marks a turning point, as it would be the last film in the series to feature Shir Shean Connereh in the lead role, at least for the time being. As with any successful action film sequence, the need to outdo what’s come previously is inevitable, and consequently the series is left dangling on the verge of self parody by the end of the film.
But maybe that’s also a consequence of the increasing levels of actual parody that were taking place in the wider world. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; if that’s the case then the Bond producers must have been very flattered indeed by the sheer volume of flagrant piss-taking going on in other movies of the time. In 1967, the year that You Only Live Twice hit cinemas, there were a number of other movies taking their inspiration from the Bond series, so was it any wonder that Bond was struggling to take himself seriously?
Here’s just a sample of the Bond influence that got in front of audiences the same year:
In Like Flint
James Coburn, Oscar winning actor and part time Australian impersonator, had a reputation for more hard man roles, so to see him swanning about in tights in the Bolshoi ballet is somewhat disconcerting; admittedly no more disconcerting than Sean Connery putting on a Japanese disguise that’s more insulting than blackface.
James Coburn made two attempts at Bond parodies, but Dean Martin managed to knock out four Matt Helm movies, of which this was the third. It’s amazing how he manages to convey the feeling of being disinterested to the point of looking like he’s speaking under duress.
Operation Kid Brother, a.k.a. OK Connery
I mentioned this back around the time of From Russia With Love, but this really does have to seen to be believed. Actually, I defy you to watch this trailer and then believe that it ever happened. Astonishing.
All this, of course, leads us to the most famous parody of the James Bond series, which might not have arrived until around thirty years later, but spawned two sequels and probably takes its love of the Bond series more seriously than any of those parodies listed above. So this month’s first legacy is…
1. The Austin Powers series
The Austin Powers series not only have Dr Evil at their heart, the most obvious riff on Blofeld but (thanks to the hard work of The Austin Powers and James Bond Connection) I can confirm that You Only Live Twice contains more references picked up in the three Powers movies than any other Bond movie. If you ignore most of the bits with Fat Bastard in, then you’re left with a pretty respectful and loving homage to many of the Bond films that also manages to work in everything from hollowed out volcanoes to giant spaceship eating rockets, and undoubtedly Beyoncé looks better in Aki’s outfit than Aki ever did.
And while we’re mentioning good modern day parodies, it would be remiss of me not to mention one of the finest episodes of The Simpsons, You Only Move Twice. Hank Scorpio successfully embodies the SPECTRE philosophy of money making and evildoing, even if he isn’t exactly Blofeld, but there’s plenty more loving nods to this film in that episode. Sadly you’ll have to track them down for yourselves, as no one could seemingly be bothered to put any decent clips on YouTube. Thanks, world. Thanks for nothing.
2. Bond comes in from the Cold (War)
With the changing political landscape of the Sixties, American and Russian tensions remained high and so Roald Dahl shoehorned these tensions into the plot to give something for SPECTRE to play off. While it wasn’t the first time that either the Americans or the Russians had featured in the series, it was the first time that the real world threat had become so prominent, but it marked the beginning of the end for the SPECTRE plot line and meant that we could start to look forward to a succession of more realistic plot lines, including voodoo priests and assassins with three nipples.
3. Bad guy lairs: compact and bijou, Mosytn
Thanks to Ken Adam, whose imagination was thankfully only matched by the amount of money the producers were willing to give him, unnecessarily huge lairs that are apparently undetectable to the world’s finest defence forces until they get really, really close to it. So of course, the Bond films carry on this tradition of having bad guys with lairs so big that you could park a small country in them, but that are completely invisible to the finest detection devices. Evil genius.
And that’s it for the last film in the first Connery era. Not only the end of the hairy Scotsman’s first run in the role, but also the point where my efforts to find the legacy in each of these gets that much harder, now that the template has been fully established. But at least I got all the way through this without mentioning Casino Royale.
Next month: This never happened to the other fellow. It’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.