Maybe "memorable" isn't the right word to describe "You Only Live Twice"; "nutty" is closer.
Released 50 years ago this week, on June 13, 1967, it's the James Bond adventure where we first see archenemy Blofeld's horrible face, where Sean Connery's Bond fakes his own death, where the Japanese setting means 007 tangles with ninjas and sumo wrestlers, and where the final battle takes place in the most awesome supervillain lair ever -- that hollowed-out volcano.
It's a wonder that the movie came together at all, given its rebellious star, a rookie screenwriter, the production's epic scope, and a horrific on-set accident that maimed a cameraman. Here are the secrets behind "You Only Live Twice," declassified.
1. Originally, the fifth Bond film was supposed to be "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," but the scheduled summer shoot meant postponing that wintry story and filming "You Only Live Twice" first.
2. The shuffled schedule meant, in turn, that most of the plot of Ian Fleming's novel had to be tossed away, since the book centered on an embittered Bond seeking revenge on Blofeld for killing his new bride in "Secret Service.
3. To come up with a new story, the filmmakers turned to Fleming's pal, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" author Roald Dahl, who'd never written a produced screenplay before. He was given six weeks to write a script and still wasn't finished when shooting started.
4. Complicating the shoot further were Connery's complaints about the gig. After playing 007 four times, he found the movies increasingly cartoonish, and he was worried about being typecast. His public announcement that "You Only Live Twice" would be his last Bond adventure drew extra scrutiny to the shoot, with fans and reporters crowding the sets.
5. Czech actor Jan Werich was cast as Blofeld, but after several days of shooting, the producers didn't find him menacing enough; indeed, they likened him to a cuddly Santa Claus. He was replaced with Donald Pleasence, who made the supervillain one of the two defining roles of his career (later, he'd play Dr. Sam Loomis in the "Halloween" movies). It was Pleasence who came up with the idea for Blofeld's scarred face, after suggesting other deformities like a hump, a limp, and a withered hand. But he came to regret his idea, since the glue in the scar makeup irritated his eye.
6. It was Dana Broccoli's idea -- wife of producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli -- to have a helicopter that could pick up a car with a magnet and then drop it in the water.
7. Tsai Chin, who's probably best known for playing Auntie Lindo in 1993's "The Joy Luck Club," played one of the Bond girls, Hong Kong spy Ling. Thirty-nine years later, she was one of the poker players opposite Daniel Craig in his debut as 007, 2006's "Casino Royale."
8. British spy Dikko Henderson was played by Charles Gray, who'd later play Blofeld in "Diamonds Are Forever" before finding lasting fame as the Criminologist in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
9. The swimming double for many of the pearl divers was Sean Connery's wife, Diane Cilento.
10. While scouting locations in Japan, producers Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, production designer Ken Adam, and cinematographer Freddie Young skipped their scheduled flight back to England in order to watch a ninja demonstration. The flight they missed crashed shortly after takeoff and killed everyone on board.
11. The "Little Nellie" autogyro that Bond flies in the film led to another terrible accident. Laden with weapons by the production team, the tiny aircraft had a hard time flying on a stable path. Aviation cinematographer John Jordan was a legendary daredevil accustomed to lashing himself to the landing strut of a helicopter to get his footage, but during the scene where two helicopters attack the autogyro, one of the chopper blades nearly severed Jordan's foot. Surgeons reattached it, but after he returned to England, he thought the reattachment felt wrong, and he had the foot amputated for good.
12. Nancy Sinatra landed the assignment of singing the theme song after her dad, Frank, turned it down. She was reportedly very nervous about getting it right; composer John Barry claimed it took her 25 takes to record her vocals. Nonetheless, the song became a minor hit for her in both the U.S. and the U.K.
13. Ken Adam, who'd designed the supervillain lairs for the previous Bond movies, outdid himself with the volcano. (Originally, the filmmakers had hoped to use a Japanese castle by the sea, only to discover that no such seaside castles exist in Japan.) The volcano was a set built at England's Pinewood Studios, measuring 120 feet high and 450 feet across, big enough for a helicopter to land inside and to accommodate the 100 stuntmen playing the ninja assault team. It cost about $1 million to construct, a figure equivalent to the entire budget of the first 007 movie, "Dr. No," just five years earlier.
14. "You Only Live Twice" was budgeted at $6 million, though its eventual cost may have been as high as $10.3 million. That was a huge sum at the time, but the movie returned $111 million in worldwide grosses.
15. Connery made good on his promise to quit the franchise after "You Only Live Twice," though he did return to play 007 twice more over the next 16 years. Team Broccoli went on to make "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" with new star George Lazenby. Jordan returned to shoot the film's stunts, even removing his prosthetic foot for the bobsled scenes. But he died a year later, in 1969, while shooting aerial combat footage for Mike Nichols' "Catch-22." With his prosthetic limb keeping him from getting a stable footing, he fell from a B-25 bomber 2,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean.
16. "You Only Live Twice" saw something of a revival in the late 1990s. Robbie Williams borrowed the string arrangement for his song "Millennium," Coldplay covered the tune in concert, and Mike Myers stole liberally from the film -- Blofeld's face, his Nehru jacket, his cat, the space scenes, the sumo wrestling, the piranha pool, the lair -- for his "Austin Powers" spy spoofs.
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