Carve Her Name With Pride
Honestly, I picked this one up because of the cover. The title struck me, as did the image of a flaxen-haired beauty brandishing a handgun. This is the true life story of British spy Violette Szabo (Virginia McKenna). Since her real life was gussied up for this film, I am simply going to refer to the film, not her life. Widowed in 1942 (her husband was a French soldier), she is propositioned to act as a liaison between British and French troops. Being fluent in French and athletics, she was a swell candidate. We follow her journey from 1940-1944. It’s a nice time-warp to a period when evil was so easily defined. Nazis? Yes, EVIL! Torn between her only daughter and fulfilling her civic duty, she quickly decides to leave the former behind and finish what she felt her husband had been fighting for. We follow her to her unfortunate end in 1944.
I found the film highly enjoyable, in part from the very subtle camera work and non-invasive directing. In a scene when Violette is handed her husband’s death letter by her mother, we simply see a door close. This was a very subdued and nice touch that goes along with the slight tension throughout the film. We don’t see her reaction to her husband’s death, and more importantly we never see McKenna overact. Her military training is fun to watch. Akin to a less nefarious Le Femme Nikita situation. Training montage, nasty drill instructor, and hijinks all included. There is a very striking scene of her wandering the streets of a German occupied French city while on her first mission. A stark contrast to the lightness of her home life in London.Continue Reading
You Only Live Twice
It’s hard to pick a favorite of those first five James Bond films starring Sean Connery. Goldfinger and Thunderball have their fans. Dr. No is also a blast and the locations and Robert Shaw as the bad guy in From Russia With Love make it pretty special, but I would go with You Only Live Twice. It‘s the last of the 1960s Connery Bonds before he came back for the series' official jumping-of-the-shark four years later in the disappointing Diamonds Are Forever (in between being replaced by George Lazenby for one film, ironically, maybe the best Bond flick, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). All of the Bond flicks of the period work as fascinating international travelogues (wow look at Istanbul in ’63!), butYou Only Live Twice’s Asian setting (mostly Japan), is particularly compelling. Besides Japan’s sexism matching and even topping Bond’s usual misogyny -- I point this out as an anthropologist, not a critic, and as a fan of Japanese cinema, especially Seijun Suzuki’s Yakuza flicks -- it’s fun seeing Connery walk (or run) through similarly blocky industrial locations, that look so familiar from other films. Though Twice’s fantastical centerpiece is its most dated aspect (a stolen rocketship from outer space), what works best is the pure procedural detective work Bond is forced to do and some of the best action set pieces of the franchise. Though Connery donning a bad haircut and slight eye makeup to go undercover as a Japanese man is less shocking then, say Marlon Brando actually playing Japanese in Teahouse of the August Moon and not as completely offensive as Mickey Rooney’s hateful caricature in Breakfast at Tiffany's, it still is a little off-putting, saved only because his eye makeup is less Japanese and more Vulcan.
In one of the more comprehensible Bond plots, the secret agent is forced to go poke around Tokyo, after an American and then a Soviet spaceship are hijacked. Only the British don’t get caught up in the Cold War politics, believing neither super power is responsible since they have reason to believe the ships touched down off the sea of Japan. Bond infiltrates corporate Japan aided by the very beautiful Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) -- who more than once saves him in her bitchin’ convertible Toyota -- and a Japanese Secret Service man, Tiger Tanaka (Tetsurō Tamba), one of the rare second fiddles who seems to be an equal with Bond in both brains and chauvinism. With a script by the great Roald Dahl (most famous for his children’s books including Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, although he also had a background in Britain’s intelligence offices), this was apparently the first Bond script that veered strongly from Ian Fleming’s original source material, which may be why it plays so well. Eventually Bond's snooping leads him to a secret volcano base where the nasty head of SPECTRE, Ernst Blofeld, is stealing the rockets in an effort to start a world war. Along the way there are some classic moments, including a brutal fight between Bond and a sumo wrestler, a dog fight in Bond’s gyrocopter “Little Nellie” and a great attack on the volcano base by ninjas. The lair is as spectacular a set as ever was constructed at that point, complete with Blofeld’s escape monorail and a man-eating piranha pond. Along the way Aki is killed but Bond quickly replaces her with the equally cute Kissy Suzuki (in the book she gives birth to Bond's child); she seems uptight at first but loosens under Bond’s charm, even wearing a bikini while volcano climbing. Bond also has a great run-in with an evil businessman’s killer secretary, Helga Brandt (Karin Dor), who though assigned to kill Bond, first turns him into her boy-toy before leaving him to die in a plummeting airplane.Continue Reading