Based on the third and final installment on what is collectively referred to as the "Blofeld Trilogy" in Ian Fleming's Bond novels--the twelfth overall--producers Albert Romolo Broccoli & Harry Salztman strangely chose to adapt this third installment before adapting the second; "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969). Apparently they didn't feel like scouting for "high snowy locations." This is very odd, not only because that would be the sixth film in the franchise, but also because "Thunderball" (1965) which they'd just made was the first installment in the "Blofeld Trilogy." It was adapted well enough, as "Thunderball" technically wasn't an original Fleming novel. But case in point this should've been the sixth film. It would nicely have rounded off the character which had not yet appeared on screen whom is the leader of SPECTRE, and was created by Ian Fleming & Kevin McClory.
The first task as always was finding a director. Terrance Young didn't want to return to the franchise after his three films, and Lewis Gilbert was the next in line. He'd just directed the widely successful and well received film "Alfie" (1966) with Michael Caine. But apparently Gilbert wasn't interested, until Cubby tempted him by reminding him that Bond had the largest audience in the world, and so, Gilbert jumped aboard. The same could also be said of Sean Connery, whom after delving into the world of Bond four times was not particularly thrilled about returning to the franchise in fears of being typecast, and would formally announce his retirement from the role during filming. He even skipped every single premiere of "Thunderball" after his bad experience at a "Goldfinger" (1964) premiere in which a young woman leaped through the open window of the Aston Martin DB-5 he'd been riding in for promotional reasons. Though a fee hike on his fifth outing kept him around.
Harold Jack Bloom whose credits as a screenwriter include "Bonanza" (1959-1973) and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (1964-1968) was the first writer hired on the project, but his script was rejected. However, enough materials were taken to give him an official "Additional Story Material" credit. Sir Kingsley Amis also submitted a script in December 1965, but it was rejected too. Amis did however publish "The Book of Bond" the same year which chronicles how to live like Bond. Ultimately, the ever imaginative Roald Dahl scripted the final screenplay, as veteran Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum was unavailable, and Dahl was a close friend of Fleming. Despite virtually no experience in screenwriting apart from an incomplete project which starred Ian McKellen & Gregory Peck that was cancelled due to early snow in the Alps, Dahl managed to squeeze out the first of Lewis Gilbert's three large scale 007 films. However, it was the first film to only be loosely based on its novel counterpart.
Casting the new supporting roles was easy enough, with one exception. For the prospect of playing Bond's arch nemesis was just too tempting for everyone in the business. But before casting got out of control, the ever impulsive producer Harry Salztman cast Czech actor, writer, and playwright Jan Werich in the role. Lewis Gilbert tried him out for a week or so, but he and Cubby thought he wasn't very intimidating, and quote, resembled a "poor, benevolent Santa Claus." Take that as you will, but fortunately Werich was replaced with Donald Pleasance who'd recently appeared in the popular films "Fantastic Voyage" (1966) and "The Great Escape" (1963). Unlike his predecessor, Pleasance was very interested in contributing unique attributes to Blofeld, and tried out a range of things, such as a beard, a lame hand, a limp, and a hunchback. However the scar won out. Pleasance however wasn't too enthusiastic about that as the glue was somewhat attached to his eye to get that creepy effect. And if you've ever seen his performance as SEN-5241 in "THX-1138" (1971), then you know how creepy Donald Pleasance can be already. So he nailed the role here. However, he was a bit quiet. Not nearly as loud & boisterous as Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), nor as elegant as Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), but fortunately not the average arrogant rich guy like Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi). He was different to say the least. And of course he sported his famous brown suit which resembles a Nehru Jacket with brown pants, and his nameless persian cat. This appearance has been spoofed countless times. That just goes to show how evil Ernst Stavro Blofeld really is. For I wouldn't exactly call him cool.
Supporting roles include SIS agents like Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), SPECTRE assassin Helga Brandt (Karin Dor), Head of Japanese Secret Service Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), and the shady industrialist Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada). While they all play significant roles in one respect or another, none of them really stand out as unique characters. But the truly unique supporting role was that of Q's autogyro Little Nellie. She joined the fray when Ken Adam heard an interview with RAF Wing Commander Ken Wallis who invented the machine. Special Effects Supervisor John Stears then decked it out with mockups of everything a Bond chopper would need, just like his car. And Q (Desmond Llewelyn) was there to demonstrate its aerodynamic capabilities. Whatever it was about the autogyro, be it the small size, the way it flies, or the fact that it can do anything at all made it a star all its own which stands tall with other iconic Bond vehicles like the Aston Martin DB-5.
Production Designer Ken Adam returned to construct one of the most major super villain hideouts in cinema history. Constructed at Pinewood Studios, Blofeld's Volcano Lair came with a million dollar price tag, but it included an active monorail and heliport. Standing 148' tall, the behemoth of a set could be easily seen from up to three miles away. Needless to say, it makes no sense why the townspeople living under its shadow in the film were totally unaware of its construction. On location filming was conducted mostly in Japan, with two scenes shot in Norway & Hong Kong. Himeji Castle located in Hyogo, Japan which was first built as a fort in 1333 and remodeled as a castle thirteen years later served as a ninja training camp where Bond enlists to go undercover. The complex has been restored six times, is considered a pristine example of Japanese Architecture, and has endured numerous natural disasters. So shooting at this location may just be considered another perk of being a Bond movie. These sets, locations, and expensive toys would amount to the most lengthy Bond production schedule to date, beginning in July 1966, and ending in March 1967.
In his fifth adventure, James Bond (Sean Connery) must investigate the disappearances of American & Soviet spacecraft which intelligence has traced to Japan in an apparent scheme by SPECTRE and its leader #1 to provoke WWIII as both superpowers would blame each other incessantly for the disappearances rather than use their common sense to solve the case. So of course, this stiff ass brit has to do it for them. Don't you love how Britain is promoting itself by broadcasting a modern superhero whom can prevent global catastrophe all by himself?
Despite the exotic locales, and massive sets, I do have more caveats with this film than the others. Firstly, and mostly, since Bond is entirely alien to Japan and its culture, he doesn't seem as suave and renegade or cool as he does in all his other adventures. He's learning their language as he goes along if you will. Plus it takes a while for the film to get going. Not to mention that the supporting roles aren't memorable besides Blofeld, and that the plot is the most outlandish yet. Then again, we shouldn't question SPECTRE's choice of hideout so much as enjoy it. Since the majority of the film is very much an investigation, and mirrors that of "Dr. No" (1962) in that you don't get to enjoy Pleasance as Blofeld or gawk at the majesty of Ken Adam's set until the climax. Though this climax is significantly longer than the others, so you get more runtime here than in "Dr. No." Although I vastly enjoyed that film more. While Lewis Gilbert demonstrated he could handle a large scale production, some of Bond's best aspects seem absent here, and so overall the film scores fewer points than its predecessors, but was still enjoyable.
With the most expensive budget yet at $9,500,000, the film would go on to reign in $111,600 at the box office. While that's significantly lower than its two predecessors, it was still a success. Most critics weren't too impressed with it, or the theme song by Nancy Sinatra which landed at #44 on U.S. Billboard Charts, and #11 in the U.K. But what do you expect when it took twenty-five takes to get it right due to nervousness? And those numbers are vastly lower than Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger," but composer John Barry's take on oriental music was impressive. I for one didn't care for either as being impressive. This whole film falls under that alien feeling. For Bond was just too removed from it all for me.