Plot Quality: The plot begins well. The story opens with Bond taking a woman to bed in Hong Kong. Some gunmen enter the room and shoot the bed full of bullets. The police appear and announce Bond dead moments later. He gets a burial at sea in full view of the public. Of course, Bond isn’t dead. The idea is to fake Bond’s death so SPECTRE will think he’s dead and turn their attentions elsewhere. And this is a pretty smart way to start the film... only, Bond does nothing to maintain a low profile after this.
Bond is sent to Japan to investigate. Upon arrival, he is contacted by a woman named Aki. She is an assistant to the leader of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka. Aki introduces Bond to the local MI-6 operative, Henderson (Charles Gray). Gray claims to have proof that a Japanese organization is behind the spaceship hijacking, but before he can share that proof with Bond, he is killed. Bond follows the assassins back to the corporate offices of Osato Chemicals, where a fight ensues and he steals some documents. Bond then flees the scene and is picked up by Aki. Bond is suspicious of Aki and follows her when she flees into the subway. Once there, he falls through a trap door, which takes him to meet Tiger.
Up to now, the plot has been pretty solid. Yes, there are some silly bits, like why Bond wouldn’t know what Tiger looks like or why Osato didn’t just shoot him in his office or why Brandt didn’t just shoot him when she had him tied up. But all told, the story holds together very nicely. Sadly, that is about to change.
Bond breaks in and discovers a secret base, complete with launch facilities. He tries to get onboard the rocket that is about to launch and gets caught. Then he is taken to the mastermind behind all of this, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence). Pleasence hams it up and tells Bond he’s going to kill him. But just then, Tiger’s ninjas attack the volcano. Pleasence flees. A titanic battle ensues with color-coordinated henchmen. Bond and Kissy (who replaced Aki when she was killed) escape and the film ends with them kissing in a raft.
Still, the scene of him following the assassin to Osato Chemicals and doing some spying there is some of the best work in the series. They idea of the hijacked spaceship is extremely cool, even by today’s standards. The stakes are high as the US and Russia are on the verge of going to war over this. And the whole thing really does feel right for a Bond film. Moreover, this is one of the five films they always show in prime time during Bond-a-thons, attesting to its continued popularity. This film has earned its place.
I also wonder, quite frankly, if Connery really did tank his performance as he indicates or if that was simply a self-serving claim for an actor who wasn’t able to handle the pressure of the role? Comparing his performance here to his performance in Diamonds Are Forever, I can’t help but think that Connery really did do his best.
The other possible Bond girl is Karin Dor as Helga Brandt, but honestly, she’s a little too old and too, uh, East German to be sexy. She’s barely in the film and when she is, she spends more time letting Bond escape than doing anything constructive.
Villain Quality: Oy vey. I’m a big fan of Donald Pleasence in horror films, but he’s really out of his league as a villain in a Bond film. He plays Blofeld in such a near-cartoonish fashion that he became the obvious choice for Mike Meyers to parody as Doctor Evil. He has none of the menace of the prior Blofeld or Largo or Red Grant or the mathematical precision of Dr. No. He is like Goldfinger’s weaker brother. This is too bad too because Blofeld’s scheme is ingenious.
All in all, this is a top Bond film. It has one of the best moments in the franchise in it, the scheme is one of the best, and despite claims to the contrary, Connery does an excellent job as Bond. There are negatives, and the Austin Powers films have parodied those heavily, which may ultimately drag this film down a couple notches. But right now, this film sits where it belongs at No. 006 of 0023.