Story of the Scene: You Only Live Twice (1967)
Friday 24 July 2009
One of the highlights of the fifth film in the James Bond series was the Little Nellie autogyro aircraft. After Q comes over from England to deliver it, Sean Connery takes the opportunity to pilot it to a remote area of Japan on a reconnaissance mission to discover the hidden lair of the SPECTRE organisation. However the extraordinary aerial shots by legendary cameraman John Jordan came at a heavy price, and what happened above the mountains of Miyazaki was to contribute to his early death
The autogyro was piloted by its inventor, Ken Wallis, a former wing commander in the RAF. John Stears's special-effects team adorned it with missiles and machine guns. This did nothing to help the stability of the little machine: above the skies of Japan Wallis nearly crashed into the camera on several occasions. There were five hours of filmed flight and 85 take-offs recorded.
The autogyro used in this film was piloted by its inventor Ken Wallis, a former Wing Commander in the RAF and an experienced pilot (during the 1950’s he regularly flew B-36 bombers with a nuclear payload) and to date (in his mid nineties) the holder of over thirty world records. Production designer Ken Adam had heard him talking on British radio, and promptly hired him. John Stear’s special effects team then adorned it with missiles and machine guns. This did nothing to help the stability of the frantic little machine, and it was clear from the beginning that it was going to be hard to handle. Above the skies of Japan, Wallis nearly crashed into the camera on several occasions. There were five hours of filmed flight and 85 take-offs recorded.
John Jordan had developed his own technique of hanging dangerously from a harness, buffeted by wind, feet resting on the helicopter landing strut. But during the sequence when Little Nellie is attacked by two Bell 47 helicopters one of the Bell blades hit his foot, almost cutting it off. As luck would have it there was a microsurgery conference in town, and the best surgeons in the world were able to reattach it. But when he got back to London Jordan had it amputated, feeling it was "not quite right".
Now sporting a prosthetic foot, Jordan continue undaunted in his career, over three years following filming some of the best landscape shots in On her Majesty’s Secret Service, and actually taking his foot off to film the high-speed bobsleigh shots. A year later he was dead. While filming action footage from a B25 Mitchell Bomber in 1969 over the Pacific he fell two thousand feet to his death, his ability to keep a sure footing impaired by his prosthetic limb. Catch 22 was the last thing he ever did.
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