Lewis Gilbert, the director of You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979), has died. He was 97.
His death was reported by his son, John Gilbert, to the BBC.
Outside of the Bond canon, he was a deft hand at British war films – Reach for the Sky the inspiring 1956 biographical film of Sir Douglas Bader, the Royal Air Force ace who lost both his legs, and Sink the Bismarck! (1960) the story of the Royal Navy’s attempt to scuttle the German battleship. Both starred British actor Kenneth More.
Carve Her Name With Pride (1958) depicted the true story of British spy Violette Szabo working with the French Resistance.
He collaborated with Michael Caine on two films.
In Alfie, the 1966 classic starred Caine as a womanizer. He frequently broke the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience. The film included a confronting abortion scene – “The US censor rang me and said: We like the film, we want to pass it, and we are trying to change our code.”, Gilbert wrote in 2001. “And they did – not just because of Alfie, but it helped. In a way, that pushed their cinema into the 20th century. Until then, it had been Doris Day playing virgins at 45!” The film received 5 Oscar nominations.
In Educating Rita, Caine was an alcoholic professor tutoring Julie Walters. Both received Oscar nominations.
“I took an instant liking to Lewis Gilbert”, Caine wrote in his autobiography What’s It All About? “He was a quiet, sincere man who loved actors and I felt a kindred spirit with him.”
Gilbert also directed Shirley Valentine (1989) with Pauline Collins in her Oscar nominated role, and Stepping Out (1991) which starred Liza Minnelli.
Across his three Bond outings, he sent 007 to a remote Japanese island, the pyramids of Giza, an underwater Atlantis base, and finally into outer space.
“Everybody comes to expect certain things in a Bond film, and they are quite happy to see them over and over again, and I am amazed in that myself,” he told an audience in 2010.
He initially declined Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s request to direct You Only Live Twice, with a screenplay written by Roald Dahl.
Then, after scouting for locations in Japan for three weeks, Gilbert and his crew cancelled their departure flight at the last moment, to watch a ninja demonstration film. That flight, BOAC Flight 911, crashed near Mount Fuji upon take-off, killing 124 people.
It was during shooting of You Only Live Twice, that Sean Connery announced he was retiring from the 007 role. “I can remember saying to Sean, look it is silly not to keep on playing Bond, because whilst you are playing Bond you can do anything in the world that you want to do.”
Ten years later, Gilbert directed Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). “Easily the best of the three films I did and possible one of the best of all the Bond series” Gilbert later said.
His final Bond outing was Moonraker (1979). Originally, the producers had planned to make For Your Eyes Only, but changed to leverage off the success of Star Wars two years earlier.
It bookended Gilbert’s trilogy of Bond films rather nicely, as the opening sequence of You Only Live Twice is set in outer space.
Gilbert was born in Hackney, London in 1920.
He was married to Hylda Tafler for 53 years until her death in 2005.
He began his career as an assistant to Alfred Hitchcock on Jamaica Inn (1939).
“I loved watching Hitchcock because he never got out of his chair.
I went up to him, which was a bit cheeky, and said to him ‘Mr Hitchcock, can I ask you a question? You always write on a piece of paper and give it to the camera operator, because you don’t look through the camera yourself. He said, “No, I write down the number of the lens and all that and I give it to them and I leave it to them.”