This weekend, my friend Laura and I are watching the seven James Bond films she has yet to see. I flew from Los Angeles to her house in Sacramento especially for the occasion. “What else will you be doing while you’re there?” Michael asked as I shoved sweatpants and wrinkled t-shirts into a bag. I was annoyed by the question. When you tell someone you plan on watching 18 hours of 007 movies in a single weekend, you don’t expect that person to come back at you with, “And…????”
Laura and I opened a box of Cheez-Its, tucked blankets under our legs and started the weekend off with 1967’s You Only Live Twice, in which Bond goes to Japan and teams up with a beautiful female agent to solve a series of “space-jackings.” In the movie, none of the characters refer to them as “space jackings.” That’s a term I made up myself. Laura and I giggled at it. We have been friends for thirty years now, and really haven’t matured much since the age of 12. If you don’t believe me, ask my therapist and Laura’s ex-husband. They’ll both confirm.
“I feel like I’m watching Austin Powers!” Laura said as the dated special effects lumbered across the screen. It’s true, the giant villainous orbiting ship that sneaks up on American and Russian rockets from behind to swallow them doesn’t really hold up 50 years later. It looks more like an early prototype of a Jim Henson crocodile Muppet.
After the rockets are swallowed up, the American and Russian leaders accuse each other of sabotaging their spaceships. Again, Laura laughed. “Why are they calling it a spaceship? No one launches a spaceship. You launch a rocket. You launch a shuttle. You go up to a space station. Only cartoon Martians have spaceships!”
After faking his own death in order to throw the enemies off his scent (and justify the name of the movie), Bond is launched to the shores of Japan out of a torpedo tube to begin his mission. Within two minutes he’s already been identified by a sexy Japanese agent who talks into a secret microphone inside her purse, which even though it’s supposed to be secret, is approximately the size of Wal-Mart.
Later, Bond chases another sexy agent into an abandoned underground rail station where he ultimately falls through a piece of walkway that drops open and sends him down a long tunnel, landing him in a snazzy lounge chair on the other end. Laura perked up. “Oh, I gotta get me one of those! Just watch for hot guys up on the sidewalk and when I find one, push a button and BOOM! He’s all mine!”
No one seems to remember anything about You Only Live Twice even though it has one of the most famous villain lairs in all of the Bond series. Turns out that Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the white cat-petting leader of the evil SPECTRE crime syndicate is doing all his “space-jacking” from a hollowed-out Japanese volcano that can open and close to allow rockets to enter and leave at will. Laura and I agree, as secret lairs go, this crater one is pretty swell.
Every time the crater needs to open, Blofeld calmly orders, “Open crater!” and then his second in command yells over the volcano P.A. system, “Open crater!” and a guy pushes a button to make the crater open. Later, Blofeld yells “Close crater!” and his assistant again repeats the command and the same guy pushes a button to make the crater close back up. I would love to have that job! I’d get to just sit around in some fancy 1960’s volcano lair all day, watching The Beverly Hillbillies on a black and white 14-inch television with rounded edges, just waiting for someone to yell “Open crater!” Then I flip a button and make the whole damn billion dollar operation come to life! You know I’d be strutting around like a stud at my high school reunion, that’s for sure! Of course, if I ever got fired I don’t know if The Japanese Employment Department would consider “Volcano Crater Door Opener” a legitimate job, and they’d probably deny my claim for benefits. And in the long run I’d look back and think, “Yeah, I just took that job because the office space was cool. What was I thinking? A daily commute to a crater? Only in my twenties.”
Eventually, Bond and a team of Asian frog men (and one chick in a bikini) infiltrate the volcano and start shooting up the bad guy Army. “They’re messing up his crater!” Laura shouted angrily. Though she’s a fan of James Bond, her sympathies tend to lie with the villain. She’s definitely got the instincts of a maniacal egomaniac bent on world domination. But don’t tell her I said that. She promised to make me a frittata later.
Bond’s goal is to locate the “exploder button” and push it so that the giant Muppet crocodile orbiting Earth blows up before it swallows another spaceship and holds the world ransom. But first he has to get past Hans, the burly indestructible henchman that Laura keeps calling “Stamper,” even though Stamper is the burly indestructible henchman in Tomorrow Never Dies from 1997. There’s a big difference between blond Aryan henchmen from the 1990s and the ones from the 1960s. Stamper was ripped from head to toe and looked like he spent a lot of time doing CrossFit, definitely an elite fighting machine. By contrast, Hans is kinda bloated and looks like he might have a little narcolepsy. His physique suggests he might do a few jumping jacks in the morning, and maybe hold up a medicine ball now and then. But other than that his workout regimen seems to consist mostly of eating a lot of eggs.
Bond eventually dispatches of Hans by tossing him into a pool of piranha, then blows up the giant space crocodile, and escapes just before the volcano lair explodes in a giant fireball. I just re-read that sentence and feel I now owe apologies to the people I made fun of last night for watching Sharknado on TV.
By the way, even though Bond technically did succeed on this mission, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his cat still got away and moved to Switzerland where they set up shop at a revolving mountain top retreat disguised as an exclusive allergy clinic. Then they hatched a plan to hold the world ransom by waging biological warfare on crops and livestock in the next film, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. “Wow!” says Laura as the credits for You Only Live Twice rolled, “I liked this movie and all, but if that dude would just spend less money on all his fancy lairs, he might have more of the money he’s trying to get.”
She’s right, as always. And I’m not just saying that because I’m getting a frittata.
Trisha Yearwood’s Iced Italian Cream Cake
Recipe adapted from Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen by Trisha Yearwood (c) Clarkson Potter 2008
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 2 cups sugar
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup buttermilk, well shaken
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Italian Cream Frosting:
- 8-ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
- 1 pound confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour three 9-inch cake pans.
Sift the flour and soda together and set aside.
With an electric mixer, cream the butter and shortening with the sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well between each addition. With the mixer on medium speed, add the flour and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with buttermilk. Add the vanilla, coconut, and nuts, and stir well to incorporate.
In a separate bowl with clean beaters, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter, just until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes. Test for doneness by touching the top of the cake with your finger. The cake is done if it bounces back up. Cool the layers on wire racks sprayed with cooking spray to prevent sticking.
For the frosting: With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese with the butter on high speed until fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium and blend in the sugar and vanilla. Beat well until the frosting is smooth. When the cake is completely cool, spread the frosting between the layers and on the sides and top of the cake. Sprinkle on the nuts.