Hooray! I get to review a good one!
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
With the rushed-as-fuck Man with the Golden Gun not setting the world on fire like it was intended, not to mention the final product being about as fun as a dose of of food poisoning at a loved one’s funeral, the Bond producers decided to go back to the last legitimately decent Bond film, You Only Live Twice, for inspiration. They brought back both director Lewis Gilbert and production designer Ken Adam to ensure a YOLT vibe.
James Bond (Roger Moore) is assigned to find a missing submarine which mysteriously vanished along with its spicy cargo of sixteen nuclear warheads. Whilst on the mission, Bond keeps running into his Russian opposite number, Agent Triple X, Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach). The pair find out all this missing sub business may have to do with the obscenely wealthy Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens). The race is on to stop the mad bastard, but their progress is impeded by Stromberg’s henchman, the 7’2 metal-mouthed Jaws (Richard Kiel). When I said “inspiration” in the above paragraph, I meant “the main story and action beats” The plot is 90% You Only Live Twice and about 10% Bioshock (obviously they didn’t rip the ‘Shock off, but when I hear “underwater city” I immediately think of Rapture.) Stromberg’s master plan almost a carbon copy of Blofeld’s scheme. There’s a big vessel that opens to snatch up foreign craft, the bastard behind it all wants to kickstart the Cold War and there’s a big ending where hundreds of extras storm an incredible Ken Adam creation. However, unless you’re a hopeless dork on some sort of retarded quest to watch and critique a Bond a day, you’re probably not going to notice the similarities between the two films or even give two shits either way.
I feel this is the film where Roger Moore really got comfortable in the Bond role. The incessant one-liners are still there, but he actually drops the smarm occasionally and plays it straight. He manages to find a good balance. If you’ve been a Bond fan as long as I have, you’ll have notice that in every promo interview for a new Bond flick they will describe the female lead as “a Bond equal”, which normally turns out to be a huge cart of horseshit. However, Barbara Bach’s Triple X could justifiably be called just that. I really like the character of Anya. Bach plays her very well. She’s more complex Bond squeeze, reminding me a bit of Tracy from OHMSS. Curt Jurgens is pretty good as Stromberg, but there’s not much required from the role than to have a foreign accent and just “be bad”, which he does admirably. I’d have liked to have known more about his plan for an underwater city though as he just mentions it in passing. Whilst he is ridiculous, I like Richard Kiel as Jaws. He’s a cartoony, seemingly immortal bad guy but he’s instantly iconic. I don’t even mind the little humourous bits they do with him. It’s all part of the ride.
From the opening scene this is quality Bond. The super famous ski-jump resulting in a Union Jack parachute still brings a goofy smile to my face. Every time I see it. the wait between the freefall and him pulling the ripcord seems to get a little longer. Perhaps I’ll sit down in 20 years to watch it and Bond will unceremoniously imprint himself at 60mph onto the unforgiving snowy rocks below. The title sequence is one of the best. Naked silhouettes, trampolining secret agents and Luger gymnastics all scored by Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” add up to possibly my favourite Maurice Binder intro. I think the characters are a lot more fleshed out in this film than in previous films. There are nice little dramatic interplays that just make the characters that much more interesting. For example, in the opening skiing sequence, Bond kills one of his pursuers. Instead of being a faceless, nameless goon, it turns out that he was Anya’s boyfriend. She swears to get revenge on his killer only to find out later it’s Bond, causing a massive rift between the two. There’s also the first post OHMSS mention of Tracy’s death, mentioned by Anya where she rather insensitively lists 007’s career including his personal life. Bond interrupts her and she says “You’re sensitive, Mr. Bond?” to which he abruptly replies “About some things.” It’s a great little character moment.
So, what else is there? There’s the awesome submersible Lotus Esprit. There’s a sequence between the car and a helicopter that is way better than I remember it being. There’s the huge final act where Bond and an American naval crew get tooled up and wreck the shit out of Stromberg’s submarine swallowing tanker. Once again, Ken Adam proves he’s the master when it comes to seriously impressive sets. There’s a nice tongue-in-cheek Q Labs sequence full of wacky gadgets and plenty of opportunities for Desmond Llewelyn to get all exasperated and grouchy. The stuff in Egypt is pretty fun and we get a glimpse of a darker side to Moore’s Bond in a rooftop fight he has with henchmen Sandor. The fight itself is pretty weak, but it culminates in Sandor teetering over the rooftop edge holding on to Bond’s tie for support. Bond interrogates him and once he has his answer knocks Sandor’s hand away leaving him to fall to his death. I like Bond being a cold bastard sometimes.
I suppose if you had to criticise The Spy Who Loved Me, it would be on its unoriginality. Stromberg’s aquatic base with marine life viewable from the windows is straight from Dr. No as is his reluctance to shake hands. The shark killings are from Thunderball, but are also reminiscent of the piranha deaths from You Only Live Twice. There’s also yet another fucking train fight. Still, in a series that breeds deja vu, it can hardly be pulled up on just that. If you haven’t twigged by now, each Bond film has been a search for a formula that works. Previous Bonds had been trying to ape Goldfinger ever since it came out. To me at least, it really doesn’t matter.
So yeah. I effin’ love The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s undoubtably Moore’s best Bond and easily in my list of favourite Bond movies ever. When people talk about classic Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me comes to my mind straight away. It’s a cracking Bond picture. Simple as that.