[Note: this is part of collaborative Bond appreciation series between me, Alexander Coleman, Christian Divine, Craig Kennedy, and Miranda Wilding (surprise, Miranda! But you've already done it...). Also make sure to check out entries in the Licensed to Blog: James Bond Blog-a-thon, hosted by the tireless Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre.]
Nobody does it better than Roger Moore...
Featuring arguably the best pre-title sequence of all the Bond movies, Lewis Gilbert's The Spy Who Loved Me manages to maintain a breakneck pace of action, intrigue, romance and even comedy throughout its 125-minute running time. Though I have an unhealthy admiration for Live and Let Die, it's difficult to make a case against The Spy Who Loved Me being not only Roger Moore's finest installment in the series, but one of the top five Bond movies ever.
Depending on how you look at it, that either makes Ian Fleming a hack or a genius, because aside from two characters (Bond and Jaws), The Spy Who Loved Me took only the title from Fleming's tenth novel. The entire story, in fact, was the work of screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood (who circuitously ended up actual novelizing the movie after its box-office success). Although Fleming was hardly involved, however, we can see upon closer examination that Maibaum and Wood simply added to the dense Bond framework Fleming already had in place. (Although it's interesting to consider that The Spy Who Loved Me takes so much from You Only Live Twice, which also took almost nothing from Fleming's novel. How could these two movies both be "original" but both be the same?)
So if The Spy Who Loved Me wasn't the first "original" Bond movie, it was likely the first one to have so many challenges in pre-production: longtime Bond producer Harry Saltzman's departure, difficulty in confirming a director (amusingly, even Steven Spielberg was approached), and a drawn out legal battle involving the script. About the only constants involved in this film were Roger Moore and producer Albert Broccoli, who had teamed up with Saltzman on the entire series to that point. Considering of all of this, it's no wonder the three years between The Spy Who Loved Me and its predecessor, The Man With The Golden Gun, was the longest period between any of the ten Bond films to that point. But aside from the unlikely success after a shaky production, there are several other reasons The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the best in the entire series, and of them is the clip shown above.
As the film opens, a Russian submarine is electronically hijacked in the middle of the ocean. The Russian Major Anya Amasova (agent codename “Triple X”) is dispatched from the comfort of her bed, which she is sharing rather romantically with another Russian agent leaving on assignment to Austria. It is there, in a cozy lodge in the Alps, that we also find 007 in his favorite place: the arms of a beautiful woman. He receives his own dispatch from London (via a nifty wristwatch that churns out a message imprinted on punch label) and immediately changes into his ski suit. “But James, I need you,” coos the young woman. “So does England,” replies Bond as Marvin Hamlisch’s campy adaptation of the legendary Bond theme begins. Eluding the black-suited skiers and killing Triple X’s lover with his modified ski pole rifle, Bond skis off the face of the cliff into breathtaking silence until…whoosh, relief in the form of a parachute boastfully constructed as a giant Union Jack flag.
As Bond safely descends, he’s cupped in the silhouetted hands of the title sequence as a lovely piano intro begins. Although Hamlisch wrote “Nobody Does It Better” (and received an Oscar nomination for Best Song in the process), it was Carly Simon’s rendition that, three decades later, still sounds as beautiful as it must have in the theater upon the movie’s release in the summer of 1977. It must be considered one of the top three Bond songs, rivaling only Shirley Bassey’s stunning “Goldfinger” and Paul McCartney’s psychedelic “Live and Let Die”.
The greatness of The Spy Who Loved Me extends far beyond this simple title sequence, however. Not only are the stunts and action among the best of the Bond canon, but the characters are among the most memorable. As played by Barbara Bach (who would go on to become Ringo Starr’s wife) Major Amasova/Triple X is a Bond girl with brains, sex appeal, courage and conviction. She’s loyal to her country and, eventually, to her country’s partnership with Britain (in the form of the handsome Bond, of course). Not only is Triple X one of the most impressively well-rounded women in the Bond series, but she’s one of the few with whom Bond actually establishes a legitimate romantic relationship (the flirting in the scene where Triple X is maneuvering the van around the grasp of Jaws in the Egyptian desert is right out of a romantic comedy). When apart from Triple X, Bond simply reverts back to his indiscriminate sexual predation. “When one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures,” he says as he ogles his Egyptian informant’s mistress.
If Triple X provides Bond’s pleasure (his wife having been killed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), shipping tycoon Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens) provides his pain, mostly in the form of Jaws (Richard Kiel), the mute giant of a henchman whose last visit to the dentist had to have been painful. Jaws sports gleaming metal teeth and brandishes them in order to chew through steel chains and wood planks - when he’s not taking a bite out of people’s necks, of course. Kiel plays the lumbering Jaws as a bit of a goof, always brushing off his baby blue suit jacket after being foiled by Bond (because Jaws was such an iconic character as I was watching the Bond movies growing up, it didn’t hit me until he recently that Kiel also plays Adam Sandler’s giant former boss in Happy Gilmore). I almost wish Jaws would have been in more than just two movies from the series, but he’s a bit of tiresome villain as well, never letting up and never trying anything new aside from just punching through walls.
As the megalomaniac out to destroy the world (there’s one in every Bond movie, isn’t there?), Stromberg is a bit of a more interesting villain (and the first to make any impression after Bond crippled Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever). Stromberg remains tucked away in Atlantis, the futuristic underwater base from which he plans to launch the warheads from the hijacked submarines, thereby destroying New York and Moscow and paving the way for a new kind of civilization. Amusingly, Stromberg laments the “decadence” of humanity as he sits in his opulent throne room listening to Mozart and Bach while stuffing his face and sending people into his shark tank via a trap-door elevator. Bond’s eventual showdown with Stromberg is frankly bland (and is preceded by an overdrawn three army battle), but the destruction of Atlantis in the open sea is truly a sight to behold.
So are all of the filming locations on land, including Egypt, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, Scotland, England, Malta, and most memorably, the Bahamas, where get to enjoy the gadgets on the Lotus Esprit, simply one of the best Bond cars ever. Equipped with missiles, flash charge bombs, and oil and ink sprays, the Lotus is half car, half submarine (and, amazingly, now a reality). Flying off the dock at the end of a helicopter chase, Bond drops the Lotus into underwater mode, destroys the helicopter, evades scuba assassins, and, hilariously, drives out of the water and onto the beach in Sardinia, dropping a dead fish out the window as the flabbergasted beach goers stare in awe. It goes like this (but without the audio dubbing):
The proof is all right there in The Spy Who Loved Me, boasting among the best songs, best Bond girls, best cars, best villains, best comedy, best locations, and best action sequences in the entire Bond canon. What I have yet to mention, of course, is that it also features arguably the best Bond: Roger Moore. That's not a statement I can take very far, however. Each of the Bonds (even Lazenby) has his own unique charm, but something about Moore (his ability to save the world while looking like a news anchorman?) made his seven movies among my favorites.
The best Bond?
If that doesn't jive with you, read:
- Christian's insightful background on the Bond brand, including a special appreciation of Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights;
- Craig's fondness for the score and scenery of You Only Live Twice; (Day Two); (Three); (Four); (Five);
- Alexander's persuasive defense of Sean Connery in Goldfinger;
- Miranda's musings on the best Bond women, the best Bond villains, and the best Bond cars;
- The history of my Bond fandom and my disappointment in Quantum of Solace;
- A classic Bond pre-title sequence from Diamonds Are Forever;
- Alexander's thrashing of Quantum of Solace;
- Miranda's review of the original Casino Royale;
- Alexander's review of the 2006 version of Casino Royale;
- Miranda's review of Quantum of Solace;
- Miranda's review of The Living Daylights;
- Christian's take on the original Casino Royale;
- Miranda's review of Moonraker;
- Miranda's review of License to Kill;
- Christian's appreciation of the Bond theme song that never was;