Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bond Is Forever: "The Spy Who Loved Me"

When British and Russian submarines (armed with nuclear missiles) inexplicably vanish, MI6 and the KGB assign their best agents to investigate. Major Anya Amasova, aka XXX or Triple X (Barbara Bach), unaware that British agent James Bond (Roger Moore) has killed her lover on a mission in Austria, becomes 007's ally. They travel to Egypt, and a microfilm containing plans for a tracking system eventually leads them to Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens, credited in this and most English-speaking films as Curt Jurgens). Stromberg, whose aspirations include designing and surviving in an underwater society, has at his disposal a lethal tank of sharks and a tall, deadly henchman, Jaws (Richard Kiel), armed with metal teeth. Bond and Anya must recover the subs and stop a missile launch against both New York and Moscow.

The Spy Who Loved Me
(1977) is a taut, stylish entry in the Bond series. Both Stromberg and Jaws are two of the best
villains, especially the latter, who is virtually indestructible. Most of his countless potentially fatal encounters with 007 end with Jaws simply brushing dirt from his coat. Perhaps best of all, Anya is a superb character, wonderfully portrayed by Bach. Throughout the film, there is a parallelism between Anya and Bond. Both agents are introduced in bed with lovers, and while there is more emotional attachment between Anya and her bedmate, the Russian agent makes a mention of Bond's marriage, a topic that 007 quickly supresses. Both agents are prone to spying (and fighting) in formal wear. Triple X even carries a Beretta, the same gun (although a different model) that Bond has exchanged in the first film (and which he uses for a number of the novels). Anya is strong and reliable, and, like Bond, she puts the mission before everything else.

One example of the film's style is a scene set at the Egyptian pyramids, as Bond follows a lead, Fekkesh, who is in turn being tracked by Jaws. There is what appears to be a tour group, entertained by a show with bright lights and loud music. The sequence plays with the movie's diegetic elements, which would be the lights and music within the confines of the narrative. Both of these become non-diegetic, as the lights dramatically establish Jaws' presence, and the music turns into the film's score, crashing vociferously as Jaws reaches Fekkesh before 007 and kills him. It's also the first time Bond sees Anya, and, after discovering the man's body, he tells her, "Hope you enjoyed the show." He then wishes her good night, as the tour's show ends and applause can be heard in the background.

Ian Fleming's novel, The Spy Who Loved Me, was first published in 1962, the same year that Bond made his cinematic debut in Dr. No. The book is written from the perspective of a Canadian woman, and James Bond almost becomes a secondary character. Considering the shift in the presentation of Bond and as Fleming was reportedly unhappy with the novel (as well as the critical and commercial response), the author, when selling the rights to his character, requested that only the title be used for an adaptation. Although the two henchmen in the film, Jaws and Sandor, share a likeness with two of the novel's villains, Horror and Sluggsy, additional characters and narrative components were expressly created for the big screen.

This film introduced audiences to KGB head General Gogol (as portrayed by Walter Gotell, who had a small role in 1963's From Russia with Love). Gogol would make appearances in the next five Bond movies, and he acts as a Russian equivalent of M, head of MI6. The Minister of Defence, Sir Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen), is also introduced in this movie, and Keen, like Gotell, would reprise the role in the following five films. By this time, Bernard Lee as M and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny had starred in every 007 movie, and Desmond Llewelyn, who debuted in the second Bond outing, had played Q in all films barring Live and Let Die (1973). This was the second Bond film directed by Lewis Gilbert, who had previously helmed 1967's You Only Live Twice and would direct the subsequent film, Moonraker, in 1979. It was also the first movie without Harry Saltzman as producer.

One of the more compelling aspec
ts of The Spy Who Loved Me is the appearance of both Caroline Munro and Valerie Leon. Both ladies were "Hammer girls," starring in movies from Hammer Films: Munro, best known for Brian Clemens' excellent Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974), and Leon in the equally good Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971), directed by Seth Holt. Additionally, each actress appeared in an "unofficial" Bond entry: Munro in 1967's Casino Royale (typically viewed as a satire), and Leon in Never Say Never Again (1983), which is a remake of 1965's Thunderball and was made after a lengthy legal dispute. Of all four characters, only Munro's Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me has any true plot relevance. The rest are, unfortunately, nothing more than eye candy. To further a Hammer connection, Edward de Souza, who portrays Bond's contact in Egypt, Sheikh Hosein, starred in the Hammer films, The Phantom of the Opera (1962) and Kiss of the Vampire (1963). Geoffrey Keen had a lead role in Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) with Christopher Lee. Milton Reid, who plays Sandor, had a notable role in 1962's Captain Clegg (aka Night Creatures) with Peter Cushing. Reid also played guards in the '67 version of Casino Royale and in Dr. No (he stands behind Bond as 007 dines with the titular villain) and starred in Ferry to Hong Kong (1959) with his Spy Who Loved Me co-star Jürgens and director Gilbert.

Reportedly, an early draft of the screenplay had terrorist organization SPECTRE responsible for the cinematic transgressions. But, while SPECTRE had played an important part in many of the preceding Bond films (it would have been the first appearance in a Bond movie with Moore), EON Productions decided to bypass further complications with the ongoing legal battle. SPECTRE all but disappeared from the series, although SPECTRE head Blofeld has a cameo in For Your Eyes Only (1981). In future Bond productions, other crime syndicates or organizations would essentially take the place of SPECTRE. In the movies with Daniel Craig, the SPECTRE-like affiliation is Quantum.

The most significant gadget that Bo
nd uses in The Spy Who Loved Me is his car, a Lotus Esprit, Series 1. The Lotus is incredibly versatile, as it outruns a motorcycle, a car, a helicopter, and, after converting into a submarine, successfully evades any underwater threats. The title song is "Nobody Does It Better," performed by Carly Simon. It was the first Bond theme to not be named after the movie's title, although the title is incorporated in the lyrics: "But like heaven above me, the spy who loved me is keeping all my secrets safe tonight." Co-scripter Christopher Wood also wrote the film's novelization, titled James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me, presumably to avoid confusion with Fleming's novel. Although the previous Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), was likewise dissimilar to the novel, this was the first novelization of a Bond movie.


As was customary for the earlier Bond movies, a disclaimer following the closing credits announces Bond's subsequent film (h
ence the immeasurably clever "Bond Is Forever" concluding disclaimers). This film states that "Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only." However, with the immense success of George Lucas' 1977 Star Wars (or, for the purists, Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli decided to capitalize on audiences' renewed interest in sci-fi by next making Moonraker (although the novel's story did not deal with outer space). For Your Eyes Only would then follow in 1981.

The Spy Who Loved Me, which performed very well (much better than its predecessor, The Man with the Golden Gun), is a Bond film that I did not like when I initially watched it. But it has since grown on me, and it seems to improve the more I watch it. It's a film that brings 007 down to the level of an everyday man. He is very condescending in dealing with Anya, but she proves to be a dependable colleague. Consequently, his attitude toward her seems petty, as if he were bothered by her dexterity and apparent refusal to fawn over him. It's an intriguing way to dismantle the conception of Bond as an immaculate agent, not to tarnish his character, but to make him more human. The more flawed traits Bond displays and the more missteps he has, the easier it is to sympathize with him, making him a more substantial protagonist. The film is abundant with action, memorable characters, and an engaging plot. Any thoughts on Roger Moore's third time as 007?

Bond Is Forever will return next month with Goldfinger (1964).

8 comments:

  1. Sark, you did justice to one of my favorite Bond films! Though I also admire FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, I think THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is Roger Moore’s best 007 outing. He truly seems comfortable for the first time. He has a nice rapport with Barbara Bach (who’s surprisingly effective…too bad her subsequent films didn’t take advantage of her inner toughness). As you point out, Jaws is one of the finest henchmen in the Bond series (until his character takes an unlikely turn in Moonraker). Walter Gotell as General Gogol is a great addition. And the scenery—to include Caroline, Valerie, and the Pyramids—is lovely. I think it’s safe to say that this movie saved the Bond franchise at the time. Though I personally enjoyed THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, it was a boxoffice disappointment as you noted. In contrast, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME was a worldwide smash. My only quibble is the music score. Carly Simon’s rendition of the title song is just fine, but I miss John Barry’s arrangements throughout the film. Marvin Hamlisch comes across as a faux Barry. By the way, it was great fun to learn about all the Hammer connections to the Bond series.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sark, this series of articles on Bond has been a lot of fun and very informative. I have not seen this one, I don't know why, and need to fill that gap in my Bond movies. I guess I got a little lazy with keeping up during that time, because I never really liked Roger Moore in the role. However, this movie sounds like a winner!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sark, I really enjoyed reading your article. As I'vce stated before, I've seen very few Bond films, so I learn a lot about the franchise from you. I haven't seen this one, but I couldn't help thinking that Stromberg would be happy in the newly proposed underwater biospehere.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sark, I cannot convey appropriately just how much fun it is to have your Bond series at the Cafe. Your research is impeccable and fascinating. And I love your analyses of each entry.

    I really like "The Spy Who Loved Me" for multiple reasons. I like Bond's humanity and Roger Moore is excellent in his interpretation. Though the character portrayed in the literature may be more like Sean Connery, I like this character on the screen.

    Barbara Bach is quite good and I enjoyed the parallels you drew between her and Bond. Richard Kiel is perfection. But I agree with Rick that John Barry is sadly missing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This was a wonderful write-up of my favorite Roger Moore 007 film. I think Rick is right in saying it saved the series. I remember seeing the previous film "Man with the Golden Gun" and liking it but shocked at how chintzy it looked. Not a lot of action, no masses of technicians operating a secret base. It looked like the last legs of a dying series. In "The Spy Who Loved Me", the opening ski chase and ski jump, which is so spectacular, is like Cubby Broccoli proclaiming, "We're back and we're here to stay." Great movie.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I didn't care for the gimmicky car but otherwise this was strong Bond film. Enjoyed your background information.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sark, this is an outstanding review! This is my favorite Bond film with Roger Moore. I enjoyed reading about all the things I didn't know about this film. I love Roger Moore in any movie. Jaws is a great henchmen. I like General Gogol. The opening scene is the best in any of the Bond movies. It is exciting and splashy. The song THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is on my iPod and one of Carly's best songs. I like Barbara Bach okay, but I am a big fan of Caroline Munro. If I had made the movie, I would have switched Barbara and Caroline's roles so Caroline would have been the star. I enjoyed reading your review very much and look forward to GOLDFINER.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sark, Awesome review! I loved all the Bond movies. I really enjoyed learning more about the film, The Spy Who Loved Me . I can not wait to read your future reviews!!!

    ReplyDelete