This movie is sort of one of those odd islands of calm in a turbulent ocean where things just work really well, even though a ways further down, the current is jarring things all out of whack.
The Spy Who Loved Me is a great movie sandwiched between not so great movies. In it, Moore finds a sarcastic, more restrained take on the character that works beautifully. And then Moonraker happens…but we’ll talk about that later.
In this outing, James Bond (Roger Moore) is investigating the disappearance of a British nuclear submarine. Unbeknownst to him, Russian intelligence has also sent one of their own, Anya “Agent XXX” Amasova (Barabara Bach) to track the disappearance of a RUSSIAN nuclear submarine. Could the two hijackings be related? I dunno! Maybe! Anyways, 007 and XXX cross paths (because of course they do!) and end up working together, fighting to outwit one another as they track down a valuable piece of microfilm that contains plans for the super secret submarine tracking system which is allowing someone to steal these nuclear subs! AAH! Enter Carl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a maniac who took the lyrics of “Under the Sea” a bit too literally and who plans to annihilate the world’s superpowers so he can create a lovely utopia under the ocean (Awwww!). Pulling up the rear is his henchman, the metal toothed “Jaws” (Richard Kiel) who is completely ridiculous, but at the same time super awesome.
It’s a simple plot that has lots of bits and pieces stolen from director Lewis Gilbert’s previous Bond venture You Only Live Twice (like the bad guy’s vessel that opens up and captures other vessels, and the setting of world superpowers against one another), but in this outing it all works a bit better. It’s not quite as chaotically flamboyant and, while it does have its share of humor, The Spy Who Loved Me manages to balance the humor with the rest of the plot.
Before I get any further, I must say a word about the music.
Having been trapped in bureaucratic hell as the result of some tax thing, John Barry was unable to score this film. And so, as a second choice, they just happened to get MARVIN HAMLISCH to do the music. Who’s Marvin Hamlisch, you say? Shame on you! Two years before this movie came out, Mr. Hamlisch did the music for a little musical known as A Chorus Line which won ten Tony awards, and was, for a long while, the longest running Broadway musical of all time. This guy is a big deal–he’s one of twelve people on Earth who has managed to pull an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). Right? He rocks.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The score for this movie, while fun, is very odd. Not bad. Just odd. It blends a whole bunch of styles and even, at one point, samples the theme from Lawrence of Arabia to amusing effect. I love the rich Barry-esque strings during the pyramid sequence, and the strange spiral-y Atlantis theme. I’m also quite fond of the groovy disco reimagining of the Bond theme that recurs throughout the movie. According to the soundtrack, it’s called “Bond 77.” And, here it is, because it’s pretty fantastic and the perfect accompaniment to a day of dancing around the house getting your groove on. I’ll give you a minute to groove.
Take your time.
Anyway, along with longtime collaborator, Carole Bayer Sager, Hamlisch also gives us the famous opening credits song, “Nobody Does it Better,” which is fantastic, if a bit out of character for the series, being a love ballad and all. It does, however, fit the optimistic, happy mood of the film, and Carly Simon’s vocals are compulsively sing-along-able (that’s a word, right?) The opening credit animation is rather odd at times, featuring a dramatic looking Bond bouncing along on a trampoline and flipping and spinning all over the place in slow motion. I’m sure it’s a metaphor…but it’s lost on me.
Getting back to the actual movie itself, I love the contrast between Bond and Anya. Both are considered the top spies in their respective organizations, and both show off their intelligence and strength throughout the movie. Heck the movie even opens with both in bed, romancing some beautiful person before being called back to work. Plus, Roger Moore and Barabara Bach have fantastic onscreen chemistry. She’s much more reserved and cold than he is, but you can still see the playful flashes behind her eyes and know that she could totally match his pace in a battle of words, even when she chooses not to.
I love how Anya Amasova is written. I don’t know if she qualifies as my all-time favorite Bond girl ever, but she’s pretty high up there. She’s smart, clever, strong, and confident. In one scene when she “runs into” Bond in a club, she just happens to be wearing this fabulous black dress with plunging necklines and slits up the side and sparkly detailing that does a good job of throwing Bond off balance (at least for a bit) while they exchange playful banter, each trying to “figure out” the other. You get the feeling that she’s not wearing this dress because the writers wanted to turn her into an object–she’s wearing it because she knows what Bond’s weakness is (by reputation) and wants to throw him off balance. Like Bond, she’s no stranger to using her charm to get information from people. Anya fights when she has to, but knows when to make a clean getaway. Yes, the writers do eventually succumb to the old habit of turning her into a damsel in distress in the film’s conclusion, but it makes sense in the context of the film, and it doesn’t diminish her character development up until that point, because we’ve seen her get out of tougher scrapes before.
Also, in terms of villains, this movie is pretty strong. Jaws is goofy and has some fun slapstick moments, but he balances out the much more reserved and dangerous Carl Stromberg, who really establishes himself as a mastermind throughout the movie. His end is perhaps a bit too “easy,” but it works. Also, I have to say Stromberg’s shark tank is way cooler than Kananga’s or Largo’s (Where do villains get shark tanks? Did they order them from SkyMall or something? Too bad I’ll never be able to order one now that SkyMall is going under…sigh). But, overall, I like Stromberg. He seems like a genuine threat, and I like how he tempers his flamboyant supervillain tendencies (dropping enemies into shark tanks and living in a submersible city) with a reserved, sub-surface rage that only occasionally boils to the surface. Kudos to Curt Jurgens for a fabulous performance.
I also must give a shout out to Q’s submersible car, the modified Lotus Esprit that Bond and Anya use to escape from Stromberg’s henchwoman Naomi (Caroline Munro, whom you may know from a previous blog post that discussed the extra cheesy Starcrash in which she starred). As a child who played with matchbox cars, I can say that said cars often had the ability to fly or explore the ocean (because driving on roads is for boring people), and the idea that a car could ACTUALLY turn into a submarine made me immensely happy. It wasn’t until later on that my childhood was dashed as I learned that the car didn’t actually transform as it seemed to onscreen, but I still must thank Q Branch for giving Little Me the possibility that such a thing COULD happen. It’s 2015, now. Surely such things are possible.
This is a good, solid film–very rewatchable and entertaining, and it has held up pretty well. It was able to find a new balance with Moore, and blend the goofy fun with the interesting plot in a way that really works. I think it’s safe to say that this is probably Roger Moore’s best outing as Bond. It’s also one of my all time favorite Bond movies.
-few moments in film are as satisfying as seeing Bond plummet to his “death” off a cliff for several agonizing seconds (with no music whatsoever) and then seeing that parachute with the British flag open.
-there are so many speedos in the beach scene. I get that it’s Europe and it’s the 70’s, but still…
-Stromberg pronounces 007’s name as “Mr. Bund” and it freaks me out.
-the explosive fight between the submarine crews and Stromberg’s men is really well done…and pretty brutal for such an otherwise fun movie.
-I JUST NOW realized that the American sub commander who helps Bond isn’t Felix Leiter… I always assumed he was accompanying the crew and was sort of the de facto commander. But apparently his name is Commander Carter (played by Shane Rimmer). The actor has played in a bunch of Bond films and I guess my brain just told me that he had to be Felix because I’d seen him before.
-I love the Chorus Line-esque restatement of the main theme at the very end. It’s pretty clearly a nod to the song “One.”
-Also, the thing Bond ends the film in is a floating escape pod, and not a boat, BUT the last scene of the movie takes place IN a boat after they pick up the escape pod, so Bond does technically end this movie in a boat, too.
Next week…well, next week things get pretty goofy. Bond wrestles a giant python, Jaws meets the girl of his dreams and they fly off into the sunset…in space, and we get to have some fun at Carnivale in Rio. It’s Moonraker! Don’t forget your laser guns!