The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)


Roger Moore was not off to the best start as James Bond.  Live and Let Die was somewhat popular, but unfortunately was rather quite silly.  The goodwill that movie received did not quite carry over to The Man with the Golden Gun, as it did not score well with audiences or critics.  Co-producer Harry Saltzman had blown most of his money, forcing him to sell out his ownership in the series, and once again Kevin McClory was finding things to sue EON Productions for.

That is also ignoring the fact that the James Bond series was utterly failing to keep up with the times.  The character was becoming a cartoon and the Bond girls bimbos.  The supporting characters were sometimes interesting, but given little to do.  While Moore portrayed Bond with style and finesse, the villains were the only other thing that was interesting in either of the two films, and poor Yaphet Kotto found himself turned into a balloon while Christopher Lee got a coat of paint to look Cuban.

Many things needed to change to keep the series going, and change they did.  While the clothing, gadgets and cars all communicated a modern time and place, the Bond films still seemed hopelessly stuck in the previous decade.  The Spy Who Loved Me feels like a fresh take even after nearly 40 years, despite the fact that Lewis Gilbert, who had directed You Only Live Twice, took over from Guy Hamilton at this point.

Two nuclear submarines, one British and one Soviet, go missing.  It turns out that someone has a new way of tracking subs, and that whoever it is has a microfilm with some information and, for a price, is willing to sell.  MI5 sends James Bond (Moore) to retrieve it, while the KGB sends Major Anya Amasova, aka Agent XXX (Barbara Bach).  The two inevitably cross paths, but not without also crossing paths with Sandor (Milton Reid) and Jaws (Richard Kiel), henchmen of industrialist Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens). 

Turns out Stromberg has a special laboratory off the coast of Sardinia, and the British and the Russians decide to team up their top agents to find out what he is up to.  Unfortunately, unlike many of his predecessors, he has no intent on holding the world for ransom or gaining a monopoly on energy production.  Instead, he simply wants to destroy everything and start anew in an underwater city.  Bond, as usual, needs to make sure the plans don't come to fruition.

One thing I have to say is that this is the first Bond film in a long time where there has been enough chemistry between Bond and a Bond Girl to make things interesting.  Daniela Bianchi was the first, but the portrayal of Tatiana Romanova always struck me as a bit naive, especially since she didn't seem to be such in the book.  The other before this was Diana Rigg as Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, who is briefly referenced as Amasova goes through her knowledge of Bond's past.  Too many times they were window dressing and, though Barbara Bach's accent is quite laughable, the truth is that she and Moore were excellent together.  She gets put in skimpy outfits and, unfortunately, is thrown into a damsel role typical for the time, but rescuing her feels more than just a rote plot point.

It is no secret, and is quite obvious in his portrayal, that Karl Stromberg was a replacement for Blofeld, a character which Kevin McClory had ownership of at the time and, considering he was willing to begin litigation at the very mention of the word "submarine," he was rewritten early on.  Curd Jürgens plays him as a cross between Blofeld and Goldfinger, and he is one of the last truly memorable villains in the series for quite awhile.  The fact, however, can't be ignored that Stromberg is overtaken by his henchman Jaws.  Imposing, mute and possessing a mouth full of razor sharp teeth that he frequently uses on his victims, he was almost as popular as Bond himself when this movie came out.

A great villain needs a great lair, and Ken Adam had already provided one of the most impressive with Blofeld's volcanic headquarters in You Only Live Twice.  This time around it's Atlantis.  Not the sunken city, but Stromberg's amphibious laboratory, looking like a cross between a mutated Futura home and something from the set of Forbidden Planet.  That wasn't the only trick up his sleeve: there is also a giant, submarine-swallowing tanker, where the largest staged battle occurs.  Around all this we have a famous chase involving a Lotus Esprit that converts to a submersible and one of the most impressive opening scenes in any movie, featuring an unbelievable ski jump. 

Also updating the movie is the soundtrack.  Marvin Hamlisch incorporates some of the disco sound from the era, while Carly Simon sings the opening theme, "Nobody Does It Better".  There are throwbacks to John Barry's original title music, but largely the point is made that the old way of looking at Bond had been retired. 

There are some flaws.  The length of the film allows it to drag early one, and Caroline Munro is barely in it, and once again she gets dubbed.  I still don't know after all this time if she's more than just a pretty face or a decent actress, as I don't know if I have seen a movie yet where it's actually her speaking.  Her character, Naomi, is memorable, but is gone in a flash. 

The Spy Who Loved Me is easily the best of the Roger Moore Bond films, and it makes me wish that there were more like this.  He was not a bad Bond, but unfortunately often got stuck playing a straight role in what increasingly became lame and cartoonish action films until the point where it was obvious that he was beyond the retirement age of his character.  Unfortunately, in an effort to jump on the science fiction bandwagon started by the success of Star Wars, the return to form proved to be short-lived.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Time: 125 minutes
Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel
Director: Lewis Gilbert

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