The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Posted: November 12, 2019 in James Bond
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Bond is back, after the (then) longest gap between Bond films, three years which seems kinda trivial since we’ll have almost five years between Spectre and No Time to Die. There’s another big change, as this is the first Bond film post Harry Saltzman selling up his stake in the franchise.

There’s something at once very familiar about this film, yet also something different. The plot is, on many levels, a reprise of You Only Live Twice, yet this is a very different beast. An epic, occasionally ludicrous film this is perhaps the first Bond film where Roger Moore gets to stamp his own mark on the franchise, a film that’s entered folklore, not least of which thanks to Alan Partridge’s ridiculous homage.

The pre-title sequence lays a lot of groundwork. Whilst Roger is actually present in the pre-title sequence this time, he still takes third billing. First off we get the attack on the British submarine, which thankfully chooses not to reveal what happens to the intrepid sub. Then we switch to a people’s rest of recuperation centre in the Soviet Union. General Gogol is summoning XXX, The USSR’s top agent. Presumably it’ll be that handsome chap in bed with the beautiful woman and…no way, XXX is the woman! Didn’t see that coming. I do wonder if this was actually shocking to audiences in 1977? Interesting point of note that XXX’s lover is played by Michael Billington, famous for UFO and the Onedin Line and a man who apparently screen tested to play Bond more than any other actor.

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We’ll soon see Billington again of course, as he’s in charge of the group trying to eliminate Bond in Austria. And it’s here where the pre-title sequence really takes off—quite literally—Bond being summoned in the middle of seduction via tickertape coming out of his digital watch, his suggestion that he’ll enlarge his lover’s vocabulary, his preposterous yellow jumpsuit and union jack parachute, not to mention the obvious rear projection as Roger pretends to ski downhill. Yet it works, helping to create sequence that’s funny and thrilling, with just a hint of foreshadowing when we see 007 ice Major Amasova’s lover. There are multiple reasons why I cited it as the best pre-title sequence.

There are more joys to come after the titles (and the title track from Carley Simon is perfect). Roger Moore’s Bond in navel uniform, always good to see, and sadly so far something we’ve only seen with Connery, Moore and Brosnan. Despatched to Egypt Bond makes contact with an old university chum, and here comes the only bit of the film that grates. Bond as a player is one thing, Bond effectively taking a woman offered to him as a gift is a rare low note in this film. Of course, made up for perhaps by Bond on a camel…

In Egypt Bond first crosses paths with both Amasova and Jaws.

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As Jaws Kiel is wonderful, he says nothing, yet he’s incredibly malevolent, and wonderfully indestructible. You can see why they’ll bring him back, and also see why the producers tried to pull the same trick with Dave Bautista’s Mr Hinx (casting as a mute assassin a man who has great comic timing and delivery is miscasting that’s  on par with hiring Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool the first time!) Jaws has been told to kill everyone who comes into contact with the microfilm, and he takes his job very seriously.

As Anya Amasova Barbara Bach is a joy, utterly competent and very much portrayed as Bond’s equal, at least to begin with. She has Bond’s number and gets the drop on him several times, and the fact that she stole the plans to the submersible Lotus is a lovely touch (though it does make you wonder why she seemed so scared when they drove into the sea?). Bach and Moore have great chemistry, both before and after she finds out Bond killed her lover. It’s just a shame it all goes off the rails somewhat in the final third, where she’s relegated to damsel in distress. How cool would it have been to see her with a submachinegun fighting alongside Bond in the tanker? Still, she’s one of the best Bond girls of the franchise, and certainly sits with Tracy and Fiona in the top three of the franchise so far.

And never tell me Roger Moore can’t act, just watch his face when Anya brings up Tracy.

Special mention on the casting front to Shane Rimmer (the voice of Scott Tracy) who finally gets credited in a Bond film after appearing in You Only Live Twice, Diamonds are Forever and (possibly) as a voice in Live and Let Die. Here his US sub captain makes for a great ally to Bond.

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On the casting front the only damp squib (sorry) is Curt Jurgens as Stromberg. A good actor, here he’s wasted with a wafer-thin characterisation and without even much in the way of affectations to rise him above being one of the most generic Bond villains. Even the fact he has webbed fingers isn’t really made anything of.

There are the obligatory M, Moneypenny and Q bits, and we get Robert Brown pre becoming M after Bernard Lee dies, and the first sighting of General Gogol, and the scene where Bond enters MI6’s base to find Gogol behind M’s desk is wonderfully surreal.

And yes that is Charles Gray’s voice over the pyramids.

The cinematography is wonderful, both above and below the waves, and in particular Egypt adds a grandeur to the franchise. The sets are great all round, in particular the tanker set—built in the new 007 set at Pinewood—is fantastic.

MV5BMDQyYzk3NTgtOTQ0OC00NDIzLTkzOGYtM2JmYTg5NGY4NmNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_The action is a little variable. Bond’s fight on the rooftop is actually far better than I remember it, and you have to love killing the guy with a flick of his tie, but too often Moore relies on judo chops and kicks that seem a trifle silly, stick a gun in his hand and put him in uniform and crikey he looks the part though!

Set piece wise there are a lot of highlights. For starters the Lotus car chase, complete with Caroline Munro as the world’s sexiest killer chopper pilot (and you have to love her and Roger flirting even as she’s trying to kill him) and an unexpected underwater dénouement. Then there’s the huge gun battle inside the tanker, which manages to be even more exciting than the similar volcano scene in YOLT. I miss these climactic battles.

And of course, let’s not forget that ski jump in the pre-title sequence, it still makes me hold my breath, and the parachute still takes an age to deploy.

The Spy Who Loved Me really is Roger Moore’s finest hour as Bond, pretty much flawless, in my opinion obviously, it manages to stay just the right side of ludicrous yet is still a whole lot of fun. It has a great Bond girl and an iconic henchman, if not an iconic villain, and with the ski jump, the submersible car and the action-packed finale it contains some of the franchises most iconic aspects, and features a groovily great score from Marvin Hamlisch.

It’s fair to say nobody does it better, and Roger certainly keeps the British end up.

But how to top this? I mean they can’t, they’d have to, I don’t know, go into space or something…

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