Should I Watch..? The Spy Who Loved Me
What's the big deal?
The Spy Who Loved Me is an action spy thriller film released in 1977 and is the tenth film in the James Bond series. Unlike previous Bond films, this was the first to use no elements of creator Ian Fleming's novel of the same name except the title. It was also plagued by off-screen issues such as the legal battle between Eon Productions and Kevin McClory (who claimed ownership of original villain Blofeld and his SPECTRE organisation) as well as the departure of long-time producer Harry Saltzman. Despite these and other distractions, the film was a critical success which almost doubled the takings of its predecessor The Man With The Golden Gun and gave the Bond series a much-needed shot in the arm. It also proved to be the saving grace for Roger Moore, given the mixed reception his first two outings as Bond had received.
What's it about?
British and Russian nuclear submarines mysteriously vanish from the ocean with each side initially blaming the other. James Bond is assigned to investigate and during the assignment, is ambushed by KGB agents in Austria. He manages to escape after killing one of them and follows a lead to Egypt where a submarine tracking system is on the market. Bond encounters the hulking figure of metal-toothed assassin Jaws and is forced to team up with KGB agent Triple X, Major Anya Amasova, by their respective superiors.
Bond and Amasova quickly establish that reclusive shipping tycoon Karl Stromberg is responsible for the missing submarines and that he plans to initiate World War 3 and lead a new civilisation underwater. But for Bond, he has an added danger - Amasova's lover was killed by Bond during his escape in Austria and she vows to avenge him once the mission is over by killing 007.
Curd Jürgens *
Naomi, Stromberg's pilot
Christopher Wood & Richard Maibaum *
Release Date (UK)
20th July, 1977
Action, Spy, Thriller
Academy Award Nominations
Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Set Direction
What's to like?
For the first time since taking over, Moore was given a script that wasn't trying to imitate other genres (Live And Let Die had more than a hint of Blaxploitation while The Man With The Golden Gun was originally conceived as a martial-arts movie). This is a proper Bond movie - one that sticks almost too close to the traditional formula of megalomaniac villains, unforgettable henchmen, fancy gadgets and sexy leading ladies. And sure enough, this film has the lot but something we hadn't yet seen from Moore - a performance worthy of the character. At long last, he started to take Bond in a different direction to Connery. The innuendos are toned down from before and Bond himself reminds us that he is a dangerous man of violence, something all too easily forgotten from Moore's time as 007.
The plot might be ridiculous but with Kiel's legendary appearance as Jaws, the film maintains a genuine sense of tension. He is terrifying and easily the best henchman the series has ever produced, despite not saying a word and actually not being that good as assassin! The other breakout star is the classy white Lotus which doubles as a submarine. I remember seeing this as a kid and badly wanting one (in fact, I still do!) but despite its limited screen presence, it's the best car Bond has had since Goldfinger. Another unwritten rule of the Bond formula are the iconic sets by Ken Adam and with him back on board, the film looks brilliant. It is as though every cent is up on screen, finally relieving viewers of that nagging feeling that they've been short-changed somehow.
- The famous Union Jack parachute ski jump stunt was proposed by George Lazenby during filming of On Her Majesty's Secret Service but the necessary equipment to film it was unavailable at the time. However, the producers liked the idea and used it in this film.
- After the film's release, demand for white Lotus cars was so high that there was a three-year waiting list. Instead of pitching their car to be used in the film, Lotus' PR man simply drove a car to the set but without any identifying badges. When a crowd had gathered to see what car it was, he simply got in and drove away. Sure enough, Cubby Broccoli himself chose the Lotus for the film.
- The movie also introduced the jet-ski to the world, which had never been seen before. It was known at the time as a 'wetbike'.
What's not to like?
There is, however, a sense of déjà vu to the film which blatantly recycles plot elements from earlier Bonds. Stromberg's insane plan to destroy the world by provoking a nuclear attack between both sides of the Iron Curtain is lifted straight from You Only Live Twice, as is his equally ludicrous underwater base Atlantis which substitutes the infamous volcano lair. But Stromberg is no Blofeld - Jürgens' performance is pretty weak and no real match for Bond whereas Donald Pleasence had an air of genuine menace to him as Blofeld.
There are times when the film's effects let the side down too, possibly due to overspending in other areas. The sight of Atlantis rising from the ocean takes some serious suspension of disbelief although it has to be said that the model work is of a good standard and especially the mysterious Liparus super tanker. It might not appeal to fans of Moore's more cheesy outings as 007 but for me, it's the back-to-basics approach that work. This feels like a proper Bond film and given the two other films Moore had filmed, that is mighty praise indeed.
Should I watch it?
Given my personal distaste for Moore's tenure as 007, it's a surprise and delight to watch a film that is an absolute success. It's fun if not exactly wholly original and it gives fans a long-awaited return to what made the series work - the baddies, the cars, the girls, the far-flung locations and 007 himself. It's an unashamed throwback to the classic Connery films of yore and for once, it gets it right.
Great For: Roger Moore, the Bond faithful, fans of Gerry Anderson's Stingray, lazy screenwriters
Not So Great For: cheap dentists, aquariums
What else should I watch?
The only other Bond film from Roger Moore's time as 007 that I would recommend is For Your Eyes Only. It too is a reminder that Bond is more than a walking stereotype - he's a ruthless and charming killer who will do whatever it takes for Queen and country. But it couldn't last - for a taste of how bad things would get, you only have to look at the next film in the series - the awful Moonraker - which shamelessly attempts to cash-in on the sci-fi trend of the time established by th blockbusting success of Star Wars. Sadly, it's about as sci-fi as an episode of The Jetsons and only half as entertaining.
If anything, The Spy Who Loved Me serves to underline just how good Goldfinger was and remains. It was the first time in the series that everything came together and it unwittingly became the template for every Bond film since. And to be honest, I'd still rather have the DB5 over the Lotus.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox