The Spy Who Loved Me

WHO IS JAMES BOND? James Bond is some kind of spy or something. He’s getting on in years, but somehow, in this movie, he wears it well — his age makes him more approachable, he doesn’t seem so prissy. His hair gets mussed, his face is a little puffy, he exists on a more human scale. His smirking sexuality, alas, keeps getting ickier and ickier. He’s still got the crinkly neck-skin thing, but what’s worse is that he’s become a total skeeve. He no longer bothers to seduce women — he just announces who he is and it is assumed that they will then want to screw him. My name is Bond, James Bond, and, as night follows day, we will now have sex — take off your dress. Borat is more charming.  And yet, the fimmakers manage to light him better and cut around the uglier moments, and this Bond is quite a bit more elegant and appealing than he was the last time around.


WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT?
  Karl Stromberg is, essentially, Blofeld meets the Sub-Mariner (his HQ is even called “Atlantis”). He loves the oceans, thinks humanity is killing them, and so has kidnapped two nuclear submarines, with the intention of starting a nuclear war that will wipe humanity off the face of the earth.

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? In this under-water You Only Live Twice, Bond is hired to find out what happened to a missing British submarine. A clue is provided by a piece of Stromberg’s technology, which has been leaked by one of his conspirators (these days I guess it’d show up on eBay). He teams up with Beautiful Russian Agent Triple X, (Vin Diesel) (Barbara Bach), who is likewise trying to track down a missing Russian sub. The trail leads first to Egypt, then Sardinia, then I guess somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. In Sardinia, Bond, for only the second time in his career, pretends to be someone else in order to gain access to the bad guy’s HQ. This time he pretends to be a marine biologist. I support the notion of Bond pretending to be other people (it seems to me that a spy should occasionally do, you know, spy stuff), but the scene between “Dr. Sterling, Marine Biologist” and Stromberg is pointless — little more than Sterling showing up and saying hi. What supervillain would not be suspicious of a complete stranger showing up to your secret HQ just to say hi? Anyway, Bond and Triple X get in an American submarine to spy on Stromberg’s suspicious new mega-tanker, and find themselves kidnapped along with the Russian and British submarines. Here, Stromberg’s evil plan is discovered. Bond esapes confinement, rallies the kidnapped submarine crews (like Blofeld, Stromberg is perfectly happy to destroy the world but cannot abide the notion of killing the crews of his kidnapped ships), and leads a Russian/British/American revolt against Stromberg’s crews. They blow shit up, then Bond leads the surviving crew to go kill Stromberg and blow up Atlantis.

WOMEN? The big news here is that Bond has an actual co-star. The mismatched-buddy idea they’ve been hinting at ever since Live and Let Die is now fully (or thereabouts) explored, with James Bond teamed up with his opposite counterpart, Triple X. (I wonder — is her immediate senior Double X and her immediate junior Quadruple X?) I heartily applaud this idea, and it obviously inspired the screenwriters — they have written a kind of Grant/Hepburn-style sparring romance, filled with bitchy give-and-take and good-natured sniping.

Here’s the thing, though: if you’re going to write a romance fit for Grant and Hepburn? Best to cast Grant and Hepburn. Cast poorly and you have a disaster. BELIEVE ME, I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. Roger Moore may, in a pinch, make an acceptable paperback-version of Cary Grant, but Barbara Bach, to put it mildly, is no Katherine Hepburn. Grant and Hepburn could practically come to blows and never lose their charm, but when Roger Moore starts carping at lithe, big-eyed, breathy Barbara Bach you want to punch him.

At the end of Act II, Triple X learns that Bond is the man who killed her boyfriend and we jump to our feet exclaiming “Aha! A conflict!” and wring our hands with worry that the Beautiful Russian Agent will get her revenge before the movie’s over. Of course, between the end of Act II and the end of Act III Triple X will be demoted from “equal” to “chattel” and her vendetta against Bond will be dismissed with a bashful smile.

Sigh.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? Curt Jurgens plays Stromberg much more realistically than anyone ever played Blofeld. At first he seems a little disappointing, like he’s not going to be big enough. Then you realize that the actor has chosen (or has been directed) to actually try to ground his character’s absurdly outlandish plan in something like a natural, sober reality. Stromberg lives in a big stupid Legion of Doom dome and drives a submarine-eating supertanker, but he himself seems like the most reasonable man in the world.

Ken Adam-designed HQ — check. Shark tank — check. Monorail — check.

He’s got a bad guy, “Jaws,” who has become one of the most beloved of Bond Second Villains. He’s okay I guess, but he’s a cartoon freak. It sounds petty to accuse a Bond Villain of being cartoonish, but I prefer the more human-scaled Tee Hee or Oddjob — somehow, I believe those guys could exist, whereas Jaws feels like he’s escaped from a Superman movie. Speaking of Jaws, this movie has Spielberg on the brain, with the Second Villain’s name, with the shark tank, with the glossy, transluscent late-70s photography. Bond sneered at the Beatles, but here we are fifteen years later and he’s kissing Spielberg’s ass; how times change.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Mid-way through Act III, it falls to Bond to disarm a nuclear bomb.  He’s come a long way since Goldfinger, now it’s all the help who stand there holding their breath while Bond takes care of everything.  The Bond Theme thunders on the soundtrack, until we cut to a piece of parallel action, when it abruptly cuts off in the middle of a beat.  The implication is that the Bond Theme follows Bond around, or, even better, that Bond actually hums the Bond Theme to himself while he does cool spy stuff.  Which, of course, makes total sense.  Hell, he probably hums it while he gets dressed or pulls his car out of the driveway.

NOTES: The thing that happens with the Moore Bonds is that we now stop even expecting common cinematic pleasures like logic, flow and causality. Guys jump out of nowhere and attack the protagonist, women take off their clothes and moan with pleasure, stuff blows up for no earthly reason, because, well, because it’s a James Bond movie. In the earlier movies you might have one or two moments of faulty logic (like, for instance, what the fuck is Dr. No’s plan exactly?) but by this point it’s just taken as a given that nothing will make sense, that big guys will menace Bond, that women will fall in his lap, that an abandoned Villain HQ will naturally blow up all on its own. I swear, there’s a moment in Egypt where Bond sees aguy get killed by Jaws, gets an important clue off the dead guy’s body, walks out of the room, sees the pretty girl, and then out of nowhere two guys just run out of the shadows and attack him. Bond polishes them off with a few karate chops and gets on with his night and no one ever says who those guys were or why they wanted to kill Bond. It’s just, well, I’m James Bond, I just kind of expect guys to come running out of the shadows to kill me, it just kind of happens. Why, is it important? I’ve been talking to this woman for five seconds, shouldn’t we be having sex by now?

Let me hasten to add here that, at this point in his career, Bond had gone where no movie character had gone before — ten movies had been made about him.  If the producers of the Bond movies were getting confused about how to position the cart and the horse, one can hardly blame them.

Ken Adam is back and making up for lost time. Every single set in the movie is positively gigantic. The Russian M character has an office that must be the size of Red Square.

In spite of its flaws, the movie succeeds in being a lot of fun and has some swell moments in addition to it’s sexual ickiness.  Act III, apart  from some crappy miniature work and putting the female lead in a room tied to a chair while Bond saves the world, is a mighty impressive piece of mayhem.

FYI: One of the reasons I’ve been watching all these Bond movies is because the new digital transfers and their swanky collector’s editions just hit an embarrassingly low price at my local used-DVD store.  Every transfer has been truly impressive, with the exception of The Spy Who Loved Me, which looks terrible for some reason.

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Comments

23 Responses to “The Spy Who Loved Me”
  1. teamwak says:

    I think this one is probably the most boring Bond. in my opinion. Not the worst, just the least exciting. Saying that, you described the final act very well. That super tanker swallowing subs was pretty cool. And with a mono-rail too 🙂

    This is the one where he visits Egypt. First time I saw this after visiting Egypt I realised the film makers didnt care about things like accuracy. When Bond journeys back from the desert, he passes all the major archaeological sites in Egypt, ie the Pyramids, Karnak, and Abu Simbal. I had to laugh as they are a thousand miles apart. Its like travelling from NYC to Boston and passing the Hoover Dam and Graceland on the way there! lol

    Is this the one with the Citreon C5 chase? Thats an amazing car stunt, that one. And a cameo from Mr Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson as Our Man in wherever.

    But of course, it had the aqua-lambourgini in it. As a kid I had a toy one of those that fired mini rockets from it. Great toy.

  2. teamwak says:

    The Citroen chase in in For Your Eyes Only. My bad! Too many Bonds, too many car chases, not enough brain cells.

    PS. It was a cracking cast in your movie. Two British acting legends with Smith and Caine, and the super sexy Polly Walker too (who was incredible as the scheming Atia of the Julii, in HBO’s Rome). Shame it didnt work our according to plan.

  3. laminator_x says:

    This is one of the few Moore-era films I find watchable, most especially for all the interaction with the Russians. I particularly liked when agent Amasova addressed “Agent Q” as “Major Broothroyd” upon first meeting.

    Oh snap!

  4. curt_holman says:

    Alan Partridge

    One of the running jokes of Steve Coogan’s failed talk show host/disk jockey character Alan Partridge is that he’s a huge Roger Moore fan. I believe on one of the episodes of second ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ season, Coogan’s character is planning a James Bond viewing marathon, but somehow everything goes wrong. The episode ends with him re-enacting the entire beginning of The Spy Who Loved Me, including the ski chase, Union Jack parachute and description of scantily-clad women during the “Nobody Does It Better” credits. It’s hilarious. I wonder if it’s on Youtube?

  5. serizawa3000 says:

    Tall henchmen

    whereas Jaws feels like he’s escaped from a Superman movie (ironically, since actor Richard Kiel would go on to escape into a Superman movie).

    I think you’re thinking of Jack O’Halloran, who was Non in the first two Superman movies… Kiel *did* appear on that Superboy TV series as an oversized, not very bright cousin of Fifth Dimension imp Mxyzptlk (Michael J. Pollard)…

    But then, when I first saw The Spy Who Loved Me, I initially thought that Jaws was played by Ted Cassidy… except for all I know he was probably no longer with us when the film was in theaters.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Tall henchmen

      I think you’re thinking of Jack O’Halloran

      You are correct. My apologies to both Messrs Kiel and O’Halloran.

  6. dougo says:

    Triple-X’s predecessor was XXW, and her successor was XXY.

  7. randymonki says:

    No offense to Live and Let Die, but i always had a soft spot for The Spy Who Loved Me as best Bond song. Feel free to throw rotten fruit at me.

  8. greyaenigma says:

    Atoll Road

    He loves the oceans, thinks humanity is killing them, and so has kidnapped two nuclear submarines, with the intention of starting a nuclear war that will wipe humanity off the face of the earth.

    These guys just aren’t very good at thinking through the consequences their plans will have on the stuff they care about, are they?

    I’ve been trying to figure out why so many Bond movies seem to be set underwater or near water. (Underwater bases on both sides, submarines and islands… not that I’m complaining, oeans are cool and that aquacar was the coolest thing ever when I was a kid.) The best that I can figure is sharks and bikinis: Dr. No set the bar, later movies tried to copy it and eventually it become a trope. No wonder I got so many of these movies confused as a kid. “It’s the one with the underwater battle, the lady in the bikini, and the shark tanks…”

    • Todd says:

      Re: Atoll Road

      I think a big part of the Bond enigma has to do with its “vacation paradise” aspect. Bond is always going to exotic places with luxury resort-style hotels and beautiful women, and those are always going to be on beautiful beaches.

      It could also be because Ian Fleming lived in Jamaica. Apparently, before he sold the Bond series to Cubby Broccoli, he developed a TV show about an American secret agent stationed in Jamaica — that hotbed of international intrigue.

      • planettom says:

        Re: Atoll Road

        On the theme of Bond inhabiting a vacation paradise universe, somebody pointed out that it never rains in Bond films. The only exceptions being a brief scene in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, and then again in CASINO ROYALE. And these are the two atypical Bond movies where he has some character development.

  9. black13 says:

    While you’re busy making Vin Diesel jokes, there is one very obvious reason for Barbara Bach’s character’s code-name to be XXX.

    What else is labeled XXX? ;P Is there a connection? Like what she does on the black market, because her KGB salary isn’t sufficient to pay for those dresses?

  10. rennameeks says:

    The implication is that the Bond Theme follows Bond around, or, even better, that Bond actually hums the Bond Theme to himself while he does cool spy stuff. Which, of course, makes total sense. Hell, he probably hums it while he gets dressed or pulls his car out of the driveway.

    That sounds familiar

  11. If you were there in 1977, when it came out, then I bet you think that it was wonderful!
    I was there on my 10th birthday and was COMPLETELY blown away – it was my first Bond though, and I was struck with it forever, and will never be cured.
    Oh to have that effect on an audience!
    The opening was absolutely stunning – the stunts, the music,
    The girl was awesome (compare her with Rosie Carver as far as intelligent characters go…..)
    Jaws was so scary to me that I had nightmares about him.
    The car….
    The lair….
    Wow….

    And then years later, I want to edit edit edit the second half of the film….I mean cut down the fight scene (I mean it is not like Dirty Harry where they chase each other for a ZILLION hours, but you know…)

    The marine biologist disguise now makes me laugh (do you remember Mad Magazine’s take
    Stromberg: So you are a marine biologist? What area?
    Bond: Waves
    Stromberg: And how interested are you in it?
    Bond; Oh, it comes and goes….

    But maybe that is the/your point – Bond has become a characature of himself by now and it is like a Saturday matinee rollercoaster ride. But in 1977, what a ride it was for me!