Over the last few reviews I’ve mentioned multiple times the infection of the absurd that gradually wormed it’s way into the Roger Moore Bond films and also the weak characterisation, especially when it comes to the Bond girls. There is one exception though. One Roger Moore film that manages to not only play Bond with just the right amount of tongue in cheek but also has a Bond girl that’s not a total doofus. It even breaks from the last few films trend by actually being really quite good. That film is The Spy Who Loved Me, generally regarded as the best Roger Moore Bond film. Click the link to read the review.
One of England’s submarines has gone missing! And so has one of Russia’s! Bond is called in to find out just what has happened to their nuclear sub. Luckily for Bond’s penis the Russians have sent in their top female spy agent Triple X, Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) to find out what happened to the Russian one. Also they’re looking for some microfilm early on but that’s just something to keep them busy until they get to the real villain.
Now I’ll often deride the ridiculous world domination villainous plots in some Bond films but for some reason I can’t help but love this one. The villain is a billionaire named Karl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens) who, and I shit ye not here, has built an undersea city and plans to nuke the world to start a new super race under the sea in his city of Atlantis. Preposterous, it is indeed. Impossible to actually execute? Oh god yes. The moment he nukes a city the worlds military will be after him in an instant and all it’ll take to defeat his undersea base is for someone to crack the glass. Especially as he had just kidnapped another sub not that far away from his Atlantis base. He kidnaps the subs via a method Blofeld would approve of. By using a giant tanker vessel, which opens up at the front, to swallow up the subs after forcing them to surface. It’s very similar to the space hijacking in You Only Live Twice. Unsurprisingly both films share the same director in Lewis Gilbert. Gilbert also brings with him is love of massive sets.
When Ken Adams designed and built the volcano base set for You Only Live Twice his one regret was that as it was built outside there was no practical use for it after wards as from the outside it was all scaffolding. So for The Spy Who Loved Me Adams and Broccoli decided to do the logical and totally cost efficient thing. They built an entire new sound stage at Pinewood called the 007 stage. It’s still one of the largest stages in the world. When they built the interior of the tanker, which is one very impressive set, they had so much trouble figuring out how to light and shoot it they brought in someone who was enough of a crazed genius to figure it all out, Stanley fecking Kubrick! It was a secret arrangement. His answer? Just use the floodlights as part of the set. The Atlantis base itself has quite a different design from the usual Ken Adams set in that it uses a lot more curves, rather than his usual angular art deco style. As such that set remains one of the most unique in all the Bond films.
What makes this film such a massive improvement over the last few Bonds is that even at it’s most outlandish it isn’t played directly for laughs. There’s no JW Pepper spouting random slang, no ridiculous looking flying cars and Bond’s humour is confined entirely to his one liners, played dry and off the cuff as they should be. On top of that Curd Jurgens plays a great villain managing to portray both arrogance and insanity in equal measure. One great moment comes when he tells Bond his plan to nuke the world and Bond asks how much money he wants to stop this insanity. He replies with the coldly logical but fully insane answer of a ad billionaire, that he doesn’t want money because he already has enough. That shows there’s no bargaining with him and that he’s absolutely mental at the same time. He believes his cause and is mad enough to pull it off. Not even Blofeld got this close to thermonuclear war.
Another great addition is Anya Amasova. She’s a stark contrast to Mary Goodnight, her MI6 equivalent, seen in The Man With The Golden Gun. She’s portrayed as Bond’s equal and one of the few Bond girls fully aware of just how Bond works. To add to this she has a good place within the story as her lover had recently been killed. Turns out he was one of the spys sent to kill Bond during the films pre-credit sequence. This manages to come up at just the right point to make sure that, for once, there’s genuine character based conflict between the two lead protagonists adding a much needed layer of depth to the films story. Well, depth over than the physical depth of being under the sea. It also helps that Barbara Bach is one incredibly attractive woman and is likely the reason why female Russian agents are always portrayed as dangerous and attractive in films now.
The film is shot with a much better eye than the last few Guy Hamilton directed films. There’s some excellent shots of Egypt especially and one sequence that even tries to ape Lawrence Of Arabia. Although that sequence is obviously nowhere near as well shot as the real thing. The film contains a lot more effects than most Bond films. Some are superb, such as the super tanker used by Stromberg. The only weak effects come from a few composites used during a sequence at the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Some may not spot it but in one shot Bond is a still photograph and in another the audience is a set of small figurines. There’s also a very dodgy model boat plunging into the water shot near the films finale that is just begging you to pause it to see just how “detailed” the human figures are in the boat. One well done effect though is the transformation of Bonds brand new Lotus Esprit into an underwater submarine. It’s a good little sequence and shows what clever editing can do to mask you multitude of model shots. Plus because the car has that space age look sports cars had started to receive in that age the idea of it turning into a submarine isn’t too much of a stretch. It’s certainly better than hooking wings to an AMC Matador. Although admittedly it is a little insane. Can’t help but love the Lotus though cos it’s that frigging cool type of insane.
The film features the first appearance of probably the most loved of all the henchmen in the Bond universe in the for of Richard Kiel’s Jaws. A mountain of a man standing 7ft 2inches tall and with a set of very awkward looking steel teeth. They do not look fun to wear, and apparently Kiel could only keep them in for 30 seconds at a time, but they create a striking image. Jaws appears again in the next Bond film, Moonraker, which I believe makes him the only henchman to make two appearances in the films. He’s in pretty much every game though. He makes for an entertaining, if slightly too super-human villain. Apparently he was so popular that they re-shot the ending of the film to show him surviving the destruction of Atlantis. He also bit a shark to death.
Overall the Spy Who Loved me is a very solid Bond film and easily Moore’s best. It’s got a few slow patches but is also full of strong characters. The action is well staged, although one fight is a bit of a repeat of the train fight in Live And Let Die. There’s even a few scenes that manages genuine tension such as the scene where Bond has to remove the detonator from a nuclear missile. Up to this point in the series it’s certainly a top 5 Bond possibly only behind Dr No and From Russia With Love. Next Up is Moonraker. This is the one where Bond goes to space and the villain has pretty much the same scheme as Stromberg does in this one. Oh and Jaws gets a girlfriend! Awwwww.