The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) REVIEW
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli
Screenplay by Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum
Based on The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming
Starring Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jurgens, Richard Kiel, Walter Gotell
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
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During my review of You Only Live Twice, I mentioned how The Spy Who Loved Me was the second James Bond film I ever purchased on VHS. I explained how missing school one morning resulted in my watching You Only Live Twice on VHS (for the first time) and then my dad coming home from work because the school had called him. What I failed to mention was that once my dad drove back to work, I took the rest of the morning off to watch The Spy Who Loved Me.
Whenever someone would ask what my favourite James Bond film was, this one would also be close to the top. Roger Moore wasn’t the best Bond, but he was a damn good one. The stunts, the action and the villainous plot for world domination all made for one of the most exciting 007 adventures. The big question, how does it hold up after 15 years worth of viewing?
After the lukewarm reception from critics and fans of the previous 007 film, some legal wrangling and the departure of a long running producer, meant the three year gap between The Man With The Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me was a very testing time for the franchise.
1977 was a special time for the Commonwealth. It was the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne and the moment the Bond franchise fully embraced it’s outlandish and adventurous self. This was the beginning of the new Bond formula and the film where the future of the franchise would be decided.
You must remember, George Lazenby played James Bond in 1969 for a single film. He decided to leave the role for a few reasons, one of which was he believed Bond to be a figure of the 60’s and a character which wouldn’t survive the ‘hippy’ generation of the 1970’s. Beards and long hair on men clashed with the clean shaven and neat look of Bond and Lazenby left. Still sad over that. However when Connery returned and eventually was replaced with Roger Moore, diminishing financial returns put doubt in the minds of all about whether Bond could continue.
The Man With The Golden Gun didn’t help with some calling it boring and uninspired and managing to take less that Live And Let Die at the box office. As the times were changing, the British film industry was also going through some changes of its own. Financing was hard to come by with American cinema becoming a stronger power. And as the years passed from 1974 to the release of The Spy Who Loved Me, it would prove the most difficult the franchise had ever tackled.
Coming into financial troubles, series producer Harry Saltzman, left the franchise midway through production of The Spy Who Loved Me after selling his share of the rights to United Artist. With Harry’s wife also falling ill, Cubby Broccoli took full producing credit and never looked back. With the initial script featuring the villain of Blofeld, a character Kevin McClory owned the rights too, legal issues were brought forward and production was put on hold. Deciding to forgo the character, rewrites were made and eventually Karl Stromberg was used. While script issues were ongoing, the search for a director was also happening. Initially Broccoli wanted Steven Spielberg, but Jaws was in post-production so it was offered back to Guy Hamilton. A series regular, he left after being offered the directors chair on Superman The Move (1979). That didn’t work out for him, but finally luck went Bond’s way and Lewis Gilbert was brought on as director. His previous credit was You Only Live Twice, a point that becomes obvious when watching The Spy Who Loved Me.
Getting the script right was very important to all involved. And with three years, and multiple rewrites, the finished product is something to marvel at. Most important, The Spy Who Loved Me was an opportunity to make Bond, and British cinema relevant again.
When British and Soviet ballistic-missile submarines vanish mysteriously while on regular patrol, M puts Bond into action. He must find those responsible by locating a Submarine tracking system the plans of which are eventually found on microfilm. While 007 goes in search, MI6 counterpart, KGB, assigns Anya Amasova, Triple X, to also find and retrieve the microfilm.
While in Egypt, 007 and Triple X come face to face with an even bigger threat, Jaws; a steel mouth assassin for hire. After much back and forth between the two spies, MI6 and KGB form a truce to stop the people responsible and have their agents work together.
All clues lead to shipping tycoon and all around crazy, Karl Stromberg. With webbed fingers and toes, he reveals his plans to fire the nuclear missiles at New York and Moscow plunging the world into nuclear war while he rebuilds civilisation under the sea in his base, Atlantis. Of course its up to Bond and Anya to stop him, which they do by way of many fun action scenes and an incredible submersible car.
With a tight script and even better acting, The Spy Who Loved Me fires on all cylinders from start to (almost) finish. From the opening moments of Bond skiing away from his attackers and parachuting off a cliff, to train fights with Jaws. Throw in a mid film car, helicopter and underwater chase…in a car, and the outlandish factor of the Bond franchise hits new highs. Something it hasn’t seen at this point.
At the tender age of 15, The Spy Who Loved Me blew my mind. Moore on screen at 50 years old still looks in excellent shape as Bond. How he can still manage to look so good at that age stuns me. Moore looks just as good on screen here, than he did on his first outing as 007 years prior. The script is a major improvement over The Man With The Golden Gun with no issues stemming from stupid and pointless characters. Actually the dialogue gets especially serious when it’s revealed that Bond was the man responsible for killing Anya’s lover. Moore shows acting that up until this point I hadn’t seen from him in the series.
All his scenes with Barbara Bach are great. Beginning as rivals and quickly moving to try one up the other, the characters share so much time on screen the love between them is kind of believable. I watch a lot of romantic comedies, and this beats those in that department.
Moore gets to show his physicality more here with plenty of hand-to-hand fight scenes on offer. One of the stand out character moments is with another henchman on an Egyptian roof. Without thinking, Bond lets the guy fall to his death even after getting the information needed. Shows that Bond is a calculated killer as much as the assassins sent after him. This moment is again seen later in the franchise and done just as effectively then.
This is the only film I’ve ever seen Barbara Bach in, so I can only base her acting on what I see here. And I must admit that it can be a little stoic from time to time, but no matter what, she always looks very attractive doing so. Clearly hired more for her looks than her acting talents, Barbara as Anya, is one out of a handful of Bond Girls that can, and often does, hold her own against both 007 and her attackers. She’s always gorgeous on screen and an image of Bond Girl perfection, Anya is a welcome addition to the film. And one of the only major Bond girls in the film. Naomi, a personal assistant for Stromberg doesn’t really count.
The late Richard Kiel gives a stellar performance as Jaws. An assassins with a mouth full of steel and a figure stretching as high as 7 feet 2 inches. Mostly a mute in the series, he is slow moving and menacing coming at you with a wide smile ready to bite down for the kill. An image (seen at the top of the review) that has been stuck in my head for years has Anya open a train door to reveal the frozen face of Jaws staring at her. Frightening. A few audible grunts are heard, but mostly Jaws is there to antagonise our leads. Surprisingly, Cubby Broccoli had a feeling Jaws would prove to be a loved character, despite trying to kill Bond, an alternate ending was shot and eventually used in the final film. Originally the character was to have his life ended, by a shark no less. Ask any Bond fan who their favourite henchman is, and Jaws will always be in the top 5.
Finally we land on the villain of the film. Karl Stromberg. The late German actor, Curd Jurgens brings the crazy megalomaniac to life. A man obsessed with furthering civilisation under the sea, his plan is so outlandish and so fantastical I can’t help but love it. However I do wonder if Stromberg has thought his plans through. Once the surface of the planet has been wiped out by nuclear war, will sea life remain unaffected? I understand that water can be a filter to remove impurities of some kind (I do that in my field of work), but with radiation? Anyway, the plans Bond happens to see in his office show different hubs in his planned city. So some thought has gone into it.
I do like the villain up to a certain point. He seems mostly crazy enough to be a good villain, but unfortunately for Curd Jurgens, I think Richard Kiel takes the limelight. That’s who I take away as the main bad from the film. Maybe a little more screen time for Stromberg would have helped solidify his place in the series a little more.
My biggest complaint with The Spy Who Loved Me comes down to two areas. The final 3rd of the film has Bond and Anya being captured on Stromberg’s vessel and the remaining screen time is nothing more than a large battle shoot out. It’s not the most enjoyable viewing and its here I begin looking at my phone. Final big base shootouts have been done much better in other entries of the series, but credit must be given to production designer, Ken Adams. His skills are on display again here with such a beautiful set piece you can’t believe it’s not real. An area big enough to house two submarines, hundreds of extras and even what appears to be a few Olympic sized swimming pools worth of water. It is utterly amazing.
The final complaint I have goes to the rehashed plot. I mentioned earlier how Lewis Gilbert directed another entry in Bond, You Only Live Twice, a film about SPECTRE attempting to bring about World War III by playing Americans and Russians against each other and also swallowing up shuttles in orbit, plot points recycled and used again here by Stromberg. Although I first saw the films only hours after each other, this never occurred to me then. Even when it was pointed out, I still had to really think about it. Could’ve been my love of the Bond franchise. Looking at it now, it’s plainly obvious and saddening to boot.
Even with rehashed plot elements, The Spy Who Loved Me feels fresh. The script gives the hero characters plenty to work with and allows Moore to show a serious side I hadn’t seen yet. The directing is tight with some wonderful landscapes on display (fun new locations), and the musical score by Marvin Hamlisch is so fitting of the 70’s (Bond 77) while holding itself true to classic Bond. It’s just a shame the final 3rd slows it all down for me.
James Bond will return in Moonraker