For the past few days, the Shattered Lens has been taking a journey through the history of the James Bond film franchise. Today, we continue that journey by taking a look at 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. This was the 10th film in the “official” James Bond series and the 3rd to star Roger Moore as 007. It was also the first of Moore’s films to be embraced by contemporary critics and it’s still considered to be one of the best films in the entire series. It’s also one of my personal favorites.
The Spy Who Loved Me opens with one of the most of brilliant pre-credit sequences in the history of the franchise. British and Russian submarines are mysteriously vanishing. M (a returning Bernard Lee) summons James Bond (Roger Moore) to investigate. Not surprisingly, Bond is with a woman at a ski resort when the summons comes. As Bond starts to leave, the woman says, “But James, I need you.”
“So does England,” Bond replies.
Now, this was long before my time so I can’t say for sure but I always like to imagine that line got some applause when it was first heard in theaters. It is with that line (and, even more importantly, with his self-assured but humorous delivery of that line) that Roger Moore truly claims the role of James Bond as his own. No, this scene seemed to be telling us, Moore would never be Sean Connery. But he would be James Bond.
After leaving the chalet, Bond finds himself being pursued by several Russian agents. This downhill ski chase, filmed by real people who were truly putting their lives in danger in the days before CGI, is one of the most exciting of all the chases to be found in Bond films and it builds up to a perfect climax. After Bond manages to kill one of his pursuers, he skis right over the edge of a cliff. Luckily, he has a parachute in his backpack and, of course, it’s a union jack parachute. Again, I like to imagine that audiences applauded at this moment.
Bond’s escape leads to the opening credits and, even more importantly, Carly Simon singing the film’s theme song, “Nobody Does It Better.” Seriously, I love this song.
Both MI6 and the KGB discover that the plans for a submarine tracking system are being sold on the Egyptian black market. Suspecting that this is connected to the missing submarines, both James Bond and the Russian agent Anya Asamova (Barbara Bach) are sent to Egypt. Bond and Anya team up to find the plans. Along the way, they are attacked multiple times by Jaws (Richard Kiel), a hulking man with steel teeth.
Eventually, Bond and Anya discover that the man responsible for the missing submarines is Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a shipping magnate who is planning on destroying the surface world so that he can start a new society underwater. The two secret agents work together to defeat Stromberg even though Anya assures Bond that she’s going to kill him as soon as their mission is completed. Remember the man who Bond killed during that opening ski chase? It turns out that man was Anya’s lover and she’s only putting off getting her revenge so that she and Bond can save the world first.
With its confident mix of humor, intrigue, and spectacular action, The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most popular of the Bond films. It’s certainly one of my favorites.
Along with From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this is the most romantic of the Bond films. Roger Moore and Barbara Bach have a very real chemistry and, as a result, you actually care about whether or not Bond and Anya will still be together after the end credits. As played by Barbara Bach, Anya is one of the strongest of the Bond girls. For once, Bond and his lover are truly equals. For anyone who doubts the importance of having a strong Bond girl, I invite them to compare this movie to The Man With The Golden Gun.
For those who are more into action than romance, The Spy Who Loved Me will not leave them disappointed. This film features some of the best set pieces in the history of the Bond franchise. Along with the ski chase at the start of the film, there’s also a genuinely exciting car chase that features Bond and Anya being pursued by a helicopter piloted by Caroline Munro.
(Speaking of cars, this film also features one of my favorite Bond gadgets — a car that doubles as a submarine.)
Karl Stromberg makes for an interesting villain. His plan makes absolutely no sense but he may be the first Bond bad guy to motivated by perverted idealism as opposed to pure greed. As you would expect from a Bond film, his secret underwater HQ is quite an impressive set. However, the best thing about Stromberg is that he employs Jaws. With his stainless steel teeth, Jaws was the best henchman since Goldfinger‘s Oddjob and he proved to be such a popular character that he actually returned in the next Bond film.
One final note: As has often been noted, The Spy Who Loved Me was the first Bond film to have absolutely nothing in common (beyond a title) with the book that it was based on. This is largely because the literary Spy Who Loved Me wasn’t really about James Bond. Instead, it told the life story of Vivienne Michel, a Canadian woman who just happens to meet Bond towards the end of the book. Fleming reportedly considered this book to be a failed experiment on his part and reportedly he only sold the film rights when he was assured that only the book’s title would be used.
That said, I recently read The Spy Who Loved Me and it’s not that bad. Vivienne Michel is a compelling character and it’s interesting to, for once, see James Bond through the eyes of a lover as opposed to the other way around. If it is a failed experiment, it’s still an experiment that’s worth reading.
As for the cinematic James Bond, he conquered the sea in The Spy Who Loved Me so it only made sense that, in his next film, he would attempt to conquer space. We’ll take a look at Moonraker tomorrow.