Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Spy Who Loved Me: A 40th Anniversary Look At One Of the Biggest James Bond Adventures

Source: MGM Studios
*Editor's Note: It is with a humble heart that this review is lovingly dedicated to the late Roger Moore who left us on May 23rd, 2017. He was a great James Bond and an even greater human being. 

In the minds and hearts of most James Bond fans, the tenth entry in the series, 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, is regarded as the pinnacle of the Roger Moore era, and with good reason. This was the film that truly established Roger Moore as James Bond and did so at just at the right time. The previous film, 1974's The Man With The Golden Gun, did not garner the critical or box office reception that most of the previous entries had received so there was a lot of expectation for this film to put 007 back to his winning ways. After a three year hiatus, Roger Moore and the Bond team delivered what they always promised audiences-"...the biggest, the best, It's Bond- and Beyond".**

 1975 was a difficult year for James Bond and the series' production company, EON Productions. Co-producer Harry Saltzman found himself in financial difficulties and was forced to sell his stake in Eon Productions to their parent studio, United Artists. This left Albert "Cubby" Broccoli to carry on the franchise as the sole producer. With the last entry in the series receiving a very lukewarm reception many fans and critics began to question if the series still had relevance with moviegoers. This put a lot of pressure on Cubby Broccoli to produce something that would bring audiences back to loving 007 the way they had just a decade before. Cubby was a producer who had always taken great pride in providing audiences with the best he could offer and there was no way he would sit by idly and watch his series fade into obscurity. Whenever things looked to be in doubt Cubby would always revert back to the people who had always delivered for him in the past. This time around Cubby reached out to director Guy Hamilton, the director who had made 1964's Goldfinger, a film that was considered the standard by which other Bond films were judged. Hamilton initially agreed but when delays caused the project to begin at a later date Hamilton had to bow out to pursue other projects he wanted to make. The next choice was Lewis Gilbert, who had previously directed 1967's You Only Live Twice starring Sean Connery. When Lewis agreed to return he had discussions with the producer about what he felt was the biggest error they had made with Roger Moore's first two entries- too much emphasis to try and have Moore emulate Connery's version of the character. It's possible that the producers had felt they needed to go in that direction initially for two reasons; one, Roger Moore had already been established in two successful television series, The Saint and The Persuaders, prior to playing Bond. Second, there may have been a concern that the character needed to establish continuity since there had been three different actors playing the role in the last four films (Connery in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, George Lazenby in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and then Roger Moore in 1973's Live & Let Die and the aforementioned The Man With The Golden Gun).  Gilbert felt that Roger Moore's portrayal should be more humorous, lighthearted, and fun- all qualities that Roger Moore had successfully exhibited in earlier roles. Gilbert suggested that screenwriter Christopher Wood be brought in to help with this change in approach and ultimately Cubby agreed. Another notable change behind the scenes for this film was the change of music composer- John Barry had been the predominant composer for most of the Bond films however he would not be available for this entry so the production team reached out to Marvin Hamlisch. Hamlisch decided to bring Bond into the 1970's with a very disco influenced style of composition, citing that he was inspired to follow the sound of the music group The Bee-Gees who were "the hottest band in the world at that time" according to Hamlisch. With the story and production ready to go the crew set out on location to being production. It was time for 007 to reclaim his blockbuster status.

 The plot of The Spy Who Loved Me is strikingly similar to You Only Live Twice (Gilbert's previous entry in the series). Megalomaniac Carl Stromberg (played fiendishly by Curd Jurgens)has an obsession with underwater life and decides the best way to correct the world is by destroying it and re-creating a new, Utopian society beneath the sea. To accomplish this quest he decides to kidnap nuclear submarines from competing world powers in order to intentionally trigger a nuclear war. Because the Russians and the British have both been victims of this scheme they both send out their best agents, 007 of the British Secret Service and Agent XXX of the KGB (played by Barbara Bach) to find out what happened to their missing subs. The two forces must work together to stop Stromberg and prevent World War III before it's too late. 

The concept of rehashing a previous plot may have been a clever idea considering the situation the series was in at the time this film was made. Using a simpler plot line would allow more time to be spent on the style, panache, and action sequences that could be incorporated into the film. All three aspects were perfectly executed in the final product. Right out of the gate there is the absolutely breath-taking ski jump stunt in the film's pre-title sequence; Bond must escape his pursuers in Austria so he skis off of a sheer cliff, parachuting to safety. The stunt is unquestionably one of the greatest stunts ever performed, on film or otherwise. One of Stromberg's henchman, Jaws (played by Richard Keil), is a menacing mountain of a man standing over 7 feet in height and armed with steel teeth that are razor sharp. Bond is equipped with gadgets by MI-6's equipment mastermind "Q", most notably a Lotus Esprit car that has the ability to become a two-man submarine. To top everything else off the film is packed with magnificent set pieces by designer Ken Adam (A regular in the Bond series through most of the films). The inside of Stromberg's sub-swallowing tanker ,The Liparus, was built to scale in the 007 Sound Stage at Pinewood Studios (the stage had been built new for this film)  in addition to many other eye-popping set pieces displayed throughout. When combined together these elements make this entry one of the most vibrant and exciting of the whole series. 

In the case of most James Bond films the audience does not walk into the theater expecting to be baffled by a complex mystery that they will need to try and unfold as the story develops. They know that there will be a villain that will threaten the safety of the free world and that Bond will be the only one who can stop him. So it's never the "why' of the stories that intrigue audiences into going to see one after the other, it's the "how". What gadgets will Bond have in his arsenal? What amazing feats will Bond go to in order to save the day? It is these points that make the audiences shell out their hard earned dollars to see how the next entry will be different, or in some cases, beat the last. This is where "Spy" shines- it delivers on the "how" so well that no moment is wasted. The story and setting was perfectly fit for Roger Moore's take on 007 and the results show. You can easily see how relaxed and in command he is in each scene and the other actors and actresses fit their roles just as well. Barbara Bach is absolutely stunning as Agent XXX and her character also bespoke a profound statement at the time the film was released. The mid-to-late 1970's was a time of outcry for Women's Liberation (see films such as 1976's Norma Rae as an example) and for the first time in the Bond series we were introduced to a female character that was on the same level of our hero. Most women of the series, with a few exceptions, were more or less the "damsel in distress", waiting for James Bond to defeat the villain and rescue them by the end. Agent XXX is fully capable and at times early on in the story she finds herself a step ahead of our suave secret agent. This is an angle that I do not think would have worked as effectively with Sean Connery's version of 007, he was more of "the man's man" who might find it difficult to accept a woman being step for step with him. Roger Moore's lighter touch made it seem perfectly plausible that Bond could accept a woman with capabilities similar to his own and the film benefits from that greatly. I think it is also important to applaud the producers and writers for making such a bold statement at a time when studios may not have been as confident in taking such steps with blockbuster hits like James Bond. 

There is no doubt that Spy is one of the best of the series. It has a wonderful blend of all of the elements that we love in James Bond films- action, humor, excitement, and exotic locations. Honorable mention should also be made of the spectacular theme tune, "Nobody Does It Better", performed by Carly Simon. The song was an homage to the character and was also nominated for Best Song at the Academy Awards.  Everything just seemed to click this time around and audiences approved. The box office totals reached an astounding $185.4 million dollars on a budget of $14 million, firmly establishing that Bond was back and better than ever.  Cubby Broccoli had delivered what he had promised to Bond fans around the world and reassured everyone that James Bond was here to stay.

 For someone who is new or unfamiliar with the Bond films this is one that should be one of the first to be seen to establish just how great the series is. For me this definitely ranks in the higher end and as mentioned in the beginning is one of the best of Roger Moore's films (Octopussy is still my favorite). Highly recommended and endlessly fun.

Reel Rating (Out Of A Possible Four):


THE INCREDIBLE WORLD OF 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond [Nov 01, 1995] Pfeiffer, Lee & Lisa, Phil

**Excerpt used was from the marketing campaign for The Spy Who Loved Me, copyright 1977 EON Productions, United Artists, MGM Studios


  1. My favorite Moore Bond film this is a great blog on the film..

  2. Thanks so much my friend. I'm glad you enjoyed it