Director: Lewis Gilbert
Cast: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jurgens, Richard Kiel, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewellyn, Lois Maxwell, Walter Gotell
Plot: Bond (Moore) gets tangled up in the theft of several nuclear subs, a global catastrophe that throws him together with beautiful, yet dangerous KGB agent, Triple X (Bach).
I will try to get through this review without doing a ‘Nobody Does It Better’ joke, but no promises.
In order to fully tackle the review, I am going to mention slight spoilers, although nothing that will surprise you. Bond films are a tad predictable and the fun is in set-pieces rather than guessing whether Bond is going to live or die. The film opens with a British and Russian nuclear sub both getting captured by a mysterious ship and both agencies reacting. The KGB send in Triple X, their best agent, and MI6 send in… well, three guesses. The man behind the abduction of these subs is Karl Stromberg, a man who delusionally wants to restart civilisation under the sea and believes he needs to inspire World War III to start over. However, when one of his rogue assistants tries to sell the tracker he used to find the nuclear subs, both the KGB and MI6 catch wind of this and try to follow the paper trail back to the man behind all of this. Henceforth, both Bond and Triple X collide, trying to prove which agency is the more competent. At first, their rivalry seems like a fun, flirtatious competition, but both of them are unaware of a dangerous secret. Bond’s last mission involved him killing a KGB spy that was sent to kill him, that spy being Triple X’s lover. For the time being, the two spies are blissfully unaware, more concerned about the two hitmen Stromberg has hired to kill anyone aware of the tracker’s existence, one of them being a very tall guy with metal teeth…
People have a tendency of saying that the Spy Who Loved Me is one of the best Bonds out there. It seems anyone that thinks of Moore as the top Bond will enjoy this film a lot more than the others. However, as someone who has been going through a 007 marathon and finds himself comparing the films together, I couldn’t escape the feeling that The Spy Who Loved Me marked the moment that Bond became… for want of a better word… routine. While I cannot say I didn’t enjoy the movie, it never felt like it was trying to do anything new. It took your bog standard evil mastermind plot, threw in a seductive Bond girl and just let those elements take the logical course. Take the big villain in this one, for instance. Curd Jurgens is the kind of actor who it would have been stupid not to cast. He is famous for portraying nasty people, with his upper class snarl and cold eyes. I cannot say he does a bad job here, because that is far from the truth. It is just that Karl Stromberg feels like Villain 101. He has a luxurious lair in a peculiar hiding place, he is surrounded by beautiful woman and tropical fish (“ooh, people liked the sharks, let’s do sharks again” – Bond producers), and is quickly established as merciless by executing three people in his first scene. However, I never really got the sense that he was any different from any other bad guy we have seen. Jurgens may have been good, but, in all honesty, anyone could have really taken the role and it wouldn’t have been any different. Maybe it is a poor script, Stromberg is kept in the background far longer than any Bond villain in a while now. Perhaps it is more to do with the fact that Jurgens is following three of the best villains in the franchise, Blofeld, Kanaga and Scaramanga.
The key thing that sets The Spy Who Loved Me apart from the rest is the interesting concept of the Bond girl. Anya Amasova is an agent forced to work with James, but eventually it becomes clear that he is the man responsible for putting a bullet in her boyfriend. The second half of the movie sees her confront him about this and the two of them come to loggerheads. She has to use him to finish the mission, under the orders of General Gogol (a new, recurring feature to the franchise), but really she just wants to put a bullet in his back. I found that fascinating, as it totally turned the idea of the simpering Bond girl on its head. However, of course, it totally didn’t. By the end of the movie, Bond still gets the girl for reasons that aren’t really made clear. It is as if the writers never really knew what to do with the storyline, so just swept it under the rug. I guess it is part of a male fantasy that they can seduce even the women who hate them. I thought it would have been a far better ending if Bond was forced to kill her, after the bad guy had been defeated. It would have been dramatic and, for the 70s, unpredictable. However, that would of course mean that Bond didn’t end up having sex with anyone, so the writers went with the usual ending. I don’t even feel the need to add a spoiler warning here, as no one was ever really surprised at this. Speaking of spoilers, something I also noticed about the movie was that the opening credits sequence (digression: one of the best Bond songs), features 007 being attacked by women holding gun, yet somehow seducing them. Constantly. Apparently even the director was happy spoiling the ending of this movie, right from the start.
The trick with Bond movies is that even the poorer ones can win you over if the end is exciting enough. While the action in the build-up feels a little routine (the Jaws fights are heavily choreographed and every other henchman’s fight feels over in the blink of an eye), the finale fight is a good one. Bond breaks into Liparus (Stromberg’s sub-stealing vessel), and frees the sub crews. For a movie that was being rather predictable, I must admit the all-out fight between the sub crew and Stromberg’s men was rather exciting and a little different from the usual Bond endings. Sadly, this climax does make the true ending a little rushed. After the plan has been thwarted, Bond rushes off to save the girl, kill the enemies, take on Jaws and seduce the girl. It happens so quickly (those four events take under twenty minutes), that it does feel like that exact phrase was posted on a post-stick note on the screen-writer’s desk. I just wanted the movie to slow down and fully embrace its story (this would have been an ideal moment to try and make Stromberg memorable).
I did find myself appreciating the smaller moments in the movie, however. Despite thinking of Moore as the worst Bond, he does have brief moments where he shines (albeit thanks to the director, rather than the actor). A good scene has Bond coolly push a henchman off of a roof, after interrogating him. When killing the villain, he plants an extra few bullets in him to make sure. Even better, there was a moment when Bond and Triple X are flirting. Triple X mentions Bond’s marriage and suddenly Roger Moore tenses up. The witty back-and-forth comes to an abrupt halt and he coldly changes the subject. It was a nice reference to the earlier movies and a good little piece of character development for Bond.
Final Verdict: A fun addition, although Gilbert struggles to shake off the idea that Bond is getting a little atmosphere of ‘been here before’.