The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

James Bond film #10 (Roger Moore Bond)

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Released in 1977, The Spy Who Loved Me comes three years after The Man With the Golden Gun, the longest gap between Bond films so far. The series benefits from this brief hiatus – instead of feeling like the same movie we’ve seen nine times already, there’s something fresh to this film. Starting with an amazing pre-credits scene and never letting up, The Spy Who Loves Me brings  a new standard of excitement and artistry to a series 10 films deep.

That first sequence really does set up the rest of the film. In it, Bond’s back on skis (last seen in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), but aside from Moore’s close-ups, there’s a total lack of green screen. Instead, we get extremely wide shots of Bond and his pursuers coming down the mountain and POV shots ducking underneath ice arches that are the liveliest shots in the series to date. The chase ends with Bond skiing straight off the side of a mountain in a breathtaking and appropriately silent free fall that lasts forever and ends with a very Bondian Union Jack parachute.

Shortly after the film proper begins, we meet antagonist Karl Stromberg, a recluse living in a gigantic water fortress, Atlantis. His plan is to destroy the world with nuclear weapons and create a new civilization under the sea. Stromberg is another villain with sophistication, but the filmmaking finally matches the villain’s finesse, mixing beauty and brutality as he feeds a co-conspirator to sharks with classical music playing in the background. Although Stromberg doesn’t show his face for quite some time after this introduction, it’s memorable enough to imply his presence, and his absence is mitigated by some other great side-characters.

I said back in Live and Let Die that Tee Hee Johnson, henchman to Mr. Big, was a great henchman in the same vein as Oddjob from Goldfinger. Stromberg’s henchman Jaws, played by the 7’2″ Richard Kiel, puts both of them to shame. Jaws is introduced in perfect order, preceded by another henchman who is a large human being by normal standards, and whose side-by-side comparison with the giant really emphasizes his towering height. Jaws also gets a set of metallic teeth that he uses in a vampiric way to kill off his enemies and murderous sharks. Kiel’s expressive acting adds to Jaws’ unforgettable physique, making him the greatest henchman in the series so far and helping carry the film throughout.

Another integral character is the spy who loves Bond, KGB agent Triple X. Anya Amasova is finally a fully competent female character, introduced in a manner just like Bond (that is, sleeping around) and holding her own throughout the film. Her assertion gains some respect from Bond, and while he does condescendingly tease her driving outside the Egyptian temple, he also reflects an attraction back to her. Last film, Bond slept with Andrea Anders while Mary Goodnight was stuffed inside a closet. At first, it seems like he may repeat his bed-hopping here with Stromberg’s assistant Naomi, but instead of bedding the henchwoman, he shoots her down with Anya at his side.

There’s plenty of other improvements throughout The Spy Who Loved Me besides the presence of a developed woman for once. Mi6 is fleshed out and feels more like a proper spy organization. Instead of just meeting M and Q in isolated interiors, Bond cavorts with a whole assembly of generals in a busy war room, a detail that lends more credibility to the organization’s silly Egyptian headquarters shown later on. For once, the filmmakers aren’t just going with the first thing that comes into their mind for these scenes; it seems like they actually stopped and thought about things further. The film still follows the Bond formula, but there’s a lot more care behind its plugged-in sequences, from the mountainside chase scene to the grenade-filled climactic showdown aboard Stromberg’s tanker vessel.

Perhaps most indicative of this movie’s confidence is the fact that it’s finally able to explicitly address pre-Moore Bond films. For the first time since he’s taken the reigns, we get mention of his martini preference and his tragically brief marriage. Instead of ignoring past Bonds like Live and Let Die or quietly trying to emulate it like The Man With the Golden Gun, Moore’s third outing as Bond shows the series finally acknowledging its antecedent installments while simultaneously finding a new and unique voice. No longer content with coasting, The Spy Who Loves Me puts some solid ground back underneath the Bond films.

Final rating: 8/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • Lots of cool sound design going on here, with some powerful subwoofing explosions and rumblings (the first time I’ve noticed them in these movies) and lots of beeps and whirs scoring the map room scenes. Not to mention that perfect silence during Bond’s free fall.
  • That opening stunt was performed by Rick Sylvester for the price of $30,000. The entire stunt cost $500,000, the most expensive single movie stunt ever at the time. Money well spent, I’d say.
  • Anya was certainly cool, but the ridiculous effects of Bond’s charm aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Here we watch a woman fall so deeply in love with him so immediately that she sacrifices herself to take a bullet for him mere seconds after she was about to murder him herself. Silly.
  • The theme in the opening sequence finally goes full-on disco. As a sign of the 70s, there’s also a moog synthesizer all up over the place. It still sounds cool, but there was an awful lot of unnecessary Mickey Mousing that went along with it, taking away from how sweet those action shots were.
  • This movie is littered with jump cuts for stuntmen, since Moore wasn’t about to be doing all these crazy things, reaching a full 50 years of age during shooting.
  • As great as this movie is, those puns are just getting unforgivable. They’re RELENTLESS.
  • Looks like the series has dropped Felix Leiter. If anyone actually noticed.
  • So many hand grenades. So, so many.
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