Bondathon #10: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Posted: March 25, 2016 in Movie Review
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Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curt Jurgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro

‘Nobody does it better’? That’s a bit of a stretch. The charming, if somewhat cotton candy tune by Carly Simon which plays over the opening credits of “The Spy Who Loved Me” toots the horn of James Bond like no other before it. This being the tenth James Bond film, those of us that have hung around this long don’t need convincing of the character’s worth. Many needed a reason to believe in this specific version of Bond, however, especially after the poorly-received “The Man with the Golden Gun.” I’m not convinced this one got the job done. Although “The Spy Who Loved Me” turned out to be a general crowdpleaser, it’s not that much different stylistically from Roger Moore’s first two 007 films. Taking a brief hiatus from copying trendy topics, instead we find Bond plagiarizing himself. The resulting mishmash of Bond plots gone by isn’t as much a sign that the series is improving as it is an indication of how much better it used to be.

The movie’s best stunt is in the prologue, where Bond outraces Soviet agents on skis down a snowy Austrian mountainside. Much like a similar scene from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” only this time Bond skis right off the edge of a cliff, parachuting to safety. Not a bad way to begin, and this time the prologue has a direct influence on events later on in the film. when, during the chase, Bond had to kill at least one of the pursuing Soviets. In the meantime, someone has stolen a pair of American and Soviet submarines… much like how Blofeld stole a pair of American and Soviet spacecraft in “You Only Live Twice.” This forces some co-operation between MI6 and the KGB. To investigate the matter, the two intelligence agencies decide to pair up their top agents. Working with James Bond will be Anya Amasova, a.k.a. Agent Triple X (Barbara Bach, a.k.a. Mrs. Ringo Starr). Anya does not yet know that it was Bond who killed her lover in Austria. Talk about awkward! The two have met already, in Egypt, where each was sent to recover the plans to a submarine tracking system and encountered interference from a giant-sized, steel-toothed brute named Jaws (Richard Kiel).

Once it it determined that it was Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) who stole the submarines, Bond and Anya head for his base in Sardinia. Along the way, while traveling by train, they are once again attacked by Jaws. For the second time in three films, the Bond/Grant train fight in “From Russia With Love” is shown to have been perfect the first time we saw it. At this point, the two go from rivals to potential love interests. Sorry, but Anya is no Tracy. Not that I mean to keep comparing every Bond girl since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” to Bond’s late wife,  but when the films themselves keep reminding us of her… well, it’s hard not to go there. Case in point: Upon their first meeting, Bond and Anya show how well they know each other’s dossier, with Anya noting that Bond had once been married but that his wife had been killed. Still too soon, as Bond demonstrates when he cuts Anya off before she can go any further. The thing is, James and Anya have very little in common apart from being in the same profession. They have no more chemistry than Bond has with any of his other throwaway flings.

A brief visit to Stromberg’s base, ominously called ‘Atlantis,’ tells Bond and Anya all they need to know. Stromberg has a vessel named the ‘Liparus’ which he has used to capture the submarines (much in the same manner that Bird One was used to capture the two spacecraft in “You Only Live Twice”). Stromberg also has a vision of a future in which humanity takes to living underwater inside ‘Atlantis.’ Since Stromberg is clearly out of his mind, Bond and Anya leave with the information they’ve gathered. However, Stromberg orders his henchmen to kill them. Fortunately for Bond, Q gave him a car that transforms into a submarine. Why not, since there was a car that became an airplane in the last movie? Anyway, Bond’s handy new toy is useful in dispatching the helicopter piloted by Naomi (Caroline Munro, wasted in a thankless and all-too brief role). Jaws, however, escapes death. Sometime after this, Anya figures out that it was Bond who killed her lover, and she vows to return the favor when the mission is over… Who wants to lay odds that she won’t hold to that promise? Yawn. Back to the action!

So, Stromberg’s master plan is to use the submarines he stole to start a nuclear war, eventually resulting in that underwater colony he’d mentioned before. Too bad for him that he and his men are too incompetent to keep Bond and a third submarine full of men from freeing the other two crews, overpowering his base and thwarting his plans just like in the final act of “You Only Live Twice.” Stromberg himself is the most ineffective Bond villain yet, going out like a chump when Bond shoots him from underneath a table just like another hero from a certain 1977 film… *cough* “Star Wars” *cough*. Only this time, no altered special effects are required to show that Stromberg actually does shoot first. Both submarines, the ‘Liparus’ and ‘Atlantis’ are all destroyed. Bond and Anya get out of harm’s way just in the nick of time… as does Jaws. Hmm, wonder if we’ll see him again…

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how this is considered to be the best of the Roger Moore Bonds. It’s a lesser version of “You Only Live Twice” (also directed by Lewis Gilbert), and that in itself is bad when you consider that “You Only Live Twice” wasn’t that great to start with. It drags in places, particularly during the final act, and never quite allows for its supporting characters to become clearly defined. I think I learned more about the hotel desk clerk (played by Valerie Leon) than I did about Caroline Munro’s Naomi, who should have been the most interesting female henchman since Fiona Volpe from “Thunderball.” The villains are NEVER a credible threat, with only Jaws providing glimpses of physical superiority before being treated as a joke. At least Sheriff J.W. Pepper is nowhere to be found. Thank goodness for small favors. Still, “The Spy Who Loved Me” can’t escape being among the lower-ranked Bonds in my book. Too often it shows signs of desperation. It’s rather cliched, but it’s at times like this when you almost expect a series, running short on ideas, to look to outer space next.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I concur completely!!!

  2. sexylilshedevil says:

    Book was worse

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