The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production on each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
This week on The 007 Collective, I’m staying in the 1970’s with Roger Moore’s third and unquestionably best outing as James Bond: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.
Mission Title: The Spy Who Loved Me
James Bond: Roger Moore
Release Date: August 3, 1977
Source Material: Title based on the novel ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ by Ian Fleming
Tagline: It’s the BIGGEST. It’s the BEST. It’s BOND. And B-E-Y-O-N-D.
The disappearance of two nuclear submarines – one British, one Soviet – both under mysterious circumstances, forces MI6 and the KGB to put their top agents on the assignment. Realizing they have common goals, agents James Bond and Anya Amasova join forces in finding the missing subs. Their partnership, while initially fraught with bickering and one-upmanship, proves fruitful when their trail leads them to Karl Stromberg – a shipping industry billionaire with plans of creating a new underwater civilization after the destruction of mankind.
In my review of The World is not Enough, I spoke at length about how the third Bond movie of a particular actor has always been the pivotal entry in that actor’s tenure. Sean Connery’s third film, Goldfinger, was a major breakthrough for the franchise, turning both Connery and the character into global icons. Skyfall, Daniel Craig’s third film, became the highest-grossing and most critically acclaimed film of the series’ upon its release in 2012. Pierce Brosnan wasn’t as lucky since The World is not Enough, the movie that was supposed to be his big moment, more or less marked the beginning of the end of his term. But no actor benefited more from the expression “Third time’s the charm” than Roger Moore.
After his first two entries – the tepidly received Live and Let Die and dreadfully dull The Man with the Golden Gun—had failed to curry favor with audiences, Moore had good reason to be worried about his future. Fortunately for him, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli had bigger fish to fry. In 1975, a year after the release of Golden Gun, his long-time producing partner Harry Saltzman was forced to sell his share of the franchise to United Artists. Under great duress, Broccoli decided to forge ahead on his own for the next picture—The Spy Who Loved Me—investing a massive $13.5 million on the film. But his production was unexpectedly hit with a series of setbacks that would delay the film’s release for a period of three years – the longest gap between movies until that point.
The first setback arose when director Guy Hamilton, who had directed the last three pictures as well as Goldfinger, abruptly decided to leave the project to go helm Superman instead. Without a director, Broccoli decided to look at Steven Spielberg, a then-rising star who was still struggling to finish Jaws. But the production problems on Jaws deterred Broccoli who was already taking on a massive risk with this expensive production in an attempt to save his ailing franchise. Adding an inexperienced director to the proceedings wasn’t going to help anyone. Finally, he settled on Lewis Gilbert, the man who had previously directed You Only Live Twice – a movie that not coincidentally shared many similarities with The Spy Who Loved Me.
The screenplay proved troublesome too. Since the Ian Fleming novel The Spy Who Loved Me was essentially an experimental piece in which Bond only appeared in the last act, Broccoli decided to hire a writer who would craft a completely original story (a series first). But after going through 15 drafts and 12 writers (among them John Landis, A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess and Bond series regular Tom Mankiewicz), the super-producer settled on good old Richard Maibaum. Unfortunately, his script, which involved SPECTRE being overthrown by a coalition of terrorists including the Baader-Meinhof Group, proved too political for Bond.
When Lewis Gilbert came on board, he decided to hire Christopher Wood to draft the final script based on all the bits and pieces provided by the others. In addition to toning down the silly humor that plagued the last three movies, and rehashing the plot of You Only Live Twice, this time with Blofeld and SPECTRE attempting to start a nuclear war, Gilbert and Wood also decided to refashion Bond more to Moore’s persona—as a good-humored gentleman rather than the brutish thug popularized by Connery. Alas, that wasn’t the last of the film’s production problems because just as it was being readied for filming, in came Kevin McClory—you know, the scumbag who claimed he came up with “SPECTRE” and “Blofeld” instead of Ian Fleming. With McClory threatening to sue Broccoli for copyright infringement, Cubby was forced to rename Blofeld to Karl Stromberg and abandon any hope of using SPECTRE in this or any future Bond film.
With five paras being dedicated to The Spy Who Loved Me’s troubled production history, it’s about time I discuss the film itself. In short, the movie is a triumph; far and away the best Bond film to come out of the 1970’s, Spy is also the movie in which Roger Moore finally came into his own as the character. With stupendous action sequences, majestic locales, a globe-trotting adventure story that weaved Soviet Russia and a megalomaniac hell-bent on destroying the world into one neat package, a witty and romantic subplot, an iconic henchman, spectacular set design, incredible gadgets and my favorite Bond song of all, this movie had a little bit of everything. Yes, it’s cheesy as hell and the plot blatantly plagiarizes You Only Live Twice but damn it, it one ups that movie in almost every regard. Gilbert’s prowess at juggling comedy and tension is surprisingly assured. A sequence set around the pyramids in Egypt is a study in tension while another in which Bond and KGB agent Anya Amasova are being stalked by Richard Kiel’s fantastic henchman Jaws among ruins in Egypt is a delight. There’s verve in the filmmaking here—from everyone involved—that’s evident in every decision on-screen. Even though I’ve seen the movie at least 10 times now, my re-watch for the sake of this article only bolstered my respect and love of it.
The Spy Who Loved Me kicks off with the now-iconic pre-credits sequence in which Bond outwits and outmaneuvers a team of Soviet agents by base jumping off a cliff in the Austrian Alps. The stunt, which broke a Guinness World Record back then and still looks as impressive today as it did in 1977, sets the stage for the rest of the adventure, instantly establishing that this movie is going to live up to its tagline of being the “BIGGEST” Bond of them all. Interestingly, this was the first pre-credits sequence that featured a big action set-piece. Save for Casino Royale, every cold open since has featured a huge action-scene – usually involving vehicles. While Gilbert and company are understandably unable to top this sequence for sheer audacity, the remaining action scenes, including a gripping hand-to-hand fight inside a train compartment, a high-speed chase on the coast of Italy involving a motorcycle, a helicopter and Bond’s ridiculously cool car/submarine Lotus Esprit, as well as a full-out gun battle inside the villain’s lair, all contribute to the film’s glorious fan factor.
More importantly, The Spy Who Loved Me is the movie in which Moore finally stepped out of the shadow of Connery and put his own mark on the series. This was his Goldfinger. Even if he was never a tough-talking, woman-abusing Bond like his predecessor, both his previous films had elements of grit in them that felt shoehorned in to make audiences accept him as the character (that slapping incident in Golden Gun comes to mind). But in Spy, he leaves that all behind. Here is an actor out to prove a point. Although his Bond wasn’t afraid to kill a bad guy in cold blood (his casual disposal of one of Stromberg’s goons off the top of an Egyptian building is priceless!), he never needed to hit or rape women to get answers. He’d let his debonair side do all the work. It’s a funny and fresh take on the character that he parlayed into four more movies. It helped that he was working with a very clever and entertaining script that utilized his best traits, and emphasized the romantic aspects of the story—something he had quite a knack for. His cute back-and-forth scenes of one-upmanship with co-star Barbara Bach are among the movie’s most enjoyable moments—only marred by Bach’s atrocious line readings. But hey, you work with what you have.
But perhaps the aspect I was most glad to see toned down was the ridiculous one-liners and outrageously juvenile humor. Gone was Sherriff J.W. Pepper. Even the puns were drastically cut. Yes, the camp was still there but there’s nothing in this movie that approached the idiocy we’d see in Moonraker, Octopussy and A View to a Kill or the overt racism that marred Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. In fact, the filmmaking team’s discipline at reining in the silliness, and nailing every other aspect of the production – from the entertaining script to the fantastic action scenes to the majestic production design – was probably the reason why it was embraced so warmly by audiences in the summer of 1977 – no small task considering its competition were Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
With Roger Moore not appearing in the pre-title sequences of his first two outings, Broccoli, Gilbert and company decided to swing for the fences for his third time at bat. And boy, do they ever! As iterated in the review segment, this was the Bond movie that started the trend of the cold opens showcasing spectacular stunts and thrilling action scenes over espionage. Prior to this 10th entry, the cold opens usually involved a couple of fist fights here, maybe a villain or so there. Post-Spy, every cold open, save for Casino Royale, has featured a huge action-scene, something that will undoubtedly continue with the upcoming SPECTRE. The teaser sets up the plot by first depicting the hijacking of the British submarine HMS Ranger and then follows it up by introducing many of the film’s major protagonists including M, General Gogol, Anya and finally, Bond. It closes with Bond being chased by a group of Soviet agents down the slopes of the Austrian Alps. After killing one of the agents—later revealed as Anya’s boyfriend—Bond escapes his would-be captors by skiing off the edge of a cliff and then free falling for at least 15 seconds before opening his Union Jack parachute. Cue the James Bond theme and the credits. Incredible stuff!
Title Designer: Maurice Binder
Title Song: “Nobody Does it Better” performed by Carly Simon
Famous Quote: “But like Heaven above me/The spy who loved me/Is keeping all my secrets safe tonight”
“Nobody Does it Better” is the greatest Bond song of all time. Yea, most people cite “Goldfinger” as the best but to me, this is as good as it gets. Composed by Marvin Hamlisch (who took over composition duties after John Barry was unavailable) and written by lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, Carly Simon’s magnificent track was a massive hit when it was released in the summer of 1977. Critical reaction was equally rapturous. The song earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Song as well as a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year. It lost the Oscar to the sappy title song from You Light My Life and the Grammy to Barbara Streisand’s ghastly overrated “Evergreen (Theme from A Star is Born).” In 2004, the AFI named it the 67th greatest movie song ever, second only to “Goldfinger” among James Bond tunes. Interestingly, this was the first Bond theme song to be titled differently from the name of the film, even if it did cleverly include the phrase in its lyrics. Since then, only three theme songs have not used the film’s title – Octopussy (Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High”), Casino Royale (Chris Cornel’s “You Know My Name” and Quantum of Solace (Jack White & Alicia Keys’ “Another Way to Die”).
Since we’re on the topic of music, I’d like to bring up Marvin Hamlisch’s score. Taking over from John Barry who was unavailable at the time (a good thing, considering how embarrassing his score for The Man with the Golden Gun was), Hamlisch brought in a disco element to the film (most evident in the pre-credits opening scene). Although jarring at first, it surprisingly works with the tone of the movie. Still, although there are plenty of high points (Hamlisch’s orchestration of “Nobody Does it Better” is gorgeous), the 70s-beats, in particular the cowbells, does date the movie.
The Big Bad: German shipping magnate and marine biologist Ernst Stavaro Blofeld Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens) who uses the billions he made off his successful shipping business to build a gargantuan underwater secret lair he calls Atlantis. Stromberg was the relatively late replacement for Blofeld after Kevin McClory threatened to sue them if they used Blofeld and SPECTRE (characters that he legally owned). Still, the character shares many similarities with Blofeld, including his massive secret lair, drab attire, colorful henchmen and over-the-top world domination plan. The one difference is that unlike SPECTRE and company, Stromberg has no intention of extorting governments. Instead, he just wants the world destroyed so he can build his new civilization at the bottom of the ocean. Although the scheme is outrageous, the character himself, as portrayed by Jürgens isn’t. The actor doesn’t bring any theatrics to the part and, as such, is overshadowed by…
Henchman: The incomparable and near-indestructible Frankenstein-esque killer that is Jaws (Richard Kiel). With his towering 7’1” frame, imposing size and razor sharp steel teeth, Jaws is easily the most terrifying henchman of the entire series. Over the course of The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws survives falling debris from a collapsed Egyptian building, being kicked out of a speeding train, and even walks out unscathed from the wreckage of a car that fell off a mountain! Best of all, he freaking kills a great white shark by biting it to death! The character proved so popular in test screenings that the filmmakers changed the ending to have him survive and return to fight Bond another day. They really, really, really shouldn’t have.
Organization: SPECTRE Stromberg Shipping Lines
World Domination Plan: To hijack three nuclear submarines—one Soviet, one British, one American—using a revolutionary submarine tracking system and his Liparus Tanker, and then use these submarines to nuke New York and Moscow. With the United States and USSR both blaming each other for the attack, World War III would be eminent, thus causing the end of civilization, and opening the door for Stromberg to create his new world under the ocean.
Primary: Soviet Russia’s best agent Anya Amasova a.k.a. Agent XXX (Barbara Bach), and Bond’s partner on his mission to uncover the missing nuclear submarines. Anya was most likely a response to the widespread criticism leveled at the idiotic Mary Goodnight, one of the series’ most maligned Bond girls. Equally adept with weapons as she is at bantering with Bond, Anya takes pride in her spotless mission record. She’s also written as more of an equal to Bond than a subservient helpless victim. Adding the revenge aspect to the plot was a nice touch on part of the filmmakers. It made the relationship between the two characters more complex and unpredictable. The only thing that prevents Anya from clinching a spot among the top tier of Bond girls is Bach’s laughably-wooden performance. Oof!
Others: Naomi (Caroline Munro), the bikini-wearing henchman who eye-fucks the shit out of Bond during their initial meeting in Sardinia, Italy, and who then tries to kill him during the thrilling car chase using her helicopter.
Others include the Log Cabin Soviet Spy (Sue Vanner) and the Arabian prostitute whose name I can’t seem to find on IMDb.
KGB head General Anatol Gogol (Walter Gotell) who appeared in every Bond movie from The Spy Who Loved Me all the way to The Living Daylights (six films in all). A shrewd and witty man, Gogol reaches out to M during The Spy Who Loved Me mission proposing that Soviet Russia and England work together in bringing down Stromberg.
Like General Gogol, this was also the first appearance of Sir Fredrick Grey (Geoffrey Keen), the British Minister of Defense, who would then appear in every Bond movie until The Living Daylights. Although his role in this was limited to a briefing session with Bond, Grey’s parts would grow larger in subsequent efforts.
Admiral Hargreaves (Robert Brown). Hargreaves has only a single scene in The Spy Who Loved Me but I’m mentioning him here because he would eventually be promoted to the title of M starting with Octopussy and ending with Licence to Kill.
M (Bernard Lee). M briefs Bond twice. First on a submarine when he assigns him the mission of finding the Egyptian double-agent Fekkesh, and then when he informs 007 about the collaboration between the KGB and MI6 in Cairo.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn) who sets up his Q branch headquarters inside an Egyptian temple in Cairo.
Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell)
The Lotus Esprit Car/Submarine i.e. the most badass gadget-laden car Bond has ever driven (aside from the Aston Martin DB5, of course). The car comes with concrete-spraying guns, surface to air missiles, underwater mines, harpoons, an oil slick spray, a sonar, bullet-proof glass and even a periscope. Ridiculous? Yea. Awesome? Definitely!
The supremely dated Ticker Tape Watch which MI6 uses to contact Bond when he’s on mission in Austria.
Ski Pole Gun which Bond uses to assassinate Anya’s lover during the film’s pre-credit ski chase sequence.
“Wet Bike” – which was the ancestor of the Jet Ski. Bond uses it in the finale to make a quick trip from the Liparus Tanker to Atlantis in order to save Anya from the grips of Stromberg and Jaws.
ODDS & ENDS
Most Memorable Quote:
[Having rescued the escape pod containing 007 and Agent XXX from the ocean, General Gogol, M, Sir Frederik Grey and Q open the curtains of the pod only to discover the two agents having sex.]
Gen. Gogol: Triple X!
Sir Frederick Grey: Bond, what do you think you’re doing?
Bond: Keeping the British end up, sir.
[Cue End Credits]
Classic Roger Moore!
Most Embarrassing Quote:
[After Bond’s Arab friend, a rich Sheikh, offers him one of his concubines so he can kill time]
James Bond: When one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures.
Delve deeply… ick!
Most Memorable Moment:
The ski jump, naturally. It isn’t just the most memorable moment of The Spy Who Loved Me but it’s also one of the top moments of the entire franchise. Breathtaking stuff!
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
Oh, it has to be that ridiculously stupid and cheesy scene in the train in which Bond woos Anya and convinces her into having sex with him. The porn-tastic music, the bad acting, the silliness of it all.
See Most Memorable Quote.
Most Outrageous Moment:
We already know that Jaws is pretty indestructible – after all, he survived falling from a speeding train, a car that crashed off a mountain, and a mountain of falling bricks. But biting a hungry great white shark and killing it? Ridiculous.
Best Pun/Double Entendre:
[Stromberg’s stunning henchwoman, Naomi, dressed in a skimpy bikini, asks Bond and Anya to join her on her expensive-looking speedboat. As Bond admiringly looks at her walking to her boat]
James Bond: What a handsome craft. Such lovely lines.
Worst Pun/Double Entendre:
[Bond causes a henchmen riding on a motorcycle to crash into a truck full of feathers and fly off a cliff]
James Bond: All those feathers and he still can’t fly!
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
It should be the ski jump again but I’m going to go with the excellent car and subsequent underwater chase sequence in which Bond and Anya, in his Lotus Esprit, are chased by Jaws (in a car), a motorcycle henchman and Naomi (in a helicopter) in an Italian coastal town.
Most Dated Reference:
There’s a case to be made for the Wet Bike or the Ticker Tape Watch but I’m going with Marvin Hamlisch’s porntastic, cowbell and disco-infused 70’s score.
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 4 (twice with Anya Amasova, once with the Arabian concubine and once with the Soviet Log Cabin spy)
Number of people Bond kills: 15
After getting into a brutal fist fight with Sandor, one of Stromberg’s thugs, on the roof of an Egyptian building, Bond gets the upper hand and kicks Sandor towards the edge. Losing his balance, Sandor desperately grabs on to Bond’s tie as he dangles on the edge of the building. In exchange for his life, Bond proceeds to pump him for information.
James Bond: Where’s Fekkesh?
At that moment, Bond slaps Sandor’s hand off his tie, allowing the man to fall to his death. Bond then straightens his tie, briefly looks down and coolly states.
James Bond: What a helpful chap.
Now THAT’S cold!
Locations visited (In order of appearance): Austrian Alps, Scotland, London, Cairo, Sardinia, Mediterranean Sea
Misogyny Meter: 5/10
Bond seems to be generally surprised at Anya’s competence because, you know, women are useless at everything. Although it’s all done in a good-natured tone, it still qualifies as casual misogyny. More egregious is the way the American sailors on board the U.S. submarine react to the fact that, Anya i.e. a woman, is the top Russian spy. What’s worse is the way they (and the filmmakers) ogle her naked body as she takes a shower. Gratuitous!
Homophobia Meter: 0/10
Racism Rating: 0/10
Box Office: $46 million ($170.5 million adjusted for inflation making it 15th highest grossing film of the franchise but more importantly, Roger Moore’s second highest grossing film).
Oscars: 3 nominations (Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song)
007 Chronological Listing: 10/24
Running time: 125 minutes
Companies: Eon Productions, MGA/UA
The 007 Collective will return in:
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)
Previous entries in The 007 Collective:
- Goldfinger (1964)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The World is Not Enough (1999)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
- Octopussy (1983)
- Thunderball (1965)
- GoldenEye (1995)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)