Across the Bond has been trucking right along and we find ourselves now at Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Below you will find me discussing one action sequences for as long as I’ve discussed most of the other movies in their entirety. It’s just that awesome an action sequence.
Xander has a fantastic focus on the book of the same name in his take of the film. The book is decidedly different from the movies and pretty much anything Bond has ever done since. I actually really enjoyed it the two times I read through it. If you haven’t read any of the Bond novels now is the time to start chalking up on them as even the now Flemming ones are being republished.
People looooooove to hate on Roger Moore. It’s especially trendy now that Daniel Craig has turned Bond into a person instead of a caricature. But any time you hear someone hating on Moore you just pop in The Spy Who Loved Me and let them watch how a Bond film is made. Actually, screw that. Just let them watch the opening sequence to it and they’ll get a lesson in why Moore was a great Bond. I could write this entire thing on the opening sequence of TSWLM. It’s just that perfect.
First the film opens with a little exposition about a submarine being kidnapped. It then cuts to Moscow where we meet Agent XXX, but in a delightfully done twist (real early spoiler) she turns out to be a woman. Bond‘s Russian counterpart is a woman! Wuuuuh?! It’s a great play on Bond‘s misogyny and the audiences expectations. Cut to Bond making love in a cabin on some mountain Austria. He’s called away by M using some incredibly outdated watch technology and leaves the cabin just as assassins arrive (his fraught female love interest exclaiming that she needs him and Bond replying, “So does England.”). Commence a spectacular ski chase scene that culminates in what is still the greatest Bond stunt in history: 007 launching himself off the side of a mountain and pulling open a Union Jack parachute. I’m not even British and it gives me goosebumps when that thing opens. It’s especially powerful because the film cuts to dead silence from the second Bond leaves the cliff to the moment his parachute opens, cuing the Bond theme. The tactic is almost screaming out that this isn’t The Man with the Golden Gun with it’s god damned slide whistle.
The jump itself is a truly amazing stunt on its own, and it was almost not captured. Three cameras were trained on it, but only one got the full jump (and got it perfectly). Even more surprising is the fact that the Union Jack parachute wasn’t even supposed to be there. No one knew about it except for the stuntman, and when it unfurled even the crew was cheering. Of course this amazing stunt goes straight into the greatest Bond song there is, “Nobody Does it Better.” I’m not about to claim it’s the best song that’s opened a Bond movie, but damn if it isn’t perfect for Bond. The opening screams, “This is mother fucking James Bond. He’s British. He’s awesome and you love him. No one does this shit better.” — well, you know, in a much more British way.
It really had to do that too. The Man with the Golden gun did not do as well as was hoped and people were saying that Moore’s career as Bond was going to be short lived. However, Cubby Broccoli would have none of it and decided that going big was the only way to win everyone back. Boy, did he go big. The Spy Who Loved Me is simply massive in a quite literal sense as it housed the largest set ever constructed in cinematic history for the sub swallowing ocean liner (beating You Only Live Twice‘s hallowed out volcano). But it’s more than just going big, it’s going all out. Every cliche you can think of for Bond is perfectly executed in this film. From a world destroying villain to outlandish gadgets to a bevy of gorgeous women; it’s Bond to the nth degree. It even pokes at his human side as Agent XXX (the drop dead gorgeous, though terrible at Russian accents Barbara Bach) brings up Tracey and Bond promptly shuts her down. Then there’s Jaws, a villain who would come to represent the excess of the Moore era thanks to his more comic return in Moonraker, but is actually quite threatening in TSWLM — though still comical. All the pieces are here for what a Bond movie is and they absolutely nail it.
The biggest issue, if I have to raise complaints, is that Bach’s Agent XXX starts off as Bond‘s equal and ends up in need of rescue, seeming to have forgotten that she is a top level agent as well. I also hate the Lotus Esprit as a car, thought its underwater antics in the film are a joy. It’s just simply ugly, and considering the fact that it was truly the next Bond car after his classic Aston Martin it’s a real shame. Bond doesn’t actually have that many cars delivered to him with special gadgets in them throughout the Moore era so I kind of wished they had stuck with something a bit less hideous. The car’s delivery does give Desmond Lewlyn as Q one of his better lines when Bond asks him if he’s ever let him down and Q replies, “Frequently,” as Bond pulls off.
It’s also of note that this film strikes the exactly right balance between Roger Moore’s jokey Bond and a slightly cruel edge. As mentioned before they hint at his emotions with the mention of Tracey Bond, but Bond‘s cruelty shines through here and there as well. This is especially true when Fekkesh, a lesser henchman, is holding onto Bond‘s impeccably tied neck tie (a classic Bond staple) so that he won’t fall to his death. As Fekkish slowly slips off Bond extracts information from him only to knock the tie out of his hands once he has his information. It’s pretty damn cold-hearted, but luckily there only hints of this throughout instead of the cruel edge that was so prevalent in Golden Gun. It should be pointed out that this scene comes directly after one where Bond is introduced to a woman who is supposed to seduce him so that he’s distracted, but after one kiss from Bond she instead flings herself in front of the bullet meant for him. It is one of the most unbelievable scenes in Bond, and yet I find that it works just so well. Every time it happens I smirk and think that only James Bond could do that.
Ian Fleming’s The Spy Who Loved Me is the bravest, most controversial and personal novel in the Bond literary canon. The Spy Who Loved Me movie is pretty much the exact opposite of that. Due to the harsh critical reaction meted out to his book, Fleming made it a condition of his will that no part of the novel ever be adapted to the big screen. Looking at the series as we know it now, the chances of that ever happening are near about nonexistant given how completely different it is to any of the preceding novels, but Fleming died when the movie series was only two entries old. With Dr No and From Russia both fairly close adaptations, his concern is more understandable. That said, it’s a fascinating book: not always completely successful, but about as intriguing as airport novels get. The story is told from the first person perspective of the female lead, Vivienne Michel. The first section of the novel, entitled ‘Me’, is biographical, covering Viv’s messy sexual history in fairly explicit detail, eventually leading her to give up on men and return home to Canada, stopping en-route at a cheap motel with a name so sleazy it could only lead to bad things: the Dreamy Pines Motor Court.
In a somewhat contrived turn of events that forms the book’s middle section, ‘Them’, the owners leave Viv to look after the hotel for the night. During this time, a small group of mobsters come to visit, planning to burn the place down so the landlord can pull an insurance scam. Intending to kill her and leave her body behind as an alibi for the fire, the mobsters are overpower Viv and are about to molest her, before a guest appears at the door, an Englishman with a flat tyre. Thus begins the final section of the novel, ‘Him’, where the man reveals himself to be James Bond of the British Secret Service, who has recognised the danger Viv is in and sees off the gangsters before fulfilling the promise of the title.
It takes a while to get going, and the plot requires a handful of contrivances to get everyone in the right place, but I love how it grounds Bond‘s adventures in something approaching the real world, with Viv’s first person account relaying how a ‘normal’ person might react to suddenly being dragged into Bond‘s world of death and danger. The character’s lengthy biography in the first section – a tactic Fleming previously used to great effect for Donald ‘Red’ Grant in From Russia, With Love – goes on too long, but makes the eventual showdown at the motel all the more powerful as a break from the more everyday concerns of Viv’s normal life. For Bond it’s a mere diversion from more important matters – for continuity nerds, the adventure is stated as taking place sometime after Thunderball, in the middle of Bond‘s investigations into SPECTRE and a mission to protect a defected nuclear expert – culminating in a one-night stand which he’d almost certainly forget a day or two later, but for her marks the culmination of the adventure of a lifetime.
The book was greeted with intense controversy not only for its drastic abandonment of the usual Bond style, but also a late passage in which Fleming, through Viv, voices the opinion that ‘all women love semi-rape’. The phrasing is obviously terrible, albeit not unfamiliar territory for Fleming, who previously described Bond enjoying a Casino Royale love scene for having ‘the sweet tang of rape’, but in this instance, it seems to me more a case of misunderstanding. Viv is clearly turned on by the danger and being with an alpha male like Bond: if 50 Shades Of Grey has taught anything, other than to never buy a 50 Shades Of Grey novel, it’s that these feelings are not altogether uncommon. Was Fleming a sexist, probably misogynist? Definitely. Here, though, I think it’s just a case of his using the worst possible terms to describe a fairly common fetish.
Controversy and experimentation are two words which will never be associated with the movie sharing the novel’s title but nothing else, and since Matt has done such fine work detailing the stunt work and general craziness which makes it one of Roger Moore’s most entertaining, I won’t spend too much time on it. It’s pretty much the definitive example of what people expect from a Bond movie, with big stunts, tricked out cars, gorgeous women, crazy henchmen (Jaws is legitimately terrifying if you’re young enough), shark-related death devices and an endless supply of cheesy quips which don’t actually make much sense but are endearingly ridiculous nevertheless (‘When in Egypt, one should delve deeply into all its treasures’ ; ‘Keeping the British end up, sir’, etc.). In other words, it’s a terrific blockbuster romp and Barbara Bach not only has a fabulously ropey Russian accent, but shares oodles of chemistry – for chemistry can only be measured in oodles – with Roger Moore. Marvin Hamlisch’s score is also the most hilariously ’70s thing you’ll ever hear, only adding to the fun. The downside is that main villain Stromberg and his scheme could not be any more generic, and while it does everything a Bond movie is expected to do with a lot of flair, there’s nothing – bar the aforementioned stuntwork – which could legitimately be described as new or surprising. Even the tanker is a direct lift from You Only Live Twice.
That said, the small continuity touches – Bond in his naval commander outfit, Anya referring to Q as ‘Major Boothroyd’, the poignant reference to Tracy – add just enough depth to make it a surprisingly important piece of evidence in the arguments against the little-knowing fools who claim each Bond actor is playing a different character. (A theory first voiced by Die Another Day director Lee Tamahori, as if conclusive proof were needed of how worthless an idea it is). Moore continues to prove his Bond quite the cold-hearted bastard behind the eyebrow-raising kitsch exterior, as detailed in Matt’s section (thoughtlessly discarding the corpse of a woman who had just sacrifice herself to save him, casually batting a henchman off a roof) but also in Bond‘s method of killing Stromberg in the anticlimactic, but surprisingly brutal, fashion of emptying his clip into his seated foe’s chest.