Published on October 22nd, 2015 | by Swamp Thing0
The Spy Who Loved Me: Aqua-Bond!
Before embarking on this retrospective of The Spy Who Loved Me, James Bond’s tenth cinematic outing (excluding that other Casino Royale) there are two things I think I need to say. The first is that this article does, of course, come loaded with spoilers. The second is that I first saw The Spy Who Loved Me on it’s initial release in 1977. It was my 12th birthday and I was in a cinema in St. Helier in Jersey. I mention that only because I suspect that no amount of stark adult reality will be able to undermine the nostalgic childhood joy that seeing the movie again brings back. The one thing I can say with certainty is that for a 12 year old in 1977, The Spy Who Loved Me was the bestest film in the whole world ever.
Until Star Wars came out that same year.
After the strange disappearances of two nuclear submarines, one British, one Russian, James Bond is called in to investigate, as is top KGB agent Major Amasova, code name Triple X. On his way back to England, Bond is ambushed in Austria and kills one of his would-be assassins. After Bond and Amasova both try to recover a top-secret submarine tracking device in Egypt, their respective governments decide they should team-up. The investigation leads them to reclusive shipping tycoon Karl Stromberg, and en route, Anya Amasova discovers that it was Bond who killed her lover Sergei Barsov in Austria. She vows to kill Bond at the end of their mission together.
The Spy Who Loved Me was Ian Fleming’s tenth Bond novel (useless factoid – The Spy Who Loved Me is the only Bond film to be in the correct place numerically based on the order the books appeared – tenth book, tenth film) but apart from the title, the book and the film share nothing in common. In fact, Fleming sold the film rights to the book on the proviso that only the title could be used and none of the plot elements from the novel could appear on screen. The author had tried something different with The Spy Who Loved Me, as the story is told in the first person by one Vivienne Michel, a woman rescued by Bond from a brutal assault by two thugs as he’s returning from completing his mission in Nassau (Thunderball). Bond is merely a supporting character and doesn’t even appear until two-thirds of the way through the novel. The reaction to Fleming’s book had been so negative from both critics and fans that the author himself blocked a UK paperback publication (it didn’t officially appear in paperback in the UK until after his death).
Actually, not having access to any of the plot of the novel was no big problem as the screenwriters had already been taking pretty serious liberties with Fleming’s texts anyway (to be honest most of the original works were so misogynistic in places that they were unfilmable as written) and the author hadn’t received an ‘original story’ credit on a Bond film since Thunderball (second useless factoid – because Fleming hadn’t allowed them to use anything but his novel’s name for this film, EON got a bit huffy and moved the author’s name from before the movie title to the ‘as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007’ slot where it has remained for every Bond film since, apart from Moonraker) . Even so, the first nine Bond films had retained at least some basic plot elements from the novels they were based on. Now, for the first time, the writers on a Bond film had carte blanche to do what they wanted with Fleming’s characters, so in many ways it’s a disappointment that what they came up with for The Spy Who Loved Me was a re-hash of a James Bond screenplay from a decade earlier. In Bond 5, You Only Live Twice, a megalomaniac (Blofeld, on behalf of SPECTRE) tries to start a nuclear war by using a spaceship-swallowing vehicle to set the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. on a collision course to Armageddon. In The Spy Who Loved Me, a megalomaniac (Stromberg) tries to start a nuclear war by using a submarine-swallowing vehicle to set the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. on a collision course to Armageddon. The comparison doesn’t end there. The Spy Who Loved me was directed by Lewis Gilbert, who also directed You Only Live Twice, and had Kevin McClory (who had the rights to Thunderball at the time) not taken out an injunction against EON to prevent it, the main protagonist in The Spy Who Loved Me would have been Blofeld. Again.
Having borrowed the basic plot, the screenwriters needed to try and add some additional spice to try and cover up the fact that they were serving warmed-up leftovers. So they teamed Bond up with a female Russian agent who intends to kill him, gave the megalomaniac a city under the sea to lord over, and created one of the most memorable of all Bond adversaries in the giant metal-toothed heavy, Jaws (who does appear in Fleming’s original novel as ‘Sol Horror’, a character described in the book as having steel-capped teeth).
Title Sequence & Bond Theme
Now that they were into double figures for Bond films, the producers had a formula that seemed to work pretty well. Part of that formula was the pre-title plot set-up sequence and title design, coupled with a catchy theme song by a well known artist. For The Spy Who Loved Me they came up with a pre-title set-piece that was a bit special. We get our first brief look inside a submarine (there’s a lot more of that to come) as it comes under attack from some unseen foe. We see Triple X called into play (a rather clunky ‘betcha didn’t see that coming’ reveal that Russia’s top agent is a female), and Bond too is recalled. It should come as no surprise to students of all things Bond that both Triple X’s and Bond’s recalls qualify as coitus interruptus. Bond departs the Austrian cabin, and in the ensuing ski chase (with some very nice hot-dog ski stunts) we see Bond kill Major Amasova’s lover Sergei and then escape by skiing off a cliff wearing a Union Jack parachute.
This was no special effect or camera trickery. A stuntman named Rick Sylvester performed the jump off Canada’s Asgard Peak, and in the footage it can be seen how close one of his discarded skis comes to ripping the delicate parachute. The chute lowers Bond into the opening titles, which are the standard Bond fare of a (possibly) naked female silhouette dancing and/or gyrating, or in this case, performing gymnastics on a giant gun. Title design was by Maurice Binder, creator of the iconic’gun barrel sequence ‘ that begins every Bond film from Dr. No onward. Binder designed the opening titles for all but two Bond films from Dr. No through to Licence To Kill (the two exceptions being From Russia with Love and Goldfinger). The only real difference between The Spy Who Loved Me‘s opening credits and Binder’s previous work on the Bond franchise was that this was the first time that the actor playing Bond (Roger Moore in this case) had shot material specifically for use in the title sequence. Previous appearances by the title character in the credits were just re-used footage from the film.
The Spy Who Loved Me‘s theme song was Carly Simon singing ‘Nobody Does it Better’ (third useless factoid – this was the first time that a sung Bond theme did not have the same title as its film). The song reached #2 in the U.S and #7 in the UK and received numerous awards, Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, and is among the most successful of the Bond themes. It was also Carly Simon’s most successful song (‘You’re so Vain’ did reach #1 but wasn’t in the charts as long).
The Villain And Their Plan
Considering that he was a late replacement for the unavailable Blofeld, Karl Stromberg is a decent villain (?). Curd Jurgens (credited as Curt) puts in a fine under-stated performance, but in truth he’s given very little to work with and during this period in the Bond franchise, acting ability was not a perquisite for a memorable Bond character. I’ve also discovered that on the small screen, Stromberg’s webbed hands are barely noticeable, yet I vividly remember them from my nearly forty-year-old memories of the character on the big screen. Jurgens was also on a bit of a loser having to share villain duties with Richard Kiel’s Jaws, as being 7 feet tall with metal teeth was always going to be more memorable than being a teeny bit mad and having webbed hands.
Stromberg’s plan is an extension of Blofeld and SPECTRE’s plan from You Only Live Twice. Whereas SPECTRE wanted the U.S.A and U.S.S.R to wipe each other out and leave SPECTRE to dominate whatever remained, Stromberg wants to go a stage further and wipe out everything on the surface of the Earth in a global Armageddon, leaving himself and his chosen few to start a brave new world beneath the waves in Atlantis, a high-tech mobile submersible city. It’s a satisfyingly loopy plan that required some serious preparation. Apparently being an incredibly wealthy and reclusive shipping tycoon allows you to build a city under the sea and a ship like the Liparus, a giant super-tanker with opening bows that can eat submarines, without anybody noticing. Setting those insane elements aside, the rest of the plan – steal two nuclear subs and flatten Moscow and New York in the hope that World War III will follow – is simplistic enough to be feasible, especially as The Spy Who Loved Me was released into a world where The Cold War was still pretty chilly and it was entirely believable that the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. had their nuclear arsenals poised on a hair trigger.
The pre-title ski-chase sequence (Austria) was filmed in Switzerland (St. Moritz), apart from the parachute ski-jump, which was filmed on Baffin Island in Canada. The rest of the locations used are the ones they are supposed to be, including Faslane Naval Base in Scotland, Cairo, Karnak, Luxor, and Sardinia (with the main car chase taking place along the coast at Costa Smeralda). The underwater sequences and tanker model work were filmed in Nassau, Bahamas (familiar territory for the Bond crew having filmed there for Thunderball, and they would return there again for Bond 21 – Casino Royale). The final escape pod sequence was filmed off the coast of Malta.
To keep things as multi-national as possible, the fish seen swimming around Stromberg’s conference room in Atlantis were filmed in Japan.
Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire was home to the massive sound stage that was constructed to play the submarine pens inside the Liparus (fourth and fifth useless factoids – a twenty second sequence of Roger Moore as Bond trying to escape from Stromberg’s henchmen, shot on the Pinewood Liparus set, was the basis for an Open University film-making module, back when BBC2 showed Open University programming on weekday afternoons. Also, as cinematographer Claude Renoir’s eyesight was failing and not up to the task of supervising the lighting for such a huge and reflective set, Stanley Kubrick was secretly brought in to assist).
As most of the Italian action happens indoors, on the water, under the water, or during a car chase involving a helicopter, The Spy Who Loved Me isn’t much of a showcase for its Sardinia location. The opening Austrian skiing sequence could have been filmed anywhere with snow, and isn’t actually Austria anyway, and Scotland is barely visible in the background for the naval base shots. That leaves Egypt, and it’s here that the film exploits its location to the max, with the some scenes bordering on becoming Egyptian tourist board information films. Thankfully the pacey script and the chemistry between Roger Moore and Barbara Bach as Bond and Amasova manage to stop the scenery from overpowering the plot.
The Spy Who Loved Me is surprisingly gadget free for a Roger Moore Bond movie, in line with the producers’ attempts to make this a more ‘serious’ action film. Two items of note appear in the pre-credits sequence – a watch with a built-in Dymo gun which prints the message requesting Bond’s return to H.Q., and a loaded ski-pole which appears to fire small flares (though it was probably meant to fire bullets and the stunt man being shot was fitted with an over-excited squib).
In Egypt, Bond’s cigarette case becomes a microfiche reader, and Anya is equipped with a sleeping gas cigarette. In Sardinia, Stromberg’s assassins have a nifty motorcycle with a sidecar that becomes a self-propelled bomb, and the finale of the movie begins with Bond arriving at Atlantis on a wet bike supplied by Q. Whilst not that impressive to modern eyes, in 1977 nobody had seen one before and the one that makes its appearance in The Spy Who Loved Me is an actual working prototype by the company Spirit Marine who launched the world’s first wet bike in 1978. Notoriously difficult to ride, there’s good reason that Roger Moore is only seen travelling fast in a straight line on it.
That leaves the car. Voted the second most popular Bond vehicle after the Aston Martin DB5, and only the second vehicle in the franchise to be directly issued to Bond by Q (the first being the introduction of the DB5 in Goldfinger), Bond’s Lotus Esprit S1 is the image that will spring to mind for most Bond fans when The Spy Who Loved Me gets mentioned. The appearance of the Lotus in the film is the result of some clever subliminal product placement by the then Lotus PR manager Don McLaughlan, who was aware of the power that an association with Bond had on sales (it had already worked wonders for Aston Martin). The Esprit was launched in 1976, but just before its release, Don Mclaughlan become aware that there was a new Bond film in the offing so he parked an unmarked pre-production Esprit outside film producer Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s offices at Pinewood Studios and then drove it away before the gathered crowd could ask him anything about it. The plan worked. Broccoli had seen the vehicle and curiosity about its heritage eventually brought him to Lotus’ door.
Affectionately named Wet Nellie, in reference to the autogyro Little Nellie used in You Only Live Twice, six Esprits were used in the film to cover the road chase and underwater sequences (with one of the six being completely submersible and a functioning submarine, though it was a ‘wet sub’ which meant the interior was also flooded and the operator was required to wear scuba gear). Initially there were problems with the road chase because the Esprit’s superb road holding made it look too safe even at high speed, but eventually they found a stunt driver able to make the back wheels let go. But it was in the underwater sequences that Esprit really came into its own, earning it its second place in the best Bond vehicle poll. During the submerged sequence we find that Q’s enhancements to the Lotus included surface-to-air missiles, depth charges, underwater smoke screens and torpedoes.
In much the same way that the DB5 did for Goldfinger, the Lotus lifts The Spy Who Loved Me to a higher excitement level just as the plot is starting to get in the way of the fun.
Most Inappropriate / Politically Incorrect Moment
As part of the more ‘serious’ approach to Roger Moore’s Bond and as a response to criticism of the franchise for its misogyny and political incorrectness, The Spy Who Loved Me has a fairly low inappropriateness quotient for its time. Low, but not zero. There are the usual sexual innuendos and euphemisms, with the most notable being M’s “Well, tell him to pull out. Immediately.”, and Bond’s final line in the film “Keeping the British end up, Sir”, but for actual inappropriate dialogue/behavior we have the line “Egyptian builders!” when between them Bond and Jaws manage to destroy some ancient architecture and the moment in Max Kalba’s apartment where Bond appears to use Felicca as a shield when Sandor tries to shoot him. For me, though, the most cringe-worthy inappropriate moment is Bond’s smarmy description of Stromberg’s hench-person Naomi (a badly dubbed Caroline Munro) – “What a handsome craft. Such lovely lines…”, which just makes Bond sound seedy rather than witty or erudite.
This has to go to the scene where Bond and Anya drive out onto a Sardinian beach in the Lotus and Bond drops a fish out of the car window. Clearly the leak shown in the previous underwater scene would not have allowed a large fish into the car, and a hole big enough to do so would have flooded the car in seconds. It’s not a good enough gag to warrant messing with the laws of fluid dynamics. Penultimate useless factoid – the man on the beach who checks his bottle of booze incredulously when the car drives onto the beach is assistant director Victor Tourjansky, who reprised the ‘incredulous drunk’ role in the Italian scenes of the next two films, Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only.
Innuendo aside, arguable the best one-liner comes at the conclusion of the bike sequence of the Sardinia car chase. Having missed the Lotus with his sidecar missile, instead destroying a truck full of feather-filled mattresses, the motorcycle assassin plunges over the cliff edge through a cloud of mattress debris. Bond’s comment? “All those feathers and he still can’t fly”.
How Good Is It Really?
The Spy Who Loved Me had something to prove. Moore’s first appearance as Bond in Live and Let Die had done OK, but his second outing in The Man With The Golden Gun had fared poorly with the critics and fans, turning in the worst box-office performance since Dr. No in 1963. In particular there had been criticism of the move to a more comedy-action format and the terrible portrayal of female characters (Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight was just embarrassing). Cubby Broccoli was well aware of the fact that Roger Moore would never work for a Sean Connery style Bond movie, so for The Spy Who Loved Me he tried to make a film that suited Moore’s style but returned to a more action-adventure format. The introduction of a genuinely strong and resourceful female character in the shape of Barbara Bach’s Major Anya Amasova and the reduction in the number of Bond ‘conquests’ in the film (there is just Anya and the ‘ski -lady’ in the cabin in the opening sequence) helped to reduce the misogyny levels. Even Caroline Munro’s bikini-clad Naomi was a helicopter-flying assassin. Bringing in Lewis Gilbert to direct was a safe play as his action work on You Only Live Twice had been the best the franchise had seen to date, and his life was made even simpler by having a very similar screenplay to work with. The rest involved throwing money at it. The Spy Who Loved Me had a budget of $14,000,000, twice that of the previous two Roger Moore Bond outings. It was a gamble, and had it not paid off then The Spy Who Loved Me could well have been the last Bond film.
The gamble worked. The combination of change – less humour, fewer gadgets, stronger female characters – coupled with familiarity (this was to be Bernard Lee’s penultimate appearance as M, and regulars Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn as Q make appearances, albeit brief ones) – won the fans over to Moore’s new style Bond. The impressive action set-pieces helped (though comparisons with You Only Live Twice are again unavoidable as parts of the battle in the Liparus are carbon copies of the battle inside Blofeld’s volcano base) and the underwater Lotus had plenty of ‘wow’ factor. There was a glimpse of Bond’s emotional side in his response to the mention of his dead wife, but overall The Spy Who Loved Me‘s script rarely strayed from safe action-suspense territory. Stromberg was a bit of a damp squib as villains go – not Curd Jurgens fault, he just had nothing much to do – but in Jaws they had found a henchman memorable enough to rank alongside Oddjob, Nick Nack and Tee-Hee (in fact the character tested so well in previews they added a scene at the end of the film to confirm his survival as they suspected they would use him again).
The Spy Who Loved Me was a critical and box-office success, taking $185,000,000 worldwide, twice that of The Man With The Golden Gun, making it the most successful Bond film up to that point. It should also be remembered that in getting that box-office success, for much of its cinema run The Spy Who Loved Me was up against the likes of Star Wars, Close Encounters, Saturday Night Fever and A Bridge Too Far.
Roger Moore rates The Spy Who Loved Me as his favourite Bond appearance, and overall it’s considered to be the best film made during Moore’s tenure in the role. I have to agree.
Bond was back, and back with a bang. Sadly it was a short-lived revival. At he end of the closing credits of The Spy Who Loved Me, the now standard announcement was made that “James Bond Will Return In…”. Apparently after The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond was to return in For Your Eyes Only. However, with the massive success of Star Wars and Close Encounters, it was decided that the Bond shooting schedule should be changed to cash in on space film mania. For Your Eyes Only was pushed back to Bond 12, and Moonraker was brought forward. This meant that Moonraker was never mentioned in a “James Bond Will Return” credit line, but For Your Eyes Only managed it twice. This was the first time that the next film in the franchise was incorrectly named, and it didn’t happen again until Octopussy, when the next film was announced as From A View To A Kill, but by the time it was released the “From” had been dropped from the title.
Final useless factoid – The Spy Who Loved Me was the last film Elvis Presley saw on the big screen, six days before his death in 1977.