The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – BlogalongaBond #10
That’s weird, I don’t remember reviewing The Man With The Golden Gun… Oh well.
The Spy Who Loved Me
(Lewis Gilbert, GB, 1977)
Jubilee-tions all round, as detente gives Britain the chance to keep its end up, and Roger Moore gets the comedy screenplay he deserves
Arguably, The Spy Who Loved Me is where the Roger Moore era of 007 properly begins, a smart trade-off between ‘nods to the past’ and the forging of a new direction. On the one hand, after the cheap, low-rent look of his earlier adventures, this is unmistakably Bond, with great set porn courtesy of the returning Ken Adam, one of the series’ most iconic vehicles in the seafaring Lotus, and a plot which could only work in the Cold War. But it’s also geared to Moore’s portrayal, being practically a rom-com for its first half, while a new supporting cast debuts here, who would become familiar faces over the next decade: Walter Gotell’s General Gogol, Geoffrey Keen’s Minister of Defence and even Robert Brown, soon to take over from Bernard Lee as M. Oh, and Jaws of course, that thoroughly ridiculous but entertaining thug who not only has metal teeth but (judging from the scene where he rips off a van) metal hands, too.
The mix of old and new looks fresh, belying apparent chaos behind the scenes, with producer Cubby Broccoli going it alone after long-time business partner Harry Saltzman walked, and Lewis Gilbert parachuted in at the last minute after Guy Hamilton (and, according to legend, Steven Spielberg) passed. Spielberg’s legacy survives in the naming of the henchman, but Gilbert is surely the sounder choice: not only did he direct You Only Live Twice, the Bond movie whose plot this quite blatantly recycles, but Roger Moore raises his eyebrows towards the camera more often here than Michael Caine in the Gilbert-helmed Alfie.
The Spy Who Loved Me is still incredibly of its time, but it’s done with much more subtlety than the last few Bond films managed, because it isn’t aping the flavour-of-the-year movie genre (blaxploitation, kung fu) but geo-political reality. This is the 007-does-detente story, milking the idea of a hot Russian counterpart who is Bond’s equal so well that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Cubby Broccoli wrote the treatment first and then bribed Brezhnev and Ford to get diplomatic with each other so he could justify making it.
So the Egyptian section of the film (much, much longer than the usual ‘exotic first-act Air Miles trip’ you’d expect from 1970s Bond) is a screwball romance about two people thrown together because they’re searching for the same Macguffin. There’s a refreshing sense of time passing and a halfway plausible hot/cold relationship forming. Plus it’s funny, in spite of Barbara Bach’s apparent ignorance that she’s starring in a comedy, largely because Moore doesn’t pass up an opportunity to deliver an eyebrow-raisingly bad pun. (And, if you think that this is what Moore always does, check out the scene where Bond admits to Anya he killed her lover. Moore can act. He just seldom chooses that option.)
More than at any point since 1962, here’s a Bond film positioned to reclaim Blighty’s place as a world beater and justify the colonial superiority that’s always been rampant in Fleming’s conception. Yes, 007 has to work with Russians, and the Yanks are the heroes come the final act, but this is a thoroughly British film from the moment Bond opens up his Union Jack to the final ‘keeping the British end up’ knob gag. It’s worth remembering that 1977 was Jubilee year, and somewhere there’s a memo exhorting the crew to put up the bunting and treat the film like a street party. No wonder this is the first Bond film with a political manifesto for a theme song.
Of course, in reality 1977 was a year of rubbish in the streets and the Sex Pistols causing scandal, at which point it’s worth noting that this is one of those Bond films where the hero barely sets foot at home. Soundtrack duties go to the none-more-American songbook student Marvin Hamlisch, who chooses to put the D-I-S-C-O in 007. And while this contains more actors who have appeared in Doctor Who than any other Bond film – I count at least eight – the most high-profile of those is Shane Rimmer, a Canadian playing an American.
Flaws? Of course. Once the decision to build the biggest set in the entire world has been made, there’s no choice but to stage a logistically stunning but tedious battle scene. Sure, in terms of scale, it’s You Only Live Twice redux, but as drama a supertanker is several steps down in ambition from a volcano. That said, at least all those explosions keep Stromberg (the dullest and most ridiculous Bond villain since Largo in Thunderball) off-screen. Curt Jurgens has zero presence, and it’s only a) the early exposition scene where he kills off a load of extras and b) the fact he has a massive underwater base, which give away he’s the baddie. Even his shark is crap: at one point, one seems to sniffing its prey’s fanny instead of eating her, and it’s easily dealt with (in an in-joke so obvious you might miss it) by Jaws.
But then, by making the henchman more interesting than the hero, and even letting him get away at the end, Jaws’ presence underscores the film’s subtext – sometimes, the underdog can be absolutely massive, too. Britain’s got its mojo back, so has James Bond, and nobody does it better. Four years before Chariots Of Fire, this is 007’s warning to Hollywood – the Brits are coming. Who knows, next time they might even think about taking on guys like Spielberg by getting into sci-fi.