Friday, January 20, 2017
"THE SPY WHO LOVED ME" (1977) Review
"THE SPY WHO LOVED ME" (1977) Review
"THE SPY WHO LOVED ME" became EON Productions 10th entry in the Bond franchise in 1977. It also marked Sir Roger Moore’s third turn as British agent, James Bond, Cubby Broccoli’s as sole producer for the first time and Lewis Gilbert’s second time at bat as director of a Bond film. This is the movie that introduced the catchphrase, “Nobody does it better,” and according to many critics and fans, saved the Bond franchise back in the 1970s. Watching "THE SPY WHO LOVE ME", I can understand why many would harbor this belief.
Many critics and fans tend to credit or blame Roger Moore for helping to usher in the era of “fantasy” Bond – in other words a Bond movie that basically feels more like a fantasy/science-fiction action movie than a spy thriller. I do not really accept this view, since I believe that 1964’s "GOLDFINGER" was responsible for this change of style in the Bond franchise. In fact, Connery did two other movies that continued this very element in the movies. Roger Moore merely continued what Connery had begun in movies like "LIVE AND LET DIE" and "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN". The latter, released in 1974, came dangerously close to ruining the Bond franchise – at least in the eyes of many fans and critics. And in a way, I do not blame them for this attitude. Frankly, I consider "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN" to be one of the worst Bond films in the franchise and Moore’s worst movie. EON Productions had to wait two to three years to release its next movie, due to the breakup of the Cubby Broccoli/Harry Saltzman partnership. Following this, "THE SPY WHO LOVED ME" premiered in 1977 and became the most highly regarded Bond film in the 1970s and is considered by some to be Moore’s personal triumph. I do not know if I would consider "THE SPY WHO LOVED ME" to be Moore’s ultimate triumph. I believe that honor should go to the 1981 movie, "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY". However, I do consider it to be his third best film.
At first, the plot seemed reminiscent of the one for 1967’S "YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE". But instead of American and Soviet space capsules disappearing, British and Soviet submarines vanish. Bond, just recently from a mission in Austria that led to the death of a KGB agent, is assigned to track down the missing Royal Navy submarine via a tracking system that has popped up on the market in Cairo, Egypt. His search not only leads to Soviet agent Anya Amasova (who is investigating the disappearance of a Soviet sub), but to billionaire oceanographer, Karl Stromberg. But what makes "TSWLM" so interesting is that the Egyptian sequences have a strong exotic atmosphere that lends a touch of mystery to the story; and Bond’s relationship with Amasova turns out to be more than just a case of the British agent having a female on hand for sex in the finale.
Probably the biggest contribution to the success of "THE SPY WHO LOVED ME" seemed to be the movie’s lead, Roger Moore. Many fans believe that he finally grew into the role of 007 in this movie. After seeing him (as Bond) cold-bloodedly push one of Stromberg’s men of a Cairo roof and shoot Stromberg four times, I can see why. Personally, I felt that he had grown into the role at first bat in "LIVE AND LET DIE", but had regressed in an attempt to emulate Connery in "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN". But I cannot deny that his performance in "THE SPY WHO LOVE ME" can not only be considered among his best, but among the best Bond performances in the entire franchise. And he was certainly helped by Barbara Bach’s presence. Although I would not describe the New York born model-turned-actress as a particularly talented actress verbally, but she could be quite versatile through facial expressions, whether expressing jealousy over Bond’s attention to Stromberg’s pilot/assassin, Naomi; amusement over some of Bond’s predicaments or developing attraction toward the handsome British agent. In fact, I can recall at least three scenes in which Moore and Bach interact with each other, beautifully:
1) Their deepening attraction for each other, expressed through smiles after M and Gogol order them to work together;
2) Their discussion regarding their status as enemies turned allies on the train to Sardina;
3) And the piece de résistance – Anya’s discovery that Bond had killed her former lover in Austria
Supporting cast members like Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewellyn ably serve the movie. Shane Rimmer, a Canadian actor who has been working in British films since the late 1950s, ably supports Moore as the somewhat sardonic commander of an American sub. Both Walter Gotell (as KGB General Gogol) and Richard Kiel (as assassin Jaws) make their debuts in the movie. Kiel personally came off as menacing in the movie, in compare to his return in "MOONRAKER". German matinee idol, Curt Jurgens became the latest Bond villain, playing a billionaire/oceanographer whose response to the world’s growing corruption and self-destruction is use stolen nuclear submarines to blow up Washington D.C. and Moscow. Actually, Stromberg became the first Bond villain with megalomaniac ambitions to rule the world. All those before him were simply interested in profit. Jurgens is his usual competent self and also had the pleasure of uttering a few bon mots. But . . . I do not exactly find megalomaniacal villains to be interesting.
Despite some of the fantasy/science-fiction elements of "THE SPY WHO LOVED ME" – the Lotus Esprit, Stromberg and his two lairs – the Liparus Tanker and his lair/lab Atlantis, the movie is an exciting adventure that features great direction by Lewis Gilbert, a first-class battle between Stromberg’s men and the American/British/Soviet naval personnel, exotic locales in Egypt, a self-assured performance by Roger Moore and great screen chemistry and drama between Moore and Barbara Bach. It is easy to see why it is considered the best Bond film from the 1970s.