THE SPY WHO LOVED ME hums merrily through 125 minutes as the third and easily best of Roger Moore’s seven lightweight but popular capers as James Bond. Absurd, confident, great-looking and fun, this hit romp goes down smooth and easy.
“When someone’s behind you on skis at 40 miles per hour trying to put a bullet in your back, you don’t always have time to remember a face.”
Bond and to-kill-for KGB agent ‘Anya Amasova’ aka ‘Triple X’ (Barbara Bach, XXX) are teamed by Britain and the USSR to find out who hijacked a pair of nuclear submarines. Tracking culprits, leaving a trail of bad-guy bodies, 007/XXX whisk from the Alps to the Pyramids, the Nile and the desert, finally to Sardinia, where in the Mediterranean they find the undersea lair of another fastidious, cultured, foreign-accented megalomaniac with global conquest on his bucket list (Curt Jurgens as ‘Stromberg’). Naturally, along with millions, he has minions to spare, and they must be dealt with.
After going through contributions from a raft of writers and possible candidates for director, producer Albert R. Broccoli chose Lewis Gilbert to man the con and gave the screenplay assignment to Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood. The only thing the script took from Ian Fleming’s 10th Bond novel was the title, and borrows formula goodies out of From Russia With Love (train fight, female Soviet agent, Cold War flavoring), Goldfinger (nigh-invincible henchman) and You Only Live Twice (seizing Superpower’s hardware, battle royale finale). Add the kitchen sink, including some of the standard groaner jokes, yet somehow it all works. *
It helps to have a License to Kill (these are good worldwide, so much for borders, treaties, associated real estate), especially if you’re going to commit numerous brazen multiple homicides, both before & after you have a sit-down dinner lecture with the guy who has sent all these casualties after you. Stromberg’s plan is to have his captured submarines start a nuclear war because “Today’s civilization is known as corrupt, decadent. Inevitably, it will destroy itself. I’m merely – accelerating the process.” With his gigantic underwater headquarters (impressive old-school crazy coolness on a big screen), he can start over fresh “By creating a world – a new and beautiful world beneath the sea.” He thinks big.
His assistants include ‘Jaws’, a lumbering 7’2″ killer with metal teeth, played by Richard Kiel in a career-saving role. The former cemetery salesman later wrote an autobio, “Making It BIG in the movies.” Jaws is played for laughs as well as goofy menace. The whole movie is decidedly tongue-in-cheek, and Moore, 49, finally finds the groove for his Bond that didn’t work well in his first two attempts (which both sucked in general). This was his favorite: he looks sharp, moves well and measures in just the right amount of levity to match the extreme unreality of the entertaining enterprise.
29-year-old heart-arrester Barbara Bach maybe isn’t a threat to any Oscar nominees, but she plays her part well, and is so damn stunning that serious questions about life’s essential fairness arise. Ringo was no fool. Bad Bond Girl scorched-earth comes via Caroline Munro as another of Stromberg’s assassins. If I was going to select a lady to try and murder me by helicopter, she’d be the front-runner.
Marvin Hamlisch would not seem the first choice for scoring this kind of thing (John Barry was unable), but he does a slick job, amping thrills when needed, making lush with the romancing and tossing in witty humorous swipes from other familiar film compositions. Carly Simon’s song “Nobody Does It Better” became a #2 chart hit. Action scenes are good quality, with the final wild battle inside Stromberg’s tanker an exciting and spectacular set-piece (ala You Only Live Twice). Nobody does it bigger—$1,800,000 of the $14,000,000 budget was spent by Production Designer Ken Adam on building the largest soundstage in the world, used for the interior shots of the Icarus, Stromberg’s supertanker. At 336′ x 139′ x 44′, with a water tank holding 1.2 million gallons, the set was so vast that cameraman Claude Renoir, whose eyesight was failing (the film looks beautiful throughout) had trouble lighting his shots, so the story goes Adam asked his friend Stanley Kubrick to help for several hours, keeping it strictly hush-hush.
The large-scale models of the submarines make a fearful impression; the scene where they are sent out to start Stromberg’s apocalypse is one of the eeriest in the series: as the sleek death-vessels (what else are they?) head out, Jurgen’s smooth doom-tone caresses our too-possible Fate with “Observe, Mr. Bond, the instruments of Armageddon.”
“Right. Now pay attention, 007. I want you to take great care of this equipment. There are one or two rather special accessories..”
The film introduced to the world the “wetbike” (better known now as a jet ski), sparking a new water-activity industry. The breath-taking, death-defying ski & parachute stunt that kicks it off in the pre-credits sequence cost $500,000 to arrange and shoot on Mt. Asgard on Canada’s Baffin Island.
Certifiable lunatic Stunt skier Rick Sylvester collected $30,000 for zooming off a 6000-foot peak. The gig is so outrageous (audiences gave it a standing ovation) that the question “Who wears a parachute while skiing, and why would it happen to have the Union Jack on it?” is moot on arrival.
The public ate it up, spending $185,400,000, the 8th most-seen film of 1977. Oscar nominations went to the Music Score, Song and the Art Direction. With Walter Gotell, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Geoffrey Keen, Robert Brown, Vernon Dobtcheff, Nadim Sawalha, Milton Reid (‘Sandor’) and Shane Rimmer.
* Series co-producer Harry Saltzman was gone (debts & personal troubles). Lewis Gilbert had directed You Only Live Twice a decade earlier. He got the job when 4-time 007 pilot Guy Hamilton bowed out. A bright 30-year-old named Spielberg was considered: he was putting finishing touches on some darn fish movie. Those who submitted drafts or fiddled with the script in some way: Anthony Burgess, John Landis, Stirling Silliphant, Tom Mankiewicz, Ronald Hardy and Derek Marlowe. The ultra-vetted Richard Maibaum had already logged seven Bond adventures and would go on to finesse five more after this one. Co-scripter Christopher Wood wrote dozens of erotic-comic novels in several different series, so he knew his way around a double entendre.