By Carter B. Horsley
Sorting out the James Bond films is a labor
of love, of course, but "The Spy Who Loved Me" is a
very strong candidate for the number one position because it has
the best villain, "Jaws," played by seven-foot-two-inch-tall
Richard Kiel, the best song, "Nobody Does It Better,"
sung by Carly Simon and written by Marvin Hamlisch, the best opening
sequence, a spectacular skiing stunt, and, not least of all, because
it is Roger Moore's favorite.
Bond purists, of course, believe that Sean
Connery was the definitive James Bond and unquestionably he constantly
improved and was smashing, replacing Cary Grant as Western civilization's
greatest male role model in the 20th Century. (John Wayne, it
could be argued, was the greatest American male role model in
the 20th Century, but he never had the sophistication, style and
humor of Grant.)
The Bond series has been remarkable in cinematic
history for consistently marking the cutting edge of special effects
and it became an important marker of cultural mores and styles
as well as technological wonders and exotic locations. The series
has also always teetered on the border of fantasy and reality,
thriller and comedy, and, with rare exception, has not failed
to deliver marvels of fun, deering-do, awesome scenarios and stunts
and surprises as well as passion and gadgets.
In the first film of the series, "Dr.
No," Connery introduces audiences to a suave, dashing, fearless
hero who always has his way with beautiful women and is England's,
and the West's, final solution to all really bad crises. (If the
series has had one consistent flaw it has been its unmercilessly
damning portrait of Bond's American CIA counterparts as the epitome
of gauche American traits, albeit good-natured. Although the films
have been American they have suffered/indulged in extreme Anglophilism,
which is, of course, not a bad thing.)
As agent 007, Bond is a spy who is licensed
to kill in the line of Her Majesty's Service and the series has
never shied from mayhem and an enormous amount of violence, though
its violence has usually stopped short of stomach-churning gore.
Each film has, by and large, stayed true to the formula created
by "Dr. No" with spectacular sets and smashing climaxes,
but has also demonstrated an admirable amount of invention on
Connery's Bond was witty, ruthless, agile,
and very sexy.
Roger Moore's Bond was a bit cagier, even more
mirthful, and no less efficient in the action and ladies departments.
He had, of course, had a long and successful career as the star
of "The Saint" television series in which he played
a suave crime-stopper in England, with many of the same qualities
as would subsequently be found in Ian Fleming's James Bond character.
In comparison, Moore's tall, blond looks and English accent were
a bit more dashing than Connery's Scottish accent and dark looks,
but the fact that Connery was relatively unknown prior to the
series made it easier for him to create the role despite the fact
that Moore actually appears more "to the manner born."
(It is interesting that the other, later Bonds - George Lazenby,
Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan - are all cut out of the Connery
mold at least in terms of general physicality, whereas David Niven's
performance in "Casino Royale," the great 1967 spoof
of the series, would fall more easily into the Moore camp except
for the fact that Niven himself comes very close to the real thing,
especially when one remembers his role in "Raffles"
as a slick jewel thief.)
It is a great compliment to fans of both Connery
and Moore that they don't hate one another and recognize that
their heroes are majestic specimens of their kind, whereas they
tend to be more grudging in their assessments of the other Bonds.
While each new film in the series attempted
to be "bigger" than those that came before, they have
generally maintained very high production standards that are surprisingly
not very dated, Cold-War politics aside, of course.
In retrospect, the series has created so many
sensational plots, characters and stunts that no one film can
truly capture the full "Bond" experience. Imagine, if
you will, some of the great highlights: Gert Frobe's disdainful
comment, as "Goldfinger," (1965) to Bond lying on a
table about to cut apart by a laser, "No, I expect you to
die"; Grace Jones's butterfly murder and escape on the Eiffel
Tower and Christopher Walken's blimpmobile in "For Your Eyes
Only"; Ursula Andress's beachcomber entrance in "Dr.
No" (1962); the "Bond" mask in "From Russia
With Love" (1963); Klaus Maria Brandauer's release of the
laser gun in "Never Say Never Again" (1983); Topol's
nuts and Carole Bouquet's crossbow in "A View to a Kill"
(1985); Tanaka's subterranean lair and the movable lake in "You
Only Live Twice" (1967), among many.
The opening ski sequence in "The Spy Who
Loved Me" ends with Bond escaping his pursuers by skiing
off a huge, snow-covered cliff and free-falling for a long time
before his Union Jack parachute opens, a truly spectacular stunt
that was done by Rick Sylvester for a fee of $30,000. (The DVD
edition includes several fine extra features including a documentary
of the making of the film that shows how dangerous this stunt
The opening of the Union Jack parachute always
elicits laughs and reassures the audience that the magic and humor
of the series was not waning. It was shot atop Asgard Peak on
Baffin Island in Canada and its 100-yard-wide summit was accessible
only by helicopter.
The film's major twist is Bond's cooperation
with a Russian counterpart, Major Anya Amasova, Agent XXX, played
by Barbara Bach (the wife of Ringo Starr of the Beatles). The
major proves to be equal to the task, even though she plans eventually
to seek revenge for Bond's slaying of her lover. Bach is very
fetching, competent and intelligent.
The plot of the movie does not come from Ian
Fleming's book of the same title and was written by Richard Mailbaum
and Christopher Wood. Nuclear submarines are hijacked from both
Russia and the United States by a supertanker, the Liparus, that
swallows them whole. The mastermind behind the capture of the
subs is Karl Stromberg, who plans to use their missiles to end
civilization on earth as he prefers life underwater in his spectacular
megastructure, Atlantis. (The supertanker is real in some shots
and a 63-foot-long model in others.)
Stromberg is nicely played with authority and
restraint by Curt Jergens, but it is his henchman, Jaws, played
by Richard Kiel, who is more memorable because of his enormous
size and the fact that he has stainless-steel teeth that are quite
lethal. (In one of the documentary features on the DVD edition
of the film, Roger Moore relates that the ominous teeth were so
uncomfortable for Kiel that he could only keep them in his mouth
for 15 to 30 seconds.) "Jaws" was so popular that he
would appear in the next Bond film, "Moonracker."
Egypt provides some magnificent locations for
the film, whose cinematographer was Claude Renoir, the grandson
of the Impressionist painter and nephew of Jean Renoir, the film
The scene in which Bond and Major Amasova are
attacked by "Jaws" at a huge Egyptian temple is one
of the best in the entire series as "Jaws" appears indestructible
and relentless and a true "force."
The series's obligatory gadgets and underwater
sequences are well done here, especially with a Lotus Esprit that
Bond drives off a pier while fleeing from one of Stromberg's other
hired assassins, this time a beautiful and voluptuous woman played
by Caroline Munroe, and pushes a button to retrack its wheels
to convert it to a submarine. The gadgets and the giant finale
are actually usually the weakest elements in Bond films despite
their fame. This film cost more than twice as much as the previous
Bond and there is no problem in seeing where the money was spent
and the DVD edition documents the construction of a giant facility
in England that was used to film the climatic battle scenes.
This was the tenth film in the series and it
rejuvenated it. Bond started in the swinging 60's, but by the
late 1970's feminism and the environment were big concerns and
this film accommodated such awareness with contemporary flair
while not compromising the daredevil grace of its hero. Connery's
Bond tolerated no nonsense. Moore's Bond enjoyed nonsense and
in his Postmodern era was perhaps a bit more likable, if not quite
as formidable as Connery.
Connery and Moore are not teenage superheroes
à la "Star Wars," but mature, experienced, resourceful
and subtle men whose "cool" demeanor and actions and
attitudes were emulated, at least in fantasy, by millions of their
fans, envious of their exotic travels, their mighty opponents
and their fabulous women. In this film, male chauvinism is supressed
as Barbara Bach elevated the status of women in the series to
a higher plane.
All of the Bond films have some weak points,
but this is perhaps the most satisfying overall, an awesomely
entertaining film that not only provides thrills and escapes but
also great energy and humor.
After Bond and Major Amasova finally escape
from the temple when a large part of the temple collapses atop
"Jaws," "Jaws" slowly emerges from the rumble
and in his frustration raises a huge stone above his head and
then drops it, but it falls on his foot. He is not amused, but