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The Spy Who Loved Me

Directed by Lewis Gilbert with Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Richard Kiel, Curt Jurgens, Caroline Munroe, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, color, 125 minutes, 1977

Barbara Bach and Roger Moore

Barbara Bach and Roger Moore in "The Spy who Loved Me"

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 each go-round.

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 was.)

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 director.

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 we are.

This film is ranked 24th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films

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