Thursday, December 9, 2010
Review – The Spy Who Loved Me
December 9, 2010
The Spy Who Loved Me – U.K., 1977
Bond films have always been a bit silly. That’s part of their fun. The best of the first nine Bond films use the political reality of the times in which they take place to create suspense and intrigue. However, the first two films of the post-Sean Connery/George Lazenby era have seemed to be reactions not to politics, but cinematic fads. Live and Let Die set Bond in a blaxploitation film, while The Man with the Golden Gun was heavily inspired by the martial arts films of Bruce Lee, in particular, Enter the Dragon, and in both cases, the films suffered as a result. A good Bond film should, after all, set trends, not follow them. On the plus side, the tenth Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, directed by Lewis Gilbert, returns Bond to the era of the Cold War and the very real threat of nuclear weapons ending up in the hands of terrorists. On the other hand, the film relies too heavily on themes from other films and cultural fads of the time for inspiration, making the film seem unoriginal all too often.
The Spy Who Loved Me came out in 1977, two years after Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jaws. Jaws would eventually go down in history as the first film to officially earn one hundred million dollars at the box office, and according to Box Office Mojo, adjusted to inflation, the film ranks seventh on the all-time domestic box office chart. During that same year, the final episode of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau aired, marking the end of a successful eight-year run. Given these success stories, it’s perhaps understandable that the writers of the Bond series would place Bond in an adventure that had something to do with the underwater world, but did they have to name a character “Jaws”? The character of Jaws is possibly another example of the film borrowing from other sources. In 1974, Jack Palance had starred in a U.K. TV adaptation of Dracula, and it’s pretty clear that Jaws is partially based on the Count. However, perhaps the film’s most egregious sin is that is borrows from earlier James Bond films. From On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it lifts the ski pursuit, and it includes a ship mysteriously losing power suddenly, as well as a madman trying to put the U.S. and Russia on a course toward mutual annihilation, both of which feature prominently in You Only Live Twice. What’s not lifted from another source is promising, yet ultimately not enough to earn a recommendation – although I must say it comes close to one.
The Spy Who Loved Me finds Bond (Roger Moore) investigating the disappearance of two nuclear submarines. It is soon revealed that someone has gotten his hands on a missile tracking system and intends to sell it to the highest bidder, so Bond flies off to Egypt to find a man named Max Kalba (Vernan Dobtcheff) and retrieve the tracking system from him. Meanwhile, Moscow has also dispatched its top agent to retrieve the tracking system, Major Anya Amasova a.k.a. Agent XXX (Barbara Bach). The two meet for the first time in Cairo and are at first adversaries. Later, they are partners, and because this is a Bond film, we suspect that eventually they’ll be more than that.
The highlight of the film is the reluctant partnership of Bond and Amasova and the way each of them keeps trying to upstage the other. In one scene, Amasova reminds both her and Bond’s superiors that it was her information that led to the discovery of an important clue, while Bond sits, his arms folded, content in the belief that it was indeed his insights that did the trick. In fact, every time Bond begins to be depicted as a slighter more capable spy, Amasova surprises him with her bravery or knowledge. For example, she’s able to fend off a few deep-sea assassins because she saw the blue prints to one of Q’s gadgets two years earlier.
The real villain of the film is not Kalba but the man he is double crossing, the elusive Karl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens), a man who lives at sea in some sort of octopus-shaped, metal submarine, complete with an underwater observation room and a shark that attacks whatever happens to be in its tank. We know he’s the villain because in typical Bond-villain fashion, he announces it - and provides extra details to boot. When all of his plans are finally revealed, I was left to wonder why anyone would want to be part of them in the first place. I understand the appeal of a group like SPECTRE. It’s after money and power, but Stromberg’s vision of the future is one I have a hard time believing anyone would find so appealing that they would enlist in his underwater army.
In the end, Stromberg is like the worst of Bond’s other villains, wealthy but ultimately not very bright. I had high hopes for him in the beginning, but eventually he too utters a variation of those fatalistic words, “Welcome Bond. I’ve been expecting you. Won’t you sit down?” Stronberg’s two henchman fair slightly better. Sandor (Milton Reid in a brief appearance), with his bulky build and impressive strength, proves to be quite an adversary for Bond, yet unfortunately the film dispenses with him early on, leaving Jaws (Richard Kiel) as Bond’s primary adversary. Like Nick Nack from The Man with the Golden Gun, Jaws moves incredibly slowly, but his height, strength, and deadly metal teeth compensate for this, making him a somewhat credible villain. However, there’s an odd moment when he disappears suddenly and then reappears on a wall high above Bond and Amasova. How he got there is beyond me, for he moves too slowly to have walked there in that amount of time that has passed. Perhaps he turned into a metal bat and flew up there.
As I’ve said, The Spy Who Loved Me comes close to getting a recommendation, for there is much to like in the idea of two top agents competing against each other. The film should have maintained their adversarial relationship rather than turning Amasova into a standard Bond girl who must be rescued. After all, Amasova is a woman out for revenge. Imagine the possibilities if the film had left her that way. Instead, she and Bond drift off together in one of the ludicrously designed escape pods you’ll ever see, one replete with champagne, silk blankets, and feather pillows. Sure, it’s romantic and humorous, but how many times have we seen it before? (on DVD)
2 and a half stars