The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – The 10th James Bond Film; The 3rd (of 7) Roger Moore Films – Directed by Lewis Gilbert – Starring Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel, Desmond Llewelyn, and Bernard Lee.
THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is a grown-up espionage movie that also embraces the more cartoonish aspects of the James Bond franchise. There’s curvy women, gadgets, a ridiculous villain, a signature henchman, exotic locales, and humor, but there’s also an actual spy movie in here that takes itself very seriously. It’s a fantastic movie that could easily chopped 10 or 15 minutes off the film to tighten the narrative (like so many Bond movies the action sequences run too long with too little payoff), but on the whole this is a very strong movie.
Roger Moore is once again absolutely fantastic. My appreciation for him grows each time I watch one of his early movies. He’s the essence of ’70s British cool: focused and business-like, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye never far off. He’s always willing to put himself in harm’s way for the good of the mission. Moore’s Bond is completely willing to kill Russians in one scene and then work with them the next because that’s what the mission demands – that the Russian he has to work with is played by Barbara Bach is merely a perk of the profession. I’m coming around to the idea that Moore is now my favorite classic Bond, and his performance in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME that is as good as any Bond performance in the history of the franchise. Moore is totally locked in and the film moves with a speed and aggressiveness that his previous two outings lacked. It’s the kind of movie and performance where you want to say things like, “Roger Moore is finally coming into his own,” but the truth is that Moore has been fantastic, confident, and assured right from the start of his reign in the tuxedo. It’s the producers who seem to finally be catching up with the lead. Lewis Gilbert’s direction is spot on and the script is finally starting to play to Moore’s strengths.
What makes SPY a different kind of Bond movie is that the Bond teams up with Russian spy Anya Amasova (codenamed XXX years before the United States bought out this spy designation to give it to Vin Diesel and Ice Cube) in a relatively even battle of wills and craftsmanship that plays out over the course of the movie. There’s an added layer of intrigue between the two of them when it’s revealed that Bond killed Anya’s lover in the film’s earliest action sequence: Bond leaves some floozy hanging in a cabin and goes off for a ski ride down a mountain and is attacked by a group of skiers. The scene is borderline ridiculous, the green screen work is atrocious, and Roger Moore at no point actually looks like he’s doing anything but standing in front of a mirror checking out his awesomeness, but there’s enough action here to make it a decent scene. To Bond, Anya’s lover is just some dude in a ski mask trying to kill him amongst a handful of dudes in ski masks trying to kill him; even if Bond could see his face he wouldn’t know who he is because this is all before he meets XXX.
Later, when Anya realizes that Bond killed him they’re already hip-deep in their assignment and have developed a professional and personal interest in each other. It might be too much to say they LIKE each other because they’re both espionage professionals, but they certainly respect one another, and they’re certainly enjoying their time together.
At least as much as you can ever enjoy a mission where some seven foot tall dude with metal teeth hides in your closet on a train in order to surprise kill you.
Anya confronts Bond over his role in her husband’s death, but Bond wisely reminds her, “When your skiing and people are shooting at you and it’s either you or them, you do what you have to do.” Moore’s delivery and Bond’s attitude is perfect. Anya is pissed but Bond adds that her lover knew what the espionage life entails, and what it comes down to is that they both had a job to do and one of them likely wasn’t going to get off that mountain alive. Anya promises Bond that when this is over she’s going to kill him, but apparently that’s Russian for “screw his brains out.”
Sigh. I love Russian spies. (I’m looking at you, Natasha Romanova.)
After all, nothing says, “I love you” to your dead boyfriend like hopping into bed with the guy who killed him.
And while this very idea might seem abhorrent to you or I out here in the real world, in the world of Bond, in the world of espionage professionals where you do whatever you have to do to complete the mission, in a world where death is a constant threat, if you’re a pro you realize the rules you’re playing under and have a greater sense of living for the moment. Certainly by the end of their shared adventure Anya has realized that Bond didn’t kill her boyfriend for any reason other than he was simply better at his job than her boyfriend was at his.
If SPY was remade, I’d hope they’d do a better job working the Bond/Anya angle, getting into what each of them thought and making it a bigger issue between them. Here in the cookie cutter ’70s, however, it’s like all of these movies have to fit in the same mold and anything that threatens to step outside of that is pulled back in as quickly as possible; it plays to me as if the producers think audiences like the formula of the Bond film more than the character of James Bond. Anya says she’ll kill him when this is over and then largely goes back to acting just like she’s been acting the entire movie. It’s frustrating.
The character of Anya outstrips what the producers typically ask of a Bond girl, too. She’s allegedly a top Russian agent and yet she has these moments where she’s all gaspy and alarmed like any other Bond girl in a dangerous spot; it’s a shame that they can’t let the character be every bit as competent as Bond. Honestly, when they’re in the Lotus (a really good action sequence that perfectly meshes both good action and silly fun, as the Esprit ends up turning into a submersible) and the bad guys are after them, Anya is a little too “Oh my gosh! We’re being shot at!” But then suddenly she’s flipping switches on the car and firing off a missile and telling Bond, “I stole the blueprints to this car two years ago.”
When Anya is a cool professional, the movie is the better for it. When she’s the frightened waif, I get annoyed.
The villain is Karl Stromberg (played by wonderfully by Curd Jürgens) and he’s got this incredibly cool hideout in the middle of the ocean called Atlantis. Stromberg is stealing nuclear submarines by swallowing them in his mega-tanker (awesome, awesome, awesome) and plans to trigger a world war by using the subs to blow up New York and Moscow and then rebuild the world on the bottom of the ocean. That’s absurd, which is one of the reasons why it’s such a good threat in a Bond movie when combined with a serious villain.
Richard Kiel makes his debut as Jaws and with all due respect to Kiel, the character just never works for me. Treated like a non-speaking heel in a bad pro wrestling angle, Jaws is like Kane when the Big Red Machine started – he’s big, he’s scary, he doesn’t say anything.
That worked for Kane because he got fire; it doesn’t work for Jaws because he has metal teeth.
That’s a small complaint in a great movie. Yeah, I wish the storytelling was stronger and that Anya was more fleshed out (as a character, you pervs), but THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is still absolutely fantastic. It’s one of my all-time favorite Bond movies and Moore’s performance in SPY is among the best ever committed to the screen.
THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is also blessed with a great score from Marvin Hamlisch (filling in for John Barry), and one of the absolute best Bond movie songs, Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better,” which sets a fantastic, yearning tone for the film that follows. SPY also contains perhaps my favorite opening titles/title song combo in the film’s run. Simply awesome.