15 May 2010

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me One of Bond’s Best
By Kristin Battestella

I took a break from Bond over the winter, which was unusual, actually.  Every year, there used to be a Bond marathon over Thanksgiving, making the opening notes to ‘Nobody Does it Better’ almost a holiday tune.  Fortunately, one needs not a holiday to spend some time with the very fine The Spy Who Loved Me.

The Spy Who Loved MeAfter a British nuclear submarine disappears, 007 James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to Egypt to meet the seller of plans to a new secret tracking device commissioned by Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a Swedish shipping baron living on a submarine called Atlantis. He has webbed hands, pet sharks, and is bent on flooding the world and rebuilding civilianization under the sea.  Unfortunately for Bond, a Russian submarine has also disappeared, and MI-6 leader M (Bernard Lee) agrees to work with the Soviets to find Stromberg’s super Liparus tanker.  Bond must collaborate with the beautiful but deadly Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), codenamed ‘Agent XXX’.  Since he is responsible for her boyfriend’s death, XXX tries to remain oblivious to 007’s charms and plans to kill Bond when the mission is through. Stromberg’s seven foot henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel), however, is in pursuit of the pair with deadly intentions all his own.

Well, there just might not be a sweeter pre-title sequence exit than The Spy Who Loved Me’s Union Jack parachute-and it’s followed by even kinkier opening titles.  The fan boys must be in heaven with all that jiggle, those chicks in nothing but boots and Soviet hats sure tame the face of Roger Moore!  Is that nude gymnastics on a gun barrel?  Of course, Carly Simon’s non-titular tune (the series’ first) is probably the most memorable Bond music next to the 007 theme.  Not only is the song in its opening entirety a delight, but it’s great how the medley plays throughout the picture in different instruments and styles, from charming Italian strings to vavavavoom brass.  However, on a down note, I could do without that discofied Bond 77 theme.

Director Lewis Gilbert (the fine You Only Live Twice but also the clunker Moonraker), house writer Richard Maibaum, and new screenwriter Christopher Wood springboard from Ian Fleming in title only and create a tight yarn of spy games, sex appeal, and Sea World gone awry.  Yes, we have plot pieces akin to Star Wars with the ‘stolen data tapes’ scenario and of course the built in aquatic connections to Jaws; but The Spy Who Loved Me borrows these and pieces from previous Bond films and ups the anti.  The unfinished statement about Bond’s late wife and his clipped reaction to the matter does beautifully what On Her Majesty’s Secret Service could not.  The innuendo, quips, and double entrees are on form. The uneasy alliance between 007 and XXX is great fun.  Not only are their names kind of a fun wordplay- triple trumps double, you know- but you can tell Bond doesn’t like having a woman as his equal, partner, or competition.  Yet he seems to enjoy the chase and business excuse to tame such a babe. The interference and cat and mouse from each ups the bedroom anti-not to mention the mission at hand.  The conclusion here is a akin to the finale of You Only Live Twice underwater; but again The Spy Who Love Me does the scenario better.  Its underwater spectacles trump those of Thunderball, too. 

How about those, uh, interrogation techniques by Roger Moore in his third outing as Our Man James? Great quips, strength, vitality- Bond uses the same skill and charm on a villain as he does while bedding the babes and it is oh so good.  This has to be Moore’s best outing as Bond. We have his suave, lover boy style and witty jokes; but there’s a seriousness, heavy element, and depth that Moore didn’t have previously.  The Spy Who Loved Me is bigger; epic even in scope and action, but Moore keeps the personal along with the spy game at hand.  Bond’s conflicted just a bit about working with XXX, he’s mixing his business with pleasure much more than usual, but his killing of Sergei Barsov (Michael Billington, UFO) doesn’t seem to be a big deal to him.  At last we have some multi-dimensional to Moore’s Bond instead of just babes and quips. He can love, make allegiances, even regret and keep his cool exterior.  Who knew?  It’s a pity we have more clunkers in his tenure than greats, but even alone The Spy Who Loved Me makes the case for Moore as Bond.  

It’s a little weird that villain Karl Stromberg prefers undersea life and living to people-so much so that he intends to nuke the surface civilization -but he does have a sweet submarine. Curt Jurgens (And God Created Woman) makes the notion seem scary, yes, but also juicy and fun. Stromberg also gets his share of kink by letting his sharks have a deadly feasting over his disloyal lady friend (Marilyn Galsworthy, Backs to the Land). The claustrophobic filming angles mixed with wide seascape shots also visually allude to Stromberg’s intentions.  The sea seems so pretty and peaceful with the relaxing classical scoring, but we know there’s a lot of megalomania brewing in both the sub and Stromberg’s plotting. Richard Kiel- who would return for the subsequent Moonraker- as the aptly named Jaws is somehow both fantastic and also realistically terrifying.  His size, silent pursuit, and vicious bite are preposterous but no less ruthless.

Yes, some of the seventies styles are still back, but maybe Barbara Bach’s Agent Triple X is just that hawt.  Mrs. Ringo Starr’s effortless hair, sexy styles, and vixen charisma still look good thirty years on, and Anya Amasova matches Bond wit for wit.  At last a well-rounded lady who’s completely critical to the plot and not just brief eye candy!  Then again, let’s not forget Caroline Munro (The Adominable Dr. Phibes, Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). You know Bond is thinking about Naomi for more than just her badass sea, air, and land skills. We also get a little more relaxed and out of the office with Bernard Lee as M, and briefly meet his future successor in the role, Robert Brown as Admiral Hargreaves.  Of course Desmond Llewelyn’s Q balances out the kink and seriousness with fine explanations and humorous cut offs from Bond-and we actually hear him called by his name, Major Boothroyd! That almost makes up for a little less Miss Moneypenny, but Lois Maxwell is always a doll.

The Egyptian styles, locales, and of course the pyramids looks timeless and authentic in The Spy Who Loved Me.  The pyramid show lighting is somewhat garish, but this mix with the lofty scoring and narration adds an atmospheric filming scheme for the action at hand.   More importantly, the blend between what’s Egyptian real and studio fake is almost indistinguishable.  Jaws’ stunts are also very well done, from the Egyptian shake up to the fast, sexy, and dangerous train battle. Although almost everything in The Spy Who Loved Me holds up, I don’t think all the vehicles and gadgets have stood the test of time.  I mean, why that dang Lotus?  Yes it was a hip car then, but not nearly as timeless as the Aston Martin.  At least this Lotus had sweet underwater capabilities! 

It’s nice that USA Network, Universal HD, and other assorted cable channels are bringing Bond to the masses, but all the dang commercials and trimmings take away a lot of 007 goodness, too.  Though claiming to air Bond uncut, slivers are made on Universal HD, and the infomercial laden commercial breaks are extremely long.  Even if it’s a film I know, I actually forget where the film left off before the break!  I can see how a lot of people probably skip right over these channels because you don’t go by and find Bond.  Familiar fans can enjoy a little 007 background television, but seeing bits missing can be very irksome, too.  Casual fans and newcomers to the franchise should stick with DVDs and blu-ray.  Of course, here’s one of Bond’s best, and yet The Spy Who Loved Me isn’t available on blu-ray.  Typical!

The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the finest Bond pictures, combing all that is good in Bond with top-notch story, action, and mainstream appeal.  For those who think Moore’s tenure was overlong and mostly hogwash, I implore you to reconsider with this one.  After all, ‘Nobody Does It Better’.  Okay, I apologize for that one, but I couldn’t help myself! 


No comments: