We reach the film that many claim is the best Moore Bond, if not the best Bond film. Expect spoilers…
Ian Fleming was unhappy with his book THE SPY WHO LOVED ME so EON Productions were only granted the rights for the title. The team went to work, with Lewis Gilbert returning (after You Only Live Twice), Christopher Wood joining Richard Maibaum on writing duties, Ken Adam returning to design the sets, and of course Roger Moore, finally hitting his stride.
Nuclear submarines are going missing, and both UK and Russia are activating agents to deal with it.
Bond, “on the job” in Austria leaves an Alpine shack wearing the yellowist of yellow jumpsuits and the reddist of red backpacks to ski down hill. Of course some goons are skiing after him and as the music kicks in the chase begins – and its pretty good, with some neat ski jumps, backwards skiing, a ski pole that’s a gun and of course the finale.
This is a candidate for the best opening and best stunt. Bond skis off the edge of a cliff and falls and falls in one long continuous shot until, when all seems lost, a parachute pops out. And the Bond theme starts, and then it registers that the ballooning parachute is a union jack.
I remember seeing this in the cinema as a boy and the reaction to it was magical.
Popular composer Marvin Hamlisch, perhaps best known at the time for A CHORUS LINE was given the task of scoring the film. The theme song is arguably one of the best, by one of the best vocalists, Carly Simon.
“Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest, nobody does it half as good as you, baby you’re the best”
The score itself shows many influences of the era, although the Bond 77 update is great (although listen past the 2 minute mark for the full disco craziness).
Rather then slavishly recap the story, I’ll summarise here. Not because the story isn’t good, it is. But I’d like to focus on it’s execution.
Bond heads to Egypt to pursue a lead on the missing submarines. Agent XXX (Anya) Barbara Bach is also there for the same reason. Two leads end up killed by Stromberg’s giant and silent assassin with the metal teeth (JAWS, played by Richard Kiel).
The UK and Russians agree to work together when a clue on a microfilm leads them to suspect the billionaire maritime magnate Stromberg (Curt Jurgens). Both agents visit his base “Atlantis” to try and find evidence that he is involved.
Stromberg knows they are spies and sends Jaws to kill them but they escape.
The spies end up on a nuclear sub which is then “captured” by a huge supertanker (in scenes reminiscent of the opening of You Only Live Twice when the space ship captured satellites).
Bond, assisted by the captured sub soldiers, destroys the supertanker and foils Stromberg’s plot to nuke the world and rule from under the seas. He then travels to “Atlantis” to release the kidnapped Agent XXX, kill Stromberg and kill Jaws. Jaws survives, and our spies escape in a special Atlantis escape pod.
The movie uses some nicely contrasting locations, from the Austrian alps (filmed in Canada), the Bahamas (underwater scenes), Scotland (the UK nuclear base), Egypt (many locations including Cairo and Luxor), and Sardinia. The locations look absolutely glorious and almost demand to be seen on a big screen.
KEN ADAM’S WONDERFUL SETS
These really deserve a special mention. The interiors are astonishing – from the cavernous Russian headquarters to the Egyptian club to the MI6 base in the pyramids, to Atlantis and of course the immense interior of the supertanker. Bigger doesn’t always mean better, but in this film it really pays off.
THE 007 STAGE
Ken Adam was responsible for the remarkable design of the volcano set in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and for this film he had grander plans. Unlike the volcano “studio” which had to be dismantled, the team tried to find a suitable hangar space to film. This had huge cost, travel or insurance implications so their solution was simple: build their own sound stage. Cubby Broccoli convinced United Artists and the 007 Stage was born.
The cavernous structure had to house water tanks and three full sized nuclear submarines. A huge endeavour which looks fabulous on screen. The stage was officially opened with some fanfare in December 1976 and while it cost $1.8 million, it gave the producers control over their extensive filming, and had since housed many more Bond films as well as diverse films such as Aliens, Mission Impossible and Mamma Mia!
For an in depth background look at the production of The Spy Who Loved Me, watch the Open University documentary.
The owners of Lotus must have been pleased with how their car was showcased in the film. The sleek white car looks gorgeous against the Italian landscape. It then takes part in a great pursuit sequence involving the motorbike, the car and the helicopter. The highlight of course is when Bond drives it into the sea – and it is then that we see it convert into a submarine! (It’s quite nice to note that when Q delivers it, his initial chat with Bond is across the road out of earshot, keeping the surprise of its true nature).
The production required six versions of the car (including that of the owner of Lotus), as well as variants to create the illusion of the car converting under the sea. It definitely rivals Goldfinger’s Aston Martin with its guns and missiles but it GOES UNDERWATER!
I remember owning the toy version of the car where a small switch unlocked the fins, and another fired tiny yellow plastic missiles.
THE BEST QUOTE
When Bond arrives at the end to confront Stromberg, the villain says:
“Good evening Mr Bond, I’ve been expecting you.”
A fantastic line, which has since become a staple quote for any Bond pastiche, but still great to hear in context.
On the subject of Stromberg, I really like the authority and gravitas Jurgens brings to the role. The exposition scene in the tanker when he explains his plan, rejecting Bond’s incorrect assumption that he wants money, is great.
It’s just a shame that the final confrontation seems to truncated and over with so quickly. So that’s two films in a row where the final confrontation is underwhelming.
TWO GREAT SCENES WITH BOND AND XXX
In the Egyptian club, Bond and XXX chat, revealing they know a lot about each other. And this happens:
Anya: Commander James Bond, recruited to the British Secret Service from the Royal Navy. Licensed to kill and has done so on numerous occasions. Many lady friends but married only once. Wife killed-
Bond: (interrupting) All right, you’ve made your point.
At last! Recognition that Tracy existed!
The second strong scene is when Anya asks if Bond could have killed her lover:
Bond: In our business, Anya, people get killed. We both know that. So did he. It was either him or me. The answer to the question is yes. I did kill him.
Anya: Then when this mission is over, I will kill you.
Fleming’s original henchman was called HORROR, but here he is the silent giant JAWS (with is superhuman strength, seeming indestructibility and metal teeth that can bite through padlocks). Jaws even kills two characters by biting them to death. The way Richard Kiel towers over the cast is tremendous casting and despite the touches of humour which harm his impact slightly, it is still an eye opener to see him lift Roger Moore up against the cabin wall in the train fight, his hand huge against Moore’s face.
BACK PROJECTION BLUES
The use of back projection in the film is heart breaking. Of course it is needed to develop the illusion that the cast are actually there, but it is poorly executed here. The skiing, the driving, the sunset on the Nile, Bond on the conning tower of the sub, it’s a real shame. Nearly 10 years before this they had Diana Rigg on a special ski set up on location to make it look like she was actually skiing. It’s also a shame because you later see Roger Moore actually on the wet bike (remember how he personally pilots the boats in the previous two Bond films)?
MAKES ME FEEL SAD
The tongue in cheek humour had become part of the fabric of Bond, but sometimes it is just silly. You thought the slide whistle over the broken bridge jump in the last film was awful? Well, check out these:
- Bond on a trampoline during the opening titles. Once seen, never unseen.
- Bond is offered a bed for a night by his sheikh pal from Cambridge. When he sees the lady appear in the skimpy outfit and offering a flower: “When one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures“. Sheesh.
- Bond incessant “women driver” jokes as Anya tries to help them escape in the van. Sure, she gets a nice witty one liner to combat him but Bond comes across more smug than charming.
- JAWS drops the stone block on his foot. Comedy moment. Silly.
- The comedy music as they drive from Luxor to the boat.
- The guy with the wine doing a comedy double take when the Lotus emerges from the sea (let’s hope we don’t see him again!)
- Stromberg’s demise is all too fast (and where are all of his goons?)
- The Monty Python-sounding male chorus chant of “nobody does it better” at the very end.
THE NEAT: NOBODY DOES IT BETTER
- Stuntman Rick Sylvester‘s astonishing ski jump of the cliff at the start (and the “surprise” parachute). The broken bridge stunt in The Man with the Golden Gun started a trend of the films seeking bigger more outlandish practical stunts).
- The Russian counterpart of M has a Moneypenny-type secretary called Rubelvitch, Is this a Russian money joke?
- Anya’s music box plays Lara’s Theme from Dr Zhivago (Maurice Jarre’s music gets a second nod when the theme from Lawrence of Arabia arrives later, less subtly).
- The classical music when Stromberg opens the shutters in his Atlantis base.
- Stromberg’s webbed fingers. Many miss this detail, but it explains he doesn’t like shaking hands.
- Stromberg’s goon teetering on the edge of the roof, holding Bond’s tie. Bond gets the info he needs before slapping the tie away, goon falling. Is it a Moore Bond action? Maybe not, but still neat.
- The fight on the train (including the brilliant jump scare).
- The pursuit of the Lotus by motorbike (with rocket sidecar), car and motorcycle, culminating in the underwater sequence.
- The great dialogue scene between Bond and Anya where she discovers he is responsible for her lover’s death. Well written and well played.
- Nice tension as Bond tries to remove the detonator from the missile – been a while since Bond’s had some suspense.
- I love the Bond music blaring out as he “rides” the spherical camera in the hanger suddenly cutting out as he unplugs it.
- JAWS, killing a shark with his metal jaws. Then surviving at the end.
It’s a shame that the film doesn’t really have time (nor does it care) to pursue the revenge Anya seeks against Bond. It would have made for a fascinating dynamic, but alas it is gone too quickly at the end because Agent XXX, the best spy in Russia, has fallen for 007. Oh well.
The neat moments in this film far outweigh the cringe. There are other jokes that don’t quite land for me, but taken as a whole, the film is a fun ride, and re-establishes a swagger that Bond arguably had been missing since OHMSS.
BOND IS BACK
This film was a roaring success. The first Broccoli produced on his own. The first for three years at a time when some felt the franchise was tired.
The film embraced what audiences loved in a Bond film, and gave Moore a Bond film that simply worked. It is great fun to watch and really holds up well today.
The credits promised that FOR YOUR EYES ONLY would be next, but the success of a certain space adventure from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away led the producers to look to the stars…
|Produced by: EON Productions|
Presented By: Albert R Broccoli
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood
Composer: Marvin Hamlisch
“Nobody Does It Better” music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager
Performed by Carly Simon
Production Design: Ken Adam
Cinematographer: Claude Renoir
Editor: John Glen
London Premiere July 1977