Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977)

Starring Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, and Curd Jurgens
Written by Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Rated PG - Violence, sex
Running Time: 125 Minutes

When nuclear submarines belonging to both the Russian and British navies begin to disappear, both superpowers begin to suspect the other.  Mi6 receives intelligence that someone has developed the technology to track submarines under water using their wake, and M (Bernard Lee) assigns 007 James Bond (Roger Moore) to purchase plans for the technology, which are on sale to the highest bidder.

At the same time, the Russians have assigned their best agent, gorgeous Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), also known as agent XXX, to do the same.  But upon discovering that a mysterious third party is responsible for the missing submarines, Bond and XXX team up to find out who is responsible.  The two eventually figure out that Bond recently killed XXX's lover, and she vows to kill him as soon as this mission is completed.

Their relationship strained, the two make their way to Sardinia, where they will find that the mastermind behind the disappearing submarines is one Carl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens), a reclusive businessman who believes that humanity has become corrupt and must be wiped from the face of the Earth in order to allow the planet to recover.

Bond and XXX must find a way to stop Stromberg's mad plans to trigger a nuclear war between the superpowers in order to save civilization as we know it without killing each other first!

I'm not really a fan of Roger Moore's take on James Bond, that much I've made clear.  However, I do make an exception for "The Spy Who Loved Me."  It is, in fact, actually one of my favorite Bond movies and that's the only one of Moore's that I can say that about.  It follows much the same pattern as "Goldfinger" before it, with the mad business man and the huge gun battles in the secret lair. But what makes it work, like "Goldfinger" is having just the right mix of comedy, great action, and ludicrous storytelling.

The opening sequence is pure, classic Bond as 007 escapes a KGB hit squad by skiing off a huge cliff, only to have his parachute open and we see that it's actually a print of the British flag!  It's such a great moment, an iconic one.  Which leads me into my next point: the stunt work in this film is great.  Director Lewis Gilbert stages some fantastic sequences throughout the entire film, some of which have become legendary within the franchise.

There's a great chase sequence with Bond and XXX in his tricked out Lotus Esprit that ends with a ridiculous but totally awesome scene in which the car transforms into a submarine.  It's completely unbelievable, and yet it's so well made that it totally works.

The film also introduces one of Bond's most classic enemies, Jaws (Richard Kiel), a silent, hulking hit man with metal teeth.  Jaws stalks Bond and XXX through the entire film, seemingly indestructible.  Though the concept is ridiculous, Jaws is a fun character, the kind of outlandish but still clever henchman for Bond to take on.  I sometimes knock the Bond films for being ridiculous, but only when that ridiculousness goes too far or gets too stupid.  There's a careful balance that needs to be maintained, and this film does it expertly.

Barbara Bach is not the best actress, but she does a fine enough job in the role of XXX.  The role is well written, and there's a gravity to the proceedings that I've often found missing in Roger Moore's tenure.  Bond even has a couple of really cold moments, such as when he drops one of Stromberg's men off of a roof after he gets the information he wants out of him.  And the scene in which Bond admits that he killed XXX's lover is actually quite well played between the two.

The climax of the film, in which Bond leads an uprising of captured submarine crews against Stromberg's forces within the massive hold of a supertanker, is fantastic.  The battle is huge, with plenty of gunfire and explosions and great stunt work.  It really is reminiscent of the finale of "Goldfinger," when Bond and the US Army takes on Goldfinger's Chinese allies at Fort Knox, or the battle in the secret volcano lair at the end of "You Only Live Twice."  It's a sequence that's just incredibly well made, and classic Bond to boot.

"The Spy Who Loved Me" is Roger Moore's best effort as super spy James Bond, without a doubt.  With a great script and some really impressive action sequences, there's tons of fun to be had here.  It maintains just the right balance of seriousness and ridiculousness to be highly entertaining, but still feel like there's some danger involved.

See Also
James Bond