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The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curt Jurgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Walter Gotell

Written By: Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum Directed By: Lewis Gilbert

The Short Version

James Bond strays completely away from Ian Fleming for the first time.

Think of it as “That 70s Bond.”

It’s cheesy, but it plays with a straight face.

A boring villain is made up for by a great henchman.

The Spy Who Loved Me is highly enjoyable fun; what more do you want?

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Do you care about the holes?  Of course not.  It’s yummy.  Enjoy.

Pairs Well With...


The drink of choice for Agent XXX.

“But, James!  I need you!”

“So does England!”

After publishing the novel, “The Spy Who Loved Me,” author Ian Fleming looked back with regret and perhaps a little bit of horror.  An experiment that went far afield of the standard James Bond formula, the novel was written from the first person perspective of a woman left in charge of an American motel who ends up being saved from a couple of nasty gangsters when 007 drops in for the night.  After a chilly reception from the public at large, Fleming tried to bury the story, to the point where when he sold the film rights for his books to Eon Productions, he noted that in the case of this one, only the title could be used and not the plot.

And that, my friends, is how the world got its first James Bond film spun (almost) entirely from whole cloth and not with any basis at all on an Ian Fleming story.  (I say “almost” because Jaws is loosely based on one of the book’s thugs.)  All right, so it’s not too huge of a stretch, considering how far astray some of the earlier scripts had gone, but a milestone it is none the less.  Guess the public didn’t mind, either: The Spy Who Loved Me has become one of the best-loved and most fondly remembered films of the James Bond franchise.

Why?  Because, despite having a major strike against it, the movie happens to be a whole lot of fun.

But let’s start by getting that one major strike out the way: our villain, Karl Stromberg, played by Curt Jurgens (The Longest Day).  His background is promising enough: a megalomaniac who dreams of starting humanity over again in a neo-Atlantean city beneath the sea.  (I imagine that the people behind “Bioshock” took some notes later on, which is fair.)  But Stromberg is tired of waiting for the nations of the world to annihilate themselves, so he decides to help them along by coming up with a scheme to trick NATO and the USSR into fighting a nuclear war.  Potential?  Boat loads, I’d say.  On paper, Stromberg looks like just the sort of over-the-top villain that the Bond franchise had been waiting for since the departure of Blofeld from the stage.  Unfortunately, Stromberg turns out to be an incredibly boring character who plays out in a manner that’s the polar opposite of over the top, made worse by a phoned-in performance from Jurgens.  You’d think that the wannabe founder of a new Atlantean civilization whose idea of solving HR problems involves a drop into the shark tank couldn’t possibly be made uninteresting, but between Jurgens and the screenwriters, a way is found.  Yawn.

Fortunately, Stromberg has a henchman, and that henchman is charismatic enough to fill all of the gaping holes left by his dull, lifeless boss.  I refer, of course, to Jaws, who has come to stand as one of the most memorable henchmen not only in the James Bond franchise (his only real competition is Oddjob), but indeed, in all of motion pictures.  The gimmick with the steel teeth is certainly what captures the attention from the start, but it’s the performance of Richard Kiel (Tangled) that seals the deal.  Jaws has no dialogue at all in the film, so, like Harold Sakata as Oddjob before him, Kiel must rely on physicality and facial expressions to get his points across.  In this, the fact that he’s over seven feet tall would seem to work against him (simply because people tend to stop noticing anything about tall people after the height), but Kiel is wonderfully expressive, turning Jaws from a simple strongman with a horror twist into something more: something fun.  Indeed, his performance is so memorable that many people tend to think of Jaws as the main villain, and honestly, I think that’s fair.

It also helps that – unlike his boss – a seven foot tall baddie with steel teeth fits right in to the rest of the story that the writers have concocted, which plays up several 1970s pop culture fascinations set to an often disco-driven score.  Talk of Atlantis and Ancient Egypt was hot at the time, and hey!  The Spy Who Loved Me has a submersible city (based in part on designs for a real one in Japan) and visits to the Pyramids and other Egyptian ruins!  The Sexual Revolution was still in full swing at the time, as well, and this Bond is particularly shameless: Hammer Horror starlet Caroline Munro has nothing but bikinis in her wardrobe, while the Soviet agent played by Barbara Bach (the future Mrs. Ringo Starr) gets the scandalous designation of Agent XXX, and is more popularly remembered for her soaking wet dress in the third act rather than for the fact that Bach manages to portray her with as much respectability as the often silly script will allow.  With that said, that a Soviet agent is allowed to team with Bond at all is another sign of the times: the Cold War had thawed just enough to allow a Russian to be portrayed in a Western film as something other than a turncoat or a monster.  (This also marks the first appearance of fan favorite Walter Gotell as KGB Master General Gogol.)  And that, really, is the ultimate trick that makes the movie work so well: for all of its preposterousness, The Spy Who Loved Me still has enough serious elements to it to allow its story to be taken seriously.  Indeed, the silliness is all the more effective – and fun – because the director and the cast have chosen to play the entire thing with a straight face.  There are no carnival sound effects played over stunts to ruin them like there were in the previous film; instead, everything is taken at face value, and when there is a comedic cue to be found – the insertion of a bit from the Lawrence of Arabia score, for example – it is left to the audience to pick up on it or not.  The fun is omnipresent, but it’s not shoved down anyone’s throat.

As for Bond himself, Roger Moore is very comfortable in the role for his third outing, and proves to be a much better actor than many modern day critics give him credit for.  Whether a scene calls for him to be a secret agent, a lothario, or a straight man for a comic moment, Moore is up to the task.  And though I tend to consider his 007 a more of a “thinking his way through things” type of character than a physical fighter, he certainly doesn’t embarrass himself in combat, even when the script invites him to with undermatched contests against Jaws.  Given the over the top script he’s been given to work with, I truly can’t imagine any of the other actors who’ve played Bond doing it better than Moore does it here.

Speaking of doing it better, the theme for the film, “Nobody Does It Better,” ranks as one of the top themes in the franchise, and possibly the only reason that many guys will admit to knowing all of the lyrics to any Carly Simon tune at all.  (Come on; it’s okay.  You can also admit that you’ve sung along in the car.  No one’s going to judge you.)

Oh, and one last bit of trivia before we go: Star Wars fans will want to keep an eye on the British submarine crew.  One of those gents is played by Jeremy Bulloch, who would be hiding behind a full suit of outer space armor three years later while portraying some bounty hunter named Boba Fett.

Bottom line, The Spy Who Loved Me is a movie that speaks to its times: preposterousness wearing a reasonably serious face, and in being so representative of its age, it has itself become ageless.  No, it’s not very plausible, but it doesn’t need to be: its adventurous fun set to a disco beat, and that’s that.  At the end of the day, nobody does it better than Bond.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, December, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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