The Spy Who Loved Me
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Lewis Gilbert
The James Bond experiment reached its 15th anniversary with its 10th movie and first partial remake. While the first two Roger Moore movies were interesting departures from the Sean Connery era and dips into different film styles, The Spy Who Loved Me revealed a creative team lacking in ideas.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: James Bond teams with a Soviet spy to stop a madman from stealing submarines and starting a nuclear war.
Roger Moore had settled into Bond by this, his third outing. The Spy Who Loved Me represented Moore’s first head-to-head battle with the ghost of Bond never shaken–Sean Connery–as The Spy Who Loved Me refashions the plot of You Only Live Twice, trading spacecraft for nuclear subs, and SPECTRE for a single, mad billionaire.
James Bond opens the The Spy Who Loved Me escaping the bed of a woman in Austria and gang of assassins on the slopes. Bond kills at least one of the assassins, a fact you should remember for later. He jumps off a cliff and parachutes to safety in a fantastic stunt that has no other connection to the plot and thus feels unearned.
Probably the best titles of the Moore era, the opening number is well made and the movie drops off a cliff after that, much like that opening stunt. The Spy Who Loved Me pits Bond is forced to work alongside the Soviet Union’s best secret agent, Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), code name Triple X, to discover who stole a British and Soviet nuclear sub and the dozens of nukes aboard, which we watched in the opening sequence.
Clues lead Bond and Triple X to Cairo, where they spend more time among Egypt’s spectacular ruins that its millions of people. Fine with me–Egypt has boss ruins. Bond tries his best T.E. Lawrence impression riding camels in the desert and falukes on the Nile. He plans to “delve deeply into its treasures,” by which he also means the country’s women.
But don’t sleep on his sensitive side. Triple X knows all there is to know about Bond, including his previous marriage (during the George Lazenby regime). Bond claims that he is sensitive “about certain things,” the closest you’ll ever see Bond to emotional vulnerability.
The movie also shows Bond at his most sexist. After a trip to the desert to chase the microfilm with the desired plans, Triple X ends up behind the wheel of a van. Bond is annoyed, partly for someone getting the jump on him and partly for that person being a woman. Triple X drives poorly, despite being the USSR’s best spy, and Bond makes a “women drivers” crack which astounds for it regressive attitude.
Once they claim the microfilm, the pair are on the trail of Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a seriously rich dude in the shipping business and underwater obsessive. Bond poses as a marine biologist to meet Stromberg on his underwater lair. Bond’s done plenty of impersonation in his career, but this time might be his best. Pretending to have a Ph.D-level knowledge of anything is gutsy, and he passes the test by deeply describing a lionfish as “handsome but deadly.” (wink wink) Stromberg needs only this one fish to accept Bond as a fellow marine life knower.
The day of reckoning between Bond and Triple X comes later, and it is bad news for Bond. Triple X accidentally figures out Bond was the spy who killed her man in that opening sequence in the Alps. Bond brushes it off. “It was either him or me.” Triple X is not impressed. “When this mission is over,” she says, “I will kill you.” They table their enmity long enough to attack Stromberg. During this fight Bond can’t help resume his protective tendencies.
Karl Stromberg is one of Europe’s richest men and its top shipping magnate. Obsessed with the sea, his love affair has allowed him to leave the human realm to live beneath the sea in his underwater research lab Atlantis.
Now, naming anything at sea Atlantis is a bad idea, but few of Stromberg’s ideas are good; it’s on brand for him. Stromberg opens his role by killing the woman who leaked plans for a submarine tracker to the black market. His method of execution–sharks.
Stromberg fades away for some time, delighted to live the life of a recluse in his gigantic underwater palace full of art, fish, and a staff of hundreds of red-clad technician/warriors. Yes, the life of a recluse.
Which was worse: Jurgens’s acting or the script? He tells his scientists that phase one of his plan “has met with considerable success.” Doesn’t that just make you wet your knickers? When he kills those nerds later in a helicopter explosion, he orders their next of kin told the “funeral was at sea.” I’ve heard scarier lines in Scooby Doo.
Stromberg couldn’t be less transparent about his plans when he meets Bond the first time. He believes life underwater is the hope for mankind. The current world order is decadent and destined to fail. He wishes to accelerate that failure by launching nukes at New York and Moscow, triggering global nuclear war.
“I intend to change the face of history.” Duh. That’s implied. When he launches the nukes, “the new era will begin.” Yawn. Stromberg’s lines sound like an AI’s first stab at villainy and give him the low score above.
One huge battle overshadows the end of The Spy Who Loved Me. The producers enjoyed the attack sequence in You Only Live Twice so much they ran it back for this movie. Instead of spaceships, the villain steals nuclear attack submarines, housing them inside his world-record-size supertanker.
Stromberg imprisons the crew of three subs on his ship. Why he doesn’t kill them is anybody’s guess, since he’s about to cause global thermonuclear war and doesn’t care much about killing. One of those prisoners is Bond, or is meant to be, because Bond breaks loose from his captors and runs amok.
First Bond takes a bolt gun and shoots a couple of guards. He hops around the ship until he lands in the monorail car controlled by a single bad guy. Bond aims his gun at him and orders him to drive to the prison cells. After easily breaking out the three crews, all the sailors and Bond enter the armory, where hundreds of guns and grenades are stored.
The fight is on. Stromberg’s men, helpfully clad in red, fight the sailors led by Bond and the American sub captain. Grenades blow holes in the side of the ship and set parts of it aflame. They have an easy time of it, actually, killing dozens but quickly seizing both sides of the lower interior dock. Problem is, they need to seize the control room, and that is shuttered tight with armored plating impregnable to grenades and protected by gun holes and men to shoot from them.
Bond has them try something else. They search for and find a nuclear missile removed from another sub. Bond engages in a tense disarming technique where he plays a game of Operation with the detonator. If the device touches the sides of its casing during its removal the bomb will go boom. Also, the device is magnetized and wantsto touch the sides.
The disarming works, by Jove, and suddenly Bond has a powerful bomb in his hands. He climbs through the inner docks fronting the control room and hitches a ride on the surveillance orb riding a track above the area. From there it’s a simple job of attaching the detonator to control room’s wall and arming a timer and waiting for an explosion.
This battle lacks the scale of You Only Live Twice‘s climactic battle, partly because the villain, Stromberg, has fled the scene with Triple X. Also, this movie partly and sequence especially are remakes, and remakes are rarely improvements.
The KGB touts Major Amasova as its finest agent. She’s good, but still pales next to Bond. The Spy Who Loved Me pulls a neat trick to introduce Triple X, showing her in bed with a man when she’s recalled to Moscow. We don’t know yet who the agent is, and we’re led to believe it’s the man, until he gets out of bed and the woman answers the call. A woman! Can you imagine? They fooled us.
Triple X heads to Cairo to, like Bond, find the microfilm with the sub tracker plans. Triple X lost her lover while he was trying to kill Bond during the opening ski sequence, a fact she learns much later and after she’s slept with Bond, but that we guess from the get-go. Makes for some interesting tension.
We watch several scenes establishing Triple X as a spy equally capable to Bond. They track the same people at the same time, they know each other’s drinks, they dress to impress. Once they learn they are similarly minded, they can’t stand each other aside from their immense physical attraction.
Triple X is the first to get her hands on the microfilm, outside Cairo, while Bond grapples with a lunatic henchman. She loses it when Bond snatches it in the van. Turns out Triple X can’t drive, and Bond sees fit to deliver a “women drivers” quip that probably had the audience in stitches. This is a KGB spy, and we’re supposed to believe she can’t drive for shit?
Triple X has the last laugh, after she uses knockout gas in a cigarette to incapacitate Bond and take the microfilm, “with considerable ease,” she says, and deliver it to her boss.
They join forces to fight Stromberg. In the Bond world, “join forces” means the woman rides along while Bond does the dirty work to “protect” the woman and try to dismiss her at every turn. She’s not present for the big attack on the shipping liner, as Stromberg has taken her to his base to wear a sexy dress.
My problems with Triple X stem from her poor treatment in the script and just as poor acting.
The Spy Who Loved Me introduces Bond’s all-time classic bad guy and one of cinema’s most memorable bad guys in Jaws (Richard Kiel).
Inspired in equal parts by Jaws (the shark) and by Michael Myers (the unkillable possible demon), this silent hulk menaces Bond and anyone opposing Stromberg. Let’s be thankful Jaws never speaks, because if he did he’d be stuck with the crummy lines left for Stromberg.
Jaws is sent to Egypt to recover the microfilm of Stromberg’s submarine tracking device. Bond kills Jaws’s counterpart within minutes of meeting him, but Jaws is much harder to squelch.
Jaws kills an important contact at the Great Pyramids after biting through a chain. Oh, I forgot, Jaws has steel teeth. That’s where he got the name, I suppose. With his metal dentistry he bites his victims vampire-style in the neck, which appears to kill them instantly.
You might think the superhuman powers stop at the gum line, but you’d be wrong. You forget Jaws is 7’2″ and seemingly all muscle. In one fight sequence Bond and Triple X try to escape in a van. Jaws jumps onto the van and proceeds to tear it apart barehanded. First the roof is torn away, next the engine cover, then the side is punched through, and finally Jaws lifts the back of the van after it smashed him into a stone column.
Following any accident Jaws escapes unharmed, as if dusting off his clothes restores his health. In the movie Jaws survives being: wedged between a van and a column, crushed by a pile of stones, thrown from a speeding train, attacked by a hungry shark, shot in the mouth, and crashing straight down into a roof in a falling car that explodes.
Jaws is an exceptional survivor of calamities rivaled only by James Bond in the series’s history. There’s a reason they brought him back in Moonraker.
Stunt work belongs to Jaws and the people who made things for him to break. Jaws bites through a chain, punches a hole in the side of a van, rips open a metal roof, survives being pummeled by stones and an exploding car AND a shark ANDa sinking base in the middle of the Mediterranean. He’s slow as shit so no camera tricks could work for many of these stunts.
You also have to enjoy a car being chased by a motorcycle, a motorcycle’s sidecar as rocket, a regular car, and finally a helicopter, evading all of them before plunging into the sea and fleeing divers and subs shooting harpoons at it. Very creative work there.
After the Americans and Bond breach the control room on Stromberg’s liner, it’s pretty simple sailing for them. They capture the room in seconds, and a couple minutes later they have figured out what to do. Using the tracking system, Bond and the American submarine captain figure out how to get the rogue British and Soviet subs to target each other.
Stromberg adorned his control room with a huge globe tracking the subs. The globe isn’t accurate at all, because it displays one of the subs as having traveled a thousand miles in a few hours. The heroes offer the subs as targets for each other, and they fire a single missile each. We watch two lights streak across the globe, pass each other, and fall on their targets. Two mushroom clouds erupt in the water. The day is saved.
Still they must evacuate the ship, as it’s going down quickly. The survivors board the American sub, blast a hole in the door, and make it to sea as the liner sinks spectacularly. The sub captain receives orders from the Pentagon: destroy Atlantis in five minutes. Bond, knowing Triple X is on the base, begs for an hour. He assembles a Wetbike sent from Q and rides to the base.
Atlantis is stripped of its personnel, most of them at the bottom of the sea now. Bond arrives and listens to Stromberg welcome him. “I’ve been expecting you.” Stromberg tries his elevator trick to kill Bond, letting the bottom fall out of it, but that fails.
Bond enters the dining area. “Well well well,” is an actual line spoken in this movie. Bond is offered seat at the long dining table, where we see Stromberg has another trick, a long harpoon tube beneath the table.
Bond notices that Stromberg fires the bolt and ducks away in time before the chair explodes. “You’ve fired your bolt,” Bond says, now he’ll fire his. Bond puts his gun into the bolt tube and shoots Stromberg twice in the groin. Twice more in his torso and the boss is dead.
Only three people are left on the base. Bond meets one of them in the metal hall. Jaws is there to silently menace the spy. Bond starts the final fight shooting Jaws in the mouth. Jaws runs away and runs behind Bond to attack him. He throws Bond into the shark tank room.
Bond and Jaws grapple each other before Bond notices an industrial magnet hanging from the ceiling and its control panel in the room’s center. Why have a magnet in such a room? For drama.
The magnet descends upon Jaws. When Jaws looks up he finds his mouth sticks to the magnet. Bond levers the magnet over the water and SPLASH, Jaws is wet and swimming with a shark. Bond doesn’t stick around to watch them battle. He searches for Triple X. Together they reach the escape pod. The door won’t open. Triple X, like any of the Soviet Union’s best spies would do, stands around and lets Bond figure it out. Bond finds a wheel to turn to manually open the door, and the day is saved.
Bond’s one-liners don’t land in The Spy Who Loved Me. M has the best line, when he orders an underling to order Bond, “Tell him to pull out immediately.”
Bond travels to Egypt for the first time. Egypt is well known for its ruins, and those are places Bond travels. He stalks Jaws stalking someone else outside the Great Pyramids at night, during a laser light show that has better music than the film’s score. He and Triple X drive to some ruins being preserved in the desert. These ruins were in Luxor at the Karnak Temple, a few hundred miles from Cairo and the Great Pyramids. Not an easy drive, but they never said it was.
The dry desert contrasts with Stromberg’s underwater palace and designs for humanity. Stromberg, like all classic villains, is obsessed with style. His dining room is adorned with classic art on walls that can retract to reveal windows on the undersea world. He also has aquariums inside his undersea base, including one with a shark that’s hungry for traitors to Stromberg’s cause.
UK-Soviet relations are again at stake in this retelling of You Only Live Twice. Bond and Triple X are forced to take a case, and their bosses are…very chill about it.
Bond enters M’s office in MI-6’s secret Egypt underground base, where he finds the KGB counterpart and the Soviet spy. That the UK and the USSR would work together seems farfetched, that they would share a British intelligence office seems impossible.
I’m always amazed that women put up with James Bond, both onscreen and in the audience.
- The green screen of Moore skiing is breathtakingly bad.
- (-1) The score also sucks. When a cheesy laser show has better music than a huge movie production, that’s a bad sign.
- The UK’s Defence Minister looks 90% like Bernard Lee, which confuses.
Summary (27/68): 40%
The James Bond franchise desperately needed some new blood at this point in its history. Mimicking the plot of a previous movie (not exactly a remake but as close as one can get) is not a recipe for success.
Match that with bad acting from Triple X, who disappears in the finale, and a villain who is forgotten as soon as the credits roll, and we have a movie that fails when it should easily succeed.