Welcome back once again to “Does It Look Like It’s Our First Time?”. As I’m sure many of you are aware, this week began with the incredibly sad news of the passing of the great Sir Roger Moore. Moore’s seven film and fourteen year tenure as Bond still both stand as the longest runs on the character and to many he will always be the definitive Bond. It seems somewhat appropriate then that the week in which we say goodbye to Roger Moore is also the week in which we cover his greatest turn as James Bond, in The Spy Who Loved Me.
The cold open to You Only Live Twice is fairly standard. It introduces the beginning of the plot, as both a British and a Soviet nuclear submarine are captured by an unknown force. Immediately following this the leader of the KGB contacts his best agent, Agent Triple X and GASP it’s a woman! Triple X or Anya Amasova, has to extricate herself from her lover to go on her mission, who happens to have a mission of his own. Alas that mission was killing James Bond which sadly (for him) doesn’t go over very well. In (yet another) daring ski battle, Bond kills him and several other agents before jumping off a cliff and unveiling a Union Jack parachute.
Music: The music for this film is one of the highpoints of the entire franchise. The main theme, “Nobody Does it Better”, performed by Carly Simon, is in this writer’s opinion, the greatest Bond theme of all time. This mournful ode to Bond perfectly encapsulates the themes of the film and sets itself up as magnificent recurring theme throughout. Marvin Hamlisch composed both the title track as well as the orchestral score and he clearly outdid himself with this film.
Main Plot: The Spy Who Loved Me features a classically overcomplicated Bond plot. Triple X and Bond start out working on opposite sides investigating the mystery of the missing submarines and slowly come together over the course of the film before being officially partnered together by their respective spy agencies about halfway into the film. From there they locate and begin to investigate shipping magnate Karl Stromberg who it turns out has a plan to use the submarines to start WWIII and then create a new civilization underwater because… he likes the ocean? This part was never really clear. While working with Bond, Amasova discovers that it was he who killed her lover and vows to kill him at the end of her mission, but really, we all know that isn’t going to actually happen.
Villain/henchmen: Karl Stromberg (portrayed wonderfully by Curd Jürgens) is a classic Bond villain, in that he is very stylish and menacing while also simultaneously being utterly devoid of any logic or reason. His plan doesn’t really make sense, but hey, he has an awesome boat, an underwater city, and feeds people to sharks, what more could you want? He’s also aided by one of, if not the most iconic Bond henchmen of all time, Jaws. If you aren’t familiar with the series, I’m honestly kind of confused why you are reading this, but if that’s the case, it’s important to note that Jaws is not the name of one of Stromberg’s pet sharks, but rather a seven foot tall assassin with improbably strong metal teeth. Dude bites through thick metal cables and stops bullets with those suckers. All in all he’s a little bit too silly for my particular tastes but that doesn’t change the fact that the character as portrayed by Richard Kiel is one of the most iconic characters in the history of the franchise.
Bond Girl(s): With it comes to the female lead, The Spy Who Loved Me is arguably one of the most progressive films in the history of the franchise. Forget the codename that recalls explicit material and focus in on the performance and the character, and Barbara Bach’s Agent Anya Amasova is easily one of the most well rounded and fully formed female characters in franchise history. While they couldn’t resist turning her into a damsel at the end, Amasova throughout the majority of the film is played as Bond’s equal. She manages to get the drop on him twice when they are working against each other and when they are made to partner up it is a true partnership. She is portrayed as every bit as smart and competent as him and is even allowed her own agency and character arc over the course of the film. In fact, I’d even argue that she’s easily top five in the history of the franchise.
Bond (actor, performance): Here’s where I make a confession. I’ve often felt that the Moore era films did a horrible job of utilizing Moore for what he was good at and leaned far too hard into the areas where he did not excel. That being said this film is an exception. Roger Moore put on the best performance of his Bond tenure in this film and it’s not even close. With a script that for the first time seemed to understand how to properly utilize him, Moore was able to lean into his best qualities and minimize the areas in which he did not excel. Chief among these was his charm and good nature. Of all of the portrayals of the character to appear on screen, Moore’s is arguably the only Bond to appear in multiple films who could ever be accused of being kind. There was an unmistakable kindness to Roger Moore, that when allowed to shine through truly elevated his portrayals. Moore was the only Bond actor for who the side plot with Amasova, where she vows to kill him but is eventually won over by his charm and good nature, would have worked. If you decided that you wanted to kill Sean Connery or Daniel Craig’s Bond, spending more time with them wouldn’t change this, it would only convince you it was the right decision. There was something about what Moore brought to the character that made a plot point like that believable. It was a difficult tightrope to walk but he did it masterfully in this film.
Gadgets: There aren’t an overabundance of gadgets in this film, but there are two major ones. First of all we get the iconic submarine car. During a sequence where Bond and Amasova are being chased by Stromberg’s men, he drives off the road and straight into the ocean, at which point, much to Amasova’s surprise, the car turns into a submarine. It’s a delightful little gag that is elevated even more by the fact that there is no logical reason for the car to have such a feature. The other major gadget in the film is Bond’s “jet-ski in a box” which he assembles in order to race to Stromberg’s lair in order to save Amasova before the base is blown to bits. It’s the kind of slightly heightened technology that the franchise is known for and it’s a lot of fun.
Stunts/action: There really aren’t a ton of noteworthy stunts in the film, mostly due to the fact that Moore was not the most physical of actors. The only one truly worth mentioning would have to be the sequence in which Bond jumps off the cliff at the end of the cold open, but that is sold almost entirely on the discovery of the Union Jack parachute in his gear.
Locales: This film actually manages to provide two different exciting locales for the story, each taking up approximately half of the plot. Prior to teaming up the bulk of both Bond and Amasova’s time is spent sparring with each other in Egypt as they attempt to uncover information as to the fate of their respective nation’s submarines, while the story that follows after they team up takes place almost entirely in Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy in the Mediterranean Sea. Both locales provide a wide variety of different scenery (though it is worth noting that the crew did not actually film in either location) and introduce new environments to the franchise.
Iconic moments: As far as truly iconic moments are concerned for this film I can think of only two. The first would once again be the aforementioned parachute sequence, which is one that any fan of the franchise would almost certainly be familiar with. The other would have to be the first appearance of Jaws. A character so popular that he would return again in Moonraker.
Cringe factor: While significantly fewer than in some of the previous entries in the franchise, this film does have its uncomfortable moments. Its depictions of Egyptian culture often verge on parody as Bond’s contact in the region is a white man dressed entirely in robes who has a variety of female servants dressed like belly dancers. It’s also somewhat disappointing that a character depicted as capable as Amasova was ends up being relegated to damsel in distress in the final bit of the movie, but overall this is still a far more progressive film than most of what came before it.
Overall thoughts: I’m a huge fan of this particular entry into the Bond canon. It’s the one Roger Moore film that I unreservedly love, and stands in my opinion as one of the greatest entries in the history of the franchise. Across the board it manages to embody what many as fans would consider to be the traits of a true “classic” Bond film and is a clear reminder of the lost opportunities within many of the films surrounding it in the franchise.