Here’s a review of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) by James of Back to the Viewer.
Oddly enough for a child born in the 90s The Spy Who Loved Me was one of the first ‘grown-up’ movies I saw and owned on VHS. Or rather it was my brother’s and I just watched it all the time! Roger Moore is for a number of different reasons my least favourite Bond but The Spy Who Loved Me is full of everything you’d expect from the Bond archetype. Fast cars, gadgets, women, henchmen and an ambitious world domination villain. The archetype of Bond movies originally set by Dr. No set the stage for Bond to do some world domination of his own. Quickly becoming internationally recognised as a British cultural icon Sean Connery paved the way for a British spy franchise that has since spanned generations. For this reason Bond films have always stood apart from independent film critique, often being compared to the films before it rather than treated as a separate film in and of their own right. The Spy Who Loved Me then, like the films before it, will be reviewed in terms of its continuation of and contribution to the Bond franchise.
This discrimination has since been revised half a century later with the release of Skyfall but The Spy Who Loved Me rests awkwardly in the 70s, a time when cultural and social disillusionment was rife except in the escapist forms of art and entertainment. During the 60s fast cars and fast women were culturally recognised tropes of British society let alone British cinema but by the 1970s, oft regarded as a cultural vaccuum sitting between the exuberant sexual revolution of 1960s hippie culture and the political resurgence of the 1980s things were a little bland. The escapist culture offered by entertainment through film, art, and music has been described as a decade “imbued with a spirit of irony and irreverance” by Neil McCormick and The Spy Who Loved Me couldn’t fit this description better if it tried.
Much like other Bond films very little of the action takes place on British soil. What strikes me as most interesting is that the film uses no original plot elements from the Ian Fleming novel of the same name. Either considered to risque for the screen, which I doubt, or ill-fitting with the now firmly established Bond franchise (more likely) the film version has the freedom to conjure up it’s own direction. The Cold War backdrop is evident in almost every Bond film, even the Daniel Craig ones, and so the process of creating a story to fit the Bond franchise probably didn’t prove too taxing. Throw in some women, some gadgets, some subtle and not so subtle wit and wham bam thank you ma’am, there’s your Bond film. But surprisingly The Spy Who Loved Me doesn’t feel out of place at all.
When a British nuclear submarine is ‘lost’ in unknown circumstances in the opening scene both the British and Soviet secret services are called into action to locate a microfilm reported to contain classified information relating to other nuclear submarines, one American and one Soviet. What transpires is a cooperation between the two services, a point frequently made lacking a deft political hand. When Bond is contacted high up on an Austrian mountain whilst enjoying some ‘downtime’ he is quick to don the awful red and yellow jumpsuit that has become synonymous with one of the most famous pre-title sequence scenes. A high speed pursuit with a difference, on skis no less, Bond performs as well as you’d expect throwing in back flips and a little patriotic exuberance to top it all off before the title sequence fades in with the apt ‘Nobody Does it Better’ by Carly Simon. Bond begins as he means to go on, with cheesy flair.
After our adrenaline fuelled introduction the plot begins to take shape. Karl Stromberg is quickly established as our villain behind the disappearance of the Royal Navy Polaris nuclear submarine. After disposing of those involved in the invention of the submarine tracking system he sends his two henchmen, Sandor and Jaws, to recover a microfilm containing details of the invention. This is our first look at Jaws, played by the late Richard Kiel, one of the greatest henchmen of the Bond franchise this metal toothed giant poses the biggest threat to Bond completing his mission. Bond, now grounded, sets out in pursuit of the microfilm while the Soviet Agent XXX, Anya Amasova sets her own course that eventually brings them together in Egypt. Reluctantly combining their efforts when it is clear they are both after the microfilm Bond falls victim to his own charms. When it is revealed by their respective agencies that they must work together to retrieve the microfilm XXX’s attitude begins to shift as she warms to Bond’s cheap advances.
With the Bond girl now established The Spy Who Loved Me is only missing it’s gadgetry. Until now Bond’s gadget arsenal has been fairly reserved by Q’s standards. Enter the Lotus Esprit. A fast car, kitted out with all the mod cons we’ve come to expect of Q’s ingenius but with a twist. It doubles as a submarine. On a brief reconassaince mission of Stromberg’s Atlantis the Lotus is put through it’s paces by Stromberg’s disposable henchmen before we enter the final chapter that sees Bond and Anya aboard an American nuclear submarine in search of Stromberg’s supertanker, the Liparus. As the purpose of the Liparus is revealed Bond is called upon to save the world from Mutually Assured Destruction, that old Cold War chestnut surfacing once again.
Far detached from it’s novel compatriots The Spy Who Loved Me does well to fashion a Bond movie that incorporates all the recognised tropes even if the script lets it down a bit. Hardly the best Bond movie out there, it doesn’t go beyond the call of duty and limits Bond’s catchphrase to an afterthought ‘Bond…err oh yeah James Bond.’ There was a lot of room for error in the taking on of this project by Lewis Gilbert and unfortunately it shows. Although Worth my time it is clear to see how far Bond has come since. Although not great The Spy Who Loved Me will always be a Bond movie I remember, the nostalgic element plays a heavily subjected role in my opinion but as a movie in the Bond franchise it’s only real contribution is the pre-title sequence ski chase. Other than that it is just a continuation of the largely inferior Roger Moore era.