Monday, January 12, 2015

The Spy Who Loved Me - 1977

Background: there was a 3 year gap between The Man With The Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me. This was mostly due to Harry Saltzman deciding to end the partnership between himself and Cubby Broccoli and the resulting financial issues this created. It's also partly due to Broccoli choosing an Ian Fleming concept that largely had to be written from the ground up as his next project. 

The Ian Fleming story called The Spy Who Loved Me was an experiment by Fleming, and he wasn't entirely pleased with the results, so when Broccoli obtained the rights to his work, respectfully asked that if he ever filmed this one he only use the title. Out of respect to the author Broccoli stuck to the deal mostly, (even though Fleming had passed away more than a decade earlier), he stole one character from the story. The story wasn't really filmable as a Bond adventure anyway, because James Bond doesn't even appear in it.

I think the reaction both by audiences and critics to The Man With The Golden Gun (it was the fourth lowest grossing Bond movie ever and critics savaged it) was also strong in Broccoli's mind and he wanted to get this one right to ensure the franchise's longevity. To pick up some of the slack left by the departure of Harry Saltzman, Broccoli's stepson Michael G. Wilson was given more responsibility. Wilson had been involved in the films (mostly in the legal department) for quite some years (he played a soldier in Goldfinger), but became his stepfather's assistant for The Spy Who Loved Me. Broccoli may have also been looking to keep the franchise in family hands (he was in his late 60's when The Spy Who Loved Me came out), his daughter Barbara also began her association with the films, with this instalment, working in the publicity department.

The initial idea had also involved bringing back Blofeld as the villain, but McClory got wind of it and forced an injunction against Eon which prevented them from using Blofeld or SPECTRE.

Despite the disappointment around The Man With The Golden Gun, there was quite a buzz about this project and much of the hype was justified when it hit screens in mid 1977.

Story: it's very much an old fashioned Bond story. Although the villain is called Stromberg, he's really just Blofeld with a different name. SPECTRE is replaced by Stromberg's shipping company. For the first time really, the Cold War plays a part in the story. It was odd, given the political climate, when the early Bond films were made that they rarely even mentioned the Cold War, but it's very much a part of The Spy Who Loved Me.

The plot contains elements of You Only Live Twice and has plenty of nods to earlier films. Stromberg's view of the ocean life around his underwater base from his control centre is right out of Dr. No. The swallowing up on nuclear powered submarines by Stromberg's giant Liparus tanker reminds one of Blofeld's capturing of US and Soviet rockets in You Only Live Twice. The idea of using the submarine's payload against innocent targets is right from Thunderball, as are some of the underwater scenes, especially the pursuit of the submersible Lotus Esprit (more on the car in Gadgets). The train trip that Bond and Anya take to get them from Cairo to Sardinia reminded me of a similar journey taken in From Russia With Love, where Bond was also travelling on a train cross country with a beautiful Russian agent. The fight between Bond and Jaws on board that train also has echoes of the fight between Bond and Grant in From Russia With Love. Stromberg's method of disposing of those who displease him by dropping them into his shark tank had echoes of Blofeld's piranha filled pond in You Only Live Twice, and Largo's swimming pool in Thunderball that opened to allow sharks in to help him get rid of incompetent minions or inconvenient British agents. They don't openly say it, but there are plenty of nods to the franchise's history. This may have been because it was the franchise's 10th film and 15th anniversary (they did very obviously celebrate the 20th film and 40th anniversary in Die Another Day and while it wasn't as overt, there were definite call backs in Skyfall, which came out in the 50th year of the franchise's history).

It was nice, after years of casual and often offensive sexism, to see Bond working with a female Russian agent, and being forced to acknowledge her as his own equal. Unfortunately Bond is, if not a misogynist, definitely a chauvinist and this does occasionally come to the surface in his dealings with Anya. Happily she generally puts him in his place when it does.

Bond and Anya know that Stromberg is behind the disappearances of the submarines, but it's just hard to pin it on him. After a number of attempts on their lives, most spectacularly by Naomi, Stromberg's murderous assistant and helicopter pilot, Bond and Anya get on a US nuclear sub and act as bait. This gets them on board the Liparus, and Bond stages a coup using the crews of the captured, British, Soviet and US submarines. However Stromberg escapes to his underwater base of Atlantis with Anya as his hostage.

The final confrontation between Bond and Stromberg was a little anti climactic and Bond got rid of him rather too easily for mine. It does only confirm the opinion that the real villain and adversary in this one is the steel toothed giant assassin nicknamed Jaws (Fleming's original story also featured a metal toothed thug, although Fleming's was named Sol Horror. I think Jaws is a way better name, far more descriptive). At the time when Bond and Stromberg were battling, though, Jaws was tangling with his employer's sharks and actually coming out on top, their teeth were no match for his.

The US submarine fires a missile at Stromberg's base and Bond manages to rescue Anya, jump into the bases escape craft, a rather sumptuously appointed, water tight floating bubble and get off before the whole thing collapses into the ocean. I know Bond films have to end with Bond cuddling up to the heroine, but due to Bond killing her lover in the pre credit sequence, Anya has vowed to kill Bond in an act of revenge once the mission is over. Yet, she points her gun at him, murder in her eyes, threatens to kill him and then with a twinkle of the eye and the offer of a glass of bubbles (admittedly it was Dom Perignon '52) she drops her gun and falls into his arms. Just a little too easy, clumsy script writing really.

I did however love the end, where both M and Anya's superior Gogol are shocked and dismayed to find their top agents cozied up under the sheets and respond with scandalised exclamations of: '007!' 'Agent Triple X!' like two fathers discovering their offspring at an unsanctioned liaison. Then Bond activates the bathysphere's curtain obscuring the couple from view, and the credits roll.

Nearly everything that went wrong with The Man With The Golden Gun, went right with The Spy Who Loved Me. Audiences and critics alike agreed (the film became the highest grossing Bond at the time, as well as one of the top grossing films of the year, critics universally loved it) and many rate it as the best Moore Bond. I agree with that, it's the best of Moore's outings as Bond by the length of the straight, and it's one of the best Bond films overall, up there with Goldfinger.


Director: surprisingly, despite the dogs breakfast he had made of The Man With The Golden Gun, Eon wanted Hamilton back for this one. He declined as he'd been offered the opportunity to direct 1978's Superman (he didn't do the job, though. Richard Donner took it over). They considered Steven Spielberg, although wanted to wait to 'see how the fish picture turned out' (rather amusing that they later named their villain Jaws, although it's debatable if the name was inspired by 'the fish picture). Spielberg apparently still holds a grudge about being denied the opportunity to direct a Bond film. The director of You Only Live Twice, Lewis Gilbert returned, that may be the driver behind some of the similarities in The Spy Who Loved Me to Gilbert's first Bond film. He was a good choice, he knew how to handle Moore and reined in Hamilton's excesses while still making and staging excellent action sequences. He set the template for the action blockbuster and a lot of what he started here is still being followed today.

James Bond: even back in 1977, Roger Moore was approaching 50 years of age and wondering about how long his body could keep up with the demands of the role. Naturally he didn't do his own stunts, but he did have to get out of the way of the regular explosions, and look the part. Somehow between The Man With The Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me, he found the perfect balance between Sean Connery's rough edges and his own smooth manner and delivery. The Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me could deliver an amusing quip or a charming line, but at the same time could radiate a toughness that was more believable than before. The incident on the roof in Cairo is a case in point, he keeps the thug hanging onto his tie for just long enough to get what he wants, then casually slaps him away, letting him fall to his death on the street below and calmly straightens his tie and dusts his jacket off. Now that's cold.

Karl Stromberg: I'm giving Curt Jurgens' Stromberg the main villain casting although he doesn't do a lot more than push buttons and bark orders. He was the brains behind the operation. Although he's not named Ernst Stavro Blofeld for legal reasons, he may as well have been. He's rather ugly, mostly bald, he has a German accent, but he's Blofeld. His plan of destroying life on the planet's surface to drive the population under the sea and thus controlling it, rather like the mythical Atlantean rulers, is right out of Blofeld's playbook. Lewis Gilbert had worked with Jurgens before and suggested casting him. He's fairly compelling and quite believable.

Jaws: as if having steel teeth weren't enough, they wanted to make Jaws really memorable. One of the things that set the likes of Oddjob, TeeHee and Nick Nack apart from various other henchmen was a deformity (Nick Nack was a dwarf, Oddjob was mute, TeeHee lacked an arm) and a gimmick of sorts (Oddjob's hat, Nick Nack's height and TeeHee's arm) they had the gimmick with Jaws' teeth, but they needed something else. That's when Richard Kiel came into calculations. Kiel had previously appeared in the first season of TV show The Wild, Wild West, where he played the towering assistant to dwarf inventor Dr Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn), he also unsuccessfully tried out for the role of The Hulk in TV show The Incredible Hulk, he was actually in the pilot, but they decided that bulk was more important than height, so Kiel lost out to bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno. Richard Kiel is listed as standing at 7' 1.5". As Jaws he looks even larger, he may have worn lifts in his shoes and they possibly filmed at angles that emphasised his already incredible height. He didn't just have the height, he had the bulk to match it. In the fight scene in the train, he dwarfs Roger Moore, who was himself 6'4" and his massive hand envelopes Moore's face. He made Moore look like a doll as he flung him effortlessly around the train cabin. This ensured that even though Kiel never spoke (the prosthetic teeth he wore for the role made speaking almost impossible) audiences would never forget him.

Peripheral roles: the usual suspects came back. By this stage it seemed largely set in stone that as long as they were physically able to do so, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn would play the roles of M, Moneypenny and Q. Lee appears quite a bit and generally in the company of a couple of other navy cronies, given that a lot of the mission involves submarines. Moneypenny is only briefly seen when she welcomes Bond to MI6's Egyptian base, which seems to be located in a pyramid. Q bobs up a couple of times, once in his Egyptian lab where the audience get to see deadly tea trays and hookah that turns into a rifle amongst other deadly inventions. Q wanders through it like it's all very normal, which for him I guess it is. He also appears on Sardinia when he delivers the Lotus to Bond. While M seems to get crankier film by film, Q appears to mellow as time goes by. That may have been due to Desmond Llewelyn and Roger Moore getting along quite well, despite Moore's habit of playing practical jokes and trying to make Llewelyn flub his lines by making faces at him during the delivery of them. Fun fact: it was a source of amusement to cast and crew that Desmond Llewelyn was one of the most technically inept people they had ever met, but played a boffin like Q and had great difficulty memorising his highly technical monologues.

General Gogol: it's actually kind of odd that we'd never seen M's KGB version before, and they got Walter Gotell to play the part. Gotell had also portrayed a villain in From Russia With Love, this would not be the last audiences saw of Gogol and he became a moderately important and familiar part of the films.

Admiral Hargreaves: I really only include Hargreaves because he was played by British actor Robert Brown, who would later take over in the M role when Bernard Lee passed away just before the shooting of For Your Eyes Only.

Commander Carter: he's the captain of the US submarine and has a fairly substantial role for a peripheral character. He was played by Shane Rimmer, who was best known for supplying the voice of Scott Tracy in the legendary British animated show The Thunderbirds.

Naomi: I don't really know why, but the part of Naomi has always remained with me. Caroline Munro was cast due to her appearance in a TV advertisement, but she had done a lot of work for Hammer Horror before that. She also turned down the role of villainess Ursa in Superman to play Naomi. Had they not cast Barbara Bach as Anya, I think Caroline Munro could have made a good fist of it.

Sergei: a very minor character, but he's important. He's Anya's lover and the catalyst for her wanting to kill Bond once the mission is done in retaliation for Bond killing him while on a mission in Austria. He was also played by Michael Billington, who auditioned for Bond on a number of occasions and may have very well been cast as James Bond in Live and Let Die had Roger Moore not been available. In some ways the part of Sergei was almost an audition for the Bond role, I'll explain that in pre credit sequence.

Major Anya Amasova, Agent XXX: I think it's important to include Anya's code name and her official rank. Generally with Bond girls they were often used as window dressing and if they proved useful to Bond, then it was a surprise. Right from the start Anya is different. The code name is pretty silly and it's no coincidence that it's also the term used for a dirty movie (I can just see the dinosaurs that wrote and produced many of the films snorting and sniggering over the name), however it's not used all that much, she's more often referred to as Major Amasova or Anya. She's Bond's Russian opposite, her rank is probably the army equivalent of his naval rank of commander, too. She's every bit as deadly and dangerous as Bond himself. Interestingly when she meets Q, he actually refers to him as Major Boothroyd, which is about the first time anyone had done that since From Russia With Love. The casting was important, they had to get this one right. They decided to cast model Barbara Bach, who had done some acting before. Even though she auditioned just expecting to get a role in the film, not the co-starring one and was cast only four days before shooting began, she did a fantastic job. I thought her voice may have been dubbed as was common, but it appeared that managed a passable Russian accent without any assistance. She did a damn good job, too with the role. She didn't have a great range of expressions and her voice was kind of flat at times, but I think it suited the stern, largely humourless Russian she was written as.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: you may think because Bach largely stopped acting in the mid 80's that she suffered from the curse. She may have, she was a fairly limited actress, but she had opportunities after The Spy Who Loved Me, starring in Force 10 From Navarone, however it was a fairly ordinary comedy called Caveman that stopped her acting career and changed the course of her life. Caveman also starred former Beatle Ringo Starr. He and Bach fell in love and married. Unusually for celebrity couplings they're still together today, they even attended rehab together in the 90's. So she didn't have a glittering acting career, but she certainly was not cursed.

Pre credit sequence: this is one of the most memorable and arguably one of the best Bond pre credit sequences of all time. It begins mundanely enough with a British submarine going missing, followed by a Russian one and then Gogol puts in a call to his top agent XXX. Anya is in bed with Sergei when the call comes through, and audiences are intended to think that he, not she, is the agent, so it's a nice switch when the truth of the situation comes out. It also allowed Michael Billington to be a Bond equal, even if it was for a few brief moments. He actually had a pretty good look, and may have made a passable Bond if he'd been cast. Bond is completing a mission in Austria when he gets the call and is pursued in a breathtaking chase through the snow by Russian agents, one of whom is the ill fated Sergei. It's the jump that makes it though. Bond jumps off a cliff and the audience think he's toast, how could he get out of this one. At the last moment a parachute opens and as it unfurls it has a Union Jack design on it. The song starts and the opening credits roll and audiences everywhere jumped to their feet and applauded. Even now I don't think the stunt has ever really been topped. It was just so perfectly shot and placed. Due to weather they almost never shot it, too.

Gadgets: The Spy Who Loved Me was brimming over with them. Quite apart from the things that are being tested in Q's laboratory there's a whole host of them It could even be argued that Jaws' teeth are a gadget. Bond has a wristwatch that prints out a label when MI6 want to contact him in a pre mobile phone era. Stromberg's long barrelled gun (it runs the length of his impossibly long dining table) is another one. The craft that Bond uses to travel from the US submarine to Atlantis is a prototype jet ski. But the star of the show is the car. I was glad to see another British car when Q delivered the Lotus. The cars had been becoming increasingly boring. Bond's British sportscars are quirky and have personality that the ones used ever since You Only Live Twice had lacked. This is before you find out what the Esprit really is. It turns into a submarine and it's armed with a smoke screen and rockets, as well as cameras and radar equipment. I'm sure it was inspired by Scaramanga's flying car in The Man With The Golden Gun. They proved in an episode of Top Gear that you can actually have a submersible car, but you need to fill the tires with something really heavy and put rocks in the boot for ballast and it leaks considerably more than Bond's Esprit did, although that was also taking on water, by the time he and Anya drove up onto the beach, shocking the bathers there.

Music: after the disaster that was The Man With The Golden Gun by the unfortunate Lulu, they got it right again with Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better, written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. It was the third time the theme song didn't have the same title as the film (Dr. No didn't have a theme song as such and All The Time In The World performed by Louis Armstrong for On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the other one), although the words of the title are in the lyrics. The song was a huge hit for Carly Simon, climbing as high as number 2 on the Billboard chart. It was also adaptable being performed as a naval chant over the final credits.

This was going to be very hard to top on a number of fronts.

James Bond will return in For Your Eyes...uuhhh...Moonraker.

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