Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0013 The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

When I was a kid, The Spy Who Loved Me was clearly the best Bond. It also happened to be the one on television every few months. The savvy and ultra-well dressed Roger Moore saves us from the evil madman whose ships are eating submarines and he shows up those dirty Ruskies in the process. . . how cool is that? Um, yeah. Time has not been kind to this film. Still, it’s a “classic Bond” and that’s why it deserves to be No. 0012 of 0023? However, this comes with a caveat. This film will probably slide down the ranks as time passes.

Plot Quality: The plot to this one isn’t half bad. In fact, I liked it a lot when You Only Live Twice did it, and for the most part, this rip off is handled well. The story opens with British nuclear submarine HMS Ranger vanishing. A Soviet submarine suffers the same fate. The only clue to what happened is that someone in Egypt is offering for sale a system that will let anyone track nuclear submarines. As proof that the system works, the British are given a map showing the track taken by Ranger before she vanished.
Bond travels to Egypt, where he discovers that the Soviets are also trying to buy the system. The Soviet representative is Major Anya Amasova, aka Agent Triple X. As she and Bond compete against each other, their contact gets killed by a tall man with metal teeth: Jaws. After fleeing from Jaws through various tourist attractions in Egypt, Bond and Amasova return to their headquarters, where they are told they will team up.

The Russians and British suspect Karl Stromberg of being involved in this somehow. So Bond and Amasova visit Stromberg for no apparent reason except to pass time and alert Stromberg that their governments suspect him. They get to see Hollywood’s favorite red lionfish. Then they leave and they are attacked. To evade attack, Bond drives his Lotus into the ocean where it turns into a submersible. Director Lewis Gilbert then brings eternal shame to himself and his family by letting Bond drive up onto the beach as animals do double-takes and drunks look at their bottles. He even has Bond drop a fish out of the car. Up yours Lewis, up yours.
Anyway, with no reasonable way to move the plot forward, Bond hops an American submarine and goes cruising the ocean, waiting for Stromberg to capture him. It’s not clear why Stromberg needs three submarines since his plan calls for two, but Stromberg takes the bait. Using some unexplained device, he cripples the submarine and her crew as one of his freighters drives over the sub. But rather than causing a fender-bender, the ship opens up in the front and pulls the sub inside to an interior dock. The crew is then taken prisoner and mixed with the Russian and American crews, who have not been liquidated even though Stromberg’s plan is to wipe out humanity.

Stromberg launches two submarines, both under new ownership. The Ruskie sub will nuke New York City and the American sub will nuke Moscow. He thinks the Soviets and the Americans will then nuke each other, destroying the world, and Stromberg will live happily in his undersea kingdom all by himself until he starves or can’t get replacement parts until he emerges and the survivors turn to him to rebuild the world.
Once the submarines leave the ship, Bond rallies the troops: “And gentlemen in England now a-bed, Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks, That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” A shootout ensues. I won’t spoil who actually won for you.

//scratches head

Bond Quality: By this point in his films, Moore had started to come across as a lounge lizard more than anything else. His fashion sense may have been fine for 1977, but by 1981 it was as dated as disco. His character’s flirting felt like smug sexism by 1981 as well. More importantly, his version of “tough” would be seen as effete by the 1980s, which saw the public gravitate toward “common man” and working class heroes like Rocky Balboa, John Rambo, and John McClane from Die Hard. In fact, The Spy Who Loved Me’s Moore has more in common with some 17th Century fop than a modern action hero. Moore didn’t help this either because he wasn’t at all physical as Bond.

The Bond Girl: The Bond girl was Barbara Bach as Anya Amasova/Agent Triple X. She was a KGB agent assigned to the same case. She and Bond competed throughout the film and eventually teamed up. However, Bond had killed her lover in the opening scene of the film, so she swore to kill Bond when the mission ended. Bach is attractive in a 1970s “Twiggy” sort of way, which means her figure is as flat as her acting. She speaks in a monotone and uses a fake Russian accent. Throughout the film she is best when trying to one-up Bond, but proves pretty useless as spies go. Ultimately, she’s not nearly the worst Bond girl, but she’s nowhere near the best either.
Villain Quality: The villain here is Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens), and he blows. Jürgens projects neither charisma nor menace on screen. He’s just grumpy. His actions are inconsistent and largely pointless, like why he invites Bond to visit him at his secret base when he knows it’s Bond. He kills his henchmen to save money, even though his plan will make money pointless.

His scheme isn’t much better. He wants to cause the Americans and the Soviets to nuke the world to wipe out humanity while he hides under the ocean in his secret base. Then he will build a new civilization. Uh, yeah. Here’s the catch. First, he has no plan to build a new civilization. Secondly, he has no resources collected to build a new civilization, and I suspect Home Depo will be closed after the apocalypse. Third, why would anyone listen to the turd who hid under the ocean? This is a stupid plan and never feels real. But at least the submarine eating effects are cool.
Stromberg’s henchman is Jaws, who somehow is one of the most popular henchmen. He’s tall and has metal teeth and he’s very, very lucky. He’s lucky that anyone who tries to shoot him apparently either runs out of ammo before they shoot or freezes up because they are tall-ophobic. His victims also tend to stand there and wait for him to grab them, just as Bond strangely chooses to punch Jaws in the metal jaw rather than the exposed crotch.

//scratches head again

Ok, look, here’s the thing. The story is ripped off and stupid. The scheme is nonsense. The acting isn’t much better than a porno. Director Lewis Gilbert should be shot for crimes against cinema, and writer Christopher Wood (who would triple-down by repeating this film as Moonraker) should have his fingers broken. BUT this was the highlight of 1970s Bond, and it’s surprisingly watchable. There’s just something about the film that was entertaining; it’s like an adult cartoon. The critics loved it too.

Perhaps what makes this film work is that it’s guilty pleasure Bond? This thing is so bad that it crosses that magical line where it become entertaining in its badness. This is Bond-nado v. MegaJaws. And that causes us to rank this film much, much higher than it would otherwise deserve. That’s why this oh-so-shiny turd is No. 0013 out of 0023.

27 comments:

Rustbelt said...

Okay, I'm just going to say it. Forget the Beatles. Barbara Bach is all the proof I need that Ringo Starr is, was, and always will be the luckiest SOB in the history of show business.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, Drugs, fame and money... probably mainly drugs.

Dave Olson said...

Grrrrr.....Blogsnot just ate my comment. To summarize:

You beat the piss out of the movie until the last paragraph and a half. Considering that the next review is dead center - as many Good Bonds above as there are Bad Bonds below - shouldn't the "top of the bottom" be a better movie?

Re: Roger Moore. His cover isn't hard drinking Alpha Male of the 60's like Connery, he's the foppish businessman of the 70's. This lets him be underestimated and get on with the job at hand, which is to spy.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, This movie is where it belongs. It's a bad movie, but it's got that whole "so bad it's good" thing going for it. This is a popular Bond, but it just isn't strong enough to beat the ones above it, nor is it bad enough to slide lower.

That said, I think it will slide lower over time because of the 1970s feel, which makes this one of the most dated of the films.

On Moore, ironically, I think he was just playing "Roger Moore, ladies man."

Backthrow said...

I like to call TSWLM the 'K-tel 007's Greatest Hits Collection'. It takes bits and pieces from the superior 1960s films and cobbles them together in a big production (shot in Panavision, for the first time since DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) to help boost Moore, whose previous two entries (plus DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) seemed too small for Bond, and weren't setting the boxoffice on fire like they were in their glory days of the prior decade.

Stromberg is basically Dr. No and Blofeld spliced together. Stromberg has an underwater lair (DR. NO) and a trapdoor to death by killer fish (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE). A female Russian agent is involved (like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE). The Lotus Esprit is Moore's Astin-Martin DB5 (GOLDFINGER/THUNDERBALL). Jaws is basically a (lesser, though taller) variation of Oddjob from GOLDFINGER. Mix in submersible action, stolen warheads and a gorgeous/lethal henchwoman (THUNDERBALL), a mountain ski chase (OHMSS), and the basic scheme of YOLT, moved from space to sea.

I actually like it a little bit more than I did in the 1980s, because most of the goofiness isn't quite as bad (or as much) as in the other Moore films (even FOR YOUR EYES ONLY). What's there is bad (particularly that driving onto the beach scene, and Bond meeting his Egyptian contact, a British sheik in a desert tent, with the LAWRENCE OF ARABIA theme wandering into the sountrack), but somehow more tolerable. Moore is his prissy self, but he at least gets to coldly let the bald henchman fall to his death by brushing his necktie out of the desperate man's grasp, and does a decent job in the mass escape from the supertanker.

John Barry's scoring is missed, but now that disco is long dead, Marvin Hamlisch's bouncy score is a lot more tolerable, and suits the cartoony goings-on reasonably well. The use of a supertanker gobbling up submarines is actually an improvement over Blofeld's pirate space capsule in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and it's sort of a shame that movie didn't use the ship plot instead (even though the space race thing was sexier at the time), since the volcano base was right near the sea, anyway. Curt Jurgens could've been a great Bond villain at one time, but they waited too long; he would've been a formidable Blofeld a decade earlier, but here he was too old and tired/disinterested, so is merely adequate, mostly bolstered by his grandiose push-button surroundings and his lackeys doing all the heavy lifting.

(continued next post)

Backthrow said...

Jaws is okay. He's actually a little creepy in some early scenes at the pyramids. They played up his teeth-as-a-weapon gimmick too much, rather than having that as an extra, dangerous/grotesque touch to somebody whose size and strength should've been the main aspect of his killing technique (he should've quietly broken the necks/backs of victims he's cornered), and he also should've had a gun with silencer handy. Again, however, he basically fits the tone of this big cartoon of a movie, particularly when he tears Bond's van nearly apart, and when he emerges, dusting himself off, after his car crashes into a cottage roof. Barbara Bach is both pretty and pretty plastic, but so is the whole movie, so she fits.

All in all, after YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, this is far and away the best of the later 'silly' Bond films. It's the only one of those in the Moore era that I can really enjoy. I'd even rank it slightly above Moore's more-serious FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, only because the plentiful good, serious stuff in that film is hamstrung with some really stupid/silly elements that bog it down a bit, whereas TSWLM strikes a fairly consistent light, larger-than-life tone throughout.

I think the film will remain fairly popular (it's Moore's GOLDFINGER, really), as it's basically the sort of thing people (especially young people who weren't around then) think of when they think of 1970s pop culture; THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, CHARLIE'S ANGELS Abba, THREE'S COMPANY and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD... similar to how people think of the 1950s as basically REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, Elvis, I LOVE LUCY, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.

That said, I think those who consider TSWLM the best (or their favorite) Bond film --and there are many out there who do-- are usually those who saw it in childhood (often their very first Bond) and have that nostalgic attachment to it.

shawn said...

Carly Simon's "Nobody does it better" is a great theme song. Moore isn't too old yet. We get to see Caroline Munro in a bikini. The Lotus/submarine is cool. Not bad for the 70's. I agree, I would rate this somewhere in the middle of the Bond flicks.

tryanmax said...

I'm not as familiar with this particular entry. All I can say is that there seems to be good reason why the second Austin Power's entry was titled The Spy Who Shagged Me.

PikeBishop said...

I was 12 at the time, so yes, and this was the first Bond the parents let me go see on my own (with my cousin) A real PG film, by myself. Cool! So yeah, I think that rosy memory has colored my memory of it.

1. I liked the gun battle in the tanker. It was exciting and it showed that, yes Commander Bond did have real military and command experience.

2. The sub and tanker effects were cool.

3. I thought Barbara Bach was the hottest thing back then (that brief side glimspe of her ass in the captain's steamy shower helped), but looking on it now, she is flat and uninteresting. Remember, I was 12!

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I agree. Everything in this film is stolen and not used all that well. And yeah, Jaws would have been a lot better if he used a gun. I think Oddjob worked because he was more of a man servant who happened to have a surprise killing ability. Jaws is a killer, who lacks the ability to kill anyone who doesn't hold still for him. That's why one works and one doesn't for me.

As for this being nostalgia, I think that's right. This film screams 1970s just like Saturday Night Fever does. But because of that, this film is also much more dated than the others. And I think that as 70s nostalgia disappears, this film will fade away with it, whereas the others won't.

I do love the submarine eating idea. It's very nicely handled.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Although this isn't my favorite Moore, it is probably his most respected entry because this was the most Bond-like film he did and he did it when he still seemed young enough to handle the role. It's a fun film too, even if it's a very dated and ultimately silly film.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, Totally agree. As a kid, I loved this film. The gun battle was the height of cool. The idea of tankers swallowing subs was awesome. The Lotus was cool. Bach was hot and fit the age perfectly. There was also a big Egypt push at the time and this film played a part in that too.

In hindsight, yeah, a lot of this isn't nearly as cool (or as sexy) as it once seemed.

tryanmax said...

In hindsight, yeah, a lot of this isn't nearly as cool (or as sexy) as it once seemed.

I think you just summed up the 1970s.

AndrewPrice said...

Yep. What's funny about the 70s is that it all seemed pretty cool at the time. But in hindsight... wow. What were we thinking?

tryanmax said...

There is one thing, however, that can redeem both the 1970s and disco: LINK

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! True. :)

In all honesty, the 1970s were a great time to grow up. There was a lot of cool stuff going on.

Anonymous said...

"Twiggy"? "Her figure is as flat as her acting"? I think I may have watched the wrong movie. For all the shortcomings she may have as an actress (and there are many), her figure cannot seriously be called into question.

The movie, however, both sucks and blows. Unfortunately, it also might be correctly rated at 13. Heavens, it could even be higher. The sad fact, as much as I like Bond, is that there are really only a handful of good Bond movies, with perhaps a couple more decent ones. The rest are crap.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Twiggy was known for being thin and androgynous. She is often described as "boyish." And her thinness actually became a point of controversy. LINK

As for Bond, it is a bit of a shock to think that fully half the series really just aren't very good movies. That doesn't speak well to the people behind the series. But it does tell us something about the power of the name.

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, 'guilty pleasure' is a near perfect way to describe this movie. If you stop and analyze it, nothing makes sense. It's all so ridiculous. BTW, how is that M has an office in every nook and cranny around the globe? -especially Egypt? It was no longer part of the empire, pretty far from the Iron Curtain, and nominally hostile to the West at the time. And since when would the Brits' organization that technically doesn't exist invite the enemy, General Gogol, to their secret branch office? Sheesh... Like YOLT, this thing just begs you you to shut off your brain.
Still, it is very fun if you can do that.

Also, I have to take grief with how the filmmakers used Curt Jurgens. It's not his age that hurt the role; he was just given the most stereotypical Bond villain possible and nothing more. That's just insulting and lazy. This guy starred as the antagonist in one of my favorite movies, 'The Enemy Below,' as a U-boat captain facing off against Robert Mitchum's destroyer escort commander. The battle of wits between the two is classic and shows how good Jurgens could be. Wasted opportunity...

And Anon basically mentioned something I've been thinking about, too. Most of the reviews- and the stuff we've agreed on- tend to show how imperfect most of the Bond films really are. It really is amazing how we tolerate so many lousy films for such an iconic character.

ScottDS said...

When I watched all the pre-Brosnan Bond films for the first time 6 or 7 years ago, I actually enjoyed this one very much, to the point where I considered it Moore's best Bond film. Barbara Bach... hot. Great FX for the time and Jaws was relatively inoffensive (this time).

I haven't seen it in its entirety in years so it's possible my opinion may have changed.

Rustbelt said...

And there's another thing I'd like to gripe about concerning this movie. This film really started the trend of empowering the Bond girls by dumbing down the series' title character. Think about it. Bond falls for Amasova's charms too easily. And then she has several lines and actions in the film where she happily makes Bond look stupid. Please tell me how that helps a Bond film.
This trend was toned down in the 80's, but was brought back full force during the Brosnan era- another reason I can't stand those films. In all situations, Bond is more interested in hooking up and is easily taken advantage of. Now, I accept that Bond's weakness has always and will always be women, but this is just stupid. In 'Dr. No,' the secretary lures Bond to her home, obviously trying to capture him. Instead, Bond arrives with backup, has her taken away, and prepares for the professor's arrival. This shows he can tell when he's being set up and can't be taken off the job by simple charm alone. Hm, from alpha male to dumbbell playboy in only 15 years. That's just sad.

BTW, on the issue of the 70's, as a child of the 80's and a teen of the 90's, I can happily report that I'll never have to apologize for the decade. (Though I do thank it for 'Star Wars' and the Steel Curtain. RIP L.C. Greenwood)
Now, if I can find an excuse for Billy....this may take a VERY long time.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, The funny thing is that until I wrote this, it never occurred to me that this was a guilty pleasure film. It's funny how writing about something can clarify your thoughts.

I agree about Jurgens. He was much, much better than the role they gave him. All he really does here is sit and push a couple buttons and then die. That's a waste of talent.

Agreed about M too. It's kind of silly actually that they would send M and Q all over the globe. Don't they have staff? Isn't that a HUGE security risk?

On Anon's point about us putting up with a lot of bad Bond films, it is interesting, isn't it, that so many Bond films really are this poorly done and yet the series continues with its reputation unharmed.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Most people do think of it as the best Moore film, though I don't and I think that in a head to head this one loses to a couple others... but in a "which is your favorite" generic question, this is the one most people will mention.

And don't get me wrong. This is a watchable film. It's just beyond silly.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, The 1970s were a fun time to grow up. Oddly, it didn't feel weird or silly or "dated" at the time. It felt like "the norm," and it was a good time to be a kid... probably a bad time to be looking for a job though.

Rustbelt said...

From my POV, it all sounds fun, Andrew, until you factor in that you couldn't watch what you wanted to watch when you wanted to. I once tried explaining to my younger brother (by 8 years) what life was like with no Internet and only VCR's and basic cable. Then my parents chimed with what it was like with only 3 networks and matinee theaters. He almost had an aneurysm.

"You know how many networks we had when I was a kid? Three! And if the president was on, your night was shot!"
-Jeff Foxworthy

BTW, I read somewhere that Roger Moore considers TSWLM to be his favorite outing as Bond. Maybe it shows. Possible factor in its guilty pleasure status?

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, Since we didn't know any better, I don't think anyone minded.

Individualist said...

I am an evil Bond Villian. I despise the capitalist system even though I am supposedly the secret owner of one of the largest corporations. Everything is unfair and the Marxists are no better. So I am going to get them to nuke each other and destroy the world so that I can come forth and create a perfect society run by the right people...Me! (Even though as a leader of a corporate empire I was theoretically already a major player in running the world but I guess I still had competition and can only run the world the right way when I am the only one in it who can)

Yeah ... someone did not think something through there.....

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