The Spy Who Loved Me

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While it’s often easy (and fairly fun) to take pot shots at Roger Moore’s tenure as Ian Flemming’s super spy, there is one absolute you frankly can’t deny…
The Spy Who Loved Me is fucking awesome.
Not just the best Bond in Moore’s era, but one of the best Bond’s period, the third film in the actor’s seven appearances as the character is extraordinarily savvy at picking out exactly what his strengths and weaknesses are and absolutely nails the final product. Describing this effort as Moore’s Goldfinger is absurdly apt as from now on every subsequent one of his movies (except For Your Eyes Only) would follow this template with wildly differing results. But as the ever lightening tone, camp humor and wildly fantastical plots threatened to derail future films, TSWLM’s balance is nigh on perfect for the kind of 007 adventure you simply couldn’t make today…
After British and Soviet nuclear submarines go missing in the middle of the ocean, both governments decide to pool their resources and team their top agent up to get to the bottom of this mystery. Proving that maybe they didn’t think this plan through they pair ridiculously attractive female agent Anya Asamova with notorious pork swordsman, James Bond. As the two head to Egypt in search of incriminating microfilm they are attacked by 7 foot, metal toothed, hitman Jaws (explain to me how a man with that description could manage to kill someone unseen… I’ll wait.) who is working for the sea obsessed shipping tycoon Karl Stromberg. Stromberg has hatched a plan to detonate the stolen nukes to create a new, watery world order who would live at the bottom of the sea and instead of pointing at him and laughing hysterically, Bond and Asamova decide to double down and stop him in an mission that will take them to his aquatic base in the middle of the sea. But can the two agents possibly work together when Anya discovers that Bond is responsible for the death of her lover during a previous mission?

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As perfect a statement of intent as there’s ever been in cinema, the rightfully celebrated pre-credits action sequence instantly clues you in to what you’re about to see. Literally moments after leaving a picturesque log cabin moments after having sex with a double agent (“James, in need you!” – “So does England!”), Bond finds himself being chased by enemy agents on skis and after holding them at bay with a mixture of outlandish gadgets, rear projected footage and some handy stunt doubling, he proceeds to ski right off a sheer cliff face into space. As we watch him fall for what seems like forever he suddenly pulls the cord on a hidden parachute to reveal a Union Jack emblazoned on the ‘chute as the Bond theme blasts in at full volume. Despite featuring the obvious faux par that a secret agent really shouldn’t be advertising his nationality prominently on his mode of escape, the whole sequence is audaciously ridiculous and yet spine-tingly cool – a brash, sexy cartoon that’s in on it’s own joke and before you’ve even had a chance to process what you’ve seen – BOOM – we’re into a credits sequence which features quite possibly one of the best Bond themes of all time in Nobody Does It Better.
Once Carly Simon has finished crooning on about (presumably) how good our hero is in the sack we plunge into most purely rollercoaster ride of the whole series with Bond relationship with pneumatic Russian spy Anya Asamova sparking off a (marinally) different chemistry than Bond usually does with his leading ladies. Although Barbara Bach’s action credentials may leave a lot to be desired (no amount of tranquilizer filled cigarettes can make up for her awful karate chops poses) and she does, inevitably, end up as another bed post notch, at least she’s a capable woman who is taken fairly seriously (more than fucking Britt Ekland was at any rate) although Bond still gives her shit for not being able to drive with a gear shift…
However, if the the film’s Bond girl game is strong, it’s henchman game is through the bloody roof with the introduction of indestructible, giant, Jaws. Featuring a set of bicuspids that can stop a bullet, he’s a perfect foil for Moore’s Bond (a silent, blunt instrument to Moore’s suave, smooth talker), his Wile E. Coyote-esque ability to dust himself off no matter what potentially fatal occurrence falls upon his titanium chompers proves to be hugely endearing and the characters popularity means he’s one of the only henchman to ever return for another go round with 007. In comparison, arch villain Stromberg (as played by Curd Jürgens) comes off a little one-note and his rather basic plan of forcing people to live under the sea is a wee bit bland (maybe he should’ve tried a musical number like Sebastian the Lobster from The Little Mermaid instead) and a more involved plan is somewhat missed.
Even Bond’s wisecracks are impressively on point with Sir Roger at the height at his eyebrow arching powers. “Keeping the British end up, sir!”, may be skewing dangerously close to Carry On humour but somehow Moore pulls it off (oo’er, missus!). Similarly, telling a villain he’s “shot his bolt” after an assassination attempt fails is not exactly what someone wants to hear just before they are fatally shot 3 times by a smug, British secret agent but again, Rog manages to make it work with a silky voice and a tongue wedged firmly in his cheek.
Also missed is John Barry, replaced by Marvin Hamlisch who, while turning in a perfectly acceptable score, insists on utilizing a wibbly, wobbly sound which ties into the whole water theme of the movie (by far the most H²O involved of all of Bond’s adventures since Thunderball).
But these are all minor niggles as this was by far the strongest this era of Bond had ever been. There’s even a brand new gadget car that may admittedly be ugly as sin (the Lotus Esprit had a chassis only a mother could love) but not even the iconic Aston Martin could turn into a fucking submarine. So, y’know… respect.
Sure, there’s a healthy amount of… shall we say, “recycling” going on. Bond gets into yet another scrap in a train car and Stromberg’s plan of swallowing up submarines with a bigger vessel stinks of him copying Blofeld’s space-set homework from You Only Live Twice, but when it’s done with this much gusto, you can’t really complain.

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In fact the only real negative aspect about The Spy Who Loved Me is that Bond movies wouldn’t get this good again for at least 10 more years (and even then that’s debatable) and after hitting it’s peak, there was nowhere for Moore’s Bond to go but down, but until then, for this shining moment, nobody did it better…
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

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