Friday, June 12, 2015

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) | Villains

Karl Stromberg has all the makings of what should be my favorite Bond villain. He's what I'd want to be if I was a bad guy; from his cool, webbed fingers to his giant, submersible headquarters. The HQ is even called Atlantis and is appropriately located in the Mediterranean.

It's too bad then that Curt Jurgens plays him so lethargically. On the one hand, it makes him seem very powerful that he doesn't have to do much for himself. But on the other, it's dull to watch. It's not only that he's physically inactive; it's that he just looks so bored.

His plan isn't original either. He's basically copying SPECTRE's scheme from You Only Live Twice, but stealing submarines instead of space capsules. (That's even sadder when you know that the Spy villain was actually going to be SPECTRE through most of the writing process until Kevin McClory reminded everyone that he had the rights to that organization.) What saves Stromberg's plot from being totally derivative is his motivation. Instead of using the threat of nuclear war to make money, Stromberg means to just go ahead and blow the place up so he can start the human race over in an underwater civilization. There's a great moment when this confuses Bond, who thinks he's dealing with another Blofeld. It's a great twist; it's just too bad it gets repeated in the very next movie. But let me not get ahead of myself.

Stromberg's also pretty smart. He does leave a dead woman's arm in the shark tank where any visitor can see it, so that's kind of lazy and dumb. But that's not a fatal mistake. Bond's already onto him by then. The only way anyone catches on to Stromberg's plans is because he's betrayed from within his organization. Once that happens, Stromberg's pretty powerless to stop it even though he sends his assassins out to try to clean things up.

I even like how Stromberg captures the US sub with Bond on it even though he doesn't need it to complete his plan. Stromberg has no idea that Bond's on there, but it's obvious that the sub is tracking Stromberg, so it's smart to try to neutralize it before it can do anything to stop him.

Jaws is iconic, but he doesn't do anything for me. He's strong and ridiculously tough, but he's also slow. That would be a fine weakness for Bond to exploit, except that the movie likes to pretend that Jaws is fast enough to go head to head with Bond. I'd much rather see Jaws as a smarter villain who has to accommodate for his lack of speed by tricking Bond into getting within reach. That said, there are some great, effective moments with him, like when he's tearing apart the van and when he's fighting Bond in a confined railroad cabin.

It's interesting to me that Jaws and Sandor are a team and that Jaws is in charge. Jaws is never portrayed as very bright, but that doesn't mean he's dumb and I like that his leadership role implies that there's more going on there than we're seeing.

Of course, it could just mean that Sandor is even dumber, which is kind of born out when he meets Bond. He shoots once, kills Felicca, then runs as soon as Bond draws a gun. Even though Sandor has great cover and plenty of bullets left, he takes off and leads Bond to the roof for a hand to hand fight. Even if Sandor is really confident of his hand to hand ability, why give up the easy kill in the bedroom?

Naomi introduces herself as Stromberg's assistant, but she's also a helicopter pilot and assassin. I wish she had a bigger role in the movie, but it might be because she's so sparingly used that she's cool and mysterious.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
4. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
6. Doctor No (Dr. No)
7. Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me)
8. Emilio Largo (Thunderball)
9. Rosa Klebb (From Russia With Love)
10. Kronsteen (From Russia With Love)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
6. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
7. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me)
8. Irma Bunt (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
9. Miss Taro (Dr. No)
10. Tee Hee (Live and Let Die)


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I'm surprised Dtomberg cracked the top ten because I saw this movie about a year ago and can't even remember his webbed fingers.

I keep thinking of Hugo Drax as this movies villain. Probably because their plot is the same but Drax has a shorter more memorable name and a goatee to stick in your memory. Honesty it's no wonder Jaws was the break out baddie of this film.

Michael May said...

Stromberg only cracks the Top Ten because of his webbed fingers and cool headquarters. Those are the coolest things ever. Without those, he'd fall way down the list. But on the other hand, if he'd actually been played in an interesting way, he'd be even higher; probably number one.

Drax is memorable to me partly because he's actually a Fleming character, but mostly because of how dumb and horrible he is. He may be my LEAST favorite Bond villain of all time. I can understand getting him and Stromberg confused, because they have the exact same motives, but as boring as Stromberg is, I like him WAY more.


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