Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) | Story

Plot Summary

British and Soviet submarines with nuclear missiles go missing, so Bond teams up with Soviet agent XXX (sigh) to discover who has the technology to track and capture the subs. Will the rival agents find love? Or will a tragic link in their past bring out a need for vengeance?


I always hear that The Man with the Golden Gun was a flop, but it made money. In fact, it made more money than On Her Majesty's Secret Service (which wasn't a flop either) or either of the first two Connery films. What it didn't do was meet expectations.

That was bad timing for Harry Saltzman who was in financial trouble thanks to some bad investments outside of Bond. He was also irritating everyone on the Bond team, but it was mostly the money that made him sell his stake in the series to United Artists. This left Cubby Broccoli as the sole producer, but with UA having a bigger say in the creative side. Pressure was on for the next movie to be a huge hit.

In Saltzman's absence, Broccoli's stepson Michael Wilson came in to help with some of the production duties. They settled on The Spy Who Loved Me as the next book to adapt and Broccoli himself came up with the idea of flipping the title so that Bond is the "Me" and the "Spy" is a Soviet agent. Beyond that though, the story took forever to bring together and involved a dozen or so writers pitching ideas and reworking each other's drafts.

Securing a director was also a problem. They originally went with Guy Hamilton, who'd directed the previous three films, but he pulled out to work on something else. While Hamilton was attached, traditional Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum was working on what everyone hoped was the final draft of the script. But when Hamilton was replaced by Lewis Gilbert (who'd directed You Only Live Twice), Gilbert brought in his own guy, Christopher Wood, to do one last pass.

With so many cooks in the kitchen, it wouldn't have been surprising had The Spy Who Loved Me been a hot mess. Shockingly, it not only holds together extremely well, it hit 1977 screens with guns blazing and completely revitalized the Bond series as popular entertainment. It's easily my favorite of the Moore films that embrace his style (as opposed to For Your Eyes Only, which is my most favorite of his movies, but precisely because it's the least Moore-like).

The villain's scheme is right out of You Only Live Twice and I used to call Spy a remake of that movie, but that's not really fair. There's a significant change in motive and the rest of the plot is totally different.

The biggest external influence on the movie was Jaws. In fact, Broccoli apparently approached Steven Spielberg about directing Spy, but wouldn't agree to all the creative control that Spielberg wanted. Instead of having the actual guy, Spy settles for the ocean theme and a henchman named after the shark movie. There's even a Jaws vs Jaws scene when the assassin falls into a shark tank.

In accordance with tradition, Spy also includes some new technology from the time period. Jet skis had been around for a few years, but the smaller WetBike brand makes its debut in Spy. It wouldn't go on the market until the following year; Bond is riding the actual prototype in the film.

How Is the Book Different?

The Spy Who Loved Me is famous for discarding almost the entire novel that it's based on, but it does pay homage to Fleming's story with Stromberg's assassins, Jaws and Sandor. The novel features two thugs named Horror and Sluggsy. Horror is a tall guy with steel-capped teeth (though not weaponized like Jaws) and Sluggsy is a short, bald guy.

Other than that though, we're in entirely new territory.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

Roger Moore's Bond isn't known for being ruthless, but that quality does show up from time to time. Like when he gets the information he needs from Sandor, then lets the guy fall to his death. It's not entirely cold-blooded, but it's close.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

Jaws' teeth may have been inspired by a Fleming character, but the rest of him is a cartoon. His method of killing is unnecessarily weird and he's invulnerable to the point of ridiculousness. Fleming had some strange villains, but Jaws is over the top.

Cold Open

Like the previous Moore teasers, Spy's is not only connected to the story, it sets it up. We see a British sub go missing in a nicely tense, mysterious way, then hear that a Soviet sub has also disappeared. The Soviets assign XXX to the case and there's a nice fake out when it looks like XXX is a man, but then turns out to be the woman he's in bed with. (The man, by the way, is played by Michael Billington, who was Broccoli's top choice to play Bond had Roger Moore not been available for Live and Let Die. In fact, Billington tested for Bond three more times after Spy when Moore's contract went movie-by-movie and his returning wasn't always a sure thing. Looking at Billington in Spy, it's easy to imagine him as Bond, though we don't get any sense of his personality.)

Meanwhile, M assigns the submarine case to Bond who is already on assignment in the Swiss Alps. Bond extricates himself, but not before a team of Soviet agents show up, led by XXX's boyfriend. An awesome ski chase ensues, beating out the one in On Her Majesty's Secret Service for thrills. There are gadgets, there are stunts, and of course there's the Disco Bond Theme (a source of controversy among Bond music fans, but it gets zero complaints from me). All of this culminates in arguably the best stunt from any Bond movie: skiing off a cliff and escaping via Union Jack parachute. In the process, Bond kills XXX's boyfriend, setting up a conflict for later in the movie.

Easily the best cold open so far and it raised the bar for future teasers to an almost impossible level.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. The Spy Who Loved Me
2. Thunderball
3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
4. Goldfinger
5. The Man with the Golden Gun
6. From Russia With Love
7. Diamonds Are Forever
8. You Only Live Twice
9. Live and Let Die
10. TBD

Movie Series Continuity

The Spy Who Loved Me really ushers in the Moore era in a proper way. Not only does it give us the first huge teaser sequence, it also introduces both General Gogol and the British Minister of Defense who will become recurring characters in the next several films. Though M makes the initial call to activate Bond, it's the MoD who actually briefs him. Not the last time that'll happen either.

M doesn't disappear though. He continues to pop up, even in the field, which is still a habit of his. He, Q, and Moneypenny all hang out in the Cairo office for major chunks of the movie. Q is also present at the field briefing, offering technical consult on how the missing subs were possibly tracked.

[UPDATE: After watching The Spy Who Loved Me again, I realized that Robert Brown plays Admiral Hargreaves, so in my head canon it's Hargreaves who replaces Miles Messervy after he dies.]

Bond's time at Cambridge is mentioned again. In You Only Live Twice he mentioned that he studied Oriental langagues there and in Spy we meet one of his former classmates, a sheik named Hosein.

Bond is a know-it-all about a couple of things in this one, but has some holes poked in his omniscience. His knowledge of Carl Stromberg's activities (which gets an appreciative comment from the usually annoyed M) is proven incomplete by XXX. And Bond knows enough about fish to pose as a marine biologist in front of Stromberg, but isn't totally confident pulling up that information.

The jokey tone of the movie gives us a couple of gags that will recur in future films. When Bond drives the Lotus out of the water and onto the beach, he scares the crap out of a dog and gets a drunk to think twice about the bottle he's been consuming. The drunk shows up in the next couple of films and the dog sets a precedent for an even more ridiculous animal reaction in Moonraker.

Finally, when XXX is reciting Bond's dossier back to him, she gets to his marriage and his wife's death before he interrupts her, clearly hurt by the memory. It's one of a couple of great, dramatic moments in the movie. It also makes it obvious that Moore is playing the same character that George Lazenby did, who was playing the same character that Connery did. The James Bond Is a Code Name Theory doesn't hold up.

1 comment:

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I hear you about the double entendre names. I'm convinced they have a writers room of a dozen 13 year old boys who come up with this stuff.

Spy is probably my only favorite of the Moore era (I know you love Eyes Only more but it's a bit too slow for my taste)

It nicely blends the cartoony nature of the series with some subtle serious moments. I might be upset that they just rehashed You Only Live Twice if not for the fact that both films have a good song and great production design by Ken Adams.

The biggest trade up is Connery being the sleepwalker in Twice while in Spy its Barbara Bach who is giving a flat performance. Thankfully her character is written to be far more competent than a lot of other "she'll be Bond's equal" women that we'll see later.

For me the cinematography is what kicks it up a notch. These shots of Egypt are some of the best location shots I can remember this side of Skyfall.

Ultimately this is a film a call Condensed Bond as has all the best bits of the series in a bright colorful package.


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