"Some day, around 2001 perhaps,
the NFT is going to run a retrospective of Bond films,"
wrote the Sunday Times' Alan Brien on 10 July .
"A new generation will stare aghast at these grandiose, megaloptic visions," he continued.
[...] Interestingly, his review completely fails to consider the idea that
the Bond series could still be running in 2001;
the entire piece is based on the notion that by that far distant date,
Bond would be a cultural curio. In its own way, Brien's review is
the single most objectively wrong review
of a Bond film ever written.
The NFT's Bond retrospective, by the way, was in 1999.
- Smith and Lavington, Bond Films
The Spy Who Loved Me
Film: 1977 (#10)
Book: 1962 (#10)
Submarines are vanishing mysteriously - one British, one Russian. Each nation sends its best agent to investigate, and the two play a certain amount of oneupmanship (or oneupwomanship) until a "new era in Anglo-Soviet relations" leads them to cooperate with one another. They trace the plot to Stromberg, a fairly lackluster Diabolical Mastermind who wants to provoke nuclear war to force mankind to live in the sea. Honest.
Book vs. Film
This is the first Bond film to take nothing from the book except the title. In this case, though, the filmmakers did not have a choice. Fleming sold them the rights with the explicit condition that they use no part of the book. (There is one small connection - one of the villains in the book has steel-capped teeth, which some believe to have inspired the Jaws character.)
The book is probably best described as an experiment which failed. It is written in the first person, and not from Bond's point of view, but from a female character, Vivienne Michael. (Bond is the "spy who loved me.") Bond encounters Michael by chance in the Adirondacks, where she is acting as caretaker for a motel for a few nights before the owner can come close it for the winter. Bond (who doesn't even enter the book until the final third) is on a follow-up mission in the US after Thunderball and has had a flat tire. Two thugs, hired by the owner to torch the motel for insurance, are attacking Michael as he arrives; he narrowly saves her from being raped. They come back to retaliate and burn the hotel, and there is a gun fight; one of the thugs dies escaping when their car drives into a lake; the other comes back a third time and Bond shoots him.
The narrator isn't badly written in terms of characterization, but the overall tone of the book is bizarre, like a Mickey Spillane take on a romance novel. It was abused by critics, didn't sell well, and initially Fleming planned that there would never be any reprints or paperback editions. (It is available in the recent reprint sets, though, if you're curious.) Fleming explained, in a letter to his editor, what he'd been attempting to do:
I had become increasingly surprised to find my thrillers, which were designed for an adult audience, being read in schools, and that young people were making a hero out of James Bond ... So it crossed my mind to write a cautionary tale about Bond, to put the record straight in the minds particularly of younger readers ... the experiment has obviously gone very much awry.
Certainly it's clear in the book that Fleming is trying to paint Bond as being nearly as much of a brute as the two thugs, but then he undermines himself with Michael's obvious attraction to him, including Fleming's most explicit sex scene. Sometimes I think Fleming had just as much trouble dealing with the dichotomy of Bond as everyone else does.
Not bad at all. The best-balanced of Moore's Bonds. Having fun, able to crack a joke, surviving a swamp of horrible 1970's fashion reasonably well, but also able to have a couple of brutal fights and drop a man off a roof in cold blood. This film gives him a genuine Naval background (Fleming never bothered) and we get to see him wear his uniform (quite well) for the second time. He speaks at least a moderate amount of Arabic, knows his way around Bedouin customs and Cairo, and knows the Minister of Defense well enough to call him "Freddie." (However, he's back on strictly formal terms of address in Moonraker, so who knows?) A man with style - but the beginnings of the ironic detachment that would all but kill Moore's Bond in later films.
Really only the one, and she's up in the top ranks. Major Amasova is a plausible candidate for a genderbent Bond, which is one of the film's great successes (she's a lot more convincing at it than Jinx, but well behind Wai Lin), but also becomes one of the film's weaknesses; it would have been better if they had gone all the way and really presented her as Bond's counterpart, and when they fail at it, it just underscores how well they were doing before they dropped the ball. She succumbs to sexist treatment - attacks of damsel-in-distress syndrome (especially in the latter stages of the film), and having Bond be condescending to her unnecessarily at several intervals - most notably the sequence when Jaws is attacking the van, where Bond has utterly no good reason for mocking her in a tense situation.
Barbara Bach (who was cast only days before principal photography, and was reportedly startled to be told she was given the major female part) is not the world's greatest actress, but her delivery is understated and pleasant, and she makes her competence believable.
The Man With The Golden Gun was not a flop (it made roughly $97 million on a $7 million investment), but it certainly felt like one. Its US attendance was the lowest of any Bond film before or since. It was time to rejigger.
The rethink does not, however, alone explain the delay between this film and the previous one. First, the matter of Saltzman had to be settled (as described at the previous film); that took until 1975. Second, there were script issues.
The facts are hard to sort out, especially at this late date, but apparently, any number of people were working on script treatments for this film and for Moonraker (remarks on why the latter at that film). British TV producer Gerry Adams had a Moonraker script which he noticed had some similarities to a Spy Who Loved Me treatment his friends were working on; he sued Broccoli, got cold feet, and settled out of court. Apparently his script had an oil tanker that fired missiles; Richard Maibaum had had a similar concept to the sub-swallowing supertanker in his original Diamonds Are Forever plot; Anthony Burgess had a sub silo in his attempt; and so on. My point is that it's very difficult to figure out where some of the concepts that eventually made it into the film originated.
Out of this stew of influences, Maibaum cooked up a script which had various real-world-inspired terrorist groups taking over SPECTRE headquarters, punting out Blofeld. "In the end, Bond comes in and asks, 'All right, you're going to blow up the world. What do you want?' They reply, 'We don't want anything. We just want to start over - the world is so lousy. We want to wipe it away and begin again.'" It's hard to say to what extent this reflected any real-world zeitgeist and to what extent it was just Maibaum getting jaded about Bond scripts, but Broccoli said this would not fly (and rightly so).
Meanwhile, as described on the previous page, director Guy Hamilton had been contracted, but dropped out to pursue Superman. Lewis Gilbert was therefore rehired, after a ten-year absence from the franchise. Gilbert suggested Christopher Wood to rework Maibaum's script. Wood softened Maibaum's idea, and kept the supertanker and Jaws. All looked well - until Kevin McClory woke up. In 1976 he had been working experimentally with Connery and writer Len Deighton on a Bond project, and he sought an injunction against The Spy Who Loved Me on the basis of the SPECTRE elements. Broccoli therefore sent the script back to Wood with the instructions to strip SPECTRE out of it entirely, and Stromberg became a lone nut. The writer credit officially went to both Maibaum and Wood.
The other old face brought back was Ken Adam, after six years. UA had nearly doubled down on the Golden Gun budget, a nice show of confidence, and with $13 million to play with, there was money to commission what would be dubbed "the 007 set" at Pinewood. This was the largest sound stage in the world by far at the time, and it could be flooded (there was some controversy about the million-plus gallons of water needed to do this, as the UK was having a severe drought at the time). Adam was left happily to build his supertanker-submarine-pen set there while the crew went on location.
John Glen also came back as editor (last seen working on OHMSS). The director of photography was Claude Renoir, grandson of the artist and nephew to director Jean. His most famous film credits that aren't work for his uncle are Cleopatra and Barbarella. He was losing his sight, and this was his last major film.
One regular name not present in this crew was John Barry. (Some say he was temporarily unable to enter the UK for tax reasons.) Marvin Hamlisch was brought in. Many commentators seem to feel that this was a mistake, and I agree that the score has considerably more of a showbiz feel to it. On the other hand ... I get a little tired of John Barry's dramatic chords, and this is a welcome break; I'm the kind of person who thinks that quoting "Lawrence of Arabia" in the desert sequence is actually funny; and I happen to believe that "Nobody Does It Better" (with lyrics by Carole Sager) is a pretty good song. On the whole, I think your tolerance for Hamlisch's work here corresponds roughly with your tolerance for humor in Bond films; this is a light-hearted score, which in a Bond film is a rarity. It's certainly not actively bad (for which see comments at For Your Eyes Only).
In a film with such a weak main villain (see below), it's not surprising that many people took a fancy to the visually striking henchman Jaws, who is also actually scary for the first third or so of the film. 7'2" Richard Kiel was not the first person cast for the part - Guy Hamilton had cast David Prowse, otherwise known as the body of Darth Vader. Lois Chiles was reportedly offered Major Amasova, but said she was "temporarily in retirement" (she was actually studying acting in New York, stung by criticism of her abilities). Geoffrey Keen (Sir Frederick Gray), Walter Gotell (General Gogol), and Eva Reuber-Staier (his assistant Rublevich) all appear here in roles they would reprise several times.
It's a little annoying that the best idea EON and crew could come up with for their revival of Bond's fortunes was a "greatest hits" package - ski scenes which are retreads of OHMSS (complete with Willy Bogner on camera), a train scene stolen from From Russia With Love, a deranged Ken Adam set which seems to recall the base in You Only Live Twice, and a villain who seems to have more than a touch of Dr. No about him (complete with a deformity of the hands, although you have to look hard to see it). It's more than a little disheartening that it apparently worked so well, that audiences were willing to fall for it.
That said, this is a good, enjoyable Bond film. It's only when you watch it several times that you realize its weaknesses. The primary weakness is that the main villain sucks. It's not that his scheme makes no sense (what do you expect from a character who has so clearly broken with reality?) It's that Curt Jürgens has absolutely no interest in the part, and, in fact, seems unclear on how he got into this film and what he's doing here. It's telling that all the more entertaining villains in the film are henchmen or go-betweens - Jaws, the duplicitous Naomi (who has the audacity to wink at Bond just before trying to gun him down from a helicopter), the unctuous Max Kalba, et cetera.
Caroline Munro as Naomi.
Munro lobbied hard for the part and reportedly passed up
the role of Ursa in Superman for it. Go figure.
She was dubbed by Barbara Jeffords.
The submarine pen sequence with the bomb, though, makes up for a multitude of sins. To my mind this is not just Ken Adam's best insane set (yes, even better than the volcano), but the best non-automotive stunt setpiece in any of the films (with the possible exception of the parkour at the beginning of the second Casino Royale, which is excellent but also not especially Bond-like). Incidentally, you'll note Bond has apparently learned a thing or two about nuclear explosives since Goldfinger.
The first portion of the film, as well, is very good, proving it's hard to go wrong with the basic "kill everyone who touched this MacGuffin" plot line (this is also one of the better parts of Diamonds Are Forever). Actually, most of the rest of the film holds together too. It's only the sequences with Stromberg that drag - especially everything after the submarine pen, which is an anticlimax.
This is the first Bond film where a problem which first surfaced back in the Connery era really becomes untenable: the increasingly extreme measures the scriptwriters have to take to justify the involvement of a British agent in a nuclear era where Britain is, frankly, simply not a player. Stromberg wants to start nuclear war between the US and Russia. So why bother kidnapping a British sub? And even if he wants to kidnap it, why steal it before securing the American one? Answer: To have a reason to enmesh Bond in what, realistically, would not be an operation involving Britain at all.
The scriptwriters first paid lip service to this issue back in You Only Live Twice, walking around it neatly by having Britain act as a neutral third party in investigating the missing spacecraft. In Diamonds Are Forever, it's not necessary to finesse it, as Bond essentially (and implausibly) stumbles onto Blofeld's scheme - his "pitiful little island hasn't even been threatened." But in this film, due to the playing-up of the "equal but opposite" relationship between Bond and Amasova, the audience is reminded at every turn that this really should have been a movie about a Russian agent and an American one.
Note that the film acknowledges the Cold War relationship has long since changed. Gogol is not exactly an ally, but he is far from an enemy, and here he is shown in active cooperation against a villanous third party. But this also underscores the fundamental problem: What is the post-Cold-War role of Britain in the world, and how does it affect what Bond classically is and does? The scripts did not adequately resolve this until Goldeneye, which is where we will discuss it further.
Stromberg, as mentioned above, has webbed fingers. It's obvious in several scenes but is not alluded to in the dialogue. Since they went to the trouble of altering his hands, they clearly meant it for a reason ... but besides his not wanting to shake hands, it's not clear what that reason is.
Major Amasova's doomed lover Sergei looks very Bond-ish, doesn't he?
That's because he's Michael Billington, who had been essentially cast to play Bond until Roger Moore suddenly became available, back at Live and Let Die. Now you can finally get to see what he looked like.
Speaking of people who you can finally see, after barely-there parts in three earlier Bond films, we now get a good look at Shane Rimmer, as the captain of the American sub.
In other minor casting notes, George Baker, who plays Captain Benson in the briefing scene, was of course Sir Hilary Bray in OHMSS. Robert Brown, who plays Admiral Hargreaves, will inherit a rather important role eventually. And Milton Reid, who plays henchman Sandor (the one who gets dropped off a roof), played a very similar heavy who worked for Dr. No.
The underwater Lotus sequences were filmed in the Bahamas and were supervised by Broccoli's stepson, Michael G. Wilson, who at the time was a practicing lawyer, but was becoming increasingly involved in EON's activities in various ways.
Incidentally, while there were certainly several actual Lotuses used for the land driving, the car you see entering/exiting the water is a shell, a fiberglass body only, either being towed or shot by an air cannon. There was a full-platform model built for some of the underwater shots - the so-called "Wet Nellie" - and it does have its own propulsion, the fins, etc ... but it wasn't pressurized; it was full of water and the people driving it were wearing diving gear. Lotus went to great lengths to attract EON's attention so their cars would be used in this film, and it resulted in the temporary upsurge in sales they hoped for, although the brand is all-but-forgotten in the US today. (Their cars are priced for the racing circuits and for insane people with too much money. Speaking of which, Wet Nellie is now owned by batshit billionaire Elon Musk, whom I'm told wants to put a Tesla engine in it.)
One more word about the underwater Lotus scenes: As I've said before, underwater sequences just don't work, not even in an otherwise good film. And why is Amasova so startled at the car going into the water if she stole the plans two years ago?
As modern audiences will deduce, the jet-ski used by Bond was then very much a novelty. Unclear how much this film acted as a spur to their becoming the ubiquitous annoyances they are today.
When a supply of more palatable food brought to the Egypt shooting was found to be ruined due to refrigeration failure, Broccoli went into Cairo to get ingredients and cooked up spaghetti for everyone. At Broccoli's funeral, Lewis Gilbert referred to this as his finest hour.
The Lawrence of Arabia theme is actually one of two auditory David Lean jokes. Major Amasova's signal/music box plays "Lara's Theme" from Doctor Zhivago. As one of my sources notes, this is ironic; that film was banned in the USSR at the time.
The closing credits say that "Bond will return" in For Your Eyes Only. For why Moonraker became the next film instead, keep reading.
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