007 Mission Files: ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’
The Spy Who Loved Me was a very pivotal film in the James Bond franchise. Three years had passed since The Man with the Golden Gun debuted, which, after ten movies, was the longest period of time between films. Underwhelming returns on The Man with the Golden Gun, production issues, and the loss of a major component in the series all aided in delaying the film.
The biggest reason for this disruption was the loss of a producer. Since the beginning of the franchise there had been two driving forces behind the series, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Saltzman had a history of making questionable decisions and pushing the budget. None more famous than during the production of The Man with the Golden Gun when he thought it would be a good idea to add an elephant stampede to the movie. He was so excited that he ordered special shoes the elephants would need to stampede through town. However, he never told anyone of this plan and it was never added to the script. One day 1000 elephant shoes just showed up on set for a very confused director. However, what ultimately lead to Saltzman’s departure was mounting debt. His wife’s medical bills forced him to make some unwise investments, and to recuperate the money he had to sell his stake in James Bond.
With Saltzman gone, it was now up to Broccoli. This movie would cement his legacy. It would either go down as the greatest Bond movie and rejuvenate the franchise or be a complete dud and ruin everything.
The first difficulty was in simply hiring a director. They first approached Steven Spielberg, but then decided they wanted to see how Jaws performed before offering him a Bond movie. Of course, after the success of Jaws he was too sought after for them to be able to land. Next, they turned to veteran Bond director Guy Hamilton, who had already directed four of the ten movies. He eventually left the project to direct Superman, which was ultimately done by Richard Donner. Finally they were able to bring back You Only Live Twice director Lewis Gilbert. It is Gilbert who felt they weren’t using Moore to the best of his abilities. He felt they were making him too much like Connery, and he was too brutish and forceful of a character. He saw the smooth, funny, sophisticated side of Bond that Moore was bringing out and decided to focus on that instead. Thus the creation of the Roger Moore version of Bond that we’re all familiar with.
The next issue was with the script. Ian Flemming had only sold Broccoli and Saltzman the rights to the name of the novel The Spy Who Loved Me, so they had to come up with a completely new idea. Originally they planned on having SPECTRE and their leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld return, but Kevin McClory got an injunction to stop that production since he owned the rights to the characters from his work on Thunderball. Every writer in Hollywood got a crack at writing The Spy Who Loved Me; even John Landis took a pass. Once they had a script they were happy with, they could move into production.
The movie was released in 1977 with a $14 million budget. You read that correctly. The budget for The Spy Who Loved Me doubled that of The Man with the Golden Gun. Like I said, Broccoli was putting everything into this movie. He spared no expense.
The movie opens with Bond at the end of a mission. He’s having private time with a nice young woman when he gets a message from M to return at once. He leaves the cabin and begins skiing down the mountain, but the woman he was with is an agent for the Soviet Union! She alerts some nearby attackers, but Bond is able to get away after killing one of them. He leaps off the side of a cliff and parachutes to safety, right into the open hands of a girl in the title sequence.
After the title sequence the story turns to Moscow, where General Gogol is briefing Anya Amasova (Agent XXX) on a nuclear submarine that has gone missing. He sends her to Cairo to investigate and tells her that her fellow agent (and lover) Sergei was killed by a British agent in the Austrian Alps.
Bond arrives at a British navel base to find a waiting Q with several other British officials. They inform Bond that the British have also lost a submarine, but due to a recent mission Bond believes the Russians have developed a way to track submarines. With M inconspicuously absent, the Minister of Defense directs Bond to go to Cairo to investigate.
We next see the true mastermind behind the missing submarines Karl Stromberg. He quickly dispenses of the two creators of the technology that allow him to track the submarines and his assistant, worried that someone close to him had betrayed him. We see his headquarters is in a large spider-like building that can rise from and lower into the ocean. He then orders his two henchmen Sandor and Jaws to find the microfilm and kill anyone who’s seen it.
In Egypt, Bond meets up with an old friend who directs him to Fekkesh. After a fight with Sandor at Fekkesh’s home, Bond is able to find him at the pyramids. He finds Fekkesh talking with Amasova and follows him when he gets up to leave. Unfortunately, Jaws finds him first and Bond arrives just in time to see Jaws kill him. Bond finds the note of an appointment on Fekkesh and goes to the Mujava Club in his place.
At the Mujava Club, Bond again runs into Amasova. They exchange dossiers to show that they are each very well aware of the other’s reputation. They both go to meet the owner of the club Kalba, and a bidding war ensues for the submarine tracking device. Kalba leaves to take a phone call. After realizing he’d been gone for a long time, they go looking for Kalba and find he too has been killed by Jaws.
They hide in Jaws’s van until he stops at a ruins. After a fight sequence with Jaws, they are able to recover the microfilm and escape. On a boat to Cairo, Bond is able to get a look at the microfilm before Amasova drugs him. The next morning, Bond goes to a secret MI-6 base in Cairo in some nearby ruins. There he discovers Gogol and Amasova. The Russians and British have decided to work together to fight a common enemy.
While reviewing the microfilm more closely they are able to find the logo for the Stromberg Shipping Company. Amasova and Bond head by train to Sardinia. On the train they are again accosted by Jaws, but Bond is able to electrocute him and throw him out the window. Upon arriving in Sardinia they find Q waiting for them with a new car. Apparently he was able to fly with the equipment, but the agents had to take the train. Hopefully Stromberg’s plot doesn’t advance too much while they’re on their trip.
The agents are able to get a meeting with Stromberg. He tells them he dreams of a time when all humanity will live underwater but eventually ushers them out and sends Jaws after them. As they’re leaving Stromberg’s office they get into a car chase which ends with the agents driving into the water, but it’s okay; this car is also a submarine!
They return to their hotel and Amasova confronts Bond about killing her boyfriend on a previous mission. Bond gives a nice speech about how all agents know the risk and Amasova tells him that when the mission is over she will kill him.
The next day, Amasova and Bond are able to board a US submarine, which is fortunately captured while they’re on it. Now they can figure out where the submarines are going! It turns out that Stromberg has a huge cargo ship that he has hollowed out. He put large doors on the front of it and he is able to swallow up ships as he passes them.
Upon unloading the US submarine he recognizes Bond and Amasova and orders them up to him. He tells him his plan is to launch nuclear missiles at New York and Moscow from the sea. Each country will think the other attacked first and World War III will erupt, leaving him to start an underwater colony.
Stromberg takes Amasova to his base and leaves Bond with the crew of the three submarines. They are able to escape, and a huge battle erupts. Unfortunately, the nuclear missiles have already been fired. Bond is able to reprogram the coordinates of the missiles just in time so the submarines destroy each other instead of their original targets.
They get in the US submarine that remains and destroy the cargo ship while on their way to Stromberg’s fortress. Once they arrive, Bond convinces the Americans to give him time to rescue Amasova before destroying the base.
Bond takes a jet ski to the fortress and quickly finds Stromberg waiting for him. He shoots an explosive harpoon at Bond, but Bond is able to get out of the way. This leaves Stromberg defenseless, and Bond shoots him. He then turns his attention to finding Amasova but finds Jaws first. Bond is able to lure Jaws under an industrial-strength magnet and drop him into a shark tank. Eventually he finds Amasova and they are able to escape before the Americans destroy the base.
Every time I watch this movie I have the same set of thoughts. I start off thinking, “This is pretty good. Why don’t I watch this more?” Then about halfway through I realize why it’s good. It’s a “Best of Bond” movie! As I said at the beginning, Broccoli needed this movie to be a massive success. To ensure that would happen, he revisited old Bond movies. The plot is almost a page for page copy of You Only Live Twice. Instead of space ships it’s submarines. Even the way the larger craft captures the smaller crafts and the giant base at the end and the villain that wants to start World War III by turning the world’s super powers against each other. It even had the same director and set designer!
I mentioned in the last two entries that during Roger Moore’s tenure the producers were leaning heavily on whatever B-movie fad was big at the moment. In this case, they decided to go meta and just recycle their own material. The train sequence was almost straight out of From Russia with Love. I guess, if anything, it was sort of an action-buddy cop comedy. The Russian female agent and the male British agent have to work together. Just like Riggs and Murtaugh, but different.
There is also a long sequence in Cairo that draws heavily from Lawrence of Arabia, even though that movie was 15 years old at the time. They even use some of the same music.
The theme song is generally considered one of the greats. I am not a big fan, but I have to admit it’s catchy as hell. I often find myself whistling it. It was performed by Carly Simon and written by Marvin Hamlish, who also did the score for the film. This was the first time John Barry didn’t provide the music, but he was unavailable. Hamlish’s score is very disco-influenced, but I guess that was big at the time as both the theme song “Nobody Does it Better” and the score were nominated for Oscars. In fact, Hamlish is one of only twelve people to win an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). He also won a Pulitzer Prize and two Golden Globes. He is the only person to win all six of these awards (Richard Rodgers is the only person to win five of the six, as he never won a Golden Globe).
Cars: The primary vehicle in this movie is the Lotus Espirit S1 Turbo. It’s outfitted with the normal amenities, but it’s also a submarine, which proves helpful. The story behind this car was that the CEO of Lotus found out the producers were looking for the next new Bond car, so they parked one right outside of their offices. This car has come up again in the news in the last few years as Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and founder of SpaceX and PayPal, wants to develop a working submersible car.
The Arctic Enterprises Wetbike Hydrofoil Water Motorcycle was a big hit. This was an early attempt at a jet ski, and after Bond rode one they became the next big thing in aquatic sports.
There are also numerous submarines, trains, a cargo ship, and a mini-escape sub that Bond rides as well.
Allies: Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell both return as M (also referred to as Miles) and Moneypenny for the tenth time, continuing to be the only two actors to appear in every film back to Dr. No.
Desmond Llewelyn also returns as Q for the eighth time. This time, his role is even larger than that of M or Moneypenny. He has multiple scenes in the field and is even referred to by his real name, Major Geoffrey Boothroyd, for one of only three times including Dr. No and From Russia with Love.
This is the first appearance of Sir Frederick Gray, the British Minister of Defence played by Geoffrey Keen. He is essentially M’s boss and will become a recurring character appearing in every film through The Living Daylights.
This is also the first appearance of Robert Brown in the 007 universe. He will soon replace Bernard Lee as M, but in The Spy Who Loved Me he plays Admiral Hargreaves. I like to imagine that he just gets a promotion.
One of Bond’s major allies during the climactic battle is Captain Carter, the captain of the US submarine. He’s played by Shane Rimmer who had previously been in You Only Live Twice, Diamonds are Forever, and Live and Let Die. This was his last Bond appearance to date, but he has had a decent career as a character actor in everything from Dr. Strangelove to Star Wars and Ghandi to Batman Begins. Much like his Bond appearances, he also shows up in the first three Superman movies as different characters each time.
Bond Girls: Agent XXX or Anya Amasova is the primary Bond girl in this feature. She’s really hard to watch. She’s beautiful and exotic, but she’s supposed to be Russian and her accent comes off more as French. She seems really nice in interviews and has been married to Ringo Starr since 1981. But in this movie she’s like a mannequin with worse delivery. She could technically be listed as an ally, but she didn’t do much to help Bond. Most of her actions actually slowed him down.
Stromberg’s assistant Naomi was also a recognizable face for horror fans. She appeared in many Hammer horror films, along with Bond veteran Christopher Lee and my personal favorite Vincent Price. She also appeared in the 1967 version of Casino Royale.
Let’s not forget the Bond girl in the opening scene who tips off the Russians that Bond is on his way. She’s credited as Log Cabin Girl. There was also Hotel Receptionist played by Valerie Leon who also appeared in a few Hammer horror films, as well as returning to the world of Bond in the unofficial Never Say Never Again.
Gadgets: The submarine car and the jet ski were really the big ones that everyone was talking about after the movie. We don’t need to go into those again, but Bond also used a watch that had a ticker tape in it so he could receive messages from M. And one of his ski poles doubled as a rifle.
Villains: Though he is the last to be remembered, Karl Stomberg is the primary villain. He is trying to destroy the world so he can rebuild society underwater. He’s played by Curt Jurgens, and he’s modeled so closely after Blofeld that for most of my youth I thought he actually was Blofeld. Curt’s portrayal isn’t very menacing. Next to his hulking henchmen he always seemed like someone’s grandpa to me. I’m surprised he didn’t offer Bond a Werther’s Original when he showed up.
Stromberg has a two-headed monster for his henchmen. Very Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men. Sandor is a short but very muscular man (the actor auditioned for the role of Oddjob in Goldfinger), though he is also quite smart compared to his counterpart Jaws. Sandor has the distinction of being one of the few villains that Bond kills for no reason. As soon as he’s out of the picture, Jaws is off his leash with only the instruction to kill. He’s a menacing figure, played very well by Richard Kiel of Happy Gilmore fame, especially considering he doesn’t speak a word. His presence is felt in his stature and the large metal jaw he uses to kill his victims. Jaws was such a popular character that he would return in Moonraker.
This isn’t a terrible Bond film. In fact, it’s fairly good. However, when you’re watching through them all in order it feels very stale. I will say that Roger Moore does some of his best acting in the series in this film. Once, when talking about his dead wife Tracy and again, when discussing the hazards of being a spy with Amasova.