See, I don’t have an agenda against Roger Moore.
. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Roger Moore
SETUP: Two nuclear submarines, one British and one Russian, are stolen straight from the sea. Figuring that the subs must have been tracked, both governments take interest in a man selling a black market tracking system in Cairo. British agent James Bond and Russian agent Anya Amasova (Agent “Triple-X”) descend on Cairo with competing missions to retrieve the tracking system and find out who stole their subs.
BUT IN REALITY: The subs were stolen by shipping magnate and all-around psychopath Karl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens) using his gigantic sub-swallowing supertanker. He commandeers the subs to launch nukes at New York and Moscow, hoping to trigger a nuclear holocaust so that he can begin a new civilization under the sea. Bond and Anya steal aboard the tanker where Bond stages a mutiny with the rescued sailors. Bond tricks the subs into destroying each other, then raids Stromberg’s aquatic lair “Atlantis”, providing Stromberg with a brutal death at sea.
VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Stromberg is singularly obsessed with ocean life, perhaps feeling more at home in the sea than on land because of his webbed hands and feet. We never get a great look at his little mutie flippers, but they keep Stromberg from basic niceties, like shaking hands with Bond.
THE MUSCLE: Fittingly for a film set at sea, Stromberg employs steel-toothed henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel). Jaws is the real star of the show, played for genuine scares here and not saddled with the comedy beats he’d have to manage in Moonraker. Incidentally, Steven Spielberg’s little shark movie had arrived two years earlier, leaving some doubt that the character’s name was a coincidence.
BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) is every bit Bond’s equal and one of the all-time best Bond girls. For once, Bond’s love interest isn’t quivering in a corner waiting for the hero to rescue her. Triple-X takes an active role in the film’s action, and even shows Bond up once or twice. (Well, until she is captured, but shit happens.)
Better yet, there’s some legitimate tension built into their relationship. We see Bond kill Triple-X’s spy lover in the film’s opening sequence, causing Triple-X to swear revenge on his murderer. As we watch Amasova and Bond fight together and fall in love, we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop and for Triple-X to realize she’s flirting with her sworn enemy. When she finally does, Amasova promises to kill Bond as soon as the mission is over, making her the default femme fatale as well. Of course she changes her mind in the film’s final moments, but the tension gives her relationship with Bond a slight note of complexity and enhances the movie.
“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: Q supplies Bond with the Lotus Esprit, the submarine car that was a big hit with audiences at the time. Late in the movie, when Bond needs to rescue Anya from Stromberg’s lair, Q returns with a jet ski that fits in a gym bag.
MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: Yep, Triple-X is Bond’s equal in every way. Every way except that she can’t drive a stick. That’s right, Russia’s top agent is just another woman driver who can’t seem to get a truck into gear, even when threatened by an angry Jaws. Bond, wallowing in his masculinity, gives her unhelpful one-liners from the passenger seat until they finally escape.
BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: Watching a henchman plummet to his death, surrounded by feathers from a chicken truck collision – “All those feathers, and he still can’t fly.”
WORTH MENTIONING: The music that plays while Bond and Anya are stranded in the desert is the Lawrence of Arabia theme… Steven Spielberg was approached about directing this film, but he was in pre-production on Jaws and it was decided that he shouldn’t be hired until it was known whether he was any good… Jaws was originally scripted to die in the film’s climax, ironically eaten by a killer shark. The producers correctly guessed that Jaws might be an audience favorite, so they quickly rewrote the ending and allowed the henchman to survive.
OVERALL: I’ve said before that Roger Moore has one very specific note he can play. His style is a chemical, a particularly volatile one that can wreck a formula if you mix him with the wrong ingredients. But sometimes you can get the formula just right and it all comes together. The Spy Who Loved Me is exactly that rare mix, and it holds up as one of the best of the 1970s Bond movies.
Moore was in his third film as Bond and here he finally manages to shake the last of Sean Connery’s influence from the role and really make it his own, dragging the plot along for the ride. There’s not a scene in the film that seems fit for Connery’s Bond. There’s a dry wit at play in the borders of every scene, and every setup reeks of Moore’s personality, as if the actor simply conjured a fantasy world in which his Bond belonged. It’s Moore as The Singing Detective.
The most impressive thing about The Spy Who Loved Me is the balancing act that the script demands. It has to be quirky at times, even corny, while still holding on to its sustained menace. One scene on a train works particularly well. Bond and Triple-X banter and jab at each other with a sitcom-like rhythm, until Bond opens a closet and comes face to face with Jaws. His appearance cues a shrill train whistle and an intense, oddly silent battle begins. I’ve seen this film a number of times, and the scene never fails to get a reaction, but, sure enough, as soon as Jaws is sent out of the train window, a Bond one-liner resets the mood and releases the tension. Well played.
This isn’t my favorite Roger Moore Bond movie, but it’s close. Unfortunately, Stromberg is completely upstaged here by his hulking minion and there’s a a bit too much familiarity between the supertanker and the shuttle-stealing spacecraft from You Only Live Twice. Still, it’s a worthy addition to the top ten and a great place to kick off if you’re interested on seeing just why Roger Moore was a 70s icon. You could certainly do worse.
11. Dr. No
14. Live and Let Die
15. Licence to Kill
22. A View to a Kill