Monday 6 May 2013

The Spy Who Loved Me

That Winking Feeling

The Spy Who Loved Me
1977 UK
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C

Okay, so here’s the deal with this movie.

I loved The Spy Who Loved Me as a kid but, as I look at it nowadays, I think it’s where the rot really did set in for the Roger Moore Bond films. I don’t think it’s particularly his fault but the character of Bond was definitely softened down in this movie and although I can see the reasoning behind it... it really takes the Bond films way too far into another realm for me. But there are still some really enjoyable things in this one so... let’s have a look at it.

The Spy Who Loved Me is a Bond movie with a number of “firsts” for the series. For example, it was the first of the EON Bond movies to be produced solo by Cubby Broccoli after his business partner on the previous nine movies, Harry Saltzman, had to bow out due to some extreme financial difficulties. It was also the first Bond movie to be recorded and presented in stereo sound and it also, while I’m talking technical details, marked a return to a full 2.35:1 aspect ratio in the Bond films (the previous two movies had been released in 1.85:1).

The first film, as well, to feature three new regular characters who would appear in the films a number of times later. The first of these is the character of General Gogol, played by Walter Gotell (who had played a villanous SPECTRE agent in From Russia With Love), a character who stays with the Bond series up to and including Timothy Dalton’s first stab at the role in The Living Daylights.

The second character is only glimpsed for a few shots, doing a drink inspired double take when observing Bond’s exploits, and whom I can only refer to as... “dodgy, drinking tourist”. He appears for the first time in a Bond film here observing Bond’s submarine car (which I’ll talk about in a bit) as it emerges from the water. He would also be seen in the next couple of Bond movies too... playing the same character and doing pretty much the same thing for a couple of shots.

The third new “regular” is, of course, Richard Kiel as the steel toothed comedy assassin Jaws, who is always popular with fans of this and the next Bond movie.

It’s also the first appearance (to my knowledge) of Robert Brown in the franchise, playing a completely different character to the one he would go on to play later in the series... replacing Bernard Lee as “M” after Lee’s last appearance in the sequence in the next film, Moonraker. Another noteworthy acting appearance would be the reappearance of George Baker in the series, although not playing the same role as he played in his previous appearance in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. 

Asides from the lovely Barbara Bach as the leading Bond lady, there are also a couple of appearances by famous Hammer Horror girls in this movie, namely the gorgeous Valerie Leon and... oh yeah, I’ll get to the other one a little later. She’s really special.

This film, in all fairness, is a bit of a dumb movie in comparison to some of the previous films in the series. The “detective” work done by Bond and the British and Russian secret service is not exactly spectacular, brain teasing stuff as it just relies on the main villain’s people making mistakes and pointing out that they are the bad guys... to all intents and purposes. Also, there’s a certainly jumpiness to the editing in relation to seguing from one scene to the next and, although I thought this may have been due to missing footage when I recently looked at this film again for this review, I realised that the other time I had picked up on something similar was in my review of You Only Live Twice... which I now remember is by the same director. So I think I’m just picking up on a stylistic signature which I don’t quite like, rather than anything particularly bad (so I’m kinda pleased about that).

Maybe the problems I have with the story comes from the fact that this movie did not have any of the elements from the original novel in it. Ian Fleming had insisted that the story in the novel would not be made in to a film and he really didn’t think much of this novel. It wasn’t even published until after his death, as he had not wanted it released during is lifetime... which it wasn’t. This is a shame, in my opinion as, from what I can remember of it when I read it, it’s definitely one of the best novels in the series... maybe even the best. It’s also the most unusual, told through the eyes of the lead female character and including James Bond in only a few chapters. Definitely worth a read.

This film itself is, perhaps, remembered so well today because it has two of the greatest 007 gadgets in Bond history since the introduction of the Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger.

The first of these gadgets is, of course, the white Lotus Esprit which turns into a submarine at the flick of a switch. It’s a marvellous and sleek looking vehicle and every boy my age (I was 9 at the time) wanted one... and probably most boys my age did have one, in a miniature form. Corgi’s Lotus Esprit car was, I believe, in shops even before this movie came out and, I expect, was the second biggest selling Corgi Bond toy ever. It had rockets that fired out of the back windshield when you wiggled the top periscope thingy (if you’d remembered to pre-load the rockets) and submarine fins and rudder etc that came out the sides and back when you pressed the black “vent” on the front of the car. Cool stuff.

Unfortunately there was a big design flaw with this particular Corgi model and I don’t know a single kid who didn’t have exactly the same problem with their Corgi Lotus, and it was this... the bloody fins would hardly stay in! Anything you did with the car would immediately trigger those damn fins to shoot out the sides and back (which could be quite painful, depending on how you were holding it) and you would spend ages then trying to push the damn things back in and actually get them to “catch” on whatever was supposed to be holding them inside the car... only to be frustrated less than a minute later when something else triggered their unwanted release.

This was such a frustrating toy!

Fire the rockets out the back of the car by wiggling the periscope... and the fins would be released. Roll your car along on its wheels for more than two seconds... and the fins would be released. Look at your car in a funny way while it was sitting on a shelf on the far side of the room... and the fins would be released. In the end you’d have to resort to pushing bits of paper back into the housing to try to get the damn things to stay in but this was never a satisfactory arrangement either.

In Corgi’s defence, I will say that when they released special anniversary editions of their Bond cars a couple of decades ago, I purchased a new version of the Lotus (along with anniversary editions of the Aston Martin, the open top car from You Only Live Twice and the slightly remodelled Moon Buggy from Diamonds Are Forever) and this design problem has obviously been fixed for this edition. The fins finally stayed in!

The other big “gadget” in this movie is, of course, one of the loveliest creatures to ever walk the earth who is a special supervillain’s secret weapon in her own right! Yeah, you guessed it, Britain’s “First Lady Of Fantasy”, the gorgeous Caroline Munro is in this movie and just her presence in a few scenes adds so much to this film. Unfortunately, she is overdubbed with another voice (a fate which befell an unbelievably large amount of actors and actresses in the Bond series) but she is all you can watch in the scenes she is in and, as the assassin Naomi, she gives the Moore Bond films their one big iconic moment. As she is flying her black helicopter and riddling Bond’s Lotus with a hail of machine gun fire she winks slowly at Bond, viewed by the audience’s camera-eye, and it’s a wink I’ll always remember and think of when I think of this era of James Bond movies... a wink that could launch a thousand ships.

Ken Adam’s set design is marvellous, especially the look of Stromberg’s aquatic lair and a big, super ship which swallows submarines up in much the same way that spaceships are swallowed up in director Lewis Gilbert’s previous Bond adventure, You Only Live Twice. Ken Adams even had Stanley Kubrik secretly visit this particular set (for which an entire studio was built at Pinewood to hold it) in order to give tips on how to actually light the thing... which is something the press didn’t pick up on at the time.

The music is of note in some ways too. Composed by Oscar winner Marvin Hamlisch, the title song Nobody Does It Better, is easily one of the greatest Bond songs in the series and, the action music from the opening ski chase and parts of the helicopter chase with the aforementioned Caroline Munro is fantastic... although more so in the reworked album version of the music as Bond ‘77 than the film presentation of it, it has to be said. The rest of the music in the film, however, is absolutely dire and, surprisingly, for what is quite a long Bond movie, there’s not a heck of a lot of it either... vast stretches of it are left unscored and, asides from a couple of minutes in an Egyptian ruin which sounds like it must have originally been temp tracked by John Barry’s pre-credits music from From Russia With Love, is pretty unmemorable and unremarkable. Wallpaper music as opposed to the kind of souped up dramatic scoring the film so needs in certain sequences.

And that’s about all I got to say on this one. Certainly, by no means, the weakest of the Moore films... The Spy Who Loved Me certainly represents a sea change in the tone of the character and has not, in my opinion, aged all that well. Definitely worth the price of admission though because, if the Lotus Esprit doesn’t arouse your interest, the presence of the wonderful Caroline Munro is bound to do the trick. That wink will always be with me... nobody does it better.

EON James Bond Movie Reviews on NUTS4R2

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