Welcome to the tenth instalment of Sticky Trigger Entertainment's James Bond 007 Retrospective. We'll be bringing you a new retrospective review each week, covering every Bond film from the official canon, leading up the Australian release of Skyfall in November. Switch your sports car to submarine mode, put on the Union Jack parachute and get ready to leap into the next adventure of Bond... James Bond.
Title: The Spy Who Loved Me
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Writer: Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood (based on Ian Fleming's James Bond 007)
Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curt Jürgens
Third time's the charm for Roger Moore. After two films that never managed to live up to the franchise's potential, The Spy Who Loved Me finally managed to hit it out of the park in every respect. The balance of Bondish elements is so good -- so iconic -- that this film winds up being an even better template of what a James Bond film should be than any of its predecessors, and it's not hard to see why it's Moore's favourite of his run.
I don't think Bond could pull off that dressed. ...wait, no, not like that.
British and Russian submarines have been going missing, with each side blaming the other and the threat of nuclear war looming. James Bond is dispatched to recover a tracking device that can locate British submarines, and follows the thread back to reclusive shipping magnate Karl Stromberg. He's both helped and hindered by Major Anya Amasova, code-name "XXX", an elite Russian agent sent by the KGB. The plot is actually a complete re-tread of Lewis Gilbert's earlier Bond film, You Only Live Twice, but here he and the screenwriters manage to make it work. The crazy gadgets and maniacal plans are fun without being silly, helped along by a presentation that's direct and exciting rather than belaboured like the earlier film could be.
The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the iconic films of the franchise because it had no qualms about embracing the over-the-top elements and making a big, fun cinematic experience, full of images and sequences that make the audience want to stand and cheer and punch the air. It makes the most effective use of the teaser by cramming all the Bond tropes into five minutes of screen time and racing through them all, culminating in that epic moment of the Union Jack parachute opening as the 007 theme kicked into high gear. It sucks the audience in and gets them ready to go on an epic adventure. Every action sequence that follows gets bigger and bigger, from the battles against Jaws to the Lotus Esprit submarine to the all-out war aboard Liparus, and by the time credits roll it winds up being the biggest, paciest and most action-heavy film yet.
'Who the hell is your dentist?'
Roger Moore was no slouch in his first two outings, but even as his age starts to show -- fifty years old at the time of filming -- he manages to knuckle down and give the best performance yet. He strikes a balance between his own style of performance and the character as he'd appeared in the franchise so far, and this film's Bond is subsequently a bit more capable during the action sequences, a bit more serious and a lot more ruthless. The suave charm is used to obfuscate his own skills and distract the enemy, and he's got no qualms about using violence or seduction to achieve his goals. Moore has never been so satisfyingly Bond as he is in The Spy Who Loved Me and he proved that he's a worthy successor to the part.
The character of Anya is exactly that, a character, which is unfortunately rare for the franchise. But what's more, she's been the most equal foil for Bond since Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Anya really is the distaff counterpart to 007: she's charming, but just as ruthless and dangerous, and the audience rarely feels like she's incapable of handling the situation or actually needs Bond to save her. Barbara Bach has great chemistry with Moore and the development of their romance is one of the best yet, starting slow and with a lot of genuine distrust and competition on both sides. When they do get together, it doesn't seem like another easy seduction, and viewers are right behind Bond in the climax that's all about saving the girl.
'My insurance isn't gonna cover this.'
The villains are some of the most memorable too. Stromberg is an interesting example because on the surface it's not the biggest or hammiest of performances. But he gets under the audience's skin with the very calm, cold and dispassionate way he goes about trying to kill millions of people for an abstract goal. When he casually brushes off Bond's comment about governments trying to pay him off, it really dawns just how creepy and insidious the character is. But what Stromberg lacks in over-the-top gimmickry, his henchman makes up for in spades. Richard Kiel as Jaws is one of the most iconic things about the franchise, standing seven feet tall with giant metal teeth, and a very up-close and personal way of dealing with people. He's a smiling terminator who manages to get the odd jump-scare out of the audience, and it's not surprising they brought him back for the next film.
It's genuinely difficult to find fault with this film. It's certainly the biggest, the loudest and most explosive, all qualities of a good Bond flick, and it handles all the tropes and conventions of the franchise so well that it rivals Goldfinger as the standard of what a Bond film should be. Roger Moore leaves his mark on the role, delivering his most standout performance and helping to create a fun rollercoaster ride of a movie that still stands up thirty-five years later.
Can't he just collect stamps like everyone else?
Highlight: For the first time, it's really tough to pick just one. It's a tie between the Union Jack parachute, the submarine car and the epic battle aboard the Liparus.