Right, onto The Spy Who Loved Me. I remember this with no small amount of affection as being a good one. But in the context of my viewing run, I was very interest in reappraising it to see if it still stacked up against the early ones.
There’s a bit going on here, with the best agents from Soviet and British being called into duty, after each power has had a nuclear sub snatched in mysterious circumstances. In Bond’s case, he has to hightail it out of some mountain lodge in Austria with more Russian agents on his tail. Of course he escapes by skiing over a cliff, seemingly to his doom, until he unfurls that parachute.
Maurice Binder comes back into form, conjuring up a sequence that even now don’t look dated. And lordy, the song… well, let’s get into that.
We have a new composer, Marvin Hamlisch, and he has much to do with the heightened presentation of the film. It starts with a bang by “Nobody Does It Better”, sung by Carly Simon. I don’t think even having some real estate shonks using it in their ads has ruined it for me. Even as we get into the film proper, the score keeps pace with the action – the classic themes are respected, but they’re also get funked up with some new disco arrangements which sound better as the disco stigma has faded. There’s also the sneaky interpolation of the them to Lawrence of Arabia.
After the opening in Austria (actually Canada), the first part of the film is based in Egypt; most notably that sequence in Gizeh where everyone is skulking around the Sphinx while a light-and-sound presentation takes place. Phase two happens in Sardinia, where the scenes with the Lotus are set. (Filming was
Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), like many of Bond’s adversaries before him, is a decently ambitious megalomanic with opulent tastes who loves sharks. In Stromberg’s case, that love of fish extends to the whole of the underwater kingdom, to the point where he’s content to have the terrestrial superpowers wipe each other out. I’m just amused that even though Bond’s foes have mucked around with nuclear technology before, this is really the first time one has actually embraced full-on atomic horror.
Stromberg himself, though, he’s just an old guy with too much money and the most extreme case of “you kids get off my lawn” ever. He can’t even join SPECTRE because a lawsuit means that SPECTRE has effectively left the Eon Productions universe for a few decades.
Stromberg also has the gnarliest supervillain base so far in Atlantis, which looks like where the Octonauts as interpreted by HP Lovecraft would hang out. And yet the interior also looks like something out of Grand Designs.
His big plan is to grab their subs, and use the captured subs to fire off a nuke each at New York City and Moscow, and let MAD doctrine do the rest. Then he can hang out in his cool underwater pad and appreciate the serenity. As for the niggling details, he’s acquired the services of Johannes Albrecht Walzheim-Strauss, or as his friends call him, Jaws. (I may have made that up.)
Jaws is quite a talented fellow who can give the Finnish guy with the hydraulic press videos a run for his money. Like his paymaster, Jaws brings a new level of bad-assery to the series, severing several jugular veins as he goes. His one weakness? Electromagnetism! Of course, there was another Jaws featuring in the cinemas at the time, but the direct evidence is that Jaws the fish wouldn’t be much match for Jaws the human.
Anya Amasova, or Triple X, (played by Barbara Bach) is by rank and by ability Bond’s opposite number. At first they’re pretty much all business as they both try to procure the sekrit microfilm pertaining to how, but once their higher-ups agree to co-operate, they find it hard not to mix business with pleasure.
As it turns out, the guy Bond killed in the opening was Amasova’s squeeze, and when she eventually works that out, she’s like yeah I’ll have to kill you for that when we’re done with the mission. But in the end she’s doesn’t seem that bothered about it, exhibiting the “easy come, easy go” attitude towards lovers as Bond does, in fact.
We also see strange bedfellows in the background politics, as the Anglos and Russkies bury their hatchet for a bit since they’ve both lost a submarine. Which is funny considering the last time some rogue element was stealing everyone’s military equipment they didn’t even think about the possibility of a rogue element. For the first time we also get to see M’s opposite number, General Gogol. He’ll be popping up a bit.
The Americans get involved as well, as their submarine is the third to be gobbled up by Stromberg’s supertanker, the Liparus. This leads to the big battle between the Allied submariners and Stromberg’s goons. Once they break into the command centre on the Liparus, Bond manages to communicate new co-ordinates to Stromberg’s commandeered subs to redivert the warheads so they blow up each other. Hence saving the world.
Seriously, how can you go past the submersible Lotus Esprit. As kids we actually had a toy model of it which got swooshed around quite a bit. I still think it’s the coolest gadget in the whole series, and even the jokey sequence when it re-emerges on the beach can’t blunt its swag. It’s certainly cooler than the Casio watch that spits out Dymo labels.
(I do understand that the actual production Esprit may have been a bit gutless compared with the old DB5, but that’s not the point.)
Actually, I found it hard to identify anything to roll my eyes at – at a stretch, maybe the point when the Lotus re-emerges on the beach and that one guy is doing a double-take at it and his vino. Oh, and when Bond is hamming it up in the passenger seat while Amasova is trying start the van while Jaws is tearing strips off it, yeah, that was a bit corny.
Some might argue that the big battle on the Liparus was a bit drawn out, but I found myself engaged by Bond’s attempt to prepare and deploy the detonator to breach the control centre.
Lewis Gilbert returns to direct after a gap of several years, his last being You Only Live Twice. There are a few echoes from that, such as the rogue party stealing superpowers’ stuff to try and foment total thermonuclear war, as well as the mass battle scene in the supertanker a la volcano base. The return to high-tech stainless style as seen in Golden Gun is continued here to good effect in the Atlantis.
I don’t think my enjoyment of this particular movie has diminished – in fact, watching some of the others has made this look even sharper as a film that gets pretty much everything right. For the first time the writing for Bond works with Moore’s portrayal. The action kicks along at a good clip, the exposition is clear yet doled out at appropriate moments, the exotica and villainly suitably laid out.
We actually reach this happy state a few more times down the track, but there’s also a few bumps along the way. In the conclusion my last wrap I pondered if this might be the definitive 007 film of this era – well, there’s still quite a bit more Moore to get through, but after this viewing (and having a reasonable idea of what’s to come) I’m pretty confident that it is.
18 out of 20 Union Jack parachutes.