The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

As I near the halfway mark of the Bond franchise, I find myself a bit perplexed looking back on the series. For me, a lot of these titles run together. Granted, some of that is due to the series repetition of ideas and tropes, but watching The Spy Who Loved Me, I got this odd sense that the film was a best of Bond, an amalgamation of moments I’d already experienced in the Bond franchise and a reiteration of the Bond framework.

Take the opening set-piece, where James Bond (Roger Moore) escapes a group of thugs while skiing down a dangerous mountainside. It was a moment that instantly reminded me of the ski sequence in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It wasn’t nearly as good, in large part due to some bad effects work and an utterly goofy conclusion to the set-piece, but it evoked a sense of “remember when” that I found distracting.

While this is one of a handful of references that doesn’t end up working, one thing that The Spy Who Loved Me has going for it is the setup. Bond is searching for a missing British submarine when he stumbles across Russian spy Agent XXX (Barbara Bach) who is also on the same trail as Bond, looking for a missing Russian sub. Joined by a mutual interest, Britain and the KGB decide to work together to find out the location of their missing subs, forcing 007 and XXX to work together.

The idea of Agent XXX is taken from Thunderball as are many of the film’s setpieces and a couple of its plot points. And the final act has a big dose of You Only Live Twice infused into it. But The Spy Who Loved Me is better than those films because it gives it that extra twist of the frail relationship between Agent XXX and 007.

Moore and Bach have solid chemistry, but it’s the characters that make their frail relationship interesting to watch. Both are doing the mission, and both want to claim the prize for their own country, but it’s clear there’s a romantic attraction that is making both a little unprofessional.

However, its attempts at finding jokes amid their frail romance are terrible. The film tries to take its cues from Goldfinger, but they lack the wry twist to make them work. Agent XXX is a joke of a name, but it lacks the all-out audacity of something like Pussy Galore and it some ways it sounds almost plausible if it wasn’t clearly tasteless.

Also, Roger Moore is no Sean Connery when it comes to the one liners. Here they come fast and frequent, and are more groan inducing than anything else. I blame this on Moore because on the page, I think they’re funny in a corny way, but Moore just doesn’t have the playfulness to pull them off, he’s a bit too serious and leering the entire film to be taken as a joker.

But what makes this Bond film particularly disappointing is how generic and boring the main villain is. Karl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens) can’t be described because he’s a villain without personality. His setting makes us believe he’s an individual of class and pretense, but the performance and writing gives us none of that. And even worse, his plan makes absolutely no sense at all. It only makes me wish he was a Saturday morning cartoon villain.

His henchman, Jaws (Richard Kiel) is far more compelling without ever speaking a word. His big grin and steady eyes tell the audience more than Karl’s incessant and pointless talking. Jaws acts cool, collected and in the know, but when the moment to strike comes, he’s not quite fast enough, making up for it in sheer brawn. There’s also something hilarious and disturbing about his fetish of killing people by biting them.

By the end of it all, The Spy Who Loves Me does have enough original material going for it to make it a solid bound outing. I liked the core relationship even with the poor writing, which redeems a lot of the film’s homages to previous Bond titles. I would have liked the film to be a bit original but I can understand that at this point it seems like all the cool and exotic places of the world have been taken. Where else can Bond go? A question I’m sure will be answered by the next Bond outing: Moonraker.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing

  • pgcooper1939

    All I can say about Monnraker: brace yourself.

    • James Blake Ewing

      I’m hoping it will be at least enjoyable in its audacity.

  • Steven Flores

    “The Spy Who Loved Me” is one of my favorite Bond movies ever. That sequence of Bond skiing is an amazing intro. I liked Curt Jurgens as Stromberg but it was Richard Kiel as Jaws that really won me over. Plus, it’s got one of the best Bond theme songs ever.

    • James Blake Ewing

      It has the groundwork, but I felt like a lot of terrible Bond moments mashed together. Granted, I enjoyed them more here, but it still didn’t add up to me.

  • Dan Heaton

    I’m a big fan of The Spy Who Loved Me, but I can’t really dispute any of your points too far. I’ll echo the comment above about Moonraker. If you thought Stromberg had no personality, you’re in for a treat with Drax. I’ll be interested to hear what you think about Bond’s jaunt into space.

  • boysgonemild

    A bit surprised that you describe Moore as lacking playfulness- I think he’s a lot more fun here than in The Man with the Golden Gun, where it seemed like he was playing Connery’s Bond. I’ve always thought the fact this was the tenth Bond movie (released on the 15th anniversary of Dr No) might have something to do with all the references- plus at one point there was the threat of a rival Bond production starring Connery, which eventually happened with Never Say Never Again.

    • James Blake Ewing

      He’s written to be more fun, with a lot more jokes, but I don’t like Moore’s delivery. His performance of Bond just doesn’t work for me.

      • boysgonemild

        Ah, fair enough. It’s all subjective I suppose. I find Moore very under-rated; I feel he works a lot better if you view his performance as its own thing, rather than compared with the other Bonds.

  • Ben Russell, [The Movie Man]

    LOL, this is my absolute favourite Bond movie. Loved the action, loved Moore’s “terrible” one liners, and loved Jaws most of all. I also think it has the best theme of the series. Nobody doeeees it betterrrrrr 😉