Lewis Gilbert, 1977
Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel
The Spy Who Loved Me is undoubtedly Moore’s best Bond film. The first with an original story, this plays to Moore’s strengths and allows for moments of welcome silliness, balanced by some incredible, large-scale action scenes. This is also the first Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to have any emotional depth, due to Bond’s complicated relationship with KGB agent XXX. Bond is called in to investigate the disappearance of British and Soviet ballistic-missile submarines and heads to Egypt to locate plans for a submarine tracking system. He meets Major Anya Amasova aka KGB Agent XXX, who also wants to steal the plans. M and KGB head General Gogol decide the two agents should team up and agree on a temporary truce. They recover the plans, but barely escape a fight with Jaws, a giant man with lethal, steel teeth who works for millionaire-scientist Karl Stromberg. As 007 and XXX grow closer, they realize Stromberg intends to use his new supertanker and a secret, underground base for nefarious purposes - to destroy the world’s major cities and begin a new, Atlantean civilization deep in the ocean.
This film introduces some new elements into the series: a memorable henchman who would survive to reappear in the next film, cooperation between the U.K and the Soviet Union and a strong female lead/love interest. Barbara Bach has received some criticism for her semi-weak portrayal of XXX, but her character represents the leaps and strides Bond girls have made throughout the series. Though she occasionally has to be rescued, there are plenty of moments where she gets the best of Bond. There’s also a welcome appearance from the absolutely beautiful Caroline Munro, who regularly appeared in British horror films during this period.
Curd Jürgens is an excellent Stromberg, but his diabolical, anarchic plans are the worst part of the film. He wants to start a nuclear war and reestablish civilization under water. Really? Like villains before and after him, his talent is somewhat wasted, but he does the best that he can with the role. Richard Kiel’s Jaws, on the other hand, is wonderful and makes a welcome return in Moonraker, where he reaches new, delirious heights (literally). All the usual suspects appear - M, Q and Moneypenny - and we are introduced to KGB commander General Gogol (Walter Gotell), who would return for several films. This film also marks a dramatic change in the series. Co-producer Harry Saltzman was forced to sell his share of the franchise for financial reasons and thus ended his long partnership with Albert Broccoli.
The Spy Who Loved Me also benefits from some wonderful action sequences, particularly the opening where Bond has to evade KGB during a sky chase in the Swiss Mountains. Stuntman Rick Sylvester's leap off a cliff is one of the longest fall sequences in film history and is immediately followed by Bond's use of the beloved Union Jack parachute. I will never get tired of Bond fighting on trains and the excellent scene in this movie is no exception. Though it’s a little unbelievable that the best spy in Russia has to be rescued by Bond, the ensuing fight with Jaws is exciting and the scene’s conclusion is fittingly romantic. The bombastic finale in the supertanker where Bond takes charge of captured British, American and Soviet naval crews to defeat Stromberg is one of the best in the series. Though there is a heavy emphasis on gadgets in this film, most of them result in some amusing scenes, such as the watch that prints out directions from MI6 headquarters. Q outdoes himself with the Lotus Esprit that converts into an underwater vehicle; it definitely one ups Scaramanga's flying AMC Matador from The Man with the Golden Gun.
The credits song, written by Carole Bayer Sager and performed by Carly Simon is one of the most memorable in the series and though Marvin Hamlisch’s disco influenced score hasn’t aged particularly well, it’s still a lot of fun. Fun is really the name of the game with this film and I, surprisingly, have no complaints. The Spy Who Loved Me comes highly recommended and is available on multiple DVD releases. I’m reviewing the Ultimate Edition two-disc, which is also included in the Ultimate Edition box set volume 4. The numerous extras include a commentary track with Lewis Gilbert, designer Ken Adams and more of the crew. There’s an informative making-of documentary and a shorter documentary about Adams’s career with the Bond franchise. The Blu-ray includes many of these special features.