Retro Film Review: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

in film •  17 days ago 

Some films are good illustration how people's tastes and movie preferences change through the years. Once upon a time, the author of this review used to live in a blissful world of childish ignorance. During that time, he honestly believed that Star Wars is the best motion picture ever made, and that nothing on this world could match its quality and impact. However, even in those times, there was a movie that threatened the top spot of Star Wars in this reviewer's heart. It wasn't as spectacular or influential as Star Wars, but it managed to entertain me as no other film before. Its name was The Spy Who Loved Me, tenth film in the James Bond series. For many years, I considered this film not only among the best films ever made, but, naturally, the best Bond film ever made. I had to wait for years before I had an opportunity to change my mind after my movie-going preferences matured and had an opportunity to watch classic Bond films with Sean Connery. When I changed my mind, I changed it by 180 degrees - The Spy Who Loved Me was a silly, unimaginative attempt by Bond franchise to cash in on the contemporary trend of the 1970s. Then, years have passed and things changed again. After a while, I began appreciating this film again, and now, although I can't say that it represents one of the best films ever made, it still remains very good piece of entertainment.

Story begins with the mysterious disappearance of the British nuclear submarine. In response to the crisis, British government sends their best secret agent, James Bond (played by Roger Moore), to investigate. His quest leads him to the new, revolutionary submarine tracking system, that is put on sale by few shady characters in Cairo. Bond comes there, only to realize that his KGB counterpart, Major Ania Amasova (played by Barbara Bach), wants the same thing, for the same reason - somebody snatched a Soviet nuclear submarine too. While two of them try to steal the precious data from each other and in the same time evade professional killer nicknamed Jaws (played by Richard Kiel), their respective government forge temporary alliance. Bond and Amasova are now working together, faced not only with their own unresolved sexual tension, but also with some past issues - Bond had killed Amasova's colleague and lover. Their investigation leads him to Stromberg (played by Curd Juergens), oil tycoon who is obsessed with the underwater life and who might be the link to the mystery of disappearing submarines.

Like all of the first four Bond films with Moore as Connery's replacement, The Spy Who Loved Me finds its inspiration in the popular cinematic trends of the 1970s. While the previous two unsuccessfully tried to exploit popularity of blaxploitation and kung fu films (and Moonraker would two years later be more successful with science fiction), this one pays homage to Steven Spielberg's Jaws and the short- lived sub-genre of underwater adventure. This might indicate the lack of originality among the film makers, but The Spy Who Loved Me was something quite opposite. Script by Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum was the first with plot that didn't have even nominal resemblance to Ian Fleming's novel with the same name. That gave film makers enough freedom to make the film as contemporary as possible. Unlike Fleming's Cold War days, Soviets and West actually co-operate in the spirit of detente; in the aftermath of oil crisis shipping tycoons are the real nemesis of the free world; Bond's girl is his equal in the era of feminism; finally, even immortal Bond musical theme received disco treatment.

The Spy Who Loved Me, because it was made in synchrony with the moods, fashions and worldviews of the contemporary audience, actually managed to fulfill almost impossible task for a post-Connery Bond film - its reputation became almost equal to the reputation of the classics. That shouldn't surprise anyone, because this Bond has all the ingredients of the classic formula - beautiful women, exotic locations, daredevil stunts, spectacular scenes, impressive villain, high-tech gadgetry and plot that deals with saving the world from evil megalomaniacs. The concept is spiced with large quantities of humor, and also by a lot of movie reference jokes (one scene is direct allusion to Lawrence of Arabia, while the other segment references Battleship Potemkin).

This Bond was good and entertaining, but it doesn't mean that it was perfect. The special effects, while impressive at some points (especially those dealing with Stromberg's supertanker), are unsuccessful at others (blue screen ski chase, that was saved by real-life stunt in the last shot). The chief villain, played by not too enthusiastic Curt Jürgens, had undeveloped character and was definitely bellow Bond standards. In that regard, it was from the scriptwriters to spare his main sidekick Jaws for another film. However, the biggest mistake was casting of Barbara Bach as Anya Amasova; her lack of acting abilities was almost painful at times, and her stunning look barely manages to hide it. But, despite those flaws, The Spy Who Loved Me still remains a very good film, one of the best Bonds ever made.

RATING: 8/10 (***)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on January 28st 1999)


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