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The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Director: Lewis Gilbert

review by Octavio Ramos Jr

Directed by Lewis Gilbert (who also directed Bond's You Only Live Twice and Moonraker), The Spy Who Loved Me in many ways updated super-agent Bond, James Bond, for the 1970s. It was also the first film very loosely based on Ian Fleming material. Indeed, the source novel features to what amounts to a cameo by Bond. Borrowing elements from other material (novels, short stories, even other Bond films), screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood created a truly satisfying adventure whose principal weakness is Roger Moore, even though this was his best effort.
   The story opens with Anya Amasova - Russian agent XXX (the lovely Barbara Bach) - in bed with her boyfriend, also a Russian agent. As the two indulge in pillow talk, Anya receives a phone call from her commander, who informs her that a Russian submarine has disappeared. The film then cuts to Bond, also bedding someone, who learns that a British submarine has been captured. Bond then sets off to make contact with England, only to be chased by Anya's boyfriend.
   The resultant ski chase is very satisfying and thrilling. When Bond shoots dead Anya's boyfriend, hardcore 007 fans will remember the eerie death of Bond's wife in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Although the kill takes but several frames, its impact lasts well through the opening montage and haunts the film until the end. Along the way there are hints of the deaths of loved ones. For example, Anya reminds Bond of his wife's death when they first meet and later Bond must tell Anya that it was he who killed her lover.
   The remainder of the film settles into a globetrotting storyline, with Bond and Anya attempting to discover who is responsible for the submarine abductions. Standing in their way are two new villains, one of whom is quickly dispatched, but the other, known as Jaws (based on a Fleming villain named 'Horror' but updated here as a joke to the Spielberg shark film), refuses to die. At the heart of the abductions is Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a megalomaniac (like Goldfinger) who plans to destroy the world and build a new one under the great oceans (Stromberg even has webbed hands).
   The Spy Who Loved Me is an excellent adventure perfectly balanced in many ways. For example, it features a number of fight sequences, some inventive technical gadgets by Q Branch (especially the Lotus Esprit, which is as much fun as the Aston Martin), exotic locales in places such as Egypt, lavish eye-candy sets by Ken Adam, and two strong Bond women, namely Bach's Anya, and Hammer scream queen Caroline Munro (the chopper pilot). Then there's seven-foot-tall, steel-toothed Richard Kiel as Jaws, one of the most unforgettable and truly effective of the Bond villains.
   Because of these excellent elements, the weaknesses of The Spy Who Loved Me are difficult to ignore. The first of these is Roger Moore, whose one-liners after each death scene seem forced and trite. Then there are the actor's fighting abilities, particularly those with Kiel, which look much too choreographed and boring. Bach is an excellent actress, making XXX a credible agent, but she is wasted in many scenes by merely yelling out "James!" when she spots a bad guy - she's a secret agent and most likely has the skills to defend herself, so why doesn't she?
   After a rousing battle aboard a supertanker, Bond rescues Anya from Stromberg. Although these sequences are effective and pump the blood, the film closes with 007 and XXX making love, a scene very few critics have commented about. At first this scene may seem somewhat flippant (with Bond quipping, "Keeping the British end up"), but seen as a whole with the series (and even Fleming's works), there is a dark theme here: the world of spies always must remain superficial, with emotions given only for pleasure and deeper secrets locked away. Only later did the Bond series fully explore this theme (with Dalton in the role of 007), and the fan and critical backlash was tremendous.
   The DVD version of this film features commentary by Gilbert (whose other films include Alfie), a documentary, theatrical trailers, and original TV adverts and radio spots.
previously published online, VideoVista #24
The Spy Who Loved Me
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