BOND 50 THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall

MISSION 10: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)

NOBODY DOES IT BETTER The tenth Bond movie shares a title with Ian Fleming’s tenth Bond novel – but there the resemblance ends. The original tale is an uncharacteristic caper, a first person narrative told from the perspective of Vivienne Michel, a woman menaced by mobsters in a remote American motel. Bond only appears in the final third, almost a chivalric dream figure (“He had come from nowhere, like the prince in the fairy tales, and he had saved me from the dragon”). Bruised by the book’s reception, Fleming forbade the filmmakers from using any part of it save the abnormally romantic title. An abridged version appeared in low-rent men’s mag Stag, retitled “Motel Nymph” – and to think people baulked at the name Quantum Of Solace… Intriguingly, there’s a throwaway reference to nuclear submarines in Fleming’s tale, though the filmmakers ultimately mulled a bewildering array of plotlines for this film. One early pitch saw the overthrow of SPECTRE’s old guard by a new, more politically motivated generation of terrorists, while a sly Anthony Burgess proposed Bond foiling an extortion plot that would force the Queen to strip on live television (On Her Majesty’s Discreet Service?). Other dead end plot elements included Loch Ness, the return of From Russia With Love’s choker-bedecked beauty Tatiana Romanova and a villainous lair in the Norwegian fjords. Cubby Broccoli certainly felt significant creative pressure to make this one work – it was to be his first solo production credit after the crumbling of his partnership with longtime comrade-in-spydom Harry Saltzman. And Broccoli delivered: The Spy Who Loved Me reclaims the sense of widescreen grandeur that once defined the franchise, and it’s a movie possessed of a swaggering, staggering self-belief, a towering confidence in the power of Bond. “Baby, you’re the best,” reassures the AOR candy-hymn of the title song, an exercise in pure male fantasy ego-strokage where even the piano keys seem to swoon admiringly. It was a declaration of empowerment echoed by the poster boast – “It’s the biggest, it’s the best, it’s Bond… and beyond!” And, for once, it was.

TWICE TOLD TALE “Twice is the only way to live!” panted the tagline to You Only Live Twice, a philosophy brazenly embraced by the Bondmakers a decade on. The Spy Who Loved Me is an explicit xerox of 1967’s Connery era epic – Blofeld steals space capsules while Stromberg snaffles nuclear subs, but both lair-lurking scoundrels plot to engineer a war between the world’s superpowers. The two movies also share design touches (monorails and boilersuited goons), identical story beats and even the same director in Lewis Gilbert, who would recycle it all again in 1979’s Moonraker. Other echoes of classic Bond include a sub-aqua skirmish (Thunderball), a ski chase (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), a gorgeous, gadget-laden spymobile (Goldfinger) and a scrap on a train (From Russia With Love). The Spy Who Loved Me is 007’s Greatest Hits album, remastering past glories. But there are new flavours here, too: the simmeringly competitive dynamic between our hero and Soviet agent Anya redefines the Bond/girl dynamic, edging close to screwball comedy in places. Gilbert has an impish touch as director – cutting the Bond theme at the exact moment 007 cuts the monitors in Stromberg’s operations room – but also impresses when it comes to the action. Packed with pyrotechnics, stuntwork and gunfire, the sequence where Bond and the navy take back the supertanker has a war movie power and energy.

INTO THE JAWS OF DEATH Bond flicks now ride the pop-culture slipstream (we’ve already seen Live And Let Die’s Blaxploitation chic and Golden Gun’s co-opting of the chop-socky craze) so it’s no surprise that Spy contains a nod to Spielberg’s beach-clearing blockbuster. While the seed of the character can be found in the original novel – Fleming sketches a brutish, steel-mouthed hood named Horror – it’s all 7’ 2” of Richard Kiel that enshrines Jaws in the pantheon of peerless Bond rogues. Shiver as he feasts vampirically in the Egyptian night or clasps his hand like a huge ham around Roger Moore’s face – then smile as he strides away from certain death once more, a hulking Wile E Coyote, dusting down his blazer and adjusting his tie like some Bizarro version of Bond. It’s the outsized Kiel’s immaculate lightness of touch that makes this henchman immortal.

THINKING BIG The Spy Who Loved Me finds the Bond movies dreaming on an unprecedented scale. There’s a brilliant, monstrous grandeur to production designer Ken Adam’s sets (he was forced to build a vast new soundstage in order to house his vision for Stromberg’s supertanker lair). It’s a world one step removed from reality, where a Soviet spymaster’s HQ is a Russian fairytale castle and a web-fingered shipping magnate’s base rises from the waves like some towering technological spider. Director Lewis Gilbert masterfully corrals the spectacle, placing Bond in equally breath-snatching true life locations, from the clear waters of the Bahamas to a ruined Egyptian temple. Alongside Moonraker, Spy’s unofficial sequel, this is the last gasp of Bond as marquee spectacle before the franchise’s ‘80s downsizing.

“THE THINGS I DO FOR ENGLAND…” It’s a stone cold showstopper, of course, the most audacious opener of any Bond film – and a cost of $500,000 made it the single priciest stunt at that point in cinema history. Stuntman Rick Sylvester pocketed $30,000 for his daredevil ski-jump, staged on the vertiginous peak of Mount Asgard on Baffin Island in the Northern Canadian territories (3000 feet and one take, no less). While Guy Hamilton dubbed a swanee whistle over Golden Gun’s setpiece car stunt, Gilbert wisely frames this heart-stopping moment in absolute silence. But it’s 007’s slow-blooming Union Jack parachute that provides the killer punchline, a crowdpleasing act of flag-waving perfectly timed for the Silver Jubilee year of 1977. It’s an image stained with irony, of course, given Blighty’s economic decay, but in that one glorious, hilarious gag, our national hero keeps the British end up with style to spare.

ROGER ROGER Roger Moore’s third shot at Bond is his best, an impeccable fusion of star and part. Gilbert’s first thought was that Moore was being made to echo Connery, so set out to cultivate something a little smoother, funnier and distinctly more English. While others flounder with the trademark entendres – witness Bernard Lee’s M bellowing “Tell him to pull out! Immediately!” – Moore dispenses them like bon bons, mining unimagined stratas of filth in such seemingly innocuous phrases as “Well, let me enlarge your vocabulary…” Watch his eyes swivel and twinkle like innuendo-hunting radar as Barbara Bach asks “Why don’t you lie down and let me look at it?” Moore owns The Spy Who Loved Me, always charmingly aware of his own implausibility – but able to summon sudden moments of ice and humanity, too (he tells Anya that he killed her lover as an act of cold professionalism, but flinches at her mention of his dead wife). He can’t quite pull off that canary yellow ski-suit, mind.

 

“ONE OR TWO RATHER SPECIAL ACCESSORIES…” It races like a pearl bullet around the perilous coast roads of Sardinia, hunted by a helicopter gun-ship flirtatiously commanded by Hammer fox Caroline Munro. After a breathless, white-knuckling chase sequence Bond guns it in a seemingly suicidal plunge from a pier – and, with our hearts in our mouths, we watch as it flips into submersible mode, sprouting propellers and fins and dispensing harpoons and depth charges like some deadly collision between Captain Nemo and Top Gear. It’s a ‘70s dream of a car, Concorde-sleek and audaciously modern. While Sean Connery’s Bond was forever linked to the old world quicksilver elegance of an Aston Martin DB5 there’s something profoundly Space: 1977 about Moore’s choice of wheels. It seems to belong to a Britain where Gerry Anderson is Prime Minister and there’s a statue of Dan Dare on a spare plinth in Trafalgar Square. You might imagine it being assembled by robots to the sound of Jean Michel Jarre. Of course there are those snide souls who claim that Lotus stands for “Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious.” But then isn’t that the most perfect motto for Her Majesty’s Secret Servant?

TRIV AND LET DIE

Anya’s Russian lover in the pre-titles is played by Michael Billington, who was once in the frame for the role of Bond himself.

John Landis was one of the screenwriters who pitched ideas for the film.

 

Spy is credited to Christopher Wood, who created the saucy Confessions series under the name Timothy Lea. Wood’s original screenplay portrays Bond as a harder-edged character who threatens Fekesh’s girlfriend with a gun rather than deploying Moore charm.

Japan was a potential location (Gilbert considered using the Okinawa sea lab as Stromberg’s base).

The production faced an injunction suit from Thunderball producer Kevin McClory, who felt plot elements strayed too close to his own attempt to remake that movie. The Bondmakers kept their underwater setting but all references to Blofeld and SPECTRE were excised.

Five cameras covered the ski jump. Only one caught the stunt.

 

Lewis Gilbert developed a crick in his neck from looking up at the towering Richard Kiel.

 

Legendary director Stanley Kubrick secretly advised Ken Adam on how best to light the mammoth supertanker set on the newly built 007 Stage.

Sandor is played by former wrestler Milton Reid, who was also one of the henchmen in Dr No.

 

JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN MOONRAKER