The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.
Synopsis: James Bond investigates the hijacking of British and Russian submarines carrying nuclear warheads with the help of a KGB agent whose lover he killed.
Stars: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Running Length: 125 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: You know that old adage that “The third time’s the charm”? Well, it couldn’t be more true for Moore’s third outing as Britain’s most famous super spy. The Spy Who Loved Me is a crown jewel in the Bond franchise and it’s not hard to see why. Aside from the traditional pieces that make up a James Bond puzzle, there’s a strong attention to detail in characterization and production design that was exactly what the film needed to move forward.
Time is what was really on the side of The Spy Who Loved Me and played a part in it success. Previous Bond films had been churned out every 1-2 years, keeping the money coming in but allowing the series to take on a bit too much water and become lopsided. When The Man with the Golden Gun was released in December of 1974, it would mark Bond’s final appearance for nearly three years. During this time a strong script was developed, massive sets created, and our star had some time to flex himself in other films, allowing him to come back revitalized.
Moore is indeed looking fresh in this film and it showcases his best performance in the role to date (and, as we’ll see later…ever) as Bond teams up with the Russians to prevent nuclear war breaking out. It’s a nice mixture of Queen’s Army meets KGB in the midst of a Cold War and writers Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum milk it for all its worth.
Most welcome in this 10th film is one of the best Bond Girls in the history of the series. Bach is a total stunner as KGB Agent XXX and more than holds her own physically and mentally with 007 as they team up to take down steel mouthed henchman Jaws (Kiel) and big bad baddie Karl Stromberg (Jurgens…also one of the better villains). In the pre-credit sequence, Bond kills Bach’s lover in self defense and that only adds fuel to their fire when she discovers this. Bach and Moore create some genuine chemistry – showcasing a clear mutual respect for each other that plays like a dream on screen. She gets Moore to up his game in every scene and for that reason alone she’s a top player in my book.
After helming You Only Live Twice, director Gilbert is back at the helm of a film that has more pieces working for it than against it. Wonderful cinematography by Claude Renoir and crackling editing by John Glen (who, like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service editor-turned-director Peter R. Hunt would soon take the directorial reins) keep the film moving a breakneck speed as Bond and XXX circle the globe.
Marvin Hamlisch takes over as orchestrator for this entry and he puts a dynamic spin on the underscore. So much of the Bond films don’t have music cues during key scenes but it’s with this film that I started to hear more attention paid to moments that heretofore weren’t scored. Let’s also not forget Hamlisch’s theme song, sung by Carly Simon, which became a catch phrase for Bond… “Nobody Does it Better”.
The Spy Who Loved Me has aged quite well and is easily one of the top three films of the series. It’s a great example of a series that could have laid over and died that instead took some time to recoup and come back with strong. Simply one of the best.