The Spy Who Loved Me September 6, 2017
2 Hrs., 5 Mins.
fter Roger Moore turned 50 and arguably became an unwitting
embodiment of the lecherous middle-aged guy with a weakness for a too-young skirt chase, his starring as James Bond started to feel all wrong. Because the international man of mystery is supposed to both be spry and weary and young and horny but not too much of any of those things, by the time 1981’s For Your Eyes Only hit theaters was it
obvious that the actor was overstaying his welcome. Of course distributors were afraid to admit that to themselves out of a fear of losing a dependable financial commodity, so the torch was not passed until Moore turned 60 and Timothy Dalton forgettably took over for a dyad of adventures.
Since many are inclined to remember Moore as the wrinkled, clearly uncomfortable star of Thunderpussy (1983) and A View to Kill (1985), there’s a sort of inferiority agreed upon when comparing his Bond films to Sean Connery’s. Understandably: Aside from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and occasionally Moonraker (1979), the Moore-starring 007 adventures were failures of tone, never quite securing the half-jokey, half-pulpy mastery that took up most of Connery’s reign. (Though the Moore films certainly contain plenty of instances of a type of visual ambitiousness impossible to not be overwhelmed by.)
Still, The Spy Who Loved Me, which came after the three-year hiatus following The Man with the Golden Gun, is worthy of discussion. A coalescence of everything the Moore films did well but could never quite bring together for a single movie, it's the rare espionage thriller able to match stone-faced, high-octane thrills with a cheeky sense of humor that does work. It’s the sole Moore romp that seems to genuinely be having fun with itself, to understand that, while the stakes are high, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to have your cake and eat it, too.
In the movie, Bond is called in to thwart the schemes of the Mozart-loving, shark-obsessed scoundrel Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens), a billionaire who’s mysteriously been stonewalling British and Soviet submarines, and who is, unsurprisingly, bent on starting a nuclear war. But The Spy Who Loved Me overcomes the limitations of its saga by excelling in its execution of the expected Bond tropes. The little things — like the theme song, sung here by Carly Simon, and the use of locales, here a mixture of snowy mountains, tropical regions, and fantastically blue waters — count. But the movie, co-written by Christopher Wood and Richard Maibum, also has authentically funny moments, the one-liners more knowingly smarmy than they had been during most of Moore’s tenure. The dialogue is nicely frisky. And Lewis Gilbert’s direction is colorful. The conclusive action sequence might be bloated (I'd prefer if it were stealthier, since the film’s relatively tighter than other Bond features), but the movie's jauntiness never completely loses its footing.
What makes The Spy Who Loved Me a standout in the franchise, though, mostly has to do with the characters who often have enough power to make or break an excursion: the archvillain and the designated Bond girl(s). Fortunately, we have exquisite ones here. Jürgens, like Gert Fröbe as Auric Goldfinger or Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga, is perennially understated, so much in "control" that when he might temporarily lose his cool, it's comedy. The image of him seated comfortably within his oceanic base camp, sending unaware victims to their deaths in shark tanks as classical music plays loudly, is indelible.
Barbara Bach, as the movie’s premier love interest/sidekick, breaks the mold of the Bond girl as Agent Triple X. A spy working alongside 007 for the entirety of the mission, she routinely asserts her dominance and makes it clear that she’s not going to be exploited by her temporary colleague. All is on her terms. Comely Hammer staple Caroline Munro also memorably stops by as Naomi, one of Stromberg’s lackeys. She, like everyone else in The Spy Who Loves Me, seems to be having a ball in what is the best of the Moore Bonds. B+