Ahead of the release of SPECTRE this autumn, the Bond Reloaded series takes a weekly look back at each film in the iconic James Bond franchise. This week, Bond meets an icy Russian agent and a henchman with bite in The Spy Who Loved Me.
When you think of James Bond villains, the odds are that one of the first images to come to mind is that of Richard Kiel and his metal teeth as Jaws. The film that held his first appearance was The Spy Who Loved Me – arguably the best of Roger Moore’s James Bond outings.
The film was produced during a period of turmoil for Eon and the franchise, with co-producer Harry Saltzman forced to sell his interests in Bond to combat financial troubles. With that in mind, it’s remarkable what You Only Live Twice director Lewis Gilbert and his team managed to put together.
Despite the chaos behind the scenes, The Spy Who Loved Me is a mighty achievement and boasts many of the most iconic characters and moments in the history of Fleming’s secret agent on the big screen.
Bond gets bitey
In something that would become a trend for Bond on the big screen, The Spy Who Loved Me does not take its plot from a Fleming novel. Whilst the film’s title is derived from Fleming’s ninth Bond book, the plot shares nothing with the book, which was a more experimental Bond novel that received a savage reaction from critics.
Bond is tasked with recovering a microfilm containing plans that led to the theft of both British and Soviet nuclear submarines. Along the way, he meets Russian agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), who is also hunting down the plans. They must band together to get the plans from Jaws (Richard Kiel), who turns out to be the ruthless henchman of Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens) – a man who has major issues with the current state of humanity and a plan eerily similar to Pokémon villains Team Aqua.
The Spy Who Loved Me is littered with many of Bond’s most iconic moments. As Jaws, Kiel immediately cemented himself as one of the most memorable Bond antagonists, with metal teeth and intimidating physicality. There’s a reason that he was kept alive to return in Moonraker. He’s the perfect heavy for Stromberg, who is the epitome of the Bond villain who lets others do his dirty work.
"He just dropped in for a quick bite."
Elsewhere, gadgets and stunts are as good as they have ever been. The opening sequence, which is now impossible to separate from Alan Partridge, is almost certainly the best of the Moore era. It weaves seamlessly from plot establishment, to Bond quippery, to a jaw-dropping ski chase and, of course, the iconic image of Bond’s union jack parachute.
It’s an amazing sequence that immediately puts the rather mediocre memory of Lewis Gilbert’s previous Bond outing in the rear view mirror. And that’s before The Spy Who Loved Me even gets to its most dramatic set piece – a chase involving Bond’s new Lotus Esprit, which turns out to be capable of converting into a pretty badass submarine.
Wisely, The Spy Who Loved Me is a film that doesn’t worry about turning Bond into an edgy character. It embraces the comedy of the gentleman spy and produces spectacle in abundance. Any film that caused Pinewood Studios to erect a whole new stage – the now renowned 007 Stage – cannot be faulted for its visual ambition. There are bruising fight scenes and aggressive moments, but this is the quipping, winking Bond that Roger Moore always excelled at being.
Moore meets his match
As well as succeeding with the action and comedy beats, The Spy Who Loved Me boasts an unusually strong female character in the shape of Anya Amasova, who is Bond’s opposite number in Russia. Far more than just a “Bond girl”, Amasova is Bond’s equal in just about every way. Rather than simply succumbing to the charms of Bond, Amasova plays the game on her terms and always seems to be one step ahead of the arrogant Englishman.
Particularly given the sorry state of the female agents in the previous two films, Barbara Bach’s performance is a marvel, particularly given the fact that she was cast only a few days before cameras rolled. She is every bit as smart as she is sexy, undercutting the macho posturing of Bond as he clashes with Jaws and using 007’s most obvious weakness against him – his desire for women.
"Which bullet has my name on it? The first or the last?"
It’s almost as if The Spy Who Loved Me is directly referencing the failings of the previous female characters. There are several moments that tease Amasova becoming a damsel in distress like those before her, only for her to pull the rug and prove that she is once again a shrewd operator and far more than just a pretty face.
Amasova fits in perfectly with the assured comedic tone of The Spy Who Loved Me. Barbara Bach and Roger Moore have a perfect brand of awkward chemistry that gets plenty of laughs and prevents the film from falling into something like the more serious tone of From Russia With Love. Unusually, Moore is the butt of some of these jokes.
It’s also crucial that Amasova is entirely unafraid of taking Moore down a few pegs. She is able to challenge him in ways that other female allies have never done, such as when she makes a pointed reference to the death of his wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Amasova isn’t in awe of Bond; she in fact sees him as nothing more than an amusing distraction and, eventually, a worthwhile ally in achieving a common cause.
Given the behind the scenes mayhem that dogged The Spy Who Loved Me throughout its creative process, it’s remarkable that they managed to produce such a complete highlight reel of Bond’s best. The film premiered in Leicester Square in July 1977, with Princess Anne in attendance. A later screening was attended by Prince Charles, who was said to be on his feet during the opening parachute sequence.
The film received stellar reviews from critics at the time and has only grown in stature since then. Roger Moore himself has repeatedly called The Spy Who Loved Me his favourite Bond film and critics consider it the high point of his time in the role. Danny Peary wrote that the film was “a real treat” and Moore came in for high praise alongside the gadgets.
"For me, this is all the world. There is beauty, there is ugliness… and there is death."
The Spy Who Loved Me is perhaps the biggest achievement of the Bond franchise, finally finding its groove after the uneven beginning to the Roger Moore era. Who knows what might have happened with Bond, were it not for a certain George Lucas space opera that caused Cubby Broccoli to completely rejig his action franchise… on the moon.
Next time, Bond goes Star Wars and Jaws falls in love in outer space. That’s right – it’s Moonraker.
What do you think of The Spy Who Loved Me? Does Roger Moore’s emphasis on comedy over action work? Let me know in the comments section and keep your eyes peeled for an early new Bond Reloaded this week.