Page to Screen: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The Spy Who Loved Me 
based on characters by Ian Fleming


This post goes up in July, but it was written in April, just after the entire Bond canon reappeared on Netflix Instant. So thank you for your patience while I’ve been complaining about availability issues over the past two months of scheduled posts while the canon was right there the entire time. Bless. In any case, I keep chugging along the Bond canon, patiently waiting until the Roger Moore films run out so I can tackle the two Timothy Dalton films. For some reason, I have decided that I am going to adore them, and I don’t think it’s related to the fact that it’s the perfect collision of the “Bond is a Time Lord” theory and Dalton having recently played a Time Lord. I’m just ready for the late eighties.

The Spy Who Loved Me opens with both British and Soviet submarines vanishing. Secret agent James Bond is dispatched to investigate, and discovers that a highly advanced submarine tracking system is being sold to the highest bidder in Egypt. But Bond’s not the only one on the case—the Soviets have dispatched their own Agent XXX, Anya Amasova, and she’s after the plans as well. But the rivalry is cut short when their superiors declare a truce and have them team up. As they find themselves on the trail of the reclusive and wealthy Karl Stromberg, the two agents deal with their attraction to one other—but Anya doesn’t know that Bond killed her lover.

Apparently, The Spy Who Loved Me is commonly considered to be one of the best Bond movies, if not the best Roger Moore movie—see Michael Sauter’s top 17 Bond films at Entertainment Weekly and IGN’s top 20 Bond films. It’s definitely Moore’s favorite Bond film. To this I must say: Lord have mercy on me while I finish out the Moore years, because if this is as good as it gets, I’m going to need to brace myself.

To be fair to the production team, Ian Fleming only allowed them to use the title of The Spy Who Loved Me, a novel from a Bond girl’s perspective, and the plot they came up definitely has a lot of interesting points. After the incredible low of Mary Goodnight in The Man With the Golden Gun, having Bond meet his match in a female Soviet agent is beyond welcome. Jaws is one of the best Bond villain henchman for a reason—the whole “metal teeth” shtick is great and the fact that Bond can’t overpower him forces Bond to get creative. Plus, even though he doesn’t speak, his actions speak words: at one point, Jaws, hurled out of a fast-moving train, tumbles down a hill. He stands up, only to brush dirt off his suit with a mildly annoyed expression. it’s a wonderful moment. There are some elements with great potential here. It’s just the execution that’s lacking.

First and foremost is Barbara Bach as Anya. To truly be Bond’s match, Anya needs to be quick-witted, sharp, and calculating. Bach’s Anya is… well, she’s written to be this way, to the point that occasionally it feels like Anya’s the protagonist and Bond is her annoying sidekick, but Bach’s take on Anya is so lackadaisical and she seems to maintain one emotion throughout the entire film. I wanted to like Anya. And there were points when I did: at one point, James and Anya flee a Cairo nightclub in pursuit of the plans and help and sabotage each other all the way back to Cairo. It’s a fun sequence, but I really wish Bach was a more engaging performer. Not helping matters is the fact that the secondary Bond girl of the picture, Stromberg’s lackey Naomi, is played by Caroline Munro with such cheekiness that her scant screen time made me wish the roles had been switched.

The tone is also a little… off. Of course, I’m a twenty-two year old from the future: I’m used to Casino Royale and Skyfall, and I realize that the Moore years are a little more light-hearted and comical. But there’s something off about the humor utilized here. Moore’s Bond is a delightfully fussy and ever-so-British Bond—even from day one, it’s a little hard to buy him slugging another guy. Rather, he uses his wits and groaningly awful one-liners. But I usually enjoy the groaningly awful one-liners in their awfulness. The Spy Who Loved Me takes the humor over the top, even using music from Lawrence of Arabia in a very slapstick moment. There’s literally an exchange while Anya is attempting to get a compromised car being attacked by Jaws running where Bond sits back and just says, “Women drivers.” I realize this is Moore riffing in-character and not the screenwriters, but they left that in. I know that these movies aren’t for queer female me, but there’s usually an attempt to class it up. (I’m getting so impatient for Judi Dench, you don’t even know.) Moore himself is starting to feel like a caricature of himself, and I’d hate to see that rule his performance of Bond from here on out. And, of course, all this is exacerbated by the fact that Moore, already a little too old when cast, is starting to show his age next to his female co-stars.

Like many of its predecessors (this is the tenth Bond film!), The Spy Who Loved Me does not need to be two hours long. The extra time is devoted to action sequences, especially a submarine action sequence at the end that drags and drags and drags. It’s the kind of pacing that makes you fall asleep in the middle of an action film and feel weird about it. It’s nothing new to the franchise, though, sadly. Of course, 1977 is the year Star Wars debuts and creates the template for the movie blockbuster (along with Jaws, the film that kept Steven Spielberg from directing this one), so this could possibly improve from here on out.

I do want to mention that my beloved Tracy is mentioned by Anya at one point, to which Bond shuts it down, because that’s the only way to respond. That pleased me. Also, “Nobody Does It Better” makes me crack up, as I hear it and can only imagine a very dewy eighties montage. Y’all know me; the closer to the eighties we get, the happier I am. Onto Moonraker!

Bottom line: The Spy Who Loved Me has a lot of interesting elements that all are wasted in the execution—Barbara Bach’s Anya is one-note, the tone is meaner and more slapstick, and it drags like nothing else. Only for completionists.

I watched this on Netflix Instant.

2 thoughts on “Page to Screen: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

  1. Growing up, this was my favorite Bond movie. It’s one that kids and adults alike can find things they like about it. There is some odd silliness, but this is the movie where Jaws is awesome.

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