To mark the 50th Anniversary of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time and with filming well underway on James Bond’s 23rd official outing in Skyfall due for release later this year, I have been tasked with taking a retrospective look at the films that turned author Ian Fleming’s creation into one of the most recognised and iconic characters in film history.
With James Bond well established as a worldwide phenomenon raking in countless millions at the box-office, the tenth film in the series, The Spy Who Loved Me proved unexpectedly problematic in its journey to the screen and marked the longest gap between films since the series began. Due to personal financial issues Bond producer Harry Saltzman decided to sell his 50% stake in Danjaq S.A., the company he had established with Albert R. Broccoli to produce the Bond series. United Artists, who had been involved in the distribution of the films from the beginning, offered to buy his share of the company for $20 million with Broccoli maintaining overall control of the future of the series.
Guy Hamilton, who had directed the previous three films as well as helping to establish the Bond formula with Goldfinger, had been expected to return but following an offer to bring the popular comic book character Superman to the big screen he declined. A decision that may not have been that wise in hindsight as he found himself replaced by Richard Donner when the film’s production moved to the UK where Hamilton was a tax exile. The focus then turned to Steven Spielberg who was mid-way through the post-production of Jaws but due to uncertainty about how his shark film would be received he also had to decline. Instead, Broccoli hired a director who had already proven capable of handling the huge scale and expense of a Bond film, Lewis Gilbert, director of You Only Live Twice.
A similar search for suitable screenwriters followed with Broccoli commissioning John Landis, Anthony Burgess and Gerry Anderson to produce treatments for the film before settling on well established Bond writer Richard Maibaum to provide a first draft. When Gilbert joined production Maibaum’s work was eventually re-written by Christopher Wood, who had made a name for himself as the writer of the British sex comedy series that began with Confessions Of A Window Cleaner. Further issues arose when writing the film’s script after initial ideas to include Bond’s number one adversary Ernst Stavro Blofeld hit a brick wall after the on-going legal dispute with Kevin McClory, co-writer of Thunderball, meant that EON Productions could no longer use the character name or his criminal organisation SPECTRE in their films.
With the problems resolved, filming began in August 1976, almost two full years since the release of The Man With The Golden Gun. With double the budget of the previous film, numerous global locations and construction underway to build a giant new soundstage at Pinewood Studios to accommodate the film’s ambitious sets, the stage was set for this to become Bond’s biggest adventure to date.
Much like Sean Connery, who made his biggest impression with his third Bond film Goldfinger, Roger Moore does more or less the same thing with The Spy Who Loved Me. It is certainly his most successful outing as Bond and the three year gap since The Man With The Golden Gun has clearly given him time to mature into the role. The level of humour works well within the overall film but there is still enough room for the serious side of the character to shine through.
James Bond: The name’s Bond, James Bond.
Max Kalba: (unimpressed) What of it?
While the film is bigger than those that have come before, the character remains grounded with a tougher streak that until now had been missing from Moore’s Bond. A scene that sees Bond standing on the edge of a rooftop with Sandor, one of Stromberg’s heavies, clinging onto Bond’s necktie to stop him falling is a good example of the harder, edgier Bond. Rather than help the Sandor after he has revealed the information Bond was looking for, he swats him away allowing him to fall to his death, a move more akin to early Connery or modern day Daniel Craig.
Pre-Credits & Theme Song
The pre-credits sequence is a really efficiently edited montage of scenes that set the main plot in motion beginning with the capturing of a British submarine. As the news of the disaster is relayed to the British secret service we also see inside a Russian government office as General Gogol receives news that a Soviet submarine has suffered a similar fate. Both these events lead to the introduction of Russian agent Triple X, who we are initially led to believe is Sergei Barsov played by Michael Billington, originally one of the contenders for the role of Bond when Connery left after Diamonds Are Forever, however it turns out that Triple X is in fact the female agent with which he shares a bed, Major Anya Amasova played by Barbara Bach.
Log Cabin Girl: But James, I need you!
James Bond: So does England!
After the relatively action-free establishing scenes of the previous two films’ pre-credit sequences, the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me would go on to set the standard for all that followed making the opening scene the perfect excuse for a huge action set-piece with jaw-dropping stunts. The scene continues with Bond relaxing in the Austrian mountains in the company of a beautiful woman when he receives a ticker tape message from M requesting his return to the UK. As he skis down the mountain he is pursued by a team of Soviet agents including Barsov who he kills before out-running the other agents down the slopes. The camera pulls back to reveal he is skiing towards the edge of the mountain with a sheer drop off. As Bond speeds towards the edge he sails over the edge removing his skis as he free falls before pulling a ripcord revealing a parachute with a Union Jack design as the Bond theme plays.
The stunt is not only one of the best of the series but one of the greatest movie stunts of all time. Filmed from the top of Asgard Peak on Baffin Island in Canada, the stunt was performed by Rick Sylvester who was paid $30,000 for the feat successfully completed in one take and captured by the second unit under the direction of John Glen.
Bond composer John Barry was unavailable to offer scoring duties for The Spy Who Loved Me so the producers turned to multi-award winning composer Marvin Hamlisch to provide the music for the film. Taking inspiration from the late-seventies trend for disco music, Hamlisch’s score is very much of its time and includes a re-working of the Bond theme to a disco beat entitled ‘Bond 77’. Hamlisch also co-wrote the theme song with his then girlfriend, Carole Bayer Sager which would go on to become synonymous with Bond and be used forever over montages of the series’ best moments. Performed by Carly Simon, Nobody Does It Better was the first theme song not to have the same title as the film but The Spy Who Loved Me was sung as part of the verse rather than the chorus. The song proved to be a huge success and was nominated for an Oscar in 1977 as well as being placed 67th in the American Film Institute’s greatest song of the last 100 years in 2004.
When two British and Soviet nuclear submarines mysteriously disappear, British secret service agent James Bond is assigned to investigate. Tracing the sale of a sophisticated submarine tracking system to Egypt he encounters Major Anya Amasova, a female agent of the KGB on the same mission for her government. The investigation leads to Karl Stromberg, a millionaire shipping tycoon, who from his underwater base in Sardinia has masterminded a plot to capture British, Soviet and American submarines with his super-tanker, the Liparus, to bring about World War III launching nuclear missiles towards New York and Moscow so he can establish a new civilisation living underwater. Together, Bond and Amasova put their countries differences aside to put a stop to Stromberg’s plans and prevent a nuclear war.
The film is essentially a re-run of the plot from You Only Live Twice, with submarines being swallowed in much the same way as the rocket ships in Connery’s fifth outing, no surprise as both films were directed by Lewis Gilbert, but on this occasion there is a much better balance between reality and the series’ excesses that had developed over the years.
The increased budget has a clear impact on the scale of the production. Designer Ken Adam returns for his sixth Bond film to deliver sets so large EON Productions had to finance and build a brand new soundstage at Pinewood. Built to house the interior sets of Stromberg’s massive super-tanker, the 59,000 sq ft structure with a water tank capable of taking 1.2 million gallons of water, was large enough to accommodate the three full-scale nuclear submarines required by the storyline of the film. After Adam’s previous volcano base design for You Only Live Twice, this set ranks as one of his most impressive creations of the whole series and is to this day unmatched in its ambition. The Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage at Pinewood is still in frequent use despite being almost totally destroyed by fire on two occasions in 1984 and 2006. Since its construction in 1976 the facility has been used for no less than ten Bond films including the latest, Skyfall.
The film also utilised the skills and imagination of special effects designer Derek Meddings. His miniature effects are some of the most convincing ever committed to the screen. After cutting his teeth model making for Gerry Anderson television shows such as Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and UFO, Meddings moved into feature films and made a name for himself as the go-to-guy for miniature and visual effects. Working in collaboration with Ken Adam, Meddings’ miniatures bring to life some of the more outlandish aspects of the film such as Stromberg’s underwater base, Atlantis and the huge super-tanker, the Liparus. While Stromberg’s huge ship, capable of swallowing three nuclear submarines, only ever existed as a model it measured over 60 feet in length and was shot on the Caribbean Ocean off the coast of Nassau. The clever combination of miniatures and cinematography blending real elements with visual effects complete the overall effect to create impressive scenes that despite being far-fetched seem credible on film.
The Spy Who Loved Me proves that sometimes bigger can be better and for better or worse raises the bar for what would be expected from a Bond film in the future. It is probably Moore’s finest hour but there is still room for further development of his interpretation of the role over the course of the next four films and many more peaks and troughs along the way. If I was to pick a Bond film to define each decade I would choose Goldfinger for the sixties and The Spy Who Loved Me for the seventies as both perfectly capture their own period through the styles and fashions of their times as well as capturing their Bond at his peak.
The Bond Villain
After the relatively low-key villains of the previous two films, the main villain in The Spy Who Loved Me, Karl Stromberg, fits more within the Blofeld and Goldfinger mould of megalomaniacal millionaire with plans for world domination only instead of an obsession with gold or money, he has a plan to destroy the world so he can start a new civilisation under the sea. To play the role, director Gilbert suggested German/ Austrian actor Curt Jürgens, with whom he had previously worked on the 1959 film, Ferry To Hong Kong.
Jürgens’ performance is quite understated but still possesses the requisite amount of menace to make his plan believable. While slightly less eccentric than Auric Golfinger or Blofeld, he presides over his empire from his fantastical base leaving much of the work to his employees and henchmen making his world destruction plans all the more viable with a huge army at his disposal. While not much of a physical threat to Bond, he still has a presence and intellect to play Bond at his own game going along with his attempts to infiltrate his lair under the guise of a marine biologist all the while knowing his true identity. Taking perverse pleasure in the murder of his personal secretary after she tries to steal from him, killed after falling from a booby trapped lift into a shark tank, Stromberg is an unpredictable force and a worthy addition to the rogue’s gallery of Bond villains.
James Bond: Don’t you miss the outside world?
Stromberg: For me, this is all the world. There is beauty…there is ugliness…and there is death.
Topping the long list of henchmen in the Bond series, Stromberg’s steel-toothed, mute assassin, Jaws, played by Richard Kiel, joins Goldfinger’s Oddjob as one of the most memorable and iconic of all Bond villains. At 2.18m tall he towers above Bond and proves to be practically indestructible as he manages to defy death after being crushed by scaffolding and falling masonry, thrown from a moving train as well as walking away from the car wreck after it goes over the edge of a cliff crashing into a building below.
Kiel had made a name for himself during the early 1960’s in a string of low budget science fiction and horror television shows and films. In the same year as The Spy Who Loved Me, Kiel was chosen to play The Incredible Hulk in the television adaptation of the popular Marvel comic. After filming had begun on the pilot episode he was replaced by Lou Ferrigno after it was decided the Hulk should be more muscular rather than tall, however it was his role in the Bond films that would prove to be the pinnacle of his career and with his unique look, a role he would forever be associated with.
Writer Christopher Wood took inspiration for Jaws from the Ian Fleming character, Horror, who appears in the original novel. The character proved to be so popular with test audiences that his final scenes had to be re-written. Originally he was supposed to be killed by Stromberg’s shark but instead he kills the shark by biting into it with his metal teeth and is later seen swimming away from Stromberg’s Atlantis as it sinks into the sea. Realising the popularity and potential for the character he makes a return as Hugo Drax’s henchman in the following film, Moonraker.
Stromberg’s other noteworthy henchman comes in the shapely form of bikini clad assassin Naomi, played by Caroline Munro. Adding a touch of sex appeal to the main car chase, she pursues Bond in her helicopter winking and waving at him as she attempts to shoot him off the road. No stranger to the world of James Bond, Munro had already made an appearance in the 1967 spoof Casino Royale but was most well known for her roles in a number of Hammer Horror films in the early seventies. Turning down the opportunity to play General Zod’s female companion Ursa in the Superman films in favour of a role in The Spy Who Loved Me, she only appears briefly in the film but still manages to leave a lasting impression.
The Bond Girl
The Spy Who Loved Me marked a change in the traditional portrayal of the Bond girl. Rather than just a companion for Bond, with the introduction of Major Anya Amasova the Bond girl became his equal. The film takes full advantage of the one-upmanship in having two agents from opposing sides joining forces to defeat a common enemy. The dialogue between Triple X and 007 is particularly snappy and while they start out working almost against each other they soon realise their matching goal would be more achievable working in unison.
Cast just four days before principal photography began, former model Barbara Bach took the role of Agent Triple X bringing undeniable beauty to the part. Over the course of the film she forms a lively chemistry with Moore and a nicely complex relationship with Bond that develops at every turn of the film’s plot. With the underlying sub-plot that Bond killed her former lover during the pre-credits ski chase lending her a certain unpredictability and a fresh twist to the partnership.
James Bond: Where’s Anya?
Stromberg: Well, well…a British agent in love with a Russian agent. Détente, indeed.
Since Goldfinger, Bond had always been associated with Aston Martin but in 1977 another British sports car maker stepped in to provide Bond with a gadget filled car to rival his world famous DB5. After a tip off that the next Bond film was in pre-production at Pinewood Studios, Lotus PR man Donovan McLauchlan took a prototype Lotus Esprit to the studio and parked it close to the entrance giving the car maximum exposure. Within days it had been chosen to make an appearance in The Spy Who Loved Me and would prove to be one of the film’s main highlights.
The spectacularly filmed car chase sequence through the hills of Sardinia features some incredible stunt driving involving a motor-cycle with a guided missile sidecar, a Ford Granada full of Stromberg’s heavies including Jaws and a machine gun toting helicopter piloted by Naomi. The chase culminates with Bond driving his Lotus off the end of a wooden jetty into the ocean where the car transforms into a submarine.
James Bond: (After Anya has just used one of the Lotus submarine’s weapons to kill an enemy) How did you know about that?
Anya Amasova: I stole the plans to this car two years ago.
In total, 2 production model Lotus Esprit S1 cars were provided to the crew as well as 5 complete body shells. The cars were given to production designer Ken Adam and John Stears to convert for use in the film and a full scale working submarine version was made for the underwater scenes featuring adjustable fins and propellers, a periscope, a smoke screen, mines and a surface to air missile which Bond uses to takedown Naomi’s helicopter. Scale models were used for many of the close-up shots of the conversion from car to submarine and the car used for the initial jump off the jetty was just a shell powered by compressed air.
Dubbed “Wet Nellie” after the Little Nellie gyrocopter used in You Only Live Twice, the Lotus was immortalised by die-cast car manufacturer Corgi with a model that at the press of a button would convert into the submarine and featured rockets that would fire from the rear screen. Alongside the Aston Martin DB5, Bond’s Lotus Esprit remains one of the greatest movie vehicles of all time.
James Bond Will Return…..
The Spy Who Loved Me remains a fan favourite and is commonly regarded as Moore’s best Bond film. Grossing over $185 million at the worldwide box-office it seemed the series could do no wrong in the eyes of the audience. At the end of the film’s closing credits it stated that James Bond would return in For Your Eyes Only but following the monumental success of George Lucas’ Star Wars during the same year it was looking more likely that Bond would soon be taking his next adventure out of this world……
To catch up on previous installments of the James Bond Retrospective click here: