The Spy Who Loved Me (DVD, Special Edition) Reviews
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The Spy Who Loved Me (DVD, Special Edition)

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Spy Who Loved Moore with JAWS, tripped out Lotus, disco-score & polyester suits. No Spoilers

Dec 11, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Richard Kiel, pre-credit sequence, Barbara Bach,

Cons:too many similiarities to You Only Live Twice, jokey tone, disco-era stuff

The Bottom Line: No Spoiler review of what many believe to be Roger Moore's best of 7 Bond Films.

1977’s tenth ‘official’ Bond outing is The Spy Who Loved Me and Roger Moore’s 3rd time out as 007.  Many think it is not only Moore’s best but a contender for the Best Bond of them all.  

It remains Roger Moore’s favorite of the Bonds he appeared in (and he turned 49 years old while filming it!).   It’s remembered for: The exciting snow-chase pre-title sequence, the Carly Simon title song ‘Nobody Does it Better, Barbara Bach’s Bond Girl (who was a capable partner to James Bond throughout), the wild car chase with gadget filled Lotus car and the one and only  metal teeth bearing evil henchman JAWS played with gusto by (Eegah ‘s)  Richard Kiel).   He proved such an audience favorite he was brought back in the next Bond film, MOONRAKER.

The Bond series popularity had already begat lots of knock-offs and parodies.  TV jumped in with Secret Agent Man, The Saint (with Roger Moore), Man From Uncle, I Spy and Get Smart.  We had two FLINT movies, The Dean Martin Matt Helm series, and lots of utterly inane and lame inspirations best avoided as well.   How long could it continue many wondered?

Connery walked away from the series after 1971's Diamonds Are Forever.  Roger Moore eagerly jumped into the role with 1973’s To Live and Let Die which added topical characters, jokes and slapstick humor to the mix that forever changed audience expectations. (Fleming’s original personal choices of who he wanted to see play Bond was David Niven and Roger Moore—Broccoli and Salzmann originally tried to cast Cary Grant--who would only commit to one movie and James Mason --who would only commit to two).

Man with the Golden Gun was a less ambitious production that brought back some of the formula scenes Live and Let Die eschewed (a meeting in M’s office, a scene or two with Q, the drinking of Martinis and fine wines).   Audiences were disappointed and so a bigger, better, Bond full of over-the-top surprises was concocted.  It was all decided to make Bond more jolly and more sensitive to women and further break the character away from how Connery played the role.

The audience and many critics approved of the lighter Bond and of the bigger stunts, bigger explosions and of JAWS—who had a very timely scene involving a shark which audience particularly loved in 1977 theaters. Spy Who Loved Me was a huge international hit and the franchise with Roger Moore looked like it would last into the 1980s!!!

I had not seen The Spy Who Loved Me in nearly two decades.  It has as I expected  NOT aged well.   But I was looking forwarded to enjoy even its dated elements just as I enjoyed recent viewings of From Russia with Love, You Only Live Twice and even Live and Let Die.    I knew the Marvin Hamlisch score which had disco music elements would probably add a lot more cheese to the package (and it does).  I knew some of the pre-CGI stunts would be both spectacular and ragged with insert shots involving mattes and green screens that would show their age.  I also knew because it was a Roger Moore Bond picture, his more care-free and less intense portrayal of Bond would make it all seem less sophisticated, classy and debonair than the Connery Bonds—and it does.

Keeping all this in mind, I was looking forward to having a wonderful time being entertained by The Spy Who Loved Me.

Unfortunately it wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.  

Although some of the stunt work, and production design was spectacular for 1977, the pacing and some of the fighting and chase choreography don’t hold up as well as 1967’s You Only Live Twice.  The final action sequence is a too similar copy of the final sequence in TWICE as well.

THAT was disappointing.

Production designer Ken Adams had his work cut-out for him and did some of his very best work here (given the limitations of technology).  The villain’s underwater lair and water-based sets are high-points.

The opening ski-chase with that amazing parachute stunt is still breathtaking.  It was filmed by second unit director  John Glen who would go on to direct 5 Bond films in a row beginning with For Your Eyes Only and ending with Timothy Dalton’s Living Daylights and License to Kill.

The chase scene with the Lotus Esprit car both above ground and then underwater is still fun—despite obvious old school effects.

There are some enjoyable Bond-villain confrontation scenes allowing the villain to theatrically boast about his genius.    Some of the double-entendres are amusing, many are groan inducing (both acceptable and fun), but some are truly lame.

“Why do we seek to conquer space when seven tenths of our universe remains to be explored? The world beneath the sea.”

But the fault was mine.  Spy Who Love Me is the quintessential Bond for the 70s.  A fine representation of 70s kitsch with polyester suits, the near end of the Cold War with Russia, the softening of the macho man image and the rise of the new capable empowered woman.  Bond in many ways reflected these changes while delivering most of what audiences wanted to see in their James Bond fantasy movie.  If one watches this as a dated audience pleaser very much a product of the 70s—you should be thoroughly entertained.

Bond movies after-all haven’t been something you take seriously since 1964’s Goldfinger .   In 1965’s Thunderball, we have the opening where Bond straps on the jet-pack and flies into the air.  The Jet pack had just been developed and made an appearance at the 1964 World’s Fair.  They had a guy actually fly it many times on location to get shots for the movie.   Then in the film, Connery as Bond slips the jet pack off his back and puts it in the trunk of his Aston Martin.   Even if the jet pack would actually fit, the tubes would have been red hot and everyone on the set knew this because the real one had been flying around. It didn’t matter,  it was a cool Bond moment.    Some details in a Bond film were not important at all.  Other details remained very important.

It’s an absurd surreal world where bad guys can fire thousands of bullets around Bond and not only miss him completely but also have no ricochets hit him either.  The bad guys always have to take a few moments to boast to Bond about what they are going to do, and they prefer to have some device or some animal (like a Shark) or some henchman kill Bond for them, rather than just take out a gun and shoot him in the head.  Most of the Bond woman die, the somewhat capable ones who do not die are at some point saved by Bond and all of them must say the phrase  “Oh James,” at least twice and sometimes many more times than that in every Bond movie.   “Bond, James Bond,”  must be uttered and in most films there’s the discussion of what Bond is drinking--  Martini shaken not stirred –usually but sometimes a variation of that.  Q needs to appear and explain a gadget—audiences were very upset when he didn’t appear in Moore’s first Bond Live and Let Die and the Bond producers have had him appear ever since (He wasn’t seen in Dr. NO).   Audiences also didn’t like Moore NOT drinking martinis which he would sometimes do in future Bonds (but not always).   There’s several more musts to the BOND formula.

The Spy Who Loved Me was the first Bond with Roger Moore to have just about all of the requisite BOND moments.  The plot was very similar to You Only Live Twice, the opening reminding us of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the underwater scenes of Thunderball.

Two inter-continental-ballistic missile submarines (which sounds better if you say it out loud with a Russian accent) are missing.  The first one stolen is British and they believe the Soviets had something to do with it.  When the Soviet submarine is missing, they Soviets believe the British had something to do with it in retaliation, so the Russians and Brits decide to cooperate to get evidence neither one was involved with the other one’s missing sub.  So… Triple X  aka  Major Amasova  (Barbara Bach)from Russia and 007 aka James Bond (Roger Moore)from England work together as partners to first track down some stolen microfilm which takes the verbally dueling pair to Cairo.  They quickly discover a connection to a rich shipping tycoon and marine biologist  Karl Stromberg who is creating an underwater city that will be free from pollution, disease or corruption.   

He intends to have the nuclear submarines fire at the U.S. and Russia which will instigate the Third World War. 

Meanwhile trying to kill Bond and Amasova is Stromberg’s very loyal, very determined, but somewhat inept henchman JAWS who has deadly steel teeth.  He’s also over 7 feet tall and very strong.   Bond and Amasova have several close calls as they bicker and almost fall in love with each other.

Marvin Hamlisch unabashedly uses the James Bond theme and John Barry sub-themes in almost the same way they were used in From Russia With Love, but there’s a brighter, faster disco sound to them.  He also sneaks in a few well- chosen classical music moments ( Bach’s Air on the G String and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21.) and a humorous use of Maurice Jarre’s Theme from Lawrence of Arabia too.   And there’s that big pop hit  Nobody Does it Better, with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, sung by Carly Simon that is heard in the beginning and ending credits.  (It was the first time the big song from the Bond film didn’t have the same title as the movie—though The Spy Who Loved Me is still an important lyric).

“I’m not interested in extortion. I intend to change the face of history.”

Although the end credits of Man with the Golden Gun promised Bond would return with The Spy Who Loved Me, a lot of problems were going on behind the scenes, particularly when the box-office for Golden Gun was disappointing.   Co-executive producer Harry Saltzman who had worked on the previous nine films was beset with personal and financial problems. He battled clinical depression, his wife was dying of cancer, he lost most of his money AND he was fighting with partner Broccoli. 

Ian Fleming had only sold the rights to the title of his book; The Spy Who Loved Me, not its content.  At one point Stephen Spielberg was set to direct the film but serious doubts about his ability to manage a large production like BOND were in serious doubts because of all the problems he was having with JAWS and so the decision was made to have Guy Hamilton the director of Goldfinger, Live and Let Die and the disappointing Man with the Golden Gun, direct.

There were script and pre-production problems as well and the departure of Saltzman affected many of the long-time production team.  At least six writers  were working on the script: Stirling Silliphant, John Landis, Ronald Hardy, Anthony Burgess, Derek Marlowe and Gerry Anderson  (who had made children’s TV shows like Supercar and Thunderbirds and was using ideas from Fleming’s Moonraker novel which wound up being partially used in Spy Who Loved Me).  Richard Maibaum put together ideas from most of the contributors for the shooting script.

It looked like the script decided upon would bring back Blofeld but Ken McLory who had the rights to the THUNDERBALL novel  (see my Never Say Never Again REVIEW for more detail), filed a legal injunction against EON productions trying to prevent them from using the character of Blofeld or the SPECTRE organization.

This forced EON to delay the start of production of SPY and director Hamilton was then offered work on what became the 1978 SUPERMAN movie.  He left SPY and was replaced with Lewis Gilbert who had previously done You Only Live Twice. (Richard Donner wound up directing the Superman movie).   Gilbert hired another writer  Christopher  Wood  to work on the script.   The final script of SPY incorporated variations of ideas from You Only Live Twice, keeping some Moonraker ideas as well.  Christopher Wood (and  Richard Maibaum) plotted SPY in a more cohesive manner than most, fully incorporating the pre-credit sequence so that a sub-plot was developed that motivates a characters action later in the film.   Wood and Gilbert also felt that the darker tones of Bond’s character in Man with the Golden Gun was a negative.  The criticism of Connery era Bond films was his underlying cold sadism and misogynistic treatment of women.   It was decided to make Moore’s Bond lighter and more carefree, less sadistic and also more sensitive to women.  Moore would very much be the dapper, almost unflappable British agent always ready with a quick quip.  He would become more like his TV character Simon Templar (The Saint), less brutal, less dark and with more audience appeal.

Moore’s Bond was fully developed as the care-free British playboy—a gentleman and a bit of a cad who was mostly having a great time being a spy.  He was resourceful, smart, witty, could speak several languages and was able to quickly figure out how to operate complicate machinery.   He was also able to improvise in the middle of a high-speed chase thanks in part to Q’s gadgets and his utterly fearless pursuit of stopping an evil madman’s plans—all for the honor of  Queen and Country!

In Spy, Barbara Bach’s Agent Amasova isn’t merely a BOND girl or an bad guy’s girlfriend, but a very capable soviet spy who in many ways was the equal of 007.  We also get to know some of her motivations for working on the mission.  This was certainly a Bond update from the novels and previous films.  It began an era of stronger female co-stars (for the most part) which eventually would lead to Michelle Yeoh’s memorable partnership with Bond (Pierce Brosnan) in 1995’s Tomorrow Never Dies.

The character of Amasova knows Bond’s background in detail and she is not a fawning Bond groupie, but a Russian Spy.  She is forced to work with him to defeat a common enemy and to secretly try to find out information about what British spy was involved in the death of the Russian Agent she loved.

(This was actually, despite the promotional campaign for the movie and the comments various people make about the film in the DVD extras NOT the first time we had a Bond Girl that was capable and intelligent.  Honor Blackman’s Pus*sy Galore character way back in 1964’s Goldfinger  was also a particularly capable Bond girl, but in the novel she was part of a Lesbian Spy organization which was altered for the film)

There’s some good verbal banter between Bond and Amasova often with romantic comedy style humor that works well—but is dumbed down as we get in the finale.

 Curd Jurgen’s Stromberg is one of the oldest Bond villains we’ve seen, but his portrayal of the mad megalomaniac is solid and convincing.   His line readings while sitting in his octopus-shaped underwater lair, talking to two scientists or later to Bond are among any Bond villain’s best.

But it’s Stromberg’s henchman everyone remembers –JAWS.  The character’s name in the book (which they didn’t have permission to use) was Sol “Horror” Horowitz, a larger than life sized villain with steel-capped teeth.  It is suggested, but not really shown in the movie that he uses the teeth to rip out his victims’ jugular vein.   There is just a small amount of blood shown in SPY, when of course such a killing should make a real mess.

Somehow, the 7’ 2” actor Richard Kiel, makes this very evil Bond villain a sort of likeable low I.Q lug of a villain.   He’s loyal to his boss and despite failing his mission several times, he picks himself up, dusts himself off and tries again.

The scene where he starts to tear apart the van that has Bond and Agent Amasova inside is absurdly ridiculous to watch today.  There are several moments that while not quite as slapstick oriented as scenes in Live and Let Die and Man with the Golden Gun also occur.  Gilbert and team thankfully avoid being too cutesy (but will over-do this to a sickening degree in MOONRAKER).

The plot involving the stealing and launching of nuclear missiles to destroy the earth so the survivors would have to live in underwater cities as designed by Stromberg’s new society isn’t a bad scenario for a Bond film, but we’ve seen the submarines, the stealing of missiles, etc in other Bond films before.  It was starting to get old and overly familiar.

But okay…we can forget all that and go along for the ride right?

“Can you swim?!”

That incredible Lotus Espirit Turbo can.  It was Moore’s car in the Bond films like the Aston Martin became associated with Connery and the BMW with Brosnan.   It was pimped out with all kinds of gadgets such as  an oil slick, mines, rockets and surface-to-air missiles (which also function underwater).  We were actually shown Moore driving the thing underwater too!

In the last outing, Man with the Golden Gun, there was no fancy car—though a memorable flipping car jump did take place, and in the first Moore Bond, Live and Let Die, the Lotus was almost immediately put out of commission forcing a chase scene to take place with a sub-standard car and then later a tourist bus. 

DVD Stuff

I saw Spy Who Loved Me on a rental disc from Netflix and did not rent or view the 2ndSpecial Feature Disc which is part of the standard Ultimate Special Edition version.

This was presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.  There’s some grain in the print due to age but colors are bright and black levels are strong.   The sound  is an average 5.1 mix which uses mostly the front speakers.  The dialogue is always clear and the score and special effects make good use of a strong bass.  You can hear a little bit of hiss throughout, but it’s rarely noticeable unless you’re really listening for it.

There is a scene specific commentary (on the Feature disc) featuring Director Gilbert, Production Designer Adam, writer Christopher Wood and producer Michael Wilson.  Some of the information is repeated and there is a 6 minute gap where no one talks approximately mid-way through the film.

The Feature disc (which I didn’t view) has "Inside The Spy Who Loved Me" a mini-documentary narrated by Patrick MacNee.  There’s a shorter featurette on Production Designer Ken Adam and several other Spy related features, trailers and radio spots like other Ultimate Special Edition discs offer.

Bottom Line:

For many Spy Who Loved Me is the best Moore Bond with the actor at his peak in the role.  The stunts were over-the-top for 1977 and impressive.  Barbara Bach makes a great Bond girl who was written to be an almost equal to 007.  We have two memorable villains with Richard Kiel as JAWS the henchman making the most memorable impression (he would return in Moonraker).  It has a lighter, joke-filled feel than previous Bonds but not too many really stupid slapstick moments.   I didn’t quite enjoy it as much I thought I would, but many of you will enjoy this mid-70s polyester suit/disco-era Bond more than I did so add a half-star to my rating.

©2012, Christopher J. Jarmick  All Rights Reserved.

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