Published Oct 30, 2012Though liberally borrowing its central plot from the earlier Bond installment, You Only Live Twice, which was similarly directed by Lewis Gilbert, The Spy Who Loved Me manages to hold up as one of the stronger entries—in particular, of the set featuring Roger Moore—in the franchise, having stunning set pieces, memorable villains and a more grounded, engaging tone than most. It was also the first Bond film written from scratch, using only the title of an Ian Fleming novel as inspiration and creating its central reclusive millionaire villain from scratch when legal disputes with Kevin McClory, who owned the rights to Thunderball and resultantly Blofeld and SPECTRE.
Again using the template of Cold War exploitation and subterfuge, this tenth cinematic 007 mission has Bond teaming up with KGB agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) to find a submarine tracking system somewhere in Egypt. As is the formula for almost all Bond films, this quest leads to globetrotting and a bigger unexpected plan, when they link the tracker to underwater recluse and anarchist, Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), who plans to start a war between the Americans and the Russians, starting his own society in an Atlantis sort of environment.
Taken out of the context of a Bond film, this early Beach concept in itself titillates with narrative political and sociological possibilities but in a movie that features a henchman named Jaws, afflicted with gigantism and endowed with metal teeth, it's merely a means to an end.
What does work about this particular entry are the cleverly rendered set pieces, whether they involve shark tanks or a van slowly being torn apart by a crazed, unspeaking man. Also of benefit was the playful, ever-shifting dynamic between Bond and Amasova, who vacillating between flirting and fighting while trying to maintain the upper hand.
Despite the obvious limitations that time has imposed (this film is older than me), the well-balanced tone, matching absurd (though not as absurd as, say, Moonraker) action with serious spy thriller elements still holds up quite well, making for compelling entertainment. It even features the largest soundstage (Stromberg's supertanker) for the time and a mountainside ski jump free-fall stunt that still impresses despite the game being upped many times over in subsequent decades.
The Spy Who Loved Me screens as part of Shaken, Not Stirred: Bond on Film retrospective at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Screening initially at 12pm on November 4th, 2012, it will return to the Lightbox in December for additional big screen viewing opportunities. (MGM)