The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Dir: Lewis Gilbert
Back on Track
By Jay Maronde
Director Lewis Gilbert and Set Designer Ken Adams teamed back up again—and after extensive delays, seemed to re-work their “You Only Live Twice-magic” into the Blockbuster smash The Spy Who Loved Me—and saved the entire James Bond Franchise. This film is widely regarded as Roger Moore’s best Bond work (not necessarily by me), and he is more than adequate in this film in which James Bond’s ability to seduce women literally ends up saving his life while dealing with a Soviet spy. But the real star of this film is Ken Adams’ completely insane sets (which earned him on Oscar nomination) and the brilliance of Gilbert’s special effects team.
First though, let’s start with the problems, which were once again legal, and once again caused by the Franchise’s early dealings with one Kevin McClory. Litigation is nothing new in Hollywood. People sue other people all the time—in fact, the producers had to buy at least one other litigant’s film treatment to avoid being sued by him—but Kevin McClory takes the all-time cake. From my research it seems as though McClory sued the James Bond Franchise for almost 50 years. He even went to so far as to produce a non-authorized Bond in the 1980’s. I personally feel that he got his what for during the production of this film.
The Spy Who Loved Me was, and forever will be, the only Bond Film that occurred in the same order as the book from which it drew its title: the 10th book became the 10th film. Coincidentally, and partially because of McClory, the film draws almost nothing from the book besides the title and part of the inspiration for its uber-famous henchman: Jaws (played famously by Richard Kiel). TSWLM was supposed to be another film in which Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE were the villains. McClory had already won the rights to Blofeld and SPECTRE in earlier litigation, so when he heard this new film would include Blofeld, he sued again. The producers had his number this time and almost immediately rewrote the entire script to no longer include any mention of BLofeld or SPECTRE, and instead created a villain extremely similar to Blofeld, except named Stromberg. AHHH HAHAHAHAHAHA Kevin McClory had to learn the expensive way that he didn’t have the exclusive monopoly on fictional villains. (Sorry, I just like it when Bond’s enemies get theirs).
Anyways legal problems aside, Gilbert (who had actually been chosen after Steven Spielberg refused, having just completed Jaws and stating that he “wanted to see how these fish movies turn out”) began work on a Bond to really outperform the others, and in this effort went to some amazing extremes.
First off, over 1 million dollars of this production’s budget went directly towards the building of an all-new world’s-largest-ever-soundstage built at Pinewood Studios and named the 007 stage. The first job for this stage was the interior of Stromberg’s super-evil nuclear-submarine-swallowing super tanker The Liparus (the water tank inside the stage actually held more than one million gallons of water to enable this footage). The new stage was so incredibly large that a super-secret consultant was brought in to aid with the lighting: Stanley Kubrick. A Shell corporation executive and golfing buddy of Producer Albert Broccoli had volunteered a real Shell supertanker for the film, but the production team had been forced to pass as the insurance which would have been required would have been outrageously prohibitive. The outside shots of the supertanker were filmed with an almost
70 foot long model.
Another favorite special effect is Bond’s white Lotus Espirit turbo coupe which converted to a submarine when driven into water. This car is easily one of my favorites throughout the series, because it is super cool, which is exactly why after the film’s release the waiting list for a new Lotus suddenly grew to over three years. Another aquatic effect in this film is Bond’s use of the world’s first jet ski. The “water motorcycle” (as it was at the time called) ridden by Bond during the latter part of the film as he assaults the evil villains lair, literally sprouted an entirely new watersport.
Gilbert’s two other smashing successes with this film came from two shockingly different angles. First there was Jaws, cast perfectly with the actor Richard Kiel, who in real life is actually over 7 feet tall, and still works with the Bond Franchise doing Bond events and promotions. Jaws was immediately popular with Broccoli—so popular, in fact, that Broccoli had the script rewritten so that Jaws could live and escape and therefore possibly reappear in a later Bond adventure. Screener audiences loved Jaws so much that they gave the film a standing ovation when Jaws escaped. Over the years, Jaws has become one of the most recognizable and beloved Bond villains.
Gilbert’s other success was even more important: he singlehandedly re-envisioned the entire humor of the franchise. Gone were the slapstick shtick and vaudevillian humor; gone were silly southern sheriffs and stunts corrupted by penny whistles. This new Bond was smooth as ice, and when he does make a joke it’s in an extremely pithy, very British, overly-sexualized-and-yet-not-quite-skeevy manner. My favorite Bond zinger comes at the very end of the film after Bond has escaped from the villain’s destroyed fortress in an escape pod with the lovely Soviet Agent XXX (played well, but not too memorably, by the very pretty Barbara Bach, who is actually currently married to none other than Ringo Starr). The two have escaped, and the girl is about to make good on her oath to kill Bond once the mission is over. Bond then seduces her in a scene which couldn’t have been more perfectly written for Roger Moore. As Moore handles Bond’s favorite business, the escape pod is recovered by the British and when M (again played by the classic Bernard Lee) asks Bond what he’s doing, Bond replies: “Keeping the British end up, sir!”
This movie was wildly popular and easily made up for the lackluster financial performance of The Man with the Golden Gun. The theme song “Nobody Does it Better” went gold, even though it was the first Bond theme song not to be titled the same as the film, and has been covered by numerous artists over the years since it was first recorded by the ethereal Carly Simon. On a strange note: this film ends with the classic “James Bond will return…in For Your Eyes Only.” Moonraker would actually be the next Bond film to be produced as the management team would seek to capitalize off other space movies such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but also to parlay the audience’s love of the character Jaws by having him reappear in the successive film. It is of little concern though, as Gilbert had saved the longest running film franchise. Were it not for his excellent direction of this film and re- direction of the entire series, one truly wonders if we would all so eagerly be awaiting next month’s Skyfall.