The Spy Who Loved Me
U.K. / 1977
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Starring
R
oger Moore
Barbara Bach
Curt Jurgens
Color / 125 Minutes / PG
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
MGM Home Entertainment
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Blu-ray edition (Feb. 2013)

Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
8
    9   10 = Highest Rating  
It's surprising how many folks think Roger Moore was the best James Bond. Almost invariably these fans are children of the '70s to whom, quite simply, Moore is Bond. (Connery was just that guy who played 007 on those old Bond flicks on TV.) My first Bond experience was Live and Let Die, Moore's debut as cinema's top superspy, back in 1973. I thought it was cooler than sliced bread at the time; then again, I was only 11 years old. Moore certainly brought his own brand of charisma to the role, a suave and charming 'pretty boy' with a definite flair for light comedy and tongue-in-cheek humor. During his tenure the Bond franchise grew increasingly more outrageous and flamboyant, teetering dangerously on the abyss of outright Austin Powers-style parody — which is why 1979's Moonraker is anathema to most 007 purists. But this isn't to say that Moore didn't have his moments. 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me is the most enjoyable of his Bond pics, a spectacular special effects extravaganza that's as entertaining as it is ridiculous. It's the one instance in the franchise when a completely over-the-top comic book formula actually works, and in this case Roger Moore is perfect for the part.
    Soviet and British ballistic missile submarines have mysteriously disappeared at sea. The KGB and MI6 know these weren't accidents — a hostile power or organization has somehow perfected the means of tracking nuclear subs underwater. An insider within the enemy group is offering to sell plans of this revolutionary tracking system to the highest bidder; James Bond is assigned to get them for Her Majesty's government. Acting for the Soviet Union, top KGB operative Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) — code-name Triple X — has also been tasked to get the plans. A friendly though uncompromising rivalry develops between the two spies in Cairo, where their contact is found murdered and the leaked plans discovered to be incomplete. Bond and Anya are forced to work together in a spirit of dιtente, following clues that point toward an eccentric shipping magnate, Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), and his incredible underwater research laboratory Atlantis off the Sardinian coast. Certifiably mad, the humanity-hating Stromberg has used his fortune to build the tracking device and also a novel means of capturing submarines at sea — a hollowed-out supertanker capable of 'swallowing' the vessels once they've been forced to the surface. (Just as Blofeld's 'Intruder Rocket' captures Russian and American spacecraft in 1967's You Only Live Twice.) Crewed by his own men, the captured subs will be used to fire nuclear-tipped ICBMs at New York and Moscow, triggering an atomic holocaust. Stromberg's ultimate goal is nothing less than the complete eradication of the human race. With help from the U.S. Navy, Bond and Anya must stop this genocidal plot. But they'll have to get past Stromberg's superhuman, 7' 2" bodyguard/assassin Jaws (Eegah's Richard Kiel) to do it.
    Fantastical as the brief synopsis above may be, the movie takes it to even more cartoon extremes. The submarine tracking device is purely a 'McGuffin', an unexplained means of propelling the plot. While Stromberg is capable of locating submerged subs, he can also disable them via a method that isn't even mentioned, much less explained. Taking a page from the SPECTRE employee manual, the mastermind's army of anonymous henchmen all dress in snappy matching jumpsuits that make it very easy for the audience to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. Gigantic, steel-toothed Jaws, while fun, is easily the most over-the-top villain in the Bond movie universe — a Wile E. Coyote type who simply can't be killed no matter what. That the character is still able to generate menace, despite being used primarily for comic relief, is a testament to Kiel's imposing screen persona.
    All the 007 flicks are adventure fantasies, of course; John Le Carré they're not. Of the 19 'official' Bond films released to date, three — You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker, all directed by Lewis Gilbert — push the comic book sensibility to the limit. Spy is unquestionably the most successful in the attempt. (As of this writing the jury's still out on Die Another Day, which opens in U.S. theaters next week.) With its cartoon storyline and characters the film asks nothing more of the audience than to switch off their brains, sit back and enjoy the show. Basically a remake of You Only Live Twice, its splashy blend of thrilling stunt work, campy humor and dazzling special effects easily overwhelm the silliness of the paper-thin plot.
(Critic Roger Ebert opined that Spy, though earthbound, is every bit an effects showcase as that other box-office smash of 1977, Star Wars.) Ken Adam's stylized sets are simply incredible to behold, especially the gargantuan supertanker interior that was actually built to scale. (Today it'd be rendered via CGI to hold down production costs.) As 007, Moore is at the top of his game as the 'Bond Lite' of the franchise. His knack for light comedy comes off as a friendly, conspiratorial wink rather than hair-sprayed smarm. Here, for once, Moore's tongue-in-cheek approach to the character compliments the film rather than undermining it. The movie's such brainless fun that I can even forgive the dated, disco-flavored score of Marvin Hamlisch. (John Barry is definitely missed in this case.)
    Last but not least, Spy features some of the most ravishing eye candy of any single Bond film. In addition to Bach (Black Belly of the Tarantula), there's the visual charm of bit players Caroline Munro (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) and Valerie Leon (Blood from the Mummy's Tomb). In my opinion the exotic Ms. Munro should've had a much bigger part, perhaps even as Anya!

Recently reissued by MGM after a nearly 2-year moratorium, the 'Special Edition' DVD of The Spy Who Loved Me is a real steal at the new, lower price of around $15. The print used for the anamorphic widescreen transfer has a few blemishes here and there but is generally outstanding. A 5.1 Surround audio mix means that Spy has never sounded this good before, even when it first played theaters.
    Like the other Bond DVDs it's bursting with cool extra features. Chief among these is the 41-minute documentary, Inside The Spy Who Loved Me, narrated by The Avengers' Patrick MacNee. Interspersed with film clips, interview footage with Moore, Kiel and Leon represent the cast's recollections, while director Gilbert, co-producer Michael G. Wilson, designer Ken Adam and others recall more technical details of this mammoth production. Supplementing this excellent doc is another featurette, Designing Bond (21 minutes), chronicling the incredible work of Ken Adam throughout the 007 series. There's also an audio commentary with Adam, Gilbert, and Wilson. (Though it's actually fairly dry throughout.) Add to these a large still/poster gallery, different trailer variations, TV and radio spots, the obligatory liner notes booklet and flashy animated menus. All in all yet another superb Bond disc. 11/16/02

UPDATE OOP for a couple of years, The Spy Who Loved Me was reissued in 2006 by Sony/MGM. This completely remastered 2-disc edition — meticulously restored, with new, additional bonus features — is part of The James Bond Ultimate Collection Vol. 2, which also contains four other 007 films. Blu-ray editions followed.
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