(contains traces of the secret diary of a super villain, found by renown beachcomber Jacques Stewart)
… and as such things do is a primarily opinionated affair.
Tell us about your own adventures with ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ in this thread.
Time for a running total.
On the basis that this little misadventure was initially an exercise in establishing whether the 007th minute of each film exemplified “A Bond Film”, one may as well, upon reaching 00-figures, “Apply. Observe. Conclude”, as a Chemistry teacher of mine used to shout. Given what subsequently happened to him, he evidently interpreted the process as “Binoculars. Boys. Not just calling a register but also signing one”.
Accordingly, working through our nine 007th minutes so far, in order, where we appear to get to is:-
1. British interests are in dire peril; the stiff upper hair is wobbling. Send for the hero, a high-living gambler.
2. The opposition are a roster of equally sophisticated parallels, although they can be more intellectually blessed than the hero.
3. Let’s be bold and brash and a lickle bick cheeky…
4. …and push it to the cusp of outrage, when we can.
5. Amidst the madness, we can inject some moody solemnity for “depth” – if not realism.
6. Thunderous action in interesting locations, and wink at the audience to reassure that everyone knows it’s all pretend.
7. If in doubt, fall back on some proven routines…
8. …but don’t be afraid to inject even into them an element of the bizarre and unexpected now and again.
Hmm. What is the positive ingredient to extrapolate from the 007th minute of The Man with the Golden Gun? 9. Ensure a bird is very dead before resting one’s weapon thereupon? Not convinced that’s appropriate family viewing, although it’s arguably evident in other films in the way The Actor Pierge Brosmomb’s Bond ostentatiously sniffnibbles murdered women. Applying his little shooter is surely only one step further. 9. Do not listen to cackling power-crazed midgets? Not even when they’re banging on about the gorgeousness of Rosamund Pike? Shame. 9. Hang around filling time and wasting it in the process? Too many other examples to mention. No, no, come now Jimothy, one must be positive and clappy and blisswhacked and…
9. Villains with perverse charisma and challenging personal attributes, be they physical or mental or both.
Obviously in evidence prior to The Man with the Golden Gun, but as none appear in their respective film’s 007th minute, Scaramanga’s brand of tracksuit-clad evil (influencing every youth in Britain) may as well stand testament for the lot of them. And, fair’s fair, overchebbed vampire maniac and a hirsute French Gollum are fairly “challenging” as “attributes”. At least there’s actually something in there to latch on to in a meaningful manner; but it’s as obvious as Moore’s nips-high action slacks betraying the side he dressed that by James Bond 9, the regular service interval had long passed, bits were dropping off and the accelerator wasn’t working. Time to press that pedal, old lovey.
You can see why, though, can’t you? The Man with the Golden Gun has some qualities but being consistently engaging across its running time of eleven turgid millennia it is not, save for Lulu unlocking the gates of Hell, both M and Scaramanga employing pointlessly mute functionaries (devising the idea in one of their late night ‘phone calls) and Britt Ekland being pointlessly noisy when purposefully mute would have been eminently preferable.
Not much happens and everyone’s very, very grumpy, James Bond especially, stomping around with a blat of gum stuck to his chest (no wonder we don’t see MooreBond topless again: it’s still there), actively going out of his way to hurt women, drown children and stab midgets with a splintered chairback, heroically, and sporting a look as if he’s just licked cat wee from a nettle / polished off the Phuyuck / enjoyed the refreshing “taste” of Global Partner Heineken (upon which, see first suggestion). His bid for oblivion by driving fast into a river didn’t even work, although some satisfaction can be gained by knowing that Sheriff Pepper is still in a Thai gaol, ancient and emaciated, dead behind the eyes, getting his cellmate’s Agitator thrice-nightly right up the Doomsday Machine . He doesn’t charge a million a shot: three moist cigarettes and a tear-streaked glimpse of daylight will do. His sentence actually lapsed years ago. He just prefers it to Louisiana.
The series definitely needed something, needed some oomph – some 00-mph. Bm-bm, although double-zero miles per hour is undoubtedly a fitter description of The Man with the Golden Gun than its successor. Two possible approaches. Firstly, wipe the lot out and start again, perhaps under the sea this time. The moral of The Spy Who Loved Me suggests that this is a terrible and illogical idea. The second approach: look back at what you have achieved and reflect on the distinctive elements of the series. Don’t deny them; recognise them, affirm them joyously; just don’t turn it into a smug absinthe binge in which James Bond surfs, twice. The Spy Who Loved Me’s reputation as a Greatest Hits trawl isn’t a dishonour – the word “great” is part of “Greatest”. As is the word “teats”.
That’s not to say that no previous film has demonstrated characteristics beyond the particular one(s) I’m reinterpreting into its respective 007th minute (with a little contrivance, granted, but I’m not sure it’s requiring that much). If we take those 9 propositions above as characteristic (which is one of the two purposes of this rubbish, the other being an opportunity to write the word “teats”), most of the films to date demonstrate the majority of them in some sort of combination. Dr No falls down on number 7, although I accept that’s cheating. Even Diamonds are Forever nearly achieves some of them. I doubt it meets the first principle, largely because it has both Bond and Blofeld, on separate occasions, explicitly telling the audience that neither the gem smuggling nor the Blingy Death Kill Laser are any clear threat to Britain. This strikes one as either immensely confident, that by 1971 we would watch any old rubbish (we would), or deeply cynical. Or confidently cynical. Or cynically confident. Or all of these – it’s Diamonds are Forever and it’s therefore a ) impossible to actually define and b ) impossible to argue that it’s worthwhile even bothering. You can replace the word “define” with “watch” if that gives you something jolly to do.
What is possible to argue is that the three films thus far bunged our way by the 1970s are struggling to manifest expectations set of them in, um, 2012. Hm. Internet messageboard hindsight, as appealing a condition as whatever now passes as the excuse for academic weakness. In my day the fashionable disease for parents to inflict upon their dullard offspring, in sedated denial of said sprog being, God forbid, a bit thick, was dyslexia, so prevalent an affliction that it became airborne around exam time. The modern equivalent’s probably Ebola or rabies or, oh I dunno, death. Well, whatever it is, I hope it hurts. Still, there’s a potential, if tortuous, analogy in so far as imposed expectations go. In large families, the ninth child is habitually wheezy or a clergyperson or a bit disappointing in comparison to their older, dynamic, World-conquering (if bonkers) siblings, and tend to marry a Prussian loony and, weakling that it is, immediately die of consumption or complications brought on by very juicy catarrh. There just to keep the dynasty going, a spare, a life themetuned by devastating whispers of “pleasant enough but no, not really up to it, y’know”. The Man with the Golden Gun.
Put more mustard in one’s custard – there are pills – and produce something worthy of the name.
Much has been written/spoken/communicated through the medium of dance about the complicated genesis of The Spy Who Loved Me, some of which you are entitled to believe if that’s a lifestyle choice you must make. Liparusloads of Saltzman and McClory strife that isn’t worth going into because it’s still probably being litigated, somewhere, and is also earthshatteringly dull. Mr Broccoli built a big shed, filled it with water during the worst drought Britain ever suffered (another Spy/Quantum of Solace connection beyond the Robert Sterling thing and both being super), threw a man off a mountain, showed us Pyramids and supertankers and underwater cars and indestructible giants and then nuked two submarines, Ken Adam having felt-tipped the words “Harry” and “Kevin” on them (science fact!). This is all you need to know about the making of this film. I accept that there’s other stuff about Stromberg really being Blofeld, big clue being that he lives in a giant SPECTRE octopus and inflicts horrendous garb on his men (one can only weep at his submarine crew uniform) and, obviously, Stromberg is an anagram of Blofeld, if you change the letters. Regardless of all the ostensible difficulties in making it, they made it and they made it rather tremendous. There are bits that’s don’t really work, but that’s a significant improvement on trying to find bits that do.
Up to the 007th minute, we’ve been spoiled for incident; indeed, so much happens they can’t afford to show us all of it, a departure from last time out. New team – Hamilton and Mankiewicz demonstrating evident creative exhaustion in the previous film – pep things up. Arguably, Bond is a blander character from now on but the sort of things they had him do weren’t nice. Credit where due, Manky could craft a smashing one-liner, but on the evidence of the cracking jokes in this film, it’s not as if Christopher Wood thinks that erudite is a glue, either. Notably, the attitude towards women has changed. Whether it’s improved says too much, but it does seem to have shifted into kindly, condescending tolerance as opposed to dismissive, lipcurled slapwhackage. Critically, what happens up to and during the 007th minute is – at least in the XXX/Sergei “story arc”, oh God – followed through (reasonably logically) to the end. The plot of The Spy Who Loved Me, that bucket of joyous codswallop, hangs together (ish), another improvement, although many say that this is because it’s used goods and the revolution is only a well- to anorexically- disguised reheat of You Only Live Twice. Well, any revolution requires evolution, otherwise it would just be “r” and played horribly feebly by John Cleese. Which you would not want. Misses the point, anyway – The Spy Who Loved Me is a facelift, a refresh not a reboot, retaining what worked (Roger Moore) and remoulding what didn’t (James Bond). A bold statement in utter balderdash, the bravery is in going so Biggest, Best and Beyond in so doing, and why not reacquaint the audience with how grand and spectacular Bond can be? You Only Live Twice as a serving suggestion was a great pick – it’s massive and confident and relentless and daft. An “anniversary” film based on the uncertain and inconsistent and flabby Diamonds are Forever, that be a cretinous idea and… oh.
The “same but different” from the off: an unusual rendition of the Bond theme. An Extraordinary Rendition; it appears to have kidnapped a better version and flown it to Cuba in shackles with a bag on its head. Fortunately, the music improves immeasurably for the rest of the film and at least we were distracted by the sight of Roger Moore’s trizers exploiting the (brilliantly used) return to widescreen in a majestically flappy way; broad enough to count as a National Park, they have their own ecosystem and picnic area, and remain the only human garb visible from The Moon. Prior to one of Britain’s model submarines being subnapped, we saw a lot of noisy young men proclaiming “500 feet” rather too many times – could have been worse, could have been shouting AFRICAN CONFLICT DIAMONDS every seven seconds – which leaves the audience certain that a ) they’re at 500 feet. There is no b ), unless this is Naval injokery for something very, very badly sexual involving multiple millipedes and one’s torpedo tube; ooh, up periscope. Hello sailor. Look, it’s hard and long and full of seamen and I know I did that joke in the You Only Live Twice one, but it’s appropriate that it’s used again for The Spy Who Loved Me; see, everyone’s doing it. A pretence of heterosexuality in the lewd pictures of naked young ladies on the walls of the “Mess” (one dreads to imagine the mess) is depth-charged by drinking tea (one of the gay drinks, along with Martini), smoking (with limited oxygen? That can’t be right) and playing chess. British submariners play chess, do they? Can we state with confidence where the pieces have been? Never mind unkillable razor-toothed giants, this is the realm of total fantasy. Still, better than the reality where they just go around [deleted: treason].
The Captain got flustered when everything went buzzy and the red light came on and he didn’t know why that happened; it wasn’t one of the regular “Captain’s Special Nights”. Equally strange was discovering that a practical joker’s been at the periscope and pasted over the spyhole a picture of that open-mouthed space-rocket from that James Bond film. He’ll tan that man’s hide and no mistake. We left the Captain all confused as he tried to remember which film it was – the one with the car? – and annoyed at finding that his submarine is in Outer Space. Yet again! Tchoh!
George Baker – having recovered his voice from that inmate of HM Prison Ship Australia, an act of restorative justice – we saw sitting in a wonderful, ridiculously oversized and understaffed Ken Adam office, stretching behind him into a different timezone (1967, if the rest of this is a guide). Interesting that the conclusion reached is not that someone’s nicked Ranger, but that it’s been “lost”. After all, what could anyone else use such a deterrent for? Who could possibly need to be out there “deterring”? Oh sorry, forgot, it’s a massive weapon with 16 nuclear missiles on it. Hm. Better say “lost” than “pinched”, then. Can’t have panic. Might be a good time to review the refusal to develop that typewriter ATAC thingy. But it was so dull, wasn’t it?
Shown a photo of Moscow telling is it was MOSCOW – we’d have struggled otherwise – and we learnt that the submarine Potemkin (har de har har) was also subducted. On first watch you’d think that Gogol (har de har de har har har; what next? Pushkin?) is referring to the British one we’ve just been worrying about. Lordy, this one’s got so much content, they haven’t go time to show us it all. A change from last time, with its lingering views over inconsequential, embittered nothingnesses.
All this subnapppery is engaging but reflecting on the film does raise doubts. Firstly, why the fuss about the tracking system? That just finds the submarines “by their wake” (yeah, right). It’s the system for disabling them by making their instruments Made by British Leyland that’s surely of more interest? No-one seems bothered about that device. Secondly, why does Stromberg take the American submarine? He’s got two, more than enough instruments of Armageddon for any growing buoy (hnff…). It’s not as if one’s “developed a fault”. Perhaps he watched the pre-credits and thought he’d only napped one, too. Twit. Had he left well alone, Bond wouldn’t have stopped him acting out his scheme and then retiring underwater, although why he doesn’t just go there and leave us alone is unclear. Destroying everyone leads to a meltdown in demand for his oil; poor pension planning. Atlantis City doesn’t look cheap; maintenance against “some damp” will cost yer. Perhaps he’s high on that fishfood he nibbles and is actually turning into a goldfish, with their massive intellectual capacity and notoriously poor attention span of… thingy. One wonders what he’s going to do down there. At least Drax planned for nookie. It’s not as if Stromberg can tend his allotment (not a euphemism)and listen to the cricket, is it? Didn’t think it through. Can’t even open a window.
The Diary of Karl Sigismund Derek Stromberg.
Discovered floating off the coast of
25 July 1977. Popped Atlantis up to the surface to see how Armageddon’s going. Armageddon outa here! They seem to be destroying each other very nicely. Gentle drift down to the seabed in quiet, relaxed satisfaction. Fish for tea. Yum! This is GREAT!
26 July 1977. Had caviar and oysters for breakfast!!! This would never have happened with other people around. Well, it’s my world and I can do what I want. This is just fantabulosa. Had them for lunch as well! What a brilliant idea all that was. Mid-morning a British submarine came into view, probably trying to attack. It went all wobbly and broke down rather pathetically, drifting listlessly to the seabed. Odd; hadn’t even pressed the SubDisruptor. It’s just outside the dining room window. Need to get someone to tow it away; it’s unsightly. Fish for tea; guppy steak with a roasted fishfood crust and a brine jus. De-Lish.
27 July 1977. Noticed that we’re getting low on loo roll. Had a coded message from the captains of Strombergs 1 and 2. Apparently the men are objecting to their orange and pink uniforms. Say they look “gay”. I agree, they do look gay, but then they complained that this isn’t what the word means any more. When they explained it I reminded them that a ) they are sailors and methinks the ladies doth protest too much and b ) everyone else on the planet will be bright orange and pink by now so it’s hardly singling them out, is it? Still, sounds like they’re ganging up on me again. Reminded them that I design all my own clothes, including my favourite natty silk purple tentshirt and kinky neckerchief. Had enough of their snivelling; it’s just that episode with the heliotrope crotchless boilersuits all over again!!! When they get back, will set Jaws on them. No more oysters or caviar left. Fish for tea. Could do with some vegetables.
28 July 1977. Jaws came round and started whining about how he’s run out of Brasso to soak his teeth in overnight. Never stops whining. Jaws is a pooh. Fish again.
29 July 1977. Saw a terrific documentary about fish on the tv last night and then Jaws went and spoiled it by reminding me there is no television any more and I was just staring out of the aquarium window! He’s just such a burden, and he’s started giving my jugular vein that funny look of his. Cheered up by sorting the fridge and getting rid of the half-used jars of tartare sauce and I found a Texan bar. Must ration it! Had a bit with this evening’s tea (guess what that was!!!). It was lush.
30 July 1977. JAWS HAS EATEN THE TEXAN BAR! Very angry. So selfish. He said he didn’t think I would mind. Well, I DO! As a punishment I sent him over to that crashed British submarine to see what he could salvage. Came back, dripping with blood (again! Another shirt ruined!) and smelling of cigarettes. He pretended it was the sailors who had been smoking, but I told him that this was totally unbelievable and I’m not prepared to believe his lies any more. He knows smoking makes his teeth rust, but I’m simply beyond caring. Worse, his plunder was a chess set (the pieces smell funny) and a jar of millipedes (no idea). Claimed the only cuisine aboard the British submarine were baked beans (which he knows I can’t eat, they’re murder on me spastic colon) and something called Marmite, which I tried and it was disgusting! Had to drink a pint of saltwater to take the nasty taste away. Very disappointed in him, told him this. Sent him to his room without any supper. Cheered myself up a bit by creating my own recipe – Fish Surprise! It’s fish, to be honest.
31 July 1977. Jaws has left me. He got in the escape pod, just. Even after all that moaning when we designed it that it seemed suspiciously incapable of accommodating him! Oh, I shall miss him, but it’s probably for the best. Plenty more fish in the sea. Bugger all else in the sea, frankly. Was going to make fishcakes and then I realised there aren’t any potatoes left. Ever. Could murder a burger. Decided instead on humanity. Fool to meself. Fish again. Bit worried that it’s all becoming “samey”. Feeling bloated. Could do with some roughage.
1 August 1977. Stayed in bed. Twanged the webbing around my thumbs. Hope that Jaws returns and presents me with a bag of potatoes, much wine, some nice cheeses. Best really to pretend he hasn’t left me, he’s just gone to do the weekly big shop. Hope he remembers loo roll. Bit of a smell of damp emerging, and that’s not just due to the lack of loo roll. Found a tin of stewing steak on the top shelf of the pantry. Couple of months past its use-by date but ate it anyway; need to balance the diet. Wonder what the outside world’s like? May go up and have a look tomorrow.
2 August 1977. Found out what the outside world’s like. Ouch. NOT good. Hee hee hee. Worse than all that, yesterday’s decision on the stewing steak. The lack of loo roll is now a crisis. May have caused quite a bit of ocean pollution. Best stick to the fish from now on.
3 August 1977. Have only just realised I need to cancel all the direct debits! Unfortunately the internet hasn’t been invented yet and I’ve destroyed any chance of it ever happening, so not totally sure how I am going to do this. Or do it underwater. [Later] Has dawned on me that everyone’s dead anyway so it doesn’t really matter! Amazing how global annihilation really cuts down on the red tape, taxation and government interference, and lets private enterprise flourish. I’d vote for anyone who really promoted this. Not that there is anyone. Fish pie for tea, although I had to imagine the potatoes. They were a bit underdone.
4 August 1977. I wonder why I never learned to swim?
5 August 1977. Looking back, is it really a whole year since Hugo D. came round and I showed him my model village and toy tanker and he started boasting about how he was going to do something very similar, just better and have loads of girls in there gagging for it, really hot for him, and set it in Outer Space and everyfink? I remember laughing when Hugo’s mum smacked him on the legs and told him to stop showing off, and that just made him angrier. I wonder how he’s getting on? Remember that utter filthy jezebel Jaws being all smiles and goo-goo eyes at Hugo. Bet they’re shacked up together. Just picked at my fish tonight; seem to be losing my appetite.
6 August 1977. Wet patches are appearing in the ceiling and the bath’s developed a leak. Have only got the one bucket. Bloody Ken Adam – designed it to look brilliant but it’s really only chipboard and paper. Am very worried about it lasting. May not be well damp-proofed, although it appears that stopping up the leaks with Marmite does work! Stared at the aquarium for several hours. Time hung. That secretary’s arm was still there. Found myself wondering what it would taste like. Jaws hasn’t been in touch. Have worked out what the millipedes are for and it’s very rude. Practised my signature for an hour but still find it difficult to hold a pen properly. Everyone’s gone. Can’t face another meal. Have run out of Cream Soda. Took Atlantis for a spin “up top”, watched the dreary saga of murder and mayhem – oh – what’s the bloody point? [Diary ends]
Meanwhile, we learned that Agent XXX had a hairy Bach. Just going to let the potency of that one fester for a while. Michael Billington doing a cracking impersonation of George Lazenby there. Some fun had comparing Gogol’s office with M, which even has a wooden zimmer to hand. You knew immediately M ordered Bond to “pull out” quite where we were going to go. It’s a good film, but I’d never claim it was a subtle one, and one has to bear in mind that much of it comes from the writer of Confessions of a Vivisectionist or whatever it was. Roger Moore was utterly Roger Moore in that scene with the Chalet Girl, kissing her by sucking all the air from her lungs and promising to enlarge her “vocabulary”. I’ve never heard it called that before, although that’s probably me in bleak denial of all those after-school Latin vocab tests with [name redacted: unprovable beyond reasonable doubt]. Whilst Hut could not find the words, from her unenthused grimace she wasn’t all that impressed with the ones she did happen across, although it must be hard to smile when you’re being asphyxiated. The most shocking fact is that this all appeared to be going on at 4 p.m.; surely he had some work to do? Ah, something came up (a joke last used all of ten minutes ago in Bond land) and it’s time to behave like a proper secret agent, be inconspicuous and discreet and stealthy and therefore dress up as a banana with a haemorrhoid strapped to one’s back. And cute Tiptre Little Scarlet bootees. England may need you, but not dressed like that. Completely acceptable in Wales, however. Shed Hag done gone and betrayed him; still, he was suffocating her. In the absolutely first-rate novelisation of this film (which bucks the trend of any novelisation of anything ever being an inherently third-rate endeavour), she meets a stunningly gruesome end, so if she read that for spoilers it’s not at all surprising she’s got the huff.
Hordes of ( = four) horrid Russians emerged and could we really tell it was
George LazenbyMichael Billington? It wasn’t immediately obvious but I am told that on Blu-ray you can see some back hair sprouting from the neck of his ski suit. Bond relaxedly skied along, unperturbed by the fabulously shoddy back projection to his left, confident in the fact that he’s James Bond and everyone else is rubbish. Or are they? Lead goon seems like a pretty good skier, but that’s probably because he’s George Lazenby. Ooh; chase. Definitely more interesting than a couple of middle-aged men wandering around a warehouse and if you don’t think that then I’d feel sorry for you, were I to consider you worth a fleeting emotion.
0.06.00 – 0.07.00 The Spy Who Loved Me
On Bond skis, through a crevasse, and the four pursuers split up. Even that is choreographed and slick and stylish, and what comes next is a magically exotic moment, Bond and George / Sergei / Bigfoot sweeping through and around and up and down and the camera follows them and it’s pretty bloody tremendous. We’ve already had more action than in the previous film and it can’t be anything other than deliberate to put on such a show quite so early. Indicative of the whole film – this feels epic although, rather oddly, so vast is it all that the actual plot – the accelerated destruction of the planet – seems, rather amazingly given what it is, to get lost (although this may be more down to the motive being maddeningly inadequate rather than the concept itself). Certainly, something as wide and wild as all this is turning out to be couldn’t have anything other than global catastrophe at its heart and it is all very splendid and heartening (if completely insane) that it’s the British who save the Earth.
That’s a definite change in atmosphere from the past few films, when Britain’s been looking a bit shabby and frayed and not worth the energy of threatening, nor that of preserving. If yer must, in reading the last sentence replace the word “Britain” with “Bond series”. The Union Flag is not the only thing being proudly waved in our faces here. On Her Maj “sort-of” went down this I’m Backing Britain route but this is a marked move away from the Dr No idea of presenting Bond as something “other” than the nation he protects (and being exciting and engaging in being quite so “un-British”). This chap, dressed like Edam though he is, is one step away from being on the bloody stamps. True, it’s explicable by 1977 being the Silver Jubilee (and the Bonds of the Golden and Diamond Jubilees are no less “flaggy”) but from this point on we have running through the Bonds such a rich vein of curiously one-sided patriotism that it comes as a bit of a shock when something like Quantum of Solace decides to jigger it a bit.
If one looks at Goldfinger, even at The Man with the Golden Gun (if you really must and are experiencing low self-esteem), there’s a definite air of Bond succeeding despite being British, that the Establishment figures are all as powerless and genteel as Colonel Smithers or hamstrung by their crummy uptight inadequacy like M or Q, hopeless and impotent (in as many senses of the word as you crave) in comparison to James Bond. From this film on until possibly The Living Daylights but definitely Casino Royale, there’s little if any perceptible criticism or questioning of the status quo, and it’s not helped by Bond himself becoming an Establishment old duffer by the mid-80s, preserving a complacent political hegemony by choice rather than as an offshoot of his general misdemeanours. An important (hmm) character in this step-change in attitude is the benevolent representation of careerist politician but obvious spy Frederick Gray, a “Minister of Defence” (there’s no such role: first clue) for markedly different administrations, the Callaghan and Thatcher governments (clue two). No-one seems to notice, it’s all “Freddie” and drinks with the Russians and grinning like an idiot at Q’s robot pervedog. Bond should treat this man with utter indifference if not actual contempt – Moore / Colthorpe, Connery / Colonel Smithers, Connery / Q, Connery / Everyone – come to mind. But instead it’s Bond and his British chums. It gets worse with the Brosnan films, but then so very much does. Doubtless, The Spy Who Loved Me sands down the rough edges the MooreBond had developed over the course of the previous two outings, but that also results in a loss of friction. That capacity for direct insubordination replaced by, at best, being “a bit cheeky”; but basically One Of Us. Possibly the right decision at the time, but very difficult to unpick or bring back under scrutiny without delusional accusations of promoting negative portrayals of Western power. Admittedly, Quantum of Solace isn’t very restrained either in its particular worldview, but had it happened straight after Goldfinger and its merciless backhanded jabbing at the British Establishment, one suspects there would have been considerably less bleat. But no, we have to sit through a number of films now where Britain is such a world power that it can: borrow a Space Shuttle (actually, why? I may have thought of a reason by the next “review”, but don’t bank on it); run its submarines with a ZX80; retake India and finally save your toaster from becoming a Communist. Hooray for us.
That’s not to say there isn’t some subversion in this sub version (see what I did there? Good) of Bond, most notably setting up Q very horribly to believe that Stromberg cannot be a villain because he’s one of the richest people in the world. Yes, Q, it’s always the homeless and starving who have the resources to start a nuclear war, you dolt. Stick to inexplicably turning up for no reason, there’s a chap. At least it does throw in an amusing anti-capitalist vibe although it does tend to birth the thought that despite all the blatant flagwaving, what’s actually happening is that Bond protects the Russians as much as he does the UK. After all, it’s not drinks with the resident director of the CIA and the awarding of some US bauble at the end of A View to a Kill, is it? Slightly ungrateful of them, on reflection.
Told you the music got better: a favourite part of the film here, the kicking-in of the Bond theme as a big yellow twerp sweeps down the glacier thing; it looks fantastic, sounds it too, using every last millimetre of the screen to put on a show, every last decibel to amplify the moment. Some odd choices aside – the rumpity-parp-broken-down-van cack as an example – the music is rather terrific throughout, making full use of the theme tune and some highly distinctive pieces when riding to Atlantis or being eaten whole by a big boat. Mr Hamlisch, RIP, this is grade-A entertainment. Thank you.
By this point in the last one, Skeletor was looking frowny and hiding behind some cardboard; yay. Oh ho, Q’s given Bond some harpoon-y bazooka-y ski sticks, has he? How very fortunate that they’re absolutely and specifically required. Hmm. What a good guess, Q. Is this where the gadgets begin to become totally outlandish? Seems to have been a bit of reining in of Q over the past few films, but this one more than makes up for it, sadly. The Lotus is, of course, fantastic – and fantastical – and iconic and so indelibly The Spy Who Loved Me that whilst it may not be entirely waterproof it’s pretty much impervious to criticism. Helps to nail it to the board marked “Very Fond” that we see it do pretty much everything it can do. Certainly get their value out of it – it’s onscreen more than 90% of the cast. This full usage principle is not always the case; problem – if not one created here, then not “helped” – is that every car Bond gets into from hereon in we expect to do mad things beyond, well, being a car and be able to go forwards and into reverse (that’s backwards). Here starts the slow decline towards the BMW Z3, which despite its “Stinger missiles” only finds a use as a hairdryer for The Actor Peeerce Brssnnn’s bouffant…erm… experiment. I suppose my main beef with the gadgets is that here we start the total rottenness of scenes that could be most kindly labelled “Q’s overstaffed mobile laboratory of cacky bolos”. Ahmed’s tea party. Spiky camel seat thing. Springy chair man. Shooty hookah pipes. It’s just hopeless old rubbish, isn’t it? Minimise Q and the best he can come up with is irradiated dust. Give him a budget and he’ll just spend it on insidiously racist tat. See Moonraker. See Octopussy (if you think it’s wise). Thank Christ he wasn’t in Live and Let Die.
Explody heart. That is bound to hurt. There will be repercussions there and no mistake. When they come, it’s one of Roger Moore’s finest “serious” moments, cracking bit of script too. Never quite worked out why it takes three weeks to get from this bit in “Austria” to that scene, though. What are they doing during that time? The “pulled along by string at forty miles an hour” scene is an “important” (ahem) scene as far as the “story” goes and Barbara Bach… well, let’s be nice, she’s very pretty but there’s not much dynamism there. The character’s a fine and fun idea (XXX – oh, really) but the execution is a bit limp, really. Doesn’t appear to have much fire in her belly (unlike her erstwhile lover, whose heart has just burst aflame). Falls a bit too easily into Bond’s arms at the end but, stuff it, he’s James Bond (this appears to be the point) and by that stage we’ve had such a hoot it doesn’t actually matter any more. Still, Lazenby’s big close-up here does indicate a bit of a desire on the part of the film-makers to give the “girl” something to do other than hang around in a bikini. Barbara Bach hangs around in evening wear. It’s a big difference.
Right, crazy back-flip hot-dog thing which we are, I assume, meant to believe as having been performed by Roger Moore. Call me a cynical old pooh-ears but I’m not totally sold. The more expansive the films become, the more – much more, Roger Moore – the need to fill them with massive stunts but the more – much more, Roger Moore – decrepit the lead gets, leading to the complete misrepresentation at the start of A View to a Kill about who is actually playing James Bond. Here and, let’s be generous, in the next film, I still suspend my disbelief. That’s definitely Roger Moore riding the wetbike. That’s definitely Roger Moore getting an utter soaking at the end. That’s definitely Roger Moore wearing a very nasty brown and white striped shirt. That’s definitely Roger Moore sucking all the air out of Fekkesh’s chum within a world-record fifteen seconds of meeting her (she’s played by Faye Dunaway, in a dressing gown) and tipping Sandor off the roof and having a good old set-to with Jaws in the train, but it’s at risk of wearing thin, especially with the drive evident in what’s occurring here, to “top the last one” (not difficult and going way above and B-E-Y-O-N-D), which will ultimately lead us to a quiche being baked by A Stuntman as Roger Moore as James Bond. It’s not that he got too old for James Bond; he just got too old for the James Bond they appeared to want to show us.
OK, cool, he barges a goon and after such goonbarging that would make two left? Oh, there they are, in cold pursuit. Oh no! Shrieky music! He’s headed for the cliff edge!
Which he proceeds to…
Music stops. Heart stops. Falling, falling, falling and…
Frozen in freefall. Silence. See, y’don’t need a frickin’ penny whistle after all.
But that next bit, the payoff to this obscenely dangerous thing they had someone do, thatstatement of a clear and purposeful desire to go out there and entertain us, that appears with 0.07 on the clock, yeah? You’d think someone planned that, wouldn’t you? Extraordinary. And Nobody Does it Better (statutory reference). Splendid choon, funny titles, totally in the mood now.
And before it became a smug thing to say … you know the rest. It’s The. Spy. Who. Loved. Me, for frick’s sake. From this point in it is relentless in its evident desire to keep us watching. Fine, it makes not one jot of sense and some of the performances are more amusing than they were probably intended to be, but sod it. One forgives it much because it’s just so good-natured and eager to please and you can’t possibly feel shortchanged by it. Best car chase in the series. Then a Lotus becomes a submarine. Then there’s a massive battle in a supertanker. Then two nuclear bombs go off and then a man eats a shark and then the Gay Men’s Rugby Club Choir turn up. And then we get Moonraker. Fab.
Greatest Hits? Let’s go back to those 9 characteristics.
British interests are in dire peril; the stiff upper hair is wobbling. Send for the hero, a high-living gambler. Yep, that’s all there. Although there’s not much “gambling” on show, it’s a bit of a risk skiing off a mountain y’know; can go from high-living to squished-dying in a few seconds doing that.
The opposition are a roster of equally sophisticated parallels, although they can be more intellectually blessed than the hero. Not totally convinced Jaws is that bright, really, save for the teeth, but Stromberg seems to be a firm believer in fish being brain food although it is questionable whether everything’s been totally thought through. Seems to be fairly relaxed about things, more amused by Bond than enraged (and who wouldn’t be?).
Let’s be bold and brash and a lickle bick cheeky… Exhibit A: Union Flag parachute. You really don’t need an Exhibit B.
…and push it to the cusp of outrage, when we can. Oh, alright. Exhibit B: Lotus. Exhibit C: Caroline Munro and everything that sails in her. Exhibit D: Keeping the British end up. Exhibit E: Webbed hands. Exhibit F: Delving into Egypt’s treasures. Exhibit G: Man-eating-shark. Exhibit H: The funeral was at sea. Exhibit I: “…the Phaaaarooooh”. Exhibit J: Is for Jaws. Exhibit K: All those feathers and he still can’t fly. Exhibit L: Is for Liparus. Just look at it. Bloody hell. Exhibits M – Z: Every other single soddingly delicious second of it.
Amidst the madness, we can inject some moody solemnity for “depth” – if not realism. When you’re on skis at four miles per hour, you don’t always have time to notice the feeble special effects behind you. It plays out better than it reads. “Wife killed…” That one reads better than it plays out.
Thunderous action in interesting locations, and wink at the audience to reassure that everyone knows it’s all pretend. Skiing. Parachuting. Pyramids etc. Eygptian builders. Underwater fight (surprisingly violent). Removing the fish. Lots happens and everything will be alright. It’s all going to be OK. We’re not going to be nuked because there’s an extremely randy middle-aged man in flares to look after us.
If in doubt, fall back on some proven routines… Train fights, wacky cars, monorails with almost exactly the same layout, predatory
rocketssupertankers, utterly transparent aliases, useless Americans and jawdroppingly fatuous dialogue. Yep, all there.
…but don’t be afraid to inject even into them an element of the bizarre and unexpected now and again. Jaws grinning for the first time (it’s still creepy). Jaws going in for his hatebite. Jaws in the closet (don’t). Jaws, basically.
Villains with perverse charisma and challenging attributes etc etc. Uh, yeah. There’s a school of thought that Stromberg is a bit dull and he is, granted, one of the more sedentary foes to date, but Curt Jurgens has a splendid doomy voice and even though he’s given some very silly lines, there’s total conviction there. Very violent death, too – shocking violence, really, Bond just standing there, pumping bullets into him. Didn’t get that in Licence to Kill, did yer, silly little film wanting to show us all its “violence” and “edginess” and yet it can’t hold a candle, or a broken lighter, to blasting an old man in the groin several times, setting off an explosive charge in a man’s ribcage or unleashing death by razored teeth. Can’t help feeling there may have been a missed opportunity not to drop Stromberg into his own shark pool, also in refraining once more from using the “he was a bit fishy” line that you just know they were nnnn close to shoving at us. The webbed hands and the snacking on fishfood is, let’s face it, weird. And then there’s Jaws, who is obviously completely normal.
If it’s the sort of party where one reminisces fondly, what then does the 007th minute of The Spy Who Loved Me bring to it, save for huge amounts of bottle to produce something quite so big? 10. Spectacle. True, we’ve had that before, but not really something as vast as this in its scope. Whereas the last one was midgety, this is a giant.
Show this to a friend who’s never seen a Bond film if you want to prove that Bond is a worthwhile endeavour (although being friends with such a person isn’t). This isn’t “a” Bond film, exemplifying one of the tonal shifts that have many of them regarded as “one of the more serious ones” or “one of the more stupid ones” or “one of the obvious contractual obligation ones”; it is the Bond film, striding around the world mighty big and mighty tall and generally chewing its way through any old thing. There’s something for everyone here. Everyone.
Bond 10. Out of 10.
James Bond will return in the 007th minute of Moonraker. Jacques Stewart has never seen a Major take a shower before. What rumours?