Monday, April 21, 2014

The Spy Who Loved Me


Well, the campaign is over. As you have no doubt heard I was not elected governor of California by popular acclaim as I deserved, rather that overblown action star, without half my flair or fashion sense seized the prize. I am, however, always gracious, win or lose, so I immediately called Mr. Schwarzenegger to offer my congratulations and my services to his cabinet as secretary of musical entertainments. Oddly, my call was not put through. I did make a very strong showing in the final numbers, especially in Alpine and Trinity counties, and if the 153 people who cast votes for me would get in touch, I would be more than happy to send them a small framed photograph of me in one of my famous film roles.

Now that this political campaign is over, I am a bit at loose ends. I spent a few days having a royal sulk all over Chateau Maine until Miss Jerry, my housekeeper, threatened to quit as I was always underfoot and the Godiva chocolate wrappers were becoming nearly unmanageable. I was brought back to life by a call from my manager, Joseph, who has discovered a new project worthy of my talents. Apparently after the success of Chicago, every studio in town is developing a musical. He thinks that the recently announced musical film adaptation of The Satanic Verses might just be the ticket. I'm willing to consider it as long as there's an appropriate dream ballet, especially if it has lots of chorus boys in red spandex tuxedos and little devil horns.

The end of the political campaign has given me a bit more time to spend in the home theater so I laid in the recent box set of James Bond DVDs which contains seven films covering Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan in the role. The first one that caught my eye was The Spy Who Loved Me, the 1977 entry in the long running series and often thought to be the best of the Moore Bonds. I remember having enjoyed it when I saw it in a theater thirty years ago or so and hadn't seen it since so popped it into the DVD player for another look.

The Spy Who Loved Me follows the usual Bond formula. In this entry, the pre-credits sequence finds Bond in Austria where he's involved in a little hanky-panky accompanied by a little espionage which leads to an exciting ski chase ending with a truly spectacular leap into space with a terrific parachute stunt. Then there's the usual gyrating naked females to a top forty hit (Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better) and we're into the main plot.

Someone is busy making British and Russian nuclear submarines disappear so James Bond (Roger Moore) is paired up with Russian agent triple X (Barbara Bach with a musical comedy accent that keeps slipping) to find out what's happened to them. There's a lead in Cairo so off they go to run around the pyramids in evening wear. (Miss Bach keeps wearing highly improbable seventies outfits that are most inappropriate to the activities at hand, such as strappy high heels in desert rubble). This leads to a famous shipping magnate (Curt Jurgens) who is the usual ruthless megalomaniac. His new oil tanker is sucking up nuclear submarines in the hopes of starting World War III so he can rebuild society as an underwater Eden. He has the usual idiosyncratic henchman, Jaws (Richard Kiel), a mountain of a man with some sort of steel mouth gear that allows him to bite through steel bars and various day players. Eventually there are a lot of explosions, an underwater car, some last minute rescues, and it all comes out OK in the end.

The visuals in the film have dated somewhat with its late seventies look. The costumes, especially on the women are a hoot, although they were the height of fashion in the Studio 54 era. The villain's undersea layer with its molded plastic furniture looks like one of the rooms in the Playboy mansion that's slated for redecorating. But there's a bonus - we know we're looking at reality. This is long before modern digital compositing so when the stunt men are flying through the air, they're really doing so, they're not safely suspended in front of a green screen. This gives the film a sense of immediacy and excitement that some of the more recent titles in the series has lacked. The East/West politics also seem quaint with the cold war relations between Russia and the West. No one would have predicted then that the Soviet Union would collapse a mere dozen years later.

The film was directed by Lewis Gilbert, the veteran British director known in recent years for his character studies such as Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine. His light but sure touch is apparent in the character moments, between the action sequences. This gives the film a certain buoyancy that many others in the series have lacked. Roger Moore still lets most of Bond's trademark quips dribble down his shirt front rather than explode across the screen, but he is better in this outing than in most. The villains come across as a bit more human than in many of the others (and Richard Kiel's Jaws was such a hit, he came back in the next film) and there are some deft moments for the traditional supporting cast of Bernard Lee's M, Desmond Lewellyn's Q, Lois Maxwell's Moneypenny and Walter Gotell's General Gogol. Barbara Bach, as the Bond girl, has a lot more to do than most Bond girls and is game to try anything, but has certain limitations as an actress.

The disc is lovingly produced with the film in an excellent transfer in terms of color and sound. In addition to the film, there's a behind the scenes documentary, original trailers, and a commentary track with principal cast and crew.

The film isn't has wonderful as my sometimes failing memory recalls, but it's still a very pleasant diversion and about as good as Bond gets.

Proper British parachute. Blonde shark bait. Pyramid son et lumiere. Improbable train ride from Cairo to Sardinia. Decapitating tea set. Collapsing temple. Sardinian car chase. Exploding helicopter. Exploding submarines. Exploding tanker. Exploding research station. Life raft sex.

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