December 21, 2011

The Spy Who Loved Me

James Bond falls in love with a rival, a Soviet spy played by Barbara Bach. Meanwhile, he battles yet another megalomaniac Russian billionaire with world domination on his mind (Curd Jurgens), and we are introduced to 007's cartoonish nemesis, Jaws (Richard Kiel), who's indestructible, and takes the Bond series to a new level of camp, perhaps retroactively mocking the wave of movies about killers who can't be killed.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) has two great things going for it: a smashing thirty-minute-long section of the story takes place in Egypt, and it's one of the most memorable and exciting sections of any Bond film. The sets, the action sequences, the Bernard Herrmann-esque musical accents, and the allure of Egyptian culture (the latter may be the thing I like best about this part of the movie) make that section stand out.

The other is the song, "Nobody Does It Better" (sung by Carly Simon), which bookends the film. It's easily one of the best songs to come out of a Bond picture, and Simon's folky American bell of a voice clashes--beautifully--with the British camp that's happening on screen. (I had forgotten how naughty those 007 opening titles were--and I'm wondering if they were never more so than in The Spy Who Loved Me).

Otherwise, what you have here is an overlong action movie with predictable outcomes and a bumbling sense of camp that doesn't really work for it. During the chase scenes there's a very dated 70s disco sound to the music that ruins them, deflating their suspense. Sure, the sets are still pretty astonishing (much of the movie takes place in a submarine).

Roger Moore may be part of the problem. While I appreciate that he doesn't take himself too seriously, he also seems anachronistic to a 007 movie, particularly one from the 70s. He doesn't mesh with the bad disco-infused score or the trashiness of Bond movies. The reason they're fun, after all, is because they're expensive trash: shiny and high-tech (for their time) and glistening with delicious bad taste. It's certainly not the worst Bond movie (not even then worst Roger Moore Bond movie). It would have been better (and it could have been shorter), if the movie had stayed in Egypt.

Directed by Lewis Gilbert. With Caroline Munro, Walter Gotell, Bernard Lee, Michael Billington (a two-time Bond candidate himself), and Desmond Llewelyn.

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