When Sir Roger George Moore departs this mortal coil, a statue should be erected in his honour. The bronze edifice should be clad in a flared safari suit and depict a man standing, hand on one hip, right eyebrow raised with an epitaph reading ‘From the sublime to the ridiculous’. And no film in Moore's career as Bond embodies this more than The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
I’d long thought that Die Another Day was the most ludicrous Bond outing in living memory. A film where invisible cars, a solar satellite, and villains with interchangeable faces are mangled together with a plot involving North Korea invading the South.
Then I watched The Spy Who Loved Me again. A film where a super-villain named Stromberg plots to destroy world before going to live at the bottom of the ocean. Disaster is only averted when Bond foils the scheme through clever use of an underwater car and hanky-panky with a Russian spy. Preposterous barely covers it.
TSWLM does have its moments though. The opening scene, where 007 skis down a mountain pursued by Russian spies, is vintage Bond, and brilliant cinema for any genre. There’s scant use of gadgets, other than a ski-pole-cum-rifle, a stunning location and some excellent action choreography – the camera work for the henchman ‘point of view’ shots are really worth seeing.
It all ends with the legendary stunt where Bond skis off the edge of a cliff, seemingly to plummet to his death until a parachute unfolds. (I’m not sure what the seventies disco soundtrack adds but never mind.)
The problem with TSWLM though, is foreshadowed in how this opening scene is bookended. It’s preceded by Bond relaxing in a chalet with a beautiful woman who he's kissing in that peculiar wiggly-headed way that only Roger Moore can. Suddenly he receives an urgent message on his watch which seems to double as a label printer. He then slips into a day-glo yellow ski-suit with a bright red backpack, that looks as if it’s been designed by Bob the Builder.
It’s all forgotten during the thrilling alpine chase, but lapses into comedy again when Bond’s parachute opens into a giant Union Jack. Now I’m no espionage expert and I’m willing to give Bond some leeway, but what international spy would carry a giant flag of his home nation in his backpack? Sure, it’s supposed to be an amusing aside, so why not have a subtle reference to Q branch or a bow-tie motif?
This typifies Moore-era Bond. The little in-jokes aren’t really little in-jokes. They’re just cheesy gags that give the films the feel of a bawdy British sex comedy, leaving you wondering whether Robin Askwith is going to suddenly appear in a comprising position with a suburban housewife.
The plot, typically for Bond films of that era, has more holes than a colander. Bond teams up with Major Anya Asamova, a beautiful Russian spy codenamed Triple X (sigh).
Intriguingly, we discover that Bond murdered Anya’s lover. Enraged she immediately promises to kill Shagger Roge after their mission is over. But this interesting premise is frittered away when she promptly falls for him and enjoys a bit of ‘Confessions of a Soviet Spy’.
One of the highlights though is a unique and well delivered rotor based combustion. Stromberg invites Bond and Asamova to his underwater lair, with Bond posing as a marine biologist. After Stromberg reveals his master plan he naturally allows Bond to leave before ordering his henchmen to kill them.
What follows is classic Moore Bond. He and Anya jump into a Lotus Esprit, and are immediately pursued by a motorbike with a detachable exploding sidecar, Jaws and the other henchmen give chase in what looks like a black Ford Cortina, as does a shiny chopper piloted by Bond girl, Caroline Munro (Mmmm).
At one point, she flies alongside Bond’s Lotus which gives Moore the opportunity to do his classic ‘double-take, eyebrow raise and smile’ manoeuvre (see our review of Tomorrow Never Dies). Suddenly Bond and Anya run out of road so Bond drives straight off a jetty into the sea whilst asking “Can you swim?”. At this point, the Lotus Esprit turns into a mini-submarine. See what I mean?
TSWLM scores well here, I must say. With the delicious Munro hovering above the sea in a low-cut dress looking for the Lotus Esprit, Moore decides it’s “time to get rid of an uninvited guest”, in that distinctive voice that sounds like his vocal cords have been soaked in honey and cognac.
He calls up his targeting system, and hey presto, a rocket fires out of the underwater Lotus, emerges from the sea, and turns poor old Munro into a fireball.
The explosion is meaty and the director resists the temptation to have the chopper turn into a million pieces. Instead, there’s a decent fireball, and lots of smoke before it disappears from view. Perhaps they needed to re-use it. Or perhaps it would have been too traumatic to see the lovely Munro’s charred corpse plunge into the sea.
Exploding helicopter innovation
Well, destroyed by an underwater car. What more can I say?
No. of exploding helicopters
Earlier in the film Stromberg establishes his megalomaniac credentials by feeding an irksome bimbo to a shark via a trapdoor fitted into a lift. The bimbo's demise is witnessed by two businessmen who become understandably nervous when Stromberg tells them they're free to leave - by the lift.
Despite their reservations the businessmen survive their trip in the lift. They board their helicopter to fly away only Stromberg's planted an explosive in there which destroys the chopper. It all seems unnecessarily elaborate. But then again I guess you don't want to over feed a shark.
The sequence leading up to the chopper fireball is a classic action set-piece. The combination of rocket sidecar, Jaws in a Cortina and Munro in a chopper is excellent entertainment. Bravo. I’d also add at this point, although it bears no relation to the scene, that ‘Nobody Does It Better’ is surely one of the best Bond themes of all time. No?
The tired Moore puns - when the motorcyclist crashes through a lorry of exploding chickens and off a cliff, Moore remarks “All those feathers, and he still can’t fly”. It would also have been nice to see more of Munro. Maybe she’s done a saucy romp flick with Robin Askwith? (Just checked Google. She hasn’t.)
There’s plenty in this one. Firstly, TSWLM is the only Bond film to show female nipple, when Agent ‘Triple X’ takes a shower. Secondly, this is the film that Alan Partridge neurotically improvises when his Bond VHS tapes are destroyed by some rogue orange juice.
Thirdly, this is the first appearance of Jaws, the memorable and mute assassin. Lastly, the end credits state that ‘For Your Eyes Only’ will be the next Bond film. This was later hastily changed and ‘Moonraker’ was rushed out to capitalise on the ‘Star Wars’ effect of the time. Oh dear.