We continue our mission to review every James Bond film ever released as we make our way towards the release of Skyfall in October…
So, you’ve got this Martian. He’s on a cultural exchange mission learning all there is to know about Western cinema. He’s learned all about Eisenstein, Film Noir and Robin Askwith. James Bond is next on his list and he’s come to you, dear Bond fan, for illumination. The only problem is he has just 2 hours before he must rush back to Mars. Oh, and if he doesn’t like what he sees he’ll probably obliterate the planet. So… what do you do?
Well, you could show him a Channel 4 style ‘100 Greatest Bond Moments’ list show. It would feature insightful but humorous punditry from the likes of Paul Ross and TV funny man Rob Deering. But, let’s face it no human being could stand to sit through that, let alone a poor old Martian, so that’s a non-starter.
Instead you need to show him a film. Goldfinger is the obvious choice – it’s great, maybe the best, but it lacks the locations, the scale, the excess. You don’t want your Martian returning to base thinking James Bond was filmed on a disused runway somewhere near Ruislip now do you. You could try You Only Live Twice, but even an alien can see through Sean’s Japanese disguise, or you could pop on Die Another Day but he’ll probably just punch you in the face. No, in the end there is only one candidate. One film that truly sums up Bond, warts and all, and is a damned good watch to boot: The Spy Who Loved Me.
You see, The Spy Who Loved Me has a kind of Greatest Hits feel to it. You get the ultra high stakes plot, the megalomaniac villain, the girls, the gadgets, the car, the henchman, the shark, the fight on the train, the locations, the one-liners and the innuendos. They even chuck in Shane Rimmer as a kind of bonus track!
So get your Martian comfy, crack out some tortilla chips, put on the DVD and get ready to educate and impress.
Firstly, of course, we have the pre-credit sequence. The finest in the Bond canon and, I’m throwing it out there now, the finest damned pre-credit sequence in the history of cinema. Seriously. We start out with a nuclear sub manned by jobbing British actors being attacked by a mysterious force. We get Bond having sex with a Russian on a rug and the beautiful Barbara Bach having sex with a Russian who looks like a rug. We get a ski chase and then…then…we get the stunt. THAT stunt. Bond skiing straight off a mountain and touching the void. What makes it is the anticipation – from the moment he leaves the cliff there’s a full 18 seconds of near silence as he tumbles to his certain death…and then pow! The patriotic parachute pops, the Bond theme plays and Carly Simon hits those ivories. It’s perfect. It’s a Bondgasm. Nobody does it better.
(Feel free to fire out some finger guns to your Martian at this point. If he had fingers he’d fire some back. Heck, you may even need to chuck him a Kleenex.)
The rest of the film does not disappoint. The plot involves Bond teaming up with a sexy Russian spy in order to solve the disappearance of two nuclear subs (it owes a lot to director Lewis Gilbert’s previous Bond effort You Only Live Twice). Admittedly it’s not particularly grounded, but it works and drives some really spectacular action. It helps that Roger Moore is at the height of his powers here. He can still carry it off physically and he’s figured out exactly who his Bond is.
The film looks superb; exotic locales, some excellent model work (the octopus-like underwater lair emerging from the ocean is a particular highlight) and of course Ken Adam’s Oscar nominated sets. My particular favourite is General Gogol’s office: a feng-shuied crypt that must get a tad draughty in the winter months and play havoc with his chilblains.
The look of the film is certainly enhanced by the Bond girls: the beautiful Bach as agent Triple X, the stunning Caroline Munro as the saucy but villainous Naomi and there’s even Carry-On beauty Valerie Leon wearing the worst dress in the world. These girls are far more than decorative items though. Bach is a match for Bond without being annoying (take note Halle Berry) and the lovely Naomi is far less friendly when she’s at the controls of a helicopter gun-ship. I bet even Leon’s receptionist can do deadly things with those room keys…
However, if the girls are premier league, the villain, Karl Stromberg (as played by Curd Jürgens) is perhaps a bit mid-table in the Championship. A sort of Crystal Palace of the Megalomaniac world. Looking like the lovechild of an asthmatic Nazi and a Galapagos Tortoise who has lost his shell, he’s certainly creepy enough and convincingly mad. But he’s just a bit too sedentary, too much of an armchair villain. He lacks a bit of passion and doesn’t seem that bothered if his plan works or not as long as he’s got a crab salad to tuck into.
Oh and his webbed hand deformity is never fully realised. It’s referenced only obliquely (“he doesn’t like to shake hands”) and visible momentarily (pause when he presses the button to send the girl down the shark shoot). One suspects more was made of it in the original script but it ended up on the cutting room floor.
What Stromberg lacks, however, is more than made up for by his henchman, Jaws (Richard Kiel). Certainly the most spectacular of the Bond baddies and rightly regarded as one of the best. Watching the film again though, you can’t help but think that they missed a trick with him. His initial appearances are genuinely scary, there is true menace as he murders the characters Fekkesh and Max Kalba. This is Frankenstein’s monster with, literally, teeth. But things change when he drops a block on his foot and gurns for comedic effect– we’ve gone down the slapstick comedy route and that real terror has gone. Sure he’s indestructible, but now he’s an oaf and not a patch on the monster in the earlier scenes. It’s a shame.
Bond doesn’t need the slapstick. It doesn’t need the comedy musical accompaniment to the drive through the desert in the battered van and it doesn’t need to jump, or in this case eat, the shark. Mercifully these moments are rare in The Spy Who Loved Me, but they do provide a warning for what would happen in Lewis Gilbert’s next outing with Bond…
But I’m quibbling here. You and your Martian will have been taken on a hell of fun journey and if there are a couple of bumps along the way so be it.
So, within the wink of Caroline Munro’s eye, the film is too-soon over. Carly sings again, the credits roll and your Martian turns to you and smiles. You shake his tentacle, promise to follow him on twitter and he goes on his merry way. You sit back and polish off the Doritos. Earth is safe from obliteration and Bond had a new fan. All is well with the world.
But then a terrible thought occurs to you. What if he comes back and wants to watch Moonraker…?