The Spy Who Loved Me (Lewis Gilbert, 1977) is an intervention in the Bond franchise. Following the modest success of The Man with the Golden Gun (Guy Hamilton, 1974), this film feels like a carefully orchestrated plot to evoke the golden days of the series. In fact, it is an adaptation, some may even argue a remake, of You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967). The film’s narrative patterns, characters, and plot elements are uncannily similar which provides intriguing insights into the franchise logic producer Albert R. Broccoli put in place after his long-time partner Henry Saltzman sold his stake in Eon Productions. Essentially, he decided it was time to resell an old hit, just packaged differently.
Roger Moore feels more assured as Bond in this film, toning down his attempts at swagger to more fully embrace his more refined persona. While the disco-style score feels fairly out of place by today’s screen standards, it does vividly capture the series’ strategy to tap into timely cultural phenomena. The most stand-out addition to the canon is the character of Jaws, brilliantly portrayed by Richard Kiel, and a source of many nightmares when I was a kid. Nowadays, Kiel’s performance speaks to the campy nature of the Moore era, outlandish and over-the-top, while sometimes thrilling and exciting.
These characteristics are all on display in the film’s pre-credits sequence which, I argue, ranks among the most memorable in the Bond franchise. The ski chase is a standard scenario, but the film’s take is utterly daring through its otherworldly stuntwork. To be fair, from today’s perspective, the initial stretch of the sequence is fairly rote, a rather bland mix of rearview projection, telescopic photography, and a few handheld shots. But the final stunt, to this day, makes me sit up, hold my breath, and feel my heartbeat rise up.
Shot at Mount Asgard in Canada, and filmed by the inimitable Willy Bogner, Bond skies off a cliff and opens a parachute with the British flag. This part of the sequence is one for the ages. The most expensive stunt at the time, it combines athleticism, aesthetic bravado, and sheer earthly defiance. When Bond jumps off the cliff, the films goes silent, and only the wind soaring through the mountains can be heard. Stuntman Rick Sylvester loses the skies, one of which comes dangerously close to his head, before opening the parachute. It is a masterclass in action filmmaking, absolutely breathtaking and spectacular.
To me, this explains much of the continuing appeal for Bond, the ongoing ambition and drive to create big-screen spectacle. Bond, at its very core, is cinema. It is designed for the big screen. The action sequences aim for the wow effect. Not all of them hit the target at all times. But when they do … it is an event, a watercooler moment. And the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me is a great example.
This blog will return with … Moonraker.