Review: The Spy Who Loved Me

spy_who_loved_me_cov.jpgYear: 1977
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 56 (Not Quite)

Plot
James Bond works with Soviet spy Major Anya Amasova to find two missing nuclear submarines.

Quick Review
The Spy Who Loved Me gets many elements of a good action movie correct. The story holds up well, there are plenty of creative action sequences, and Roger Moore does an acceptable job as James Bond. But Barbara Bach’s ineffectiveness as the lead female, and the clunky and dated edge to the action sequences hold the film down.

Full Review
There is a lot to like about The Spy Who Loved Me. All the ingredients of a solid Bond film are in place. We’ve got respectable attention to story, some grand action scenes, and high-tech gadgetry. But the film also has critical weaknesses, and these ultimately drag the film down.

roger_moore.jpgThings start off with a bang. The opening scene has one of the more spectacular stunts of the Bond series: a death-defying free-fall ski/parachute jump from Canada’s Mt. Asgard. The scene is breathtaking, and it is captured in one astounding take. The rest of the film keeps up the abundance of action: we’ve got underwater chases, a large scale battle inside a tanker, an amphibious Lotus Esprit that doubles as a submarine, a seven-minute car escape, and a good smattering of the mandatory James Bond fistfights and duels.

On the surface, all this sounds great. But much of the action never reaches good velocity. The fistfights, in particular, reminded me of the fights from the earliest Bond films. They come off particularly wooden. The car chase, as well, seemed a bit stuttering and never reaches its potential. With the exception of the spectacular Lotus Esprit, the high-tech gadgetry is hopelessly outdated, and by relying on this to carry a strong impact in the movie, the film loses the_spy_who_loved_me_3.jpgforce as it ages. For example, in one scene Bond rides a jet ski (a “wetbike”). In 1977, this was a flashy new product seen for the first time in this movie. Now, however, the scene holds nostalgic value but little power. Even the creative underwater scenes with the impressive Lotus Esprit come across as choppy, and this action pales in comparison to the magnificent underwater work of Thunderball, which had impressive scope, elegance, and power.

But more so than the action, The Spy Who Loved Me suffers from the casting of Barbara Bach as Major Anya Amasova, a Soviet spy who teams up with Bond for much of the movie. She is supposedly the best Soviet spy, but at best she comes across as occasionally resourceful, and for much of the movie she degenerates into a deer in the headlights sort of damsel in distress. Even accounting for the Russian accent, her lines are weakly delivered and unconvincing, and she pulls down the otherwise respectable acting of those around her. It’s like someone kidnapped barbara_bach_2.jpga real Russian spy and substituted it with a bright college instructor. Even in the looks department, Bach misses the mark. Admittedly, at times she comes across as strikingly gorgeous, but in many other scenes she struck me as boney and tired. And was it just me, or did she need to see a dentist? All this would be minimal if Bach played a minor role in the film, but she is with Bond for much of the movie, and this weakness takes a lot of the force out of the movie. With better casting in this role, The Spy Who Loved Me would perhaps rise to be one of the best Bond movies.

Fortunately, The Spy Who Loved Me does get a lot of other elements right. The story is crisp, tight, and logical. Roger Moore does an acceptable job as Bond, and the script keeps things moving. And although the movie stretches its premise in a few places, it gives it enough nods of respect that the plot holds together nicely. At least until the end, that is, at which time our evil mastermind brilliantly defends his last base with one measly assistant. But this is forgivable, and by then we’re all ready for the movie to end anyway. To be fair, if you are going to defend a base with one assistant, choosing the likeable, metal-toothed Jaws (Richard Kiel) is a solid choice. The massive Kiel does spy_who_loved_me_1.jpga remarkable job infusing Jaws with an adorably dogged and dopey vibe. His outstanding work overcomes the unmemorable work of the main villain Stromberg (Curd Jürgens), and makes Jaws one of the most original Bond villains.

Although I’ve commented on the attractiveness of Barbara Bach, I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the attractiveness of the other characters in a Bond movie. The babe rating of The Spy Who Loved Me benefits from the solid looks of Caroline Munro, who plays one of Stromberg’s assistants. As for our hunk rating, the usually handsome Roger Moore came off a bit pasty and weak to me in this film, but he still keeps the film’s rating well above average. The rest of the male cast varies, but ultimately ends up average.

In the end, The Spy Who Loved Me gets many things correct, and is an improvement over the weak The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). The story holds spy_who_loved_me_4.jpgup well, there are plenty of creative action sequences, and Roger Moore does an acceptable job as James Bond. But Barbara Bach’s ineffectiveness as the lead female, and the clunky and dated edge to the action sequences hold the film down.

Fun Facts
In the breathtaking ski jump in the opening scene, only one of the numerous cameras positioned to film the sequence managed to keep the camera on Rick Sylvester, the jumper.

The Lotus Esprit was in fact a functional underwater car. However, for buoyancy reasons, the driving compartment had to be filled with water while the vehicle was submerged, so scuba divers did the underwater driving.

Score
Pace: 53
Plot: 68
Action: 58
Consistent Premise: 67
Script/Quotes: 40
Characters: 83
Acting: 52
Villain: 81
Body Count: 83
Time to First Dead Body: 6 minutes, 59 seconds
Babes: 72
Hunks: 77
Explosions: 75
Special Effects: 68
Stunts: 87
Ending: 78

Overall: 56

[tags]The Spy Who Loved Me, James Bond, 007, Lewis Gilbert, Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, action movie, movie review[/tags]

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