The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Director: Lewis Gilbert
You’re dropped into the year 1977, Jimmy Carter wins the White House, Disco is the fresh new sound, and a little film by the name of The Spy Who Loved Me picks up the mantle of the James Bond franchise, three shining examples of sustainability and longevity.
With the third film in Sir Roger Moore’s illustrious run as the titular character, the series was coming off successive, and relative, disappointments in Live and Let Die and The Man with The Golden Gun, the latter being the lowest grossing Bond film to date. As Bond films go, they are entertaining enough, but both glaringly chase after the trends of the time from Kung Fu movies to Blaxploitation, if something was in the moment it ended up in a James Bond film. Just as glaring is how poorly Roger Moore wears the brutish James Bond character Connery had left him. Both Moore and the films as a whole seem to be searching in the fog of reinvention and running into trees.
Then came The Spy Who Loved Me and at once Roger Moore stopped trying to be your dad’s James Bond. By embracing his urbane charm and smoother touch Moore found his voice and put his stamp on the character as he strolled through the most lively and bizarre stretch of films in the franchise’s history. And it started with a bang in one of the most memorable cold openings to date. There weren’t too many films parachuting stunt men off of 1000 foot cliffs to open their movies in 1977, and the stunt was an immediate indication that things would be different, and James Bond would be once again setting the trends in action cinema…until Moonraker ruined everything.
Some of the most distinct films in the franchise are often broken up into three locations. This gives us three distinct visual pallets in addition to making a long run time feel fluid and smooth. You could see this Bond trope used to near perfection in Skyfall, each segment, starting in Shanghai and ending in the Scottish highlands, creates different splashes of mood helping to make an otherwise convoluted film go down much easier. And this is why we’re here today, to talk about movie number six on the list. The biggest reason for its placement in the top 10 is that it may have the single best location sequence in any Bond film; the Egypt sequence (echo). But, first we need to talk about the scene just prior to the Egypt Sequence ™, where we meet the villain, Stromberg (Curd Jurgens) in his oceanic lair; it provides the perfect jumping off point to the best Bond sequence ever.
Stromberg’s sea lair, like his evil plan, is exactly like what you’d expect from a rambling cocaine fantasy. However, the focal point of the scene is Stromberg’s lavishly decorated conference room surrounded by a huge frescoes teaming with color and life. From there we’re dropped into the bone dry lifelessness of the open desert, flipping the mood instantly with a little basic visual storytelling.
If I’m being honest with my James Bond fandom my favorite scenes in all the movies are when he’s just walking around exotic locations doing spy stuff. More than the big action scenes, give me a scene of Bond following some guy, or in the case of Cairo, looking for someone, and it’s made better watching Lewis Gilbert (You Only Live Twice and Moonraker) and cinematographer Claude Renoir (Barbarella) have some fun filming Roger Moore in Cairo during Magic hour.
The climax of the sequence centers around, where else, but the Pyramids. It’s staged during some kind of show detailing the history of the ancient landmarks, but, it’s mostly an excuse to wash the area with great looking green and blue light. This is where we first get acquainted with the iconic henchman, Jaws. Jaws (Richard Kiel) becomes cartoony as the film goes on, but here, as he commits his first villainous act, he’s presented like a Universal monster, even killing his victim with a bite to the neck.
The music in this scene also stands out. It’s mostly the music from the tourist event, which clashes with the action at first, but as the scene moves forward the music begins to match the action perfectly, from Jaws’ kill to Bond’s pursuit and eventual fight with two Russian agents. I get giddy every time I see this scene because its perfect kinetic film making. Even the fight is smooth and well choreographed as the camera holds back with a wide shot from agent Triple X’s (Barbara Bach) perspective.
Though, as mentioned earlier, all the cinematic goodwill earned in The Spy Who Loved me would be lost in space with Moonraker, it is still a good example of one of the redemptive films of the series and worthy of its praise as one of the landmark action films of the70’s.
6. The Spy Who Loved Me