Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Double Oh...10: The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me preamble:  We're starting into "foggy memory territory" with the Bond films now, as I think I've seen this one before, and all of the Moore films to follow, but I remember very little about the specifics.  Except this is where Jaws debuts, and Mrs. Ringo Starr has a starring role (pun intended!).

Villains: It's quite evident to me the moment that Karl Stromburg's crab-like aquatic base of operations emerges from the depths that I actually haven't seen this film before.  That emerging- from-the =-sea sequence is utterly impressive, model or not (it's a model).  The fact that the Stromburg base, Atlantis, became the inspiration for the Legion of Doom's evil lair in Super Friends (and beyond) only serves to make it more impressive. Stromburg (Curd Jurgens) is an obvious supplement for Blofeld here (as Blofeld was entangled in the Thunderball lawsuit and off limits), but he has his own distinguishing affectations and characteristics, namely a strange longing for humanity to return in the sea, as well as webbed hands.  To this end he's kidnapping atomic submarines (first British, then Russian, then American), to steal their warheads and set of the nuclear holocaust, after which the only option will be for the surviving countries to invest in his plans for an undersea kingdom (really shouldn't he have that ready before he nukes the place).
    Stromburg has a pair of henchmen, the burly wrestler-type Sandor (who gets dropped off a roof within minutes of meeting Bond for the first time) and perhaps the most infamous henchman in the series, Jaws.  Actor Richard Kiel stands an impressive 7 feet, 2 inches, and seems even bigger here.  With a mouth full of metal (one can't even call them teeth), inhuman strength (he picks a van up off its rear wheels), and seeming nigh-invulnerability (he gets crushed between the truck and the wall at one point, barely phased) he's the most challenging henchman Bond has faced.  The fact as well is Jaws (at least here) isn't stupid, and he's a lot faster than he looks, which are the two usual failings of burly henchmen.  Jaws is last seen swimming away from the wreckage of the Atlantis at the end of the film (though we know we'll be seeing him again soon).

Bond GirlsStromburg has an alluring woman-at-arms, Naomi (Caroline Munro), whom, I suppose, shares his evil lair with him, as she certainly knows her way around the place.  She gives Bond the googly eyes, and Bond can barely keep his tongue in his mouth when she shows up in a itty bitty bikini, but he has no qualms with blowing her up in a helicopter (which she was piloting I might add. Good pilot, terrible shot) when the time comes (and he doesn't even sleep with her first).
  Besides Naomi, there's Agent Triple X, Major Anya Anasova (Barbara Bach), Bond's equal over in the Russian secret service.  We're introduced to her in one of the greatest fake outs ever.  The opening sequence has the Russians needing to call in their top agent, and cutting to the bedside phone ringing as a couple are... mid-romance.  He's a terribly handsome, chiseled  hairy and barrel-chested fellow so reminiscent of Connery.  He answers the phone, and then passes it to the attractive, saucer-eyed woman he was bedding.  "Agent Triple X", she answers.  Bach is a bit dead eyed in the role, frequently lacking in emphasis in her delivery.  The character, however, is exceptionally capable but not entireIy given the latitude to show it off (certainly not like Michelle Yeoh or even Halle Berry or Olga Kurylenko in later films).  Her relatively equal status beside Bond certainly puts her in the upper echelon of Bond Girls.

Title/Theme:  Carly Simon sings the hell out of "Nobody Does It Better", and I think I'm close to declaring it the best song from a Bond movie.  Perhaps not the best theme, but I love that song.  There's a bit of a disco influence in the Bond theme in this picture, but I kind of like it.  It perks it up nicely and doesn't outright crass like the Disco Star Wars theme.
     The title sequence is the best of the series so far, with Bond actively injected into the silhouette proceedings.  There's a lot of gymnastics involved, including the high-bar acrobatics on the barrel of a Luger, and a lot of nude women in Russian military imagery.  It's a very well orchestrated piece, but I'm all too aware of the sexism of the naked-women, besuited Bond pairings (but then again, men find naked women sexy, women generally find men in a suit sexier than naked men).

Bond: Bond in this film is incredibly restrained from his more primal tendencies (for both killing and for sex).  The fact that he has an woman who is as much his equal (if not more intelligent and shrewder than he, though perhaps not as skilled a fighter) goes a long way to tame those baser elements.  He's still a bit of a sexist pig, but here it seems more a pointed character trait, rather than the sexism of the writers as in previous films.  I like that they kept Tracy's death as part of his background, and Moore's reaction when it's mentioned is perfect.  Bond shows more physical prowess in this one, certainly less afraid to fight physically than in other films, but he's still very reliant on accessories.  Oh, and we're back to Bond being the worst infiltrator once again, as every attempt at infiltration is a complete wash.

Movie:   Oddly, this film cannibalizes great sequences from previous Bond features:  a ski sequence that doesn't quite measure up to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, an underwater sequence that doesn't quite match up to Thunderball, and a massive good guys vs bad guys sequence in the belly of a super-cargo ship that rivals if not exceeds the assault on Blofeld's volcano lair in You Only Live Twice.  Despite plundering its own resources The Spy Who Loved Me is judged better as the sum of its parts.
    The editing can be clunky from time to time... a particularly stilted kissing sequence and an awkward drop from Jaws being most notably.  I disliked that Triple X was kidnapped and kept by Stromberg, and that Bond had to rescue her.  She really shouldn't need to be rescued.  Also I liked that the film put an actual human side to one of the toadies Bond killed: from the opening sequence, one of the Russian agents Bond killed was Triple X's lover.

Q-gadgets: The Lotus Esprit converts into a submarine and is loaded to the gills with doodads (of which Triple X knows all about since she stole the designs two years ago).

Classification (out of 01.0): 00.9 (I loved this one)