Friday, 28 October 2011

BlogalongaBond / The Spy Who Loved Me: Moore Starts Getting Bond Right

After the relative failure of The Man With The Golden Gun and the departure of co-producer Harry Saltzman from Cubby Brocoli's side, it was time to go back to the last boffo Bond for inspiration. With Ian Fleming only allowing the use of The Spy Who Loved Me's title (and not the story, which you should definitely read), Broccoli simply hired director Lewis Gilbert to virtually remake his previous Bond film, You Only Live Twice, but with Blofeld's name changed to Stromberg, and underwater instead of in space.

Despite all the shameless ripping off of himself, Gilbert delivers a Bond film which, for the most part, exceeds all expectations. It's Bond by numbers, but it's packed to the sprockets with spectacle and cracking action, and by this point we're so used to Bondian ludicrosity that we accept a villain with an underwater base and an indestructible idiot henchman with metal teeth named after a recent hit movie as if we pass them on the way to the shops every weekend.
The plot is, of course, ridiculous and convoluted (Bond must make contact with Sheikh Hosein in order to make contact with Aziz Fekkesh in order to make contact with Max Kalba in order to secure the MacGuffin) and the film's attempts to address the series' by-now-embarrassing misogyny are admirable but doomed to failure when Bond's female Russian "equal", Anya, is played by a plank of wood with tits and is required to completely reverse her stance on passion-driven revenge when Rodge raises one of those magnificent eyebrows.

Still, there is one thing that nobody expected to be as good as it was in The Spy Who Loved Me, and which is still overlooked today, and that's the occasionally surprisingly excellent performance of Roger George Moore. Don't get me wrong, he's still the worst James Bond, but once or twice a ray of brilliance shines through the clouds of crapulousness, and it's those that I'd like to celebrate here.

Where it took Sean Connery three films to find his sweet spot, Moore was comfortable in Bond's horsebit moccasins from the moment he unzipped that Italian chick's dress with his magnetic watch in Live And Let Die. It wasn't until The Spy Who Loved Me, though, that the combination of experience and a few choice nuggets of scripting gave him the chance to show that he was more than just two majestic arches of hair above a pair of twinkling, lecherous eyes. Take his fight with Oddjob-a-like Sandor on a Cairo rooftop: as Sandor holds onto Bond's tie for dear life, you can see Moore calculating how much tie is left before the teetering henchman falls, and the urgency of his questioning and callous dismissal of the bad guy with a brief hand movement are pure Fleming.

Probably Moore's single best moment as Bond comes as Anya reminds him - and us, for the first time since OHMSS - of his dead wife. Bond has clearly locked away all emotion for Tracy somewhere where it can fester in the pit of his soul, and Anya's mention of her causes a chilling reaction. Moore sits back slightly, backing away from a painful memory, then deploys a devastating eyebrow before fixing her with an ice cold stare and cutting her off mid-sentence. He touchingly admits sensitivity about the subject of his widowerhood and then, in an instant, defaults to jovial mode having buried his feelings even further down than before. The exchange lasts just ten seconds but within it Moore gives Bond more depth than in his previous four and a half hours in the role.
The scene also works to signpost a later one, in which Anya and Bond simultaneously realise that it was he who killed her lover in the pre-credits sequence. It's one of the best-written scenes in Bond history, and Moore again rises to the occasion. Bond knows what it's like to lose a loved one, and the weight of his loss and his empathy with Anya is visible even as he turns his back on her. His confession is unapologetic without being insensitive, and when she calmly informs him that she'll be killing him as soon as their mission is over, he gives a barely perceptible resigned nod, as if to say, "yes, I expect you will, and frankly I don't blame you". It's a shame Barbara Bach is so useless because with a better actress to trade off, this could have been one of the series' greatest moments.

Of course Rodge goes on to bugger it up several times during The Spy Who Loved Me, which is all the more frustrating when we know how good he can be, but for a few brief scenes he shows the world that anything Connery's nostrils can do, his eyebrows can do almost as well. But not quite.


The ski jump
Having just pulled off the greatest Bond stunt yet with a car that spins 360 degrees while jumping a river in The Man With The Golden Gun, Cubby Broccoli thinks nothing of immediately topping it with this outrageous piece of amazing nonsense. Directed by second unit chief John Glen, who would later direct five of his own Bond films, the stunt is the equivalent of the franchise pulling its trousers down and waving the world's most enormous cock and balls (with a Union Flag tattooed on the scrotum, natch) in the face of the moviegoing public, who gobbled it up. The parachute gag may be spectacularly dumb, offering any remaining villains a nice, bright target to aim at, but it was exactly what was required of Her Majesty's loyal terrier in Silver Jubilee year.

The music
With the Inland Revenue finding a few unpaid tax bills down the back of John Barry's sofa, it was left to Marvin Hamlisch to drag Bond strutting and pointing into the disco era with some astonishing funksplosions incongruously teamed up with a bit of Bach and Mozart, not to mention Maurice Jarre's Lawrence Of Arabia theme. And when I say "not to mention", I mean "let's not mention it". The score works though, Hamlisch's Cairo club music especially effective, and Carly Simon's title song is a thing of effortless beauty that revels in Bond's genital-waving superiority: baby, he's the best.

Ken Adam's sets
Having had a six-year break from Bond, the man who BUILT A FUCKING VOLCANO is back with his second-greatest ever set: the inside of a mind-bogglingly massive supertanker. You might think that you had a big idea once, but until a major film studio builds the world's largest stage in which to house it and gets Stanley Kubrick in to light it, your idea measures less than one ångström from end to end compared to this one. Go away and don't come back until you're Ken Adam.

Derek Meddings' models
If there's any indication of the breadth of skill involved in the making of The Spy Who Loved Me, it's the juxtaposition of Ken Adam's colossal sets with the models created by Derek Meddings. Meddings, having earned his stripes working on various Gerry Anderson TV series, created scale models of the Liparus (a 60-foot long 'miniature') and the submarines it swallowed, which blended seamlessly with Adam's monstrosities. He even mastered the art of realistic miniature water, which was still frustratingly tricky to get right in ye olde seventies. Combine all that genius (look at the wash behind the Liparus) with an expert knowledge of which lenses to shoot his models with for the most realistic result, and you begin to understand why Derek Meddings was given the Special Achievement Award for special effects at the 1979 Oscars.


And finally: Only a knob gag this terrible could make it into Alan Partridge's greatest ever Bond moment:

While entertaining 'Log Cabin Girl' with his penis, Bond receives an urgent message from M via his Dymotape-spurting watch. Bond dresses and makes to leave.

LOG CABIN GIRL
What happened? Where are you going?

BOND
Sorry darling, something came up.
I'll leave Alan's best friend Michael to sum this one up:


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8 comments :

  1. Brilliant review which has me wanting to see the movie again.
    Regardless of size no detail is too big or small to escape The Incredible Suit's forensic gaze. Headline for this could have been 'Moore gets more right.'

    By the way, how many ångströms are there in a nat's whisker?

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  2. Great review like always. I still don't see how you can say Roger is the worst bond. Maybe in comparison to Flemings vision but overall he is the most entertaining for me.

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  3. I watched this t'other night. Wasn't impressed. The best things in it were the two "THAT'S PROPER BOND!" Moore moments you mentioned, and the girl credited only as "Hotel Receptionist". HELLO!

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  4. Please explain HRILF. Is it HotelReceptionistILF as in MILF?
    Valerie Leon is in the credits as Hotel Receptionist. She was a lady in Bahamas in Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery.

    She is a proper 68 years old.

    Still your choice of HRILF?

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  5. Yes and yes. I only met her 4 years ago and she was well tasty even then. Being her on I say.

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  6. I like Moore. A lot. He's among a tie between 3 bonds for my favorite, actually. I prefer many actors films, but I find his performance to be one I come back to more often than most others. Especially this one, A View To A Kill, and, I know it's bad, but I don't despise it, Moonraker. I guess I had MOORE access to these than the others at the time. (Yes. I regret that.)

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