The Spy Who Loved Me isn't the best-loved James Bond film, but it's the Bond film most crammed with the stuff we love. There's a madman, a monstrous plan and a menacing minion. Cold War politics predominate, but the East-West conundrum thaws in the bedroom (of course). And the finale involves Bond and a crew of brave soldiers storming an impenetrable fortress while the villain's henchmen, dressed in identical jumpsuits, die by the dozen. Who could ask for more?
Despite what I'm convinced is director Lewis Gilbert's honest attempt to make it otherwise, The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the better Bond films featuring Roger Moore. The story parallels You Only Live Twice down to any number of details, and the film is much bigger in scope than either of the previous Moore entries. For its time, the climactic battle aboard the tanker Liparus was the most ambitious cinematic spectacle ever presented in a Bond film, and Moore himself seemed comfortable in the role, if hardly tailor-made for it. Still, there's an air of silliness pervading the film that's hard to overlook, and even the most outlandish aspects of You Only Live Twice often seem to work better simply because Connery's presence made the movie more watchable. (As an aside, screenwriter Christopher Wood's novelization of The Spy Who Loved Me is a serious and admirable homage to Fleming's style; had the movie had been handled as capably, it might have been Moore's crowning achievement as Bond.)
In this movie, we are introduced to the killer Jaws (Richard Kiel), who makes for an adequate menace, mainly due to his astounding physical size and strength; while he is occasionally the butt of some unclever visual jokes, at least he is not played entirely for laughs, unlike in the subsequent film, Moonraker. The villainous mastermind Karl Stromberg (Curt Jürgens) is suitably wicked, his lines agreeably melodramatic, his Germanic delivery convincing. Barbara Bach portrays Russian spy Anya Amasova with just the right combination of ruthlessness and vulnerability, and for her time she was one of the series' strongest heroines. Bond gets to actually physically exert himself this go-round, and he pulls off a couple of cold killings that give him a somewhat harder edge than in previous Moore portrayals. However, comic touches like Bond riding on a camel in full Arab regalia, a circus-like musical cue while an all-but-demolished van bounces over the desert terrain, and the Lawrence of Arabia theme as a stranded Bond makes his way through the desert back to civilization fall flatter than Tokyo under Godzilla's feet. If these, and several other thoroughly ridiculous interjections were edited out, The Spy Who Loved Me would succeed far better as a 007 thriller. Bond film humor ought to inspire chuckles, not guffaws and/or groans, and this film, like all of Moore's, induces more of the latter.
Marvin Hamlisch seems an odd choice to score a Bond film; not that his credentials are in any way lacking, but his work for such recognized titles as A Chorus Line, The Goodbye Girl, The Way We Were, and The Sting would in no way suggest that his style might be successfully transferred to the (supposedly) taut and gritty world of James Bond. The title song certainly didn't seem much like a Bond theme at the time of its release. It still doesn't. I've always rather liked Carly Simon, but "Nobody Does It Better" is not a favorite of mine, either as a hit for her or as a title track for a Bond movie. And sadly, Maurice Binder's opening title is his weakest work ever, consisting of gaudy Union-Jack backgrounds, naked women parading as toy soldiers (whom Bond pushes over like dominoes), and Roger Moore bouncing around on a trampoline. Oh, please. Where are the spectacular montages that graced the opening of On Her Majesty's Secret Service? The gorgeous, glittering images that adorned the titles of Diamonds Are Forever? Alas, of the remaining six films for which Binder would provide the title sequences, only For Your Eyes Only achieved anything resembling the integrity of old.
Almost to my own surprise, I find that I enjoy listening to the soundtrack album. There's precious little resemblance to anything John Barry would have written, and indeed, a scarcity of the Bond theme itself. However, the one track that does feature the Bond theme, "Bond '77," is an energetic little number, loaded with late 70s disco verve, complete with clanking guitar rhythms and jazzy saxophones. Though dated, it entertains the ears, and it works rather admirably as the background music for the pre-credit ski chase that ends with Bond soaring over the edge of a precipice (not the one that Telly Savalas was going to head him off at) and parachuting to safety.
Much of the album sounds like bachelor pad music, and although I am not a bachelor, I enjoy its nostalgic sound. "Ride to Atlantis" has an agreeable, lighthearted ambience, somewhat reminiscent of George Martin's scoring for Live and Let Die. The tempo increases for "The Mojaba Club" (spelled "Mojave" on the CD track listing), complete with a Middle Eastern flair to highlight the scene of Bond attempting to track down Max Kalba (Vernon Dobtcheff), whom he believes has information about a submarine tracking system that was used against the HMS Ranger at the beginning of the film. The following jazzy instrumental version of "Nobody Does It Better" sounds like typical Hamlisch, which I find highly appealing—although, again, it doesn't seem particularly at home in a Bond flick.
"Anya" continues in the vein of the preceding instrumental—another light, delicate composition tinged with the colors of jazz, also very nice, very listenable, and perhaps a little more Bond-ish; it's also an album stand-alone, as it isn't included in the movie. "The Tanker" finally provides a bigger, bolder sound, with the juxtaposition of heavy bass and sharp tenor instruments that are not dissimilar to some of Barry's action themes. Still, it's not memorable in the way of Barry's comparably scaled pieces, such as "Bond Below the Disco Volante" from Thunderball or "Capsule in Space" from You Only Live Twice. The following track ("The Pyramids") however, is a very sharp piece of music, its heavy bass, blaring brass, and stark flutes reflecting the grandeur of the Pyramid of Gizeh, where Bond first encounters Anya.
"Eastern Lights" is a combination of Middle Eastern motifs and pure jazz, an interesting cut that conveys local color with a twist. "Conclusion" is not the conclusion of the film, but of the tourist presentation at the Pyramid of Gizeh, at which time Jaws dispatches the hapless Fekkesh (Nadim Sawalha) in his typical biting fashion. The end title features a slow piano introduction to the vocal by Carly Simon, which is a vast improvement over the ridiculous "Sailor Chorus" that leads into the theme at the end of the film.
Fans of John Barry Bond soundtracks may well be disappointed in The Spy Who Loved Me score because it is so radically different and, for the most part, very mellow. Like the album to Dr. No, the music appeals to me more because of its style than its actual connection to the Bond film. Take that for what it's worth from an old lounge music fan.
Revised 12/27/12 16:45:22
Nobody does it better,
I wasn't looking, but somehow you found me.
And nobody does it better,
The way that you hold me, whenever you hold me,
And nobody does it better,
Baby you're the best...Baby you're the best...Baby you're the best...