Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bondage, Pt. 10: The Spy Who Loved Me

This movie is widely considered to be the best of the Roger Moore Bond films. I disagree - but it's a close second to my favorite Roger Moore outing (which I'll save for later...hint, it's not Moonraker!). It does feature one of the least-pathetic Bond girls, and the Best Henchman of All Time.

In keeping with my goal of making these shorter so I'll actually finish (a goal I stated, but did not end up doing, in my last entry), I'll "dispense with the customary pleasantries" as M would say, and get on with it.

Synopsis: A genius madman (aren't they all?) named Stromberg wants to destroy the world by provoking a nuclear war (a plot used in at least two other Bond movies) so he can create a New World Order - this time, the new world would be under the sea. Bond teams up with a Russian spy, code named Triple X (the Bond girl of this film) to thwart Stromberg's scheme. Yes, it's basically You Only Live Twice and Moonraker, in terms of plot, but the details are different enough that this is enjoyable, and it's the best of the three that use the same device.

The Villain: Karl Stromberg is a megalomaniac who wants to provoke the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. into a nuclear war so that he can rebuild civilization beneath the sea. He was played by Curd Jurgens, a German actor. He has an interesting career, in that most of his major film roles were playing Nazis in World War II movies. Ironically, he was critical of the Nazi regime and was actually sent to a concentration camp during the war. He managed to live through it, and afterward became a citizen of Austria. He was a journalist for a long time before becoming an actor. Stromberg the character is very much in the mold of Blofeld, head of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. That's because the original version of the script - which, by the way, contains absolutely nothing from the novel it was based on other than the name - used Blofeld as the bad guy. However, Eon Productions' nemesis Kevin McClory, who claims to have invented S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Blofeld while working on early Bond ideas with Ian Fleming, sued Eon to stop them from using the character or the organization. So they basically just changed the name (and, apparently, lost Blofeld's trademark cat), which is why Stromberg seems so Blofeldish. Stromberg is a great villain in that he's one of those who has actually deluded himself into thinking he's the good guy, and that his actions are necessary to ensure the future of human civilization, which he believes is hopelessly corrupt.

The Henchman: If you've never seen a single Bond movie, or you have but haven't really paid attention, I bet you can name only one or two henchmen, and one of them is this guy. "Jaws," played by actor Richard Keil, who suffers from acromegaly and stands some 7'2" tall, is perhaps one of the most enduring and iconic Bond henchmen. He's even been brought into some video games, voiced by Keil himself. Here's a picture of him with early Seventies hottie Caroline Munro (see below), which shows you just how freakin' big this guy is. Jaws' most interesting feature is not his height (and he's TALL...he TOWERS over Roger Moore, who's over 6 feet), but the steel braces he wears on his teeth. Jaws can cut heavy cable-car cables with those teeth, or bite people to death, or any number of other unwholesome activities. Jaws is somewhat one-dimensional in this film, though he was so popular with audiences that the producers brought him back in Moonraker. Jaws was based on a character featured in the novel named Sol Horror, who had steel braces on his teeth, but is otherwise pretty original. Keil got his start in the early Sixties playing the title role of Eegah, sometimes called "Teenage Caveman," which was featured in a particularly hilarious episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Jaws is a great henchman not so much because of his iconic looks - the height, the teeth - but because he's so relentless. No matter how many times Bond does him in, he comes back with remorseless energy. In the end of the film, Bond throws Jaws into a tank full of sharks and he's seemingly dead. But after the rest of the story is resolved, we see Jaws swimming away - he's bitten the sharks to death. You gotta love that.

The Bond Girl: Barbara Bach plays Anya Amasova, a Russian spy code-named Triple X. The Russians bring her in to track down missing plans for a new submarine tracking system when it becomes clear to the Russians that Bond is going after it. Bond killed Amasova's former lover, and she sets out for revenge. But - SURPRISE, SURPRISE - she eventually forgives Bond after falling under his unassailable charm. While Barbara Bach is certainly attractive, I have never been all that crazy about her looks. But she's one of my favorite Bond girls, because she is tough and resourceful and is pretty much Bond's equal. She gets the better of him on more than one occasion as they steal the secret plans back and forth from one another. They do decide to team up at some point when they realize their governments are on the same side - at least when it comes to thwarting Stromberg, and then, of course, in the end she forgives Bond and makes love to him in a submarine capsule. When it gets opened at the end, both British and Russian dignitaries are scandalized by what they find. Anyway, Bach may not kick me in the heart the way Jane Seymour does, but her character is one of the most admirable Bond girls.

The Sidekick: There really isn't one, though Bond has a buddy in Egypt who helps him out a bit. This is another one of those movies where the sidekick and the Bond girl are one and the same.

Gadgets: The most obvious is Bond's Lotus Esprit, which can turn into a submarine. There's also a cigarette that can shoot sleeping gas, a music box that's actually a top-secret KGB radio, a cigarette case that can turn into a microfilm reader, and more, including a slightly ridiculous ski pole that turns into a gun. Of course, Stromberg's underwater fortress is a gigantic gadget itself, though one grossly reminiscent of the one in You Only Live Twice.

Music: Longtime composer John Barry found himself unable to work in Britain due to tax reasons, so big-time award-winner Marvin Hamlisch was brought in as a temporary replacement. He added some disco elements that sort of date this movie, but his disco treatment of the Bond theme is pretty cool, actually. He also wrote "Nobody Does It Better," the theme song that was performed by Carly Simon. It's a great freakin' song, even if you're not into syrupy Seventies ballads. Great chord changes, lyrics, the whole nine yards. It might be my second or third favorite Bond theme song. It was nominated for an Academy Award, as was the original score. Neither won.

The Director: Lewis Gilbert, who directed You Only Live Twice, was brought in at the last minute to replace Guy Hamilton, who was hoping to direct the Superman movie (he didn't). Gilbert was instrumental in casting some of the key actors, including Jurgens, Keil, and, representing the "ROWR!" department, Caroline Munro, who plays a would-be assassin called Naomi. She, like Bond girl Jane Seymour, would also do a Sinbad movie.

Fun Facts: This isn't really a fact, but here's a really cute recent picture of Roger Moore and Richard Keil reminiscing. There's also a neat story out there in several sources about the London premiere, which was attended by the Queen, who started a standing ovation when Bond, toward the beginning of the film, opens a parachute to reveal the Union Jack. It's also worth noting that the title of this film was the obvious inspiration for the title of the Austin Powers parody film The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Favorite Lines: This exchange is typical of Bond movies. M asks Moneypenny: "Moneypenny, where's 007?" She replies, "He's on a mission sir. In Austria." M orders, "Well, tell him to pull out. Immediately!" This cuts to a scene of Bond making love to a woman. This one is also good, though subtle: Bond says he's "Bond, James Bond," and Max Kalba says, "What of it?" This is in keeping with the tone of self-mockery Roger Moore brought to the role.

Other Stuff: Most Bond movies end with a tag line, saying "James Bond will return in (name of next movie)." In this one, it says "James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only." But that wasn't the next movie. Because of the phenomenal success of Star Wars, the producers decided their next Bond movie better have spaceships.

So...that's what we got. Up next, one of the most ridiculous (but fun) Bond movies: Moonraker.

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