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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Spy Who Loved Me

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly watch of something in my DVD collection, followed by a blog ranting about it.  Today, we return to the world of James Bond with The Spy Who Loved Me.  This is dated in my notes at October 13, 2012.


I've already blogged my exploits from the past year or so of trying to watch The Spy Who Loved Me, only to find that my DVD is borked and won't play in any DVD player I own.  I resolved to get a new copy, but it was at that point between James Bond films when all the DVDs are put on moratorium.  But now, with Skyfall about to hit theatres, the James Bond movies are finally being re-released on DVD, some in Blu-Ray for the first time, and I was finally able to get my new copy of The Spy Who Loved Me!


Now, on with the show.

The Spy Who Loved Me.  Considered to be Roger Moore's finest hour as 007.  Considered by Moore himself to be the best of his James Bond films.  Roger Moore was actually my first exposure to James Bond.  I was about 7 or 8 years old.  I remember watching Moore's episode of The Muppet Show, which was full of all manner of James Bond spoofery.  My brother and I came away from that going, "Holy moly!  James Bond is AWESOME!"  That following weekend, we were renting movies, and we implored our parents to let us get a James Bond movie.  We saw never Say Never Again, starring Sean Connery.  We were hoping to get a James Bond movie with the guy on The Muppet Show, but the only one that our local video store had was the infamously-titled Octopussy, and Mom wouldn't let us get it.

Reading up on the film, The Spy Who Loved Me actually has a very interesting production history.  James Bond's creator Ian Flemming hated his James Bond short story The Spy Who Loved Me, considering it the worst of his stories.  So, when he sold the movie rights to the book series, he put a very interesting caveat on The Spy Who Loved Me.  When it was adapted into a movie, they could only use the title.  Everything else had to be original.  Hence, The Spy Who Loved Me is the first original James Bond film.

For an original story, the producers were hoping to reintroduce James Bond's arch-enemy, the international terrorist organization known as SPECTRE, in a big, bad way.  But, there was a lawsuit over the ownership of SPECTRE that wound up delaying production, and it ended with the producers losing the rights to SPECTRE.  So, they had to start over.  But what they came up with is regarded as one of the best.

The film opens on a British submarine.  They hear some mysterious noises, the captain says, "My God," and they vanish.  We cut to Moscow, where we find that a Soviet sub has befallen the same fate.  The head of the Soviet Secret Service says he'll put his best agent on it - Agent XXX.  We cut to a couple in bed.  The man looks kind of like a Russian George Lazenby, and he's in bed with a beautiful woman.  We assume the man is Agent XXX, as the two begin talking spy stuff.  A secret communication device goes, paging Agent XXX.  The man leaves the bed...and THE WOMAN answers the page, saying, "This is XXX, reporting for duty."

(If this were a web series instead of a series of blogs, this is where I"d put in a cartoonish, "Whaaaaa?")

We then see the same scene played out in London, where M calls for James Bond.  James Bond is currently on assignment in Austria, and in bed with a beautiful woman.  He gets the page, and goes to work, and as he skis down the Austrian mountain, he's pursued by Russian assassins, led by XXX's boyfriend.  Bond kills XXX's boyfriend, and in the most famous stunt in the history of James Bond pre-credit sequences, James Bond evades the assassins by skiing off a cliff, and using a Union Jack parachute to glide to safety.

Back in Moscow, we see Major Anya Amasova, Agent XXX, get informed of her boyfriend's death, and is put on the case of the missing submarines.  There's an arms dealer in Cairo selling a submarine tracking system, and they feel this has something to do with it.  Over in the UK, we see Bond being given pretty much the same information, and he's dispatched to Cairo.  Then, we meet the villain of our piece, Carl Stromburg.  He's just spent billions developing his submarine tracking system, and he's pissed that someone is selling it.  Stromburg determines that it's his secretary who's trying to sell it, because she's the only one outside of himself and the two developers that had access to the plans.  He dispatches with his secretary by feeding her to the sharks.  And then, just to be safe, he kills the two developers.  Stromburg dispatches his henchman, Jaws, to Cairo to recover the plans from the arms dealer, and kill anyone who's seen them. 

As you can imagine, all three converge in Cairo, and all kinds of spy hijinks ensue.  Bond and Amasova, being the top secret agents for their respective nations, naturally have a professional rivalry.  There's some great spy scenes, and some thrilling moments as they sneak about Egypt's famous ruins, tracking each other, and trying to find the plans. 

Should probably take a moment to talk about Jaws, who became one of the most popular James Bond henchman.  So popular, in fact, that he was resurrected for the next Bond film, Moonraker.  Incredibly tall.  Superhumanly strong.  Seemingly invulnerable.  Mute.  And his best-known trait:  his steel teeth, that can bite through metal.  And his preferred method of killing people:  using his teeth to bite through their necks, like some kind of modern vampire.  And he winds up being unintentionally funny, as whenever he and Bond finish their battles, Jaws emerges from the destruction, just casually dusts off his suit, and walks away.  He's evil with a sense of humor.

After their desert battles, Bond recovers the plans, and he and Amasova board a riverboat to return them to Cairo.  But, on the boat, Amasova drugs Bond and swipes the plans.  Bond heads to the British Secret Service's Cairo office to report in, and is shocked to find the head of Russia's secret service sitting behind M's desk.  M then appears to explain.  Because this submarine tracking system is a threat to both the UK and the USSR, the two nations have decided to call a truce and pool their resources to find out who developed the system and why.  Bond and Amasova just became reluctant partners.  Amasova then appears to proudly present the plans that she swiped from Bond, and Bond says that he examined on the boat and found them to be worthless...they left out some vital components, and this was just to find some interested buyers.  Closer examination of the plans, though, finds the logo for Stromburg Lines, the shipping firm owned by magnate Carl Stromburg.  Bond and Amasova, trying to one-up each other, both mention that Stromburg has an undersea research laboratory in Sardinia, and Bond and Amasova are off to Sardinia.

Under the guise of marine biologists, Bond and Amasova get an invitation to Stromburg's undersea facility, where they get the 10-cent tour.  After they leave, Jaws appears and divulges their true identities to Stromburg, so Stromburg sends out his henchmen to kill the two, leading to a classic James Bond car chase.  The chase ends in the most unexpected way, though, as Bond drives the car off a dock...and it turns into a submarine! 

Underwater, they take a closer look at Stromburg's undersea base, and there's some underwater battling of Stromburg's minions.  A nice little character moment, here, as the two are able to once again do their professional one-up-manship.  Amasova takes the controls, and defeats some minions.

Bond>>  How did you know how to do that?
Amasova>>  I'm the one who stole the blueprints for this vehicle two years ago. 

With their adventure done, Bond and Amasova return to their hotel room and start plotting their next room.  While investigating Stromburg's base, they got a good look at a model of his supertanker, the Liparus, and the ship struck them as odd.  Upon further research, they find it's been at sea for almost a year and never put into port.  Surely, this ship has something to do with this.  As they continue talking, Bond casually makes mention of a recent trip to Austria.  Amasova begins grilling Bond, and Bond confesses to being the one who killed Amasova's boyfriend.  Bond is remorseless in admitting what he did, saying it's one of the consequences of the job they do, and they all know/knew it.  Regardless, whatever affection Amasova was feeling for Bond is now gone, and she swears she'll kill Bond in vengeance when their mission is done. 

The next day, Bond and Amasova enlist the aid of an American submarine to go investigate the Liparus.  While approaching the Liparus, the submarine is subjected to the strange noise we heard at the start of the film.  The Liparus then opens up and swallows the submarine whole, and inside, we find the missing UK and USSR subs.

Fun side note:  in order to depict the interior of the Liparus and the captured submarines, the producers had to build the world's largest movie sound stage. 

Now that their captured, it's time for the requisite scene where the villain explains his plan.  Stromburg explains to Bond and Amasova that he's going to use the captured submarines to start World War III.  The Russian sub will nuke New York, and the UK sub will nuke Moscow.  And then, as World War III rages, he'll build a utopia under the sea.  Bond is thrown into the brig with the captured American, UK, and Russian sub crews, and Stromburg takes Amasova with him back to his undersea base.  Because, if there's one thing I've learned from being raised on Star Wars, it's that when the villain captures the heroine, he's supposed to take her back to his lair and make her dress up in some sexy slave girl outfit.

Bond's able to escape and free the sub crews, and together, the take the Liparus.  Now in control, Bond and the crews manage to destroy the UK and Russian subs before they destroy their cities.  Everyone escapes in the American sub, and the Liparus sinks to the bottom of the sea.

With that done, the American sub gets new orders:  destroy Stromburg's undersea base.  Bond implores the American captain:  give Bond one hour to rescue Amasova before blowing it to pieces.  The sub captain agrees.  Bond heads off to the undersea base, assassinates Stromburg, has a final battle with Jaws, rescues Amasova, and they make their escape just as the base begins blowing up around them. 

Bond and Amasova are in Stromburg's luxury escape pod, and Amasova pulls a gun.  Now that the mission is done, she'll make good on her promise of vengeance.  But, with a wry smile and a quip, Bond is able to convince Amasova to make love, not war, and they start doing it.  And they're in the middle of doing it when their superiors fish them out of the ocean.  Hence, my favourite closing line in a James Bond film.

M>>  Bond!  What is it you think you're doing?
Bond>>  Keeping the British end up, sir.

Cue end credits. 

And that's The Spy Who Loved Me.  It truly is a great Bond film.  As I said, Moore's films had a reputation for going over the top, and this is where it all began.  This was the first Bond film in the summer blockbuster era, and as such, it was the first summer blockbuster Bond.  Everything about this Bond was bigger than had what come before.

But I've got one complaint.  One huge complaint about the film.  And that's Barbara Bach as Agent XXX, Anya Amasova.  She is horrible.  She is wooden.  She is emotionless.  She can't act at all.  I don't know if she was trying to bring a cool, emotionless detachment to her role of a Soviet secret agent.  Just...argh.  She's so stiff. 

But we do get some great sideboob when she has a shower scene, so there is that.

On the other side, though, I can see why people consider this to be Moore's best Bond.  He really does get to flex his acting chops.  Granted, Moore's Bond became infamous for excessive quips and one-liners, but there are some great scenes where Bond turns that off and becomes the cold killer that Ian Flemming envisioned.  Such as the scene where Amasova is grilling him, and he explains that he doesn't feel sorry for what he did because he was just doing his job.  Or when Amasova and Bond first meet, and try to one-up each other by running through their bios.  Amasova brings up the subject of Bond's wife (killed at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service), and Bond's charm vanishes as he demands the subject be changed.  He uses the jokes to hide a warrior's pain, if I can borrow a line from one of my favourite cartoons.

I imagine Bond fans back in 1977 when this came out had the same reaction that I had to JJ Abram's Star Trek.  We'd never seen it this big, on this scale, ever.  It was huge, epic, and a shot in the arm for the franchise.  It's worthy of its reputation as one of the best Bonds...if it weren't for Barbara Bach. 

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