Film Library

The Spy Who Loved Me vs. The Spy Who Loved Me

When I was first planning this James Bond project, and I knew that I was going to get around to doing a Film Library on one of them. Because I really enjoy the novels of Ian Fleming. They’re often extremely problematic from a 2017 perspective, but if you can take them in their appropriate historical context they can be pretty fun. Plus, one of the biggest issues that I’ve run into while creating these Film Library posts is when the book and the film that it’s based on are too similar. It’s not really fun when I read a novel and then watch a movie and they’re virtually the exact same. It can be frustrating to come up with something interesting to say when I’m just relating the exact same story to you twice. But then there’s Ian Fleming. Now, I don’t know how many people have read the Fleming novels, but I’m sure more people are familiar with the films than the novels. Which would lead most people to not be aware of the fact that Fleming’s novels often have shockingly little to do with the movies. There are a couple movies that are actually fairly accurate adaptations of Fleming’s work, but by and large the movies tended to take the villain’s name, the general gist of their plan, and then doing their own thing. There are a lot of Fleming novels that would have been worthy to discuss on here, but when I looked at the list of movies, planning this project, I knew which one I had to do. So, ladies and gentlemen, get ready to learn about The Spy Who Loved Me. 

THE FILM

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When I step back and look at the Bond franchise as a whole, I think it’s safe to say that Roger Moore is my least favorite of them. I know that that’s kind of a popular opinion, since his portrayal of Bond is the least like the other, but there’s just something about him that doesn’t quite do it for me. I used to actively dislike Moore, but over the years I’ve come to gain more respect for him. His Bond isn’t exactly the character that I like, but there is a certain charm in Roger Moore’s portrayal that’s really grown on me. I kind of think that it follows a similar trajectory as my growing respect and adoration for Adam West’s Batman. Both are a little silly and campy, and are quite adept at spewing quips and jokes, and I held both of them in utter contempt when I was a shitty teenager. But now? I’m kind of into Roger Moore. And while I’ve been moving through his era of the films I think I’ve made a bit of a realization. I adore Live and Let Die, but the Spy Who Loved Me may be the best “Bond Movie” of his era. It may not be the film of his that I personally enjoy the most, but I think that this film is the best representation of the franchise and the formula. Even thought it certainly seems familiar. And will basically be the same movie tomorrow…but we’ll get to that.

And one of the craziest things about this movie is what a mess it was behind the scenes. They just had no idea what to do with this movie, especially considering the restrictions that Fleming placed on them regarding the novel and what they could and couldn’t use. But besides that, this was the first films made without producer Harry Saltzman, who left the franchise after some unpleasantness, possibly relating to some elephants in The Man With the Golden Gun. But beyond some leadership drama there were also some serious issues with the actual creation of the film. Roger Moore was still on board to be Bond, but they seemed to have a hell of a time getting the people behind the camera. There was a veritable game of duck, duck, goose with directors, even having Steven Spielberg considered (which would have been fascinating). There were also some fascinating people who did some work on the screenplay, including John Landis and Anthony Burgess of A Clockwork Orange fame. And yet, somehow all of that behind-the-scenes drama came together to deliver a surprisingly fun and watchable Bond movie.

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The film starts off with a cold-open sequence that does a lot of heavy-lifting on the exposition front. It opens with a large ship swallowing up submarines, one British and one Russian. We also see a Russian secret agent named Anya Amasova leave her lover to deal with the submarines, while James Bond is fleeing from some enemy agents in the Alps. This leads to one of the more famous stunts from the franchise, Bond skiing off a cliff only to save himself with a Union Jack parachute, leading us into a theme song that reminds us that no one does it better than James Bond. Once that’s taken care of though we see  Bond get brought before M, and given the lowdown on the theft of the British nuclear submarine. They have no idea who could be behind the theft, but there is an advanced submarine tracking device being sold on the black market in Egypt, which could have been involved. So Bond is sent to Egypt to submit a bid on the tracking device, hoping to get led to the people behind the theft. Unfortunately when he gets there he finds that he’s not the only potential buyer. He also has to deal with Anya Amosova, who was sent by the Russian government for the same reason. However, their bidding war is ruined when the seller is killed by one of the most iconic henchmen from the whole series, the metal-mouthed Jaws.

We know that Jaws has been sent by a deranged billionaire named Karl Stromberg, who is behind the submarine thefts. We don’t learn a lot about Stromberg by this point other than the fact that he lives in a crazy under-water base and feeds people who displease him to sharks. Class act. But back in Egypt, things aren’t going well. Bond and Anya chase after Jaws, knowing that he took the microfiche of the tracking device, which they need to obtain. They follow Jaws out into the Egyptian desert, and following an insane fight with him the two agents get the microfiche and flee. They then board a small boat and spend the evening together, trying to find common-ground. Bond takes a peak at the microfiche and Anya ends up drugging him and stealing it. Bond then heads to a secret MI6 base hidden in an Egyptian tomb and finds something shocking. Anya is there, along with General Gogol, M’s counterpart in Russia. It turns out that things have gotten so dire that the English and the Russians have decided to cooperate in tracking down the submarine thief. They then examine the microfiche together, and find evidence that it came from Karl Stromberg’s laboratory in Sardinia. And because they’re both so capable, Bond and Anya are ordered to work together. So the two board a train to Sardinia, where they’re attacked once more by Jaws, and start to fall for each other a bit. They then get to Sardinia, pick up their ridiculous car, and head out to meet Stromberg.

Which is instantly suspicious. They take a boat out to Atlantis, Stromberg’s underwater base, and Bond gets to meet with the billionaire while Anya meets with his secretary. Bond learns that Stromberg is nuts and believes that humanities future lies in underwater cities, and Anya learns that Stromberg owns the world’s largest tanker, which could be big enough to capture submarines. So they’re suspicious of Stromberg. And they get even more suspicious when Stromberg sends out some henchmen to kill them. Luckily the ugly car that they got from Q is also a submarine, and they’re able to escape the villains, and spy on a secret laboratory under Atlantis. They then decide that the only way to get inside Stromberg’s operation is to get on an American submarine and also get taken. However, when on the submarine they learn something shocking, that Bond killed Anya’s lover in the cold-open of the movie, which leads her to promise to kill Bond when the mission is over. So with that lovely image the two get ready to be abducted by Stromberg, which happens pretty quickly. And once the submarine is taken captive Stromberg shows up and takes Anya with him to Atlantis, ready for the master plan to begin. Bond is then left with the British, American, and Russian submariners, and rallies them to battle. The army of submariners manage to escape, and wage war on Stromberg’s army, finally conquering them and stopping Stromberg’s plan to trigger World War III and result everyone to move under the water. Stromberg planned on having the English submarine to attack Russia, and vice versa, but Bond is able to change to paths of the missiles, causing the two submarines to fire on each other. Bond then builds a little jet-ski and races off to Atlantis to stop Stromberg and save Anya. He gets onto Atlantis, and brutally murders Stromberg, and then heads down into the catacombs of Atlantis in search of Anya. He comes across Jaws instead, and has another brutal fight with him that ends when Bond uses a powerful magnet to drop Jaws into a shark tank. Bond then rescues Anya, and the two board an escape capsule that survives the destruction of Atlantis. Anya briefly acts like she’s going to kill Bond, but the two have sex instead, until they’re picked up by the British and Russian forces, leading to awkwardness for all. We then learn that James Bond will be back in For Your Eyes Only, which is surely accurate.

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I enjoy The Spy Who Loved Me quite a bit. Live and Let Die is absolutely insane, and I enjoy it for being such an anomaly to the franchise, but The Spy Who Loved Me is such a perfect distillation of the franchise. It’s the Roger Moore film that most closely follows the Goldfinger formula, and while that doesn’t always lead to great movies, I think it did here. We have an insane megalomaniac villain who wants to trigger a world war involving nuclear devices and utilizes a crazy henchman with an overly complicated method of killing people. Really the only things that make this film stand out from the formula is that idea of Anya being a competent female protagonist and Stromberg not being into this whole scheme for money. But beyond the formulaic prowess of the film, it just has a lot going for it. Roger Moore is really fun in the movie, delivering some hammy dad-jokes while also carelessly letting a henchman fall to his death in Cairo. Barbara Bach does a fine job as Anya, who remains one of the most capable and interesting love interests that Bond has had. Curd Jurgens is maybe a little underused in the film as Stromberg, since he mainly only appears in his office ruminating on the beauty of the ocean, but there’s nothing really wrong with him. And then there’s Jaws. Oh Jaws. Richard Kiel’s intimidating frame, his mute performance, the iconic metal teeth, and his sheer invulnerability makes Jaws one of the most memorable and fascinating henchmen that the series has ever had, and it’s honestly no surprise that they brought him back for the next movie. And it all come together to create one of the most “Bond” Bond movies, and one that I feel myself tossing on rather frequently. It’s maybe not as deep or interesting as other entries to the franchise, but it delivers on being a Bond movie, and sometimes that’s all you need.

THE NOVEL

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I’m kind of at a loss on how to even start talking about this novel. If you don’t know anything about The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming, let me tell you, you are in for a treat. And I promise, I’m not making any of this up. When I first got into Ian Fleming’s novels while in high school I wasn’t quite sure how to read them. For some reason I thought that reading them in the order of the films made sense (it didn’t) and quickly decided on just going through the series in the order that they were written. But this period of my life was also the peak of my obsession with Bond, and before finishing the series I had also acquired more than one book that was just about the franchise in general, and that kind of explained the books and rated them. And regardless of where I was hearing about the novels, there was always one constant. No one likes The Spy Who Loved Me. Hell, even Ian Fleming didn’t like it. When he was signing away the film rights to all of his Bond novels he specifically requested that they could make a movie called The Spy Who Loved Me, but that they didn’t include any plot elements. And I can kind of see why, because this book almost defies explanation. It certainly would make for a bizarre Bond movie. But I feel like I’ve beat around the bush too much on this one, and it’s time for me to just spit it out. This is a James Bond story told from the perspective of the Bond girl, and only features Bond in the final third of the story. And not only that, the prologue of the novel is Ian Fleming claiming that it’s a manuscript that he was given by the fictitious protagnoist of the story, purporting to be her real experience with the character that he created. Folks. This book is insane.

The Spy Who Loved Me is the story of a young Canadian woman named Vivienne Michel and her quest to find meaning in her life. The story opens with her in the middle of a trek from Toronto to Florida, where she plans on starting a new life as a journalist. But she’s currently stuck in a motel in the Adirondacks, having agreed to watch the place for a little spare money until the owner can arrive and close it for the season. And while she’s sitting around in the abandonned motel she begins thinking back on her life, and how she’d gotten to this place. We then learn all about this young woman, and her sexual history. Vivienne’s parents died when she was young, and her aunt sent her to school in England, where she came of age. She tried to be a good, conservative woman, but was lead astray by a young man named Derek who became her first love, and who eventually took her virginity by pressuring her into sex in a movie theater. After that he headed off to Oxford and dumped her through a letter. Vivenne then became pretty jaded to love, and ended up becoming a journalist, where she started a new relationship with her cold German boss, Kurt. This lead to Vivienne becoming pregnant, and being dumped by Kurt who forced her to get a shady abortion in Switzerland. So things aren’t going great for Vivienne in the “men department.” This causes her to head back to Canada, buy a Vespa, and drive Southbound to Florida where she plans on starting a new life. She ends up in the motel, gets convinced to work there temporarily by the creepy couple that run it, and we’re brought up to the beginning.

And this is where things start to get crazy, because while Vivienne is sitting around in the motel that night, awaiting the owner in the morning, she gets two unexpected guests. They’re to cartoonish gangsters, claiming to work for the owner of the motel, named Sluggsy Morant and Sol “Horror” Horowitz. Sluggsy is a diminutive pervert with alopecia and Horror is a towering and stoic man with metal-capped teeth. Vivienne is immediately suspicious of the two men, especially when they start opening threatening her life. Sluggsy also threatens rape on more than one occasion. So things aren’t looking good. Vivienne manages to flee from the motel briefly, but is caught in the woods outside the motel and is dragged back by Sluggsy. Things seem pretty dire at that point, when they get another visitor to the motel, who didn’t realize that it was closed and was just looking for a place to stay. And that visitor is James Bond, fresh off an insane sounding case where he fought a violent Canadian mob with the help of Mounties. Which sounds like a hell of a story. But that’s not the one we get, instead we see Bond enter the motel, and instantly get suspicious of what’s going on. He manages to take Vivienne aside, and she fills him in on what the two are up to, and Bond insists on staying the night at the motel with them. Which was a good call, because it turns out the reason Sluggsy and Horror were here was to light the motel on fire so their boss could blame Vivienne and collect the insurance money. But Bond is able to save Vivienne from the burning motel, and then attacks the two mobsters with her help. Bond and the gangsters get in a gunfight that ends with the gangsters getting in their car and attempting to flee. But Bond manages to shoot Horror, who was driving, and the car careens into a lake. Bond and Vivienne then head back into the only non-burnt motel cabin, and have sex. However, Sluggys was still alive, and attempts to kill them again, only to have Bond shoot him in the head. The two then go to sleep, confident that the two gangsters are gone, only for Vivienne to wake up the next morning with Bond gone. He’s slipped off into the night, and has left behind a letter telling her that he’ll tell the police what’s happened, and will make sure that she gets a reward for the gangsters. Vivienne then heads off to finish her journey, her opinion on men apparently fixed by having a one-night-stand with a weird British killer that she witnesses murder two gangsters.

I swear, that’s actually what happens in The Spy Who Loved Me. This was actually the first time that I’d ever read the book, because when I was in high school and heard that plot description there was no part of me that was interested in checking this book out. But I’m kind of glad I did, because this book is fascinating. I’ve been scouring the internet trying to figure out what the hell Ian Fleming was trying to do with this book, but I’ve been unable to find any sort of justification on why he thought this was a good idea. Ian Fleming knew a lot about a spy craft, since he actually did espionage in World War II. But one thing Ian Fleming did not seem to know was women. Women were one of the innumerable topics that really seem horribly misunderstood by Fleming while reading his books. So the idea of having Fleming write a whole novel from the perspective of a young woman, in first person no less, is an astoundingly bad idea. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book written by a weird old man describing a hand-job? Or what a woman is thinking while she’s losing her virginity? Because that’s the kind of things you get in this book, and they’re insane. This was a book that features the sentence “all women love semi-rape.” Jesus, Ian Fleming. And it’s made even creepier when you know that that sentence was thought by a woman, not said by James Bond! This book is immensely cringe-inducing, and elicited groans of disgust from me basically the entire time. And yet, there are aspects of the book that I find interesting. Not many, but a few. And they’re primarily how utterly bizarre this book is, especially if you just came across it. James Bond shows up so late into this story, and so unceremoniously, that I feel like you could easily give this book to someone, and have them have no idea that Bond was in it, and shock the hell out of them. I mean, can you imagine going to see some movie, knowing nothing much about it, and then suddenly in the last act James Fucking Bond just strolls in and fixes everything? That’s so absurd, and I kind of love it. The actual book that James Bond stumbles into is kind of a train-wreck, but the idea of James Bond just finding himself in a completely random story is kind of great.

THE VERDICT

So yeah, this is the weirdest Film Library post that I’ve ever done. Because this book and this movie have literally nothing in common except their names. And I suppose the fact that Horror had metal-capped teeth like Jaws, but even then it’s not like Horror was trying to bite through padlocks and stuff, he just had bad teeth. I had always heard that The Spy Who Loved Me was a bizarre book, and adapted in name only, but I had no real idea that it was this insane, and that the movies have never even taken a thing from it. As the Bond franchise has gone on they’ve tried to squeeze every last bit of detritus from the Fleming novels they can, and yet they’ve stayed the hell away from The Spy Who Loved Me. And for good reason, because other than the hilarity of having a weird stealth James Bond movie, the book would make a terrible movie. Normally I can at least say which version of the story was better told, but these two stories are completely unrecognizable. Obviously the film The Spy Who Loved Me is a better story, and I highly recommend checking it out so you can experience Roger Moore at his most Bond. And I really wouldn’t recommend reading The Spy Who Loved Me, unless you’re a Bond completest or have a morbid curiosity to experience all of the ridiculous things that I talked about in this article.

The Spy Who Loved Me was written by Ian Fleming, 1962.

The Spy Who Loved Me was written by Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum, directed by Lewis Gilbert, and released by United Artists, 1977.

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