Friday, November 16, 2012

The Spy Who Loved Me

Oh, thank Christ.  I would call this one not just a good Roger Moore outing, but a genuinely great Bond movie.  The downward spiral over the last three films has definitely been reversed.  So, the good, the bad and the insane.

The opening scene is justifiably famous, the ski chase down the mountain that ends with Bond pulling a Union Jack parachute.  So far, never a bad idea to put Bond on skis.  Just really phenomenal stunt work here, with the caveat that the insert shots with Roger Moore are singularly unconvincing.

The song is one of a handful that is famous outside of the franchise (“Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon, and I’d add “Goldfinger” and “Live and Let Die” as the others, although I could be forgetting something.)  I’ve been humming it all day.

Unfortunately, there is a really distinctive disco flavoring to the rest of the music in the film, and it shows up right at the beginning, during the ski chase.  This is a man who once took a completely unnecessary shit on the Beatles (Bond seems like a jazz man, right?), so having him do stunts to the sound of disco music really dips into new levels of wrongness.

Bond movies are extremely careful to keep the nudity implied rather than explicit, but there is some actual nudity in this movie – during that opening scene (which actually jumps around to several different scenes that set up the basic plot and the characters, specifically the girl and Bond) there is a shot on a submarine where you can clearly see the photos of some Page Three type pinup girls on the wall.

Actually, this is a really cleavage-heavy movie in general.  Especially Barbara Bach, but really all the women (including the secondary/villain girl, played by Caroline Munro) are in some really low-cut outfits.  Both of those two look very nice in those dresses, and Munro in particular is a total babe.

So, Bach.  Her character, Anya Amasova, is a Russian spy and she is never totally undermined by the movie, which isn’t just a nice change of pace from the execrable Mary Goodnight but actually puts her at the top rank of Bond girls.  But….Bach is really punching above her weight class.  That’s a pretty common trope in these movies, where even when the Bond girl is reasonably well-written, she’s undermined by a shitty performance by the actress who was probably cast for that specific reason (because no girl can ever outclass Bond).  And Bach isn’t even the worst actress so far, but the character as written is really pretty great, a smart, capable woman who is Bond’s equal in most ways, and Bach’s performance is all on the surface, and barely there at that (plus, her Russian accent is in the Kevin Costner in Robin Hood neighborhood.)  So, hit and miss, but certainly more hit than miss when compared to the recent Bond girls.

Great location porn in this one.  Besides the ski scene, we get Egypt and Sardinia, and a bunch of bitchin’ sets.

The bad guy has not just one but two underwater bases and both of them are equally spectacular.  Technically, one’s an underwater base and one is a tanker ship, but both make heavy use of a water motif and both are awesome and tricked-out (the base proper is the “classy villain HQ” and the tanker is the “enormous villain HQ”, so you get one of each.)  This is a villain who knows how to create a space.  And, you know what, I’ll say it – the two bases, put together, make Blofeld’s volcano look like Romper Room.

Jaws.  Enough said.  Wait, let me say a little bit.  Jaws has a fight with a van, which he (mostly) wins, and he also eats a live shark.  Not, like, as food on a plate, but in the water, as the climax to a fight with said shark.  There’s a reason this guy is one of the series’ most famous henchmen.  He is genuinely terrifying, by far Bond’s toughest foe.

Probably the second most famous stunt, after the ski scene, is Bond and Amasova battling baddies underwater in a submarine car.  Now, the car is pretty dorky looking but the stuntwork itself is really top notch.  After the interminable underwater scenes in Thunderball, they finally figured out how to do good, tight, underwater action.  It’s quick and to the point, and you really have to admire the practical effects work of putting an underwater car into battle.

Curt Jurgens as the baddie is probably the weakest part of the movie.  He, like Christopher Lee, really lacks the proper amount of theatricality in his performance (Lee’s low-key performance is at least offset by his charisma; Jurgens is just your dotty old grandfather).  This is especially disappointing considering that he’s pretty obviously a Blofeld stand-in, given that the Eon series had lost the rights to that character by this point.  He is not Blofeld by a mile, but his plot is so Blofeldesque that it’s impossible not to draw the (unflattering) comparison.

His plot is something of a combination of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice – he’s going to steal nukes, and use them to start WW3 between the US and Soviet Union, but instead of demanding a ransom, he’s going to go through with it in the theory that after life on land is wiped out, he will start civilization over again under the sea.  Now, leaving aside how insane this all is from a scientific standpoint, I admire his ambition.  It’s a nice change to get one of these big, crazyballs plots again, after the smallness of the last two villains’ plans.

Sexist/Racist – Very little of either, the first since OHMSS with that distinction.  Nothing really to report here, which is always nice.

Bond beds three women – a random one at the beginning before he goes off on skis, one of his Egyptian contact’s harem girls, and Amasova.  The first time he sleeps with Amasova is right after he’s dealt with Jaws for the second time: this is a man who can turn any life-threatening situation into an imminent bout of sexytime with just a little bit of charming banter.

The Spy Who Loved Me currently sits at number 3 on my rankings list, out of 10 films so far.  This ranking will probably be fluid, but obviously I liked it a great deal (and yes, I can look ahead to the next outing and recognize that this respite from the depths will be short-lived.)

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