For anyone in their early 30s The Spy Who Loved Me was for a long time probably the defining Bond film, due to the White Lotus Esprit tie-in toy and repeated Christmas showings of the movie throughout the 1980s.
Released in 1977, the Jubilee year, the film was lapped up by UK audiences as a Rule Britannia fantasy, where a well-attired Englishman can save the world (from a German national no less), while treating it as his colonial playground.
Setting out its stall from the beginning, the pre-credits sequence (a staple since From Russia With Love) goes from a grand FX set-piece as Stromberg’s supertanker “eats” a British nuclear submarine to a stunt-heavy action sequence as Bond skis across an Austrian mountain range fleeing Soviet assassins, before leaping into a huge crevasse and releasing a Union Jack parachute that had original audiences cheering in the aisles.
Different script drafts were worked on by no fewer than seven writers, including Anthony Burgess and John Landis, with regular Bond writer Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood taking final credit.
Despite these scribes the plot is blockbuster friendly simple: following the theft, crew and all, of nuclear submarines Bond is despatched to track down the seller of a submarine tracking system, taking him to Egypt and Sardinia, and forming an increasingly close relationship with the incredibly sexy Major Amasova (Bach), onboard as a Soviet submarine also goes missing.
Their investigation puts them face-to-face with the meglomaniacal Stromberg, whose diabolical scheme threatens by Queen and country... plus the rest of the planet.
It is best remembered for its action sequences: Bond and Amasova’s confrontation with Richard Kiel's metal-toothed giant Jaws on an archaeological dig, the climactic showdown in Stromberg’s massive underwater city (courtesy of Production Design guru Ken Adam), and most famously the Lotus Esprit that races through the Sardinian hills before launching into the sea and transforming into a submarine to battle underwater baddies.
Sadly though, the movie does not live up to Carly Simon’s theme-song, “Nobody Does It Better”.
Worst offender is Moore, whose Bond is the “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” Judi Dench berates him as being in GoldenEye. All perma-tan, dodgy hair and crap pick-up lines Moore teeters on the edge of essaying Peter Stringfellow, not the deadly superspy of Connery, Dalton and Craig.
But, there are still pleasures to be had. Richard Kiel’s Jaws is the best Bond henchmen (in a role seemingly based on his appearance in 1976’s Silver Streak) and his climactic demise was re-written when producer Albert Broccoli sensed an audience favourite.
Barbara Bach (Mrs Ringo Starr) has the requisite unattainable allure and lethality of the finest Bond girls, and Stromberg’s water city is a marvel of soundstage design, so large Stanley Kubrick was called in for advise on how to light it.
Lewis Gilbert basically remakes his You Only Live Twice made ten years earlier, but the real “what-if” here is that Steven Spielberg was considered briefly to direct, but the producers wanted to see, “how the fish films turns out.”
The biggest praise and largest criticism that can be made of The Spy Who Loved Me is that Alan Partridge names it, “the best film ever made.”