Nobody does it better: 40 years of The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Four decades after its theatrical release (on that apt 7/7/1977 date) , The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most beloved James Bond films — not only for the Roger Moore era but the entire Eon Productions series.

Moore himself declared a couple of times this was his favorite Bond film. His preference for this film was understandable.

The film’s production had a rough start. In 1975, shortly after the release of The Man With The Golden Gun, Harry Saltzman sold his share of the Bond rights to United Artists after facing serious debts and personal problems, leaving Albert R. Broccoli as sole producer.

Eon Productions was not allowed by contract to use anything from Ian Fleming’s 1962 novel except for the title. It is known that the James Bond creator wasn’t happy with his most peculiar book, written in first person from the viewpoint of Vivienne Michel, a young girl attacked by goons in a motel in the United States and rescued by James Bond.

Various writers were hired to devise a story. Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum would receive the screenplay credit. Guy Hamilton departed the project, originally set for a 1976 release. Finally, Lewis Gilbert, who directed You Only Live Twice a decade before, was hired.

Attempts to bring back Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE were cancelled after Thunderball producer Kevin McClory threatened with legal action. Nevertheless, scribes Wood and Maibaum penned a suitable Bond extravaganza that pleased audiences.

In the process from the script to screen, a huge set was built at Pinewood Studios to double for the tanker owned by the villain. Claude Renoir’s camera captured the exotic beauty of turistic spots like Sardinia and Cairo. In Egypt, the crew was constantly monitored by the government. The catering service was a disappointment, leaving Cubby Broccoli to step up and personally cook spaghetti for the whole crew.

The Spy Who Loved Me stands out as an improvement for the Moore 007 movies. After two entertaining but rather “cheap” Bond films, this third Moore/Bond adventure looks expensive.

The action scenes are tidy and organized proving to be a perfect syncronization between the soundtrack, the cinematography, the stunt team and Lewis Gilbert’s experience in delivering an extraordinary adventure in the scale of You Only Live Twice.

Also notable was the work of the model unit to turn Bond’s white Lotus Espirit into a mini submarine, which he uses to explore the villain’s lair beneath the Sardinian seas (actually shot in The Bahamas, as were most of 007’s underwater sequences).

However, honors for The Spy Who Loved Me should go for a very brave man who performed an unforgettable stunt.

1975 trade advertisement for The Spy Who Loved Me before Harry Saltzman sold out his interest in Bond

Rick Sylvester got on his skis and slided trough the snowy summit of Canada’s Mount Asgard. He jumped off a cliff and opened a Union Jack parachute. This moment that won cheers and applause over cinemas across the United Kingdom almost killed Sylvester when one of the abandoned ski poles nearly punctured the parachute.

Roger Moore kept his grace in his third Bond film. He dashingly wears a Royal Navy uniform and has the USS Wayne submarine troops in charge before a big scale gunfight takes place against the villain’s forces. He lets an assasin fall to his death after extracting him information. And, bravely, he tells her KGB companion Anya Amasova that he was responsible for the death of her boyfriend. “In our business, Anya, people get killed.”

Barbara Bach lacked acting talent as the leading lady. This weak aspect was compensated by Curt Jurgens magnificient performance of Bond’s nemesis Karl Stromberg who tries to ignite World War III as the initial step for the inception of a world beneath the sea.

However, the most memorable character in the film’s rogue gallery was Richard Kiel’s Jaws, the giant with steel teeth who would return to join the side of good in the next film, Moonraker. The popularity of Jaws was so big that Richard Kiel shared his likeness for three Bond videogames: GoldenEye 007 (1997), Everything or Nothing (2003) and 007 Legends (2012).

Marvin Hamlisch delivered a score in tone with the times, influenced by the Bee Gees music and the late 1970s disco tunes but also with the dramatic tunes some moments require, such as the tanker battle near the end.

Particularly good are his remixes of the classic James Bond Theme that heralded the many action sequences of the film. For the main title song, Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager took inspiration from Mozart and created the immortal ode to Bond: “Nobody Does it Better,” a title that could very well also fit the effort to deliver a Bond film with capital B.

Some 007 Oscar statistics

oscar

At about 8:30 a.m. New York time, James Bond fans will find out if Skyfall, the 23rd 007 film, scores any Oscar nominations. Ahead of that event, here are some 007 Oscar statistics:

WINS: 2 Goldfinger’s sound man Norman Wanstall won an Oscar for his efforts in 1965 and special effects wizard John Stars, received an Oscar in 1966.

If you CLICK HERE, you can see Wantall get his Oscar from Angie Dickinson. If you CLICK HERE, you can see Ivan Tors, whose production company worked on Thunderball’s underwater sequences, picking up the award for Stears.

MOST NOMINATIONS: 3 (The Spy Who Loved Me) Ken Adam, Peter Lamont and Hugh Schaife were nominated for art direction and set decoration. Marvin Hamlisch was nominated for best score; and Hamisch (music) and Carole Bayer Sager (lyrics) were nominated for best song. None scored a win. Adam got two Oscars and Lamont received one for other movies.

MOST MEMORABLE 007 OSCAR NIGHT: 1982 For Your Eyes Only was nominated for best song and Sheena Easton performed it as part of an elaborate 007 song-and-dance number. It didn’t win but Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, given to a producer for his or her body of work. The veteran producer gave a gracious speech that included acknowledgments for former partners Irving Allen and Harry Saltzman, even though Broccoli had his share of differences of opinion with them over the years.

The 1982 Oscars show was also the last time Bond (formally at least) was part of the ceremony. Since then, contributors to the film series, such as John Barry, Tom Mankiewicz and Joseph Wiseman, have shown up in the “In Memorium” segments that pay tribute to those who’ve died since the preceding Oscar broadcast.

We know that will change with this year’s broadcast, which will have a James Bond tribute. Fans will soon find out whether the evening will include Skyfall being in the mix for Oscars.

The tribute, depending how elaborate it is, and Skyfall breaking the long Oscar drought for Agent 007, could make 2013 the most memorable 007 Oscar night.

HMSS talks to Jon Burlingame about his 007 music book

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book’s Amazon.com page (don’t click it won’t work here; see link at bottom of this post).

Jon Burlingame, who has written extensively about film and television music, is coming out with a new book, The Music of James Bond. He’s come up with some research that should intrigue 007 fans. Example: one of the singers of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, originally intended to be Thunderball’s title song was involved in a lawsuit to try to stop release of the fourth James Bond film.

We did an interview by e-mail. He provided a preview of his book. The author didn’t want to give away too much in our interview, including identifying which Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang singer was involved. Both Shirley Bassey and Dionne Warwick performed the song before Eon Productions went with Tom Jones singing Thunderball.

Anyway, the interview follows:

HMSS: Did you come across information that you found surprising? If so, what was it?

BURLINGAME: I was able to piece together the chronology of what happened with “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” — the unused theme for THUNDERBALL — which had always eluded previous writers and researchers. And I discovered that one vocalist was so incensed about the failure to use her recording that her company sued the producers to attempt to stop distribution of the film in late 1965. (She didn’t succeed, of course.) It was a stunning new discovery and, to me, one of the most fascinating stories in the book.

I also got Paul Williams to recall many of his unused lyrics for MOONRAKER and Johnny Mathis to confirm that he recorded that song, which no one has ever heard. I successfully unraveled the story of the missing Eric Clapton recordings for LICENCE TO KILL and the sad and unfortunate tale of why John Barry was ready to score TOMORROW NEVER DIES and how studio politics derailed it. I obtained new details about the aborted Amy Winehouse song for QUANTUM OF SOLACE and finally got to the bottom of the story involving “No Good About Goodbye,” which has always been rumored to be an unused QoS song.

HMSS:How long did it take to prepare The Music of James Bond? How many of the principals were you able to interview directly?

BURLINGAME: It took eight months to write — and about 45 years of intense interest before that. I signed the contract with Oxford in May 2011 and delivered a final manuscript in December. Like any film-related history that covers several decades, it required considerable research as well as interviews with those key players who were still with us. I had interviewed John Barry often since the late 1980s, so I had material from him prior to his passing.

New interviews included Monty Norman, Vic Flick, Leslie Bricusse, Don Black, Hal David, producer Phil Ramone (OHMSS), engineers Eric Tomlinson and John Richards, Sir George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, Paul Williams, Bill Conti, Tim Rice, Michel Legrand and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Maryam d’Abo, Narada Michael Walden and Diane Warren (LICENCE TO KILL), Eric Serra (GOLDENEYE), David Arnold, conductor Nicholas Dodd (the Arnold films), and Madonna (DIE ANOTHER DAY), among others. {plus extensive, previously unused interviews I had done with Michael Kamen (LICENCE TO KILL) and Michel Colombier (DIE ANOTHER DAY) before each passed away.

HMSS: What is your view of the disputes related to the creation of The James Bond Theme? To some laymen, it really does sound like Barry at the very least added a lot to Monty Norman’s work.

BURLINGAME: He did. The story is very, very complicated, as anyone who followed the London court case should understand. The creation of a piece of music for a film — whether in 1962 or in 2012 — can be a complex process involving a melody line, the addition of rhythm and countermelodies, bridges, etc., and performance issues related to what instruments are being used and how. So it started with Monty Norman and an unused song from an unrealized production; passed through the hands of his own orchestrator; reached John Barry, who undertook what one expert witness at the trial called an “extreme” arrangement; and when Barry called in guitarist Vic Flick, he added his own special touches before the theme was recorded for the first time. To his credit, Norman — despite his differences with Barry over the years — continues to credit Barry with the definitive orchestration of his theme.

I would urge Bond fans to read my first chapter very carefully before drawing, or modifying, their own conclusions. I believe it is as complete a chronicle of the creation of the “James Bond Theme” as is possible at this date.

HMSS: Harry Saltzman almost killed the title songs to Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever and while liking the Live And Let Die song didn’t want Paul McCartney to perform it. Are there any other examples of this sort of thing (not restricted to Saltzman)?

BURLINGAME: From the beginning, it’s always really been a kind of crap shoot to try and create a song that would serve the film but also reach the pop charts to serve the broader promotional needs of the film and be successful on its own. There has always been second-guessing, from the examples you cited to the rush job on MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, the last-minute decision to change lyricists and singers on MOONRAKER, the involvement of record-company people on the songs for A VIEW TO A KILL, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and LICENCE TO KILL, and finally the deep involvement of the studio music department on films like TOMORROW NEVER DIES, DIE ANOTHER DAY and the 2006 CASINO ROYALE. I detail all of these in the book.

For a long time, no composer not named John Barry did a second turn as a 007 film composer, until David Arnold came along. What did he bring to the table that the likes of Bill Conti, Marvin Hamlisch, etc., didn’t?.

BURLINGAME: I don’t think it’s fair to compare David Arnold with Conti and Hamlisch. Each composer tried to do his best with the film he was given. The circumstances were different in each case. All three attempted to “modernize” the Bond sound in their own way, with Hamlisch and Conti applying the pop rhythm sounds of their day (1977, 1981). Arnold came along at a time when the largely electronic (Eric) Serra
score for GOLDENEYE proved problematic for the filmmakers and they were eager to return to a more “traditional” sound. Arnold’s TOMORROW NEVER DIES score took the classic Barry sound and “updated” it with contemporary synth and rhythm-track sounds that proved just right for that film. He delivered what was needed and thus was retained — especially in a time of risk-averse studio thinking that often says, “that worked, that movie made money, let’s have more of that.”

HMSS: What qualities make James Bond scores different than scores of other movies?

BURLINGAME: One of the main points of the book is the assertion that these composers invented a new kind of action-adventure scoring for the Bond films. Partly pop, partly jazz, partly traditional orchestral scoring, the 007 films demanded music that could be variously romantic, suspenseful, drive the action, even punctuate the humor.

It was a tall order, and John Barry, especially, delivered what was necessary and helped define James Bond in a way that wasn’t possible with the visuals alone.

John Barry


HMSS: John Barry won five Oscars for his film work but never for a Bond movie. Meanwhile, Marvin Hamlisch got nominated for his score for The Spy Who Loved Me, and three title songs where Barry was absent (Live And Let Die, Nobody Does It Better and For Your Eyes Only) got nominated. Why was that?

BURLINGAME: This is a sore point with me. “We Have All the Time in the World” and “Diamonds Are Forever” are two of the greatest movie songs of their time, and both should have been nominated. But the reality is that the Bond films were not taken seriously as artistic achievements at the time, and neither song was a big hit (while record sales helped to drive Barry’s “Born Free” into Oscar territory, and the Bacharach-David “The Look of Love” from (1967’s) CASINO ROYALE was from a very popular, L.A.-based hitmaking team and so was an obvious choice for Oscar attention).

“Live and Let Die,” “Nobody Does It Better” and “For Your Eyes Only” went to no. 2, no. 2 and no. 4 on the American charts, respectively, and thus could not be ignored at Oscar time on the basis of their commercial success alone.

I think you could make a case that “You Only Live Twice,” “We Have All the Time in the World,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “All Time High” and “Surrender” from TOMORROW NEVER DIES could and should have been nominated for Oscar. Maybe even “You Know My Name” from CASINO ROYALE, which has grown on me over the years. Changing Oscar rules in recent years hasn’t helped, but this year, with five nominees for Best Song assured because of a rule change, I think it’s quite likely that we may have a Bond song in contention.

HMSS: What do you think is the best Bond film score? What do you think is the most underrated?

BURLINGAME: You can’t ask a guy who spent six months listening to nothing but Bond
music to choose just one!

I love every note of both GOLDFINGER and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. I think FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER are terrific scores in every way. And the fact that I grew up in that era may influence my passion for the early Bond scores, when the Barry concept and sound
was so fresh and exciting. I believe THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS may be the most underrated score. There is so much original melodic and rhythmic material there, and a very contemporary sound for 1987; I feel that Barry went out on a very high note with his last Bond score. I also think there is much to admire in Arnold’s first two Bond scores, TOMORROW NEVER DIES and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, and I think his unused song from the latter, “Only Myself to Blame” (with Don Black lyrics) ranks with “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” as another of the unsung masterpieces of Bond music.

HMSS: What do you think Thomas Newman brings to Skyfall?

BURLINGAME: I very much look forward to the SKYFALL score. Every few years there is a new voice in Bond music — this year we have two, in Adele and Thomas Newman — and it’s always a good thing to reexamine what makes Bond music work. Arnold tried to do that with each new Bond score, but I think Newman will offer a fresh musical point of view and I can’t wait to hear what he brings.

For information about ordering the book, CLICK HERE to view Amazon.com’s Web site. You can look at some pages on the Amazon site BY CLICKING HERE.

UPDATE (Sept. 28): Jon Burlingame passes on the following about “rejected” James Bond title songs:

One of the book’s appendices is a chronicle of “would-be” Bond songs. There is a widespread notion out there that these were “rejected” (Johnny Cash for THUNDERBALL, Alice Cooper for GOLDEN GUN, etc.) when in fact most were, at best, unsolicited demos that never even reached the producers, who were not in the habit of entertaining song suggestions from outsiders.

The idea that Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were sitting round their offices listening to these and giving them serious consideration is the height of lunacy.

There really was a “cattle call” for songs for TOMORROW NEVER DIES, but that was done by the studio, not the producers, and I detail the unhappy results in the book.

The Spy Who Loved Me’s 35th anniversary: license renewed

July is the 35th anniversary of 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. It may not be the best James Bond movie but it’s certainly one of the most important for the series: 007 got his license to kill renewed.

CLIP TO EMBIGGIN

A preliminary version of Spy’s poster: Barbara Bach is “introduced” while Michael G. Wilson gets a credit he wouldn’t receive on the final version of the poster.


Spy faced many barriers to reaching the screen: the breakup between founding 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; widespread doubt (outside of Bond fandom) whether Agent 007 had a cinematic future; and legal fights as Kevin McClory sought to get back into the 007 movie game more than a decade after 1965’s Thunderball.

All of those topics have been covered in more detail than we can provide here. Suffice to say, there was a lot riding on the 10th James Bond film.

Eon Productions was now headed solely by Cubby Broccoli, aided and abetted by stepson Michael G. Wilson (who got a “special assistant to producer” credit in small type in the main titles). United Artists had bought out Saltzman’s stake in the franchise. The studio (now, in effect, Broccoli’s partner) supported the remaining Bond producer by doubling down, greatly increasing Spy’s budget compared with 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun (about twice Golden Gun’s $7 million outlay).

For star Roger Moore, it was his third 007 film. It firmly established him in the role and he has said it’s his favorite Bond movie. The plot has a number of similarities with 1967’s You Only Live Twice, also directed by Lewis Gilbert. Spy had a tanker that swallowed up submarines where Twice had an “intruder missile” that swallowed up U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

The script was developed after a number of writers participated without receiving a credit (among them, Anthony Burgess; Cary Bates, then a writer for Superman comic books; future Animal House director John Landis; and Stirling Silliphant). The final credit went to 007 stalwart Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood (the latter, who got top billing in the screenplay credit, was brought in by Gilbert). There even were odd changes in the early version of the film’s poster compared with the final version.

For all the twists and turns, Spy was a big hit in the summer of 1977. It generated $185.4 million in worldwide ticket sales, the highest-grossing 007 film up to that point. (Although its $46.8 million in U.S. ticket sales still trailed Thunderball’s $63.6 million.) The movie also received three Oscar nominations: for its sets (designed by Ken Adam, aided by art director Peter Lamont), score (Marvin Hamlisch) and title song, “Nobody Does It Better” (by Hamilsch and Carole Bayer Sager). The movie, though, went 0-for-3 on Oscar night.

Do all 007 film fans love Spy? No. Check out some of the comments by HMSS EDITORS, many of whom never warmed up the Roger Moore movies. Still, Spy’s success ensured there would be future 007 screen adventures, securing Broccoli’s control of the franchise.