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.

The Spy Who Loved Me’s 40th: 007 rolls with the punches

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me, which debuted 40 years ago this year, showed the cinema 007 was more than capable of rolling with the punches.

Global box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, plunged almost 40 percent from Live And Let Die, the debut for star Roger Moore. For a time, things got worse from there.

The partnership between 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, unsteady for years, ruptured. Eventually, Saltzman was bought out by United Artists, leaving Broccoli in command. But that was hardly the end of difficulties.

Kevin McClory re-entered the picture. He had agreed not to make a Bond movie with his Thunderball rights for a decade. That period expired and McClory wanted to get back into the Bond market. Eventually, court fights permitted Broccoli’s effort for the 10th James Bond movie to proceed while McClory couldn’t mount a competing effort.

But that still wasn’t the end of it. Numerous writers (among them, Anthony Burgess; Cary Bates, then a writer for Superman comic books; future Animal House director John Landis; and Stirling Silliphant) tried their hand at crafting a new 007 tale.

Finally, a script credited to Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum, with uncredited rewriting by Tom Mankiewicz, emerged.

Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct his fifth Bond movie but left the project. That paved the way for the return of Lewis Gilbert, who helmed You Only Live Twice a decade earlier. It was Gilbert who brought Christopher Wood to work on the script.

The final film would resemble Twice. Spy had a tanker that swallowed up submarines where Twice had an “intruder missile” that swallowed up U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

With Saltzman gone, Cubby made his stepson, Michael G. Wilson, a key player in the production. Wilson was already on the Eon Productions payroll and was involved in the negotiations that saw Saltzman’s departure.

For Spy, Wilson’s official credit was “special assistant to producer” and it was in small type in the main titles. However, Spy was that downplayed Wilson’s role. An early version of Spy’s movie poster listed Wilson, but not production designer Ken Adam, whose name had been included in the posters for Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.

UA, now in possession of Saltzman’s former stake in the franchise, doubled down, almost doubling the $7 million budget of Golden Gun.

In the end, it all worked. Bond shrugged off all the blows.

Spy generated $185.4 million in worldwide box office in the summer of 1977, 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.)

Roger Moore, making his third Bond movie, would later (in Inside The Spy Who Loved Me documentary) call Spy his favorite 007 film.

The movie also received three Oscar nominations: for sets (designed by Adam, aided by art director Peter Lamont), its score (Marvin Hamlisch) and its title song, “Nobody Does It Better” (by Hamilsch and Carole Bayer Sager). None, however, won. 

007 screenwriter Christopher Wood dies

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

Christopher Wood, screenwriter on two big James Bond films of the 1970s, has died, Roger Moore said on Twitter.

Wood, 79, was brought on to write 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me by the movie’s director, Lewis Gilbert. He came aboard after various scribes — Richard Maibaum, Stirling Silliphant, Cary Bates and others — had tried their hand at a story for the 10th 007 film.

Wood ended up sharing the screenplay credit with Maibaum, while Tom Mankiewicz did some uncredited rewrites.

Spy was a major test for producer Albert R. Broccoli. It was his first Bond film as solo producer after Harry Saltzman sold off his interest to United Artists. Also, The Man With the Golden Gun had underperformed at the box office.

A lot was riding on Spy and the escapist, extravagant film delivered, becoming a big hit in the summer of 1977.

Wood was brought back for 1979’s Moonraker, also directed by Gilbert. While writer Tom Mankiewicz helped plot the story, Wood was the only credited screenwriter. Broccoli wanted to outdo himself this time, wanting to send Bond into outer space and going bigger in every way. It also was a big hit, but Broccoli scaled things down for future films.

As big as Moonraker was, it was actually reduced from THE FIRST-DRAFT SCREENPLAY, which had his and her micro-jets, a keel-hauling sequence and a jet pack. The keel-hauling sequence (based on the Live And Let Die novel) would be saved for For Your Eyes Only and (only one) micro-jet would be utilized in Octopussy.

Wood also wrote the novelization for the two movies. In the minds of many fans, Wood successfully merged Ian Fleming’s literary Bond with the large-scale epic films.

Here’s Sir Roger’s tweet about Wood’s death:

Moonraker’s 35th: when outer space belonged to 007

moonrakerposter

June marks the 35th anniversary of Moonraker, a James Bond movie fans either like or despise.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli sought to make the most extravagant Bond film ever. The film’s first-draft script was too big even for the ambitions of the veteran producer. Twin mini jets, a jet pack and a keel hauling sequence were removed in subsequent drafts. Some of the ideas would be used in the next two films in the series, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

But there was plenty left, including taking Agent 007 into outer space (or Outer Space! as it was spelled in the list of locations in the end titles). Writer Tom Mankiewicz did uncredited work to develop the story. Screenwriter Christopher Wood received the only screen credit for the film.

Broccoli and United Artists initially wanted to spend about $20 million, a substantial hike from the previous 007 adventure, The Spy Who Love Me. It soon became evident the budget would have to even higher, costing more than $30 million.

Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert had teased the audience in 1967’s You Only Live Twice with the idea of Bond going into space. In that film, Ernst Stavro Blofeld catches Sean Connery’s Bond in a mistake before Bond can be launched into orbit. This time out, Broccoli and Gilbert would not use such restraint. Roger Moore’s Bond would go into space, in a spacecraft modeled after the space shuttles that NASA had in development.

As with other Bond films of the era, there was a lot of humor, including pigeons doing double takes and henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) suffering various indignities. The movie got good reviews from some critics, including Frank Rich, then of Time magazine. A sample of Rich’s take: ” When Broccoli lays out a feast, he makes sure that there is at least one course for every conceivable taste.”

Also singing Moonraker’s praises was reviewer Vincent Canby of THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Moonraker, Canby wrote, was “one of the most buoyant Bond films of all. It looks as if it cost an unconscionable amount of money to make, though it has nothing on its mind except dizzying entertainment, which is not something to dismiss quickly in such a dreary, disappointing movie season.”

Bond fans have a more mixed reaction. Some feel it’s too far from the spirit of the original Ian Fleming novels. For examples, CLICK HERE. Others, while acknowledging there isn’t much from Fleming’s namesake novel, are more than content to go along for the ride.

Despite the higher budget, Broccoli & Co. weren’t willing to pay what major U.S. special effects houses wanted. Instead, Derek Meddings used decidedly lower tech ways to simulate a fleet of Moonraker rockets launching into space and meeting up with a space station. Meddings and his crew an Academy Award nomination. Meddings & Co. lost to Alien.

For Moonraker, it was a major accomplishment to get the nomination. Meddings and his special effects colleagues were the only crew members working at England’s Pinewood Studios. The home base for Moonraker was Paris because of tax reasons.

Two stalwarts of the Bond series, composer John Barry and production designer Ken Adam were also aboard. Moonraker monopolized stages at three Paris studios with Adam’s sets. It would be designer’s farewell to the series. Shirley Bassey performed the title song, her third and final 007 film effort.

In the end, Moonraker was a success at the box office. The movie’s $210.3 million worldwide box office was the most for the series to date.

Broccoli changed course soon after, with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only being much more down to earth, with a greater emphasis on Ian Fleming original source material. Never again would Broccoli or United Artists (or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which acquired UA in 1981) attempt a spectacle on this scale.

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.

IFP hires writer for new 007 novel, Book Bond Says

Ian Fleming Publications has hired William Boyd to write a new James Bond novel, to be set in the 1960s, according to A POST on The Book Bond Web Site.

Here’s an excerpt, including part of an IFP statement:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012WILLIAM BOYD TO WRITE THE NEXT JAMES BOND NOVEL

Huge news today! Ian Fleming Publications has announced that William Boyd will write the next James Bond novel. Boyd’s yet untitled novel will take Bond back to the 1960s and will be published in Fall 2013 by Jonathan Cape in the UK and HarperCollins in the U.S and Canada. Here is the full press release:

William Boyd to write new James Bond novel
Boyd takes Bond back to the Sixties with all the style and flair of Ian Fleming

William Boyd, the award-winning and bestselling author of Restless and Any Human Heart, is to write the next James Bond novel.

The novel, which is yet to be titled, will be published in the UK and Commonwealth in autumn 2013 by Jonathan Cape – Ian Fleming’s original publisher and an imprint of Vintage Publishing – and simultaneously by HarperCollins Publishers in USA & Canada. Rights were sold in the English language by Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown, on behalf of Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.

William Boyd is the third author in recent years to be invited by the Ian Fleming estate to write an official Bond novel, following in the footsteps of the American thriller writer Jeffery Deaver, who wrote Carte Blanche in 2011, and Sebastian Faulks, whose Devil May Care was published to mark Ian Fleming’s centenary in 2008.

The key phrase is “in recent years.” IFP, formerly known as Glidrose, “invited” Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Christopher Wood and Raymond Benson to write either new 007 novels or novelizations of James Bond films between 1968 and 2002. IFP changed management about a decade ago and, not uncommon a phenomenon, the current regime tends not to recognize the work of its predecessors.

The last new “adult” Bond novel was Jeffery Deaver’s Carte Blanche, published last year, which rebooted the literary 007 to the 21st Century, just like the film 007’s reboot starting with 2006’s Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. Now, IFP has switched gears back to going with the period piece approach the way it did with Sebastian Faulks’s Devil May Care in 2008.

Our speculation: it may be a sign that IFP has realized there’s no way Eon Productions will ever opt to use a continuation novel as the basis of a movie. Or maybe not.

As of 10 p.m. New York time, there was no press release on the official IFP Web site. So credit John Cox, who runs The Book Bond site, with a scoop (at least among the fan Web sites).

UPDATE: The BBC in A STORY on its Web site, quotes the new 007 author as saying his story will be set in 1969. It also says first-week sales of Deaver’s Carte Blanche novels were a fraction of Faulks’s Devil May Care.

No Skyfall novelization, Book Bond Web site says

There won’t be a novelization of Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film, the BOOK BOND WEB SITE REPORTED, citing Ian Fleming Publications.

Raymond Benson's Die Another Day remains the most recent 007 film novelization. Photo copyright © Paul Baack

Raymond Benson, most recent 007 novelization author


There was no statement on the Ian Fleming Publications Web site as of 3 p.m. Eastern Time on March 18. On the Book Bond site, webmaster John Cox said he didn’t press for the reasons why there won’t be a novelization.

One possibility (our own speculation): director Sam Mendes has had a penchant for secrecy for all matters Skyfall, even to the point of denying in early 2010 he was in talks to direct the film even after his own publicist had confirmed such talks were, in fact, underway. A novelization is typically available before a film’s release and is the ultimate spoiler. One exception: Max Allan Collins, in his novelization for Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy movie, awkwardly told the reader Tracy was surprised who the mystery was without revealing the identity.

IFP controls the literary Bond. Novelizations were published for the four Pierce Brosnan films: GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day. John Gardner did the GoldenEye novelization in 1995 and Raymond Benson the others, beginning in 1997. In 2002, Benson’s final Bond continuation novel had been published but he was the logical choice to do Die Another Day’s novelization published in the fall of that year.

With 2006’s Casino Royale, IFP re-issued Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel of the same name, and with 2008’s Quantum of Solace, IFP put out two Fleming short stories, including Quantum of Solace, which had nothing to do with the film.

Going further back, Christopher Wood penned novelizations for The Spy Who Loved Me (“James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me”) and Moonraker (“James Bond and Moonraker”) in 1977 and 1979 respectively. Gardner also wrote the novelization for 1989’s Licence to Kill.

IFP has no “regular” Bond continuation novel author. Sebastian Faulks and Jeffery Deaver were hired to do one-offs (Devil May Care for Faulks where he was “writing as Ian Fleming” and Carte Blanche for Deaver). Interestingly, based on spoilers that have leaked out, Skyfall has a plot element similar to Carte Blanche. (We referenced that spoiler in a March 17 post, so we won’t mention it here).