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.

Why this blog posts obituaries

Guy Hamilton

The tragic death of Chris Cornell this week was a reminder why this blog publishes so many obituaries.

Cornell’s death by suicide was sudden. To be honest, the blog’s obit was published so quickly because the Spy Command was up in the middle of the night and saw the news.

Obits are as much about lives led as they are the deaths that ended them.

Essentially, obituaries are a very rough first draft of the biographies of prominent people.

A little over a year ago, the blog began writing “prepared obituaries.” In the first part of 2016, the likes of George Martin, Ken Adam and others had died. They were in their 90s.

So the blog began writing prepared obits. The first one published was for Guy Hamilton, a four-time 007 film director whose credits included Goldfinger. The blog’s obit for Hamilton was, literally, written two days before his death. That was, admittedly, a little spooky.

If this sounds ghoulish, it’s not. The New York Times first wrote an obit for Fidel Castro in the 1950s when he was hiding in the jungles of Cuba. The idea is that the rough first-draft biography be as good as it can possibly be.

The blog has posted other prepared obits when those involved died. They included actor Mike Connors and television producer Bruce Lansbury.

Still, the blog is a hobby. This isn’t a major news organization that has an obituary desk. From time to time, there are sudden deaths, such as actor Robert Vaughn and Chris Cornell, that had to be written quickly.

Given that a lot of what the blog writes about originated more than a half-century ago, this is the way of the world.

It’s not fun by any means. But those who’ve departed deserve an appropriate send off. And that’s why the blog spends as much time on obits as it does.

Jay Milligan, Golden Gun stunt supervisor, dies

The end of the car jump of The Man With the Golden Gun

Jay Milligan, the driving stunt supervisor of The Man With the Golden Gun, died in March, according to a tribute video by the Erie County (New York) Fair.

Mulligan had helped to create a stunt where a car would do a full rotation between two ramps, landing right side up on the other side.

The stunt was adapted in 1974’s Golden Gun in a car supposedly driven by James Bond (Roger Moore) with Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) as his passenger.

According to the documentary Inside The Man With the Golden Gun, the stunt went so smoothly, director Guy Hamilton wanted a second try. The stunt driver, Bumps Willard, understandably refused. Milligan himself did other stunt driving in the film, according to the documentary.

“The movie came out in 1974. I was elated,” Milligan said in a 2015 interview with The Buffalo News. “When does an adopted kid from West Chester, Pennsylvania, ever have the opportunity of being a stunt director and driver of a James Bond car?”

The Erie County Fair produced the tribute video because Milligan had produced demolition derbies at the fair. Here’s the video:

Why we mourn those we’ve never met

Chuck Berry, Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer

Over the weekend, we witnessed the passing of Chuck Berry, a Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer (age 90); Jimmy Breslin, a distinguished columnist and journalist (age 88); and Bernie Wrightson, a notable comic book artist (age 68).

Their life details and accomplishments vary. But all three touched many. Social media was flooded with remembrances by fans.

A natural question is why so many can feel so intensely.

One answer is those involved touched many people. The passing of those who died this weekend somehow seems personal.

In a way, it is personal. Besides admiration for the accomplishments of the departed, there’s an additional layer of sadness. A piece of one’s own life has died. It is a reminder of one’s own mortality.

Baby Boomers likely are feeling this most of all. That generation is either in retirement age or approaching it. A weekend like this one is a reminder that Boomers are closer to the end than the beginning.

Here’s some context in terms of this blog and its primary subjects, the James Bond films and the spy entertainment generated by them.

In less than 12 months, we’ve witnessed deaths among the few remaining early key behind-the-camera contributors to the Bond film series (Ken Adam, Guy Hamilton). Among the “The Other Spies,” we’ve seen the death of Robert Vaughn, the star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

When the first screen Bond passes away — whoever it is, whenever it happens — there will be around round of mourning, one that will circle the globe.

This will only continue. It’s the way of the world.

Ken Adam makes In Memoriam; Robert Vaughn doesn’t

Ken Adam (1921-2016)

Ken Adam (1921-2016)

Ken Adam, production designer on seven James Bond movies, was included in the “In Memoriam” segment of the Oscars telecast Sunday night.

Adam also designed the sets of 1964’s Dr. Strangelove and won Oscars for Barry Lyndon and The Madness of King George.

Also referenced in the segment was film editor Jim Clark, whose credits included 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.

Not making the segment was actor Robert Vaughn. While best known for television’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for 1959’s The Young Philadelphians. He was also the last survivor of the actors who played The Magnificent Seven in the 1960 film.

Also not making the segment was Guy Hamilton, director of four James Bond films, including Goldfinger.

UPDATE (Feb. 27): I re-watched the In Memoriam segment. There were about 45 people shown in 2:48.

Diamonds’ 45th: Rodney Dangerfield of 007 films

Diamonds Are Forever poster

Diamonds Are Forever poster

When Diamonds Are Forever came out 45 years ago this month, it was a huge deal. Sean Connery was back! Everything was back to normal in 007 land.

Nowadays, Diamonds is more like the Rodney Dangerfield of James Bond films, not getting any respect.

Some fans complain about too much humor, about Connery not being in shape, about Blofeld (Charles Gray) dressing in drag as a disguise and about Bond’s wardrobe (his fat, pink tie in particular).

Perhaps the biggest advocate of the movie is former United Artists executive David Picker. In his 2013 memoir, Musts, Maybes and Nevers, he says Diamonds saved the Bond series because he got the idea of paying Connery a lot of money to return as 007.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had cast American John Gavin in the role. But UA became more hands on with the seventh film in the series compared with previous entries. UA (via Picker) didn’t want to take a chance after George Lazenby played Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Regardless, Diamonds reflected the creative team’s desire to get back to the style of Goldfinger. As a result, director Guy Hamilton returned. So did production designer Ken Adam after a one-picture absence. John Barry was on board and this time Shirley Bassey would return to perform the title song.

There was new blood, however, in the form of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, brought in to rewrite Richard Maibaum’s early drafts. Mankiewicz would work on the next four films of the series, although without credit on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

"What does that mean, anyway?"

Q was aghast at Bond’s tie.

Mankiewicz (1942-2010), part of a family prominent in both show business and politics, still generates sharp divisions among Bond fans. Supporters say his witty one liners enlivened the proceedings. (“At present, the satellite is over Kansas,” Blofeld muses at one point. “Well, if we destroy Kansas, the world may not hear about it for years.”) Detractors say he simply didn’t understand Bond and made things too goofy.

The writer’s initial draft actually contained more bits from Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel than would be in the final film. (This 2011 ARTICLE has more details, just scroll down to the section about the Mankiewicz draft.) Still, with Diamonds, it was now standard practice that the films need have little in common with Fleming’s novels.

The legacy of the movie is mixed. Diamonds got 007 into the 1970s. But as late as 1972, people still questioned whether the series could survive without Sean Connery. That wouldn’t be evident until after Diamonds. And the movie clearly began a lighter era for the series.

Still, Bond was Bond. The movie was a success with moviegoers. It had a worldwide box office of $116 million, an improvement from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s $82 million and You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million.

Diamonds fell short of Goldfinger and Thunderball ($124.9 million and $141.2 million respectively). But it did well enough that Eon Productions would again try to find a successor to Connery.

Happy 89th birthday, Roger Moore

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore in his first 007 film, Live And Let Die (1973)

Oct. 14 is the 89th birthday of Sir Roger Moore, the seven-time film 007.

He’s the oldest of the movie Bonds. He’s also at that stage of life where you’re saying your final good-byes to people you’ve known.

This year, on HIS TWITTER FEED, he’s posted about the passing of Guy Hamilton (director of his first two 007 films), Ken Adam (“a friend, a visionary and the man who defined the look of the James Bond films”) and George Martin (“He made my first Bond film sound brilliant!”).

In 2015, he did the same for acting colleagues Patrick Macnee (“true gent”) and Christopher Lee (“one of my oldest” friends). He had known both long before they had appeared in his Bond movies.

Such farewells, as hard as they are, are the way of the world. The actor also lost his 47-year-old stepdaughter Christina Knudsen because of cancer this past summer.

Still, of all the movie Bonds, Moore carries on as the most active ambassador for the 007 movie franchise. Example: THIS PROMO for AN INTERVIEW he did for the James Bond Radio website.

It’s a great “get” for James Bond Radio. But it also shows how the actor still carries the 007 banner.

At a time nobody has any idea when the next James Bond film will come out, that’s reassuring.

Happy birthday, Sir Roger.