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.

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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. 

Peter O’Toole dies; his minor 007 connection

A pair of Peters: Sellers and O'Toole in 1967's Casino Royale

A pair of Peters: Sellers and O’Toole in 1967’s Casino Royale

Peter O’Toole has died at 81. His stellar career included one very, very minor James Bond connection: an unbilled cameo in producer Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 Casino Royale spoof.

We’d try to explain, but it’s really not worth it. Feldman signed up a lot of famous actors for his over-the-top comedy. The producer opted to go the spoof route after being unable to cut a deal with Albert R. Broccoli (a former employee) and Harry Saltzman, who held the film rights to the bulk of the Ian Fleming 007 stories.

O’Toole in various obituaries (including THE GUARDIAN, VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER) understandably emphasized his role as the title character in Lawrence of Arabia.

That 1962 film, directed by David Lean, had a crew that would have a greater impact on the film world of James Bond: director of photography Freddie Young (You Only Live Twice), camera operator Ernie Day (who’d be a second unit director on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) and special effects man Cliff Richardson, the father of John Richardson, who’d work special effects on several Bond movies.

Also, Spy’s composer, Marvin Hamlisch, included a snippet of Maurice Jarre’s main theme for Lawrence for a scene set in the Eyptian desert.

From Russia With Love’s 50th anniversary Part II: John Barry

John Barry

John Barry

John Barry wasn’t a happy man after Dr. No came out in 1962.

Barry had arranged and revamped Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. He thought the piece would only be in Dr. No’s main titles. Instead, it was inserted by editor Peter Hunt throughout much of the movie.

With the second 007 film, From Russia With Love, “John Barry’s irritation at seeing his work all over the film of Dr. No would soon turn to elation,” author Jon Burlingame wrote in his 2012 book, The Music of James Bond. Barry got the job of scoring the new 007 film and, in the process, established the Bond movie music template.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hired Lionel Bart to write the title song. But Barry would score provided all the dramatic music.

Barry’s impact was evident immediately. Dr. No’s gunbarrel logo utilized electronic noises. Barry instead used an arrangement of Bond theme. The pre-credits sequence, where where assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw) kills a Bond double during a training exercise, was heightened by Barry’s music. In 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, composer Marvin Hamlisch did an homage to Barry’s work where Bond (Roger Moore) and Soviet agent Triple-X (Barbara Bach) are searching for Jaws amid Egyptian ruins. (CLICK HERE to see a Stuart Basinger-produced video comparing the two scenes.)

Barry’s work on From Russia With Love was the beginning of the James Bond sound.

“The 007 films demanded music that could be variously romantic, suspenseful, drive the action, even punctuate the humor,” Burlingame said in a 2012 E-MAIL INTERVIEW WITH THE HMSS WEBLOG about his book. “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.”

Barry also composed what amounted to a second Bond theme, simply titled 007. It was used during two action sequences: A big fight between Bulgarians and gypsies working for MI6 and when Bond snatches a Russian decoding machine out of the Soviet consulate in Istanbul. Barry would end up bringing the 007 theme back in four more movies, the last being 1979’s Moonraker.

For the composer, this was just the beginning. He scored 10 more Bond movies and become one of the most sought-after composers in the movies. Remarkably, his Bond work never got an Oscar nomination. But he won five Oscars for non-007 films starting with 1967’s Born Free and ending with 1990’s Dances With Wolves.

Meanwhile, Barry’s template was something other composers had to keep in mind when they worked on 007 films. In the 1990s, David Arnold, a Barry admirer, produced new takes on classic Barry 007 songs. That helped him to secure work on five Bond films, making him the only composer so far besides Barry to work on more than one 007 film.

NEXT: Desmond Llewelyn’s debut as Q

January 2011 post: JOHN BARRY, AN APPRECIATION

September 2012 post: HMSS TALKS TO JON BURLINGAME ABOUT HIS 007 MUSIC BOOK

REVIEW: The Music of James Bond (2012)

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book's Amazon.com page

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book’s Amazon.com page

Music journalist Jon Burlingame is nothing if not persistent. To write The Music of James Bond, he had to reconcile differing accounts and memories of various participants to create a narrative of how 007 film scores were created. This included new interviews as well as drawing upon interviews he had done previously while writing about film and television music for variety.

Perhaps the most daunting task was explaining the creation of The James Bond Theme, composed by Monty Norman but revamped by aggressive orchestrations by John Barry. Short of traveling back in time to watch it first hand, Burlingame’s account is likely to be the most definitive we’re likely to get. Along the way, he provides additional anecdotes, including quoting a 1990 interview about Barry’s shock (and anger) after editor Peter Hunt had put it throughout the finished Dr. No film. Barry had been told it would just be in the main titles.

Along the way, Burlingame provides many other details about 007 scores, including Barry’s own disenchantment with Bond starting in the early 1970s. “It’s a trap, and I don’t know how to get out it, really,” Barry says in a 1971 interview published in the RTS Music Gazette in 1976. Burlingame also interviewed Cary Bates, a one-time scribe for DC Comics who among those who submitted story ideas for The Spy Who Loved Me. Barry had told Bates in 1972. “You know, I’m not doing them anymore.”

John Barry

John Barry

That would prove not to be the case. Barry kept returning, not ending his association with 007 until 1987’s The Living Daylights. Partly, it was out of loyalty to the series that helped launch his career as a movie composer. Partly it was because producer Albert R. Broccoli knew Barry could produce the inevitable tight deadlines that Bond movies made by Eon Productions continually faced. Barry had one last chance to return, for 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, but passed.

Some of the tales Burlingame tells are known but he adds nice flourishes. A 2006 U.K. television special detailed how producer Harry Saltzman despised the Barry-Don Black title song for Diamonds Are Forever. Burlingame notes how Broccoli was present after Saltzman stormed out of a meeting with Barry and Black at Barry’s apartment. “Do you have any Jack Daniels?” the veteran producer asked after a few moments of silence.

What’s more, some of the best passages discuss Bond songs that didn’t happen, including a planned Frank Sinatra rendition of a Moonraker title song (for which Paul Williams had written the lyrics). Also, throughout are quotes that go beyond the typical fare. One example was composer Marvin Hamlisch, who scored 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me on his own frustration he was never asked to do another 007 film. “You can deliver an Oscar nominated song. You can deliver a number-two record, and it still ain’t good enough.”

Personally, I would have liked a bit more commentary on how Barry could get passed over for Oscar nominations for Bond while getting five Oscars for other work. But that’s a quibble. The author tells readers that Broccoli didn’t believe in big Oscar campaigns for Bond films as well as how United Artists actually unsuccessfully promoted a nomination for Clifton James as J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die.

Music has always been one of the distinctive aspects about the Bond films. It’s about time for a book on the subject, including 1967’s Casino Royale and 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the two non-Eon Bond films. Burlingame delivers. GRADE: A.

SEPTEMBER 2012 POST: HMSS TALKS TO JON BURLINGAME ABOUT HIS 007 MUSIC BOOK.

The Music of James Bond, 293 pages, Oxford University Press.

UPDATE: The September 2012 post referenced a lawsuit related to the song Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. The lawsuit was filed by Shirley Bassey. She recorded her version *after* Dionne Warwick’s rejected main title song for Thunderball. The idea was it might be suitable as the song for the end titles. Jon Burlingame details how this plan went awry.

Skyfall breaks 007’s 47-year Oscar drought

Skyfall's poster image

Skyfall’s poster image


RECAP (11:55 p.m.): Skyfall won two Oscars, the first 007 film to win more than one. Goldfinger and Thunderball won one apiece. It broke a 47-year Oscar drought for the Bond series. The highest profile win was Best Song by Adele and Paul Epworth, finally giving the series a win after three previous Best Song nominations.

UPDATE IV (11:20 p.m.): Skyfall finally broke the 007 Best Song jinx, winning the Oscar for Adele and Paul Epworth (Best Song Oscars go to the songwriters, not the performer). Adele thanked producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

007 films had been nominated for Best Song three times with no wins: Live And Let Die, Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only. Classic Bond songs such as Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever were never nominated.

A few minutes earlier, Skyfall’s Thomas Newman lost to Life of Pi’s Mychael Danna. Skyfall ends the evening with two wins out of five categories.

UPDATE III (11:03 p.m.): Earlier Adele performed Skyfall. Reaction was mixed in our quick survey of social media. Some fans felt she nailed it, others felt there were too many backup singers or other flaws. Afterwards, two musicians with ties to the 007 series made the “In Memoriam” segment: Hal David, who wrote lyrics for the 1967 Casino Royale spoof, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and 1979’s Moonraker; and Marvin Hamlisch, who scored 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Hamlisch was nominated twice for Spy (score and for “Nobody Does It Better”) but didn’t pick up any wins that night.

UPDATE II (10:20 p.m.): Skyfall broke 007’s 47-year Oscar drought by tying with Zero Dark Thirty for sound editing. Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers picked up Oscars, though they started to get shooed off the stage as the orchestra played the theme from Jaws.

It was the first win for a Bond movie since John Stears won for special effects for 1965’s Thunderball. Just before that, film lost the sound award to Les Miserables.

UPDATE I (9:28 p.m.): Halle Berry introduced the James Bond tribute segment, comprised of clips from the movies accompanied by the James Bond Theme and an instrumental of Live And Let Die.

Immediately after, Shirley Bassey appeared and did a rendition of Goldfinger, with a very traditional sounding arrangement. It was the Bond highlight so far after Roger Deakins’s loss. Twitter lit up with users commenting about Dame Shirley’s performance.

However, Ezra Klein, a political commentator, wasn’t impressed with the 007 tribute part. He wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations, Oscars, you managed to make the Bond franchise look unexciting.”

ORIGINAL POST: Roger Deakins, nominated for his cinematography in Skyfall, lost to Life of Pi’s Claudio Moranda.

Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie, has been nominated for five awards, the most in the history of the Bond film series. The previous 007 record was held by The Spy Who Loved Me with three nominations (and no wins).

Still to come as of 9:12 p.m. are the best song, best score and two sound categories where Skyfall has been nominated. For now, 007’s 47-year Oscar drought continues. The last Bond movie to get an Oscar was 1965’s Thunderball for special effects. A tribute to James Bond movies is coming up.

RE-POST: 007 moments in Oscars history

oscar

Originally posted Feb. 5, 2009. Re-posting because this year’s Oscars on Feb. 24 will have the biggest 007 component in 31 years. We’ve added some links that weren’t available when the original post was published.

The Oscars (R) are coming up this month. That got us to wondering: What were the great James Bond moments at the Academy Awards?

There haven’t been that many, but here’s a partial list:

1965: Soundman Norman Wanstall picks up the first Oscar (R) for a James Bond movie for his work on Goldfinger. We weren’t watching, alas. But a film historian talked to Wanstall decades later. He described the sound effect when Oddjob demonstrates his deadly hat:

“That had to be really frieghtening. So we got an ordinary carpenter’s woodsaw, put it on a bench and just twanged it.” (Adrian Turner on Goldfinger, page 216)

To see Wanstall pick up his Oscar, CLICK HERE.

1966: We weren’t watching, alas. Nor was the special effects wizard of Thunderball, John Stears. In extras for Thunderball home video releases available since 1995, Sears said he didn’t know he had won the Oscar (R) until his arrived in the U.K.

To see Ivan Tors pickup the award for Stears, CLICK HERE

1973: Roger Moore, the incoming Bond, and Liv Ullmann are on hand to present the Best Actor Oscar (R). Marlon Brando won for The Godfather. But the new 007, and everybody else, got a surprise:

1974: Roger Moore is back, with one 007 film under his belt, and ready to film a second. He introduces Best Song nominee Live And Let Die, written by Paul and Linda McCartney. Instead of a performance by McCartney, the audio of the song is played while Connie Stevens dances to it. The song doesn’t win.

1978: The Spy Who Loved Me, nominated for three Oscars (R), is blanked, taking home none. Ken Adam, the production designer guru, loses out to Star Wars. Marvin Hamlisch is double blanked, losing out for best score and he and his lyricist fail to get the Best Song Oscar (R).

1980: Moonraker, nominated for Best Special Effects, fails to repeat what Thunderball accomplished. It’s just as well after we found out about the salt shakers in the rockets in the extras for the DVD. (Feb. 20, 2013 observation: Then again, given the lack of resources that Derek Meddings and his team had, relative to other nominees such as Alien, The Black Hole and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Moonraker nomination is pretty impressive.)

1982: Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, founding co-producer of the Bond franchise, receives the Irving G. Thalberg award, given to producers for a career of work. Then-Bond Roger Moore is on hand once again, this time to give Cubby the award.

Snaring the Thalberg award put Broccoli in some impressive company:

Note: Broccoli is shown twice in that video, once by mistake.

What’s more, the music director for the Oscar (R) show is Bill Conti, composer of For Your Eyes Only, which was nominated for Best Song. Sheena Easton performs the song as part of an elaborate Bond dance act. The long skit includes Richard Kiel and, shortly before his death, Harold Sakata, the actor who played Oddjob, for whom Norman Wanstall labored for his sound effect years earlier.

The only sour moment (from a Bond perspective): For Your Eyes Only didn’t win the Oscar (R). But it hardly ruined the evening for the Broccolis.

To view the Sheena Easton performance of For Your Eyes Only, CLICK HERE. To view Albert R. Broccoli getting the Thalberg award, CLICK HERE.