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.

About the Roger Moore 007 double feature

Blofeld menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

The blog went to a showing of the double feature of The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only.

The most obvious reaction was it was great to see both in a movie theater for the first time in years. Even with giant TV sets, there is something about the theater experience that can’t be matched.

A few other things:

–In Spy, there were a few shots that seemed fuzzy, almost like a picture that had been blown up too large. For example, there was a shot of Bond and Anya approaching Atlantis when Bond is posing as a marine biologist. But when the next interior shot took place, the focus was sharp.

To be clear, this was not a major problem but was noticeable now and then. This problem wasn’t in the version of For Your Eyes Only at the same theater.

–Eyes’ sound was outstanding. The movie was originally recorded in Dolby so perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. But there were cases (such as Blofeld/sort-of Blofeld electrocuting a helicopter pilot in his employ) where you could almost feel fillings in your teeth being rattled.

–Both movies began with the newest Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer logo (present since Skyfall) followed by a United Artists logo. The version of Spy seen by the blog had the original United Artists logo from 1977, referencing how UA was owned by Transamerica Corp.

The double feature showings, held today and on May 31, benefited UNICEF. Roger Moore, who died last month, was an ambassador for UNICEF since 1991.

Roger Moore, 7-time film 007, dies at 89

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore, who played James Bond in 007 films in 12 years, has died at 89. His family announced his death via his Twitter account.

Moore died following “a short but brave battle with cancer,” according to the statement.

The actor was the third film Bond, following Sean Connery and George Lazenby.

During his tenure, from 1973 to 1985, the Bond films took a more lighthearted tone. But his films established, once and for all, the series could survive — and more — without Connery, the original film 007.

Moore’s first Bond film, 1973’s Live And Let Die, was an international hit. Its worldwide box office totaled $161.8 million, the first Bond movie to exceed Thunderball’s $141.2 million. The U.S. box office was more modest, $35.4 million. That didn’t match the U.S. take for Connery’s Eon finale, Diamonds Are Forever ($43.8 million).

Regardless, both Eon Productions and its feuding producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman along with studio United Artists were satisfied. Moore would continue.

The Man With the Golden Gun, released in late 1974, was a letdown with audiences, with the global box office falling 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die. The series, though, faced a larger crisis. The Broccoli-Saltzman partnership was about to fall apart because of Saltzman’s financial problems.

UA bought out Saltzman, leaving Broccoli in charge. But the next film, The Spy Who Loved Me, would tell the tale whether 007 still had a future in the cinema.

The answer was yes. Spy had magnificent sets designed by Ken Adam, an Oscar-nominated score by Marvin Hamlisch and photography by the well-regarded Claude Renoir. Director Lewis Gilbert determined to play up the actor’s strengths. With Moore as the headliner,  James Bond once again was an undisputed hit.

The actor remained 007 for four more films. Eventually, Moore negotiated his Bond movies one production at a time. Broccoli would test screen potential replacements, including American James Brolin in 1982.

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

But Broccoli kept returning to Moore, long after the actor turned 50.

Moore returned for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. It was a much more grounded Bond outing following 1979’s Moonraker, which saw 007 go into outer space. The pre-credits sequence was filmed as if it the movie was intended to introduce a new Bond, with 007’s face not initially revealed.

Eyes was the first film in years to extensively use Ian Fleming story lines, utilizing two short stories from the author’s 1960 For You Eyes Only collection. While things beccame more serious, Moore showed himself up to the task.

Two years later, Moore was back again for Octopussy. Sean Connery was starring in a rival Bond film, Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball. Broccoli eventually went with Moore.

The 1983 movie was more uneven than Eyes. But Moore gave off a “I know exactly what I’m doing” vibe. The “Battle of the Bonds” generated big publicity but the actor appeared as if he were unfazed by it all.

Many fans felt Moore, now nearing 60, stayed for one 007 adventure too many with 1985’s A View to a Kill. Fans who never warmed to Moore — and there are some who’ve spent decades decrying the actor — felt vindicated. For those who enjoyed Moore’s performances, it felt like the end of an era.

For more than three decades, Moore continued to be the Bond franchise’s best ambassador. He expressed support for his Bond successors, Daniel Craig in particular. 

Moore lived to a ripe old age. So long, he outlived and said good-bye to a number of colleagues. Among them: director Guy Hamilton (who helmed his first two 007 films), Ken Adam and fellow actors Christopher Lee and Patrick Macnee.

The actor, of course, did much more than Bond. He had become a star playing The Saint on television in the 1960s. He followed that up with another television project, The Persuaders, with Tony Curtis as his co-star. And he was a goodwill ambassador for years for UNICEF.

From a 007 perspective, he helped establish the longevity of the Bond franchise. As late as 1972, people could ask in all seriousness whether Bond could survive Connery’s departure. After Moore’s 12 years as Bond, that wasn’t a question anymore.

Here is the Twitter post from the Moore family:

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Tomorrow Never Dies’s 20th: Jigsaw puzzle

Tomorrow Never Dies poster

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Tomorrow Never Dies, a jigsaw puzzle of a production.

Just when the pieces seemed to be coming together one way, they had to be disassembled and put together another.

That condition certainly applied to the script. Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli initially employed Donald E. Westlake. That effort was dropped.

Next up, Bruce Feirstein, who had penned the later drafts of GoldenEye, started a new story line. Other scribes worked on the project before Feirstein returned, doing rewrites on the fly while filming was underway.

Locations ended up being a puzzle as well. Much of the story was set in Vietnam. But the Asian country abruptly revoked permission to film there. The Eon Productions crew had to quickly go to Thailand as a substitute.

The score from composer David Arnold would also be a jigsaw puzzle. The newcomer scored the movie in thirds. (He explained the process in detail in an audio interview with journalist Jon Burlingame that was released on a later expanded soundtrack release.) There would be next to no time for normal post-production work.

Principal photography didn’t begin until April 1, 1997, and production would extend into early September for a movie slated to open just before Christmas.

It was star Pierce Brosnan’s second turn as 007. In the documentary Everything or Nothing, he said his Bond films other than GoldenEye were all a blur. That blur began with this production.

Also, during the film’s buildup, the publicity machine emphasized how Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin, a Chinese agent, was Bond’s equal. This wasn’t exactly a new development. Barbara Bach’s Agent Triple-X in The Spy Who Loved Me was “his equal in every way,” according to that movie’s director, Lewis Gilbert. Nor would Tomorrow Never Dies be the last time “Bond’s equal” would come up in marketing.

In some ways, Tomorrow Never Dies was the end of an era.

It was the last opportunity to have John Barry return to score a Bond film. He declined when told he wouldn’t be permitted to write the title song. That opened up the door for Arnold, who’d score the next four 007 movies.

This would also be the final time a Bond movie was released under the United Artists banner. UA was a division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1997. Two years later, MGM decided to release The World is Not Enough under its own name.

The movie, directed by Roger Spottiswoode, generated global box office of $339.5 million. That was lower than GoldenEye’s $356.4 million. Still, it was more than ample to keep the series, and its Brosnan era, going.

About those MGM sales talks and Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The New York Post reported that an unknown Chinese buyer is negotiating to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio.

The Post’s sister paper, The Wall Street Journal, followed up by saying MGM had been in talks with a Chinese buyer but the negotiations broke off last year.

How all this applies to Bond 25?

This may explain why MGM never reached a Bond 25 distribution deal

Back in March 2016, MGM said it was in no hurry to negotiate a new Bond movie distribution deal. If the Post and Journal are accurate (that MGM at least *had* talks with a would-be Chinese purchaser), the reason is obvious.

MGM CEO Gary Barber had bigger things on his mind. James Bond may be MGM’s biggest asset, but whether to sell the company or not is bigger (from the perspective of an MGM CEO) than that.

Such talks may have slowed the pace of Bond 25 development

Until there’s a studio that can distribute Bond 25, a new 007 production can’t reach theaters.

Following its 2010 bankruptcy, MGM no longer had a distribution operation. Since then, it has negotiated co-financing and distribution deals with other studios. Maybe that would have changed if a Chinese concern acquired MGM. If the Journal is correct, we’ll never know.

Regardless, MGM negotiating to sell to the Chinese probably would have sent any talks with other U.S.-based studios to distribute Bond 25 to the back burner.

Where do we go from here?

Your guess is as good as this blog’s. However, this is a reminder that Bond is tethered to a weak studio.

MGM bought United Artists in 1981. UA, years earlier, got control of half of the Bond franchise when Harry Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions, sold out because of financial troubles.

The MGM soap opera changes in some regards (executives come, executives go) but not in others.  MGM’s glory days are long gone.

 

MGM sale to Chinese not happening, WSJ says

MGM logo

A sale of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, to a Chinese buyer isn’t happening, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Talks broke down between MGM and several Chinese companies late last year, an apparent casualty of China’s move to stanch capital outflows that has stalled the country’s shopping spree in Hollywood, according to people familiar with the matter,” the Journal reported.

“An MGM sale would have been among the biggest-ticket and highest-profile such acquisitions, but its failure to materialize is evidence of a twist ending that few in Hollywood expected,” according to the story by three Journal reporters.

Earlier, the New York Post reported that MGM was in talks with a Chinese buyer it didn’t identify. Both the Journal and Post are owned by News Corp., controlled by Rupert Muchoch.

Uncertainty at MGM would have an adverse effect on the 007 film franchise. MGM has been involved with Bond since it acquired United Artists in 1981. UA, in 1975, acquired half of the franchise after Eon Productions co-founder Harry Saltzman sold out because of financial troubles.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a smaller company, unable to release its own films. MGM cuts deals with other studios to co-finance and release those movies, including the Bond series.

An MGM spokeswoman told the Journal that the studio wasn’t for sale.

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal story about the broader issues facing Hollywood and China:

The economic-policy changes in China come amid mounting protectionist rhetoric in the U.S. from the administration of President Donald Trump.

“We’ve heard from both [private-equity] firms and investment banks that China investment activity around [Hollywood] assets started to wane just prior to the election and is almost nonexistent now,” said Chris Fenton, a trustee of the U.S.-Asia Institute, which organizes congressional delegations to China, and president of DMG Entertainment, a media company headquartered in Beverly Hills and Beijing.

“No China entity wants to be the first to test” the heated rhetoric on the U.S. side and the capital controls on the Chinese side, he added.

The last four Bond films have actually been released by Sony Pictures. Sony’s most recent two-picture 007 deal expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

 

Bond 25: Why MGM has to get bigger or sell out

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

For the James Bond film franchise, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is a millstone.

MGM is not big enough to compete with other major studios by itself. Since a 2010 bankruptcy, the home studio of 007 films has needed studio partners to distribute and market Bond movies.

For the past two Bond films, 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE, MGM negotiated a sweet deal with Sony Pictures. Sony co-financed the movie but only got 25 percent of the profits. Sony ended up in third in line behind MGM and Eon Productions for the 007 spoils.

But good fortune like that only lasts so long.

The Sony deal expired with Skyfall. “There’s no rush,” MGM CEO Gary Barber said of reaching a new Bond distribution deal with Sony or another studio. “We’re evaluating all of our options. We will advise on the deal when we actually make it.”

MGM logo

That was eleven months ago. No hurry, indeed.

In reality, other studios — Sony, Warner Bros. and Paramount among them — have their own issues.

Sony’s parent company wrote down the value of its movie business by almost $1 billion, an indication that things aren’t going well. Warner Bros.’s parent company, Time Warner, is in the midst of an $85 billion acquisition by AT&T. Also, Warner Bros. is struggling with its “extended universe” of movies based on DC Comics characters. Paramount is struggling, period.

Under those circumstances, cutting a deal with MGM to distribute Bond movies might not be the top priority. Even more stable studios, such as 20th Century Fox and Universal, probably want a better deal than Sony got for Skyfall and SPECTRE.

These days, MGM mostly makes television shows while producing a few movies.

Bond, however, remains MGM’s biggest property, going back to when MGM acquired United Artists in 1981. 007, which not that long ago had his first $1 billion box office movie (Skyfall), is a major league property, or at least can be.

For that promise to be fulfilled, however, Bond needs to be at a major league studio.

MGM isn’t that. It hasn’t been for a long time.

To be a big-time studio, MGM needs to be able to release its own movies and be in more control of its destiny.

It’s fine to cut deals with other companies for financing (other studios do). Ultimately, however, Bond’s home studio needs the ability to distribute the movies.

MGM’s Barber wants the company to sell stock to the public in the next three to five years. Maybe it can become big enough to be a real studio again.

But if it can’t, the 007 franchise will suffer. From the selfish standpoint of Bond film fans, a better option might be for MGM to sell to a studio that has big league status.