On Oct. 14 (Roger Moore’s birthday) I hosted two screenings of The Spy Who Loved Me at the Elk Grove Theatre in Elk Grove Village, Ill. The event was part of the monthly Critic’s Choice series sponsored by the theater and the Chicago Film Critics Association. I had a lot of fun, and the audience members seemed to enjoy themselves, too. I got a kick out of hearing people laugh in the right places and gasp during the finale. After 37 years, the movie still works!
Here is the text of my introductory remarks:
Today, Oct. 14, is Roger Moore’s birthday, so we’re going to celebrate the occasion by watching his third James Bond film, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Most fans and critics regard this as his best James Bond film, and so does Roger Moore.
Incidentally, today is also the birthday of Grover from Sesame Street, but since he doesn’t have his own movie I figured we would stick with Roger Moore.
The Spy Who Loved Me also happens to be very special to me. I have written a book that will be published next year – a young adult spy thriller called The Boy Who Knew Too Much – about a teenage spy buff who goes on a trip to Europe and gets caught in a real espionage caper. Creating this character wasn’t difficult for me because I was a teenage spy buff, and I was a teenage spy buff because I watched this movie.
The first time I saw The Spy Who Loved Me, the stunt at the very beginning, which remains the greatest stunt ever filmed, blew my mind. I became a James Bond fanatic that very second.
But let’s get back to Roger Moore. Roger Moore is my favorite James Bond, and I’m not embarrassed to say it. I suppose the reason he’s my favorite Bond is because I saw The Spy Who Loved Me when I was 13 years old and his cavalier invincibility imprinted itself upon me.
Roger Moore’s name was associated with Bond from the beginning. When producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were compiling the list of actors to play 007 in their first film, Dr. No, Moore’s name was floated and apparently Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, approved of this possibility.
However, Roger Moore was unaware of this at the time as he was already committed to playing The Saint on British television. And as much as I love Roger Moore, I readily admit the early Bond films would have gone nowhere without Sean Connery.
Connery announced his retirement from Bond while You Only Live Twice was still in production. Soon after this, Saltzman approached Moore about playing Bond in the follow-up film, which was supposed to be The Man With the Golden Gun.
However, that idea fizzled almost as soon as Saltzman brought it up, Moore moved on and the producers went ahead with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service starring George Lazenby. Things didn’t work out so well with Lazenby, even though he made one terrific movie.
Connery kept the series alive by returning for Diamonds Are Forever, but insisted he would never play Bond again (at least not for Cubby Broccoli). For the next James Bond movie, Live and Let Die, the choice for the new 007 came down to Roger Moore and Michael Billington.
As you know, Roger Moore won the part. But if you’re asking yourself, “Who is Michael Billington?” You’re about to find out. He plays Barbara Bach’s Russian lover, Sergei, in the beginning of The Spy Who Loved Me, and Roger Moore kills him before the titles roll. Way to rub it in, Rog.
Live and Let Die was a smash hit in the summer of 1973, and it proved that a Bond movie could succeed with someone besides Sean Connery carrying the Walther PPK. This was an important breakthrough for the series.
Moore’s first two films were directed by Guy Hamilton, who previously directed Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever. Hamilton tried to toughen up Moore’s Bond in his second film, The Man With the Golden Gun. The results are a movie where the villain – Christopher Lee’s million-dollar hit man Francisco Scaramanga – is more charming than Bond. The script included a scene where Bond smacks around Maud Adams, who plays Lee’s mistress. Moore was uncomfortable filming the scene – he thought it would be more in character for Bond to seduce the woman rather than slap her – and it’s a jarring moment to watch. It’s a Connery scene with Roger Moore.
Hamilton was supposed to return for The Spy Who Loved Me, but the movie hit serious snags during preproduction and Hamilton didn’t want to wait. For the new director, Cubby Broccoli brought in Lewis Gilbert, who had directed You Only Live Twice a decade earlier. For Roger Moore, this would be a very good thing.
Moore hit it off with Gilbert right away. They shared a sense of humor and a laid-back attitude. Gilbert gave Moore the freedom to mold Bond to fit his persona, and Moore responds with a performance ten times more confident than the one he gave in Golden Gun.
The Spy Who Loved Me is the movie where Moore claims Bond as his own. He’s suave as hell, but still projects a steely edge. One of his best moments as Bond comes when he coldly drops a henchman off a Cairo rooftop.
Moore says The Spy Who Loved Me is his favorite Bond movie because quote, “It’s the one where all the elements came together.” This is one of the most perfectly assembled Bond films. The settings in Egypt and Sardinia are gorgeously photographed by cinematographer Claud Renoir. The action sequences, untainted by CGI, are expertly edited by John Glen.
The interior of the supertanker was such an ambitious set that Cubby Broccoli convinced Pinewood Studios to build the world’s biggest soundstage to accommodate it. (Here’s some juicy trivia: Production designer Ken Adam asked Stanley Kubrick to visit the massive set for advice on how to light it.)
Barbara Bach is one of the best Bond women. The towering, steel-toothed killer Jaws, played by the late Richard Kiel, is one of the best Bond villains. The submersible Lotus Esprit is one of the best Bond cars (I prefer to the Goldfinger Aston Martin). Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” is one of the best Bond themes.
Roger Moore was right, in this one everything came together in one streamlined package. The Spy Who Loved Me moves. The only Bond movie surer on its feet, I think, is Daniel Craig’s debut, Casino Royale.
Roger Moore was the longest-serving Bond. Before retiring in 1985, he would make four more Bond movies after this one. A couple were pretty bad. A couple were very good. But none hit the highs of The Spy Who Loved Me. This is one of the best James Bond movies. I hope you enjoy it.