So as the combination of two puking dogs this weekend and (more pleasantly) multiple social events over the past nine days has thrown off my schedule. So it’s a recycled post from my own blog again (and later this week), dealing with my favorite of the Roger Moore James Bond films, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
This has no relationship, none, with the Fleming novel of that name; Fleming refused to license the rights so Eon Studios had to find an alternative. The novel wouldn’t have given them much to work with, anyway: it’s a first person account of a young woman’s loves and career (if you’ve ever been curious about Ian Fleming’s take on modern womanhood — well, don’t be), ending up with her in deadly danger. Fortunately Bond shows up, saves her life and gives her such amazing sex that this hard, cynical careerist will be forever changed by the spy who loved her.
Richard Maibaum’s original plan for the film involved an alliance of 1970s terrorist groups wiping out SPECTRE and launching an all-out war on the world. But legal issues still had rights to SPECTRE tangled up, plus Eon Studios didn’t want to do anything that political. So what we wound up with is maritime super-billionaire Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) stealing a Soviet and a British nuclear submarine, step one in launching a nuclear war that will wipe out everyone but the inhabitants of his underwater city. I’s similar to SPECTRE’s scheme in You Only Live Twice. What makes it different is Soviet agent,Major Amasova (Barbara Bach) and the way the movie handles her.
The excellent book License to Thrill (a big source for me when I did my own Bond book) says this film marks a shift in the way Bond movies were structured. Up to that point you have Bond and his adversary with an attractive girl caught between them. In multiple movies Bond winning her over is the first step towards defeating the bad guy. This was the first of multiple films in which the woman, not the villain, is the counterpart to Bond; the villain, by contrast, fades into the background.
Jurgen’s ocean-loving megalomaniac is a generic, forgettable villain, though Jaws (Richard Kiel) was the best Oddjob knockoff to that point. Amasova is way more memorable than Stromberg, partly because she’s competent (after the passive Solitaire and the nitwitted Goodnight in the two previous Moore films, that was most welcome), partly because she’s written to be Bond’s mirror image, an adversary who eventally winds up working with him. In her opening scenes, Agent Triple X (yes, I know) is shown in bed with her lover when Soviet spymaster General Gogol (Walter Gotell, who’d keep in the role through the Dalton years) summons her only to be told she’s at a “rest and recreation center.” It comes off a very Bond/M relationship, which is clearly intentional.
It helped that the West and the USSR were in the middle of detente, a political thaw between the 1960s era of the Cold War and Reagan labeling the Soviets the evil empire in the 1980s. Amasova can be a patriot, just like Bond (the film emphasizes hi duty to England); while she intends to kill him for killing her lover in the pre-title sequence, it’s personal not political. Nor does Bond seem to think the initial attack is a sign of Soviet perfidy; he has no qualms about the killing — it’s life in the spy game — but he bears the enemy agents no ill will either. While umpty-zillion movies have shown handsome American men thawing icy Russian beauties into believing in love and democracy, Amasova doesn’t fit the cliche: she’s able to be a Russian patriot rather than having Bond turn her.
Bond is still the hero of the film, of course, but other women would follow in Amosova’s wake. The avenging Melina in For Your Eyes Only (my second favorite Moore Bond) is far more interesting than Julian Glover’s villain. Maud Adams as Octopussy is more memorable than Louis Jordan’s sinister Afghan prince or the rogue Soviet general behind the plot. Kara (Maryam D’Abo) is the best character in The Living Daylights. And while I enjoy Jonathan Pryce’s corrupt media mogul in Tomorrow Never Dies, Michelle Yeoh is every bit Bond’s match as the Chinese agent on the same case.
Women in Bond are always eye candy, but I’ll happily pick competent, kick-ass eye candy any day.