Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Bond Girl Changes: The Spy Who Loved Me

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.



  1. Eric van Schaik

    This was the first Bond I saw in cinemas and liked it quite a lot.
    In 2019 we were in Egypt and visited the temples where parts of the movie were shot.
    Personally I liked Moore over Connery. Maybe blasphemy but the Moore movies had better plots IMO.

  2. David107

    The first Bond film I saw was The Man With Golden Gun, which left me neither shaken nor stirred; the next I saw was Moonraker, and that ensured that I didn’t bother with cinematic Bond again until the Brosnan era.

    When I eventually saw this I realised that I’d missed seeing a perfectly enjoyable film in the cinema. Who knows, if I’d seen this back in 1977 when it came out maybe I’d have found my liking for Bond films some thirty years earlier.


  3. Oh, Moonraker and Golden Gun would have turned me off (hard to beliee a movie with Christopher Lee fighting James Bond could be so poor).
    I was a big fan of the Moore films as a teenager but when I watched all the Bond movies in relatively short time the weaknesses compared to the Connery years became more apparent.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    Similar to You Only Live Twice? They basically redrafted the script.

    It’s one of the better Moore films; but, I like Man With The Golden Gun more than most people (in parts, though). I’ve always said Moore’s Bond was Simon Templar, masquerading as Bond (though The Saint had better writers). This, because they recycled the plot of YOLT, has one of the better Moore Era third act action sequences (the commando attack). It also has Caroline Munro busting out, all over.

    Amosova was a decent character; but, not exactly what I would call Bond’s opposite number. She still ends up the damsel-in-distress, which is why I don’t necessarily agree with your thesis, in as much that I think the villains are less memorable not because the women are more interesting (Moonraker and Dr Goodhead would tend to refute that); but, because they are so poorly and thinly conceived. i put that down to too much writing-by-committee in this era, which continued to worsen as things progress (especially as the Broccoli kids have more direct roles in the production) .

    1. Goodhead in Moonraker was a competent agent with skills Bond didn’t have (piloting the space shuttle). But Lois Chiles drained whatever potential there was in the character (she is, however, Oscar-caliber compared to Tanya Roberts in View to a Kill). But yes, it’s still Bond’s show, no matter what they do with the women.

  5. Since we brought up YOLT, two notes:
    1)The opening shot of the spacewalking astronaut left behind after SPECTRE takes the ship is absolutely chilling.
    2)I was really surprised rewatching to realize Tanaka uses ninjas in the climactic assault — I didn’t think those were a thing in Western movies until the 1970s. Though unlike later ninjas, these use guns and other modern weapons.

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      Ninjas were around and are even discussed in the original novel (which really only shares the Japanese setting and Bloefeld, and Kissy Suzuki).

      Those rocket guns actually existed, though they didn’t work like shown. There was a company called Gyrojet, who developed them. However, in testing, it was revealed they had a massive flaw. They required time in flight to build up kinetic energy and it was discovered that they could not penetrate two sheets of corrugated cardboard, when placed against the muzzle of the weapon. The projectiles didn’t have enough energy to punch through. Pretty bad flaw.

      I preferred the commando ninjas of Tanaka than the nonsense we got in the 80s. At least this was a more practical application of the idea, than the bullshido of most martial arts films. Also, black isn’t that concealing at night (dark green is better) and grey is pretty effective at night and especially at twilight.

      1. A friend of mine used to argue that as ninjas are masters of stealth and secrecy, the last thing they’d do is run around in outfits and wielding weapons that scream Look, Ninja!
        I didn’t remember that from the original novel, though I quite enjoy it. Bizarre, and Fleming does a good job with Bond’s trauma over Tracy’s death.

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