Revisiting 1977’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’

50 Years of James Bond

James Bond had it easy there for awhile. Naturally, there were imitators in which actors such as Dean Martin (“The Silencers”), James Coburn (“Our Man Flint”) and Michael Caine (“The Ipcress File”) played blatantly Bond-inspired secret agents. To paraphrase Carly Simon, however, nobody does it better than Bond, and for nearly 15 years following “Dr. No,” 007 was a virtual money machine.

And then “Jaws” came along, followed by “Star Wars” and other New Hollywood blockbusters. If you think James Bond seems tired today, just imagine how the franchise came across in the era of “Easy Rider” (1969). Compared to 1971-era cops like Dirty Harry and Popeye Doyle, Roger Moore must have looked like a stiff, stodgy relic – the kind of cardboard-cutout hero who might appeal to 13-year-old boys, but hardly a cutting-edge action figure, no matter how futuristic his gadgets might be.

Released in 1977 (the year I was born), “The Spy Who Loved Me” would become another of my most beloved Bond adventures. Of course, the first time I saw it (at the tender age of 10), I had none of the aforementioned context to distract me from a pure prepubescent appreciation of a film clearly aimed at audiences too young to know better. Watching it again today, it’s impossible to ignore how desperately “Spy” wants you to love it, awkwardly trying to adapt to the cultural changes around it.

Marvin Hamlisch’s disco-compatible update to the James Bond score is a thing of beauty (I can’t help picturing people dancing to a remix at Club 54), though I could do without grandpa jokes like, “Don’t look up. You’re on Candid Camera,” when Bond spots a surveillance camera overhead. Taking notes from 1975’s Amity horror, not only does the film dub its most menacing henchman Jaws (after his steel-capped teeth), but it even features a scene in which said goon is shown biting a live shark!

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Had the Eon crew really grown so insecure with their franchise that the films were now making in-jokes to rival blockbusters? The answer was a resounding “yes,” as proven by the producers’ decision to back-burner follow-up “For Your Eyes Only” (teased in the end credits) and instead send Bond on a silly, pseudo-“Star Wars” mission into space with “Moonraker” (but more on that next week).

Still, Jaws is a great character. So is Triple X – clearly named for another kind of movie threatening to make Bond look obsolete. Bond’s distaff counterpart in the Russian secret service, Triple X posed an ideal opportunity for the series to rectify its dismissive treatment of women until this point, putting a lady on equal footing with Bond.

To its credit, the film does feature a bit of screwball badinage between the two (a clunky bit about female drivers, unfortunately), but it has yet to introduce a single female character who doesn’t want to sleep with our hero. Projecting forward, I can’t think of any who do-at least, not until Judi Dench’s M enters the picture in 1995, but by then, the Cold War will have thawed and Roger Moore will be doing infomercials for UNICEF.

Revisiting 1977's 'The Spy Who Loved Me'

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