The participants (in alphabetical order)…
Jon Burlingame is the author of The Music of James Bond (Oxford University Press, 2012). He also authored Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks (Watson-Guptill, 2000) and TV’s Biggest Hits: The Story of Television Themes from Dragnet to Friends (Schirmer, 1996). He writes regularly for the entertainment industry trade Variety and has also been published in The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. He started writing about spy music for the 1970s fanzine File Forty and has since produced seven CDs of original music from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for the Film Score Monthly label. His website is www.jonburlingame.com.
John Cork is the author (with Collin Stutz) of James Bond Encyclopedia (DK, 2007) and (with Bruce Scivally) James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002) and (with Maryam d’Abo) Bond Girls Are Forever: The Women of James Bond (Abrams, 2003). He is the president of Cloverland, a multi-media production company, producing documentaries and supplemental material for movies on DVD and Blu-ray, including material for Chariots of Fire, The Hustler, and many of the James Bond and Pink Panther titles. Cork also wrote the screenplay to The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. He wrote and directed the feature documentary You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder on the Suwannee River for producers Jude Hagin and Hillary Saltzman (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry Saltzman). He has recently contributed articles on the literary history of James Bond for ianfleming.com and The Book Collector.
Mark O’Connell is a punditeer, the grandson of Bond producer Cubby Broccoli’s chauffeur, and the author of Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan (Splendid Books, 2012). His next book will be published this autumn.
Lee Pfeiffer is the author (with Dave Worrall) of The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007 (Boxtree, 1998/Harper Collins, 1999) and (with Philip Lisa) of The Incredible World of 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond (Citadel, 1992). He also wrote The Films of Sean Connery (Citadel, 2001) and (with Michael Lewis) The Films of Harrison Ford (Citadel, 2002). Lee was a producer on the Goldfinger and Thunderball Special Edition LaserDisc sets and is the founder (with Dave Worrall) and Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine, which celebrates films of the 1960s and 1970s and is “the Essential Guide to Cult and Classic Movies.”
Bruce Scivally is the author (with John Cork) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002). His other books include Superman on Film, Television, Radio & Broadway (McFarland, 2006), Billion Dollar Batman: A History of the Caped Crusader on Film, Radio and Television from 10¢ Comic Book to Global Icon (Henry Gray, 2011), Booze, Bullets & Broads: The Story of Matt Helm, Superspy of the Mad Men Era (Henry Gray, 2013) and Dracula FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Count from Transylvania (Backbeat, 2015). As well, he has written and produced numerous documentaries and featurettes that have appeared as supplemental material on LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, including several of the Charlie Chan, James Bond, and Pink Panther releases. He is Vice President of New Dimension Media in Chicago, Illinois.
The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
And now that the participants have been introduced, might I suggest preparing a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) and cueing up the soundtrack album to The Spy Who Loved Me, and then enjoy the conversation with these James Bond authorities.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is The Spy Who Loved Me worthy of celebration on its 40th anniversary?
Jon Burlingame: This was the third of the Roger Moore Bonds, and in my view the best-realized of the three. Much at the time was made of the “equal status” of Moore’s 007 and Barbara Bach’s Anya, his Soviet counterpart. And while they inevitably ended up in bed together, they were very much spy-versus-spy on an equivalent footing for much of the film. Even Bob Peak’s brilliant key art placed Anya and Bond back-to-back, with Anya on the left, strongly implying that this was not just a “Bond girl” but a woman who could be 007’s match.
The plot was an improvement — a supertanker swallowing nuclear submarines, not a voodoo blaxploitation story or a paid assassin trying to kill Bond — and demanded a gigantic new stage, conceived by production designer Ken Adam to contain his larger-than-life ideas. Pinewood’s new 007 Stage was the result, and it was showcased in dynamite fashion in the film. And, for me as Bond’s resident music historian, it’s hugely important for the song Nobody Does It Better, which reached Number Two on the charts, won an Oscar nomination and became one of the most iconic songs in the history of the Bond franchise.
This was the first of the Bond films to be produced solely by Albert R. Broccoli, following the departure of his longtime partner Harry Saltzman. And it was the first Bond movie to use the title but no characters or storyline from the original novel (although the films had been getting farther and farther away from Ian Fleming’s plotlines anyway).
John Cork: The Spy Who Loved Me was a celebration the moment it premiered. It’s not so much a movie or a story as it is a wondrous tour through the exotic, sexy, dangerous, and beautiful world of Roger Moore’s 007. Just as Goldfinger, the third Connery film, was a celebration of what made Sean Connery’s Bond so appealing, The Spy Who Loved Me, the third Moore film, is a celebration of everything that makes Roger Moore a great James Bond. From the snowy peaks to the ocean depths, from the ancient pyramids to the modern nuclear submarines, the mix is just right. Amazingly, it was a film born out of complete and utter chaos. This is a film that works because of the key ingredient that makes the James Bond films so fantastic: collaboration. There are the obvious names that contributed so much. Let’s start with Ken Adam. Of all his sets, the Liparus interior is the greatest. I remember the sounds of audience members gasping when the lights blasted on. But all the sets are just so perfect. The title song is iconic, Carly Simon’s voice sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. Marvin Hamlish’s score is perfect for the film. John Glenn and his crew, working with Rick Sylvester captured the greatest stunt in film history in a shot that has every viewer holding their breath. Second Unit Director Ernie Day did masterful work. The helicopter/Lotus chase was his. Derek Meddings did his best model work for Spy. How good? They originally had permission to shoot a real Shell tanker for free, but the insurance was still too expensive. They still invited the folks from Shell to the premiere, and they wanted to know what company loaned them a supertanker for filming. They didn’t know it was a model! Willy Bogner was back shooting the skiing. That great shot going under the ice bridge still works. Lamar Boren was back with the underwater unit in the Bahamas. But there were other names few are likely to know. Robin Browne, an amazing cameraman with a brilliant eye shot so much of the effects work. Gordon MacCallum did the mix, and no Bond film has ever sounded better.
Mark O’Connell: Bond ‘77 totally warrants celebration. Of course, the sad and recent passing of Roger Moore and the rapid fire tribute screenings of this film which were held across the land have put it under a timely spotlight again. Fate celebrated this film before film fans could, but either way — when most Bond fans of any standing have to pick a Roger Moore Bond film this is the one. It doesn’t have to be everyone’s favorite but the audiences know this was the one that re-ignited the onscreen Bond juggernaut and it is often the Roger Moore Bond film.
Lee Pfeiffer: The Spy Who Loved Me was a very significant film in the Bond canon. After The Man with the Golden Gun was released in 1974, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman saw their partnership break up when Saltzman had to divest his shares of the Bond series in order to pay off mounting personal debt. There was bad will because he never offered Cubby an opportunity to buy his shares and own the franchise outright. Instead, he sold his half of the Bond series directly to United Artists, thus tying Cubby to the studio as his new partner. This made the acrimonious relationship between Cubby and Harry even worse. Not helping matters was the fact that The Man with the Golden Gun — Roger Moore’s second screen outing as 007 — did not perform as well as expected at the box office. The film’s emphasis on slapstick humor combined with the worst script of the series led some to wonder if the Bond films were in danger of going out of style. Cubby realized he had to make a bold move to bring Bond back in dramatic fashion. Instead of rushing into production, he painstakingly made plans to adapt The Spy Who Loved Me for the screen. It would be two-and-a-half years before the film would hit theaters — a rather lengthy gap in those days. Fleming had detested his own source novel, which was a bizarre, stagnant tale set mostly in enclosed rooms and lacking the larger-than-life villains and locations his books were known for. Thus, Fleming insisted in his contract with the producers that only the title could be used for a future film, not any of the novel’s elements. Cubby seemed to realize he had one more shot to make the Bond franchise reinvigorated — and to prove he could do so without Harry Saltzman. United Artists pulled out all the stops and granted the film the biggest budget of the series to date. The film enjoyed unusually strong reviews and became a box office sensation, allowing Roger Moore to prove that he was indeed a successful Bond in his own right.
Bruce Scivally: The Spy Who Loved Me is the film in which Roger Moore really came into his own as James Bond. Moore’s previous 007 director, Guy Hamilton, tried to balance his natural gift for witty bon mots with an edge of Connery-esque toughness (like slapping Andrea Anders and threatening to break her arm in The Man with the Golden Gun). Lewis Gilbert, on the other hand, simply let Moore be Moore, a kind of Cary Grant-lite who looked great in a tux, and didn’t seem to be taking any of the proceedings very seriously, letting us all in on the joke and giving us permission to simply enjoy it and go along for the ride. As a result, Moore recast 007 in his image — a Bond more suave and debonair than Sean Connery’s, less feral and threatening than Connery’s, but still able to make audiences believe that a tricked-out car could do incredible things at the push of a button. Two films later, Moore would again reinvent the character, returning to a slightly tougher portrayal, but after The Spy Who Loved Me his Bond would always have a twinkle in his eye that seemed to say, “Yes, it’s outlandish, but go with it. Have fun. I am.” And yes, even on first viewing, I recognized that the plot of The Spy Who Loved Me was basically a retread of Lewis Gilbert’s earlier Bond opus, You Only Live Twice, except Spy had more action and less travelogue — and a 007 who actually seemed to be enjoying himself.
Coate: Can you describe what it was like seeing The Spy Who Loved Me for the first time?
Burlingame: I vividly remember thrilling to the pre-credit sequence, with composer Marvin Hamlisch’s ultra-modern, synth-laden, Bond Theme adaptation for the spectacular stunt, as Bond skis off the side of the mountain. The music stops (for a full 20 seconds!) and then bursts into the screaming-brass Bond Theme midsection as 007’s Union Jack-adorned parachute opens. Then, of course, we cut to the opening titles and our first exposure to Carly Simon singing Nobody Does It Better — again, one of the great all-time Bond themes.
I rarely use the word “awesome” (I’m way out of that demographic) but I remember thinking Ken Adam’s production designs on this film were awesome. From Stromberg’s giant sea fortress Atlantis to the car/submarine Lotus Esprit, everything was eye-popping. The locations — from Egypt to Sardinia — were stunning in Claude Renoir’s cinematography, and while Hamlisch’s score isn’t to everyone’s taste, it was certainly a fresh take on Bond music at the time; and Paul Buckmaster’s Mujaba Club music was pretty hip in 1977.
Cork: I was 15. My grandfather had set me up with a summer trip to Europe in 1977. I knew The Spy Who Loved Me was coming out, and I even found Eon Productions’ address and mailed them asking how to get premiere tickets. They sent me the brochure and would have sold me tickets, but the tour wasn’t going to be in London on 7/7/77, the premiere date. About 10 days later I arrived, and that night, I went to the Odeon Leicester Square, bought tickets to both the evening show and the late show. I had never been in a movie theater like the Odeon. I had never heard surround sound before. I remember jumping when I heard explosions behind me in the cinema! It was one of the greatest film-going experiences of my life. Little can describe the way that audience reacted. I remember walking down Piccadilly toward Hyde Park in the middle of the night after having seen the film twice, the banners for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee handing from light posts, the streets all but empty, replaying the film in my mind.
O’Connell: I caught it on an ailing VHS copy found by chance in the bottom of a bargain basement bin being suffocated by a Pink Panther or two and what Emmanuelle film had come out to rent that month. It was a bit like finally getting that landmark Beatles album where you already loved a lot of the tracks but hadn’t experienced them in their context. The parachute jump, the Lotus dive, the Studio 54 wet-bike arrival, Gogol and his phone-call day-wear, Stromberg, the risqué blue titles not hiding everything of a flesh-based nature and some of the killer lines were already part of the Greatest Hits of Bond movies. I knew what a lot of the heralded ingredients were. But now I could see them in the way the Eon chefs wanted.
Pfeiffer: I was in college and had just come back from a whirlwind tour around Europe and Africa for a month. I was happy that my return to America coincided with the opening of the film. I saw it in a New Jersey theater where they had a Lotus Esprit on display, though I’m still not sure if it was the one seen in the film. Like most Bond fans, I breathed a sigh of relief. After Golden Gun, Bond finally had his mojo back.
Scivally: I earned my driver’s license in the spring of 1977, so this was the first James Bond film that I saw in a theater. By then, I’d been introduced to 007 through the telecasts of the films on ABC-TV, and loved them. It’s hard to appreciate the impact those movies had in the 1960s and 70s, when they were the apotheosis of action films, with eye-popping stunts and exotic locations, and featuring some of the most fetching beauties in cinema. The Spy Who Loved Me had all that, and something different — the humor that had always been an undertone of the films became an overtone with The Spy Who Loved Me, a change that befit Roger Moore. From the eye-popping pre-credits ski stunt to Bond “keeping the British end up,” this 007 fired on all cylinders from start to finish. As a 16-year-old, I absolutely loved it; as a 56-year-old, the 16-year-old in me still revels in it.
Coate: In what way was Curt Jurgens’ Karl Stromberg a memorable villain?
Burlingame: Jurgens was a formidable screen presence, in the aftermath of his performances as German officers in The Enemy Below, The Longest Day and Battle of Britain, so he brought a gravitas to Stromberg that was different than the distinguished, elitist tone of Christopher Lee (in The Man With the Golden Gun) and the ruthless, mostly disgusted attitude of Yaphet Kotto (in Live and Let Die).
Cork: Jurgens is a great actor, and I love that Stromberg is a “brain” villain, elegant, evil, far from the physical threat to Bond, yet, somehow more dangerous for it. A good “brain” villain will have you on what you think is the President’s jet, or sitting down at his dinner table because he’s clearly defenseless. Jurgens knows how to appear larger-than-life in every shot, and that made him perfect for those amazing Ken Adam sets.
Of course, we have to mention Richard Kiel. Second best henchman of the series behind Oddjob. Lewis Gilbert’s cameraman, Claude Renoir, knew how to photograph Kiel and really work shots to have fun with his height and size. That was missing in Moonraker. Renoir gets grief because his eyes were slowly failing during shooting, but he was very important to the visuals of Spy. Watch his films and he knows where to place the camera to help tell the story.
Okay, time for absurd Curt Jurgens trivia! He holds the distinction (as best as I can tell) of appearing in more films with other Bond villain actors than any other Bond villain actor! He’s in movies with Robert Shaw, Walter Gotell (a villain in From Russia with Love), Gert Frobe, Luciana Paluzzi, Telly Savalas, Steven Berkoff, Orson Welles (yes, I count the 1967 Casino Royale), and, wait for it, Christoph Waltz. He’s also in movies with the top names in 60s spy culture: Sean Connery, Richard Burton (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), James Coburn, Robert Culp, Peter Graves, and even almost-Bond, John Gavin!
O’Connell: He certainly works two of the mainstays of Bond villainy — being sat at a table or standing menacingly with both hands behind your back. Curt Jurgens is a fascinating European actor who doesn’t struggle at conveying duplicitous charm. Yet for me Stromberg is one of the more passive, less beguiling Bond adversaries. The villainy of the character is achieved via other means — particularly Ken Adam’s pointed production design suggesting the wealth and vision, but also the loneliness of the man as well as the spider web of villainy is summed up by that black, hulking arachnid of a base, Atlantis. The real villainy of The Spy Who Loved Me is achieved by the trail of sub-villains. The might and dangerous intentions of Stromberg are not conveyed through Jurgens, but rather Jaws, Naomi and the gang passing on that story baton of a microfilm. I always suggest that a good Bond foe is merely Bond himself gone wrong. Michael Lonsdale’s Drax in the following Moonraker does that societal one-upmanship and powerplay with more of a delicious, ruthless streak. It is also not clear why a life under the sea is so endearing to Stromberg. And Bond gets no real confrontation with the villain here. Shooting under a table over a light lunch of salad leaves is not the same as being inflated by air, set on fire or sucked out into space.
Pfeiffer: Curt Jurgens was an exceptionally good actor, internationally respected. He had known Cubby, who respected his talents. The knock against Jurgens at the time was that he was a bit old and too sedate to pose a significant menace to Bond, but I always defended his presence in the film. Even if the role of Stromberg was somewhat under-written, his scenes opposite Roger Moore are very enjoyable. Stromberg isn’t one of the more memorable, world-class villains, but Jurgens’ presence in a Bond movie is quite satisfying.
Scivally: Best known for playing military commanders and barons, Curt Jurgens had an imperial presence, but he played Stromberg with a dignified, regal reserve that seemed out of step with the rest of the film’s performances, making him seem dull by comparison. Rather than an out-sized megalomaniac taking great glee in his villainy, Jurgens seemed more like a corporate bureaucrat who, if he weren’t going to kill Bond, would sell him shares in Atlantis. In previous 007 films, the henchman was often colorful, but never more so than the villain; in Spy, Jurgens’ Stromberg is totally upstaged by Jaws, a steel-toothed killer who is initially terrifying but becomes increasingly comedic as the film progresses, somehow managing to be both menacing and endearing at the same time. When Jaws plops into the shark tank, we want him to bite that shark and live to terrorize 007 again; by contrast, when Oddjob was electrocuted, we were relieved that the seemingly indestructible strongman was finally stone cold dead.
Coate: In what way was Barbara Bach’s Anya Amasova a memorable Bond Girl?
Burlingame: And that’s the point: She was a Bond Girl but not a Bond Girl. Anya was a highly trained, highly capable and thoroughly untrustworthy (shades of Putin!) KGB agent. She and 007 must join forces but remain wary of one another. As an actress, Barbara Bach was no Diana Rigg or Eva Green, but in that era the look and the style was pretty important. I daresay this is her best-remembered film (she made Caveman and married Ringo Starr in 1981).
Cork: There is a strange silkiness to Bach’s Anya that really fits the film. I love her in the movie, but, and this is going to sound so, so wrong, if late in the movie her face got hit and a faceplate fell off revealing Stepford Wife robot workings inside, I would have thought, “Oh, of course she was a robot! It all makes sense now!” That sing-song voice, those weird little delays before she reacts to dialogue, think about it the next time you watch the film. There is an undeniable fembot quality. That moment when she bumps into Bond wandering around the columns of Luxor and spins around in karate mode, sees it’s Bond, then drop out of that program and into the next, watch that. That is not an actress playing a Russian spy. That’s an actress brilliantly playing a robot playing a Russian spy. Whatever you want to think, that performance works like gangbusters. It is perfect for the film.
O’Connell: The role of Amasova is key as it heralds a new era of more equal-minded Bond women. All intents and purposes clearly were to really challenge 007 and his professional world and for the most part, Bach’s icy cold and very still performance works. She certainly made an impact on a lot of male Bond fans at the time, and it wasn’t just the Lotus Esprit’s buttons she knew how to press. Anya also affords Moore one of his starkest, least expected beats of Bond and that is when he is faced with the murder of Amasova’s lover. His line about being a spy and on a job is brilliantly and pointedly delivered and reminds that Moore’s Bond always had a serious core in the role.
Pfeiffer: Barbara Bach was one of the most stunning beauties to ever grace a Bond movie. Her acting skills were somewhat limited, to put it charitably, but she represented the key ingredients of a Bond heroine: courageous, resourceful and intelligent. There is a myth in some quarters that Bond women were all gorgeous airheads, but for the most part, this was not the case. They were very independent, quick thinking characters who were able to contribute mightily to thwarting the villains’ capers. It’s safe to say that Bond needed them as much as they needed Bond. Bach made such an eye-popping appearance, especially in the provocative outfits she wore in the film, that I recall John Simon, the ordinarily grumpy film critic for New York Magazine, salivating over her in his review as though he was a teenage boy ogling his teacher.
Scivally: While Barbara Bach would never give Meryl Streep a run for her money as a dramatic actress, her acting chops were adequate enough for The Spy Who Loved Me, and with her doe eyes and pouty lips, she was quite a looker, with a smashing figure, which is about all Bond movies of the period required of their leading ladies. The character was memorable for the series making its first nod to 70s feminism by attempting to portray a female equivalent to Bond — though Anya still needs 007 to rescue her from Stromberg in the end. She’s a character I’d like to have seen return; it should have been her and not General Gogol coming to collect the ATAC at the end of For Your Eyes Only, or sharing a hot tub with Bond in A View to a Kill.
Coate: Where do you think The Spy Who Loved Me ranks among the James Bond movie series?
Burlingame: I would rank it fairly high among the Moore Bonds — not as great as For Your Eyes Only but more watchable than A View to a Kill and Moonraker. I am not the biggest fan of the more jokey Moore installments but I know that, for fans who didn’t grow up with the Connery films, these are seminal Bond experiences. As the films changed with the times, and action became more intense, it’s easy to rank some of the Dalton, Brosnan and Craig films more highly than the Moores. But they were products of the 1970s and ‘80s, and in their time, pretty darned impressive action-adventure films. It’s always important to remember that.
Cork: Recently a pack of big James Bond fans gathered and did an hours-long assessment of all the Bond movies, recorded the audio and put it up on YouTube. I’m just sick enough to listen to the whole thing. These are all really smart folks whose opinions I respect. They ranked all the films individually, then averaged out the results. The Spy Who Loved Me topped their list. Better than Goldfinger, Majesty’s, Casino Royale, Skyfall, From Russia with Love in their assessment. That’s how great this film is. I don’t rank it at the top. When I ranked them with my son in 2012, we both ranked Spy 8th, which sounds low, but it’s not. There are nine Bond films on that list that I think are just magnificent, and Spy is one that I love without apologies.
O’Connell: It is one of the Bond entries which the non-fan enjoys and remembers. And for that alone it holds great merit as the wider, less Bond savvy spectators are key to the box office, global fondness and ultimate momentum for the series. Having recently seen the film again on the big screen, it still holds up well. For a film that has such a large cast of locations, countries, hotel lobbies, receptionists, barbed visitations and methods of transport, the success of the project is found in how gorgeously effortless all these factors are stitched together. Lewis Gilbert was already the master of Big Bond, but here the skill is how the whole piece doesn’t ski off that Austrian mountain without a parachute. It has massive ambitions but still zips along. For that alone it is a vital Bond film.
Pfeiffer: Most people consider the film to be the high water mark of the Moore era and it’s understandable why people feel that way. The movie has sweep and spectacle and some wonderful exotic locations. I would rank it in the middle of the pack in terms of the overall series. I’ll admit that I’ve always rather favored Octopussy, but that’s a minority opinion to be sure. The biggest gripe about The Spy Who Loved Me is the rather unimaginative screenplay. The dialogue is good, but the film is basically a remake of You Only Live Twice, with the action set in the ocean instead of in space.
Scivally: For me, The Spy Who Loved Me is my favorite of the Roger Moore 007 films, and I’d put it at the bottom of the top 5. And a great deal of the enjoyment for me — besides the fact that it is perhaps the most tightly-plotted of the Moore films — is Moore himself. He looked his best in this film, and no other 007 actor is as facile with a quip as Moore, with the possible exception of Sean Connery who, after all, began the practice (though I’d argue that a tough guy spouting witty quips goes back at least as far as Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca; his Rick Blaine is almost a template for Bond, albeit a burned-out one, and one comfortable enough in his masculinity to actually be vulnerable and shed tears for a lost love).
Coate: In light of the recent passing of Sir Roger Moore, what do you believe was Moore’s greatest contribution to film/TV in general and to the James Bond series in particular?
Burlingame: I’d have to say his portrayal of Simon Templar in The Saint. Lots of actors have played the character, from George Sanders to Val Kilmer, but no one ever inhabited Templar quite so well, or frankly made him more popular. I’m very partial to Moore’s role as Lord Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders, but it’s really The Saint that will be his most lasting accomplishment as an actor. Had he been initially cast as 007 instead of Sean Connery we might be looking at this from an entirely different perspective, but coming after Connery and providing a lighter and very different take on James Bond, I really don’t see that as bigger or better than his work as Templar over six impressive seasons in the 1960s.
Cork: I firmly believe that Roger Moore’s greatest contribution to entertainment is his performance in The Spy Who Loved Me. He was born to act with Marvin Hamlish’s flirtatious score. Someday he had to walk among Egyptian ruins in a tuxedo in a film. I really don’t know that another actor could pull off the “give me the keys” scene. Only Roger Moore could make you believe that his character would be unperturbed by Jaws ripping off the roof of the van. He had a special talent for carrying off that kind of absurdity without winking to the audience. But he could also carrying off the popping of his tie loose, sending Sandor to his death. There is a gracefulness to the way Moore moves in this film that matches the elegance of the tone of the movie. Nothing is more boring than watching a character descend a staircase, but watching Moore do it in Cairo is like watching a ballet dancer. There are other moments in other films that define Roger Moore — The Fiction-Makers, for example, is his best work as The Saint. His introduction in The Wild Geese shows he knows how to hold a mediocre scene together with solid, restrained acting. But I so love him as the world’s greatest detective in Sherlock Holmes in New York. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Roger to record his audio commentaries for his Bonds, and I count that as four days where he brought a lot of joy to some grueling work. Nobody did it better. Goodbye, Mr. Moore. Well, let’s say, “au revoir.” I have a hopeful feeling we’ll be meeting again sometime.
O’Connell: The reason we have Bond films today is because of Roger Moore. He took on the role at a time in cinematic history where a tailored chap with a gun from England was not where the audiences for The Godfather, Chinatown and The Last Picture Show were. When Moore took the role in 1972 he was the third change of 007 in as many films. Yet, he endeared audiences to his Bond. He didn’t mock the role, he didn’t take it for granted. He knew less was more and that rather than the absurdities of Bond’s world at that time he pricked the criticisms of it with a warmth, charm and care for the role. He didn’t wholly take his Bond from the current movie zeitgeist and in doing so made it more appealing. He then steered the series from the parting of the waves of Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, via the box office might and dominance of Jaws, Star Wars, the rise of Reaganite American cinema, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Beverly Hills Cop. That wasn’t just because of the character of James Bond. That was because of Roger Moore himself.
Pfeiffer: Roger was that rarity in today’s film industry: an old world, genuine gentleman. He knew that he represented a dying breed of British actor, namely the type that could play sophisticated roles and extol and cherish the English language. They rarely write roles for those kinds of actors anymore. It’s doubtful even Cary Grant would find employment in today’s film industry. Roger had the most wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor. He once told me that if a person can laugh at themselves it kind of takes the wind out of the sails of others who want to criticize you. He truly believed no one should take themselves so seriously that they couldn’t laugh at their own flaws. It’s a good life lesson for everyone, including certain prominent political figures who have no ability to admit flaws. He felt that although he never got rave reviews for any of his performances, he was never completely crucified, either, because even critics found it hard not to like his persona.
Roger said that the personality traits he established in playing in The Saint seemed to work for him and that he essentially channeled those same qualities into most of his other characters, including Bond. When I once asked him what his best screen performance was, he replied “None!” After pressuring him a bit, he conceded that the little-seen 1970 movie The Man Who Haunted Himself was the performance he was most proud of because it allowed him to play a rather off-beat character. He was actually a good dramatic actor, as evidenced by his work in films like Shout at the Devil, Gold, The Wild Geese and The Sea Wolves, all of which show him in top form. Roger achieved what many people thought was impossible: being as successful as Sean Connery was in the role of Bond. He made the character his own and never imitated his predecessor. I last saw Roger a couple of years ago in Bath. He and his assistant Gareth Owen had developed a stage production in which Roger would simply chat about his career and take questions from the audience. It gave him a whole new aspect of his life and he was grateful for all the sold out theaters, which proved he still was very popular. His legacy, however, is his tireless work for UNICEF, for which he was Goodwill Ambassador for a number of years. There are countless people alive today thanks to his efforts and I know that was the career achievement he was most proud of.
Scivally: To me, Roger Moore is the Cary Grant of the latter half of the 20th century. The Bristol-born Archie Leach reinvented himself as suave, debonair Cary Grant in 1930s screwball comedies and Hitchcock suspense films much the same way Cockney Londoner Roger Moore adopted a more refined British accent to become the embodiment of British sophistication first on TV as the Saint and later in film as 007. Both were capable actors given limited opportunities because their good looks and the mores of the time typed them as leading men. But both were also humble and self-deprecating; you had a sense they would be enjoyable and entertaining companions to hang out with. Having established himself as a kind of James Bond-like character on TV’s The Saint, Moore was probably the only actor who could so effortlessly take over the role of 007 from Sean Connery. And as the Bond films veered away from the Fleming source material and became more comedic in the 1970s — a move that likely kept the series alive in the changing counter-culture climate — Moore fit the tenor of the times beautifully. It has been my experience that while men generally prefer Sean Connery as Bond, women have great affection for Moore’s 007, a Bond with a lighter touch and a twinkle in his eye that signaled he didn’t really take it all very seriously, but he was having a hell of a good time doing it.
Coate: What is the legacy of The Spy Who Loved Me?
Burlingame: First, it successfully upgraded the previously subordinate Bond Girl to co-starring status, no small feat in a world that (as originally conceived by Ian Fleming) largely viewed women as sex objects. Second, it kept the outlandish plots going, this time with Stromberg’s nonsensical notion that an undersea civilization would succeed a devastating nuclear war; we love all those insane criminal plots. Third, it introduced Walter Gotell as Soviet General Gogol and Geoffrey Keen as the Minister of Defense while retaining Bond regulars M, Q and Moneypenny, thus adding new supporting characters while keeping the old standby favorites. Fourth, it added a hip soundtrack with a top-selling song, demonstrating that, in terms of music, Bond could still be fresh in its musical approach. It certainly convinced me that the Roger Moore Bonds, while very different from the Connery Bonds, had value all their own and could propel 007 well into the future.
Cork: The first is the Legacy of Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. This is the film where he became not just a producer of the Bond films, but the producer. The battle for the future of James Bond had really gotten ugly after Harry Saltzman needed to withdraw from Danjaq, the holding company that held the rights to make James Bond films. Cubby was very angry, feeling that Harry had endangered the future of Danjaq through other business dealings. Cubby and Harry also both had the right to sell out, but only to someone of whom the other partner approved. Harry kept finding potential buyers, and Cubby wouldn’t approve of them, which was his right. Some have said that Cubby wanted to force Harry to sell to him for a very low price. Whether that was the case or not, Harry went to United Artists and struck a deal with them. This was a very savvy move on Harry’s part because Cubby could not say he couldn’t work with UA because he was already working with UA. Initially, this worked out very well for Cubby. He was able to get UA to basically double the budget of The Man with the Golden Gun, and he even struck a deal where UA paid for the building of the 007 Stage for the Liparus set, but Cubby ended up owning the physical soundstage building. He’s the one who had to guide the script through a skillion drafts, deal with an attempt to derail the film by Kevin McClory because early drafts had a new iteration of SPECTRE in it. At one point, he had Tom Mankiewicz come to his house, and they took many of the drafts and finally built a story. But there is another great legacy with Spy, and that’s Michael G. Wilson. He became very involved with working with the writers on Spy. He’s the one who pitched the skiing/base jump opening. But he did something more. He pushed for there to be a real emotional storyline in the Bond films. He understood the need for real tension between Bond and Anya, and that little thread works incredibly well in the film. The creative team that makes The Spy Who Loved Me, that family in some form or another is deeply involved in the Bond films until the end of the 1980s, and for some, well beyond. There is also a legacy of Lewis Gilbert, a man who started as a child actor in England, who has done some just wonderful smaller films. But Gilbert knew how to mount a massive production. He knew how to get shots that told the story. He understood visual filmmaking. I remember seeing The Adventurers when I was a kid, and Seventh Dawn when I was a teenager. These are big movies. They would be a series on HBO now, but he’s a very under-rated director. Some folks knock Spy for copying so many story elements from Gilbert’s previous Bond film, You Only Live Twice, but this film corrects so many weaknesses of that film for me. The legacy of The Spy Who Loved Me is that it said to the world that James Bond knew how to adapt, to thrill audiences and entertain on a grand scale even 15 years and ten films on from Dr. No. It was true then, and it is true today, nobody does it better.
O’Connell: That the Bond films continue to this very day. The film represented a possible make-or-break moment for Cubby Broccoli. With his director Lewis Gilbert, writer Christopher Wood, new scoring from Marvin Hamlisch, a new car that finally enabled Moore to have his own DB5 icon in the guise of the Lotus and the production intent as masterminded by Oscar nominated Ken Adam — The Spy Who Loved Me could be seen as the greatest illustration of that Eon Productions commitment to the project, audience, local film production and entertainment. The resulting 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios alone resulted in renewed production opportunities and bookings for British filmmaking at a time when such business was beginning to dip. This was a film that held its own in a year that included Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The 1977 context also helped inadvertently seal James Bond’s role in British culture. It was a Jubilee year, politicians and Prime Ministers visited the set, the BBC ran an epic Open University (public home education access and programming) series dissecting the whole production and of course that Union Jack moment struck a global cord that was echoed in the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games. In an era of the rise of the American blockbuster, Roger Moore and Eon Productions proved a story about a chap from England could hold its own and buoy up the future fortunes of all Bond films that followed.
Pfeiffer: The film, more so than the other Moore movies, is probably the most evergreen in terms of the opinion of fans. Not hurting matters was the durability of the title song, Nobody Does It Better, which has become a romantic standard. It still irks me that when the song was nominated for an Oscar, it lost to the saccharine You Light Up My Life. Like most Bond movies, it has aged well. The sets are still spectacularly impressive, thanks to the late, great Sir Ken Adam, and the action sequences hold up very well indeed. The introduction of Richard Kiel as Jaws was also an inspiration and helped elevate his career so substantially that he returned in Moonraker. The film was a mess in his its pre-production stages with seemingly half of the film industry contributing ideas (John Landis and Stanley Kubrick among them). Thus, the patchy screenplay is somewhat understandable, but it holds up well as a first-rate Bond entry.
Scivally: Having first been introduced to Bond through the films of Sean Connery, my initial reaction to Spy was that it was a “Batman Bond,” which is to say, it approaches the hero with the same lightness and sense of camp as the 1966-68 Batman TV series. Unlike From Russia with Love, which exists in a universe of heightened reality, The Spy Who Loved Me is utter fantasy, like Goldfinger on steroids. But it works. After the rather scaled-down Live and Let Die and the hastily-produced The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me returned James Bond to big-budget, wide-screen elegance and opulence. None of Moore’s subsequent Bond films would ever again get the mix quite so right. For the Roger Moore era of 007, The Spy Who Loved Me truly was the biggest, the best, Bond — and beyond. From first frame to last, it is consistently entertaining, living up to the memorable line from its theme song: “Nobody does it better.”
Coate: Thank you — Jon, John, Mark, Lee and Bruce — for participating and sharing your thoughts about The Spy Who Loved Me on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.
The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “The Living Daylights” on its 30th Anniversary.
Selected images copyright/courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, CBS-Fox Home Video, Eon Productions Limited, Danjaq LLC, MGM Home Entertainment, United Artists Corporation.
- Michael Coate