With Roger Moore firmly established in the role of 007, and the success of the last two entries; the producers wanted to push on with a third successive movie. The book chosen to be adapted this time was The Spy who Loved Me, but the producers encountered a series of obstacles no one was counting on.
Legal problems, and the end of a partnership.
The first problem the producers encountered was a clause in a contract the producers had signed with Ian Fleming, in which it was expressly forbidden for any of the plot elements in the book to be used in a screenplay; thus the screenwriters would have to come up with an entirely original plot for the script, only being allowed to use the book’s title. That’s how the concept of megalomaniac multimillionaire Sea-biologist Carl Stromberg; who is bent on worldwide destruction by hijacking several Nuclear Submarines, and creating a new underwater world afterwards, was born. But the next problem would delay the release of the next movie for several years.
Harry Saltzman had been having financial difficulties for the last few years. He’d made a series of investments that hadn’t panned out, and was now facing serious debt. To overcome this, he’d used his shares at Eon as collateral; which put the whole company in jeopardy, and it also meant that they couldn’t move forward with the next movie until these legal issues had been resolved.
After years of court battles, the Studio managed to prevail. Broccoli found an Executive Producer , William P. Cartlidge, who was willing to foot Saltzman’s bill, but the title of Producer, from that point on, would solely, and squarely fall on Broccoli’s shoulders; meaning that the eventual success, or failure of the franchise from that moment on was totally dependent on him. Sadly, Saltzman, after having sold his shares, had to give up his Co-producer title, and would never return to the series. One more legal obstacle remained, however.
Producer Kevin McClory, who due to having ownership of the rights to the Thunderball novel, had received a Producer’s credit for that film, sued Eon on the grounds that The Spy who Loved Me’s screenplay closely resembled a script he’d worked on. He lost the case, however, which finally cleared the way for the producers to start work on Pre-production.
A new direction
Guy Hamilton had been offered the movie right after he’d finished filming on The Man with the Golden Gun. Sadly, after all the delays, he lost interest in the project, and had moved on to something else. It was then that Broccoli contacted a former associate of his, and someone who had already successfully directed a Bond movie for them; Lewis Gilbert. You Only Live Twice had been somewhat of a turning point in the James Bond saga, as it was the first time that the series fully embraced the fantastical elements of the character, and further separated the film character from his more-grounded-in-reality, book counterpart. It can be argued that Goldfinger had already started going down that path, with larger-than-life megalomaniac villains bent on world destruction, sophisticated henchmen, and the extended use of gadgetry; but it was thanks to the outlandish plot, gadgetry, and Ken Adams’s work in the design of the villain’s lair inside an extinct volcano, that further helped enhance the concept. The last two Bond movies, though financially successful, had been very low-key in that respect. It was time to throw everything, but the kitchen sink into it, to make Bond the pop culture icon he was always meant to be, and further cement Roger Moore in the role.
The first thing that Gilbert did was to bring along his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Christopher Wood, to help spice up Richard Maibaum’s draft; adding more humour, and outlandish elements to the plot. He also changed Roger Moore’s dialogue to play to the actor’s strengths. Gilbert felt that the producers had tried to go with a more serious tone for Moore, that didn’t necessarily match with Moore’s personality; trying to make him act more like Sean Connery’s Bond would. The tone in both the story, and the character, was definitely lighter; with some goofy elements thrown in, that somewhat undermined the more serious elements of the plot. This penchant for goofy humour would further undercut the filmmakers efforts in the next entry in the series; Moonraker.
One positive aspect that came out of this re-work of the character was the extensive use of gadgetry, the visit to even more exotic locations, and the building of sets, that were taken to a level never achieved before.
The movie was shot in locations as different as Egypt, Sardinia, Canada, and once again in Pinewood Studios, London; the choice of so disparate locations highlighting the globe-trotting nature of the story. But it was, once again, Ken Adam’s amazing set design that really gave the whole thing that larger-than-life quality the filmmakers were looking for. His was the design of Stromberg’s underwater lair, Atlantis, the Supertanker which Stromberg uses to hijack the nuclear submarines, and the Lotus Esprit car which could transform into a gadget-loaded submarine when needed. Most of these designs were achieved with the help of Visual Effects Supervisor and miniature model wiz, Derek Meddings.
Another important aspect that the filmmakers paid a lot of attention to was the cast. For the role of the main villain, Carl Stromberg, the producers cast Austrian-German actor Curt Jürgens. Stromberg falls in the category of those Bond villains who rely heavily on their minions to accomplish their goals, like Bloefeld and Goldfinger. The actor definitely lends a threatening presence to the character, and the make up artists even went as far as giving him webbed hands to further enhance the illusion that he’s one with his aquatic environment. But no villain would be complete without a charismatic henchman. The character of the steel-toothed assassin was actually sourced from the novel, in which his alias is actually Terror, and not Jaws, as he would be finally known. At over 7ft tall, American actor Richard Kiel was chosen to portray the role, who ended up being so popular with audiences that he was asked to reprise it for the next movie in the series. The Art department made him a special metal mouth piece that was perfectly molded to fit inside his mouth. The contraption, however, was so uncomfortable to wear that he could only wear it for a few seconds before he started gagging. All the scenes in which he wears the metal-platted teeth were carefully edited with short cuts to overcome this particular situation. For the roles of the main Bond girls the producers went with model Caroline Munro to play the rode of Stromberg’s personal assistant and helicopter pilot, Naomi; and actress Barbara Bach to play the role of Soviet secret agent, Anya Amasova; who would, years later get married to The Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr. The rest of the recurring characters came back.
Dangerous stunts, hot weather, and underwater adventures.
The film starts with a bang, with possibly one of the most dangerous stunts ever performed in a Bond movie. I’m, of course, talking about the scene in which Bond is skiing down a snowy mountain slope, being pursued by Russian agents, and ends the sequence by jumping off a cliff and opening a parachute with the Union flag all over it, in mid-air. The sequence was the brainchild of Lewis Gilbert, who though it would be a neat way of opening up the movie. The tricky thing was finding the right place and conditions to perform the stunt, and someone daring enough to do it. The pre-credit sequence is supposed to take place in the Austrian Alps, but these were difficult peaks to reach during the Winter time, in which most of these mountains would already be snowed in. An experienced skier and mountain climber by the name of Rick Sylvester was contacted, and agreed to do it. He also told the producers that he knew the perfect spot where it could be done. The chosen place was in Canada. Sylvester, along with a small filming crew went to the spot, only to find that the mountain side was heavily snowed in, and the high winds made it too dangerous to jump. A few weeks went by without much luck, to the point in which Broccoli talked to Sylvester to ask him if he’d changed his mind about doing it. Sylvester reiterated that he was just waiting for the right conditions, which did come a few days later; and the stunt was finally filmed from numerous angles, and with 4 different cameras to ensure that it was sufficiently covered on film.
Things didn’t get any better when the crew moved to Egypt to shoot in location. The numerous challenges that some locations presented when it came to filming them, like the Giza Piramids exhibition, along with the stifling heat and dreadful local food; really tried the crew’s patience and endurance. The first problem was fairly easy to solve. Given the inmensity of the Pyramid exhibition, and the impossibility of getting enough artificial illumination to light the whole thing, it was decided that a Matte Painting of the Pyramids would be used as a background plate for the scene. The second problem though, was slightly more difficult to overcome. The crew was so worried about getting sick from food poisoning, and so tired of the hot conditions, that they suggested to Broccoli breezing through the shots as fast as they could, so they could return to England as soon as possible. Having always had a reputation of taking really good care of his cast and crew, Broccoli ordered a refrigerated truck with food shipped from England to be delivered in location. The truck did arrive, only empty. To avoid further delays, Broccoli flew in, went about shopping for ingredients and kitchen implements, and personally cooked a huge vat of Spaghetti Bolognese for his crew. That little gesture earned him the respect of the crew, who re-doubled their efforts to get off-location as swiftly as possible. Among the many striking locations the crew got to shoot in were some abandoned ruins out in the desert, outside of Cairo. This is the spot in which Bond, Anya, and Jaws’s first confrontation takes place, which ends up with Jaws almost crushing the van in which Bond and Anya are trying to run away. The second confrontation, aboard a train, proved to be a trifle more challenging, due to the confined quarters that the train cabin set provided. The crew was more than up to the challenge, as they’ve already done similar train fight sequences in From Russia with Love, and Live and Let Die. The entire interior of the train cabin was recreated in Pinewood Studios, and the fight was exhaustively rehearsed by Stunt Coordinator Bob Simmonds, and actor Richard Kiel. It was actually Bob Simmonds who doubled for Kiel when Bond kicks him out of the window.
As soon as the crew had wrapped in Egypt, they moved on to Sardinia, where the scenes in which Bond and Anya follow the clues to Carl Stromberg’s underwater lair Atlantis, and the submarine/car chase would be filmed. The bulk of the Special Effects and Set Design work kicked in then, which presented the producers with a problem of huge dimensions.
Ken and Derek knock it out of the park.
It had already been discussed during Pre-Production the best way to go about the sequence in which a retrofitted Supertanker swallows and holds inside it three enormous nuclear submarines. At first, the crew went looking for a real tanker, preferably a disused one, that they could use to double as both the interior and exterior of Stromberg’s Supertanker. They knocked on many doors, and finally got Shell to lease them an empty one from their own fleet. Unfortunately, the filmmakers soon discovered that an empty tanker was actually more dangerous to film in than a full one, because of all the gases left inside. That made it completely unsuitable to have electric filming equipment inside as the smallest of sparks could potentially blow the whole thing up. The practical solution was to build practical models of both the Supertanker and Atlantis for the establishing shots, and blow them up later on. The life-size interior of the Supertanker, which not only had to hold all three hijacked nuclear submarines, but Stromberg’s control room, detention cells, and missile silos, was too big to fit into any of the existing sound stages in Pinewood. What remained was to build an entirely new sound stage. Adam proposed building the Supertanker set first, and the rest of the sound stage around it. It was a huge undertaking, and the resulting sound stage was baptized as The 007 Sound Stage.
Once construction on both the set and stage were finished, another problem arose. The set was so huge that it was incredibly difficult to light. On top of that, Claude Renoir, the Cinematographer, had been slowly losing his sight over the years, and was finding it difficult to do his job. It was then that Adam came up with a solution that was controversial, to say the least. He recruited the help of Stanley Kubrick, with whom he’d worked before in Doctor Stangelove (1964), and Barry Lyndon (1975). Kubrick agreed to help him on the condition that no one would find out about it. Adam made sure that no one from the crew was around and upon arriving, Kubrick suggested that it might be a good idea to put up lots of flood lights on the ceiling, and thus allow these set lights to illuminate the set without any additional artificial lighting.
Another important element was the incredible model work done by Derek Meddings. Not only did he build miniature models of all the sets like the Supertanker, and Atlantis, but he was also mainly responsible for the model work in the Lotus Esprit. As many as seven models of the Lotus Esprit were built, in different sizes; to simulate all the different stages the car goes through from the moment ii falls into the sea, to when it becomes a fully formed underwater vehicle with the usual array of gadgets to escape from the bad guys. The bulk of the underwater scenes, and all those establishing shots of both Atlantis, and the Supertanker on the sea were shot in the Bahamas. The waters in the Bahamas are world renowned for being extremely clear, which makes them very useful when shooting underwater scenes. The crew had already gone there a few times before to shoot the underwater sequences for both Thunderball and You Only Live Twice.
Between both Ken Adam and Derek Meddings, they achieved one of the best looking Bond movies when it comes to Set Design, and Visual Effects. The interior of both the Supertanker, and Atlantis look magnificent. As was always the case with his sets, Ken Adam always strived to make them mobile and fully functional. A small crew even went to Japan to take photos of a real life Marine research centre. They brought back hundreds of pictures, with all kinds of exotic fish that would be latter used as background plates for the observation windows.
Meddings’ work on the models is superb, shot in a way that it never gives away the real size of the models. Brilliant examples of this are all the establishing shots for the Supertanker and Atlantis, and their respective explosions later on. So are all the underwater shots for the model Lotus Esprit. A life size mocap of the car was built to be submerged, that had to be moved around underwater by a team of scuba divers. The interior was completely sealed, and only used for close up shots. A remarkable feat of engineering, considering how little screen time it has in the movie.
Financial and critical success
The Spy who Loved Me proved to be wildly successful with both audiences and critics. It’s generally regarded as one of the best Bond movies, and the best in Roger Moore’s run in the role. Little else can be said about it, except for the fact that it made more money at the Box Office than any other Bond movie had ever made before.
The Spy who Loved Me is definitely my favourite James Bond movie with Roger Moore playing the titular character. It’s one of the most sophisticated, wity and wildly entertaining movies in the franchise. It has everything going for it; the beautiful Soviet Spy who is Bond’s equal, a madman bent on world domination, an iconic henchman, an outlandish plot, beautiful locations, and lots of gadgets, among them a submarine car!!.
It definitely has some goofy stuff in it; like some of the silly musical cues used to play up the comical elements of the story, but it’s generally speaking a fun romp. A rollercoaster ride of emotions that never lets up; but what is most fondly remembered for is the incredible stunt work, the set design and especially, its over the top, but thoroughly enjoyable action set pieces. One of the aspects of the movie that it’s often overlooked is the soundtrack. In addition to a very memorable theme song sung by Carly Simon, it has one of the most energetic scores to be found in the series outside the ones John Barry composed. Marvin Hamlisch’s score for the movie is a “disco extravaganza”, that often comes up in fan circle conversations, citing it as one of the reasons why the movie has aged so badly. I entirely disagree. I think it fits the movie like a globe, and gives it that unique quality that makes it stand out from the rest as a product of its time.
Sadly there are also some bad things in it. While generally speaking, all the cast does a decent job, with Roger Moore being his usual charming self; the same cannot be said about Barbara Bach. While definitely a beauty, she clearly lacks in the acting department, coming off as stiff and wooden, especially in her line delivery. Curt Jürgens does a serviceable job as Stromberg. He does have a rather laid back attitude about it, but has enough charisma to come off as menacing sometimes. But the absolute standout in the villain camp is Jaws. Richard Kiel does wonders with the role, coming off as menacing, but with a humorous side to him. Some of the funniest scenes are the ones with him in them. No wonder the public wanted him back.
The action set pieces are done to a very high standard, and are amongst the best in the series. The sky jump in the pre-credits sequence, the car chase sequence with ends up in an underwater chase sequence with a submarine car, Bond and the newly rescued nuclear submarines crews trying to break into the Supertanker’s control room, the final showdown between Bond and Jaws aboard Atlantis….Gilbert would try and repeat the same formula for the next movie, and although he succeeded to a certain extent, it doesn’t quite reach the same heights. This, to me, is definitely one the best in the bunch, and a real treat. Nobody does it better.
Thanks for reading.