The Spy Who Loved Me at 45
For legions of hardcore and casual James Bond fans, Sir Roger Moore is viewed as possessing a lighter touch than the other actors who have played the famous part. Of the 6 official thespians who played Ian Fleming’s literary hero, Moore’s interpretation is the one that strayed furthest from the original creation. Furthermore, the Englishman was considered by most to be a true gentleman. A nice fellow. A kind-hearted chap. If anyone ever met Moore and didn’t like him, they’ve remained quiet about it.
Moore films tend to feel like perfect rainy Sunday afternoon entertainment. Viewers can point to many elements in his films as evidence proving they are the fluffiest in the cannon. The Spy Who Loved Me, which turns 45 this week (henceforth TSWLM), is often cited as an example. The ludicrousness of Richard Kiel’s Jaws. Megalomaniac Karl Stromberg’s (Curt Jürgens) ambition to create an undersea civilization in the wake of nuclear destruction. The leading lady’s codename being Triple X (Barbara Bach). Spending all day and night in the Egyptian desert sporting a dinner jacket yet still looking dapper throughout.
Behind the wry smile and pithy comebacks was a subversively dangerous version of James Bond. Director Lewis Gilbert and scribe Christopher Wood have 007 behave in shockingly brutal ways several times. For those steeped in Bond lore, especially the universe of the books, Bond’s actions in the film are not too surprising. The fact that Roger Moore is the one committing the brutality is what takes people aback.
The entire Egyptian sequence is replete with memorable moments and visual cues. Few can forget the eerie, Suspiria-like sequence at night among the pyramids when Jaws makes his way through the shadows to assassinate a target. A widescreen sunrise along the Sahara horizon, the architectural beauty of Cairo, it’s a terrifically shot and paced stretch. It also happens to be where Bond displays some of his coldest instincts as a weapon of Her Majesty’s government.
Whilst on the track of one Fekkesh (because of something or other having to do with a strip of microfilm) 007 waltzes into his target’s home. Rather than the man he seeks, he finds a beautiful woman named Felicia (Olga Bisera). Not that the playboy minds such inconveniences. She claims that Fekkesh is away and requested that she entertain the Englishman in the meantime. “Really?” Bond responds with barely hidden delight.
Little does the hero know that, while patting the lady’s neck with soft kisses and asking what Fekkesh is up to, a shadowy figure lurks on the upper level, spy. One question too many have a worried Felicia jerk her head back. Her darting eyes notice the pistol protruding from a small opening on the second level. As she cries “No!”, Bond’s instincts and dubious position have him turn around…but with Felicia in his arms. The latter is shot in the back and falls onto a divan. Bond has no time to mourn as the race after his would-be assassin begins.
In a series spanning 25 films featuring a hero who owns a legal licence to assassinate, it stands to reason that quite a few moments feature him at his deadliest. Rarely however does the secret agent treat women as he does in this scene. A case can be made that its inclusion in an argument about how the Bond of TSWLM is brutal is cheating. To be fair, the way in which director Gilbert films and stages the moment invites ambiguity. In fact, an image of the original script courtesy of MI6-HQ on Twitter suggests Gilbert did shoot the scene differently from what was on the page.
Did Bond’s instincts kick in too quickly? Does he really know what is behind him upon spinning around? Or does 007 use that split second to determine better her than him?
A Helpful Chap
One brutal moment follows up on another, the second being indisputable. The hostess dead, 007 runs after the man who the audience assumes wanted to kill them both or certainly Bond. It is Sandor (Milton Reid), one of Jaws’ accomplices. A tête-à-tête on the rooftop ensues, the scorching Cairo sun beaming down.
A few kicks and punches later leave Sandor at the secret agent’s mercy. The villain stands, barely, on the edge of the roof, with only Bond’s tie keeping him from plunging to his death. How the Brit is not dragged down with the heavy-set Sandor is beside the point for now. 007 is getting a little bit fed up. It’s a sweltering hot day, he could have had a delicious dessert downstairs with a lady were it not for this thug, and the infamous microfilm is proving annoyingly difficult to locate. With squinting, intense eyes, Bond demands:
Sandor remains silent. Perhaps the Englishman will relent.
Bond tries again, this time more forcefully:
Sandor cries: “Pyramids!”
With the needed information now collected, the protagonist, our hero, swats away his tie from Sandor’s grip, sending his foe crashing below to instant death.
Bond looks down, straightening his look:
“What a helpful chap.”
Nothing is up for debate in this scene. James Bond as played by Sir Roger Moore just completely wasted someone without an iota of mercy.
As TSWLM reaches its climax, the leading lady Anya Amasova is held captive by Stromberg inside the latter’s oceanic headquarters, Atlantis. The British agent is prompted into a one-man rescue mission before the American Navy blows the base out of the water.
007’s snooping eventually leads him to the antagonist’s dining room. Stromberg is enjoying a delicious meal despite that his plans for global destruction fell to tatters. The spy is offered a seat at the opposite end of the incredibly stretched-out table. In truth, the maniac wants to shoot the protagonist with the secret pipe gun hidden underneath. This fails of course. 007 returns fire with a clean shot into the pipe gun’s cannon straight at Stromberg’s you know what.
A look of indescribable pain sears on the villain’s face, although he needn’t worry. It doesn’t last long. Bond wastes no time in firing a few shots into the heart. Stromberg, life pouring out of him within seconds, faceplants into his salad.
It is a simple assassination, one that immediately doesn’t mean much. Yet its simplicity belies its brutality. Bond is repulsed by his foe and surely doesn’t appreciate his package being the target of an attack, thus responding with a no-nonsense kill. Roger Moore rarely looked as determined to murder someone in cold blood. Shot dead, point-blank.
It Was Either Him or Me
TSWLM is often regarded as the Bond film in which Roger Moore found his groove in the iconic role. To that effect, it is generally understood that Lewis Gilbert’s picture is the one that solidified Moore as a gentler 007. It is certainly quite funny at times. There is also no mistaking the silliness that abounds. Those people are not necessarily wrong. Upon inspecting the film more closely, what baffles me is just how much akin to Fleming’s creation Roger Moore is at times. They may be fleeting but make no mistake about it: Moore is cold in TSWLM.
One last example to demonstrate that Moore was capable of being dispassionate and serious. This one is not a murder but rather a dramatic exchange with Anya late in the film. She clues in that Bond had in fact killed her lover during the film’s pre-title sequence, although 007 was unaware of it at the time. In one of Moore’s finer acting moments, he makes the situation abundantly clear, hands on his hips. He sternly reminds Anya that everyone who plays their game knows the risks.
“It was either him or me.”
Bond’s world is deadly. Roger Moore’s charm only camouflages that reality.