I’m not sure I’d call this “great Bond,” per se, but it is definitely great entertainment — a roller coaster ride that starts with a stunt that remains jaw-dropping even by today’s standards, and keeps up the pace while giving us all the formula elements, done especially well this time out. It probably is Roger Moore’s best Bond movie. Certainly his best-remembered.
But as well made and executed as “Spy” no doubt is, it settled the franchise firmly into the realm of the cartoonish. Bond was now established, for better or worse, as a leering, quipping punmeister who battled villains with armies of uniformed hired help from “rent a goon” on impressively designed Ken Adam sets while the latest scheme to take over or destroy the world hinges on 007 being able to use just the right gadget to stop the baddies at just the right moment. If I’m exaggerating a bit, forgive me, but that is basically what the series had come to during the 1970s.
And for that reason, I often wonder if this film isn’t just a tad overrated. I mean, when you come down to it, they pretty much lifted the plot from “You Only Live Twice” — itself not one of the better films in this series. So no points for originality there. And this marked the point at which Roger Moore started to play it not quite as dry as in his first two films, but instead began going more for the “no pun is too pathetic” approach. Still, it could be worse. At least in this one, we had no double-takes from animals watching 007 speed by in a gondola turned SUV, or Tarzan battle cries as Bond flees through the jungle.
For the most part, the film moves so quickly and, in fairness, is so much fun that you really do not have time to dwell on its shortcomings. Which is probably a good thing. The idea of Barbara Bach (Mrs. Ringo Starr) playing a Russian spy was probably about as ludicrous as, say, Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist (but I’m getting ahead of myself here). Yet Bach pulls it off, and I’d say she is one of the best leading actresses we’ve had in these films — not necessarily in thespian terms, but she has an undeniable charisma.
There is a dramatic confrontation her character has with Roger Moore about halfway through the film, very low-key and well written, and I think this may well be the single best scene of Roger Moore’s career. Again, if only he had been given more stuff like this to do, what an impact it would have had.
The film is undeniably larger than life, especially when we get to the villains. The chief baddie, Stromberg, is a generic Blofeld type and rather forgettable. It’s his henchman who steals the show — Jaws, memorably played by 7-foot-2 actor Richard Kiel, who gives new meaning to the phrase “man eating shark.” He never utters a word (but don’t worry, that wise decision would be undone in the next movie), and survives all sorts of impossible situations to the point where it becomes more comic relief than anything, and yet he’s the best thing about this movie. Too bad they had to bring him back in the next one and make a real clown out of him. In this one, while the predicaments from which he escapes are funny, Jaws himself is not a buffoon in the least, and is pretty scary at times.
I could have lived with a more cartoonish, fantasy-dwelling Bond if at least all seven of Moore’s films had been this consistently well made and executed. Everything here is pulled off nearly perfect — the stuntwork, the special effects, the casting. As mentioned, the plot is not exactly original; instead of rockets being stolen, this time it’s nuclear submarines.
But style counts for a lot here. Moore’s films may not have been great thrillers in the way that the early Connery films were, but you often got plenty of entertainment value for plunking down however much a movie ticket was back in those days, and no doubt many people enjoyed the way in which ol’ Rog saved the world with wit and style pretty much exactly every two years.
There was something reassuring and comforting, I think, about knowing Bond would always return, and I think that was the secret of Moore’s success. He was familiar. He wasn’t a ball-buster like Connery or Craig or Dalton, but he brought a lot of charm and fun to a long-running series and no doubt helped keep it going so that we still have Bond movies today. He carried the torch for a long time, and made countless moviegoers into 007 fans, regardless of what your preferred 007 “style” is. And that’s not a bad legacy.
Overall rating: 9 out of 10.