Bond Girl: Re-Watching and Re-Evaluating The Spy Who Loved Me
Original illustration by Emilie Majarian for The Mary Sue.
This might be my favorite James Bond movie.
At the very least, it’s definitely one of the best Bond movies in Roger Moore’s run.
It definitely has my favorite Bond villain and one of the most amazing Bond girls in the entire franchise. It also has the best shark-related scene in the franchise – a scene that blows the one from Thunderball out of the water.
The Spy Who Loved Me is the tenth film in Eon Production’s James Bond series and Roger Moore’s third film in the franchise. The only thing it has in common with Fleming’s original novel is the title and perhaps a few henchmen made larger than life for the film. The Spy Who Loved Me has a storyline that involves billionaire megalomaniac Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens), who plans to destroy the world and create a new and perfect world under the sea. Of course, a plan that strange can’t be allowed to stand and so James Bond teams up with Russian agent Major Anya Amasova/Agent Triple X (Barbara Bach) to take him down.
You have your typical story set up in the pre-credits scene with a submarine taken captive by some unknown and utterly horrifying second party. It’s a huge deal because it’s not the only one to have vanished. After both British and Soviet submarines go missing, James Bond gets called in to do some digging and finds out that there are some plans on the market for a tracking system that’d leave British submarines vulnerable.
The thing about this, though, is that Bond isn’t the only one out to get those plans.
One of the things that really gets me about this movie is how the narrative frames Anya Amasova as Bond’s equal in the film. She’s XXX to his 007.
I mean, she’s seen as just as capable as Bond is and trusted with state secrets and there’s no joking about it. She’s definitely a different kind of Bond girl than what we’ve seen before. Her character to me feels like a definite stepping stone to the later Bond girls that we get who hold their own in firefights and who do just as well on the field of international espionage as our strapping spy does.
When the movie starts, during the pre-credit showing, we get a scene that just rocks for me. The head of Soviet intelligence is on the phone and tells someone to get in contact with Agent Triple X. The scene cuts to a couple in bed, the camera first lingering on this guy with a nice face and a hairy chest before showing us the woman he’s with. Then the clock on the nightstand alerts the bed’s occupants to a mission for Agent Triple X.
Playing on the viewers’ expectations for what makes a super spy and who is more likely to be the one in charge, the part where our lovely lady reaches over to take the message after her lover for the night gets out of bed is supposed to make us think a little. Instead of turning it into a joke, like ‘how could this woman be a super spy’, the movie frames her as Bond’s equal in almost all ways.
James Bond being in bed with the Soviet spy in Austria parallels the scene with Amasova in the bed with her nameless lover. I loved that there was that connection, that feel as if the two of them are kindred spirits. That feeling is interesting because they’re one of the most obvious cases of star crossed lovers in the world. They really can’t be together permanently.
Unlike the previous Bond girls in the films whose disappearances from James Bond’s life are never mentioned again, Amasova and Bond would have to get over several hurdles in order to be in a proper relationship.
One of the most significant reasons is mentioned pretty early on in the film. After Major Amasova is given her orders, her commanding officer tells her that the man that she’d been seeing in the pre-credits scene had been killed in Austria – and we viewers know before she does, that her Russian lover died while trying to kill James Bond in the brief ski-chase scene before the opening credits.
He killed her lover. There’s no way that they can get together and stay together. Right?
Well… what’s actually interesting about this issue is how they approach it in the film. It’s a bit rushed because the end goal for their relationship is for Bond to come out on top, but they actually do have a conversation about how he did what he had to do in order to protect himself. When she first finds out about his hand in her lover’s death, Amasova promises to kill Bond at the end of their mission. While it’s something that she does come to terms with by the end of the movie, it’s a major stumbling block for their relationship.
The other main reason is how they’re working for rival agencies.
While the political climate in The Spy Who Loved Me is flexible enough to allow for interagency cooperation for the time it takes the duo to solve the mystery, it’s not that flexible. This movie was both filmed and set during the Cold War period that lasted from 1962 to 1979. There’s history there and politics between Britain and the Soviet Union, and it’s clear that the cooperation between the two agencies can’t last. It won’t last. No matter what happens at the end of the film, whether or not the two of them float off into the sunset the way that these films usually end, they legitimately can’t stay together.
Not with their positions in their respective governments’ intelligence agencies.
I liked that they showed that as well, that even though it was definitely played for laughs (with the head of the KGB and M both kind of being framed as disapproving parental/paternal figures), it was mentioned. For the first time since Pussy Galore (who we all knew would probably end up in prison), we have a serious explanation at least implied as for why our main girl wouldn’t be recurring in her role.
There’s just so much to love about Anya Amasova. She’s seen as a new type of Bond girl, the type of character to get down and dirty and hold her own against Bond. Much of what I liked about previous Bond girls (the snark and the spark of vibrant characterization that made them three-dimensional) is incredibly visible in Amasova.
Now it’s no surprise to anyone that the big bad villain in The Spy Who Loved Me wasn’t interesting to me. I don’t like villains who want to remake the world in their own image, especially when they plan to do it by killing everyone else beforehand. I didn’t care much for Stromberg. He was a predictable villain and too handsy with Amasova when she was in his clutches.
He wasn’t my main villainous focus, not at all. Without having to think about it for a second, I can tell you up front that the villain in this movie that I actually cared about was Richard Kiel’s Jaws.
Standing over seven feet tall with a menacing steel smile on his face, Jaws is the sort of villain that the Bond franchise is known for. He’s this horrifying man, nearly indestructible. No matter what anyone does to him, he survives it. Throughout the course of the film, we see Jaws survive a car crash, being pitched from a train, an explosion, and even being attacked by a shark.
He’s (apparently) immortal and he tosses James Bond around as if it’s a piece of cake.
I don’t know why I gravitated towards Jaws as my second favorite character in the film. He’s still a bad guy and it’s not as if we get anything showing him as anything other than a character with a thing for biting (that comes later in Moonraker, I believe). However, there’s something about Jaws… Maybe it’s the way that Kiel’s character enjoyed every single thing that he did over the course of following Stromberg’s orders. He’s a henchman for Stromberg, true, but he’s doing something that he loves.
I had to give him credit for it.
Normally, the minions in these older films are discomforting in a specific way. They’re sexually aggressive men who leer at our Bond girls or they’re nameless women who exist only to serve the men. When they stand out, it’s not because of anything good. They’re not necessarily entertaining as much as they are train wrecks you can’t look away from no matter how hard you try.
Kiel’s Jaws isn’t like that to me.
I felt this huge amount of discomfort from watching Hervé Villechaize play Nick Nack in The Man With The Golden Gun because I felt as if we were watching him be the butt of a joke because of his disability. Richard Kiel had a medical condition that affected the shape of his body but his role in this Bond film wasn’t treated like a joke or anything like “hah, look at this ridiculously large man. He’s so funny”. He’s a scary figure because he’s literally taking a beating and moving on as if it’s nothing to him. He’s scary because he has steel teeth in his head that he uses to attack people (and you know… because he’s biting people to death).
He’s not scary because he has health conditions or a disability.
I seriously cannot wait to see Jaws again in Moonraker because he’s a character with a ton of potential!
Now, despite the fact that this is a clear standout for me as one of the best Bond movies out there, I do have some issues with it. Not many and a few that are super serious, but I’m incapable of watching anything without finding some faults in it.
While this movie is marginally better with issues of race and gender than a lot of the films in the franchise so far, there is a seriously skeevy scene set up at the 20-minute mark. James Bond is on his way to Cairo and stops over at his childhood friend Hosein’s home in the desert. The scene gets uncomfortable when Hosein straight up offers up a young girl to Bond as an incentive for him to spend more time with him.
What is it with people giving Bond young women to sleep with?
Actually no – what is it that had the writers back then going for a character that would accept the offer of women for a night or two? It doesn’t say anything good about the character. He’s supposed to be the hero but he’s frequently caught doing unheroic things.
What’s worse is that this is implied to be something acceptable in Egyptian culture, something that is commonplace at least amongst the upper class. When your friends from boarding school or university show up after like twenty years, the best thing you can do to get them to spend the night is to offer them a sweet young woman as a gift?
That’s just so uncomfortable to watch.
Due to how Bond’s characterization is set up in these movies, he’s not going to turn anyone down either. It’s so not my thing. I wish that it wasn’t a recurring theme in these movies where young women are gifts given to men and not people worthy of agency or respect. I know it gets better, but geez–that needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Even with this issue though, I loved this film.
It was genuinely enjoyable and fun to watch. It wasn’t the most serious movie in the franchise, but I think that Bond came across very well in this film. Many of the things that I dislike about the franchise were absent or lessened and there’s a distinct change in tone that I really hope keeps up with the rest of the films that Moore is in.
What I’m looking forward to:
Um… Jaws, duh. I’m so excited to see his character again!!
(That’s about it though because the plot of Moonraker is incredibly similar to that of The Spy Who Loved Me so I’m pretty sure that I’ll dislike the “kill the earth’s population and repopulate it with perfection” plotline there too.)
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