Friday, July 14, 2006
I almost cried at the end.
Fleming was really in the zone when he wrote On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond meets a girl while tracking down Blofeld, finds her to be someone he can love and maybe even marry, then gets sent on a mission to a mountaintop retreat in Switzerland where Blofeld is reputed to be holed up. It's a sort of a combination ski resport, laboratory, and facility for the study and cure of allergies (so common on Alpine mountaintops that it is scarcely worth noting).
Well-written, well-paced, suspenseful, exciting and action-packed, On Her Majesty's Secret Service also avoids all the outdated attitudes towards race and homosexuality that often mar the other books (even as they make them kind of funny at the same time).
Highly recommended. (The movie, as I recall it, follows the book very closely. So if you saw the movie, you may have guessed why I almost cried at the end. Fleming handled the written version of the event very well, and I was so into the book that I almost felt like I was there.)
Next: Well, probably either Thunderball the movie (if they ever get it back at the video store) or You Only Live Twice the book. Or I might complete the Timothy Dalton films by reviewing License to Kill.
So I rented The Spy Who Loved Me instead. And I really liked it! It has nothing to do with the book. Apparently, Ian Fleming didn't think much of the novel and he specifically denied the rights to the plot to the filmmakers. But he did sell them the title. And The Spy Who Loved Me became the first James Bond film to be created completely from scratch.
(Well, if you want to get picky, they did use one small element from the novel in creatin the henchman known as "Jaws," played by Richard Kiel. One of the gangsters in the novel has metal-capped teeth. But his name isn't "Jaws" and he isn't 7' 2" and he isn't indestructible. It's a very minor detail in the book, but I know if I don't mention it, some annoying pedant will start flaming me.)
According to the documentary on the DVD, The Spy Who Loved Me was a make or break film for Roger Moore. It would be his third film as 007, and his second Bond film (The Man With The Golden Gun had been something of a disappointment at the box office. (As a matter of fact, The Man With The Golden Gun is not a favorite of Bond fans, which I find surprising because I really like it.) The movie went through a number of problems involving personnel, financing, and storylines, but it was finally released in 1977 and made $185 million at the box office worldwide. It was the most profitable Bond film up to that time. (Click here for the wikiedia entry on James Bond and scroll down a ways for a chart that has the domestic and US totals for all the James Bond films. It is a disturbing thought that the highest-grossing Bond film before Goldeneye was Moonraker, a real piece of cinematic doo-doo.)
Roger Moore says The Spy Who Loved Me is his favorite Bond film. A lot of people really like it. And I never saw it until about a week ago.
I've been trying to figure out why I didn't see it when it first came out. It was 1977, I was 13, and my family went to the movies some of the time. And we liked James Bond. We all saw The Man With The Golden Gun a few years earlier.
Then I remembered: 1977 was the summer of Star Wars, and Star Wars trumped all. I'm pretty sure I saw Star Wars ten times that summer, which didn't leave any time to go see The Spy Who Loved Me. And I don't remember wanting to see it either.
(I watched a few minutes of this movie on cable with my mother a few years ago, and Mom recognized the film and said, "This is the movie where Barbara Bach's dress has a slit on the side that changes sides and sometimes isn't there." Apparently, there is a bit of a continuity problem and it bothers my mother. I changed the channel.)
I have to admit, I'm having a little problem remembering exactly why I liked this movie so much. I watched it late at night, in a semi-conscious state, and fell asleep about half-way through and had to watch the second half the next night. So my memories have a very dream-like quality to them. I also didn't take any notes, which is a very good sign because I generally only take notes when I think of ways to make fun of the Bond films and I want to write down the jokes before I forget them. And there isn't very much to ridicule in this film. (Except for Barbara Bach's dress, which has a slit that changes sides or something.)
Let's see, I think there's a guy who was supposed to be Blofeld, but the producer decided to change his name because there was another producer who claimed to have the rights to Blofeld and he was quite a nuisance even though his case wasn't really that good. (The Spy Who Loved Me had already experienced a number of production problems and the producers just didn't want to bother with any more of this kind of stuff. See this wikipedia entry for more information on the Thunderball controversy.)
So, as the villain, Curt Jurgens plays Karl Stromberg. Or maybe it's Karl Stromberg playing Curt Jurgens. He is a millionaire marine biologist (or something) who lives in an underwater lair. He has stolen some submarines and some missiles and some high-tech computer junk, and he has a scheme to provoke World War III between the United States and Russia. In his ocean hideaway, he will ride out the war, which he hopes will wipe out all human life on the surface.
So James Bond has to stop him, and he is helped by the beautiful and capable and really stacked Russian spy Anya Amasova, played by Barbara Bach. They meet in Egypt, they fight Jaws, they go all over the place. The hate each other, they love each other. And at the end, they defeat Karl Stromberg and get naked in some sort of underwater escape pod.
It's all very pleasant and eye-catching and fun, and I can see why people like it so much. And I really can't think of anything to make fun of. A very solid entry in the film series.
Even if Barbara Bach's dress has a slit that totally destroys the continuity and makes a mockery of all spy movies.
O Fate! How can you be so cruel?
(For more on The Spy Who Loved Me, the film, see this wikipedia entry.
NEXT: On Her Majesty's Secret Service - the book. I almost cried at the end. No joke!