Jeff Smith 2 p.m., Dec. 18
Grate cinema: The Spy Who Loved Me
When it comes to playing 007, everybody does it better than Roger Moore!
People who prefer Roger Moore to Sean Connery should not be allowed to breed. When it comes to RM as JB, everybody does it better. Moore -- the laziest action hero imaginable -- makes me feel glad for the rest. Afraid of heights (and it shows), Moore never takes or throws a believable punch, and in the later entries can barely lift a leg during the fight sequences to ward off predators.
James Bond is a man of the world. Wooden Moore seldom left Pinewood.
For some crazy reason, I had it in my mind that The Spy Who Loved Me was the best of the Moore outings. (There is no such thing!) Strong were my memories of villainous Richard Kiel, the pre-credit parachute stunt, the spectacular destruction of Blofeld-substitute Curt Jurgens' underwater city, and a very sexy Barbara Bach.
With the exception of the money shot, the introductory passage is far below the series standard set over a decade earlier. While Ken Adam's interiors are as dazzling as always, the exterior shots of the underwater city floating above a mismatched horizon line looks more like Toho than Pinewood. Ms. Bach was hot, but I'll never get those dirty pictures of Ringo out of my head. Kiel's character is named for a Spielberg picture. Enough said.
A pair of British and Russian submarines armed with nuclear warheads disappear while on routine maneuvers. Too damp and cold in England for a location shoot and the impossibility of obtaining a permit to film in the U.S.S.R. forces Bond to wing his way to warm, sunny Egypt for the start of this installments’ adventure. So much for cogent storytelling.
The picture marked several firsts for the series. This was the first Bond produced without the participation of Harry Saltzman; it's sort of like eating Broccoli without the Saltz. Spy was the first of the Moore's shot in 'Scope. Having run out of ideas, The Spy Who Loved Me is the first of many variations on Dr. No and You Only Live Twice. It also housess the first, and mercifully last, Bond score composed by Marvin Hamlisch. If you had difficulty accepting Paul McCartney's rock 'n' roll underscoring, Hamlisch's disco double-0 beat will make your head spin faster than a mirrored ball.
You Only Live Twice was also the first film in the series to completely abandon logic and any semblance of realism in favor of special effects, improbable stunts, and goofy gadgets. Director Lewis Gilbert seemed right at home with the producers' "bigger is better" approach and proved it by bringing absolutely no sense of style, scale, or creativity to the series. Gilbert is equally as dull behind the camera as Moore is in front of it. They're Scorsese and DeNiro on ether.
Tempted to hit the ‘stop’ button at the 60 minute mark, I was too lazy to get out of my chair and search for the remote. Thank god that I rode it out. As inept as it is, nothing in the first third of the film prepared me for what I was about to witness.
Bond first encounters Jaws at some type of spiritual love-in set at the foot of the Sphinx. Gilbert obviously couldn't get the geographical screen direction straight. In one of the most brazenly incompetent displays of post production patchwork, the filmmakers superimpose a still photo of Moore, gun in hand, over a boulder and matte it into the action making it appear as though Jaws is being preyed upon by a billboard. If you don't believe me, rent the DVD and hit the pause button at precisely 29:15.
Shocking though it may be, this was not Gilbert's 007 swansong. Rumor has it the reason Jaws came back in Moonraker was because Gilbert's grandkids got a kick out of him. It’s doubtful. Seeing TSWLM again, the ending clearly leaves the door open for Jaws return. What Gilbert did in the follow up was transform a hulking lummox with a sparkling grin into a lovable buffoon. He also altered Richard Kiel's performance.
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