The Spy Who Loved Me: Reflections on the White Lotus
by Krissy Myers (@krissy_myers)
My first true experience with Agent 007 occurred at some point during the late 90’s. I was young and only vaguely familiar with the name James Bond, thanks to my mother cooing over Pierce Brosnan when he took over the role in GoldenEye. Approaching double digits in age and with TBS’s “15 Days of 007” marathon looming, my mother finally proclaimed:
“You’re old enough now. I saw my first James Bond film [Thunderball] in the theatre when I was your age. Watch some films with me.”
I trusted her completely, as by that point, she had yet to steer me wrong. After all, she was the one who introduced me to Star Wars and the Godzilla movies. By my logic at the time, if she had been treating the Bond films, for all intents and purposes, as a rite of passage, surely this English spy chap had something at least as thrilling in store for me.
I soon became engrossed in the James Bond universe. I watched as many of the films as I possibly could with school and bedtime as my only obstacles. I paid close attention to the commercials made just for the occasion featuring Bond girl Grace Jones as a flight attendant aboard a Moonraker-esque airplane. I remember making a special scheduling chart with the following sections: the name of the Bond film, the time it aired and the actor who played him. After seeing most of the films two weeks later, the inevitable question finally came up.
“You like these James Bond movies, huh, Krissy? Who’s your favourite?”
There was absolutely no question in my mind which Bond actor was my favourite. On my chart, his films would have little stars and hearts around his name to highlight his great importance. I couldn’t at the time put into words the reasons why he was my favourite, only that it was the imagery in his films that replayed the most vividly in my mind. While all of the Bond actors were undoubtedly attractive in their own ways, whenever I watched one of his films, I could physically feel the blood rush to my little schoolgirl cheeks. It was a quiet yet intense crush.
Composing myself, I answered my mother very coyly.
“I… I like Roger Moore the most.”
Needless to say, my mother responded with a certain amount of surprise to my answer.
Over time, I learned that this was not a popular opinion. It’s an even less popular opinion now. More unusual still for someone like me who did not come of age during the 1970’s or 1980’s. I was born in 1988 and the first Bond film I saw was, just like mum, Thunderball. I should be a Sean Connery fan because he was my first. Or, like so many of my contemporaries, I should like Pierce Brosnan, since GoldenEye (both the film and the video game) was released during my childhood. Or Daniel Craig, because he’s supposedly the closest to Connery in terms of his raw, aggressive appeal. Not to mention, Craig’s Bond appeared near the genesis of the gritty reboot trend that’s so prevalent in Hollywood Films currently – something that was attempted years earlier with Timothy Dalton but with a much lesser degree of success for the franchise (although personally, I’m very fond of his smoldering portrayal of Bond).
But I digress.
As much as I tried to adjust my tastes, after trudging through Diamonds Are Forever during a recent marathon in celebration of Dr. No‘s Fiftieth Birthday, I happily entered the Roger Moore era. That pesky crush, long forgotten, had finally resurfaced. The only difference now is that I can actually articulate what it was that made Moore my most beloved Bond and still maintains that place in my heart.
At the core, there are a couple of reasons for this: the first I’ll be discussing in this piece and continue with my next installment for My Favorite #Bond_age_, For Your Eyes Only.
Roger Moore conveyed an important spy quality better than any other Bond actor: fluidity. He possessed presence, yet remained unassuming. As unassuming as anyone portraying Bond on screen is allowed to be, anyway. He was charming, intelligent, witty and always equipped with a one-liner and a raised eyebrow. Yet, in an interview with Time Magazine, in the words of Moore himself,
“Daniel [Craig] looks like a killer. He looks as though he knows what he’s doing. I look as though I might cheat at baccarat.”
Moore is a pleasant looking man with an urbane disposition and it comes through in his Bond. He is a gentleman in the most literal sense of the word. Bond purists will no doubt disagree with me. They tend to prefer the portrayal of Bond’s cold-hearted and violent nature to bluntly punch them in the face. My own logic dictates that Moore’s affable nature possessed a tactical advantage: the element of surprise.
The sensual, seasoned Lothario who gave love lessons to innocent tarot card readers. The widower who left flowers on his late wife’s grave. Someone who baked elaborate quiches, tucked you in at night and watched over you while you slept – shotgun in hand. It’s hard to believe that this was the same man that kicked men over cliffs, dropped sociopaths into smokestacks, threatened to castrate gunsmiths and didn’t even flinch while being transformed into shark chum. Despite his softer personality, whatever situations he got into, no matter how grave or how absurd they were, Moore tended it use it to his advantage to dupe his foes and to surprise and delight filmgoers. In a way, that’s what makes his Bond ultimately dangerous and oh so slightly sinister. The man that brings violence and destruction is also one of the nicest, charming and friendly looking men you could imagine.
That is absolutely terrifying.
I feel the film that best portrays this quality, which also happens to be my favourite, is The Spy Who Loved Me. A few minutes into Spy, Bond is first introduced to audiences wrapped in furs and a gorgeous lady. Bond then received a transmission from M.
“But James, I need you.”
“So does England.”
Isn’t that nice? There’s nothing like a little patriotism to make British audiences feel all warm and fuzzy.
Bond is then pursued on skis by a group of Russian agents. After a tense few moments, Bond reveals a Union Jack parachute (in a stunt unmatched) after his demise seemed inevitable. Amidst the cheers of the audience, the transformation of Bond from gently necking a lady to British icon is complete in mere minutes. The tone of the film was set: this Bond film was serious in its intent to thrill and surprise film-goers, and Roger Moore (and his cracking team of stuntmen) made it look effortless.
Not since Odd Job in Goldfinger had Bond encountered a henchman as menacing, physically superior and virtually indestructible as Jaws.
He was a man that seemed to be able to ski off a cliff and survive without a parachute. He literally drove off a cliff and survived the fall. Jaws made an already physically unassuming Bond look even less so. It also did not help that Bond also seemed small pitted against a backdrop of the Great Pyramids of Giza while he pursued his metal-toothed foe. Wonderfully shot under the guidance of Director of Photography Claude Renoir, the scenes in Egypt served as an example of some of the most effective and beautiful cinematography in the history of the franchise. Although ultimately Jaws survives and makes his way into the next adventure, Moonraker, it did not necessarily mean that he was not bested by Bond. When Bond does defeat Jaws, it’s with his cunning more than anything: be it by super magnet, electrical current or just by simply ducking out of the way at the right time. While not a physical domination, it’s still just as effective and admittedly much more clever and fun. The witty one-liner simply being, for lack of a better term, the frosting on the cake. Besides, if the first reaction to killing a man is a joke (which is something Moore’s Bond did more frequently than his fellow 007s) be it a coping mechanism or out of sheer misanthropy, does that not ring a little dark?
The seasoned Bond viewer already suspected something special when Q drove into a harbour in Sardinia with a mysterious, sleek white Lotus Esprit. A few scenes later, the Lotus, pursued by Karl Stromberg’s Henchmen, dives into the sea, transforming into Bond’s own personal submarine. After further underwater pursuit and with the rest of the heavies dispatched, the car ascends onto a beach filled with holidaymakers. A small red fish is dropped on the beach along with the onlookers’ jaws. It’s the part of the film (and perhaps of all seven of his films) that best symbolizes the Roger Moore era. The Lotus at that particular point in Bond history was new and did not carry the same level of prestige as say, the Austin Martin DB5- much like Moore himself. The concept of the underwater car is whimsical and not especially serious, again, much like Moore. The Lotus Esprit is very much a symbol of this particular brand of Bond. I’d also like to mention (and I’m pretty sure this is completely true), that a white Lotus emerging from muddy waters was a very common symbol for rebirth and regeneration in Ancient Egypt. I’m sure the connection can be made quite easily.
The film possesses the Bond hallmarks: epic photography, a signature stunt, a menacing villain and a memorable car. Perhaps the most interesting part, though, was the dynamic between Bond and KGB agent Anya Amasova. There’s an apt quote from Moore’s autobiography My Word Is My Bond that resonates a bit.
“Britt [Ekland], in her skimpy bikini and I, ran past the first explosion point… We reached the point of the second explosion but I lost my grip on Britt’s hand and she fell behind. I had two choices: leave her, as the harder-edged Bond probably would, or do what Roger Moore would do, and go back for her. I went back, grabbed her and just before we turned the corner the big bang went off.”
While in context, Moore is writing about The Man With The Golden Gun, the same sentiment applies to The Spy Who Loved Me. The chemistry that exists between Bond and Amasova is built on the consistent and successful attempts at disarming and equaling Bond. A daring concept at the time. Consider the scene where both Amasova and Bond descended upon a nightclub to seek an audience with Kalba and are formally introduced. They both look physically stunning: Bond armed in a sleek double breasted midnight blue tuxedo with a wide collar and flared trousers and Amasova in a gorgeous dark evening gown adorned with glitter and two thigh-high slits.
“ Commander James Bond, recruited to the British Secret Service from the Royal Navy. License to kill and has done so on numerous occasions. Many lady friends but married only once. Wife killed…”
”You’ve made your point.”
”You’re sensitive, Mr. Bond.”
”About some things, yes.”
There’s something to Moore’s delivery of that last line. It’s very subtle, but it’s there: the sad look in his eyes and the tone of his voice. It’s firm, yet melancholy. Moments like these are peppered throughout the film. After the discovery that it was Bond who killed her former lover, Amasova (quite believably) proclaims that upon the completion of the mission she would kill Bond. On the rare occasion Bond needed to seem emotionally vulnerable, which was essential for the chemistry and the premise of the film to work, Moore’s unassuming quality is put to a different but equally effective use here.
Despite the differences with Amasova, rather than dismiss the confrontational agent that the colder and more physical Bonds probably would have done, Moore was persistent in winning her over and saving her life from the webbed grips of Karl Stromberg. When Bond and Amasova are being lowered onto the US submarine, Bond suddenly has an even more amplified sense of confidence and flippancy than he had previously shown in the film. Focused, Moore swiftly paces through the rest of the film while Amasova is kidnapped. Apart from simply completing his mission, his fondness for Amasova gives Bond an extra degree of purpose and determination. With the Liparus (Stromberg’s supertanker) destroyed and the submarines recovered, Bond risks his life, against perhaps his better judgment, to save Amasova from the Atlantis. Moore’s Bond carries a fair bit of weight and development when he confronts and assassinates Stromberg for his crimes. It makes Stromberg’s death and Bond’s victory much more gratifying than simply blowing up the Atlantis. Just as he initially earns Amasova’s affections after defeating Jaws in their train cabin, he earns her trust once more in Stromberg’s escape pod. Strength, loyalty and humility are displayed by a usually egotistical Bond.
What you ultimately get is a movie and a Bond that are as solid as they are grandiose.
The biggest surprise of all, I think, is that despite the franchise and its star beginning to show their age, The Spy Who Loved Me didn’t merely survive or persist, but it thrived. This all in light of the many challenges it faced: falling box office returns, tepid critical reception and Harry Saltzman leaving his post alongside Cubby Broccoli at EON Productions. The film certainly emits a ‘do or die’ spirit. After a rocky genre experimentation period during the first half of the 1970s, Bond seemed to find himself again in The Spy Who Loved Me and Roger Moore found himself inside of Bond – a regeneration of 007. Perhaps it’s why he and I share something in common, as we both often site it as our personal favourite. Bond rediscovered his groove, and I think, second to only Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me played a most significant role in helping the James Bond franchise make it 50 years and beyond. It was the third highest grossing film globally in 1977, after all.
Krissy Myers is a Photographer, Espionage Fan and Cat Enthusiast from Toronto, Canada. She was once referred to as the Annie Lebowitz of Toronto Geekdom, which she thought was pretty cool. She studied Broadcasting and Film at Centennial College and has been a voracious consumer of popular culture from a young age. Krissy also serves as a Co-Host of the Chronic Rift’s “In Review” Podcast. In her spare time she bakes cookies, cosplays and works on her alternate 007 Timeline where James Bond is a Time Lord.
Think about it.
First Bond Movie: Thunderball.
Favorite Bond Actor: HAH!
Favorite Bond Girl: Teresa Di’Vicenzo from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Guilty pleasure goes to Pam Bouvier from Licence To Kill.
How I Discovered #Bond_age_: Through the James Bond tag on Tumblr.
First #Bond_age_ Live Tweet: Strangely enough, The Spy Who Loved Me. How appropriate!