Both the tenth novel and the tenth movie of Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, there has perhaps never been quite the gap between a 007 book and film in the history of the either franchise. The book was published in 1962, a year after the immensely successful entry Thunderball, and is one of the most sexually provocative and violent of the entire series. Unfortunately, it is also the book that is perhaps looked at as one of the worst of the series, and really only features James Bond as a side character that doesn’t show up until the last third of the novel.
Even Ian Fleming hated the book, and critics and fans followed suit. Fleming’s disappointment was so passionate that he even forbade Hollywood from ever adapting its story into a film. The title though, was not off limits, and when the 007 movie franchise was at its lowest point, it was The Spy Who Loved Me that gave the series the jumpstart it needed.
The tale behind the movie version of The Spy Who Loved Me is nearly the exact opposite of its novel. Sean Connery, perhaps the most popular actor in the world at the time, had left the franchise two movies earlier, and Roger Moore’s second outing, The Man with The Golden Gun was one of the least successful entries in the franchise’s history. The Spy Who Loved Me was also the first film to be solely produced by Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who had broken off his relationship with his producing partner, Harry Saltzman, so this would be a huge risk to his career.
Fortunately for all involved, The Spy Who Loved Me can be counted as one of the most successful outings that James Bond ever made. Released in 1977, the film was an unqualified success, capitalizing on the escapist needs of a public that hungered for films like Star Wars and Jaws, with 007 was able to deliver in a way he really hadn’t since the film version of Thunderball. While the film’s box office was eclipsed by Moonraker two years later, many regard this film as Roger Moore’s best outing and one of the best films of the entire franchise.
Delegating James Bond to the background of this story, the novel revolves around a Canadian woman named Vivienne Michel, with the book almost being a diary of the events of her life. It’s mostly a sad tale of her going from one man to another, with Michel constantly being betrayed by the men she puts her trust in. She eventually wants to go to America, but has to work in a little motel called The Dreamy Pines Motor Court for a few months in order to pay her way. That is until on the last night of the tourist season when two gangsters named “Sluggsy” Morant and Sol “Horror” Horowitz show to destroy the motel and kill the girl in the process.
Everything is pretty dire for the girl, when in walks a man who asks for a room, saying that his car broke down not far from the motel. The man, of course, ends up being none other than James Bond, in Canada looking for agents of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. after foiling Operation Thunderball in his previous adventure. Seeing what is going on, 007 takes it upon himself to try and protect Michel from the two villains. In a series of gun battles, Bond must try to dispatch the villains and help Michel make it through the night.
When someone begins hijacking nuclear submarines from the world’s superpowers, Her Majesty’s Secret Service sends James Bond (Roger Moore) to investigate. His mission leads him to a man name Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a man obsessed with undersea life, and who plans to use the nuclear missiles to start a World War and destroy the continents of Earth so that life under the oceans will rule the world once more. To help him carry out his plan, Stromberg employs the help of two henchmen, a short, but muscular man named Sandor (Milton Reid), and the giant, steel-toothed villain, Jaws (Richard Kiel). With these two, Stromberg intends to kill all in his path, until he is able to carry out his nefarious plans. Only Bond can stop their terrible plot.
Helping 007 out is Russian Agent XXX, the alluring Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach). Adding tension and sensuality to the picture, we’re never 100% that XXX will not betray Bond, but that’s part of the fun. In the meantime, the duo fights the forces of evil from the Pyramids of Egypt to a giant supertanker, to Stromberg’s underwater lair, trying to save the world from the megalomaniac’s malevolent plan. In one of Bond’s biggest adventures, the world’s favorite Secret Agent must go to the ends of the Earth in able to save it from nuclear disaster.
Differences and Similarities:
Well as you can see the plot for both the film and novel versions of The Spy Who Loved Me
are as different as can be, but there are some similarities here and there. Though the Bond producers were unable to get the rights to the story of The Spy Who Loved Me
, they did like some elements from the story and decided to include them. First and foremost were the book’s two villains, Sluggsy and Horror. The two were so striking and hideous that the 007 team wanted to include them in the film version as well, but this was expressly forbidden in Ian Fleming’s contract. Thankfully, a compromise was reached, and the two were renamed Sandor and Jaws. Jaws would then become one of the most famous villains in the entire series.
Other than that, the film can really be considered the first of the Bond films to be an original concept, instead of just being based on an Ian Fleming novel. Surprisingly, despite this divergence, the film is highly successful for a couple of reasons. First, Roger Moore was able to finally step outside of Sean Connery’s shadow and make the role his own for the first time. In his previous two outings, there was a determined effort to make Moore fit the mold Connery had already laid out, which simply made him look awkward. In The Spy Who Loved Me
, Moore’s Bond finally gets a life of his own, letting the actor’s easy going personality and dry wit shine through in a way he was never able to before. As a result, with the added humor The Spy Who Loved Me
becomes a film adventure with a breezy, lighter than air feeling, similar to Star Wars
and Raiders of the Lost Ark
The second reason for the film’s success is its relentless action sequences, which I believe are still some of the best ever filmed. This goes especially for the film’s pre-credits sequence, which features a man skiing off a mountain. Other sequences include Bond’s Lamborghini turning into a submarine to do battle with a Stromberg’s villainess in a helicopter, as well as the full out assault of the villain’s supertanker and undersea fortress at the end of the film.
While perhaps a good book, but a poor 007 one, the film version of The Spy Who Loved Me
is my favorite over all. With terrific action and stunts, imposing villains, loads of humor, a dozen sexy Bond Girls, and Roger Moore at his absolute best, the film is a wonderful example of the 007 formula working on all cylinders. Ian Fleming may have hated his book, but at least there was still enough there that it was able to add some of the best elements to its movie counterpart.