Well, it’s starting to get a bit silly now. Lewis Gilbert is back as director, and in fact this film shares many plot elements with his previous Bond (You Only Live Twice). But like that movie, the sense of size and scale blows you away – what were presumably written as simple offices are cavernous, detailed spaces, while the interior of the baddie’s super-ship is something else. Amazingly, given the era these films were made in, this is only the second Soviet-tinged story in 10 films. It’s enjoyable enough for the most part, though runs out of steam with a ‘climax’ coming about 30 minutes too early, and it’s fun to spot lots of familiar faces in small roles: George Baker, Shane Rimmer, The Sandbaggers’ Bob Sherman, UFO’s Michael Billington, Nadim Sawalha, Cyril Shaps, Jeremy Bulloch… Seven Union Jack parachutes out of 10.
Bond: He wears his naval uniform for the second time (another similarity with You Only Live Twice). It’s good to see Bond’s occasional cruel streak: a bad guy is hanging off a roof, holding onto 007’s tie, so Bond flicks his hand clear and lets him fall. We get the first post-Lazenby reference to Tracy’s death.
Villains: Stromberg is an arch-villain in the mode of Goldfinger or Largo, with seemingly inexhaustible funds and a love of killing people in melodramatic ways. His chief henchman in 7’2”, metal-teethed, mute Jaws.
Girls: The female lead is Soviet agent Anya Amasova (whose codename – Agent XXX – is like something out of Confessions of a Russian Spy). She’s played, poorly, by Barbara Bach. Anya’s a spy with an agenda, who double-crosses Bond and outsmarts him in a joint briefing session – nominally a meaty role. Yet Bach seems bored most of the time, and there’s no sparkle in the performance. The subplot of Bond having killed her lover in an earlier mission should carry massive emotional weight, but sadly doesn’t really go anywhere. Elsewhere, Bond has a pre-titles blonde bunk-up; 70s strumpet Valerie Leon plays a saucy receptionist; Stromberg has a dinner date who he then feeds to a shark; and Bond visits as Egyptian harem (“When one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures…”). The highlight of the movie – of the series, of the genre, of *cinema* – is Caroline Munro, who plays minxy helicopter pilot Naomi. A more palpable display of sexiness is difficult to imagine – she sashays through her few scenes with a come-hither look in her eye and a body that the bikini was invented for. Phwoar.
Regulars: M, Moneypenny and Q all go out into the field – and are inexplicably based in an excavated pharaoh’s tomb. Q also brings Bond’s new super car to Sardinia, where Anya calls him Major Boothroyd. Actor Robert Brown appears as a British admiral – he later took over the role of M, and I’m choosing to believe this naval dude was promoted to M’s position. We meet for the first time some characters who will crop up a lot over the next few films: British Minister of Defense Sir Fredrick Gray, KGB bigwig General Gogol, and Gogol’s secretary. There’s also a wine-drinking guy on the beach who does a double take when Bond does something outrageous – the same extra will be back doing the same thing in the next two movies.
Action: There’s some truly excellent model work of submarines and ships. A great ski chase is capped by the famous jump off a cliff. Bond and Anya have a barney with Jaws – a building collapses on the latter and he’s fine (the first in a series of times he survives illogically). Jaws then starts to rip apart the van they’re in. We get the series’s third train-carriage brawl. A good chase through the Sardinian hills involves cars, bikes, trucks, gadgets, and Caroline Munro winking from behind the controls of her helicopter – and ends with the outrageous moment when Bond drives his Lotus into the sea and it turns into a mini-sub. There’s also a massive battle with dozens of extras in Stromberg’s supership, and Bond’s final punch-up with Jaws (the latter falls into the shark pool: the shark loses).
Comedy: We get a lot of groansome puns or quips, with little of the bite or attitude of the early 70s’ movies. Although credited to two writers, the script was apparently worked on by a dozen or so people at various points – including Tom Mankiewicz, John Landis and Anthony Burgess. Mankiewizc claimed to have rewritten the shooting script, uncredited for a backhander; if true, it’s his weakest work on the series. Especially sigh-inducing moments include Bond dangling a fish out of his car window as he drives out of the sea, and the double-take drunkard. The last gag of the film is when James’s bosses catch him bedding Agent XXX. “Bond, what do you think you’re doing?” “Keeping the British end up, sir.” Humour-wise, nothing in the film beats Alan Partridge’s summary of the first few minutes.
Music: The title song, sung by Carly Simon, is first class. Disco beats pepper Marvin Hamlish’s score to great effect, while the incidental music also goes all Carry On when Bond and Anya break down in the desert, then later quotes Lawrence of Arabia.
People I’ve met: In 2003, I interviewed Caroline Munro. The following year, I worked with Edward de Souza, who plays Bond’s Egypt-based contact Hosein.