Husband and I often say this is the best Bond film. Best not in terms of realism or a has a gripping plot. It’s the best film in terms of peak cheesiness. In a way, it’s the best because it’s the worst – skiing, sharks, helicopters, an underwater car, a beautiful Russian spy – it’s full on from start to finish.
Someone is stealing submarines. They have stolen one from the USSR and one the UK. Who has the resources to do this? And who does the UK call to investigate?
It’s Bond, of course. He leaves a woman in bed to answer the call of duty. “But James I need you,” she whines piteously. “So does England,” he replies before leaving the ski cabin only to be set upon by Russian agents. Cue a stunning ski chase that is nominally in Austria (but was filmed in Canada) with a dramatic ending that takes us into the theme tune.
Ah, the theme tune. This is a great one – Carly Simon “Nobody Does it Better”. It’s not the kind of Bond tune that we’ve come to expect but it’s a great song. The drifting piano, the wistful introductory vocals, then the drums signal a great swooping melodic confection. Oh, I love it. The opening credits have a series of gymnasts doing gymnasticky things and some women in Russian type outfits (well, Russian hats; the women are not wearing clothes, obviously, this is a Bond film opening credits after all) all interacting with a Bond type figure and guns.
Yes, this film marks a thawing of East-West relations as Bond has to work with one of the USSR’s top agents. We’re introduced to this agent in an early scene, when the KGB says it will put one of its best agents on the case of the missing submarine. Cut to a man and woman in bed together. There’s a call and… wait, the woman is the top agent? Of course she is! This is the USSR, which provides equality of opportunities for women. (A side note – General Gogol’s office is incredibly stark and empty. I am sure whatever was going on in the USSR at that time, the Head of the KGB would have had a much better equipped office.)
Woman: And here is Bond’s opposite number from the other side – Major Anya Amasova. Whip smart, well trained and focused on her mission. She probably doesn’t even care that her designation is “Triple X”. She respectfully addresses Q by his correct title of Major Boothroyd, and is always one step ahead of Bond. (“I stole the blueprints for this car two years ago.”) And when the mission is over, she will kill him, because it transpires that during that big ski scene at the beginning, Bond killed Amasova’s lover and she must avenge him. But first they must thwart the villain.
*spoilers coming* The villain here is Stromberg, a man obsessed by the sea and life underwater. And his villainous plot is to destroy life on land by starting World War III. For this he needs some submarines from which he can fire nuclear weapons s at major cities on both sides. While the armies above the waterline battle it out, he will set up a new civilisation in his underwater world of Atlantis. Side note: I’m not sure the science bears out this plot – in the instance of nuclear war and a following nuclear winter, there would be dramatic changes to the state of the world’s oceans and currents. Also – small hindrance to establishing a new civilisation – he has no women in Atlantis, apart from a kidnapped Major Amasova.)
The film’s exotic locations are Canada (appearing as Austria), Cairo and Luxor in Egypt, and Sardinia, with underwater scenes filmed at Nassau in the Bahamas. Cairo, like Istanbul in an earlier film, looks remarkably uncrowded. Through the film, we get a sneak peek at the sound and light show at the Pyramids; and a chase around the temple at Luxor pursued by Stromberg’s killer henchman, Jaws, a huge mountain of a man with metal teeth. However also in Cairo, we see Bond, dressed in full Lawrence of Arabia regalia, riding a camel out to meet his former university friend who seems to have a Bedouin camp somewhere out by the Pyramids. Bond is keen to get back to the city (and the pyramids are in the suburbs of Cairo, so it’s not far) but his friend insist he stay the night, and *clicks fingers*, here, if you stay the night you can have this woman. Bond looks keen on this idea but I’m thinking – UGH! What kind of life does this woman have, being passed about from man to man whenever her ‘owner’ has guests?
Any readers who have been to Egypt may recall the amount of bargaining that goes on for the most simple of transactions. Certainly it was the bane of my time there, having to argue for 10 minutes for something simple. So it’s impressive that Bond and Amasova just leap onto a felucca without any negotiation. That would never happen.
Also, the film’s producers are quite flexible with Egypt’s geography. Cairo, Luxor, Abu Simbel and the Temple of Horus at Edfu – these are all featured as part of the one scene when they are geographically spread out across a big country. But if you’ve never been, it does give you a short whizz-bang tour of some of the country’s main historical sites.
There’s another big chase scene involving a Lotus, a helicopter, motorcycles and a car. They make all of this effort but they still can’t catch Bond. Still, Sardinia looks like a nice place for a holiday.
There is limited spycraft on this film. It’s reduced to gimmicky gadgets – the messaging watch, the underwater car. The most realistic piece of spyware is Amasova’s dosed cigarette – she blows the powder in Bond’s face and he’s rendered unconscious. (A lucky outcome for him, knowing the Russians’ skill with poisons and nerve agents).
A few general observations:
- Is smoking still permitted in a submarine? The footage of the crew in the British submarine sitting around smoking just seemed wrong. You’re in a small mechanical box and you’re underwater – do you really want to be smoking in that environment?
- Helicopter pilots must train for years to become proficient and helicopters are expensive. So why do crazed villains insist on blowing them up? Surely there’s a better way to get rid of your enemies than blowing them up in a helicopter (along with the pilot). If I were a helicopter pilot, I would be particular about who I was working for and avoid taking any jobs with a crazed meglomaniac.
Overall this film is entertaining and ridiculous and despite my criticisms here, still a favourite.
Film epilogue: I see Major Amasova advancing through the ranks of the KG up until the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s. She made some clever but not 100% scrupulous investments during the privatisation of industry, enough to set her up for retirement. She lives in a villa in Cyprus and stays away from anything political. She’s that well groomed woman with the bug sunglasses you’ve seen waking her wolfhounds.