I've written a few of these in the past and they have gone done well so I've given it another stab for TSWLM which i recently re-watched.
Historically speaking 1977 was a difficult time for James Bond. Not only had the 9th Bond film opened to disappointing grosses but Cubby and Harry's professional and personal relationship had also ended. However, more worryingly Bond was becoming more and more culturally obsolete. The spy craze of the '60's had begun to wane and Bond was beginning to look more outdated and hardly relevant with films like 'Jaws', 'Star Wars' and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' filling multiplexes.
Therefore, TSWLM was a really important film for EON moving forward. Cubby had to go for broke because if TSWLM flopped or delivered disappointing returns the Bond franchise would have to end prematurely (though many critics where actively willing the end of the Bond films). In many ways the opening scenes of TSWLM are really one big metaphor: here we witness our title character jumping into the unknown and falling to his presumed death before opening his parachute triumphantly. The scene says a lot and is very much the 'statement piece' of the film. The sequence seems to say that firstly, audiences should not be too quick to write off the Bond flicks just yet, and secondly, it delivers a strong message from Cubby Broccoil and EON going forward. To follow this sequence with Carly Simon singing 'Nobody Does it Better' its clear that the filmmakers are trying to make a statement.
Going into TSWLM Cubby apparently set down the ethos that tonally the film should focus on humour/fantasy/spectacle. I can happily say that Cubby fulfilled the pledge of this tripartite. The film is a great big fun comic-book brought to life, TSWLM is escapism in the best sense of the word. The film really owes less of a debt to Ian Fleming than any of the other Bonds produced at that point (and that is not because it isn't based on any existing source material) but tonally it feels like an evolution. This Bond is very much an 'audience film'; it's not supposed to be consumed in art-houses but in huge multiplexes.
TSWLM was really the first big bonafide Bond blockbuster, there is nothing modest about this film. Out of the earlier Bond films in terms of scope TSWLM could go toe-to-toe with any major blockbuster being produced today. So much is crammed into the movie - we travel to Swiss Alps before going to Egypt and then Sardinia before the big Supertanker showdown. It's a hugely busy film and in many ways it is slightly exhausting to watch. Cubby often talked about 'putting the money on the screen' and it undeniably shows throughout the runtime of the film. Audiences got everything-and-the-kitchen-sink and definitely more than there money's worth with TSWLM.
As stated previously the emphasis here is on spectacle and therefore as a result the plot is slightly threadbare and the characters are never properly fleshed out. The plot seems to be a grab-bag of elements from previous Bond films - we have Bond working with a Russian Spy (FRWL), a mute and deadly assassin, colourful villains (GF) and in many ways director Lewis Gilbert is essentially remaking his previous Bond film (YOLT). But who cares? TSWLM's primary aim is to wow and amaze it's audience which it does tremendously well. Though I did find it difficult to stay engaged throughout the runtime as the plot and characters where quite vaguely sketched and as the Liparus finale rattled on I did find myself getting slightly battle fatigued.
I really enjoyed the first half of the movie which to me felt very much in the vein of some of the best 'romantic espionage fiction' out there. The film is very much a two-hander with a lot of focus spent on both Anya and Bond. Instead of getting the traditional Bond briefing after the credits it is Anya we see getting her mission from her superiors. I really liked the relationship between the pair especially throughout the Egypt segment where the duo go head-to-head with each other. First sizing the other up at the bar before going off to hunt Jaws.
There is something rather romantic and grand about the British and Russian agent both having to go up against each other. Who doesn't want to be swept up by a beautiful Russian spy - it's the stuff that fantasies are made of. Of course 007 and Triple-X eventually iron out their differences to work together. There is something rather Hitchcockian about the whole idea and it plays very well in the film as there is a latent competitiveness that exists between the pair (which is great fun to watch and Roger Moore is clearly having fun with). The relationship between the pair is very much a personification of detente in such troubled time. If we are looking for a political message I guess it would be a rather optimistic one, but really the emphasis here is on her sparky relationship with Bond (I particularly liked the joke about her having stolen the plans to Bond's car some years back).
The only really disappointing thing about Anya is that Barbara Bach's performance is so vacant. She seems to have one permanent expression on her face in a mostly uninspiring and dull performance. It really feels like Roger is doing a lot of the legwork when the pair are on screen together. Anya could have been a great memorable Bond girl and I really feel that with a more inspired performance from another actress Anya could have reached legendary status. Bach looks stunning in a dress but the part is more than mere window-dressing in fact the Anya role is a fantastic one. Anya is very much Bond's equal and comes to his aid a number of times throughout the film. The only scene at the end that betrays her somewhat is when she's tied to the chair but even then I'm convinced she was plotting her way out. I also think Anya at that point had accepted she was going to die and was refusing to show any emotion to Stromberg (emotionless is Bach's speciality).
Moving then on to the villains of the film: TSWLM in my opinion has an excellent rogue's gallery. I love everything about Karl Stromberg. I love his lair, I love his crazy plan, I love his henchmen, his sharks, I love his interior designer etc. Stromberg is a proper high-definition Bond villain, his grand austere dining room is a beautiful contrast to his spider-like headquarters and it's so cool to watch that monstrosity rise from the water. Curt Judgens seems to be having a lot of fun playing such an larger than life character and he has such a good voice and he delivers his lines with great zeal ("I've been expecting you"/"Witness the instruments of armageddon" being particular highlights). It's all a bit silly and cartoonish for sure but it's fun (which seems to be very much the ethos of TSWLM).
People have criticised Stromberg for being a stock Bond villain and while that argument may hold merit, I for one found him fascinating as a character. The man is psychopath and a recluse - he has turned his back on humanity and keeps himself locked away hoping to build a new world under the sea. His Atlantis lair really highlights his reclusive nature away from the world and completely detached from humanity (he refuses to even shake hands with humans). There is also a small moment where you see him eat a bit of fish food; these little details really help sell this guy as a complete psycho. The scene where he strips Anya down to her bra and strokes her face is also unnerving and suitably creepy as the Stromberg's intentions are clearly far from honourable. I also liked Stromberg's nihilistic philosophy as it makes the character totally unreasonable -nothing will stop him from launching those bombs no amount of money or power offered.
Despite this the best villain of the film is Richard Kiel's Jaws. Jaws is a great character and in the end steals the whole show. When you see him clutch on to Roger Moore's face you really get a sense of Kiel's bulking physicality and it can often be rather frightening to witness. The roots of the Jaws character seemingly belong very much within the horror-genre staples. Jaws is essentially a sadistic brute who derives great pleasure from killing people in a such a macabre and unusual way. His presence alone on-screen is genuinely menacing and frightening and I can only imagine children watching the film would likely have nightmares. Jaws really belongs to the great tradition of movie-monsters from cinematic history (just watch the way he rips that van apart, the guy's a beast). The character seems to be the perfect combination of a bear and a shark with a healthy dose of Count Dracula for good measure.
Jaws's introduction in the film during the Pyramid light show is fantastic and possibly the best segment of the movie. It's a strange and slightly hypnotic moment in the film. It is truly rather frightening to see this guy throw Fekkish into a wall before administering the fatal bite. Jaw's later reappearances seem to be best example of Cubby's infamous 'bumps'. Cubby believed that the audience should never be allowed to languish and instead every 10-15 minutes 'bumps' should be introduced that shock and excite them. Jaws turns up at odd times in the story to really add a bit of extra excitement and spectacle. I loved his killing of Max Kalba which is fantastically unsettling and the editing in the scene is very well done. The Egyptian maze sequence is also brilliant and made me jump several times. Jaws's final confrontation with Bond in the corridor in Atlantis is great and the dark moody lighting on his Kiel's face really hint at the character's horror roots.
There is a common complaint that Jaws becomes too comic at certain points in the story and maybe there is something to that. However, I don't think you can point to the scene where he drops the rock on his foot as the first indicator as the character has a latent comic quality running throughout the film: Jaws despite Bond's best efforts keeps coming back every time he gets foiled by 007 he simply dusts off his jacket and returns, rinse and repeat. Essentially the conceit of the character and what the film chooses to do with him is silly but ...(all together now)...fun.
You may ask where then is Roger Moore in all of this? He is after all James Bond himself. I think Roger is great in the film and gives a marvellous turn. His Bond for me is really the perfect embodiment of the gentleman spy. A perfect moment that sums this up is when Bond is racing around the Egyptian maze in a pristine dinner-jacket with a Walther PPK in hand. When Roger discusses the best year for Dom Perignon you believe him. However, I can't help but feel the more colourful villains, the special effects, the production design, the locations, etc somewhat bury any performance given by the actor. His performance isn't the main attraction and nor is he the most memorable thing. Bond seems to slowly become the glue that strings together all the action, locations and spectacle than a character in his own right. So while Roger's name is front-and-centre on the poster for the film it would seem that the real stars of the show are the behind-the-scenes guys like Ken Adam and Derek Meddings.
Despite this Roger does give a good turn and it's also nice to see Bond have an arc in this movie. Typically Bond begins the film in a certain state and ends in much the same state. Here we see Bond meet a beautiful Russian spy, despite both working against each other they soon come together and maybe even fall in love. Later it is revealed that he killed her previous partner on a mission. Bond reads Anya informs Anya of the rules of the game and telling her he had no choice but to kill her lover. Anya soon turns her back on him and vows to kill him once the mission is over. Despite this Bond still goes back to save her once she is kidnapped by the villain potentially risking his own life and the success of the mission. Later when Atlantis is being bombed Bond is able to escape and Anya is able to forgive Bond. It's a strong arc and it's good to see Bond gain a meaningful connection with someone that actually feels genuine.
Bond himself and never more so than with Roger Moore, is very much a character the audience is meant to sit and envy. He always gets the girls, has the best suits and cars and in many ways vicariously we live through Bond on the big-screen. But an important element of his character is that he is inherently heroic - Bond runs into the chaos to search for answers and that is a trait that we the audience love and respect about him. Bond has never been more of a 'hero' than in the Roger Moore era. The other actors played Bond with slight more ambiguity but throughout the Moore films Bond was often portrayed as the man riding in on the white horse. Which is by no means a bad thing.
Now on to the finale....and what a finale. While the previous hour and a half have been very much in the 'romantic espionage' wheelhouse the final act is something of a tonal shift as we go into all out siege/war movie. Ken Adams set is truly amazing, it has a real palpable sense of wealth and space and it's beautifully designed with its shiny surfaces and eerie globes. Derek Medding's effects work is through the roof; I really can't count the amount of times my jaw was open watching the finale. If your going to do something that is pure spectacle you do it like this. Furthermore, only on the Bond films would they built the biggest set of all time only to blow it up (several times over). The finale has a number of great moments both big and small - it's a clever move of Gilbert and co. to juxtapose between the large-scale action setpieces in the Liparus base before having quieter and tenser moments like Bond detaching the detonator and reprogramming the submarines.
Another great moment comes in the car chase segment which is very well orchestrated. Some of the camera framing and compositions in this segment are so ambitious and brilliant. For instance take the moment the Lotus hits the water - within frame you can see the helicopter shooting at the car as it touches the water. There are a number of similar shot throughout this segment that I think really define what great 'Action' photography should look like. The segment is very much a re-do of the 'Goldfinger' Aston Martin chase but this time it's much more fun and slightly more self-aware. But it works very well mainly because the effects are taking it no less seriously than they would any other sequence and for this reason it works excellently and likely avoids the realm of pastiche.
The slight misogyny on show throughout the film is a slightly puzzling and worrying thing. Why does every woman want to get with Bond? Can't he find one who doesn't? Most of the double-entendres in the script are crass and more often than not are just straight-up entendres, eg: M's opening line telling him to "pull out" of his mission being one of the many offences. Furthermore, despite the fact that Anya is one of the best secret agents in the world she's still a woman and therefore still a shit driver (Bond is a real asshole in this scene to make matters worse). Sadly, this element is not exclusive to TSWLM and marred the Moore era heavily. When Judi Dench branded Bond a 'sexist misogynist dinosaur' she was likely referring to the lecherous and groan-worthy Roger Moore films. Being a bonafide fan of the Moore years always feels like such an apologetic and guilty enterprise.
As I stated earlier Ken Adman's sets are fantastic throughout the film - I particularly loved Gogol's office with the ominous chair in the background, Stromberg's lounge and also the MI6 Egyptian base. The supporting performances are also very good with special shout-outs going to Walter Gotell and Bernard Lee. Sadly, Lois Maxwell's is a near non-entity in this film and Moneypenny is left with 2 brief scenes and maybe 3 lines in total. I would love to know why her part was so chopped this time out (it likely has something to do with just how busy the rest of the film is). Marvin Hamlisch's score is a bit hit and miss. The disco stuff is terribly dated but it does have a tendency to actually be rather fantastic at times; it's definitely kitsch but there is something enjoyable in that. Christopher Wood's dialogue as stated isn't great and often is slightly cringeworthy. On the other hand, Claude Renoir's photography is stunning. The defining element of all Gilbert's films has been their great photography. The movie has a marvellous filmic look and the Egyptian segments and the Liparus and Atlantis finale particularly stand-out (apparently the great Stanley Kubrick had a hand in lighting the set too).
So in summary, 1977 was an important year for the Bond brand and it's really not surprising that the audience responded so well to TSWLM. It seems like a film that is very eager to please; it ticks all the 'Bond' boxes. Cubby most definitely achieves his goal and really delivered his pledge of humour, fantasy and spectacle. The action is memorable and it's clear that every penny is very much 'on the screen'. The film may not boast much originality in terms of plot or character but's fun and escapist in a great comic-book fashion even if not that engaging. For the more lavish Bond entries TSWLM is still the gold standard.