Mel and I married in April, so now the mission is to get my good lady wife to like the Bond movies. We had a fantastic wedding, and we were even lucky enough to get a sunny day in the Lake District.
Here’s a photograph of me delighting my beautiful bride and all our guests with my speech on the big day:
This month we sit down and watch The Spy Who Loved Me. Will Mel agree that nobody does it better? As a homage to Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name, in which the great novelist wrote an adventure with Bond from a female perspective, Mel has agreed to write this blog entry. This experiment lasts for the first four minutes and fifty-eight seconds of the film.
I’m looking at Mel’s notes for the first few minutes of the film. The first thing that she’s written is ‘geek smile’; I think in relation to the gun barrel sequence. Then she’s jotted down my revelation that this is my second favourite Roger Moore film, after Live and Let Die.
The notes continue with:
2 mins 30 – Mark hasn’t said a word!
Hairy back – ugh!
The 70s must have been a great time, when having a hairy back wasn’t seen as taboo. On our honeymoon in Mexico most of the American chaps there had completely hairless torsos. Bizarre. I kept reminding Mel of Sean Connery’s classic line in You Only Live Twice, “bird never make nest in bare tree.”
I tell Mel there’s a lovely bit for the feminists here when it turns that Russia’s top agent is… a woman!
Mel says, “He will end up sleeping with her and it will totally over-rule any power that they’ve given to a woman in this.”
In his genuinely charming volume Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan (Splendid Books, 2012) Mark O’Connell says, “Providing a Bond girl on equal spy standing to James is a story novelty the film toys with from the start. A pre-title hairy-backed Roger lookalike is possibly top Soviet agent Major Amasova in flagrant with a minor Soviet squeeze – until it quickly transpires said squeeze is Amasova and he is merely a KGB foot soldier… From here on in, Spy enjoys its play of East meets West and man versus woman. In the scant instances when ‘gender equality’ really is on the Bond agenda, the movies trip over the abandoned high heels and bikini tops their feminist detractors dictate it leaves behind.”
I put this to Mel and she says, “Women can be sexy and feminine. I wear bikinis and high heels, make-up and shave my legs. Some people would say that makes me a slave to male attraction, but what bothers me as a woman is the portrayal of women as being weak, sexualised objects only, and being undermined. True feminists give women the choice of being feminine in the traditional sense and look at the bigger picture of how women are set up politically, socially and economically. ”
Mel hands over the pad and pen, explaining that writing is getting in the way of watching the film. She opens a packet of crisps and sits back to watch.
“Does he sleep with her?”
I tell her no spoilers. She’ll have to watch the story unfold as the talented writers of James Bond intended.
Meanwhile Great Britain’s top agent is in bed with a lady in Austria. He’s soon called away by an urgent message from M.
“But, James, I need you!” cries the disappointed lady.
“So does England, darling.”
I suspect my ‘geek smile’ may have just returned. Mel rolls her eyes.
That’s an awesome line and you can’t deny it, I tell her.
A bunch of Russian agents give chase as Bond leaves the chalet, having been tipped off by his duplicitous lover.
“I’d like us to go skiing… not that Roger Moore is really skiing there.”
All seems lost when 007 skis off the end of a cliff into an enormous chasm. His skis fall off and he tumbles through the air. Eventually, when all seems lost, a Union flag parachute unfurls to the strains of the Bond theme. Mel doesn’t react. It’s times like this I wonder if the mission is doomed to failure.
Bond meets up with Sir Frederick, Admiral Hargreaves and Q. The latter is wearing a particularly natty ensemble.
“That’s a suit isn’t it? Bloody hell.”
We meet Karl Stromberg, a rich industrialist who has constructed a sea base called Atlantis. He kills his secretary for selling a copy of his submarine-detection system by feeding her to his shark. Shortly afterwards he blows up a helicopter, with the two scientists who have designed the system for him, aboard.
“He likes murdering people, doesn’t he?”
I ask Mel if she’d rather be killed by being eaten by a shark or blown up in a helicopter?
Why? The helicopter would be instant.
“I like the quickness of the explosion with the drama of a shark attack.”
So if the shark killed you instantly…?
“Yeah. I’d be a coward with a cool legacy.”
Bond travels to Egypt, then takes a camel to meet Sheikh Hosein, an old chum from Cambridge. The sheikh provides the name Fekkesh, a potential buyer for a copy of the submarine tracking system. Bond wants to crack on and find Fekkesh, but a woman appears holding a rose.
“Minging. Here’s a girl for you to sleep with.”
“Are you sure I can’t persuade you?” asks Hosein.
“…of course you can,” answers Mel.
Bond says, “When one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures.”
“Urgh. He’s quite old and wrinkly.”
I ask Mel how old she thinks Sir Roger is here.
I reckon he’s 49 here. I don’t tell her we’re not even halfway through his run as 007 yet.
“All those innuendos are the most off-putting thing you can do.”
In a seduction situation?
“No. All the time.”
Upon arriving at Fekkesh’s house, another woman tries to seduce Bond.
“He doesn’t have to sleep with everyone.”
He hasn’t slept with her yet.
“He needs to see someone. There’s something wrong with him, Mark. He can’t keep it in his pants. Filthy dog.”
Bond arrives at Giza, where the sound and light show is being performed.
“That’s like at Karnak Temple,” says Mel.
I agree, I think it’s the same voice as the evening show there. We went to Luxor for a holiday in 2008.
With Fekkesh dead at the hands of ruthless hit man Jaws, Bond and Amasova each follow the trail to a club in Cairo.
“That’s a very revealing dress.”
Anya displays her knowledge of Bond by reciting his history, and mentions he was married once.
I ask Mel what she thinks.
The first reference to Bond’s wife since her death in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?
“I know. I hope you’d talk about me all the time if something happened. Never stop yakking.”
Jaws kills Max Kalba and takes the microfilm of the submarine location system designs. Bond and Anya climb into the back of his van as he drives off. Anya falls asleep against 007.
“That horrible face! Like, ‘Mmmmm, I fancy myself more than I fancy her.'”
After driving all night, Jaws and the two secret agents arrive at Karnak Temple. I ask Mel if she recognises it.
“Yes. I do.”
I reveal that this scene was playing through my mind when we visited. Of course it was a lot more crowded when we were there.
“It’s supposed to be like this now though.”
We heard a report a little while ago on Radio 4 that said since the revolution the number of visitors had dropped dramatically.
After a fight with Jaws, 007 and XXX get back to Jaws’ van. Bond has previously taken the keys from the ignition, and very slowly selects the correct one so that Anya can drive, even as Jaws begins tearing the vehicle apart.
“What is he doing?!?”
As they try and escape, Bond lightens the mood with some comments about Anya’s driving.
“What a patronising bastard.”
The agents take a boat back to Cairo. Bond turns the charm on, but Anya wants a cigarette…
“Leave her alone. She doesn’t want your germs.”
… The cigarette is a gadget though, and a puff of powder renders Bond unconscious.
“‘Ha! Good lass.”
Bond wakes up and makes his way to a secret MI6 base in a pyramid. Inside he finds General Gogol, Major Amasova and M. Both sides have agreed to work together. Bond gives Anya a suggestive smile at the prospect of them working together. Anya doesn’t react at first then smile coyly. She is still a woman after all.
“He’s going to play some trick to get her into bed.”
He’s James Bond. He doesn’t need tricks!
“Look at that smarmy face he’s pulling.”
Aboard the train Jaws is in Anya’s closet. It really makes Mel jump and she gasps.
Bond tries to fight Jaws off with a wooden board, which the henchman simply bites into.
I point out that he’s literally chewing the scenery.
As Bond comforts his Russian counterpart after throwing Jaws out of the train window, Mel’s eye is drawn to Moore’s eyes. He’s got so many wrinkles… you’re starting to get those.”
They’re just laughter lines, darling.
At the hotel, the pair check in as Mr and Mrs Sterling. The lady on the check-in desk seems quite taken with Bond.
“That’s ridiculous! She thinks that’s his wife. If a check-in girl was like that with you I’d go mad.”
The woman in question is of course Valerie Leon. In Catching Bullets Mark O’Connell has pioneered the term ‘Leon Lovely’: “Coined in honour of Dame Screen Crumpet herself, Valerie Leon – veteran of Bond, Hammer Horror and the Carry On films. The lady all passing ladies in James Bond films are to be judged by. Not to be confused with a leading lady.”
It’s not long before another girl is looking approvingly at Bond: Stromberg’s assistant, Naomi.
“Look at him, giving her the eye. And he’s just slept with the other one. Now she’s jealous! If you treated me like that, I would just dump you. They undermine her [Anya] by saying that she’s on a par with him as a spy at the beginning but they have to give him the upper hand and support male supremacy. By showing that they’re both sexual beings, but he’s portrayed as not being affected emotionally and she is. That undermines her and makes her weaker.”
Stromberg’s dining room has huge windows looking out into the ocean. I ask Mel what this reminds her of.
More specifically? in a Bond movie? Dr. No’s lair?
She can’t remember it.
Stromberg tests Bond’s knowledge of fish. He correctly identifies this specimen:
“Handsome, but deadly,” says Bond.
He could almost be describing himself couldn’t he? I suggest to Mel.
“No! He should have said, ‘See the little slimy fish who talks like a freak and that’s trying to rub itself up against all the other ones? That’s me that is.'”
Meanwhile Stromberg is pointing out how great the sea is, and points out this view:
“There! That’s the James Bond fish! Trying to hump a turtle.”
Back on dry land Bond and Anya are driving away in the Lotus Esprit, when they are attacked by a pursuing car, motorbike with rocket-launching sidecar and Naomi in her helicopter.
Bond asks, “Ever get the feeling someone doesn’t like you?”
“I don’t like you,” Mel answers.
As the battle intensifies, Bond has to drive the car off the end of a pier, into the sea. I was hoping Mel would be surprised when it transforms into a submarine.
“No. I knew as soon as I saw it. It’s really famous.”
Anya discovers that it was 007 who killed the man she loved in the ski-fight just three weeks ago.
“No more slap and tickle. I like that somebody was questioning him on something he’s done, and he was a little bit frightened of her.”
What do you think about how quickly she’s moved on? her lover was only killed three weeks ago, and now she’s sleeping with Bond?
“Well, she didn’t love him did she? She’s a bit of a tramp. If you died it would take me longer than three weeks.”
Bond and Anya board an American submarine, which is then swallowed by Stromberg’s ship. I ask Mel is this reminds her of anything.
No. Well, yes. But I actually meant the SPECTRE rocket that swallowed the other rockets in You Only Live Twice.
When the seamen are expelled from the submarine, Anya is wearing a cap as a disguise.
“If they’re trying to pass her off as a man, I’d wipe the lip gloss off.”
Stromberg outlines his plan. The submarine tracking system was all about capturing nuclear subs and provoking a nuclear war between the USA and the Soviet Union. He wants nothing more than to destroy all life on Earth and start a new civilisation under the sea. I point out that the stakes have never been higher!
“But why does he want to do that?”
Um. He just really likes the sea I think.
The battle rages between the liberated submariners and Stromberg’s private army, with casualties on both sides.
“No blood. Not a drop.”
That’s good, I say, it means that these can be shown on a Saturday afternoon for the whole nation to sit down as a family and enjoy.
It’s down to Bond to disarm a nuclear bomb. I explain that Bond must have taken a training course at work to learn how to do this after finding he couldn’t deactivate Goldfinger’s bomb in Fort Knox.
“I think he’s an arrogant man who won’t admit when he doesn’t know something.”
Bond climbs aboad the large spherical camera that the villains are using to keep an eye on the sailors, and rides it to the shutters protecting the control room.
“He looks like the man with the 10-stone testicle,” points out Mel, referring to a documentary she watched on Channel 4 a while ago. I thought it looked like a load of old bollocks.
Mel suddenly wonders, “Who is Roger Moore married to? Pause it. I need to Google this now.”
We pause the DVD and Mel searches on her phone. She looks up sharply from the screen. “Why does ‘Roger Moore spousal abuse’ come up as an option when you type his name in?”
(Photo from Daily Mail website)
“He’s on his fourth wife! At least she’s old. I’m glad she’s not some twenty-odd year-old. That would piss me off.”
She follows up the link about spousal abuse, reading out from this story, “Sir Roger Moore was beaten up by his first two wives… Awwww. I feel I’ve been harsh. Poor Roger… his wife threw a teapot at him… ‘He told Piers Morgan: “she would scratch me.”‘ I feel really sorry for him.”
I’m pleased that Mel is starting to like Moore a little more, but the revelation that he appeared on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories makes me think less of him. I can only imagine that living in Switzerland he hadn’t already seen the programme before he was booked.
On the screen Bond is riding a jet-ski to Atlantis to rescue Anya before the Americans blow it up. Stromberg is surprised that a British agent is in love with a Russian.
“Who said anything about love?!” Mel exclaims.
Bond shoots Stromberg several times.
“That was gruesome. I liked it.”
Bond then has to tackle Jaws again. He does so by dropping the metal-toothed killer in with a shark. Which he promptly wrestles into submission and then kills by biting it.
“Oh my God.”
The Yanks torpedo Atlantis. Bond and Amasova just manage to get away in an escape pod. It looks like the Major is about to carry out her threat to kill Bond after the mission, when she pulls a gun on him. After a tense moment, she relents and kisses him instead.
“Oh my God. Are you serious? Do you remember right at the outset when you said this has the flag flying high for feminism and I made a prediction?”
“I said all of that would be undermined by the fact that she would sleep with him? Well, I think it’s gone further than that. She showed some backbone when she was like, ‘You killed the person that I loved. And after this I will kill you.’ But now she’s all like, ‘Ooooh sleep with me.’ And that stupid little-girl smile.”
A ship with M, Q and Gogol comes alongside the escape pod. The shocked officials see their agents in bed together in the escape pod.
Mel will Return…. Watching Moonraker
The Spy Who Loved Me original theatrical trailer:
Order The Spy Who Loved Me on DVD from Amazon:
Order Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan by Mark O’Connell from Amazon: