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The Spy Who Loved Me

This book cover is just about the funniest Bond cover I’ve ever seen. Especially the guy dancing with the tv. It makes the book seem so Big and Exciting! Which it just isn’t.

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1962)

Written by: Ian Fleming

(This book cover is just about the funniest of all the Bond covers. Especially the guy dancing with the tv.)
This is where things start to really fall apart for Ian Fleming. He’s experimented a little bit with his prose before (From Russia With Love being the best of these experiments), but never this much. The Spy Who Loved Me is all told in the first person…from the point of view of a woman. It’s broken into three parts: Me, Them and Him. My guess going in is that Bond is not even mentioned until this last part. So the hero of the series is only in 1/3 of the book. So, who is this woman who is so important?

Within the first chapter, I’m already confused. Not only is it not so well written, but it’s written almost like a diary. Stream-of conscious and roundabout with no feel for flow or storytelling. Who is this woman? Is she British? Is she Canadian? Is she American? It took me a while to figure out that she was in Albany, NY at a small motel. I think she was watching the place for the owners while they left town…but why would they turn off the Vacancy sign? Do they not want any business while they’re gone?

She then goes on and on about how not scared she is and how she stopped wearing makeup because she’s running from who she was in…wherever she came from. (England? I think?) We don’t know what she’s running from yet, but she just doesn’t like anything about it.

Then she gets scared of a storm. Not just scared. Petrified.

That’s when she’s knocked out from behind.

The second chapter gives us a little more info, although it seems to betray some of what’s given to us in the first. She’s French-Canadian and her name is Vivienne Michel. She spends an entire, very long paragraph describing her looks. She sounds beautiful, but she doesn’t think so because she points out all of her flaws. Typical of a Fleming lady.

She also fully believes that she was knocked out because she grabbed the switch for the Vacancy sign just as lightening struck…although she has a lump on her head.

Typical of a Fleming lady. (Strangely, she ends up being right, although it doesn’t make just a whole lot of sense.)

She was brought up in Quebec, but left to England sometime after her parents were killed in a car crash.

From here she goes into a long story about how she grew up in an exclusive school in England where she was teased by the other girls. She made a good friend, though, and they two moved in together when they left the school for University. They had a party and that’s where she met (flutter flutter) Derek Mallaby, a rather handsy boy who she has a nice date with. She manages to keep him from sticking his hands down her pants just long enough for his taxi to get there. They part ways and she says, “I think I’m in love.”

Wait…this is all in the past. What the hell is going on in the motel?

Oh, but wait! There’s more!

Vivienne and Derek start dating seriously now. On their first true date he picks her up at the train station, shows off his car, takes her to lunch and then a movie. There, he proceeds to finger her and she gives him a hand job.

Oh yeah. This is the most sexually explicit Bond book yet. No, there’s no, “And then he came all over his pants.” But he does moan an, “Oh, baby!” and she says that she had lost “some sort of virginity.”

Oh, but why is Derek only available on Saturdays? Why doesn’t he have any time for her during the week? No matter. She’ll be happy with the one day a week.

Of course, the last night that they have together, Derek wants more. He talks her into doing it right there in the theatre box that they always do their hand jobs in, but she’s not happy about it. He runs off to get a condom, comes back and basically forces her onto the floor, pulls her panties off, climbs on her and…a bright light stops them and the manager pulls him off of her! The man berates both of them (calls her a prostitute because he thinks he recognizes her), gets their (fake) names and addresses and sends them on their way. Derek, of course, is unhappy.

The two crazy kids roam around town and realize that they only have an hour until Vivienne’s train leaves…let’s do it in the park! She’s trepidatious, of course, but she lets him talk her into it.

Of course, when it’s all over, she blames herself for his assholery because, suddenly, he’s all distant and cold. “I’ll write,” he says, as he pushes her onto the train.

Damn.

Weeks go by and Derek writes her “the letter.” It lets her down easy, but lets her down all the same. He hardens her heart (after six months of crying and thinking that she’s a tramp) and goes to work for a small paper in London, eventually becoming a real journalist. (She even gets to keep her boss from slapping her ass and trying to sleep with her!)

Then she meets Kurt Rainer. Kurt is a German journalist who hires her on, seemingly not just as an employee, but as a best friend.

The two end up living in the same building and walking to work together every day…as well as eating their dinners together. He is a very efficient man who goes on and on about his future honeymoon with his fiancee back home. Vivienne listens intently as he describes the way, almost clinically, he is going to take her virginity on their wedding night and all of the things that he is going to do to her.

Kurt’s a weird guy.

His fiancee, of course, leaves him and he and Vivienne start an affair. A very clinical, but good one. It all falls to pieces, though, when she gets pregnant. He looks her in the eye, gives her some money, fires her and tells her to go to Zurich for “an operation.”

She takes the money and walks out of his life, her other wing taken away from her.

After Zurich, Vivienne made a grand decision. She was going to go back to Canada with a new Vespa and ride her way down to Florida, stopping at every tourist spot or nice picnic area on the way, taking as much time as she wanted.

This she now does.

Which leads us back to where she currently is, sitting at the motel in the rain.

Thus endeth Part The First: Me.

This has been an awful lot of introduction. Was it all needed? We’ll see…

Suddenly, there’s a loud knock on the door. Could it be people responding to the Vacancy sign that she lit up? Damn!

Actually, no. It’s a couple of hoods (one with lots of steel teeth, the other with no hair…anywhere) there to be “insurance adjusters” for the owner of the motel: not the folks who hired Viv, but the gangster who basically owns that couple, a Mr. Sanguinetti.

Of course, they abuse her, scare her and basically make her scream. She tries to escape to no avail. They yell at her with stereotypical gangster quips. Things that no human being probably ever said. They call her “gash,” “chick,” and “bimbo.” They beat her up at least twice before…

HIM!

This, of course, is when Bond FINALLY shows up. He knocks on the door because of the Vacancy sign. Viv gives him lots of signals to let him know that she’s in trouble and the men she’s with are bad dudes. He catches on and barges his way in, even managing to make them give him a room for the night.

Bond tells Viv (and, in fact, da boys) a story about how he just saved the life of a defecting Russian in Canada.

After that thrilling story, it’s time for bed. Bond leads Viv to her room, tells her how to wedge the door and set a noise trap in case anyone tries to break in. He also leaves her a gun. He runs off to his room and she falls asleep.

Unfortunately, one of the gangsters comes in through the cupboard! He knocks Viv on the head and leaves her for dead.

The next thing she knows, she’s being dragged out of a fire by her feet. James has saved her life! He then proceeds to tell her everything that’s happened up till now. The gangsters burrowed a hole in the wall behind her cupboard so that they could get in while she slept. They also “killed” Bond. (He set up a dummy in his bed.) Then they set fire to the motel so that Sanguinetti could get insurance. They were going to blame Viv for the fire.

Luckily, Bond saved all of Viv’s possessions (including the Vespa) and now he’s on his way back to kill the men.

Of course, she’s fallen in love with him. Instantly.

So, Bond runs off to kill the men, but Viv sees them first. They’re walking out of the motel with tvs in their hands. Bond stops them, holding a gun on them, and has Viv go to take the shorter gangster’s gun away from him. He whips around, dropping his tv, and uses her as a shield. Bond is too good of a shot and grazes his foot, making him drop Viv. Unfortunately, the bigger gangster throws his tv at Bond and cuts his head.

Viv bandages the wound while the gangsters run to their hideout in cabin #1. They have a machine gun and know how to use it. Bond draws their fire while Viv runs into the woods. He comes around the back and shoots the guy with the gun while the other one runs to the car. He doesn’t kill either of them…yet. They both get in the car while Viv shoots at them, ineffectively. Bond jumps out in front of them and shoots until he finally hits the driver, sending them off into the lake, where they hopefully die.

Viv runs to Bond, puts her arms around him and they run off together to cabin #3. This, of course, is where they make-a love.

She describes the love making in great detail. No, not THAT great of detail, ya perv. But in a very loving, “I never knew it could be this way” sort of way. It’s all sweet and stuff, but then she says, “All women love semi-rape.”

BAH! Wow, Ian. What the hell are you doing?!

After they fall asleep, Viv hears something that disturbs her. A slight breeze at the window that makes the curtain move…but there is no breeze.

OH SHIT!! It’s the big guy again! He survived the crash into the lake and is after them again. She’s scared stiff (and she goes through ALL of the iterations of this, talking about how she only thought that they were phrases in books) until he finally breaks a window. She screams. Either that or the breaking glass wake Bond up and he goes after the man.

Bond comes back and apologizes to Viv for all of the trouble. “It shouldn’t have happened. I’m losing my touch.” Ah-HA! More of the disintegration that we saw in Thunderball! She tells him that it’s nonsense, hold him close and “once again there came the small scream from someone who was no longer me.”

After, she asks him what a “bimbo” is. He tells her that she’s not one. They sleep.

Before morning, though, he’s gone, only a note to show for it. The note tells her exactly what is going to happen from here on out.

The cops will come (with coffee and breakfast for her). They will take her statement. They will be after Mr Sanguinetti. They will talk about possible rewards for the mobsters and from the insurance company. And then she will be off to live her own life without James Bond in it. But he will always be there for her if she ever needs him.

All of this comes to pass, of course, with the addition of a long, pretty interesting lecture from the police captain. Basically, he talks to her as if she’s his own daughter. He tells her that she has entered a war between good and evil. It’s a war that she should never have been a part of. And the man that she met, while a good guy, is just as cold-blooded and ruthless as the bad guys. He has to be else he would never survive. He certainly isn’t the kind of man that a girl like her should dream about.

She thanks him for his time and takes off down the road to her next adventure, knowing that James Bond will always be in her heart.

D’awwwwwww!

The Spy Who Loved Me is certainly not a great book. It’s padded with a lot of uninteresting stories (do we REALLY need to know so much about her past?) and just about all of the action takes place “off screen.” It’s all second hand news.

None of this keeps it from being interesting, though…at least once Bond shows up. Viv is a fairly uninteresting character except for the fact that she’s a pretty independent woman in a world of weak-willed ninnies. Sure, she was VERY dependent on her men, but once she figured out that she didn’t need them, she took off on her own and became a “new kind of woman.” In 1962, women just didn’t go off on road trips on their own. No way!

What makes this book worth a read by a Bond fan is that we see Bond from a different perspective. He’s not just the cold-blooded killer with a charming, suave manner. He’s a knight in shining armor who, yes, just happens to be in the right place at the right time. He saves this girl that he’s never met and then disappears from her life, letting her take most of the credit. What’s more, he’s not perfect! He fucks up quite a bit here and he admits it. He SHOULD have checked to make sure that the guys were dead in their car. Instead, he ignored the fact that there was a section of window still out of the water where there could be some breathable air.

And, while I would never say that he’s the biggest feminist out there, he never plays the victim blame game here. He tells Viv that she’s NOT a slut. He tells her that these are very bad men and that they are at fault for everything that is happening to her. He never allows her to take any of the blame for the things that they do.

In that way, this book is about as close to “feminist” as Ian Fleming would ever get. It’s an interesting experiment in storytelling. Tell the story of one of the most MALE heroes ever created from the point of view of a woman. Sure, it might have been more interesting if it had been a woman like Pussy Galore or even Domino, but Vivienne certainly has her virtues as a narrator. She starts the story off as a victim. She falls for two different men, both of whom use her and send her on her way. She sees it as her problem. She caused these guys to do these things to her. “What did I do to deserve this?”

Even when she is abducted by the gangsters, she asks that same question. It’s not until Bond gets there that a) she starts to realize that she might live and b) she starts to know that it’s not her fault.

Yes, it’s a man who teaches her this lesson. But it’s also 1962. This book isn’t going to be The Feminist Manifesto. It’s still a spy book that’s written for men. But I feel like Fleming was trying. His female characters got stronger over the years and this was his way of going even further out on the limb.

Which, of course, doesn’t excuse the fact that the whole thing is written like a damn romance novel. Bond is described in such glowing terms that you would think that he was a demigod of some sort. And the sex scenes are almost awkward in their (for its time) explicitness.

So, yeah. Not a good book, but certainly an interesting one. Only for Bond fans, though. Anyone else would probably be bored to tears.

GLOBE HOPPING: Upstate New York (Vivienne goes from Canada to England to Zurich to New York.)
CONQUEST: Just Vivienne…as far as we know (Vivienne has more sex than Bond! She gets Bond, Kurt and Derek.)

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)

Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Written by: Christopher Wood/Richard Maibaum
Based on characters created by: Ian Fleming

I’ll keep this one fairly spoiler free since the movie has not one thing to do with the book. It’s the first movie in the series to be completely original. (Although, You Only Live Twice almost beats it. There are some elements that translated over with that one, but not many. Certainly more than this one.)

The movie opens with a British nuclear submarine being hijacked and stolen while it’s at sea. Apparently a Russian sub met the same fate. Both countries jump into action by sending their best spies to work. General Gogol in Russia (Walter Gotell, who was also in From Russia With Love as a different character) calls on XXX, aka Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach, aka Mrs. Ringo Starr). She is in the arms of her lover, a fellow spy.

James Bond (Roger Moore) is in Canada with one of his ladies when he gets the call from M. (“But I NEED you!” “So does England!”)Of course, she’s a spy and sends her men off after him to kill him. He’s chased around the mountains for a while in one of the silliest opening stunts of the entire series. (This is where Bond kills Anya’s lover, setting up the “dramatic tension.”)

But that pales in comparison to the credits sequence, what with it’s naked girls doing gymnastics around gun barrels and Bond disarming Russian soldier girls just by looking at them. The theme song, Nobody Does It Better by Carly Simon, is still a cheese classic.

Right after the song, we meet Karl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens), the Big Bad of the film. He’s stealing submarines so that he can do something horrible with the nuclear warheads in his underwater lair.

Oh yeah. He also has webbed fingers, but they don’t show up too well on DVD.

Stromberg’s minions are the only characters to make it from the book. Here, though, they’re called Sandor (Milton Reid) and Jaws (Richard Kiel). Sandor gets dispatched pretty easily by Bond later on. (I have no idea how he stayed on the roof with that big man hanging off of his tie.) Jaws, of course, is one of the most popular villains of the entire series. He reappeared in Moonraker two years later.

Bond and Anya both go to Egypt separately to find out what’s going on with these nuclear subs. They eventually meet and become semi-friendly rivals, chasing after Jaws for a microfilm.

The interesting thing about this movie is that it makes the Russians pretty human. Gogol tells Anya about her man being killed and he seems sympathetic to her loss. Then Bond and Anya are forced to work together by their own governments! The Russians were definitely the bad guys from the 60s to the 80s, but the Bond crew were already looking forward to a time when our two countries would work together to overcome a common foe. Could they actually become friendly?

Well, this is a James Bond movie. Of course Bond will become “friendly” with his female cohort.

The Spy Who Loved Me was a huge hit, but it kind of turns people off today. It’s silly (especially the first half), over the top and almost sci-fi in it’s fantasy. The Lotus that Bond drives is right out of a little boy’s dreams. (Hell, it’s STILL my favorite Bond car, even over the Aston Martin. THERE! I SAID IT!!) And Jaws is ridiculous…but everyone loves him.

I understand why some people hate this movie, but screw ’em. It’s a LOT of fun. If the first half is all fun and games with some pratfalls thrown in (really, Jaws is mainly comic relief), the second half is still a fairly serious spy film, just with sci-fi elements. There aren’t a lot of laughs to be had while Bond is are running around Stromberg’s lair saving the crews of the subs that were hijacked.

Speaking of Stromberg, he isn’t all that threatening of a villain. Yes, his plan is diabolical. Bond asks him how much he wants to not blow up NYC and Moscow. But Bond has him all wrong. He isn’t just your typical, run of the mill Bond villain crazy. He’s completely bat shit. He wants to “start a new world…under the sea.”

The problem is that he’s just kind of an old man who doesn’t do very much. He’s mostly seen sitting at a long table. He’s got no real action. Roger Moore was an old man at the time and he was karate kicking people onto the ground. Curd apparently couldn’t muster up the strength to even stand up!

Anya, though, is a pretty strong Bond girl. She’s every bit as smart and savvy as Bond is…but she doesn’t get a lot of action, either. She’s pretty well left behind when the real action starts up. That’s sad because I kind of wanted to see her kick some ass.

The Spy Who Loved Me is the quintessential Roger Moore Bond film. It’s got everything that you think of when it comes to him: comedy, action, gadgets, pretty girls…and a man just a little too old to be dealing with all of that stuff. But I kinda love it.

Especially the Lotus.

GLOBE HOPPING: Egypt; Sardinia, Italy
CONQUESTS: Nameless Russian woman; Nameless Egyptian woman; Anya Amasova