Story publication year – 1962
Film release year – 1977
007 – Roger Moore
The tenth Fleming publication (the ninth actual novel, see For Your Eyes Only), as well as the tenth 007 film. There is almost nothing to compare; mainly, this post will highlight the stark differences. According to The James Bond Bedside Companion by Raymond Benson, the reason for the lack of any commonality is that, when he sold the rights to the novel to the filmmakers, Fleming insisted that only the title be used for the film. Thus, a script had to be written from scratch without taking any inspiration at all from Fleming’s original work.
The novel is fascinating and, after a slightly slow start, one of Fleming’s best when it comes to being a pure, suspenseful page-turner. That said, the plot itself is simplistic, akin to a Fleming short story. The unique feature of the novel is that, unlike all prior 007 stories, The Spy Who Loved Me is told from the perspective of the “Bond girl,” Vivienne Michel, who Bond saves from a duo of tough gangsters.
Vivienne (or “Viv” as she is called throughout the book), grew up in Canada and attended finishing school in London. After being burned romantically by two men, she decides to return to Canada and thereafter travel down the east coast of the U.S. on a Vespa.
As she travels through the Adirondack Mountains in New York, and in need of some extra cash, Viv accepts a motel manager’s offer to work the front desk and look out for the motel during the last few days before the motel shuts down for the season. This turns out to be a dangerous mistake, as during her last night at the motel and while in the midst of a furious storm, two creepy gangsters – not very imaginatively named Horror and Sluggsy – turn up and force their way into the motel under the pretense that they work for an insurance company and have been sent to inspect the premises before it closes for the season.
It is immediately clear, of course, that Horror and Sluggsy mean grave harm. Indeed, from almost the moment Sluggsy sees Viv he indicates that he is looking forward to raping her and probably would have done so immediately but for Horror’s admonition that the duo is “on a job” and that Sluggsy must wait until “later.”
Fortunately for Viv, 007 happens to be passing through the area on his way back from a mission in Toronto when he finds himself with a flat tire and in need of a room for the night. Then, of course, using his wit and spy skills, Bond manages to save Viv and kill both gangsters. It turned out that the motel owner had assigned Horror and Sluggsy to burn down the motel so that a false insurance claim could be made. Viv had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time – the gangsters had intended to rape and kill her, then set things up so that she would be blamed for the fire.
Naturally, Viv falls in love with Bond and – after her rescue – they make passionate love before Bond disappears first thing the following morning. Viv then finds a heartfelt note that Bond left behind and sets back off on her road trip knowing that she will never forget the spy who loved her. That’s that; no diabolical international villains, no saving the world, no M or Monneypenny, no Felix. In sum: an uncomplicated but unique and poignant Fleming novel.
The film is solid, but far less interesting. (Although I note that it fares quite well on rottentomatoes.com.) A fairly standardized 007 plotline is used; in this case, the super villain is Karl Stromberg, a megalomaniac who resides in an underwater fortress called Atlantis. Stromberg employs a massive ocean tanker to literally swallow up U.S and Soviet submarines. His master plan is to use the submarines’ nuclear warheads to destroy Moscow and New York, which will force the U.S. and U.S.S.R. into a full-scale nuclear war that will mostly wipe out mankind, and thereby allow Stromberg to re-start the human race beneath the sea; with himself, presumably, in charge of it all. Incidentally, this is quite similar to Drax’s master plan in the film adaptation of Moonraker. Like Drax, Stromberg fails thanks to 007.
In a departure from the typical Soviet vs. the West dynamic present in many 007 missions, in the film, the historic adversaries have a mutual interest in stopping Stromberg. Accordingly, 007 is eventually teamed up with Russian agent XXX (heh), aka Major Anya Amasoya, with whom 007 had been competing with to obtain a microfilm that contains Stromberg’s plans. Unlike the novel, which takes place entirely in the Adirondacks, 007 and XXX make their way across various locales as the mission unfolds, from Austria, to Sardinia, to Egypt.
Stromberg’s top henchman, Jaws, is once again out to foil 007’s efforts. Indeed, most of the film is a sequence of different Jaw’s attempts to murder Bond, most of which 007 manages to brush off easily, often in classic Roger Moore-era comedic fashion; at times the script is actually slapsticky during these scenes. That said, 007 never manages to actually kill Jaws off, ensuring appearances in subsequent films.
One thematic similarity can be found between a speech Viv receives from a police captain at the end of the novel and a speech XXX receives from 007 when she learns that Bond was responsible for her lover’s death (which occurs at the very beginning of the film, when Bond escapes from a Soviet hit team by skiing off the side of a massive mountain in the Austrian Alps only to launch a parachute adorned with the Union Jack). In the film, Bond explains that, in the life of danger and spy craft that they both chose, an agent can be killed at any moment and that in all situations it will come down to a matter of kill or be killed. In the novel, the police chief explains that Viv should avoid men like Horror, Sluggsy and – yes – even Bond, because such men “belong to a private jungle” and are a “different species”, apart from normal people like Viv.
Probably the only other similarity between the novel and the film, and this is real stretch, is that, in both formats, there is a strong female heroine. Although Viv is, in some ways, a bit naive (though she is certainly no dummy) and totally over matched by Horror and Sluggsy, she demonstrates a great deal of bravery and nerve in her attempts to escape. XXX, by contrast, is highly skilled and she often proves to be 007’s match. For example, before they join forces, XXX tricks Bond by pretending to seduce him before using a cigarette to expose him to a substance that knocks him out, thereby allowing her to recover the microfilm described above for the KGB. However, XXX is ultimately captured and imprisoned on the Atlantis, presumably to be a plaything for Stromberg (not unlike Sluggsy’s intentions with Viv, I suppose) as the expected Apocalypse plays out. Bond comes to her rescue, naturally; and she eventually falls for him, naturally. In the end, despite their strengths, each heroine needs 007.