There had not been a James Bond movie for three years.
Seeing as how The Man with the Golden Gun did so poorly with audiences and critics, this movie would be very important to the franchise.
After all, it would be the first since the departure of producer Harry Saltzman, who was sold his half of the franchise in 1975, as the result of some bad investments, the loss of his wife and his own clinical depression.
One of the first issues the film faced was its director. Steven Spielberg wanted to make it, but was still in post-production on Jaws. Guy Hamilton, who had directed the past three films, decided to direct Superman instead (he was eventually replaced by Richard Donner). Lewis Gilbert ended up being the director, as thanks to You Only Live Twice, he had experience in the world of Bond.
The next issue? Who would be the villain? It couldn’t be Ernst Stavro Blofeld, as Kevin McClory, who owned the film rights to Thunderball, had a legal order that kept the producers from using Blofeld. To make things even more difficult, Fleming had requested that no elements from his original book be used and only the name of the novel could be used. This is why this is the first film that doesn’t have the author’s possessive name before the title.
Writer Christopher Wood was brought in by Gilbert to fix what he saw as a major issue with the Roger Moore Bond films. The writers were forcing the actor to be Sean Connery instead of being himself. He also added a henchman who would capture the attention of the fanbase, Jaws, who would be one of the few villains to return for another film and to redeem himself.
The result of all this work? Probably one of the best-regarded Bond movies ever, definitely the greatest of the Moore era. I probably watched this one more than any other as a kid, thanks to HBO, where it ran in heavy rotation. The Lotus Espirit sub scene, Jaws, Barbara Bach, the Carly Simon theme song — it is all things Bond.
Eon executive Charles Juroe said during a premiere screening — attended by Prince Charles — that when the Union Jack-parachute scene happened, “I have never seen a reaction in the cinema as there was that night. You couldn’t help it. You could not help but stand up. Even Prince Charles stood up.”
This scene, originally suggested by George Lazenby, changed the way that England felt about Bond. He went from just being a character who happened to be British to an iconic hero like King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood.
The idea of two countries missiles being used against one another is recycled from You Only Live Twice, but that’s the only downside I can think of in this film.
Curd Jurgens (The Mephisto Waltz, OSS 117 – Double Agent) plays Karl Stromberg, a grand villain who wants to destroy the world with nukes and then begin a new civilization underwater. Richard Kiel plays his henchman, the aforementioned Jaws, who has metal teeth and superhuman strength. Playing his personal pilot? Only one of the most attractive people to ever live, Caroline Munro.
So who is the spy who loved Bond? Anya Amasova, who is KGB Agent Triple X. Played by Barbara Bach (Black Belly of the Tarantula, Short Night of Glass Dolls, Screamers, The Unseen), she’s no shrinking violet. She’s as capable and deadly as 007 and ready to kill our hero after she learns that he’s the man who assassinated her lover Sergei Barsov.
Here’s a great secret in this spy film: Stanely Kubrick worked on it. As the eyesight of cinematographer Claude Renoir was failing, he was having trouble finishing the film. Ken Adam turned to his friend Kubrick, who asked for complete secrecy if he would help with the lighting, using floodlights to make the supertanker scene more dramatic. His stepdaughter Katharina also worked on the movie, making the dentures that Richard Kiel used to become Jaws.
This is also the first film in which Bond kills a female henchperson, as he takes care of Naomi. Wondering why Caroline Munro looks so angry in all her scenes? She sat on a bee right before some of them and that’s her actually in pain and using it for the role. Also: Sylvia Kristel auditioned for this role. Can you imagine that horrible choice between picking Munro or Kristel?