After NATO and Soviet submarines go missing under mysterious circumstances, Moscow and London both vow to put their best man on the job. In a nice bit of misdirection the KGB’s best man turns out to be a woman, Agent XXX (Barbara Bach). But where is Bond? Still on a mission in Austria, notes Moneypenny. “Well tell him to pull out immediately!” barks M. You can see where this is going, can’t you?
Cut to Bond and a blonde in postcoital bliss in a remote cabin in the Alps. Bond’s digital watch starts printing out a small ticker-tape message telling him to sign in immediately. (Why? It’s a digital watch. Can’t it just display something on the screen?) 007 gets up and changes into standard-issue MI6 winter camouflage, which consists of a skintight canary-yellow snowsuit, scarlet ski boots and bobble hat. “But James, I need you!” the blonde moans. So does England, baby.
Bond goes skiing a lot in the Moore films and it rarely turns out well for him: this time, a group of tough-looking ski thugs is waiting on the next piste to take him out. He leads them on a merry chase across glaciers and down crevasses, doing impressive backflips and taking machine-gun fire.
All this is prologue, though, to one of the greatest stunts in the history of cinema: in a single long take, we see Bond outpace his attackers and ski at high speed toward the edge of a sheer mountain face. Without slowing down, he leaps headlong into the void. There are clearly no special effects at work here; a human being has just thrown himself off a cliff for our entertainment. It’s one of those movie moments when you can actually feel yourself holding your breath. In silence, we watch the tiny yellow figure fall. First his skis come off. Then his arms extend. And finally, a red-white-and-blue flower blossoms from his back. It’s a parachute, emblazoned with the Union Jack. Screw you, Commies!
Sure, the dialogue is campy and the sex scenes are unavoidably louche. But The Spy Who Loved Me opens with beautiful girls, fun gadgets and a death-defying plunge so awesome you want to stand up and applaud even before the opening credits begin. It may be the high point of the entire Bond franchise.