The extended development process, featuring a parade of different writers, that led to a final shooting script for the tenth James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me. The difficulties began with Ian Fleming’s source material: in a departure from Fleming’s other Bond stories, The Spy Who Loved Me is told through the eyes of a young Englishwoman who meets 007 only in the last few chapters. The format is so unusual, in fact, that it’s the one novel the late author had never wanted to sell as a film project. But by the mid-1970s, producer Albert R. Broccoli was running out of 007 titles to adapt, so he went to the Fleming estate and requested permission to use only the novel’s title. After a visit to Russia, Broccoli saw that an entirely new story could be built around a Russian agent who falls in love with James Bond.
The first person to take a crack at the screenplay was a New York City comic book writer named Cary Bates, who was recommended by celebrated author and You Only Live Twice screenwriter Roald Dahl. Bates’s script was actually an adaptation of Fleming’s novel Moonraker, which was also being considered for the next film. Bates took the Hugo Drax character from Moonraker and gave him a SPECTRE association with a huge underground base at Loch Ness in Scotland. The story focused on a SPECTRE plot to hijack a nuclear submarine and Bond’s attempt to foil the plot with the help of Russian agent Tatiana Romanova, the cipher clerk in From Russia with Love. It was an interesting script, but Broccoli wasn’t sold. Instead, he hired novelist Ronald Hardy to start fresh. Ironically, Hardy also developed a story about nuclear submarines, this time featuring a sophisticated electronic tracking device that allows the villain to pinpoint and capture enemy subs.
Though Broccoli again rejected the script, he did like the idea of the tracking device, which he decided to explore further with another screenwriter, Anthony Barwick. Barwick gave the tracking device to a villain named Zodiak. If the Western powers failed to surrender their art treasures, Zodiak intended to destroy fleets of nuclear submarines with his long-range torpedoes. But Barwick left the project as well. He was followed, in order, by Derek Marlowe; Stirling Silliphant; John Landis; and Anthony Burgess, the author of A Clockwork Orange. Burgess developed the most outrageous of all the scripts—an outright parody of the world of James Bond.
When Guy Hamilton was assigned to direct his fourth James Bond film in a row, another 007 vet was brought in to work on the script: Richard Maibaum. Maibaum decided to focus on SPECTRE as the main threat but get rid of the typical Blofeld-type old guard—literally. In the script’s opening scenes, a group of villains burst into SPECTRE headquarters and assassinate the organization’s leadership. This young cadre of international terrorists—members of the Red Brigade, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Black September Organization, and the Japanese Red Army—form a new SPECTRE that’s no longer interested in blackmail or extortion. They’re simply intent on destroying civilization by capturing a nuclear submarine and wiping out the world’s oil fields.
Maibaum was finishing up his script with some location scouting in Budapest, Hungary, when Guy Hamilton suddenly left the project to direct Superman—the huge Warner Bros. film then in preproduction at Pinewood Studios (Hamilton was later replaced on Superman by Richard Donner). Lewis Gilbert was Broccoli’s new choice for director, and he brought with him another writer, Christopher Wood, who began reworking Maibaum’s draft.
Broccoli had liked Maibaum’s script, but he felt that the young SPECTRE radicals were too political. Wood eliminated them and instead brought back a Blofeld-type character named Stavros, a SPECTRE-linked shipping magnate with a huge supertanker. The supertanker is equipped with special equipment in its bow that allows it to open up and swallow nuclear submarines. The tanker idea was Maibaum’s, dating back to 1970 and the Diamonds Are Forever script, which originally had Blofeld commandeer a huge tanker as a firing platform for his laser cannon. In Wood’s final draft for The Spy Who Loved Me, SPECTRE uses the special tracking system to capture a Russian and a British submarine. Bond and a Russian agent named Major Anya Amasova (whom Maibaum had also created) are sent to Cairo to find a SPECTRE traitor who is putting the tracking system on the open market. Each agent thinks the other is behind the hijacking. They play a game of spy versus spy in Cairo, until it is revealed that a third party has been playing them off against each other—a typical SPECTRE ploy reminiscent of their scheme in From Russia with Love. Bond and Anya join forces and eventually trace the tracking system to Stavros’s base off the coast of Sardinia.
Leafing through the fifteen drafts of The Spy Who Loved Me offers a textbook look at script development. For Bond fans, the material is priceless, since it allows the reader to see how typical Bondian situations are workshopped. For instance, Stavros’s chief henchman went through several changes until he became the Jaws character, a giant of a killer with cobalt steel teeth—played memorably by Richard Kiel in the final film. In the early scripts, there was an obsession with twins. Cary Bates’s Moonraker treatment included a fearsome twosome named Pluto and Plato who work for Hugo Drax. Pluto is a chain smoker; Plato, an alcoholic. In the Anthony Barwick treatment, Zodiak is protected by three albino brothers named Tic, Tac, and Toe, all of whom are killed by 007. But however fascinating the idea of lookalike bodyguards may be, it would have created headaches for the casting director. The writers eventually settled on Jaws, who became a one-man, indestructible army and who would survive to return in Moonraker. And two films after that, the series would resurrect the original twin henchmen concept, introducing knife-throwing assassins Mischka and Grischka (David and Tony Meyer) in Octopussy.
Shortly before production began on The Spy Who Loved Me in 1976, one last script problem arose. Kevin McClory, the Irish film producer who owned the film rights to Thunderball and who was planning a new adaptation titled James Bond of the Secret Service, suddenly filed an injunction to hold up production of The Spy Who Loved Me. McClory claimed that the final Wood script improperly incorporated elements introduced into the Bond universe with Thunderball—namely, SPECTRE and its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. To sidestep the legal challenge, Broccoli eventually told Wood to remove all traces of SPECTRE from the final shooting script. Stavros thus suddenly became billionaire shipping magnate Karl Stromberg, who plans to destroy the world without any help from SPECTRE. Even his supertanker security troops wear red rather than SPECTRE’s black uniforms.
Such changes did not appease McClory. But there was little chance that he could stop Broccoli from filming, and a drawn-out attempt would be costly. He withdrew his injunction while he planned his own production, which eventually became 1983’s Never Say Never Again, and the SPECTRE-free version of The Spy Who Loved Me made it to the screen in 1977.