1977 was a great year for movies.
Star Wars was released, along with Annie Hall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saturday Night Fever, Julia, The Goodbye Girl, and The Turning Point.
It was also the year I saw The Spy Who Loved Me nine times.
This was before streaming, obviously, so I made nine actual trips to the theater, plunking down $1.50 each time. Why my 8-year-old self needed to see the movie so many times remains murky to me, years later.
For those who haven’t seen the film, it’s a James Bond movie about a billionaire who plans to destroy the world and then survive the aftermath in a sprawling undersea world he has built.
In one memorable scene, Bond drives his car off a pier and straight into the ocean.
Unbeknownst to the audience — or at least to those of us who weren’t seeing the movie a ninth time — the car can transform into a submarine.
The loud stress of the car chase is thus interrupted by a sudden, rapturous, silent underwater seascape, which Bond — and we — experience from inside the miraculous submersible.
Another selling point, and this was likely the main factor for me — international travel.
The movie starts in the Austrian alps with a breathtaking skiing sequence, then moves to Egypt. A fight scene on a Cairo rooftop was so riveting that when I wasn’t at the theater re-watching Spy that summer, I was usually at our local swimming pool reenacting the scene on the high diving board.
In the movie, the bad guy clings desperately for life at the edge of the roof, holding onto Bond’s necktie.
Bond keeps asking the same question.
When the bad guy finally divulges the whereabouts of said Fekkesh — “Pyramids!” — Bond crisply separates the man’s hand from the necktie. The bad guy plunges to his death.
At the swimming pool, I would play out this sequence high above water, my back to the pool, my heels inching farther and farther off the board.
And then … the fading screams of a skinny fifth-grader, followed by an unremarkable splash, a slow paddle to the pool ladder, and then right back in line so I could do it all over again.
Though Spy Who Loved Me is regarded as a strong Bond movie — and certainly as Roger Moore’s best effort in the role — I think any Bond movie would have sufficed. All contain the same elements — exotic locales, fascinating gadgets, thrilling escapes, beautiful women.
The beautiful woman in The Spy Who Loved Me was a Soviet agent played by Barbara Bach. She was initially Bond’s rival, then his ally, and finally, of course, the love interest.
There was an extra spark to the affair because she was Soviet. In the real world, tensions between NATO countries and the Soviet Union were high. I was intrigued by Soviet and British agents working together, falling in love.
I was an excitable kid. I could get obsessive. Outside I tried to project Andy Griffith; inside I was definitely Don Knotts. I was in love with Barbara Bach that summer. I was awed by her beauty and by her apparent effectiveness at espionage even in heels and evening wear. I was entranced by the Carly Simon song which played over closing credits — “Nobody Does It Better.”
Even movies which would not normally scream “exotic foreign locale” kept taking me back to Europe that summer.
Herbie, the self-driving VW Beetle, fell in love with a gorgeous Lancia named Giselle during a car race from Paris to Monte Carlo in the straightforwardly titled Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo.
The dog Benji got lost in chaotic, high-energy Athens in For the Love of Benji.
I vowed some day I myself would travel to Europe. Such crazy things happened there! Dogs got lost, and then found. Waiters mixed up orders and lost their temper. Mountain roads didn’t have guardrails. Dusty archaelogists went looking for ancient relics (In Search of Noah’s Ark).
And then there was Smokey and the Bandit. Oh boy was there Smokey and the Bandit.
True, it didn’t take place in Europe, but it competed with James Bond for airtime in my imagination. When I wasn’t in a dark, air-conditioned movie theater or at the pool screaming, “WHERE’S FEKKESH,” I was riding my brown Schwinn around Chevy Chase and Bethesda, Md., pretending the bike was Burt Reynolds’s black-and-gold Trans Am.
My friend Robbie and I were generally on our bikes anyway, but after that movie we were constantly on them.
We were always making a cross-country cannonball run to bring back 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana to Georgia — or at least some Bubble Yum from the convenience store at Leland Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
Wherever we rode, we were always being chased by Sheriff Buford T. Justice. And we were always just barely getting away from him. It was thrilling, and exhausting. Summers in D.C. were humid as shit.
The only time I took a break was when a classmate’s mother one day reported a psychic vision of me getting hit by a car.
The woman told my mother that under no circumstances should I be allowed to ride a bicycle for the next two days.
It was a strange and intense piece of information, from a woman we didn’t know well.
My family tended toward rationality and skepticism. We weren’t fertile ground for psychic reports. Just the same, I had escaped an actual brush with death at 3 years old.
So Mom said, sure, it wouldn’t hurt for me to take a break from bike riding.
I adhered to the two-day ban, even though I could easily have violated it. I was the fourth of four kids; I was supervised loosely.
Looking back, it amazes me that my friends and I never were badly hurt on our bikes. We did not wear helmets. We regularly rode no-hands, even down the steep grade at Thornapple Street. At the bottom we’d blow right through the stop sign.
Who knows, maybe Jeanette’s mom had seen me blowing through stop signs. Or maybe she indeed experienced a vision which, when shared with us, saved my life. That’s a whole separate trip to think about.
But in the short run, what was two days? Even without my beloved Schwinn/Trans Am, I could still go see The Spy Who Loved Me again.