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40 summers ago, the great Roger Moore starred in his best Bond film: The Spy Who Loved Me

It was part of a bumper crop of summer blockbusters (including Star Wars) from which still we haven’t recovered.

Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me
RIP, Roger Moore.
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Every weekend, we pick a movie you can stream that dovetails with current events. Old, new, blockbuster, arthouse: They’re all fair game. What you can count on is a weekend watch that sheds new light on the week that was. The movie of the week for May 27 through June 2 is The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), which is available to digitally watch on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu.

Sir Roger Moore passed away this week, prompting a flood of fond commemorations from fans and friends around the world.

Moore was best known for being the third big-screen James Bond; he played the character longer than any other big-screen Bond (12 years), and tied with Sean Connery for playing the spy in the greatest number of films (seven). And as Vox’s Aja Romano put it, Moore’s Bond was a secret comedic genius:

The strength of Moore’s Bond is that he seems to be a fully self-aware, good-humored participant in all of this implausible mayhem. “Bond really wasn’t a spy — because everybody knew him,” Moore joked in a delightful 2015 appearance on Loose Women. It takes a great comedian to pull off the role of straight man; Moore played the wry straight man to his own bombastically over-the-top series.

Talk about over the top: As Bond, Moore starred in richly parodied films bearing titles laden with innuendo, like The Man With the Golden Gun and Octopussy.

But it’s The Spy Who Loved Me (later lovingly skewered in an Austin Powers movie) that’s worth watching to remember Moore. For his third appearance as Bond — in a film that was nominated for three Academy Awards — Moore had to team up with a sexy Russian spy to battle a megalomaniac underwater, in a supertanker.

Reportedly, this was Moore’s favorite Bond film, and it’s usually the one critics point to as the actor’s best. The plot has nothing to do with it; as A.O. Scott put it in his New York Times remembrance of Moore this week, “Those movies were heavenly trash, with plots you didn’t really need to follow and sexual innuendo that struck my young eyes and ears as deliciously risqué.” Instead, it’s Moore who makes the movie: all smoothness and swagger in a tux, with a smile that lets you know he’s in on the joke.

Roger Moore as James Bond
How can you not love this?

And The Spy Who Loved Me is also interesting to note in the context of its time: It came out in 1977, 40 years ago, during a summer that also boasted the first installment of a little space opera called Star Wars. Writing about The Spy Who Loved Me in the context of the summer’s films, Roger Ebert mused that “perhaps its makers sensed that this summer we'd be especially primed for another fantasy starring 007.”

The box office had a bonkers summer season in 1977, something that the success of Moore’s performance in The Spy Who Loved Me helped bolster. That kind of summer box office season — which begins this weekend, with the three-day Memorial Day holiday — seems like a fantasy for filmmakers four decades later, with some prognosticators predicting the lowest revenues in a decade. Ebert, who especially liked The Spy Who Loved Me, may have predicted why back in 1977:

As someone who finds it exciting when a movie tries something new, dares to be innovative and individual, I'm of two minds about the enormous box-office successes of these essentially old-fashioned formulas.

... If Hollywood thinks it has learned its lesson during the summer of 1977 and grows single-minded about turning out expensive remakes of remakes, we are going to start wondering, with the new releases of two or three years from now, if we haven't seen all these movies before somewhere.

“Remakes of remakes” is a pretty handy descriptor for this summer’s theatrical slate (though there’s no Bond film in sight). But if the idea of watching the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series and a profoundly dumb reboot of Baywatch doesn’t spark your interest this Memorial Day weekend, maybe a dose of the late, great Roger Moore battling underwater megalomaniacs is just the thing.

Watch the trailer for The Spy Who Loved Me:

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