For Your Eyes Only is unquestionably the best film in the Roger Moore Bond series. It has just about everything I want in a Bond movie. Despite a few missteps here and there, the film is totally engaging, featuring Mr. Moore’s best performance, plenty of great characters and locations, the most classically beautiful Bond girl ever, and an outstanding script. The film also contains numerous recalls of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
His Name Is…
We begin as we always do, with the performance of Roger Moore as James Bond, 007. All the different aspects of Bond’s character are on display here, although because it’s Mr. Moore as opposed to Sean Connery, the range is not as broad. It’s great to see him place flowers at Tracy’s grave, although I’d like to have seen a bit more emotion at that moment. There’s plenty of Mr. Moore’s trademark charm, but it comes off as more organic this time around (due in no small part to the writing and directing). Mr. Moore’s Bond is much more physical in this film – skiing, ski jumping, climbing a mountain, leading an assault on a shipyard, engaging in an ice hockey fight, and dangling from a helicopter. And of course, there is a moment of unrepentant brutality as he kicks Locque’s car off the cliff. Apparently, there was some serious discussion as to whether Mr. Moore’s Bond would do such a thing, that it was more suited to Sean Connery’s Bond. I think this choice was a good one, as it reminded audiences that Bond wasn’t all just fun and games, and that he still could have an edge.
The film also has the most romantic feel of any of Mr. Moore’s films. He is protective of Melina, there is obviously an attraction, they assault St. Cyril’s together, they fight to recover the ATAC underwater together, and end up skinny-dipping amidst beautiful undersea ruins over the credits. It certainly helps that the film has the most beautiful and exotic locations thus far in the series, that they spend a lot of screen time together, that Ms. Bouquet is beautiful, and that there is the subtext of Tracy’s death running through it. Of all the women Mr. Moore’s Bond has encountered thus far, Melina is the closest and warmest relationship he’s had. It truly is a romantic adventure, and yet another reason why I so admire the film.
This was the second Bond film I saw in theatres as a young man, and it’s why I was enamored of Mr. Moore’s portrayal for so many years. I think this film best exemplifies the character of Bond from the Roger Moore era. He’s suave, dangerous, smart, romantic, and charming.
Thank God – Richard Maibaum returned to the series after the abomination that was Moonraker. Although the script lacks a unifying theme that we saw in the earlier Bond films, the story itself is excellent. For starters, it’s realistic and grounded. No cackling villains out to destroy the world. It’s just a race between a smuggler and the Brits to recover a vital piece of equipment for the UK’s nuclear submarines – the ATAC system. Even better, the crisis is triggered by an accident – the British spy ship is on board a fishing vessel, which accidentally gets a WWII mine tangled in its net, and BOOM! (Although we see two of these exact mines in Locque’s warehouse later, making us wonder if it wasn’t planted).
All the story beats follow logically and are the result of character choices. The characters skulking through the story all have perfectly reasonable motivations, they all behave as their characters would, every scene serves the overall story, and there are no frivolous or pointless sequences that all the previous Moore films suffered from. Without grand evil schemes at work, the writers were forced to generate plot from character and did so very successfully. The two previous films that managed to do the same were only The Man With The Golden Gun and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
And I can’t leave without mentioning a great turn-of-events in having Blofeld show up in a wheelchair just as Bond is visiting Tracy’s grave….and his subsequent dumping into a smokestack.
The film has plenty of great characters beyond Bond. For starters, there is the absolutely gorgeous, stunningly beautiful Carole Bouquet as Melina Havelock. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, to be sure, and while I cast my vote with Honor Blackman as the voluptuous sexpot of the Bond series thus far, I can’t think of another woman more beautiful than Ms. Bouquet. Add to this a strong character motivation to avenge her parents’ murder, and that she’s a decent actress, and you have a very successful Bond girl. Plus, she uses a crossbow! There is also an undeniable chemistry that she has with Mr. Moore that assists the actors and their characters.
Julian Glover plays a grounded, yet ruthless bastard, in the form of Kristatos. I had forgotten much of the film, so the reveal that he is the primary villain came as a nice surprise. It’s also great that he’s just a businessman and smuggler, out to sell the ATAC to the Soviets. He’s a refined man who has taken on Bibi as his protégé – both to feed his ego (in the hope that she’ll win an Olympic medal) and possibly to bed her (only revealed in a throw-away line by Lynn Holly-Johnson near the film’s end). Unlike the secretly insecure villains Scaramanga and Goldfinger, Kristatos is a confident and masculine enemy – quite worthy to oppose Bond. It’s a great set-up to learn that he was a smuggler in WWII, and the suggestion of a subtle barbarity of the Greeks is evidenced in how he attempts to kill Bond and Melina by scraping their bodies across the coral.
Now, how can you not love Topol? The character of Columbo could so easily have gone over the top, but he plays it as he should – a handsome rouge – exactly the type of guy we like seeing Bond work with. The pistachios are a nifty trait, and because of his smuggling background, we totally buy that he and his team pull off the assault on Kristatos’ shipyard.
Emile Locque shouldn’t be all that interesting a character, and yet I really like the silent assassin. I think that has a lot to do with Michael Gothard’s look. He’s not a well-known actor, but his relentlessness and cool exterior really work.
Lynn-Holly Johnson is just so sweet as the underage girl-with-a-crush on Bond, that you can’t help but love her. It’s also great to see Bond actually act the gentleman (“Now put your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice cream”) for a change, rather than the predator. That he accompanies her to the biathlon because of her pressure, and does so as a friendly older gentleman, plays well. Erich Kriegler as another in a long-line of stern Eastern Europe and/or Russian assassins does just fine, and it’s always good to see the relationship between General Gogol and Bond advance another step. Their encounter on St. Cyril is what sets the stage for their future encounters, while simultaneously playing off of their previous ones.
While the film has a few faults (which I’ll discuss), I want to point out a huge difference between this film and almost all the other Bond movies. Certainly previous Bond directors have done terrific jobs on their pictures, but John Glen set a new standard with For Your Eyes Only. For those readers who wouldn’t know a well-directed picture from a hack job, here’s a link that might help.
Mr. Glen had previously done second unit direction on Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Superman, and The Wild Geese ( a terrific mercenary adventure starring Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Roger Moore), and 10 other films. The second unit director often handles action scenes. In addition, he was the editor on 20 films including the aforementioned films. In other words, Mr. Glen was a real filmmaker, and came in to this movie with tremendous experience. The flow of the picture, the shot design, the action scenes, the dramatic scenes, and how the whole picture just fits together are all outstanding. The film just holds together as an entire experience in vastly better ways than almost any other previous Bond outing. That’s not to say that other films weren’t better, just that this one was better directed. Of course, so much of this is because there was a great script.
If you really want to see what I mean, watch Moonraker and then For Your Eyes Only back-to-back. Otherwise, I’d like readers to watch the ski chase sequence, how it’s constructed, how every shot gives you the information you need to understand the drama and the danger, and how easy it is to follow what’s happening. This is particularly noteworthy given the chopped-up geography, editing, and mayhem of contemporary action films, where you can’t follow a darn thing.
Other Bond Coolness (and Stumbles)
The ski chase is the real centerpiece of the film. The same cameraman from OHMSS returned, and the dynamic and exciting manner in which the scene plays out – from the ski jump right to Bond’s escape, is just masterful. Great stunt work by the ski team, and the subsequent leap of both skier and motorcycle onto the bobsled run, really sings. This chase continues to up the ante on Bond action sequences and from here on in, the Bond producers never really look back.
The car chase was also innovative at the time, with a great twist by having the Lotus blow up at the start of the sequence. The three cars racing down the switchbacks of the Spanish countryside, crossing over each other’s path, with bullets flying, the addition of angles both inside and outside the car (and again, with clear scene geography) makes this a great scene.
The assault on the smuggling hideout and St. Cyril both play really well. The camaraderie amongst Bond, Columbo, and his men works great. The scenes are exciting, intriguing, and filled with the requisite suspense. There is also a great underwater sequence as Bond and Melina are attacked by Kristatos’ men and one-man submarine. Great storytelling, and editing, making the battle in Thunderball look positively amateurish.
While I did buy that Kristatos would be enough of a sadistic bastard to kill Bond and Melina by dragging them among the coral, the hockey player attack on Bond is just ridiculous and harms the film.
There are several callbacks to OHMSS. This is a love story, though not at the same level. It takes place in wintry mountains. Bond is pursued and, frankly, in very serious danger after Kreigler attempts to shoot him. Bond is outnumbered at the ski jump, just as he was by Blofeld’s minions in OHMSS. Indeed, he wears a blue ski outfit in both films at these critical moments.
Now, about that score. Bill Conti is, of course, one of our most accomplished composers. He was very much working on a score reflective of 1981. When viewed strictly from that perspective, the score is okay. It’s not great, but it’s okay. It certainly sounds dated today, and it is almost enough to sink the film in certain places. John Barry’s best scores are truly timeless.
This was a great film, with a few stumbles and a score that would normally push it to three stars. Nevertheless, and over the anticipated objections of many readers, John Glen’s superb direction is enough to offset the problems. For now, I rate the film four stars. I remind readers, however, that these ratings are not set in stone. I will certainly revisit all of them, especially as making comparisons within a given category will yield obvious standouts.
To recap all the films:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The Man With The Golden Gun
For Your Eyes Only
From Russia With Love
Diamonds Are Forever
The Spy Who Loved Me
You Only Live Twice
Live and Let Die
James Bond will return in Octopusy.