For Your Eyes Only (1981)

When it’s on: Saturday, 11 August (3.10 pm)
Channel: ITV1
IMDb Link

The dilemma at the heart of For Your Eyes Only is played out in its pre-credits sequence. Providing a degree of continuity with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as though all those films in between took place in his head, James Bond is first seen leaving flowers at the grave of Tracy Bond. It’s a rare moment of recognition of the elements that drive the agent to do the things he does, though cynically one might argue it’s a plot point hauled out whenever the films want to add a note of seriousness.

But then things turn daft. Bond is picked up by a helicopter, believing he’s about to be piloted towards another mission. Suddenly, the pilot’s head is fried after an electrical charge is sent through his headphones, and Bond realises his ride is being piloted automatically by a familiar figure, bald-headed and sat in a wheelchair, who taunts him over the intercom. After being flung about in the skies over London, Bond somehow gains control of the chopper and picks up his enemy, wheelchair and all, before finally tipping him into the sort of factory chimney patronised by Fred Dibnah. The victim, whilst never named, is obviously Ernst Stavro Blofeld, though the film couldn’t identify him due to the rights to all things SPECTRE belonging to Kevin McClory. It’s kind of a sorry end to the former Number One, reduced to something of a joke figure, all for the sake of offering a two-fingered salute to McClory, who at the time was busy developing a non-franchise Bond flick (the remake of Thunderball that became the forgettable Never Say Never Again).

In the space of several minutes, For Your Eyes Only sets the tone of the film it wants to be. What we get is a Bond in distinctly lower key. Those fights are felt. There are moments that hint at the hero being in real danger, and knowing it. Similarly, the plot involves stakes far less high than the routine world saving antics he’s used to. Bond has to stop a Greek smuggler from delivering the ATAK missile command system to the Soviets, whilst becoming entangled in the mission of vengeance led by Melina Havelock. There’s a daring touch of realism to the narrative; this is the kind of job you can just about imagine him carrying out. As always in 007 entries that shift away from high concept action, one of the losers is Q, his gadgets tucked safely away in Q Branch as the man himself does nothing more than help Bond identify an assassin with the help of his trusty ‘Identograph.’

At the same time, the film never completely shrugs off the need to entertain with crazy stunts and action sequences. At times, this is quite joyously planted on the screen with a fantastically staged car chase. This begins with a great wink to the audience when Bond’s fancy Lotus is blown up and he needs to escape with Melina in her Citroen 2CV. Forced to rely on his wits rather than an array of gadgets, the chase down a winding Greek hillside road is well executed and lots of fun. But other action scenes don’t work in quite the same way. An extended series of action scenes at an Alpine ski resort goes on for far too long and shoehorns in moments of the distinctly unfunny comedy that undermines all the fine stunt work carried out to put this stuff on the screen. The tussle at the hockey rink – where the scoreboard tallies up Bond’s dispatching of some baddies – is especially awful.

When the film tries to inject real elements of suspense, as opposed to expensively mounted set pieces, it really starts living up to its mission statement. The best bits involve Bond having to scale a sheer mountain face to reach the villains’ rendezvous point with the Soviets at the Orthodox monastery in Meteora, Greece. For several minutes, John Glen simply screens his perilous climb, Bond showing all his advancing years, huffing and puffing with the effort of hauling his middle aged self up the mountainside. Audiences know it will go wrong, that at some moment he’ll be spotted and threatened, and the perils of being hundreds of feet high with naught but a drop beneath him. For once, Glen appreciates the tension of this entire scene and lets it play out, helped by Roger Moore’s real life fear of heights and the instances where it appears he’s in actual trouble.

John Glen, who’d worked his way through the franchise’s ranks since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (and would go on to direct the entire 1980s series of Bonds), finally got his opportunity to helm a film after directing action scenes in the previous films. He was working with a smaller budget than that lavished on Moonraker, and indeed had to oversee a ‘back to basics’ Bond that recalled the first couple of films (exemplified in a scene reminiscent from Dr No where Bond coldly kicks a car containing an assassin over the edge of a cliff). It’s been suggested since then that the franchise was in a crisis after Moonraker, though that plays into reassessments of the ‘science fiction 007’ as a failure, which at the time it clearly wasn’t. However, there were concerns by the producers that the spy had reached a limit of what he could possibly achieve by saving the world from space, and they either had to hit new levels of loopiness (James Bond of Mars!) or bring him back down to earth.

The other aspect was the man playing the lead role. By now, Moore was in his mid-fifties and looked it. Despite initially deciding to back out at this stage, Glen appeared to want the continuity he brought in retaining his services and in turn developed the character into a figure of greater maturity. The sex magnet he rather improbably presented in earlier films has now largely gone. His flirting with Miss Moneypenny feels less charged and more like old friends sharing a familiar joke. He rebuffs the admittedly annoying advances of an ingénue skater and falls in with the flighty but ultimately tragic Countess Lisl von Schlaf (Cassandra Harris). Their brief sex scenes are restricted to little more than the couple wearing post-coital dressing gowns, though Harris turns out to be so sexy in her short time on screen that she’s actually more memorable than the main squeeze, the revenge obsessed Melina (Carole Bouquet). Still, the relationship between Bond and Melina develops over the course of the film, if not entirely convincingly then at least the effort has been made to ensure she doesn’t hop into bed at the first twitch of Moore’s eyebrow.

It’s probably Moore’s best work as Bond, though throughout the film it screams its suitability as a Timothy Dalton vehicle. Elsewhere, Julian Glover is nicely unassuming as Kristatos, quite credible as a middle man with eyes on a profit rather than world domination. Topol brings bags of charisma to the screen as Kristatos’s business rival, Columbo. There’s even a Cold War aspect to the film, Walter Gotell reprising his role as Soviet General Gogol and hinting at a level of affection for Bond that suggests a thawing of relations with the East is at hand. Bill Conti’s terrible, ‘funked up’ score, on the other hand, makes you realise just how spoiled you were with John Barry’s classy stylings, whilst Sheena Easton’s Academy Award nominated song is a disappointing ballad that, stylistically, has no business playing any part in the film.

For Your Eyes Only: ***

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8 Replies to “For Your Eyes Only (1981)”

  1. For Your Eyes Only has the dubious honour of being amongst a handful of Bonds I’ve only seen once. My overriding memory is that I knew from its reputation I was meant to like it, because it was a Proper Serious Bond after all the silliness of Moonraker, but I only thought it was quite good.

    I got much the same feeling from The Spy Who Loved Me, actually, another I’ve only seen once. I need to afford myself a full-on Bond re-watch, really.

    1. Thanks, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head really – in trying to be low key it winds up being fairly unmemorable. That’s the one thing Bond movies should never be, though the full embarrassment factor of an actor heading for his free bus pass playing a sexy spy within a terrible film was yet to happen.

  2. For ages this was my absolute favourite of the Moore Bond films despite the silly aspects of the teaser (which is very impressive technically but as you say, very jokey) and of course the daft Thatcher coda – but it still is the ebst for me though I’ve added the very different THE SPY WHO LOVED ME as I think they are the ones that see Moore at his best. I do think Glen really did help bring Bond back down to earth and scene by scene is very well put together, though admittedly the final climactic fistfight is a bit of a letdown. The ski sequences are incredibly exciting (despite Conti’s disco score, which I liked then, a little less now) and still hold up – Bouquet is too unemotional (except for that moment when More quips “I love a drive out in the country” when her laugh is clearly genuine) and Harris, Mrs Pierce Borsnan ta the time of course, is lovely and luscious – oh well …

    1. Thanks Sergio. Whilst I read a gamut of other peoples’ opinions with any film I cover, For Your Eyes Only divides opinion in a way few other Bond films do. With most, there’s a general consensus e.g. Moonraker is either awful or not as awful as they’ve heard, whereas with this one there’s been every feeling under the sun gauged, from gushing praise for a ‘hard-boiled’ Bond to people being flat out bored. The ski sequences you mentioned, for instance, I thought just went on and on and didn’t carry tonally with the low key tone set elsewhere. They were brilliantly filmed, but it was if everyone involved forgot they were supposed to be creating a more realistic Bond and reverted to type.

      I thought Bouquet was okay and I loved her face when it broke into a smile, but it can’t be a good thing that I remember the late Mrs Brosnan’s scenes that much better…

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