For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Posted: January 17, 2020 in James Bond
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And so we follow Roger Moore’s most ludicrous film with perhaps his most grounded. No world threatening supervillains with diabolical schemes here, instead we get a gritty cold war thriller. It’s amazing to think Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only are part of the same series, but then that’s part of the franchise’s charm in my opinion.

There was a time, maybe not even that long ago, when if asked FYEO would have sat in my worst Bond list. It doesn’t anymore. To be honest the reappraisal was prompted by a holiday in Corfu which made me watch it again. And I realised there’s a lot to like about it. I don’t mind the ridiculous, but it’s nice that Roger got something akin to From Russia with Love—it’s nowhere near as good obviously but after Moonraker they had to dial down the ridiculousness, and they’ll do this again of course, with Casino Royale following Die Another Day. And again, to be clear FYEO isn’t as good as Casino Royale.

The changes are obvious from the beginning. The pre-title sequence is somewhat lowkey, but I like it. The reference to Tracy is welcome, and Moore gets to look mournful and weary in a way he’s rarely allowed. His little comment of “It usually is” when told there’s an emergency feels almost Dalton’esque. Of course, while it’s clear Blofeld is the CEO of remote-control airways, he’s never credited as such due to copyright issues with Kevin McClory that would plague Eon for years. We all know it’s Ernst Stavro though, and 007 finally gets revenge for Tracy by dropping him down a chimney.

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Cue titles and Sheena Easton (still the only time the singer’s been seen in the titles) before we get to the meat of the plot. After an accident (or is it?) sinks a British spy ship, the Royal navy’s ATAC device (used to communicate with and coordinate Polaris submarines) is at risk. The British hire Sir Timothy Havelock, a marine archaeologist, to find it but he’s murdered before he can by Hector Gonzales, a Cuban hitman. Bond is despatched to Spain to spy on Gonzales but gets caught, luckily before he can be killed Gonzales is killed by Havelock’s daughter Melina and the two make their escape, though after Bond’s Lotus self-destructs (worst anti-theft device ever, Q!) they have to use Melina’s 2CV.

This leads to a great little car chase, which could have been played strictly for laughs but is genuinely exciting, one of many top-notch set pieces in this film.

Bond’s off to Cortina in Italy next, to meet Julian Glover’s Kristatos, who promises to help Bond find out who hired Gonzales but suggests it’s probably his former friend turned nemesis, the dastardly Columbo, who given he’s played by Topol is of course really a good guy, while the man who’s played smooth talking villains in everything from Doctor Who to Game of Thrones by way of Star Wars is, of course, the bad guy.

Cortina features some more good set pieces. Bond’s encounter with a couple of motorbikes when Melina shows up, and his ice hockey fight aren’t great, but between them is a stunning sequence where Bond is hunted by the villains, and proceeds to elude/fight them using a variety of winter sports, from biathlon to ski jumping to the franchise’s second bobsleigh outing. It’s a wonderful sequence and you do halfway believe Roger Moore is doing all those stunts…well, maybe a quarter way.

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Then it’s off to Corfu, and a night at the casino (filmed at the luscious Achilleion Palace—been there!) before Bond seduces Columbo’s girlfriend, the accent slipping Countess (Cassandra Harris, the first wife of Pierce Brosnan who sadly died in 1991) When they’re menaced on the beach the countess is killed, and Bond is about to die when rescued by…shock! Columbo’s men.

There’s a lovely scene between Bond and Columbo, and Topol easily fits into the retinue of larger than life allies alongside Kerim Bey and Tiger Tanaka. Columbo lets Bond in on a raid of Kristatos’s operation in Albania (actually filmed below the old venetian fortress in Corfu Town—been there!) which is another great set piece.

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Bond and Melina reconnect and locate the St Georges. They find the ATAC but are attacked, first by a man in a metal diving suit, then by another henchmen in a minisub. They defeat both but back on the surface Kristatos is waiting and he takes the ATAC and attempts to keelhaul Bond and Melina. This is a great scene, lifted from Fleming, and their escape is even realistic, at least realistic for Bond.

Then we’re off to our finale, an assault on the mountaintop monastery of St Cyril’s. Yes Bond’s mountain climbing goes on a bit, but it’s still a great end to the film;  Kristatos is foiled and when General Gogol arrives 007 deprives him of his prize by tossing the ATAC off the cliff. “That’s detente comrade. I don’t have it. You don’t have it.”

Wonderful.

What a shame the end of the film is ruined by the ridiculous Janet Brown/Margaret Thatcher moment. Seriously, what were they thinking?

maxresdefaultMoore is great here, and yes he is starting to look a bit older but at least he’s portrayed as slightly less sleazy than he has been elsewhere. His relationship with Melina takes time to grow, and while he hops into bed with the countess he is technically “on the job” and Harris is at least only young enough to be his daughter rather than his granddaughter! And then there’s Bibi, who Bond fends off.

Fun fact, though obviously playing younger than her years, Lynn Holly Johnson is actually only a year younger than Carole Bouquet, but then this film’s got some mixed up ideas about age. Bibi tells  Kristatos he’s too old for her, but Glover is almost eight years younger than Roger Moore who Bibi is desperate to shag!

Back to Roger, he gets to be brutal and be a proper spy, and yes by all accounts he wasn’t too happy kicking that guy off the cliff, but like a trouper he did it and it’s a great scene. You almost wish this had been his send off.

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Carole Bouquet’s Melina is a great Bond girl. I mean, she has actual agency. Yes she falls for Bond, well duh, and yes she does seem to give up a little easily in Cortina, and yes Bond does divesplain to a woman who’s probably done more diving than he has…but, she’s engaged in the story, makes her own decisions and saves 007’s life, she also kicks butt with that crossbow. In a way I’m sorry she isn’t the one to kill Kristatos but you can’t have everything. Her comparisons with Elektra are also good. Definitely one of the better Bond girls.

Talking of Kristatis, Glover is wonderful in the role, charming and dangerous in equal measure, especially once his cover’s blown and we know he’s the bad guy. Topol is similarly engaging as Columbo, another one of those characters you kinda wish had come back. Perhaps a shame that we have a French woman, and English and Israeli men playing Greeks but they all play their parts well at least.

The henchmen are less memorable. Gonzales isn’t around long enough to get much of a personality, Locque’s defining trait is his glasses, and Erich Kriegler is just another generic monosyllabic Aryan blonde (see also Stamper, Hans, Necros etc etc) Interesting to note Charles Dance in one of his earliest roles.

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While Moneypenny is on hand to flirt, and Q aids Bond with the ludicrous indentigraph, there’s no M as sadly Bernard Lee died before he could film his scenes. As a mark of respect the role wasn’t recast and Bond is briefed by others.

Never been a huge fan of Easton’s title track, but the wacka wacka soundtrack is very cool.

I can see why people don’t like it because it’s the atypical Moore Bond film, but it grows on me with each viewing, a taut little cold war thriller with some great set pieces and an underrated gem methinks, though that Thatcher scene belongs in the same bin they should put the penny whistle from The Man With the Golden Gun in.

Have no fear fans of the silly, I’m sure Roger will be clowning around again soon…

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