Directed by John Glen
Screenplay by Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson
Original Release Date: June 25th, 1981 (U.K), June 26th, 1981 (U.S)
There was a possibility when the 1980s began that it might do so with a new James Bond. Roger Moore’s contract had expired with The Spy Who Loved Me, and his appearance in Moonraker was on a one film contract only. In the end, Moore would return to the fold for a fifth film, along with a new director in the shape of John Glen.
Glen had made a considerable impression as second unit director on OHMSS and the previous two Roger Moore films, bringing to the screen the impressive sequences that opened those films. Glen had proven himself to be someone who could bring physically impressive stunts and set pieces to the screen, and it would be something that was to be very much evident when it came to his debut as a director on a full length Bond film.
Moonraker was massively successful at the box office, becoming the highest grossing film of the franchise and while reviews of the film might have been more mixed (with much criticism directed toward the film’s overt humour), it was clearly a popular film with audiences, so any decision to stop with the fantasy right there and take the series back towards something more akin to From Russia with Love was a risky endeavour.
The series’ relationship with the Fleming source materials was a complex one. Yes, the films boasted of starring either Connery, Lazenby or Moore as ‘Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007’, but the character names were about as far as some of the films went when it came to adapting them, along with superficial elements of the stories; You Only Live Twice may not have been anything like Fleming’s book, but it still amounted to a confrontation between Bond and Blofeld in Japan, if that was about it.
For Your Eyes Only took its name from a short story collection of the same name, and from 1981 onwards it would be these short stories of Fleming that would inspire much of the films that Eon would produce.
Roger Moore’s fifth Bond film would establish a template for the series of taking the short stories and expanding them into longer narratives. For Your Eyes Only would arguably be as close to Fleming as the Moore films would get, but it would give Eon a taste for more fully embracing Bond’s creator, something that would be grasped with both hands when the second half of the 80s called for a new leading actor.
The film opens with one hell of a call back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which says a lot about how everyone involved here is in approaching the character this time around. Where the last few films might have jettisoned Fleming’s narratives (albeit having no choice but to do so in one case), it said a lot about how seriously everyone was taking proceedings that it opted to call back to a film that was met with indifference on release but whose reputation was starting to gain traction by 1981 and which had also been the most faithful adaptation of a Fleming text.
This wasn’t the first time a Moore film had made reference to Bond’s short time as a married man; Anya had mentioned Bond’s marriage in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moore’s reaction was one of the very few times where we got a sense how the actor might approach a more Fleming-style of film. That same film also saw Moore deliver a darkly delivered speech about the risks of their profession to Anya later on, and it’s these moments that feel like they are expanded upon a little in For Your Eyes Only.
While the film doesn’t completely shy away from comedy (this is after all the Bond film with a ‘cameo’ from Margaret and Dennis Thatcher), the film does appear to be acknowledging Moore’s advancing years and that Bond’s profession is one that carries a wealth of dark experience. It never quite goes as full Fleming as the two films that would take Bond out of the 1980s, but it’s a great debut for a director that would take the series and the character into the realm of the espionage of the period.
While the twinkle in Roger Moore’s eye is still there, the film revels in more serious moments, including what amounts to one of the most cold-blooded moments from the actor. This is still after all Bond and even Roger Moore’s version of the character isn’t above killing villains, but one of the most pivotal moments involves his murder of chief henchman Loque (a silently menacing Michael Gothard) by kicking his car over a considerable drop. It’s followed by a one-liner, but for once the delivery is anything but comedically delivered.
The moment recalls a similar moment in The Spy Who Loved Me, but instead of being funny, we’re instead being confronted by a character who very much isn’t afraid of using his licence to kill as a means of avenging those he cares for when they’re hurt or killed.
With Moore now in his fifties, the film does feel as if it’s playing the character as an agent of advancing years. His advice at one point that to set out on revenge involves digging two graves feels like the words of someone who knows the toll that killing can take. Sure enough, the character still racks up dead bodies throughout the film, but we’re seeing the body count mount not at the hands of a gentlemanly adventurer of the previous films but of someone with years of experience working as a British agent.
Even the film’s central relationship with Bond Woman Melina (Carole Bouquet) feels different to anything the series had done before. While in the final scene it resorts to some moonlight skinny dipping between the pair, there is less of the usual sexual overtones that comes with Bond’s interaction with the film’s leading actress. Carole Bouquet is younger than Moore, so it’s refreshing to see the film portray their scenes as more plutonic.
One doesn’t really want to describe it as father/daughter, but he is protective and charming with her in a way that never becomes overtly sexual. His advice to her about revenge, as knowingly contradictory as it is, feels as if it’s coming from a place of concern from 007, and their scenes are free of some of the condescending misogyny that is usually part and parcel of the character’s relationships in both the film’s and Fleming’s novels.
For a film that was all about trying to get away from the excesses of Moonraker and opening with a reference to Tracy, the pre-title sequence does throw in some overt humour and an over the top villain in the shape of ‘Bald Man in Wheelchair’ who, for legal reasons, is in no way Blofeld…even though he recalls the final appearance of Telly Savalas from OHMSS.
This was once again an example of the series quietly retconning itself. If Diamonds are Forever was forgoing the previous film a little, then this was retroactively erasing Diamonds are Forever, seemingly forgetting about Charles Grey and making the pre-title sequence a final kiss off between Bond and Blofeld over the murder of Tracy. That is if the character was Blofeld. For legal reasons he is simply ‘Bald Man in Wheelchair’, although the entire scene and confrontation is drenched with the history the franchise.
It’s a sequence that makes brilliant use of the London skyline and the abandoned Beckton Gasworks, and the first time that the series made prominent use of Bond’s home city for an action sequence. It features superlative aerial stunt work involving Bond hanging from the side of a helicopter, but it also features over the top dialogue delivery from Blofeld and jokes which could destabilise any attempt at trying to make this the ‘serious one’ but in truth it feels more like the film is simply getting any silliness out of its system, a goodbye to the slapstick of previous years before getting back down to business.
The film is admitting that this is still a world capable of a character like Blofeld and his dastardly grandiose schemes, but that for now the series is putting them away for a story with grounded yet still substantial stakes and characters, both good and bad, that have complex motivations beyond making a profit through world domination and destruction.
On top of all that, the use of such grey, abandoned parts of London almost feel deliberately anachronistic to what the previous film did with its illustrious Paris and Venice locations. The film that follows does make great use of Greece and the ski slopes of Cortina, but there is a more muted, understated feel to the film that feels surprisingly welcome.
While the series had ignored much of the Cold War rhetoric going on outside the cinema over the course of its then nineteen year run, Bond of the 80s was beginning the decade by touching upon it more fully, something that would drive a majority of the stories the series was going to tell over the decade.
The sinking of the St Georges and the attempts to recover the ATAC, the McGuffin that kickstarts the plot to the movie, recalls the Lektor in From Russia with Love, and when the film’s action sequences kick into gear, there is less of a reliance on gadgetry and more on Bond using his wits and instincts.
The film’s intentions are made clear when the anti-burglary device on Bond’s new Lotus turns out to be an explosive device that activates whenever anyone tries to break into it. Gadgetry for once turns against our hero when Bond and Melina are trying to escape a bunch of villains, with only a less than glamorous Citroen 2CV the only means of escape.
The image of Roger Moore in an increasingly beat up yellow Citroen is wonderful, and while it has the potential to be silly, the car chase that follows is one of the very best in the series. Staged by Remy Julienne, the chase combines pace, humour and genuine thrills to brilliant effect and is backed brilliantly by Bill Conti’s pacey and none more 80s music score.
Same goes for the film’s central ski chase sequence. As with all skiing sequences in the Bond series, one is instantly reminded of Lazenby’s escape from Piz Gloria and while the chase here could maybe do with a little bit of a trim in the final edit, it’s still a gloriously well put together combination of stunt work, choreography and suspense.
The more grounded nature of the film might come as a shock coming off the back of Moonraker, but it does so in a welcome way. Better yet, instead of the film trying to overload itself with action sequences each more outlandish than the one that came before, there is a pleasing sense of the film’s set-pieces becoming more grounded as the film continues.
The final set piece involving a small scale team scaling a mountain top to take on central villain Kristatos (a wonderfully smarmy Julian Glover) is arguably not even the biggest set piece of the film, but it once again relies on some fantastic stunt work, not to mention some genuine suspense as Bond must scale the mountain while a villain above him tries his best to get Bond to plummet to his death.
It’s a sequence that sums up the film’s approach to action and the character of Bond magnificently. Admittedly a more overt brand of humour would creep back in for the next two films, but one could also see Eon trying out a tone and style that would come into play more toward the end of the decade.
Bond, James Bond will return with…Octopussy.