Last of the Monster Kids

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1981)

12. For Your Eyes Only

A new decade had dawned. And with it were rumors that we might have a new Bond. Roger Moore was no longer contracted for future Bond films, now given the choice to play the character on a movie-by-movie basis. There was a brief scramble for a new actor, with many names considered, Lewis Collins being the most tempting choice. However, there was no reason to panic. Roger Moore wasn’t done with Bond yet, agreeing to appear in “For Your Eyes Only.” The eighties, or at least the first half of it, would belong to his version of Bond.

An English ship, carrying a computer called ATAC which communicates with the British nuclear fleet, is sunken by a mine. An archeologist attempts to gather the ship’s wreckage but is murdered by an airplane-flying hitman. Fearful the Soviets may grab the ATAC, MI6 sends Bond to retrieve the device. Along the way, he meets Melina, the daughter of the murdered archeologist, who is on a personal quest of revenge. Following a lead to Greece, Bond befriends intelligence agent Kristatos who tells him a Greek crime boss is after the ATAC. Bond is unaware that Kristatos is a double agent in league with the Soviets, attempting to play 007 against his greatest rival.

Eon Productions initially contacted Blondie about performing the theme song for “For Your Eyes Only.” They bailed after working with composer Bill Conti, whose overly funky score is a major distraction for the film. (Blondie would release their pretty decent theme later.) Instead, Sheena Easton was brought in to deliver a love ballad-style theme. The production for the song obviously belong to the early eighties. However, Easton’s delivery is sincere and romantic. The lyrics turn the cheeky double entendre of a title into a touching song about revealing your most secret side to your lover. Easton also has the distinction of being the first singer to appear in the open credits. Easton floats behind the expected silhouetted nudes, who tumble and dance in front of underwater photography and close-ups of bubbles. As far as Maurice Binder’s credit sequences go, it’s a perfectly serviceable if somewhat forgettable.

The pre-credits action sequence for “For Your Eyes Only” is completely unrelated to the rest of the movie. In an astonishing bit of continuity, James Bond lays flowers by the grave of Tracy, his greatest love and late wife. (This means that, yes, Roger Moore is heartbroken over a character George Lazenby married and Sean Connery avenged.) The helicopter Bond flies away in is suddenly taken over by an unseen villain. The man strokes a white cat, is bald, wears a Nehru suit, and sits in a wheelchair and wears a neck brace. Gee, I wonder who that could be? Eon Productions could no longer use the character of Blofeld due to a law suit by Kevin McClory. McClory’s own plans to launch a rival Bond series would come to fruition soon. (Though that’s a story for another day…) This opening, where Bond murders the fuck out of a barely disguised Blofeld, is obviously a big middle finger to McClory. It’s the silliest bit in the film but amusing never the less. Tossed into a smoke stack is not the most dignified way for Bond’s archenemy to go but, given the circumstances, I guess its all right.

The rest of “For Your Eyes Only” is far less outlandish. After the over-the-top space adventure of “Moonraker,” the decision was made to bring Bond back down to Earth. The film features no supervillain with plans of worldwide destruction and domination. There’s no army of identically clothed henchmen, no doomsday device, no massive battle sequences, and no plot resolving gadgets. (A car bomb and wristwatch radio are the only tricks Q provides this time.) Instead, “For Your Eyes Only” is a Cold War story of espionage, with Bond undermining the plans of Soviet agents. He stumbles upon a heroin smuggling plot, bringing to mind “Live and Let Die,” while the bad guy plays his enemies against each other. A down-to-Earth story like this is exactly what the Bond series needed after the comic book extravagance of “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker.” The more low key plot also works better with Roger Moore’s advancing age, which is beginning to regrettably show.

By now, Roger Moore’s strengths as Bond were well known. He worked best when cracking jokes and romancing the ladies. “For Your Eyes Only” doesn’t rely on one-liners, though it still has a few. The romance, however, is well accounted for. Bond spends most of the movie with Melina, played by the lovely Carole Bouquet. Melina’s plot line is more detailed then your regular Bond girl. She’s on a quest of revenge against the men who killed her father. She’s not afraid to fight along side Bond, as she proves very deadly with a crossbow. The secret agent warns her about the cost of revenge, providing “For Your Eyes Only” a little bit of weight. Most importantly, Moore has fantastic chemistry with Bouquet. Moore’s romantic fidelity is emphasized when he turns down the advances of a teenage girl, something I can’t imagine Sean Connery’s Bond ever doing.

“For Your Eyes Only” has easily the most low-key Bond villain of any of the films. Kristatos doesn’t plan to blow up the world or work for an evil organization. His sole motivator is greed, whether it comes from selling drugs or selling secrets to the Soviets. Even the last film that featured a drug lord, Mr. Big in “Live and Let Die,” was far more exaggerated then this. More insidiously, Kristatos tricks Bond, pretending to be his friend and getting the spy to wipe out his biggest rival. The switcharoo plot adds some extra dramatic tension to the story, which is nice. Julian Glover isn’t flashy as Kirstatos but works fine for the material. He doesn’t have a huge army but Kristatos isn’t without some henchman. The most notable of which is Erich Kriegler, an Aryan-looking German strongman who recalls “You Only Live Twice’s” Hans and provides a solid physical threat to Bond.

In addition to Melina, Bond has another ally this time around. Though fighting against him initially, Milos Columbo alerts Bond to Kristatos’ villainy. Topol, that single-named thespian of “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Flash Gordon” fame, has a ball in the part. The character is frequently crunching pistachio nuts and even uses the shells to locate bad guys. You wouldn’t expect it but Topol comes off as sort of badass here. He even gets to kill the bad guy! Another ally of Bond is Bibi, the teenage ice skater played by Lynn-Holly Johnson. Johnson is primarily comic relief, being full of energy and teenage enthusiasm. Some consider her annoying and I understand that. However, I like Bibi, finding her cute and amusing.

By now, it’s a requirement for the Moore Bond films to feature several vehicle chases. First, we have Bond and Melina escaping bad guys in a tiny Italian car through the crowded streets. The car bouncing off the roof of another pushes believability a little too far. The chase is still fun, especially when the car is dodging other vehicles while driving in reverse. (The scene also reminds me of “The Castle of Cagliostro” because I’m a nerd.) An even better chase scene occurs down the slopes of a snowy mountain. Motorcycles take chase after Bond on skis, who easily outsmarts them. He slides down the path of a bobsled while avoiding machine gun fire. The scene builds nicely, the action remaining fun without going crazy.

Roger Moore isn’t trading blows like he was only a few years earlier. But “For Your Eyes Only” still gets in some decent action. A shoot-out inside a drug factory works nicely. Bad guys get shot off boats and blown up with grenades. Later, Topol and Bond roll giant drums of liquid heroin over their attackers, a memorable image. The scene concludes with Bond running up stairs after an escaped villain. It’s a bit funny to hear Roger Moore huffing and puffing as he runs but I still like how that one concludes. An even better action scene occurs when James and Melina dive down to retrieve the ATAC. One of Kristatos’ henchman, clad in a bulky diving suit, pursues them. The image of the clumsy diving suit stumbling after Bond comes awfully close to unintentional comedy. However, the tight location and quick cutting keep the scene tensed and well balanced.

Maybe it’s Roger Moore’s visible wrinkles. Maybe it’s the more grounded story. Either way, “For Your Eyes Only” seems to delight putting Bond in very realistic danger. One scene has him dodging a dune buggy on a beach, which takes out the night’s girl instead. After being captured by the villain, Bond and Melina are keelhauled, dragged in the water behind the ship. It’s a plausible form of torture and an intense sequence. It also gets some sharks in the movie, which are also almost a requirement by now. In the last act, Bond scales a mountain and comes dangerously close to falling several times. James Bond may be an immortal spy who has killed hundreds of men and bedded nearly as many women. That doesn’t mean he can’t be scared shitless while climbing up a steep, rocky ledge.

The film does, in a way, deliver on the expected finale of two armies clashing at the villain’s lair. In keeping with the rest of the film, it’s far more personal. Instead of being backed up by a military force, Bond has gathered a small collection of allies. Instead of the enemy hiding out in a high-tech lair, Kristatos takes shelter in an old monastery. His own fleet of henchman is far smaller. Bond’s struggles are riskier and grittier, even if he does manage to toss two separate lackeys over the cliff. As previously noted, Bond doesn’t even finish the villain himself. His major act of heroism comes when he tosses the ATAC away, instead of willingly giving it to the Soviets.

The back-to-basics approach taken by “For Your Eyes Only” hasn’t been well received by everyone. Some consider the film boring or forgettable. Compared to the effects packed thrills of the previous films, I can understand that. However, I appreciate the Bond series returning to its Cold War roots in the middle of the excessive eighties. The score is cheesy and Moore can’t swing the way he used to. However, he’s still charming, the provided Bond girl is a favorite of mine, and the story is far more complex then usual. For these reasons, I consider “For Your Eyes Only” one of the highlights of Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond. [Grade: B]


[] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

1 comment:

whitsbrain said...

Roger Moore's Bond is really getting long in the tooth at this point. It's most apparent when Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson) whose about 18 years old tells him that she could just "eat him up". It comes off as gross; I guess she's into older men…like grandpa old. The action sequences and there are plenty of them don't work as well when they require Moore to be physical. Of course Moore's Bond has always been a little lighter in the loafers than Connery Craig or even Brosnan. Fans of a softer more humorous 007 will enjoy this more than others. The action and scenic locations make this a decent Bond adventure.(5/10)