Like our previous two entries in our Bond countdown, 1981’s For Your Eyes Only manages to tick all of the boxes of the typical Bond film. It has the gorgeous Bond girl, a plot of revenge, an appearance by Blofeld, car chases, ski chases, underwater fights - everything. It’s the reality check Bond needed after the space laser battles at the end of Moonraker.
(With 8 weeks until the U.S. premiere of Spectre, the 24th James Bond movie, Jalopnik’s resident 007 scholar Justin Westbrook is counting down the 10 best entries in the series, with For Your Eyes Only at number 8.)
As I mentioned in last week’s review of Thunderball, many of the more formulaic Bond films are overshadowed by the productions that attempt to stand out. Some of these, like 1979’s Moonraker, stand out for bad reasons - like putting Bond in outer space shooting lasers at bad guys. At the time it made sense, as Star Wars was a sensation and the Bond franchise was trying to cash in on that trend. What could top Bond in space?
Well.. it didn’t go so well, and even if Moonraker had been a critical success (it really wasn’t) there would be no way to top Bond exiting the stratosphere.
So where to go from there? Enter 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Roger Moore’s fifth Bond film of seven total, the creative team decided to ground the character in a more personal, revenge driven plot.
For me, this was a brilliant move. For Your Eyes Only maintains the typical camp style of the Moore era, but this time far more sedated than previous outings and the having the advantage of being glazed over some of Moore’s best action sequences. Moore’s time as Bond saw some of the best sequences in the series, but this one in particular takes the cake.
The film opens with Bond visiting the grave of his deceased wife, Teresa “Tracy” Bond - a nice piece of continuity with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This call back to that tragic Bond film helps to set up the opening action sequence, as Bond is picked up by who he assumes is his employer in a helicopter and flown over London.
It turns out the helicopter is being piloted remotely by none other than *copyright infringement* himself. Actually I don’t have to censor that any more - the helicopter is being piloted by Blofeld. The opening at Tracy’s grave helps to remind the audience who exactly is attacking Bond. Yet at the time, for legal reasons the film couldn’t say it was the iconic super-villain from S.P.E.C.T.R.E., so they showed it instead.
The official producers of the Bond films, Eon Productions, didn’t hold the entirety of the rights to one of their most iconic movie characters after screenwriter Kevin McClory sued Ian Fleming over an unused draft of the Thunderball script, as I highlighted last week. A court granted Kevin McClory the intellectual rights to the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. organization, Blofeld, as well as allowing him mutual use of the main James Bond characters like M., Moneypenny, and so forth.
Since the first suit was settled, Eon made multiple claims and suits against McClory for ownership of his stake in the franchise, leading to decades of gridlock that saw Blofeld and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. vanish from the official Bond franchise, and a copycat film produced by McClory, Never Say Never Again, released alongside Octopussy in 1983. Eon, through Danjaq, bought the rights after McClory’s death in 2013, meaning they can now officially claim Blofeld is in the opening of For Your Eyes Only.
Still, the opening of For Your Eyes Only is a nice middle finger to the persisting issues at the time, finally ridding of the *super-villain in grey Nehru suit jacket with white cat,* or now officially Blofeld, for good. It is included in this year’s “S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Collection” of the Bond films featuring the organization, released in celebration of Spectre hitting theaters in November.
So anyways... oh yeah! Back to the movie review.
After an exciting opening featuring Moore clambering to the side of a helicopter piloted remotely by a madman, the film’s plot begins to unfold. A British intelligence ship under the disguise of a fishing boat is sunk, starting a race to the bottom of the ocean between the British and the Soviets to retrieve the top secret ATAC (Automatic Targeting Attack Controller) device that went down with the boat.
Since the boat was undercover and not in international waters, the two superpowers have to rely on private contractors also in disguise to retrieve the targeting system. The British recruit the Havelock family, who operate a maritime archaeology organization, and the Soviets recruit Christatos, a Greek smuggler.
Bond gets involved when the Havelocks are murdered and starts following a lead to their killer. In an attempt to scope out the killer’s location, Bond is captured and only saved when Havelock’s daughter, Melina, shows up and kills her parents’ murderer, where she meets the man who paid him to do it.
Bond reluctantly teams up with Melina, starting with the famous car chase in the Citroën 2CV then taking the duo to a ski resort, the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, and eventually teaming up with Columbo, Christatos’ rival smuggler in the finale of the film.
Bond starts out with his Lotus Esprit Turbo first seen in The Spy Who Loved Me. It blows up when he runs away from the camp the Havelock’s murderer is staying at as a self defense feature.
That’s when the duo hop in Melina’s yellow 2CV, which being ancient as hell isn’t much of a match for the bad guys’ Peugeot 504s. Melina flips the little car, and Bond gets it going again, this time behind the wheel. As the cars race down a mountainside road of olive trees, Bond outwits and outmaneuvers the 504s, causing one to go off the cliff and the other to end up in the branches of a tree.
In a testament to MI6’s budget, Bond later gets another Lotus Esprit Turbo, this time a blood-orange/red color with gold accent work. This is my favorite Bond car of the Moore era, even more so than the submersible Esprit. It features a custom ski rack, as Bond takes it to go see Christatos at a Winter Olympic training facility. This one thankfully doesn’t blow up.
There’s also a pretty cool submersible owned by Melina’s family, which the two use to retrieve the ATAC machine from the underwater wreckage. Bad guys show up in an equally cool underwater suit and a submersible, but Bond sets off a safeguard procedure wired on the ship and him and Melina make it back to the surface, ATAC in hand.
Other than that, this film is very hands on in its set pieces and action. Bond doesn’t necessarily rely on gadgets to get out of sticky situations. Q’s biggest moment is using an identification machine with Bond to identify the man who paid off the Havelocks’ killer. Heck, the Bond girl is even good with a crossbow!
The entire finale involves honest rock climbing and straightforward shootouts - no overblown sets or explosions, and no ridiculous gadgetry. I love it even more for this, as it is clearly an inversion to the space-battle ending of Moonraker before it.
I chose this movie as number eight over Thunderball and The Living Daylights because of how surprisingly good it is. The down-to-Earth tone and stellar performance (pardon the space pun, I’m done now) by Roger Moore in this movie are what finally got me to appreciate him in the role.
Moore kind of failed to dial in Bond in his first two films, which is understandable. The Spy Who Loved Me is a greater Bond movie than this no doubt, and that is where Moore really settled into character. But what I like about For Your Eyes Only is how the filmmakers dared to take the character more serious and mature. Bond is very serious in this film: he ignores the advances of the young Olympic ice-skater Bibi, he warns Melina of the pointless and selfish complications of avenging her family, and he is far less flippant and jovial than previous and later films. We even see him grieving at the beginning, and that grief seems to inform his actions throughout this adventure.
He kicks a man off a cliff, which Moore had to be coerced into filming, but later accepted as fitting for the film. That scene is powerful, and it is easily Moore’s coldest kill as Bond.
In the end, he has the ATAC just as the Russian General Gogol arrives at Christato’s mountain top getaway to retrieve it. Rather than run from the Russians, he throws the ATAC off the mountain and shares a laugh with his enemy. “That’s detente, comrade.” That is easily the best scene in the film, and in the context of the film’s release, it reflects the shifting political situation between a stuttering Soviet Union and a strong West that led to the Berlin Wall coming down by the end of the decade.
Bond movies have an incredibly mixed track record, to say the least, when it comes to their women characters. This entry doesn’t do the franchise many favors in terms of characterization.
Melina is a strongly written character... for a Bond film, but Carole Bouquet struggles to bring any sense of real emotion to her scenes. She is gorgeous and brings a very visual kind of drama, but is stale in her dialogue and overall gives a rather dull, unmemorable performance.
If Melina is a strongly written female character, Bibi is easily one of the poorest-written female characters in the entire franchise. She is written to be a young, innocent prodigy who is willing to give up her dreams for a man she only met moments ago. An uninterested, older Bond quickly shuts down her advances with the line:“You just put your clothes back on, and I’ll buy you an ice cream.” The franchise has done a lot more with its women characters in recent years, but it should have been better by the early 1980s. A lot better.
Another minor issue I have is the underwater scenes. As with Thunderball, I can’t help but feel they just slow the film down far too much, though they are visually appealing. I’m convinced by now that it is next to impossible to feature an exciting underwater action sequence. You’ll notice they stopped trying after this one.
Oh yeah, and then there’s the clunky ending with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher flirting with a parrot over the phone, who she thinks is Bond. I didn’t like that and I doubt anyone thinks it’s aged well.
I love this movie because of its place in the series of films. If you ever watch them all back to back as part of a week long Bond-a-thon, this one stands out even more so than the ridiculous Moonraker that you laughed through just before it. Moonraker stood out for being silly and bad - For Your Eyes Only stands out as Moore’s most serious adventure.
It is one of the first films that sort of takes the actor’s aging in stride - not by referencing it directly but by writing around it and making Bond the most mature he’s been since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a film the creative people behind For Your Eyes Only were clearly heavily influenced by with its somber opening, a bobsled skiing sequence, an attack on the beach with the Contessa - just as when he first met Tracy. It’s also a story of revenge.
A strong adventure in a sea of camp is enough to credit this movie at a solid 8th place on our Top Ten countdown.
Stay tuned to see just what I have in mind next week. In the meantime, check out the films we’ve already covered.
Lotus Esprit Turbo photo from ESPN.go.com