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“The Chinese have a saying; “Before setting off on revenge, you first dig two graves!”, The James Bond blogs: ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (1981)

9 Jun

Until the controversial ‘re-boot’ in 2006 with Casino Royale, there were some Bond fans that viewed the James Bond films as having held the same continuity since Dr. No in 1962, and still do. Six actors to date, over 40 years, have played Bond. Like the changing face of Doctor Who, some fans have speculated he’s the same man in all of them, which of course he is, but not in quite the same way. Either that, or as the other theory goes, “James Bond” is a code name for a number of different secret agents over a number of years. At the time of writing I do think it’s irrelevant, because Bond is a timeless hero and he exists for us in whichever film we watch him in at the time. The essential history of him being educated at Eton, losing his parents in a skiing accident, having a CIA best mate called Felix, marrying Tracy, and so forth can be shifted through time. As long as we’re vague about them and don’t try to fit the film series into a true continuity it works for every new film. The character and formula just gets updated every few years. Because Bond pictures are not period adventures set in the ‘50s or ‘60s, this has to be the case. Having said all that, there’s a point at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only where we are convinced that Bond is exactly the same character we saw in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and perhaps even Dr. No. Bond (Roger Moore) visits his wife’s grave. It’s a nice scene, and helps remind us of Bond’s past. But the date of death on the grave is 1969 (the year OHMSS was released) and we know that’s the year Diana Rigg starred as Tracy. If we’ve seen the film, we must presume that Bond as George Lazenby is the same character that Roger Moore is playing, and presumably Sean Connery as well. It’s an interesting idea, because it’s arguably the last time in the Eon series where that kind of true linear chronology is possible. It’s almost the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. Infact, if Moonraker marked the end of the overblown epics beloved of the ‘60s and ‘70s, For Your Eyes Only was a chance to try a different approach.

At this point in the film series, James Bond had little choice but to return to a more down to Earth story (quite literally, given the space excesses of Moonraker). That director John Glen, helming his first Bond, went back to Ian Fleming’s books for inspiration is all to the better. Although it doesn’t quite compare to From Russia with Love or On Her Majesty’s… Glen’s film is the most Fleming-esque of Roger Moore’s outings in the role.

No wisecracks or flippancy this time round.

Ah, yes, Roger Moore. For the doubters out there, who always wanted Connery back, let me tell you about Moore. He’s nothing short of superb in For Your Eyes Only. His sense of fun and irreverence are still well utilised, but this is a more serious interpretation than usual, for a more serious espionage story. There’s a point where Moore’s Bond isn’t just going through the motions, he’s seriously angry and ready to use his licence to kill. His expression when a dune buggy runs down his lady friend, The Countess, is just for starters. Once he has one of the villains where he wants him, he’s as ruthless as 007 ever was. Confronting the lackey in his car, which is precariously dangling over a cliff, Bond helps him on his way with a vengeful kick. Extra ruthlessness aside, Roger’s interpretation is as charming and as suave as ever, and he’s often very funny. But he’s never silly, and that’s the big difference between For your eyes only and several of Moore’s other Bond films.

Included to introduce a new Bond actor, this scene still gave Roger Moore a direct narrative link with Connery and Lazenby.

For Your Eyes Only never feels quite as glamorous as Moore’s previous films, but it’s a more low-key assignment (in the sense that any Bond adventure can be “low-key”). There are no over the top villains with nuclear weapon ransoms and volcano bases in this one, but it’s still far better than just having a bunch of drug dealers. In this sense, For Your Eyes Only gives Bond a far better mission than the one in Live and Let Die. It’s still something worth Bond getting his teeth into.

Blofeld’s last stand?

The story is taken from two short stories by Ian Fleming and adapted by Richard Maibaum with help from Michael Wilson (scripting Bond for the first time). It also features a great scene originally featured in the novel of Live and Let Die, but not in the film adaptation. That’s the nail-biting scene where Bond and his girl are tied together and dragged by powerboat through a deadly coral reef. It’s brilliantly done. Plus it backs up my theory regarding decent Bond films having killer sharks present. The water is full of the bastards.

Speaking of the Bond girl, Melina is a strong and well-defined character, perhaps the best Bond girl, in that respect, since Tracy. Carole Bouquet plays her with a depth not often seen in a Bond film. She’s out to avenge the deaths of her parents, armed with a pretty nasty looking crossbow. The actual plot revolves around the lost British ATAC (a device capable of ordering remote missile launches from submarines). Deceit, treachery and vengeance are the prime ingredients in this Bond cocktail. The film is not missing the more outlandish elements present in Moonraker at all. On the contrary, it’s far better off without them.

It took five films, but Roger Moore finally REALLY kicks some arse.

There’s still plenty of humour, although it’s never too slapstick or embarrassing. Lynn-Holly Johnson, the Olympic skater plays the teenage Bibi, who’s also training to be a skater. Inspired casting or what?! Her infatuation with Bond is quite amusing, especially Roger’s recital of “Come on, I’ll buy you an ice cream” after Bibi has unsuccessfully tried to bed him. Topol’s crime boss is another welcome addition, although on the downside I don’t find Julian Glover a great Bond villain. I know it’s Julian Glover we’re taking about here, and most of us know how good he can be, but his role as Kristatos seems too ill defined and without presence. Perhaps not all his fault, as his screen time isn’t much. Also (while I’m having a gripe) I don’t rate Tom Conti’s music very highly, although it serves the film well enough. Let’s just say that John Barry is missed and leave it at that.

Back tracking a bit, there’s a pre-titles sequence, which has nothing to do with the main story but is engaging enough in its own right. After visiting Tracy’s grave, Bond is whisked off in a helicopter. This soon comes under the control of a faceless villain with a white cat. Blofeld? Probably, but he’s not named. The reason has a lot to do with Kevin McClory’s rights to his Thunderball script, and his supposed hand in the creation of SPECTRE and Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Anyway, the bottom line is that Blofeld and SPECTRE don’t appear in any Bond films from the ‘70s onwards. We’ll come back to the McClory situation in a later review. In a way, that scene is a kiss goodbye to the series’ past, and the rest of the film is a look to the future.

A villain so boring even 007’s mind is wandering.

There’s also some absolutely fantastic underwater photography, an amusing car chase, the brief return of Bond’s Lotus car, and a nerve-wracking cliff ascent. Nice to see the Lotus self destruct and leave Bond without gadgets for once (the ultimate thief deterrent!) But despite the more down to earth approach, there’s enough to keep most people happy. For Your Eyes Only is a flawed but worthy addition to the series and one of the best Roger Moore adventures.

It’s often forgotten about amongst the more colourful entries in the series, but on closer inspection is a far better Bond film than most of them.