Today’s Bond movie used to be one of my favorites, but we’re breaking up. A bit. It’s…
. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Roger Moore
SETUP: The St. Georges, a British spy vessel carrying a code machine called the ATAC, goes down somewhere off the coast of Albania. The ship’s location is unknown and the Russians drool at the thought of stealing the ATAC for their own wicked, presumably communist goals. When a Greek treasure hunter hired to retrieve the ATAC dies, Bond takes the job.
BUT IN REALITY: The sinking was a brilliant bit of sabotage by evil smuggler and KGB double-agent Kristatos (Julian Glover.) He plans to capture the ATAC and sell it to the Russians, stalling for time by pitting Bond against a smuggling rival (Topol.) Bond discovers the trick too late and hunts Kristatos to his mountain retreat before the deal can be made. Kristatos dies in the assault, but the Russians arrive for the ATAC and Bond tosses it off the rock. “Detente.” he says with a smirk. (Surprisingly, the Russians don’t empty their clips into his face.)
VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: For Your Eyes Only was a reaction to the excess of Moonraker and is deliberately grounded in as much reality as they could find. Kristatos is a very straight, almost mundane villain and doesn’t have a traditional disfigurement.
Well, maybe. It’s quietly implied that Kristatos is a frustrated pedophile. He sponsors an adolescent skating prodigy named Bibi (also maybe his niece) and she seems to think he wants more than a handshake if she wins an Olympic medal. If she’s right, that’s a mental disfigurement. And also, ew.
THE MUSCLE: Michael Gothard plays Locque, the world’s most unconvincing assassin.
He’s gifted, yes, but James Bond battles Korean wrestlers with razor-rimmed hats and giants with metal teeth, not this guy and his little cup of tea. Locque makes it only partially through the film before Bond drops him off a cliff. There’s a brief replacement named Kriegler, but that guy falls off a cliff, too. Come to think of it, a whole lot of people die from cliff-falling in this movie. The mountains are littered with dead henchmen and ATAC machines.
BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: Melina Havelock (the white hot Carole Bouquet,) lost her family to Kristatos assassins in the hunt for the ATAC and she spends the rest of the movie half-asleep in revenge. Yeah, it’s a flat performance. At one point she actually shrugs as Bond comforts her. In the final moments, she aims a crossbow at Kristatos and Bond gives her a misguided, completely hypocritical warning about the hollowness of revenge by quoting a pithy Chinese proverb, but then Topol shoots Kristatos and lets her off the hook anyway. Crackling character arc, guys.
The femme fatale is either the Countess (Cassandra Harris,) Columbo’s mistress who sleeps with Bond to learn more about him before she’s brutally murdered by Locque, or Bibi (Lynn-Holly Johnson,) the 15-year old skater who desperately wants Bond as a notch on her skates. It depends on your definition, I guess.
“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: A perfectly good Q scene is ruined by this thing.
It’s called the Identigraph, it’s a souped-up police sketch computer, and it’s ridiculous. Other than the Identigraph, For Your Eyes Only a gadget-light film.
BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: “Now put your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice-cream.” Bond’s final answer to Bibi’s attempted seduction.
MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: Margaret Thatcher became British Prime Minister in 1979, so the Bond team couldn’t resist giving her a “cameo,” played by professional impersonator Janet Brown. Thatcher’s scene is the silliest in the film. She spends most of it carrying on a conversation with a horny parrot, stopping only to chastise her husband for stealing a cookie. For Your Eyes Only is definitely the most straight-faced spy movie in the Roger Moore era, but little bits like this and the pre-credits sequence (see below) are eye-rollers.
WORTH MENTIONING: This film marks the last appearance in the series for archvillain Blofeld, even though he’s never named on-screen. In the pre-credits sequence, Bond visits his wife’s grave (the first time a Moore movie acknowledges her at all) and winds up dodging an assassination attempt from a bald villain stroking a white cat. The sequence ends with Bond dropping the villain into a smokestack, never to be seen again.
The scene is a petty bit of revenge from the Bond producers against writer Kevin McClory. Back in the 50s, McClory worked with Ian Fleming on a script for a proposed James Bond TV series that never came to be. Fleming, for some reason, decided that script would make a good novel and turned it into Thunderball, taking sole credit for the work. McClory sued and the result, decades later, was that McClory had the rights to all screen adaptations of Thunderball and the characters in it… including Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
McClory planned to remake Thunderball as Never Say Never Again (the unofficial Bond movie that you won’t find on my countdown.) As a preemptive strike, the Bond team decided to officially kill off Blofeld in the Roger Moore Bond series, but had to do so without officially putting Blofeld into the movie. Blofeld’s final words are “I’ll buy you a delicatessen. In stainless steel!!” That’ll show him!
OVERALL: This movie is a fine example of Bond’s potential when freed from all the hijinks. For Your Eyes Only is going for realism, and although I wouldn’t say the film totally succeeds, it’s a welcome effort after the balls-out surreality of the late 70s films.
I used to say that this was the best of the Roger Moore Bond movies for primarily that reason. I held on to this movie like a piece of dry fucking land in on ocean of slapstick, but I’m here to make a confession. Yes, For Your Eyes Only can be a little dull. Actually, it can be a lot dull.
There’s a reason Roger Moore movies trended towards comedy, and it’s because he’s very good at his shtick. Moore knows how to deliver a punchline, do a prim little double-take in a risky (or risque) situation, and he can hold a gun. But serious acting? Actual gravity in the face of global stakes? That’s not why you hire him. Moore doesn’t smolder or seethe. A great Roger Moore movie is built like an amusement park just for him, where he’s never really in danger and every setup is custom built to extract his restrained little grin. That formula spilled out of control in Moonraker, obviously, but For Your Eyes Only overcorrects and drains the fun out of his Bond, and that’s not the right answer either. This one is a pretty good movie, but it’s just not quite there. Fortunately, at least two other Moore films got the balance just right. We’ll be hearing from them soon.
Next up, we begin the Top Ten!
The James Bond Project
12. For Your Eyes Only
14. Live and Let Die
15. Licence to Kill
19. Die Another Day
22. A View to a Kill