[Warning—this review contains a couple spoilers within it, of both this movie, and also concerning ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’… If you wish not to be spoiled, cease reading now.]
Hello everyone and welcome to the twelfth edition in my series of reviews chronicling the James Bond film franchise. In this review we will be shining our spotlight upon the 1981 Bond film by the name of ‘For Your Eyes Only’ starring Roger Moore in this his fifth outing in the lead role as the noted superspy. Sitting in the director’s seat of this film was John Glen, who directed all but one (that ‘one’ being the unofficial Bond film starring Sean Connery) of the six James Bond films that were produced in the decade of the 1980s. And if you were looking to single out the best of that era, it would be very easy to make a case for this movie. For Your Eyes Only is not the kind of James Bond movie you expect to find Roger Moore starring in, especially right on the heels of the previous two Bond films, ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and ‘Moonraker’ which pushed the meter of camp and ridiculousness to never before seen heights, even for this series. This movie on the other hand pretty much dials down a lot of that wackiness and what we’re left with is a sleek, smooth, and very basic spy film with some very tight action sequences and good, but not overwhelmingly outrageous usage of special effects.
Also, compared to the last two movies that proceeded it, which pretty much took their title, and little else from Ian Fleming’s original source materials, this movie, while not based directly on a single novel stays remarkably faithful not only to the Fleming books, but also the more toned down gritty, and exotic style of storytelling featured in the aforementioned books. I mentioned this movie was not based on one particular novel, like previous entries, but rather a series of short stories contained within a book entitled ‘For Your Eyes Only’, some of which were combined into one story for the purposes of this movie… As I said before, that such a film should stare Roger Moore ( who was already considering leaving the role at this time), who in his incarnation of Bond did more to turn the series into a cartoonish (while still wildly entertaining at times) Hollywood style farce, is nothing short of a miracle. But in any event, miracle or not, what this is without a doubt, is one very well done but surprisingly overlooked and under-appreciated James Bond movie. So with that said, I’ll do what I can to remedy that in this review at least. So now that we’ve got some of the background out of the way, let’s dive into the story as well as some other noted particulars about this movie before I give it my final grade and recommendation.
My favorite part of this movie and also the most memorable aspect of it to me is the pre-title sequence. In it we see Bond placing flowers on the grave of his late wife Tracy Bond which is a nice homage both to the 1969 George Lazenby movie ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ in which James Bond is married to Tracy for a tragically brief period of time before she is then assassinated by the villainous Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his sidekick Irma Blunt, and to the original Fleming novel of the same name in which we learn that James Bond makes a yearly pilgrimage to the grave of one Vesper Lynd, the deceased double agent that Bond fell in love with in ‘Casino Royale’, the first of Fleming’s classic James Bond novels. After this nice rare little intimate moment Bond finds himself aboard a helicopter which has been electronically hi-jacked by none other than good old Blofeld himself, although he is never referred to by that name in the movie due to an ongoing legal dispute over the rights to the character’s name, a dispute that would eventually give us the aforementioned non-canonical Bond film ‘Never Say Never Again’ (which was a remake of the earlier Bond movie Thunderball) starring Sean Connery in 1983.
But it is obvious to anyone watching this movie that this is none other than old Ernst Stavro Blofeld himself, as he has the same vintage bald head, white cat, and evil maniacal laugh that was later used to great effect in parodying the Bond movies in the Austin Powers films of the mid to late 1990s. In this pre-title sequence old Blofeld attempts, once more, to exact some lasting revenge on agent double o’ seven for all the foiled plots for world domination and mass extortion he’s come up with over the years, but this time, Blofeld has finally stuck his neck out too far, and it is Bond who gains his final vengeance on the man who orchestrated the slaying of his bride. And with that Blofeld is given one of the best demises and comeuppances in the history of the Bond series, which while I’ve already spoiled it somewhat, if you haven’t seen it, I’ll let you experience it for yourself instead of going into the minute specifics. With that said I find it particularly satisfying to watch the beginning of this movie directly after watching the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Our story begins on the peaceful Ionian Sea where in an unfortunate incident, a large fishing vessel known as the St Georges accidentally runs into some old underwater net mines and tragically sinks, dooming all aboard to a watery death. As fate would have it though, this fishing ship is not just a fishing ship, but a top secret British military ship aboard which is a very costly and coveted device known as the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (or the ATAC for short) which is the device the Ministry of Defense uses to coordinate and control its fleet of Polaris Nuclear Submarines. And if said device were to fall into the wrong hands (say another world Super Power like the Ruskies at this time) it could be easily used in a devastating attack on any number of major western cities. Can’t have that now can we? So sent to recover the device from the wreckage incognito as it were is the highly capable marine archeologist Sir Timothy Havelock. Before he is able to finish the recovery job though he and his wife are both viciously machine gunned from above by a small airplane piloted by a Cuban hitman. The hitman was able to locate the Havelocks after posing as a transport pilot for their daughter Melina, who made a surprise visit to her parents on board their recovery ship, and just narrowly missed being executed herself in the melee’.
So it is now the job of one secret agent James Bond to unravel the mystery of who is out to get the ATAC and for what reason, first by discovering who hired the murderer of Mr. and Mrs. Havelock and in the process of doing that ensure that they do not succeed in their venture. However before he can get any information out of the hitman, an arrow comes from out of the distance and silences him forever. Holding the crossbow from which the arrow was fired is the aforementioned Melina Havelock, who herself is on the trail of the men responsible for the murder of her parents. All is not lost though, as Bond is able to spot someone paying the assassin right before his demise and with the help of Q and some high tech equipment, he gathers some information on his identity and whereabouts and is thus off on the hunt once more, this time in the lovely locale of Greece.
In Greece Bond encounters the lead villain in this movie, who at first, presents himself to Bond as an ally. This villain is Aristotle Kristatos played by Julian Glover. It is Kristatos who is after the ATAC device for the purpose of selling it for a profit to the Soviets. He attempts to put up a smokescreen as to his true intentions while he dispatches his lethal henchman/KGB conctact and Olympic athlete, not to mention crack shot, Eric Kriegler, and company to quietly dispose of Bond before he makes any real progress in his mission. Also joining the fray as a Henchman here is Emile Locque, the aforementioned man that Bond identifies with Q’s help via the Identa-graph machine at Q branch headquarters. Both of these men will prove to be very prominent thorns in the side of Bond during the course of this movie and prove very useful (but naturally ineffectual) to their boss Kristatos. In the overall gallery of Bond villains, Kristatos is a solid, although very easily forgettable foe for our hero to lock horns with here. He lacks the over the top pizzazz of both former and future Bond enemies, which fits in with the overall theme of the movie in general but in this case could be seen as a minor detraction, as a good memorable villain is half the fun of any Bond movie, and as mentioned above, the most memorable villain in this film is killed off before the opening title sequence.
Aside from the villains, Bond also meets a few helpful friends in this movie. Not to be found among them though for the first and so far only time in Bond movie history is head of British secret intelligence, M. His absence is due to the fact that Bernard Lee (the actor who had portrayed him in every official James Bond movie up until this point) had just recently passed away. This was no small loss to the Bond family, as for many people, myself included, Lee will always be remembered and venerated as the quintessential archetype associated with this role. While future M’s would go on to be featured more prominently in the movies, none commanded the quiet respect and authority that Lee did, with all due respect and deference to both Robert Brown and Judi Dench. However while M is nowhere to be found, all the other old standbys; Q, Moneypenny, Bill Tanner, (who as the Chief of Staff serves in the traditional M role in M’s absence) are all rounded up for service once more. On location Bond also finds support from an unlikely source, that being the smuggler Milos Columbo who is a former business partner of Kristatos and a colorful character to boot.
Now to cover some of the usual issues and whatnot… As mentioned several times already in this review ‘For Your Eyes Only’ is a very scaled down Bond adventure, so the wild gadgets and such that we would normally associate with Bond movies of this era are kept to an absolute minimum. Alas, in this movie James Bond has no cool laser powered watch to speak of or a nifty poison dart shooting cigarette case, and the cool Lotus car he is issued by Q-branch, meets its demise early on in the film via a rather impractical and over the top anti-theft mechanism which sees it blow itself to smithereens when a group of hooligans attempt to break into it. So on that front; we have literally nothing to write home about here. However, on the subject of Bond girls, which is a staple of any worthwhile Bond flick, we have a bevy of buxom beauties to talk about, chief among them, the already mentioned Melina Havelock, played here by very sexy and capable Carole Bouquet. Melina is one of those rare Bond girls who is able to handle herself quite well under fire which makes her far more interesting to both Bond and us as opposed to the usual bubble brained blonde bimbo that Bond is known to cavort around with.
Speaking of which, Lynn-Holly Johnson plays that role to a tee as the figure skating prodigy Bibi Dahl, who is sponsored by Kristatos in the hopes of sending her to the Olympics, and in the hope for Kristatos to send his you-know-what into her you-know-where. Before he can attain this though Bibi finds herself quite smitten with James Bond, who, against type actually refuses her advances again and again throughout the film, with good reason though as it turns out she is quite underage. So call Bond what you will, but you can’t label him a cradle robber, at least in this flick, although Johnson was in her early twenties at the time of this movie’s filming. Finally, rounding out the pack we have Cassandra Harris who plays the very sophisticated and sexy ‘Countess Lisl von Schlaf’, the mistress of Columbo and one of Bond’s temporary ‘distractions’ in the movie. In an interesting note of useless trivia, Cassandra Harris is also the first wife of future Bond actor Pierce Brosnan. In a matter I will not spend too much time on, this movie also features the first and thankfully only instance of a ‘transgender Bond girl’ as it later came out that one of the girls (Caroline Cossey) seen in an early scene lounging by the pool of the Cuban hitman in fact used to be a man…. Blech… Thankfully, Bond did not commit the fopa of sleeping with her/him/it.
To conclude my little review here, I will say that if I had to recommend a Roger Moore era James Bond movie to someone who generally dislikes Roger More era James Bond movies, this would be the one I’d go with. ‘For Your Eyes Only’ was indeed a very refreshing change of pace from the ridiculously overblown and silly ‘Moonraker’ which preceded it and saw our hero shot into outer space of all things, and in the action department it more than holds its own. Of note is a very entertaining car chase which sees Bond and Melina outwit their pursuers through the exotic Spanish highlands while behind the wheel of the small and VW Bug like Citroën 2CV. There is also a very elaborately done and well put together ski chase (which is right up there with car chases in terms of frequent Bond occurrences) through a large winter sports resort, plus a nice gun fight between vicious smuggling gangs, cool underwater battles with henchman dressed in fully armored and monster-iffic scuba suits, suspenseful rock climbing scenes which see Bond hanging on the edge of the villain’s mountain retreat hundreds of feet above the earth, not to mention some good old fashioned espionage thrown in here and there for good measure as well.
So with all that being said, I give this movie a hearty two thumbs up on that account. I wouldn’t go as far as to technically rank it as an all time classic for the reason that it would need a more memorable villain and just a pinch or two of the usual Bond cheesiness, which in small doses is still a very important part of any Bond film. Still, if not right in that category of an all time great this movie ranks just outside that list of the all time greats, and is well separated from the pack of lesser, cheesier Bond films, both past and future. So if you happen across it on television on a rainy day or see the DVD sitting on the shelf at the store, you have my official okay to watch/purchase it without any reservation whatsoever. This concludes yet another in my series of James Bond reviews. Don’t despair though, as both James Bond and I will return next time for a look at the 1983 Bond film with the provocative title of ‘Octopussy’. So to wrap up, all I have to say is thanks everybody for reading and see you again soon.