Monday, 16 June 2014

Film review: For Your Eyes Only

If ever there was a film that makes it plain that Roger Moore should have hung up the mantle of James Bond before he did, it's this one. Not because it's a bad film or even because HE'S bad in it, but because it seems plain that it was written for a more ruthless, harder-edged interpretation of the character than Moore was capable of playing -- or had any desire to.

As the first 80s Bond, tonally it marks a clean break from the films of the 70s, which were characterised by increasingly outlandish stunts, sets and scenarios, culminating in the monumentally stupid MOONRAKER, an obvious cash-in on the success of STAR WARS that, after meandering all over the place for a tedious hour and a half, completely jumps the shark during its final act, sending Bond into space to engage in laser battles. As was the case when Sean Connery stepped down from the role, a change was desperately needed, and it came this time round in the form of producer Cubby Broccoli bringing the series back down to earth with a more sombre, realistic spy thriller in which Bond helps a young woman avenge the death of her murdered parents.

Unfortunately, with Moore still in the role and already wearing that wide-eyed, quasi-senile look that would come to define his performance in his subsequent two films, the series' transformation feels like a job half done. It doesn't help that the film begins with a pre-credits teaser straight out of the worst of the 70s Bonds, with Bond trapped aboard a helicopter being remote operated by a thinly-veiled Blofeld stand-in. Dispatched in an utterly ridiculous manner that feels like it was purely intended to give Kevin McClory the middle finger, the slapstick and bad puns are at odds both with the first shot of the sequence (Bond laying flowers at his wife's grave, in a callback to ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE) and the far grittier film that follows the rather bland, Maurice Binder-designed opening credits (I'm quite partial to the Sheena Easton song that accompanies them, though I appreciate that I'm in the minority there).

"Don't worry, old fella. We'll have your stunt double
take care of all the wide shots for you."

What follows feels like budget Bond to an extent, with the largely realistic sets and heavy use of locations contrasting with the bravura Ken Adam designs of the last two films, and the stakes rather lower with Bond up against a smuggler, Kristatos (Julian Glover), rather than a megalomaniac bent on world domination. But the tone works here because first-time director (and long-time editor) John Glen fully commits to the more sombre tone, ill-advised pre-credits sequence and an idiotic coda featuring a Margaret Thatcher impersonator aside. He, in collaboration with new production designer Peter Lamont and veteran writer Richard Maibaum, succeed in dragging the series back to its novelistic roots, albeit unfortunately saddled with Moore as a painful reminder of what came before it. He never looks truly comfortable in this film, and I suspect it's not too much of a stretch to assume that he was happier with the more campy theatrics of the preceding films. I know he found the scene where Bond kicks a car off the side of a cliff, sending its driver plunging to his death, particularly distasteful and didn't feel it was in keeping with the character. (Perhaps not in keeping with his Bond, but certainly in keeping with MINE!) Glen's direction is unflashy, almost utilitarian, but as was the case with Peter Hunt's direction on ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, his past experience as an editor obviously paid dividends in terms of his ability to build tension. The highlight comes at the start of the climax, with Bond scaling a sheer mountainside. The whole thing is shot and edited in such a way as to be positively nerve-racking, making you actually fear for Bond's safety for the first time since... well, probably OHMSS.

Like a number of Bond films, this one suffers from a sagging middle, with the action coming more or less to a standstill in the Corfu and Albania sequences, while the presence of Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson), a precocious ice skater who has the hots for Bond, is most unwelcome. The character and the actress are both excruciatingly annoying, and the sight of a teenager attempting to bed the increasingly aged Moore makes for decidedly uncomfortable viewing. On the other hand, Carole Bouquet imbues the Bond girl du jour, Melina, with a sense of wounded dignity and comes across as far less of an airhead than any of her 70s counterparts. For once, she's actually a fully developed character in her own right with motivation that makes sense, and you end up rooting for her. The romance between her and Bond is allowed to develop naturally and isn't actually consummated until (we assume) after the end credits, though it would have been more convincing had she been playing opposite a Bond closer to her own age. That said, she mercifully comes across as an adult rather than the overgrown children that so many Bond girls have resembled.

As much as I didn't want this review to descend into "I wish Moore wasn't in it", it's somewhat unavoidable and it's the note on which I'm going to sign off. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY has been described to me as a Timothy Dalton Bond film before its time, and oh how I wish Dalton had been cast a few years earlier! He would have really sunk his teeth into this material, and I suspect that his presence would have elevated the film to "great" as opposed to merely "decent". As it is, it's not the best of the Moore era -- that would be THE SPY WHO LOVED ME -- but it's a very close second and, it has to be said, far closer to my idea of Bond than that earlier film.


  1. Its weird isn't it that Moore showed no compunction to play ruthless, gritty cold blooded avenging murderer in The Wild Geese yet had issues with a similar role here? I think it stems from how he viewed the role of Bond, knowing that children watched - much the same way as he approached his famous TV roles like The Saint and The Persuaders (roles I think he was far better suited too) Moore always cites some line from one of Fleming's books that Bond knew he had to kill on missions but it didn't mean he enjoyed it as inspiration on how to play those scenes, but I'm not convinced.

    I like the theme tune so don't feel too alone there mate! Binder really had the hots for Sheena Easton didn't he? Hence including her in the titles. And speaking of titles, that's when I tune in...I HATE that pre credits sequence with a passion.

    Its a shame Charles Dance is just 2nd henchman on the right here as he'd have made a very interesting Bond for the 80s and I totally see what you mean about this being a younger man's film, specifically in relation to the Bond girl in question. Bouquet alongside Moore has a weird kind of mishmash of paternalistic care and unabashed lust to it...and as for the Bibi subplot; again quite amusing if it were Dalton (or Dance!) but with Moore well into his fifties...eek!

    But I do really like this. I like its no frills, this could really be happening plot and antics. I love the soundtrack. I like the ski jump scene (and the score is particularly good there) I like the tougher Bond. For me it's there with TSWLM and LALD in terms of Moore's best.

    1 thing though; Bond's JB zipper on his quilted coat smacks more of Del Boy Trotter than a secret agent!

    1. Charles Dance would indeed have made an interesting 80s Bond. He certainly has that ideal blend of charm and ruthlessness.

      As for the score, I quite like it in isolation, but there are moments where I feel it just doesn't gel with what's happening on screen. During the car chase near the start of the film, for instance, it just seems far too jaunty.