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For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Roger Moore, Julian Glover, Topol, Carole Bouquet, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Cassandra Harris

Written By: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson Directed By: John Glen

The Short Version

James Bond gets serious about the Cold War.

As a straight-up, standalone spy thriller, this is outstanding.

A bit low key for Bond, but the chase scenes are excellent.

And who could forget one of the all time classic movie posters?

For Your Eyes Only is franchise top ten or better, and worth owning.

The Long Version

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“You get your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice cream.”

Another day, another identity crisis for 007; or, in this case, two of them.

First, even though very little time had passed between the wild, over-the-top fun that had been Moonraker and the planned release of For Your Eyes Only, the world had shifted.  The disco era was fading fast, the smiley face buttons were disappearing, the cold war’s thaw of détente was refreezing, and two conservatives named Thatcher and Reagan were put in charge of their respective countries.  Clearly, any gadget-driven nonsense about putting secret agents into space to fight metal-toothed men and pew-pew megalomaniacs with lasers was now completely out of the question.  It was time for Mr. Bond to rediscover his identity as a serious agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Beyond that, a now out-of-contract Roger Moore wasn’t sure that he wanted to keep going as 007, a theme that would end up repeating after each movie from here on in.  Fortunately, he agreed to another go before Eon could make the unforgivable blunder of casting an American (which they strongly considered, both this time around and the next), and so the second, more potentially disastrous (though largely unknown to a pre-Internet public) identity crisis was averted…

…leaving us with a highly outstanding movie indeed.  I can’t think of any circumstances under which For Your Eyes Only couldn’t be properly considered as one of the classic franchise’s top ten films, and a case could certainly be made from several perspectives to call it one of the top five.  (There, I understand, mileage will vary.)  Either way, it’s good stuff.

Hot on the heels of plots featuring uber-wealthy whackos looking to destroy all human life on Earth from the comfort of their respective undersea forts/space stations, the premise behind For Your Eyes Only is as basic as it gets.  A British spy ship – nothing extravagant, mind; just your run-of-the mill converted fishing trawler – sinks off the coast of Albania.  Aboard is an ATAC computer, the master key to encoding and decoding signals to NATO submarines.  Since Albania is in the Soviet sphere of influence, an official salvage operation can’t be conducted, but that’s what secret allies are for…

…until a mercenary hired by the KGB cuts those allies down.  Now it’s up to 007 to not only find the ATAC, but also to find and thwart those who would aid the Soviets in acquiring the machine for themselves.  It’s a good old fashioned espionage plot; the old chase for the Enigma machine polished and made modern and rare.  It is, as is the case with nearly all of the 007 films, a story in keeping with its own times.  It is, as appropriate for its time, James Bond working for the Iron Lady.

But don’t worry; even though he’s suddenly a bit more serious and a menace to Commies everywhere, James Bond still remembers how to be James Bond.  Mostly.  Let’s break it down, shall we?

James Bond: Cold Warrior.  Under the watchful eye of the Iron Lady – and perhaps with a little prodding from Roger Moore on certain aspects – 007 gets reinvented for the start of the 1980s.  Gone are the gadgets (unless one counts a radio watch that doesn’t even get used until a throwaway scene during the film’s final moments), and even though Bond still has one-liners at the ready and a few (generally subtle) jokes make their way in, gone is the over the top semi-circus atmosphere of the previous two pictures.  This take on 007 is more professional, slightly meaner, much more difficult to distract, and hints at being a wee bit more of an ideologue than he had been before.  Roger Moore handles the transition beautifully; it’s an evolution he’s ready for.  (It’s said that he objected to just one scene as being too cold blooded, but that objection certainly doesn’t show on camera.)  Bringing Bond back down to Earth also has the effect of creating…

A Plausible Story.  In terms of actual plot, For Your Eyes Only presents one of the single most plausible storylines in the entire James Bond series.  The race for the submarine signal decoder is something we all know has happened in one form or another in real life (hello, World War II), and the cloak and dagger methods used really don’t seem out of line.  There’s really nothing about the bones of this plot about which one can say “that doesn’t make sense.”  (There will always be action scene details that jump the shark or defy physics, of course.)

As for our enemies…

Soviet Commie Bastards.  Up to this point, James Bond had never been put into direct opposition with an official arm of the Soviet Union as a matter of a film’s primary plot.  (Soviet agents tried to kill him in the pre-credit sequence of what would ironically be the ultimate détente movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, but in terms of the main story, no.  Any Soviets were rogue elements; other Communists were Chinese.)  For Cold Warrior Bond, though, direct opposition to the “Commies” seemed a must, though I think it worth noting that while our cadre of enemies is unquestionably on a mission directly sanctioned by the Soviet Union, all but one of them, Kriegler, is a mercenary and not a Soviet agent.  (Kriegler himself is German, not Russian, but he is identified as a KGB agent.)  Some traditions – like keeping James Bond out of the Cold War – die hard.

Mercenaries.  As for our actual Bond Villain of Record and His Henchmen (sounds like a band, right?), what we’ve got is a mixed bag.  Starting at the top, Julian Glover has definitely got the acting chops to play an outstanding villain, which he does.  (He was even, for a time, considered as a possible Bond.)  He plays the part of the duplicitous mercenary exactly as written without fault… but something seems missing.  Indeed, if there’s any flaw at all to be found with For Your Eyes Only, it is this: even the most reserved of Bond villains are always somehow larger than life.  Aristotle Kristatos is not.  He is exactly what a plausible story like that of For Your Eyes Only calls for, but…

His silent-until-screaming-his-last lieutenant, Loque, has the potential to be interesting, thanks almost entirely to an intense facial performance from Michael Gothard, but not enough advantage is taken of the character overall until the moment he dies.  (Which is the moment, by the way, that Roger Moore objected to.)  As for others, again, Cold Warrior Bond shows his stripes.  In Cold War movies, the individuals often don’t matter so much as their archetypes and allegiance; such is the case here.  It’s entirely satisfying to watch 007 plow through the bad guys, of course, but the resonance of the duel isn’t there.  As for what is there…

Have a Chaser With That.  If there’s a signature element to For Your Eyes Only that allows what might otherwise feel like a straight up Cold War thriller to still play as a genuine James Bond movie, it’s the chase and brawl scenes, which are still allowed to go over the top even without the benefit of gadget-laden cars.  Seeing what 007 can do with an old beater of a family car is the perfect combination of hilarious, fun, and exciting, and his ski chase that takes him through a checklist of Winter Olympic events is among the series’ most outstanding.  All of it is backed by a not-quite-disco-anymore score by Bill Conti that enhances the fun of the moment.  (And though it’s not really a chase, per se, the hockey/Zamboni brawl is simply delightful.)

Ladies’ Man?  One of the biggest surprises of For Your Eyes Only is that 007 has toned down his pursuit of the ladies.  Indeed, he outright refuses the blatant advances of one, and it can be argued that he only sleeps with a single woman during the course of the actual film… and she’s not “the Bond girl.”  Come to think of it, he doesn’t drink any martinis, either.  What?

But back to the ladies, I’ve always liked the character of Melina Havelock, though I always seem to remember her as a stronger personality between viewings.  The crossbow is a very nice character touch, and I like Carole Bouquet’s performance.  (It took me many years and many viewings to catch that her voice is dubbed, continuing one of Eon’s unfortunate obsessions.)

Audiences also get a look at woman they had never before seen and, as of this writing, never would again: the person singing the movie’s theme song.  Sheena Easton can be seen performing from the shoulder up during the credit sequence… and hey, she’s got something of a Bond girl look to her, so why not?

Odd Bookends.  What is an otherwise straightforward and largely self-contained spy thriller is bookended by opening and closing scenes that don’t fit the rest of the mold.

The opening scene, which features Bond finally dispatching a fellow we’re absolutely not supposed to refer to as Blofeld once and for all, was developed to handle two situations.  First, as a direct reference (and resolution) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it was meant to serve as a baton of continuity for the character of James Bond when it was thought that Roger Moore would be retiring from the role and a new man would be taking his place.  Second, it was an invitation to Kevin McClory and his fellows to take their lawsuits and get stuffed, and a blatant declaration that neither Eon nor Bond needed anything McClory had ever done, anyway.  (If this makes no sense, check out Never Say Never Again.)  As pre-credit sequences go, it’s all right, but it doesn’t exactly fit the rest of the movie.

It fits better, though, than the asinine “phone call to the Prime Minister” scene that closes the film.  Considering that everyone wanted a more serious film, I cannot understand why they’d choose to finish it off with a sketch so stupid that it would be more at home on “Saturday Night Live” than it is in a real James Bond movie.

The list above may make it seem like For Your Eyes Only is a major departure for the franchise – and in many ways, it is – but when it’s all put together, it works, and it works damn well.  It really is an excellent standalone film that anyone, established fan or not, can jump right into, and from a “total package” quality perspective, it is one of the better movies in the franchise.  It’s well paced, it’s exciting, it’s fun… isn’t that what a spy adventure should be?

And let’s not forget that poster.  It’s only one of the most memorable ever made.

Bottom line, For Your Eyes Only is a movie that deserves to be in front of anyone’s eyes at least once, and worth owning for franchise fans.  So get cracking, 007!

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2013

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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