For Your Eyes Only (1981) Review

The series may have scored its best ever box office with “Moonraker”, but the producers weren’t oblivious to the rumblings of discontent over the perceived gimmickry and excesses the series had become synonymous with. While the approach was right for the indulgent, excessive seventies, Bond needed to reinvent himself for the eighties. In came director John Glen, graduating from the role of editor on “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker”, bringing a more grounded approach to the action. Writers Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson returned to Fleming’s original texts for inspiration and using the short stories “Risico” and “For Your Eyes Only” (as well as an unused keel-hauling sequence from the novel “Live And Let Die”), wrote a tale which returned Bond to his serious spy roots once more.

1981 For Your Eyes Only

Roger Moore’s original contract to play Bond had originally covered his first three films and from that point onward, he negotiated on a picture by picture basis. For a while, it was uncertain whether he would continue to play Bond and the sequence at the start of the film was designed to allow the introduction of a new actor in the role. It also provides the first overt reference to Bond’s dead wife (there was a brief mention in “The Spy Who Loved Me”) as he lays flowers at her grave. While this small touch was designed to deliver continuity, the rest of the pre-credits sequence was designed to deliver a very different sort of message.

For the first time in a Moore Bond movie, the pre-credits sequence has nothing to do with the actual story of the movie. Instead it’s basically a massive ‘fuck you’ to the ever troublesome Kevin McClory, who continued to wage a cold war against Eon. In retrospect, it’s probably this provocation which led McClory to finally make good on his oft-threatened remake of “Thunderball” but the ease and finality with which Bond disposes of ‘Blofeld’ was intended to spell out clearly that Bond’s success as entirely independent of the ongoing SPECTRE of Blofeld. Indeed, it also marked an end to the larger-than-life villainy of global secret organisations in the series, at least until Daniel Craig took on the mantle.

For the first (and only) time, Maurice Binder’s opening credits feature the vocalist performing the theme song: Sheena Easton. The theme song itself is not all that great. It’s a surprisingly anaemic early eighties pop number, a disappointment from composer Bill Conti (he of the epic “Rocky” theme). The rest of the score is very much of its time, and has not aged well. Often intrusive and at times just plain annoying, it’s one of the low points of the Bond series in terms of music.

Fortunately the movie itself is far better than its score. The quest to recover the ATAC decoder is a near reverse of the Lektor shenanigans of “From Russia With Love” and the film wastes little time in paring down Bond’s usual accoutrements and forcing him to rely on his wits and ingenuity.  Early in the movie, things are wonderfully set up for another chase featuring Bond’s Lotus Esprit only to be subverted into one of the cleverest chases yet in the Bond series. While it continues the Moore tradition of unconventional vehicles – a Citroën 2CV might be the most unlikely car for Bond ever – it also showcases Bond’s abilities shorn of his gadgets and gizmos.  The extended ski chase is another action highlight, packed with great action, if a little cartoony in its execution. The underwater sequences are pretty impressive; especially when you consider that none of footage of Bouquet is actually filmed underwater.

Moore’s Bond is decidedly more serious this time round, matching the more grounded spy craft and Cold War manoeuvring of the story. Carole Bouquet’s Melina Havelock likewise is a deadly serious Bond girl, driven by the same motivations as Batman. Rather than swooning into Bond’s arms, she reluctantly agreed to ally herself with him, gradually growing to trust him.

The bait and switch of Kristatos and Columbo as allies/ villains is a decent twist on the usual Bond formula and works in large part thanks to the icy charm of Julian Glover and the gregarious charisma of Topol. The supporting cast is an odd assortment of henchmen and hangers on, most of whom don’t really add much to the story (Lynn-Holly Johnson’s ice skating ingénue Bibi and her trainer Jacoba Brink seem particularly superfluous) but the other henchmen – including an early appearance by Charles Dance – are overshadowed by a fantastically malevolent, dialogue free performance by Michael Gothard as octagonal-spectacled assassin Loque.

Of the series stalwarts, only Moneypenny and Q make an appearance. Bernard Lee sadly died during pre-production and the decision was made not to recast the role immediately, leading to most of M’s scenes being shared out between Desmond Llewellyn’s Q and Geoffrey Keen’s Minister Of Defence.

The film had its perfect ending when General Gogol (Walter  Gotell) acknowledges Bond with an amused shrug, a courtesy offered to a worthy and respected opponent in an ongoing game of international espionage so it’s a shame the producers felt the need to tack on an appallingly misjudged coda featuring a ‘cameo’ by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It’s those stupid sidesteps (which invariably had nothing to do with Moore or Moore’s portrayal of Bond) that unfairly tarnish his time in the role as lightweight and too comedic.

Deliberately, confidently smaller in scope and stakes than previous Bond films, “For Your Eyes Only” still delivers the action, thrills and stunts we’ve come to expect  but in a leaner, more efficient package. At its core, it’s a taut and cleverly woven cold war tale. It may feel like a comedown after the heady and indulgent Bond movies of the previous decade but the tougher edge suited the more ruthless and materialistic times.

Craggus’ Bond Voyage will return with Octopussy

 8/10 Bond 8

3 thoughts on “For Your Eyes Only (1981) Review

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