Saturday, July 23, 2011

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Roger Moore is most often thought of as the ‘70s James Bond but he actually was in three Bond films in the 1980s, it just seems that most folks try to forget those. This is a bit of a shame because the 1980s were ushered in with one of Roger Moore’s best James Bond films, For Your Eyes Only.

A top secret encryption device has been lost! British secret agent, James Bond (Roger Moore) must hunt it down. His first contact is with Melina Havelock (Carol Bouquet) whose parents were killed in connection with the lost device. The trail leads to Greek isles and the notorious smuggler Milos Columbo (Topol). With some new information from a powerful Greek merchant, Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover), James closes in on Columbo. However things are not as obvious as they appear, especially when the Russians want the device and are willing to kill to get it. James finds himself in a tangled web in For Your Eyes Only.

Good Points:
  • Roger Moore’s best performance as James Bond.
  • Goes back to the thriller roots of the series with a bit more action.
  • Carole Bouquet is smoldering hot in this movie.
Bad Points:
  • The humor is pure Moore style silliness.
  • There are some major script contrivances
  • The Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson) subplot is pointless
This is the best of Roger’s efforts. There are a couple of missteps here and there, but for a first attempt at directing John Glen does a great job. This is how I like my James Bond adventures, plenty of action, a script focused on thrills instead of fantasy, exotic women and just a touch of humor (Ok a little less humor would not have hurt).

Score (out of 5)
Visuals– 5
Sound– 5
Acting – 4
Script – 4
Music – 4
Direction – 4
Entertainment – 5
Final Grade: 5

Film Review

I’ve heard people refer to this movie as the forgotten Bond film. Whenever someone mentions plot points, characters or even the title itself, most people don’t remember much about it. It’s a shame too, because For Your Eyes Only is one of the better Bond films in the cannon. It’s probably my favorite Roger Moore film, and it ushered in the 1980’s and director John Glen’s tenure as James Bond’s director.

The movie is an obvious retaliation against Moonraker. James Bond goes back to basics, attempting to find and recover a decoding device. He has very few gadgets, and his super car (the Lotus) doesn’t do much more then explode. Bond relies on his wits, his ingenuity and his charisma to get him in and out of jams. Some call this low-key, and may find the film boring. It is miles away from The Spy Who Loved Me and You Only Live Twice. Fans of From Russia With Love, and the 2006 version of Casino Royale are going to enjoy this take on Bond.

The reduction in special effects and gadgets gave the crew a chance to focus on other elements like location shooting. The studio work we do get is more grounded in reality, instead of going for the huge set stylings of Ken Adam. This means there isn’t a huge villains lair. Instead we get a more realistic look, including a smuggler’s dock and the monastery interiors for the finale.

The locations are a real highlight of For Your Eyes Only. This movie was filmed in Greece and Italy. The Mediterranean is photographed in all its glory, especially in the scenes in Corfu. Scenes set in Spain were also filmed in Greece, but they double very well. Cortina provides us with most of the snowy action during the film. The Olympic grounds there are utilized in several key action scenes. Much of the underwater filming took place in the Bahamas, masquerading as the Mediterranean. Perhaps the most impressive location was located in Meteora, Greece. Saint Cyril’s monastery, located on top of towering spires of rock, create an impressive backdrop to the film’s climax and complete the exotic flavor of the movie.

When it comes to hard hitting action, For Your Eyes Only raises the bar over previous Roger Moore installments. Its packed with gunfights, fist fights, chases (with all kinds of vehicles), hair breadth escapes and dangerous sieges. Unlike The Spy Who Loved Me, the action is not overly concentrated at the end. 

Keeping up with all the pyrotechnics is the soundtrack. While Moonraker had to work with creating new sci-fi sound effects, this film is dealing in volume (both amount and loudness). Showcased are the underwater battles where Bond and Melina face off against several dangerous submersibles and explosives. The water muffles the sound, and yet when the metal on metal contact occurs it is appropriately chilling. I also enjoyed the chaos of the raid on the smuggler’s dock. Lots of bullets and bombs going off and it works perfectly to pull the viewer in.

Bill Conti provides the musical score. Conti is most famous for his work on Rocky, The Right Stuff, and The Karate Kid. His work here is closer to Marvin Hamlisch’s on The Spy Who Loved Me. He takes traditional Bond music and fuses it with current music trends. What does this mean in 1981? A strange light FM sound to the soundtrack. The action scenes have this groovy late disco era sound. Conti uses a touch of ethnic instruments to bring out the Spanish, Greek and Italian locales. He handles the suspense scenes very well. But the disco sound immediately dates the film and some people find it distracting and annoying. I love the funkiness of the soundtrack during the escape in Melina’s little yellow car, as well as the ski chase music. Conti never fails to use the Bond theme to punch things up.

Sheena Easton performs one of the most memorable Bond title songs of the ‘80s. It is typical of the traditional Bond style love song and Conti works it into the score for the romantic moments. If you can get into it, the music is a funky relic, but I can see why many fans think its one of the weaker scores.

With For Your Eyes Only, Roger Moore finally got a chance to play James Bond as spy and not as a superhero. Roger was always a capable actor, and he could play the part with an edge. We got to see some of it in The Man With the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me. Here he combines his charm and suave with a bit more intensity. This is most obvious when he’s confronting Columbo and Kristatos. His interaction with Melina and Bibi definitely comes across as more mature. With Melina, he’s obviously attracted to her, but keeps his distance, not completely at ease with her till the finale of the film. His approach to Bibi is even more amusing. She obviously much younger than him, but Bond resists her constant affection. In a way, Roger plays Bond as a mature spy in a serious world where his life is on the line.

Carole Bouquet as Melina, is one of the best Bond girl of the ‘80s. She plays a woman driven by vengeance, and her single-minded approach carries thorough most of the film. Her part is a bit underwritten, but when she’s on screen she is captivating. Her interplay with Roger is pretty good. I just wish her part could have been a bit juicer.

Comprising our possible villains are veterans Topol as Milos Columbo and Julian Glover as Aristotle Kristatos. Topol is plays the smuggler as an earthy man with a likable charisma that can quickly switch to menace. His possible involvement in the communist plot keeps us from trusting him completely. On the flip side Julian Glover is all calm, cool and controlled. He is obviously a very intelligent man, one who appreciates the finer things in life. He isn’t as uncouth as Columbo, but you can see the steel inside him as well. Both actors do a great job keeping you guessing which on is telling the truth. When the villain is finally revealed both men settle into the roles superbly.

The supporting cast is good. The most notable include Lynn-Holly Johnson plays Bibi Dahl an overly cute, overly enthusiastic, and over sexed ice skater. The character is played for laughs and its all very silly. I also liked Cassandra Harris as Countess Lisl is smooth and sophisticated in her small part. Her interplay with Bond is well done and Roger actually shares some great chemistry with her. Louis Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn play their respective roles with the same skill they always have. In honor of Bernard Lee’s death before filming began, the part of M was not recast for the film. Most of his lines were separated the characters of Bill Tanner and Sir Frederick Grey.

While the script of For Your Eyes Only is the best of the ‘80s Bond scripts it does suffer from being over long. Some trimming of characters and subplots would have made this a more intense film. The focus on action is welcome, but it comes at the cost of some characterizations; Melina taking the biggest hit. I do like how it gives us two possibilities for the villain, and keeps the audience and Bond guessing for a good chunk of the running time. The more realistic edge to the villains plot is also refreshing after the over the top madness of Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me.

There are a couple of missteps here and there. A few nonsensical plot contrivances occur. In most Bond movies these are flimsily explained away, but they don’t even try in this movie. Characters just perform actions for no reason that affect the plot later on. Also the bookend sequences of the film are pretty silly, fitting easily into the previous Moore films, but feeling really out of place here. Seriously, a parrot asking Margaret Thatcher for a kiss?

With For Your Eyes Only director John Glen begins his tenure as the Bond movie director for the 1980s. He’d worked on the Bond films since the 60’s so he knew his way around the cast and crew. He also understood the meaning of pacing and tension. James Bond is in very real danger in this film something that hadn’t happened since 1969 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. While he doesn’t move the plot along at a breakneck speed, he keeps most of the scenes trimmed down and efficient. Most of the exposition is concise. He only slows down when building tension, especially during the underwater and climbing sequences. If things seem to be getting a little too stodgy, he throws in an action scene.

That is one of the main faults of the film. Its so action packed that it starts to feel like less of a James Bond movie and more of an action show piece with Roger Moore in it. Some of the scenes are great, with my favorites being the shark reef scene, the assault on St. Cyril’s, and the funny and exciting car chase in Spain. Others are entertaining, but go on a bit long; the ski chase, the raid on the warehouse. Then there’s the over the top; killer hockey players? It does reduce some of the tension when Bond dodges attack after attack. If Glen kept the prime set pieces and cut away the clutter, then add some time fleshing out Melina, this movie would be up there with Casino Royale. By the time Licence to Kill rolled around Glen had streamlined his technique and that movie works much better. Still it’s a great way to start his directing career.

For Your Eyes Only doesn’t deserve to be the forgotten Bond. It’s in the top tier of the series. It proves that Roger Moore could handle a more serious take on the character and represents a new era of James Bond, one with an eye on realism (for the most part). Unfortunately for Roger, he did not make this his swan song. It would have been a great way for him to exit the part.

Looking for more? Check out how Raiders of the Lost Ark changed the action movie genre in the '80s and how For Your Eyes Only was the first casualty at my old blog Jones vs. Bond.


  1. I remember Roger Moore from the 50s TV Ivanhoe days (some clips are on youtube) and always thought he was a creditable Bond. I agree this is better than Moonraker, which Austin Powers scarcely needed to parody.

    Think there is a movie or miniseries in Sidney Reilly, one of the real inspirations for Bond? Or is WW1 just too alien for modern audiences of this kind of film?

  2. Its interesting to me how many folks just dismiss Moore. I think he was usually solid in the part, but the antics and scripts worked against him. At the same time his films were very popular at the time they were made. "Moonraker" was a huge hit the year it came out. So the lighter side of the franchise was something people wanted, especially in the '70s.

    But looking back on those movies, some of them don't hold up well at all. In my mind Rogers best where his middle efforts: "The Spy Who Loved Me", "Moonraker" and "For Your Eyes Only". Before and after those, kinda hard to watch.

    And yeah, I'll defend "Moonraker" for what it is. :)