For Your Eyes Only

James Bond hangs on and stands his ground.

WHO IS JAMES BOND? James Bond is a posh elderly gent, the sort you might admire as a mysterious “cool uncle.” You can tell he’s got a past, both as a killer and as a masher, but he seems to have put all that behind him, and even though his face is now completely covered with hideous crinkly skin, he carries his age with grace and dignity. He no longer paws at the ladies and he preaches caution and wisdom as often as he kills guys and blows shit up. This is a Bond one can respect and even feel affection for, and that, following the embarrassing failed-comic spectacle Moonraker is an astonishing achievement.

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT? Well, let’s put it this way — he doesn’t want to blow up the world, blow up Fort Knox, blow up anything at all, actually. All he wants is to get his hands on a high-tech whatsit and sell it to the Russians. Yes this is still a James Bond movie.

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? Get this — actual detective work. The master of hexagons from Moonraker, who magically gathered clues by wandering around the world and picking things up off the ground, here has an actual mystery to solve. There are people to meet, motives to consider, personalities to interpret and distractions to discount. On top of that, he’s got to get the whatsit from a sunken ship before the bad guys get it. When the bad guys take the whatsit from him and leave him for dead, he’s got to lead a team of Greek smuggler-guys on a miniature Guns of Navarone raid on a remote mountain-top location. It’s not wild, it’s not outlandish, it’s not cartoonish, nobody has a metal hand or nine-foot henchman. Yes this is still a James Bond movie.

WOMEN? In addition to Bond’s newfound dignity and the bad guy’s realistic plan, the most refreshing thing about For Your Eyes Only is Bond’s attitude toward women. Completely smirkless, Bond now looks with distaste upon older men who force themselves upon younger women. He misses his dead wife, he treats all women with charm and courtesy, and he stays mostly within his acceptable age range (okay, he ends up with a woman old enough to be his daughter, but at least he doesn’t spend the entire movie pawing at her). He’s matched with Melina Havelock, the smart, determined, resourceful daughter of a guy the bad guy killed. She’s making her own path to revenge against the men who did her wrong, and she’s not about to jump into bed with Bond. She doesn’t know who he is and doesn’t care — she’s got things to do. Yes this is still a James Bond movie.

(I wonder about this change of heart. Who made this decision, to make Bond act something like his age? A blond teenage girl shows up naked in his hotel room and he kicks her out — what the hell happened? Was he caught one day with the wrong man’s teenage daughter? And he doesn’t say “I’d love to sweetie, but I’m worried you’re bait,” instead he looks disgusted with the girl for her lack of discipline. Let me say that again: Bond is disgusted with the pretty young girl for her lack of discipline. Was it Roger Moore, who watched his other Bond movies and said “Okayguys, enough’s enough?” Was it the prevailing winds? Was it Thatcher?)

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? Apart from having a pretty cool mountain-top retreat, cool is not the name of the game here. Instead, the bad guy is, bizarrely for a Bond movie, a complex, intelligent man with more-or-less believable resources and human henchmen.  He’s got a cool Act III HQ, but that’s only because of the forbidding location.

THE TITLE SEQUENCE: Gather ’round, young ones, and harken unto me: once upon a time, there was a beautiful, talented young singer named Sheena Easton. And she was so popular, it was deemed wise to feature her in the title sequence of the new James Bond movie. And the world did rejoice, and her star was forever more fixed in the firmament.

AH, THOSE WERE THE DAYS: There’s a scene back at headquarters where Bond and Q toil in the top-secret computer room to put together and identikit image of an assassin. The computer is the size of an Oldsmobile, the image has the sophistication of a Battlezone game and Q must dim the lights in order to work on the program for some reason, all to produce a likeness that anyone in the world can now outdo here.

NOTES: There’s a pre-credit sequence where Bond does battle with Blofeld and his cat. Blofeld hasn’t been seen onscreen in ten years, but he’s in wheelchair and a neck-brace as though it were mere weeks since getting tossed off an oil-rig in Diamonds Are Forever. Apparently he has been sustaining injuries on his own time. Bond drops him from a helicopter into a large chimney. Blofeld’s cat is made to yowl, probably by a production assistant pinching its tail, but is allowed to escape the action otherwise unharmed — score one for the RSPCA.

The dropping-Blofeld-down-the-chimney gag, I’m told, is intended as an insult to the producer Kevin McClory, who owned the rights to the character and was, at the time, prepping the rival Bond-movie Never Say Never Again. It certainly works that way, but the more valuable meaning to the sequence is that it indicates that Bond no longer needs big, stupid, cartoonish, power-mad villains in order to make a worthwhile, gripping, suspenseful espionage thriller. Which For Your Eyes Only, amazingly, is.

For Your Eyes Only confuses at first. The production design is not cheesy, the photography is lucid and immediate, the performances subdued and naturalistic. There is a scene on a yacht, where a man and his wife greets their daughter, who is visiting from somewhere. And we get to know these people a little, and begin to wonder who they are and what their lives might be like, and then a helicopter flies by and kills the parents. And the daughter holds her dead father in her arms and gazes up at the horizon and vows revenge. And the viewer is astonished, because these are real people. They have motives and desires and inner lives — what the hell is going on? Is this a James Bond movie or what?

One of the greatest accomplishments of For Your Eyes Only is that everyone, everyone, from henchmen to babes to assassins to smugglers, everyone in this movie has a life outside of the narrative. There are no scenes in For Your Eyes Only where Bond walks into a room to be confronted by a guy in a Mao jacket sitting behind a desk who gives a reptilian smile and says “Mr. Bond, I’ve been expecting you.” Everybody in this movie actually has other things to do. Even the blond teenage figure skater who wants to jump Bond’s creaky, calcified bones isn’t going to, you know, put her figure-skating career on hold in order to do so. She’s got priorities. This is a breathtaking advance in the Bond universe. The narrative doesn’t revolve around Bond, nor does itrevolve around the bad-guy plot. Instead, the bad-guy plot is an imposition on real life, that thing everyone’s trying to get back to.

M is not around (the actor Bernard Lee died while the movie was prepping) but Moneypenny is still at work. Bond treats her like an old friend instead of a old crush — as well he might, as she’s currently dressing like a transvestite.

There’s a car chase down a Spanish hillside. The bad guys are driving Mercs while Bond is stuck in Melina’s beat-up Citroen. The car is old, sluggish and falling apart — like Bond, who finds a way to make do anyway. That’s kind of the theme of For Your Eyes Only; learning to live gracefully with an aging body and diminished expectations. Bond is consistently cornered and on the defensive throughout the movie, and the result is that the audience, miraculously, roots for him.

The actor Topol, who lives in my heart as both Tevye the milkman and as The Smoker’s Tooth Polish is a wonderfully expressive performer who did not get the memo about the new naturalistic acting style in For Your Eyes Only.

A sober, eye-opening pleasure after the tawdry excess of Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only contains, if not a first-rate detective story, at least a real detective story.  It also contains a number of terrific, suspenseful set-pieces, a relatively believable affair with a woman closer to Bond’s age (twenty years his junior instead of thirty), and some actually decent special-effects work.  It’s the first Bond movie that seems to want to peek out from behind the formula of “Bond Movies” and see what life might be like as a real honest-to-goodness suspense thriller.  Its characters have inner lives, emotions, clear and subtle motivations.  Its protagonist has regrets, complexity, style and grace.  How the hell did that happen?  For Your Eyes Only is a movie one could imagine watching alongside a movie like Ronin or Day of the Jackal, and not for comic relief.
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36 Responses to “For Your Eyes Only”
  1. planettom says:

    This is the best Moore movie. I tend to think it’s because even the producers realized, after sending Bond to Outer Space in MOONRAKER, that they needed to throttle it back a few notches.

    The weirdest part is when the Quasi-Blofeld attempts to bribe Bond by promising him a “stainless steel delicatessen!!!” ??? Almost as weird is the idea that Bond could hear his offer over the roar of the helicopter.

    • Todd says:

      This is the best Moore movie.

      I think I still prefer Live and Let Die, only because it both succeeds at the crazy, colorful “Bond Movie” formula and has some psychological depth to it. But For Your Eyes Only is a huge accomplishment, especially for Moore.

      • black13 says:

        By the way, did you ever see North Sea Hijack? It stars Moore, in a very Bond-ish role, but it’s still a good thriller with James Mason and Anthony Perkins.

        • Todd says:

          You know, up until tonight I was convinced that Moore isn’t a very good actor. But he’s fabulous in For Your Eyes Only and now I’m curious as to what he could do with a non-Bond role.

          • black13 says:

            Then you should watch “North Sea Hijack” and “The Wild Geese.”

            I hear he’s also good in The Saint (the TV show), but I haven’t seen that, so I can’t say anything. But in those two movies, he was pretty good.

            He was still playing something Bondian, but even if you don’t like him as an actor, the movies make up for it.

          • craigjclark says:

            If you want to check out Roger Moore, the actor, then by all means do not watch Bullseye!, a caper comedy that he did with Michael Caine. God, that was a pantload.

          • I haven’t seen For Your Eyes Only, but I did kinda dig seeing Roger Moore show up on Alias.

            He basically came in as the leader of a partner/rival organization to SD-6, tricks Sloane into believing that one of his oldest friends is a traitor, and thus gets Sloane to whack his own friend.

        • planettom says:

          In the U.S., NORTH SEA HIJACK was released under the title ffolkes, which was strange. I think most Americans reacted thusly: “What the fflip is a ffolke?”

          • Todd says:

            I know I did when I was browsing my video store for espionage flicks. ffolkes truly is a terrible title — I saw it and said “hmm, maybe I’ll watch 21 Bond movies instead.”

            • planettom says:

              ffolkes did have this rather memorable movie poster for it.

              But I suspect the tagline, ‘Roger Moore is “ffolkes” the man who loved cats, ignored women and is about to save the world.’ didn’t really help it at the Box Office!

              • black13 says:

                They really tried to kill that movie in the US, it seems.

                The European poster is this:

              • Todd says:

                Egad, you didn’t tell me he had a beard in it.

                I also note that Live and Let Die‘s Leiter, David Hedison, co-stars.

                • planettom says:

                  I really like the strangeness of that movie poster. You’ve got a giant 500-foot-tall ffolkes standing atop an oil platform. Explosions are going off on it from a helicopter attack, ala DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Then a bevy of also-giant-but-only-100-feet-tall women are climbing him like a tree. They don’t seem to be of a scale to be able to successfully do anything with him if they do catch him. Since he ignores women, is he going to put up with this indignity, or will he throw them one by one into the cold North Sea, yowling like cats?

                  • greyaenigma says:

                    I love that poster. I was wondering when that came out why on Earth they chose to call it that — knowing they changed it use Bond’s Moore’s character name makes sense.

                    Also, I remember that Topol ad. Ah, TV.

                    • craigjclark says:

                      I saw ffolkes when I was in college and enjoyed it a lot. I always took that as Moore’s way of playing with his Bond image — the same way Pierce Brosnan did with The Tailor of Panama.

                      And I always remembered Topol as Dr. Hans Zarkoff in Flash Gordon.

                • mr_noy says:

                  I remember when Moore was doing the talkshow rounds and still had the beard. He said it took him forever to grow. Why I should remember that is beyond me. I’m surprised by how many good memories I have of Moore. For Your Eyes Only was the first Bond film I ever saw (I was around 6 or 7) and I remember loving it. It was only later that I realized how anomolous a Bond film it was, especially one starring Moore. I was surprised by how many people hated him but my memory was influenced by that one decent film. Apart from ffolkes (which always sounded naughty) I recall another film he was in, an actual thriller with a really downbeat ending which really surprised me at the time as I had never seen a film that ended so bleakly. I enjoyed watching reruns of The Saint when I was a kid but mainly because of the associations with Bond. Then he did a guest role on The Muppet Show. For better or worse, he was a part of my childhood. I wonder if he ever got offered challenging roles or if he just decided to cash in on the Bond/Sir Roger image and chose to be an eminence for hire.

                  • black13 says:

                    I think I know that thriller. IIRC, it was based on a Sidney Sheldon novel. He played a psychiatrist in that one, right?

                    • mr_noy says:

                      I think so. I was way too young to really understand much of it at the time. The only thing I remember was Moore and the leading lady standing in a cemetary after the case has been closed…and then someone shoots her. The movie ends, as I recall, with Moore standing over the dead woman and frantically looking about to see where the shot came from. The End.

                      Of course my memory might be playing tricks with me. I was about 6-8 years old and the idea that the good guys could get killed AFTER they solved the mystery, and that the hero (James Bond, no less!) was powerless to prevent it or find out who was responsible was pretty startling.

            • black13 says:

              The German title is “Sprengkommando Atlantik” (Demolishion Party Atlantic).

              I also remember Sea Wolves as an okay movie, but it’s been 25 years since I saw that one…

          • black13 says:

            The novel it’s based on is titled “Esther, Ruth & Jennifer.”

            No wonder Moore took the part. They probably told him, “It’s just like Bond — it has girls in it.”

            • teamwak says:

              I’ve seen that movie!! And I’m quite fond of it.

              If I remember Bond, I mean Fflokes is a cat lover and carries a kitten in his jacket! And then he skewers Norman Bates, I mean Christopher Perkins with a harpoon gun.

              Great fun! *

              * Actual quality of the movie may have degraded with time

              • black13 says:

                Oh, seconded. As usual, the novel is better, but the movie (in my memory, which can be very faulty, I also remembered that KISS movie fondly for example) rocked too.

                When I saw the movie, my attitudes kind of resembled Fflokes’, so I could easily identify with the character.

                Now I’m older, wiser, married, and my attitudes once again resemble Ffolkes’.

      • planettom says:

        A part I really like in FYEO is when Bond runs up the outdoor steps to the next switchback to shoot the assassin’s car. Because he’s not superhuman when he does this, he’s an older guy in reasonably good shape who’s quite out of breath and obviously wishing he was not having to run up a mountain.

  2. teamwak says:

    Cool. I like that the script was a lot tighter on this one.

    I LOVE the car chase in the citroen, and Tevye as well. And for the first time ever Bond turns down a conquest (although it would have been creepy if he hadnt).

    Great lair as well. Loved the fact the Bond throws the MacGuffin off the mountain at the end, and the Russian general nods and doesnt kill him. Very good. Its the same general who is in Octopussy (I think).

    But there was one plot contrievence, wasnt there? Funny that one of the cross-country skiers turns out to be an enemy assassin as well 😉

    • teamwak says:

      PS. James Bond is a posh elderly gent, the sort you might admire as a mysterious “cool uncle.

      Fantastic! 🙂

    • Todd says:

      Walter Gotell plays General Gogol in five Bond movies, including Octopussy.

      One of the things that has always impressed me about the Bond movies is how, even in the depths of the Cold War, they always knew there was no real conflict between the Soviet Union and the western powers — it was always a puppet show for a darker evil.

      But there was one plot contrievence, wasnt there?

      Well, as I say, it is still a Bond movie. Although the skiing assassin doesn’t bother me that much — he is in the biathalon, after all, and it’s (eventually) established that the villain has interests in Olympic atheletes, which apparently happens quite often in the world of espionage — it shows up in Act III of Ronin as well.

      Oh, and then there’s the clue provided by the talking parrot.

  3. eronanke says:

    I can’t wait for “A View to a Kill”, the only Moore I will watch. 🙂

  4. urbaniak says:

    Ten to go. At this rate I assume you’ll be through the series by the time I hit town on the 15th. Ah well, I’ll be there if you’d like a viewing companion for the Police Academy festival.

  5. black13 says:

    I remember that a movie magazine, just prior to the release of this one, had featured an interview with either the director or the producer. In that interview, the interviewed person said that they had upped the ante so much in the previous movies, they had nowhere else to go but scale down and make a good movie instead.

    Sadly, they forgot all about that for the next one again. 🙁 Which, if you remember, I’m on record as considering one of the worst Bonds ever.

    I agree with you, though, that L&LD and this one are the two best Moore Bonds.

  6. greyaenigma says:

    That’s a lot of chairs. I hope no one walking by decides to become chivalrous.

  7. craigjclark says:

    Ahh, no one ever forgets their first Bond. I always loved the scene where Bond and Q recreate the appearance of the assassin on the computer, especially because the clincher is the octagon-shaped eyeglasses (two steps up from hexagons!). If you ask me, that’s the first thing I would have noticed.

    And I didn’t take Bond’s attitude with the teenage girl as disgust, more like exasperation. He’s like the gunslinger in the old west who’s grown tired of random people on the street saying “Draw!”

    • Anonymous says:

      And I didn’t take Bond’s attitude with the teenage girl as disgust, more like exasperation. He’s like the gunslinger in the old west who’s grown tired of random people on the street saying “Draw!”

      Yeah, I didn’t get the disgust vibe either. More like bemusement and mild wonder at how the new generation of females are as eager and predatory as he was in his salad days.