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For Your Eyes Only Review

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by Casimir Harlow Nov 5, 2012

    For Your Eyes Only Review

    “The fantasy you freed in me”

    Even for those who – like me – enjoyed Moonraker, there was no denying it left the franchise with nowhere to go: after sending Bond into outer space the only thing they could really do is bring him back down to earth. Having long-since jettisoned the comparatively mundane exploits told in the books, Bond had become too big to handle. The outlandish plots to take over or destroy the world (or both); the cool-but-preposterous gadgets; he had evolved into a larger-than-life super-spy. But it was time for a change. Despite plans to re-cast, Roger Moore would return, but the rest was effectively a reboot: a new director, a script which – for once – followed the original stories fairly closely, and no gadgets. It was back-to-basics. The result was a chapter that even non-Roger Moore fans regarded as good; a gritty and more serious approach which worked surprisingly well.

    When a British spy boat is sunk and the advanced missile targeting system (ATAC) onboard is lost, Bond is dispatched to recover it before the Russians can get their hands on it, as the device could potentially be used to launch ballistic missiles from the Royal Navy’s fleet of Polaris nuclear submarines. His only lead is a marine archaeologist, Sir Timothy Havelock, who was secretly enlisted by the British Government to locate the sunken spy boat, and who was subsequently assassinated – along with his wife – by a Cuban hitman, obviously intent on preventing the Havelocks from retrieving the ATAC. Bond must track the hitman and find out exactly who hired him but, along the way, he is going to have to deal with the Havelocks’ surviving daughter, Melina, who has nothing but vengeance on her mind.

    Roger Moore was only contracted to star in three Bond movies, culminating in The Spy Who Loved Me. After that the plan was to do reboot the franchise with a different actor. The story would be For Your Eyes Only, its name taken from the short story collection by the same name (which also contained a short story which, itself, was also called “For Your Eyes Only”) and its script adapted from a blend of two of the short stories within – the aforementioned FYEO and also another tale called Risico.

    Risico saw Bond dispatched to Italy to investigate a drug-smuggling operation which was sending narcotics to England; he’s instructed to contact CIA informant Kristatos, who points Bond in the direction of a local smuggler named Colombo, stating that this is the man behind the operation. When Bond attempts to further investigate Colombo, he is captured and brought aboard Colombo’s ship where Colombo informs him that it is actually Kristatos who has been smuggling drugs to the UK, at the behest of the Russians. Together they attack – and kill – Kristatos at his warehouse.

    “My country awarded him the King's Medal.”
    “Yes, I know. But other people died for it.”

    The For Your Eyes Only short story is about the murder of a married couple – the Havelocks – at the hands of a Cuban hitman, who leaves their daughter both alive and intent on avenging her parents’ deaths. Bond is sent to investigate the murders and protect the daughter, although she ignores his advice against murdering their assassin and fires an arrow into his back just as he is diving into a lake.

    The final script for the film ended up combining these two stories and setting them against a Cold War backdrop, with Russian and British agents hunting for the same lost device. Despite this addition of a stronger backbone to support the two interlocking stories, For Your Eyes Only ended up being one of the few Bond movies that closely followed Ian Fleming’s source material (up there with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale). Perhaps more importantly, however, it attempted to follow more closely Fleming’s original depiction of the Bond character, returning him to a colder, more determined killer who relied more on his instincts and improvisations than gadgets and gags.

    Of course the intention was to cast a new actor and so a pre-credits sequence was devised which would introduce a new actor using classic elements, namely, dealing – once and for all – with Bond’s age-old nemesis, Blofeld. The character of Blofeld had been swallowed up in a series of lawsuits that dated back from before the first Bond movie was made, and the Studios were unable to directly use him anymore. Yet the man remained alive, which was not very satisfying considering the fact that he was behind the death of Bond’s wife, back in Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

    Connery’s Diamonds Are Forever arguably did more damage than good in its resolution of the Blofeld scenario. At the end of the movie, Bond comically used a crane to bash Blofeld’s distinctly toy-like mini-submersible against the side of an oil tanker. As far as we could tell, all it did was irritate Blofeld and amuse Connery’s Bond. Without even sticking around to put a bullet in the man who killed his wife – or at least see him dead once and for all – Bond duly jumps from the oil rig, which is promptly hit by a salvo of rockets. Really, it was a pitiful way to deal with the Blofeld situation – indeed the entire movie was a lame follow-up to Lazenby’s more driven, personal OHMSS, and it just further stings when you wonder what a second Lazenby movie could have done with the same sort of material; taking a decent stab at revenge on the super-villain.

    The pre-credits sequence of For Your Eyes Only would have Bond face off with Blofeld (who was never officially named, due to that aforementioned lawsuit) one last time, and finish him off, definitively. In doing so, it was supposed to ease the introduction of a new actor into the role, dispatching his age-old nemesis in the opening few minutes. It was a good plan.

    Lucas’s Star Wars would, of course, dramatically change everything – for good and for bad. All of a sudden the Bond producers figured that they had to fast-track a more space-orientated movie instead and ditched the plans to do For Your Eyes Only (as was teased during the end credits of The Spy Who Loved Me). Moore’s unprecedented success in The Spy Who Loved Me made him a shoe-in for the role too; after all, why change such a good thing? And so we got Moonraker which, despite its excesses, remains one of my personal favourite Bond movies.

    Unfortunately Moonraker left Bond with no place to go, and, with previous regular Bond film editor John Glen now taking over directorial duties, it was now deemed an appropriate time to return the franchise to its roots, and take a more back-to-basics approach with the depiction of the character. For Your Eyes Only was back on-track. Only now there was a further problem – they didn’t really have a decent replacement for Moore, and he’d proved more popular than ever before in the record-breaking Moonraker... and so he was contracted on for another movie.

    Across the entire franchise of 23 films, For Your Eyes Only remains perhaps the only attempt at a reboot using the same actor. You could cite Connery’s return in Diamonds Are Forever, but the actor showed such disdain for the role, when he reprised it after Lazenby was hounded out, that it doesn’t really work as a good Bond film in any way, shape or form. For Your Eyes Only far more successfully rebooted the franchise, taking Bond back-to-basics. Indeed, with a different actor on-board, it might have been an excellent reboot.

    As it is, Moore was already looking a little old for the role. Sure, he was still in good shape, but he’d passed 50 and had easily become the oldest Bond actor (securing that dubious accolade for some time to come with his participation in A View to a Kill). I find it easy to forgive the man though because (much more so than Connery) he was always so committed to the role – coming to each successive chapter with an almost new-found vigour; determined, even though he readily admitted, quite humbly, that he could never be the Bond that Connery was.

    More importantly for Bond fans, however, this was Moore’s biggest opportunity since Live and Let Die to take a more hard-nosed approach to Ian Fleming’s original character. Indeed director John Glen would champion this direction but would not truly attain the gritty feel he wanted until he’d done another three Bond movies, finally ending his – the longest – directorial run with the almost anti-Bond that was Licence to Kill, a tremendous movie but arguably before its time (as Dalton was), giving audiences a Bond that they didn’t really want. It was certainly far from the family-friendly spectacle of the earlier Moore years, although, with For Your Eyes Only, you can see what he was looking to do with Bond.

    “You cannot just arrest him. You may have to kill him. Does this discourage you?”
    “Just tell me where he is.”

    Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of both the script and the filmmakers the involvement of Moore himself in the project meant that the script would change almost as much to suit his style as he would have to change to suit the tougher character. They wanted a darker Bond, but Moore’s forte was his wit, so they attempted to combine both elements.

    This mix did not always work, and was never more obvious than during this pre-credits sequence, where a potentially excellent final confrontation between Bond and Blofeld was mostly ruined by a comic slant that wasn’t really all that different from Connery’s disregard for the villain in Diamonds Are Forever, doing Blofeld (and the haunting memory of Bond’s wife) almost as much disrespect, and proving a largely dissatisfying dose of closure with regard to the super-spy’s ultimate super-villain.

    The premise was sound: Bond making a trip to visit the grave of his wife. Yet already issues are arising – the Shaft-esque disco score puckering in the background, desperately trying to make the film feel like a fresh new addition, but nowadays only dating it more, and distracting away from the gravity of the scenario. Bond is duly interrupted by a purported call from his superiors, and a helicopter arrives to pick him up. The pilot, however, is electrocuted, and Bond is left locked in the back of the helicopter as a mysterious bald man in a wheelchair operates the helicopter carrying him from a distance, using a remote control. The man, who makes some attempt to sound a little like Telly Savalas’s Blofeld, toys with Bond, savouring the death of his nemesis. Bond has other plans, however, and manages to climb out of the back of the helicopter – in mid-flight – and get into the front, ripping out the remote control wiring just in time to save himself from a collision.

    So far, so good. Unfortunately, the scene had to end somewhere and, rather than come up with a fitting denouement for Blofeld (I have no idea what the original script had planned for him), they went the more tongue-in-cheek route, having Moore’s Bond humorously pick up Blofeld’s escaping wheelchair using one of the helicopter rails, and then take the bald-headed villain at his word – “Please put me down Mr. Bond” – by dumping him in a huge chimney, sealing his fate. Admittedly Moore’s Bond seldom suited the colder more callous killings sometimes required of the character (and Moore himself often vocally resisted them) but to make such a mockery of the franchise’s last shot at getting closure with Bond’s ultimate archenemy was almost unforgivable.

    Thankfully, the majority of the rest of the film settled into a grittier groove, only occasionally suffering the hiccups of silly characters, comedy noises and frivolous frolics. Ignoring these, it would be privy to some quality Bond moments – not the pure classic Bond spectacle of the Goldfinger, Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker-size entries in the franchise, but the colder touches more commonly associated with the harder Connery outings, the tougher Lazenby approach, the second Dalton offering and, certainly, the Daniel Craig years.

    Moore would be eased into the new, different take on the character slowly, but the end result would still – ultimately – prove effective. He’d have his gadget-laden Lotus blown to smithereens and be forced to improvise with a much more conventionally transportation – throwing around a distinctive yellow Citroen 2CV in a manner which could easily be seen as a precursor to the classic Bourne Mini chase. It’s a great little scene, memorable mostly for the right reasons.

    “I’m afraid we’re being out-horsepowered.”

    Although the gadgets in this entry would be almost non-existent, there would still be the requisite trip to visit Q, this time for more reasonable reasons, with Bond using Q’s latest ‘identigraph’ system to identify the man who he saw pay off the Havelocks’ assassin. Although they wouldn’t play this sequence entirely seriously – Moore’s dismissive “a nose, not a banana, Q” being a surprisingly funny line – its origins were actually from Fleming’s Goldfinger novel and it was a further attempt to ground Bond in sensible, practical technology, rather than outlandish gadgets. As soon as Bond identifies the man, he takes a trip up to the snowy Alps in Italy, and the narrative from Fleming’s short story Risico kicks in, intersplicing the revenge tale involving the Havelock’s daughter to fairly good effect.

    Rather oddly, at this point the writers would throw in a character even more irritating than Agent Goodnight from The Man with the Golden Gun, and almost as bad as the main Bond girl (Tanya Roberts’s Stacy Sutton) from A View to a Kill. I have no idea why Lynn-Holly Johnson’s Bibi Dahl is even in this movie. Perhaps the answer comes from the fact that Johnson was a real-life professional skater but that doesn’t forgive the rather odd inclusion of her character – a skating protégé of the villain Kristatos, who has devious intentions for her.

    Perhaps the idea was to juxtapose Bond’s handling of her – she’s too young even for him to consider sleeping with her despite her propositioning him by waiting naked in his room: “why don’t you put some clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice-cream” – and Kristatos’s more creepy desires, but this is never really capitalised upon, and instead she just makes for an awkward, irritatingly twee character who just takes the movie down a notch every time she appears on screen.

    Thankfully Julian Glover’s Kristatos is a reasonably competent villain for Bond to contend with; at once suave and slimy, it’s hard to think that Glover was himself once a contender to play Bond – he seems so far from that here. He may not stand up there with the best villains at all, nor the most memorable ones, but he has some solid moments – including a wonderful scene ripped straight out of the unused climax to the original Ian Fleming Live and Let Die novel, where Bond and Melina get tied together and keel-hauled behind Kristatos’s boat. Unfortunately his ultimate comeuppance is somewhat anticlimactic.

    “You have shot your last bolt, Miss Havelock.”

    Carole Bouquet’s Bond girl, Melina Havelock is also something of a mixed bag. Her understated style of non-acting is all-too-easy to dismiss as just bad acting; a wooden approach which only works in some of her scenes, and, more often than not, just highlights her lack of ability. Sometimes, however, she strikes the right tone – this determined, vengeful orphan unable to get past the death of her parents until she has killed their murderers. Similarly there are also a few nice moments where it looks like Moore’s affable Bond actually manages to draw a genuine smile or laugh out of her and whilst these moments should really feel out of place given the gravity of the situation, they actually stand amidst her better, more genuine contributions. Still, she’s far from a terrible Bond girl; she’s undeniably striking and she makes for one of those strong female characters who Bond doesn’t just throw into bed at the first opportunity.

    A saving grace comes in the form of enigmatic Israeli actor Chaim Topol (who had already been a hit with audiences in 1980’s Flash Gordon), playing the dubious smuggler Colombo, who Bond initially has his sights set on. Despite the limits of the material, Topol really chews up the scenery, stealing scenes left right and centre, from all and sundry, with his charismatic, almost over-the-top performance. It was Topol’s idea to incorporate the chewing of pistachios as a trademark for the character, a seemingly minor touch which actually works remarkably well to give him a more colourful edge.

    Despite the mixed-bag contributions, the more reserved and restrained tone and script allowed Moore to really come into his own as Bond, offering up a colder, darker and grittier take on the character. There’s a nice little moment where Moore’s Bond is visibly distressed by the cold-blooded vehicular manslaughter perpetrated against the women he just bedded, and actually quite liked. Subsequently – arguably the best scene of the movie – Moore’s Bond tracks the octagonal-glasses-wearing assassin Locque (a far more memorable villain than Glover’s Kristatos) to the top of a mountain, shooting at him until his car crashes and dangles precariously on the edge of a cliff. With a wounded Locque struggling to get out of the car, Bond coldly gives it one final, fatal kick and brutally sends the assassin crashing to the rocks below.

    It’s a fantastic moment. Indeed, one might wonder how this scene – which would have worked well as a resolution to the whole Blofeld scenario – came in the same movie as that misguided pre-credits sequence. Moore himself would find it hard to fully commit to this moment; right up until the shot he resisted going through with it – he just did not think it was appropriate for his version of Bond. Thankfully he went through with it, and it remains a standout scene in the film.

    Similarly the later keel-hauling sequence (which they couldn’t afford to film for Live and Let Die) allows us a more serious take from Moore, who finds himself bound to Melina and thrown into shark-infested water, dragged in the wake of Kristatos’s boat. Despite their almost-certain fate, and the distinct lack of gadgets to save them at the last minute, Moore’s Bond uses his wits and cunning to escape the situation – a steely resolve that we seldom got to see from the actor because he was all too often asked to instead throw us a witty, dismissive one-liner. Here, when Melina panics, saying “I didn’t think it would end like this”, he merely reassures her matter-of-factly:

    “We’re not dead yet.”

    Although there were far fewer grand spectacles on offer, the stunts that we did get had a superb authentic feel to them. It was no surprise really, as Glen had been involved as not only editor of some of the earlier Bond outings, but had also done plenty of second unit photography – most notably shooting the pre-credits sequences to The Spy Who Loved Me (the ski chase and parachute jump) and Moonraker (the skydiving chase); both spectacular scenes which are amidst the best and most memorable in the entire franchise. Here he would rein in the action sequences to counteract the excess of Moonraker, and offer up just a handful of memorable real stunt scenes.

    The ski chase is superb (and one of the few sequences where the disco score actually works); the deep-sea dive is also remarkably tense, acting as something of a precursor to James Cameron’s similarly underwater action sequences in The Abyss; and the finale’s epic climbing sequence is simply stunning. Again, allowing us to see a different side to Moore’s Bond, in one great moment he has to improvise, using his shoelaces in order to haul himself back up after a fall off the rocks. Again, this was very down-to-earth, back-to-basics Bond – the kind of more novel-driven characterisation that distinguished itself not just from the rest of Moore’s outings, but also most of Connery’s, ranking alongside Dalton’s Licence to Kill, Lazenby’s OHMSS and Craig’s reboot saga.

    Again here the score would actually work – the disco theme having largely been dropped in favour of a more subtle, almost non-existent accompaniment. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to forget the damage done during the early scenes in the movie, where the score is far more grating than enhancing. Unlike the disco score to The Spy Who Loved Me, which worked well to deliver a suitably atmospheric, aquatic accompaniment, Bill Conti’s work here is more cheesy and dated than classy and memorable, only really working during a few sequences, and never really redeeming itself after that opening salvo. Regular John Barry composer was certainly missed on this outing. Thankfully Sheena Easton’s title track was far more memorable, and perfectly Bond, through and through.

    Despite the dodgy lows, the occasionally jarring secondary characters, the hotchpotch of performances, and the hit-and-miss result of not fully committing to a serious Bond reboot (silly moments still crept in there), For Your Eyes Only is still one of the most authentic, respectful Bond outings which more closely follows the original Fleming novels and attempts to deliver us a harder edge to Moore’s normally gag-infused characterisation of the iconic spy. It’s a shame that they neither fully committed to a serious reboot, nor followed-through with a similarly serious subsequent outing (although Octopussy did have to contend with the opposing unofficial Connery Bond movie, Never Say Never Again, so the blame for that really lies with the Scotsman’s arrogant refusal to fully relinquish the role), but at least the franchise survived the excesses of Moonraker by doing exactly what you have to do when things go over-the-top: go back to basics (Die Another Day led to Casino Royale, after all).

    “Before setting out on revenge, you first dig two graves.”

    Remember For Your Eyes Only for the bringing Bond back down to earth after Moonraker, and delivering to us a colder, more gritty take on the character from then incumbent Roger Moore; remember the back-to-basics approach which saw Bond stripped of gadgets and forced to rely on his wits, cunning and improvisational skills to get out of danger; remember the 2CV chase, the ski-chase and the deep-sea dive ambush. Remember the entire sub-plot culminating with an almost-vengeful Bond cold-bloodedly murdering an assassin by kicking his car off a cliff; the torturous keel-hauling sequence ripped straight out of Live and Let Die; and the spectacularly tense climb during the movie’s finale. Whilst the polar opposite of some of Bond’s more fantastical outings – and therefore in some way removed from classic pure Bond tales – this was the first successful attempt at showing that audiences approved of a grittier, more authentic take on the character. Little did we know that it would take a quarter of a Century before they finally fully committed to that approach – the result: the redefining Casino Royale, the high-octane Quantum of Solace and the magnificent Skyfall.