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For Your Eyes Only Review

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by Chris McEneany Oct 30, 2008

    For Your Eyes Only Review
    Based upon two of Ian Fleming's short stories - For Your Eyes Only and Risico - this big screen vehicle for Roger Moore's suave and tongue-in-cheek 007 represents a very welcome downturn from the overly elaborate and irrepressibly daft excesses of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Whilst both of those were incredibly popular and great fun, the idiocy of their plots and gadget-overkill took the secret out of the agent and veered perilously close to sending the character and the whole franchise so far up the river that not even a Union Jack coloured distress flare could be of assistance. At the time of release, FYEO sported one of the most provocative posters of the entire series and it is a huge shame that the Blu-ray release has not seen fit to incorporate the statuesque legs of model Joyce Bartle on the cover here, but there can be no doubt that its promotion to hi-def status is still a very worthy one.

    The thing is that the screenplay from regular scribe Richard Maibaum and co-writer/franchise producer Michael G. Wilson also brought in elements of From Russia From Love, what with its ATAC (Automated Targeting Attack Communicator) falling into the predatory hands of a criminal mastermind who intends to play both Great Britain and Russia off against each other, and even brightened things up with its inclusion of the keel-hauling sequence from the novel of Live And Let Die (but not used in its film adaptation), thus For Your Eyes Only can, at times, feel both familiar and like something of a stew of Bondian flavours, rather than something completely fresh. But the format remains a winning one that strives to bring our hero back down to earth again, after the galactic free-for-all ended Moonraker. Long-time Bond editor, John Glen, made his directorial debut with this and he shows considerable wit and panache with the material, coaxing out one of Moore's better performances in the role. He stages the action sequences - very elemental this time, what with snow, mountains and the sea all contriving to put an end to 007 - with money-on-screen dexterity and, although this is a relatively “quiet” mission, plenty of extended oomph for your buck. Critics have cited that, amongst other set-pieces, the ski chase from spike-wheeled motorcycle henchmen down the piste and even into the Winter Olympic bobsled run, goes on for too long, but I think that Glen gets the pacing just right. For Your Eyes Only is a deceptive movie, though. Come the climax, viewers can often feel slightly short-changed, erroneously believing that they may have been an missing action-episode or two but, in actual fact, Glen's first stint at the helm delivers a lot more rough 'n' tumble than Roger Moore had ever encountered before ... or since, for that matter. The risk of all this added vigour, of course, was that our dapper Bond was already looking a little too long-in-the-tooth to thoroughly convince when thrust into fist-and-foot salvos with thugs and goons. But, as all fans know, this was definitely part of the charm of Moore's era. It is funny seeing him going toe-to-toe with numerous Eon-family stuntmen, though. And it is even funnier when you see both him and Topol take great pains to creep up on two enemy guards only to have them fight back with much more venom than these two veterans had anticipated.

    When the St. George's, a British spy-ship, masquerading as a trawler goes down in Albanian waters with its all-important and top secret Polaris-sub communicator, the ATAC, on-board both the Soviets - once more headed-up by Walter Gotell's affable General Gogol - and MI6 race to retrieve it from the corpse-littered depths. Instigating a covert operation that will send 007 off to locate the wreck and salvage the device, the British plans are hampered when nefarious shipping magnate Aris Kristatos sticks his oar in by murdering the two marine archaeologists who were helping them comb the ocean floor, thus inspiring their daughter, the crossbow-wielding Melina Havelock, to get embroiled in the affair with her own plans for revenge. Just getting to the wreck involves some location-hopping for Bond, with danger and death ever-present, and the need for subterfuge and decidedly dodgy allies essential if he is to keep the ATAC out of Russian hands. Maibaum and Wilson liberally mine Fleming's work for scenarios and incidents and it is fun to spot what element comes from where, but the whole thing hangs together as its own entity with scenic urgency and the radical swing-shift from megalomaniacal villainy to something much more mundane and monetary-minded foreshadowing the grit and contemporary grey murk of the bad guys in Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace. Thus, For Your Eyes Only, becomes more of a personal and intimate odyssey for Bond and the world he inhabits.

    With the exception of the bland-faced, expressionless Carole Bouquet as the vengeful Melina, who is so utterly wooden she makes Moore look positively Shakespearean, the cast is a very reassuring one. With Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn supplying the family fallback for MI6, and starched veterans such as Geoffrey Keen's returning Minister of Defence, Sir Frederick Gray and James Villiers' Chief Of Staff, Bill Tanner, trying their best to patch over the fact that the much-loved Bernard Lee had passed away (we are told that M is “still away” by Miss Moneypenny), the villainous side of things is expertly handled with graciously suave dignity from Julian (Indy's Last Crusade) Glover's smarmy Kristatos and his ruthless lieutenant Locque (The Devils' Michael Gothard) and the good-for-now, but still a rogue when it comes down to it, Milos Columbo, played with an Ionian twinkle in the eye by a peanut-popping Topol. Oh, and there is that plummy Charles Dance appearing here in a very early part as a determined, but unlucky goon who misses Bond at virtually every opportunity. Placing Bond in the middle of such a gangsters' feud was definitely a side-step from his usual task of saving the world, making the plot seem more like something the secret agent might do in-between the bigger missions that come along, but grounding the spectacle in such a way meant that audiences were granted a more realistic and tangible story, and one that would provoke much less eye-rolling than fleets of space shuttles and astro-marines. First told a pack of lies by the outwardly gracious Kristatos and then falling-in with Columbo's lesser of two evils in order to get the job done, Bond runs the gamut of motorcycle assassins, stoic Russian hulks (John Wyman's pouty blonde KGB agent Eric Kriegler), a monstrous deep-sea tussle with an armour-plated mariner, the amorous advances of a young ice-skating prodigy (Lynn-Holly Johnson) and the mother of all mountain climbs. Down-time has never been such fun.

    Glen and the producing team were enormously keen to promote their hero's own rugged skills and let the man take over from the tools. Therefore there is less button-pressing and gadgetry called upon than most of the previous Bond movies. Aside from the audacious, but actually quite authentic submersible craft, even the vehicles are kept out of the limelight. After its triumphant spin in The Spy Who Loved Me, the Lotus Esprit - well, two of them, actually - return. But, in something of a wink to the audience, they are basically threadbare means of conventional locomotion, this time out, even if the first one does sport a novel, yet self-defeating anti-theft device. That dummy getting engulfed in the fireball is a real hoot, though! Bond's utilising of his own boot-laces to help him scale the heights of Kristatos' hilltop enclave, after having first been kicked off the summit, was a great reminder that this guy was adaptable and fearless and could always find some degree of inner resolve and fortitude to see him through a dilemma. Moore's Bond was not always so dauntless. There is genuine tension and suspense right the way through this perilous climb. Another stand-out sequence would have to be the infamous keelhauling that Kristatos has in store for Bond and Melina. Lashed together and dragged back and forth across a coral reef at high speed, their spilled blood attracting some hungry sharks, our intrepid couple seem powerless to escape a grisly fate. Despite his grace and civility, Glover ensures that Kristatos becomes the father of one of the series' most notorious tortures. Excellent photography as Bond and Melina are whisked through the waves and a palpable sense of severe jeopardy - those sharks come mighty close and the coral raked real scratches - make this nail-biting stuff and, in a rare moment of glory, Moore is actually very believable at getting the pair of them out of such a fix. “We're not dead, yet,” he calmly reassures Melina before they plummet into the briny.The aqualung left behind during an earlier scene does smack too much of narrative convenience, though.

    There is also a degree of violence that is quite pleasing. It may lack the cartoonic qualities of Spy or Moonraker - Bond seemingly determined to mash his knuckles against the steel molars of Jaws throughout both adventures - but the fighting is swift and brutal and Locque's beach-buggy hit-and-run given a powerful emphasis simply by Moore's very-apparent anguish and subsequent anger over the slain Countess - a slain Scouse Countess, in fact, played by a boob-flashing Cassandra Harris. The late Harris, incidentally, was married to Pierce Brosnan at the time and, during a set visit, the aspiring actor was clearly clocked by the Broccolis - so to speak. Crossbow bolts thud into torsos, bodies are crunched in wrecks and blown apart in buffeting waves of incendiary flame and a real shark quite clearly has intentions of giving one extremely brave stuntman a toothy vasectomy. And, very much like Thunderball's scuba-corpses, we are treated to the chilling sight of drowned sailors bobbing about within the ghostly hulk of the sunken spy-ship. People tend to go on about Moore's Bond committing an infamous cold-blooded killing in this film. I won't say who it is on the receiving end - although most of you will already know - but, whilst this is a great dark little vignette of distinctly well-earned comeuppance, it is most definitely not out of character for 007 to exact some pre-meditated retribution. And what is dropping slap-headed Blofeld down the inside of a massive chimney, when he could simply have flown him into the arms of the judiciary, it not defiantly cold-blooded? What this suddenly awkward moral stance does do, though, is go considerably against the grain of a final scene when someone else's vengeance is deliberately delayed and, indeed, thwarted by Bond. This double-standard type of development is a thorn in the film's narrative. What is the point of getting us all excited about seeing such deserving bad guys getting their just desserts practically all the way through, when our hero is then going to become all moralistic and place his trust in the legal system? Without a doubt this is pandering to the civilised high ground and really doesn't make any sense in the grand scheme of things. After killing a few already with her trusty crossbow, Melina even tends the wounds of a regular Bond-extra (we also see him up a ladder and getting terrorised by the speeding cars during the orchard-road chase earlier on) after first putting a bolt deep into his chest. Again, this charity sort of flies in the face of a do-or-die mission and doesn't really add up. Mind you, you can always count on Topol's less-discerning Columbo to take care of things. You've got to love the way he actually apologises to the already skewered henchman for clubbing him over the bonce with his automatic. Topol, already one of the most topsy-turfy actors around, what with his deranged Doctor Zarkov in Flash Gordon and the rafter-rattling Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof under his belt, is clearly slumming it here, yet his happy-go-lucky smuggler still shines and provides Moore with the weight of an over-the-top persona to play against.

    “You were supposed to question Gonzales, not let Miss Havelock perforate him!”

    The comedy that Moore, in particular, brought to the series is very much in evidence. Whilst the one-liners may be dismissable by the usual Bond standards, and actually quite infrequent, there are a lot of sight gags speckled about. Q's lab is rife with ridiculous contraptions - from skull-smashing arm-casts (sported by none-other than the original Boba Fett, himself, Jeremy Bulloch, and metal-taloned umbrellas to the incredibly duff 3-D Visual Indentigraph device that allows Q to locate a suspect from a vast database simply by having Bond helping him manipulate less-than-cutting-edge computer graphics into a face. “It's a nose, Q - not a banana,” is still a classic line. Having the practically forgotten Janet Brown infiltrate the film with her show-piece impersonation of Margaret Thatcher and John Wells getting his knuckles rapped as her pipe-smoking underling of a husband, Dennis, was one of those all-time highs, or lows, of the series, though. Depending upon how you looked at it, this was either the absolute nadir of Bondian in-spoofery or one of its most outrageous pop-culture jibes. Whatever you think of it, however, the film definitely works better if you stop viewing it just before the “parrot sketch” finale. During this period, they were trying desperately to think of ways to top Moonraker's “I think he's attempting re-entry, Sir,” but this took the series into Benny Hill territory. You could also say that the woeful relationship between Bond and smitten teen, Bibi, is just for laughs too, for how else are we meant to take the sex-crazed skater's infatuation with someone who could very well be her grandfather? Quite what this element of the story is all about is anybody's guess - it has absolutely no bearing on Bond's mission, not even falling into the category of one of 007's casual dalliances, as Bibi is preposterously linked to her mentor, Kristatos, all the way through. Whatever the gangster's ambitions for her are, it serves absolutely no purpose to the plot and simply sticks out a mile as vanity-casting by producers with very close ties to Hugh Heffner and Playboy and bringing onboard an acknowledged skating and skiing star who just happens to be adorably cute and blond, too. There's even a buxom gathering Playmates around the swimming-pool of high-paid hit-man, Hector Gonzales (Stefan Kalipha) - although one the more sultry specimens later turned out to have been a bloke!

    “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”

    “That's putting things mildly, 007!”

    Back projection shots and obvious stunt-doubling lets the side down during the admittedly great action sequences. Even Bond using a brolly as a parachute during his escape from Gonzales' beach-party suffers a rather glaring imposter leaping off the wall. And the esteemed Rick Sylvester, who made that gloriously patriotic leap off the cliff at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me, and here doubles for Moore as Bond gets kicked off a nerve-jangling precipice, is too obviously fit to be the lounge-lizard 007. The great-looking underwater sequences, which are breathtakingly beautiful when set around that ancient sunken temple, are very convincing, however - which is all the more commendable when you consider that a lot of the close-ups involving Moore and Bouquet were actually shot on a soundstage, in slow-motion and in front of a wind-machine with bubbles and watery swirls added afterwards. The real “wet” footage, involving some terrifically eerie investigations in the wreck of the St. George, a vicious set-to with a marauding assassin in a cumbersome deep-sea suit and a great pre-The Abyss submersible-fracas involving Malena's Neptune and a pincer-snapping vehicle from Kristatos, as lensed by aquatic expert Al Giddings, is fantastic.

    “Have a nice fright, Mr. Bond!”

    Cue lots of demonic cackling!

    As far as pre-title sequences go, For Your Eyes Only fares reasonably well, if you can get over the fact that the entire poignancy of Bond visiting his murdered wife's grave is diluted by having her now-crippled killer, Blofeld, and his moggy swapping their bob-sleigh for a motorised wheelchair and cackling with panto villainy as they fling 007 around the skies in a remote-controlled helicopter. Treated as fun, this works well. But as a follow-on from the emotional climax of OHMSS, it becomes severely disrespectful. Maurice Binder's neon-and-shadow-bathed titles pitch in some very welcome erotica, which soon dispels any lingering doubts about the uneven tone of the mini-story that came before and Sheena Easton delivers a very notable title song, written by the film's score composer, Bill (Rocky) Conti and lyricist Michael Leeson. Easton even breaks with franchise tradition by actually appearing in the montage, too.

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

    Bill Conti's score, elsewhere, is a huge letdown, however. It seemed horribly dated even at the time, with naff disco-era action cues stretched glaringly over the top of all the set-pieces and a complete lack of Bond's trademarked brass and guitar. The 2-CV mountain-ride down through the orchards and the snow-chase are rendered simply dreadful, musically speaking, with such anachronistic scoring and you can't help but mourn John Barry's unavailability to work on the film. Conti, it is only fair to say, did come up with a truly amazing score for the otherwise lacklustre Masters Of The Universe, that totally proved he was very, very capable of delivering strong orchestral action and atmosphere when he wanted to.

    On the eve of Quantum Of Solace hitting screens everywhere, it is great to view one of Roger Moore's more brutal outings. His tenure as Bond offered an incredible amount of thrills and spills and one or two classics along the way. For many he is still their favourite 007, but despite growing up with his incarnation, I can never take him seriously. For Your Eyes Only marked the end of his already-shaky credibility in the role, with only Octopussy and the lamentable A View To A Kill to follow. Although I quite like Octopussy, Moore should really have extricated himself from the series at this point. His geriatric heroism was becoming something to laugh at rather than with - and that was something that was taking the once-unique franchise into farcical territory that threatened to lose all but the most loyal and devoted of fans. But, here in John Glen's successful first stab as the point-man on one of cinema's most enduring and iconic creations, you have the best (and only a smidgeon of the worst) of Moore.