We say goodbye to Sir Roger Moore with his most underrated appearance as James Bond, 007.
An oft-overlooked entry in James Bond canon, For Yours Eyes Only gets my vote as Sir Roger Moore’s most serious and straight-faced episode. In fact, you could imagine an early Sean Connery or even Daniel Craig tackling this one; a revenge-driven potboiler that isn’t concerned with outlandish schemes to take over the world, or even venturing into the cosmos. Indeed, Moore’s fifth go-around as 007 was an inevitable reaction to the preceding and overblown Moonraker, which saw the British superspy camping it up in Zero-G. As is so often the case with this franchise, EON was forced to dial it down and return to the more credible roots of what Ian Fleming created in the first place. You see, for every Die Another Day, there’s a Casino Royale, and For Your Eyes Only remains a sterling example of that self-correction.
On that note, this one actually has a story you can remember for the obligatory plot synopsis! Pinching From Russia with Love’s “Get the McGuffin” plot, the film sees Bond tasked with hunting down the ATAC machine, which could be used to control British military submarines. This brings him across the clearly crooked businessman Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover), his hired gun Locque (Michael Gothard), and the beautiful Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), who is seeking payback after Kristatos’ men murdered her parents. This one is a thriller through and through, even cutting down on the wild gadgetry and Q’s screentime to make it the most Flemingesque of Moore’s seven outings.
As the directorial debut of John Glen, who would also helm the next four instalments, FYEO is an old-fashioned delight that takes its time setting up its plot and characters, allowing the set-pieces to evolve organically. The need to bring the action back down to earth is exemplified by one of the best gags in the series, when Bond’s prized and gizmo-filled Lotus is destroyed by the explosive burglar-protection system, forcing him to commandeer Melina’s common-as-muck Citroën 2CV. Such a less-is-more approach branded the film as “slow” or even “forgettable” to some, but it is to Glen’s credit that the adult tone didn’t eradicate a sense of fun… at least for me. This is still a movie with a healthy dose of trailer moments, such as a pilotless helicopter, a downhill chase through orange groves, an underwater escape that leaves our heroes almost eaten by sharks, and even a vertigo-inducing mountain climb for the conclusion. Fuck, Moore even gets attacked by goons in hockey gear at one point.
While the plot is more realistically bent, Glen and screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson never forget the humour that has always been a trademark of the series. They even poke fun at their star’s advancing years, with Moore’s aging agent having to contend with the unwanted advances of teenage figure skater Bibi (Lynn-Holly Johnson). To see the notoriously horny spy actually passing up a conquest is a fresh source of comedy, and Moore’s delivery has never failed to crack me up (“You get your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice cream”).
I do have some caveats with FYEO, however. The time-honoured cold opening is completely out-of-wack with the rest of the movie. Originally, the film was meant to open with Melina’s parents being killed (hence the strange close-up of her eyes, which would have segued into the titles), but everyone agreed that it simply wasn’t big enough to open a Bond picture. Instead, producer Cubby Broccoli took the opportunity to shit on his longtime nemesis Kevin McClory by killing off Ernst Stavros Blofeld. Well, he isn’t actually billed as such in the credits due to an ongoing legal matter which kept SPECTRE in McClory’s hands, but you only need to see this mystery figure petting a cat to know who he’s supposed to be. It is an odd, ridiculous and cheesy opening that nevertheless has amazing stunts featuring an out-of-control helicopter and that famous shot of “Blofeld” being dropped down a chimney stack.
There’s also the fact that our lead villain is restrained and unspectacular by this franchise’s standards, although Glover does the best he can with his limited material. Also, our leading lady is another in a long line of foreign beauties whose dialogue is completely dubbed, making her chatter a chore to listen to. But such things are mere quibbles next to Bill Conti’s hilariously dated disco score, which doesn’t have the allure or timeless qualities of John Barry’s contributions. Luckily, Sheena Easton’s titular song is one of the better tracks from this era, and the starlet made Bond history by actually appearing in the title sequence (clearly, designer Maurice Binder had a thing for Miss Easton, as no other artist before or since can make this claim).
So, what of the late and sorely-missed Sir Moore? Hitting his mid-fifties here, he is once again that dependable British gentleman, being more adept at delivering one-liners than getting into fisticuffs, oozing charm and sophistication effortlessly. Five films in, he still wasn’t convincing as a ruthless killer, but he was very much engaged at a point when many Bond actors would begin phoning it in. Befitting the old-fashioned ethos, this is also the one Moore venture where he was allowed to get nasty, signified by the memorable moment in which he pushes a car containing Loque over a cliff (below). Reportedly, Roger wasn’t very keen on this display of barbarity (lest we forget he was a pacifist once beaten up by his own wife), but it provided one of his most unexpected highlights. It is unfortunate that his final two outings, Octopussy and A View to a Kill, returned to the clownish nature of earlier films when he could have put these rarely-seen chops to work.
I previously made it clear in my review of Live and Let Die that I wasn’t a big fan of his Bond growing up, my induction being Pierce Brosnan, but through endless revisits and reflection, I grew to love his “cuddlier” 007. Whatever your feelings on the man as an actor, those characteristics made him stand out from the rest. There’s also the fact that, up until his death a few days ago, he was a stalwart Bond supporter who was never quick to dismiss the adoration that both he and the films received. Every time a new one came out, he was there to comment on it as an enthusiastic follower, and he’s the only 007 to write a book about the series. For a longtime fanatic like myself, such sincerity will be missed.
For Your Eyes Only gets my vote as the third-best outing for Moore’s Bond, behind the really rather great Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me. It is certainly an underrated adventure that makes a mockery of the two following it. Give it a revisit and remember, when it comes to dispatching baddies with a quip, nobody does it better…
- Director Steven Spielberg had been very much interested in directing a James Bond spy film in his earlier years prior to Bridge of Spies (2015) and did have talks with then Bond franchise producer Albert R. Broccoli about directing For Your Eyes Only, but Broccoli told him he only wanted British directors to helm the Bond series. Shortly afterwards, George Lucas offered Spielberg an iconic hero of his own, in the form of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
- The closing scene with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, marked the first time a real life head of government was portrayed on screen in a James Bond movie. The PM was portrayed by Actress-Comedienne Janet Brown, who was well known for performing impersonations of Thatcher.
- The character of Countess Lisl was played by Cassandra Harris who, at the time of filming, was married to future Bond actor Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan would be offered the part just five years later but be unable to appear as Bond in The Living Daylights (1987) due to Remington Steele (1982) commitments.
- In the opening sequence, Bond visits his deceased wife’s grave at Stoke Poges Church, adjacent to Gert Fröbe’s golf course from Goldfinger (1964). The scene was written when Roger Moore was considering retirement from the series, to provide story continuity between different Bond actors. Ironically, the teaser scene has absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the movie that follows, leaving it more connected to earlier Bond films than to the one it opens.