MoM’s Our Word Is Our Bond series enters the 80s with Dawn Dabell reviewing For Your Eyes Only (1981) starring Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet and Topol.
Roger Moore returns for a fifth time as everyone’s favourite British secret agent, James Bond. After Moonraker (1979), in which Bond went to outer space in order to save the world, where could the series go next? The studio realised there was no way of out-gunning the last entry, so Bond was brought back down to earth in a film which sees a return to the more serious-toned offerings. Every fan of Bond has a favourite film, but also a favourite from each separate actor’s tenure. For Your Eyes Only is my absolute favourite from the Moore years, closely followed by Live And Let Die (1973) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Interestingly, the end credits from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) promised that Bond would be back in For Your Eyes Only but this wasn’t to be. Instead it was decided that the next film in the series would be Moonraker. Many people view Moonraker as one of the worst in the entire franchise, so one has to wonder if the makers regretted their decision and wished they had skipped it and moved straight onto For Your Eyes Only as originally planned. Moonraker was a massive box-office hit, so it’s unlikely any regrets were permanent… but For Your Eyes Only is certainly a far more enjoyable Bond movie.
A British spy ship has sunk in seas near Albania and Greece. Aboard is a top secret ATAC transmitter, a device capable of issuing the British nuclear fleet with orders to launch its missiles against pre-selected targets. If it falls into the wrong hands, British missiles could be directed against NATO cities.
James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to recover the ATAC. He is aided by Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), a half-Greek woman whose parents were recently murdered after helping the British government locate the wreckage of the lost ship. Bond and Melina follow the trail to Corfu, where Bond is told by Kristatos (Julian Glover) that the death of the Havelocks was arranged by a hitman named Emile Locque (Michael Gothard), who is in turn employed by a Greek hoodlum named Columbo (Topol).
Later, Bond learns that Columbo is, in fact, an ally. The real villain is Kristatos, who is trying to get hold of the ATAC for the KGB. In a race against time, Bond, Melina, Columbo and his men attempt to get to the ATAC before it can be traded to the Russians.
This film closely resembles On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), a film which gave audiences a look at a different side to the Bond character. In OHMSS we see him as a more vulnerable man, ready to settle down with a woman he loves, the beautiful and resourceful Tracy (Diana Rigg).
Unfortunately for Bond, his happiness is short-lived when she is murdered shortly after their wedding, and in the subsequent movies we see him return to his womanising ways. Few other Bond films show 007 as a mere mortal with vulnerabilities and emotions, but For Your Eyes Only certainly comes close. The opening of the film sees Bond, a bouquet of flowers in hand, visiting the grave of his late wife – a short scene which allows us to see he is just human after all, a man with feelings and not just a womanising risk-taker. We don’t get to spend long thinking about this, as the pre-credits soon launches into a fantastic sequence which sees Bond trapped in a helicopter which is being controlled by a man in a wheelchair (complete with white pussycat). Although he’s never actually confirmed as such, it is heavily implied the man in the wheelchair is Blofeld (the villain responsible Tracy’s murder) who is out to dispose of Bond. Unfortunately for him, Bond scuppers his plans and drops him down an industrial chimney, giving him long-awaited closure over his wife’s murder (further strengthening the link in theme and style to OHMSS), before the credits begin.
The choice of cast in the film is superb. Roger Moore was rumoured to not be appearing in another Bond movie after Moonraker but happily for fans he was back on board for this. Moore doesn’t play Bond in the usual tongue-in-cheek manner, as in previous and later offerings. He has a far more serious edge here, a hardened attitude and a sense of past baggage. Julian Glover is extremely suave and believable as Kristatos, a man we are led to believe is one of the good guys until we discover he is double-crossing Bond. Glover is a true professional who makes any of his roles, no matter how difficult, look completely natural and easy to pull off. Also, Topol as Columbo is fantastic in every scene he is in. He is so fluid and watchable, and almost steals the show whenever he’s on screen.
Carole Bouquet is perfectly cast as Melina. It’s refreshing to have a female character who doesn’t jump straight into bed with the suave English agent. Instead, Melina only becomes romantically involved with him in the final moments of the film when she utters the famous line ‘for your eyes only’ while dropping her robe to the ground. Until that point, she is a tough, crossbow-wielding, vengeance-seeking woman who can handle herself in any situation. Bouquet plays her action scenes well and looks immaculate throughout, although it should be noted she is actually dubbed.
Prior to becoming an actress, Lynn-Holly Johnson was a professional ice-skater, which is the reason she was cast in the role of Bibi, a skating prodigy being sponsored by Kristatos. Many viewers see her character as annoying and misplaced within the film – thinking about it, she didn’t really need to be included at all and doesn’t play any great part in the development of the plot. It seems a little hard to believe Kristatos would have a soft-spot for, and wanted to sponsor, Bibi – it’s not really a scenario one associates with a Bond villain and, frankly, it isn’t needed. There’s an ongoing joke about Bibi being far too young to flirt with Bond (he offers to “buy her an ice-cream” rather than accepting her advances). Ironically, the characters of Bibi and Melina are meant to be years apart in age, but in real life Bouquet was only one year older than Johnson.
Cassandra Harris – who was cast in the role of Lisl, a woman who seduces Bond – was married to Pierce Brosnan at the time she worked on the film, and introduced her husband to Albert Broccoli. Unfortunately Harris died in 1991, so she never had the opportunity to see her husband play 007, even though this was a dream she had for Pierce. His first outing as Bond didn’t happen until Goldeneye in 1995 (he missed out on The Living Daylights because he was contracted to the TV show Remington Steele at the time).
Sadly, Bernard Lee was unable to reprise his role of M as he died just before he was due to begin filming. As a way of honouring Lee, his role wasn’t recast. Instead it was written into the script that M was on leave, and his Chief of Staff assigns Bond to the mission. A new actor, Robert Brown, took on the role of M in Octopussy (1983), and played him until Judi Dench took over in the Brosnan years.
A shout out must also be given to Sheena Easton who appears in the opening credits, singing her title song in a state of suggested undress. Easton was the first artist to appear in the opening credits and she certainly makes her mark, coming across like someone who could quite easily be a Bond girl herself.
The Ian Fleming book For Your Eyes Only is actually a collection of five short stories. Two of the stories in its pages – For Your Eyes Only and Risico – are used for the basis of this film. Also, the boat sequence where Bond and Melina are bound and dragged across a coral reef by a motor-powered boat was actually a scene from the book Live And Let Die, unused in that particular film adaptation.
It’s been over 50 years since Fleming died, meaning his works are now classed as being in the public domain in Canada. For this reason, two Canadian film makers; Lee Demarbre and Ian Driscoll, have announced they intend to make a new version of For Your Eyes Only with Ryan Reynolds in the role of Bond. They’ve also thrown some other names into the mix to play supporting roles – Christopher Plummer and Donald Sutherland among them. Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen but, since these two film-makers are usually associated with low-budget features, one must wonder of their version will hold up against the original if it comes to fruition.
Ultimately For Your Eyes Only is a wonderful example of a Bond movie. It’s one of the best from any of the actors who have been given the honour of portraying our favourite British spy. There are others in the series which pip it to top spot, but regardless the film is certainly up there with the likes of Dr No, From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Skyfall.
MoM Rating: 8/10