For Your Eyes Only (1981) – The 12th James Bond Film; The 5th (of 7) Roger Moore Films – Directed by John Glen – Starring Roger Moore, Julian Glover, Carole Bouquet, Chaim Topol, and Desmond Llewelyn.
Every once in a while I come across a film that I’m not really sure what to do with. Such is FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, a film that starts off with a mixed message, feels tired and bland for about an hour, and then saves itself over a final hour that includes a scene that has too-old Roger Moore climbing up a face cliff and yet somehow undeniably works.
I really don’t get what to do with this movie. Do I love it? No. Do I like it? Um … Do I want to watch it again? Yes. Probably. Maybe. What are my other choices?
The biggest problem with EYES is that, for the first time in his tenure, Roger Moore is lagging behind the movie. Poor Moore – when he was younger and more energetic they saddled him with films that couldn’t keep up with his intensity and now here they finally give him a movie he should have been making a decade earlier and he just can’t keep up. It’s not his fault – the dude is on the plus side of 50 in EYES and it’s amazing he does as solid a job as he does in a fast-paced movie that yearns for someone younger and leaner.
The plot is decidedly bare – there’s a missing piece of British spy tech and Bond goes after it, getting embroiled in a Greek revenge plot in the process. There’s not much time to stop and think – it’s all systems go forward and director John Glen (making his directing debut) deftly films a large number of solid action scenes. Unlike the previous Bond films during Moore’s tenure, none of the chase scenes here are interminably long; EYES takes the quantity approach to action and it’s to the film’s credit that the shorter sequences provide as much quality as they do.
The plot is another matter. EYES sends mixed messages right from the start. After all the shark jumping in MOONRAKER, the franchise offers up a much more serious espionage film here, but the opening sequence left me uncomfortable. The movie opens with Bond visiting the grave of his wife. A helicopter comes to pick him up and then Blofeld takes control of the copter by remote control, and I’m thinking, “What just happened to my serious rumination on Bond and love and death?” We’ve got this intense, somber visit to Bond’s deceased wife (Tracy, played by Diana Rigg back in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE) and then we’re in a helicopter being taken over by remote control by a bald dude sitting in a wheelchair and we never see his face ven though, by this time, we’ve seen it a handful of times. It’s like we flipped the channel from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME to Inspector Gadget and somehow stayed in the same movie.
And then the sequence has the balls to actually get good. With Bond trapped in the back, the pilot dead up front, and Blofeld controlling the copter like it’s a toy, Bond has to climb out of the back and into the front and then somehow disconnect Blofeld’s remote control. It’s all professionally filmed and even though Moore looks a bit too old, he still looks serious and he still looks like he’s putting in the work to pull off the stunt.
He’s successful and I’m like, “I can dig this,” and then the film gets in its own way again. He goes after Blofeld and hooks the front skid into Blofeld’s wheelchair and hoisting him into the air. Go ahead. Read that again, and remember this scene started with Bond at the grave of his dead wife. And now he’s flying around in a helicopter with Blofeld hooked to the front skid?
You have to work hard to send a message that mixed.
It gets worse. After Blofeld screams and screams like a ten-year old girl who just saw a spider in her oatmeal, Bond dumps Blofeld down a chimney shaft.
Cut to opening titles, and the whole time Sheena Easton is singing her fit-primarily-for-a-dentist’s-office theme song my mind is still trying to process what just happened. Was that supposed to be a serious sequence or a ridiculous one? Maybe later in the movie it would pay off better but when it’s placed pre-titles it sends a decidedly mixed message about how we’re supposed to interpret what’s coming after Sheena Easton stops killing cats with her voice.
Okay, that’s a little harsh. I don’t think her voice actually kills cats, I just don’t think cats living in households where Sheena Easton is in heavy rotation would describe their living situation as ideal.
Since I’m bagging on the music, let me take a hammer to Bill Conti’s uber-craptastic score, which is just awful in that way that only early ’80s music can be awful – all keyboards and tinny. I mean, really, this is a James Bond movie – it scores itself, doesn’t it? How can a guy with actual talent produce this nonsense? You did, Rocky, Bill Conti. Step it up, already.
Bond gets called in to headquarters, but M isn’t there anymore because Bernard Lee has regretfully passed away. In his place are two suits who decide that it would be awesome to jerk Bond around a bunch and chew him out like he’s some idiot schoolboy who was putting his family’s name at risk by chasing skirts. These are exactly the kind of government employees that Jon Pertwee’s Doctor is always railing against.
Bond goes to Spain, where he meets up with a fellow spy who dresses like he’s going to a Halloween party in a bad Inspector Clouseau costume. Which is the point, I suppose. (Was this funny in 1981? If so, add it to the long list of things 1981 sucked at.) Bond meets him in public, out in the sun, and this guy is standing there with a heavy coat, big dark glasses, and a hat pulled low. People might not go, “Hey, look, that dude’s a spy!” but they were probably going, “Hey, look, that dude’s wearing a coat and it’s 75 degrees out!”
Or whatever 75 degrees would be on the Celsius scale.
Which would be 28.888 degrees … unless the internet is lying to me.
In a separate plot, a hitman named Gonzales kills some hot woman’s parents and she decides to get revenge. Her name is Melina and she shows up to kill Gonzales right after Bond is captured, thus killing the hitman and saving Bond’s ass. Bond repays her by helping her escape the compound where the hit went down, and we get a decent car chase as Melina’s bright yellow Citroen is chased through windy country roads by actual cars. But again, the message is mixed – is this supposed to be funny because Bond’s Lotus blew up and he’s forced to flee in a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-compact? Or awesome because the chase scene largely works? Or funny because the car flips over? Or awesome because -
Gah. At this point in the film I’m thinking of getting a snack.
Action switches to Italy and there’s a bunch of action scenes involving Winter Olympic sports. Yeah. I don’t get it. Cashing in on Olympic Fever 17 months after the last Winter games? Was everybody stoned in 1981? Again, none of these scenes are bad; in fact, they’re mostly pretty good (except for the expert marksman who can hit Bond’s ski pole through the trees, but somehow can’t hit Bond’s body out in the open), but I care so little about the story at this point that I’m really just looking to see how well they’ve hidden the stunt men, and noting how bad green screen tech was in the early ’80s.
Things that 1981 sucked at: pop music, Inspector Clouseau costumes, green screen technology …
Moore really is caught by the passage of time here. He’s both too old and not old enough; he’s certainly too old to be acting in this film but if he had another ten years on him they could probably get away with making a non-action Bond film where Bond gets by solely on his charm and it could have worked. As is, Moore is neither athletic nor distinguished at this point, and EYES looks headed for a the cinematic dustbin.
And then, quite remarkably, everything gets better.
The turnaround begins when Bond’s contact, Kristatos (Julian Glover), is actually the bad guy and the supposed bad guy, Columbo (Chaim Topol), is actually the ally. It’s a simple enough twist but it seems to shock the film and actors into getting their act together and turn in a good night’s work. Suddenly there’s an actual story here that decides to ditch the comedic elements and just be a spy movie.
There’s some ridiculous action sequences but they’re largely all kept short and tight. The only scene that doesn’t work is an underwater bomb diffusing scene where Bond actually takes out a cheat sheet in order to figure out how to do it. And it’s not like this is overly complicated, either. The cheat sheet says, “Cut the red wire, then the green wire, then the blue wire” or something literally that easy. The wires are even lined up in order. It’s not like he’s got to break down a schematic diagram from an Erector set or anything.
The sequence that follows is decidedly better. Bond and Melina are tied up and dragged behind a boat. It’s a unique and smart sequence where you can see Bond think his way out of the predicament. It’s not just a “last skier standing” resolution but an honest-to-goodness thinking man’s approach to getting out of that jam.
Melina is a bit of an enigma as she’s half bad-ass, half whimpering girl. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to make of her; she’s grown-up enough to track down an assassin and kill him without being spotted but then we find out she showed up in a Citroen. It’s like she’s fighting the franchise’s formula all the way through EYES. She’s stunningly gorgeous and mature enough that Bond doesn’t just go, “I’m going to lay the wood here just because I can.” With the memory of his deceased wife lingering through the film, Bond’s rejection of the oversexed teenager Bibi and business-only seduction of the Countess make perfect sense, as does his lack of aggression in chasing Melina. It’s not until the end of the film when they consummate their relationship (with Melina disrobing and telling him, “For your eyes only, darling,” even though they’re getting naked to have sex outside) and the wait makes it seem far more real and far more satisfying then the perfunctory post-victory sex that usually accompanies these films.
The sex here is an actual moment. It’s not just, “Hey, we’ve got 4 hours to kill, and I’ve never boffed someone in Athens. Well, I’ve never boffed anyone at the Hotel Olympus. Well, I’ve never boffed anyone in Room 37 of the- Well, look, we’ve got four hours to kill and we’re out of Bollinger. What else are we going to do? Am I right?”
The most unbelievable sequence comes when Bond has to climb a cliff face. Moore is far too old to make this scene work and I had visions of this scene playing as poorly as Shatner’s rock climbing scene in Star Trek V: William Shatner Makes Love to Captain Kirk. But it doesn’t. Glen manages to work some real tension into this scene, and Moore manages to look like he’s exerting tons of effort. It’s a really good sequence that goes a long way into leaving you with a good feeling about EYES.
After all that, where do I ultimately come down on FOR YOUR EYES ONLY? It’s a good movie but not a great one. Because it’s the first half that sorts stinks and the second half that’s sorta awesome, it leaves me with a better feeling than the opening half suggests is possible.
Ladies and Gentlemen … Sheena Easton!