After a film like Moonraker, the studio decided it was time to take Bond back to a classic, old-fashioned spy thriller. A pivotal film for the Bond franchise, For Your Eyes Only marked the last time that United Artists would be the sole distribution company for the Bond franchise as the studio merged with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for the following production.
Upon its opening, the film received mixed critical reviews, but did well at the box office.
The film opens with a scene that I was both very grateful for and quite annoyed by. (SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read ahead if you haven’t seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service yet.) After the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it appeared that the franchise just glossed over the tragedy that befell Bond. Never once did he seek revenge, grieve over the loss of his wife, or even go after Blofeld with the fervor of a man whose wife had been murdered. (Diamonds Are Forever was a farce, and the interactions between Bond and Blofeld in that movie have no connection to the story of the previous film.)
In the opening scene, Bond visits Tracy’s grave. While he’s spending time at the cemetery, a helicopter arrives to take him to his office. In a bizarre turn of events, Blofeld takes over the chopper remotely and sends Bond on a bit of a ride. The stunt work here is extraordinary, but the scene itself is rather strange. After Bond regains control of the helicopter, he grabs Blofeld’s wheelchair and drops the bald villain down an industrial smokestack. It was an unfortunately weak ending for a villain that introduced so much pain into Bond’s life.
Then again, The iteration of Blofeld from Diamonds Are Forever was such a parody, I wouldn’t want to see the character again after that. Which makes his ending almost fitting. And judging by the fact that he’s in a wheelchair and bald makes me think this film wants to pretend that Diamonds Are Forever never happened. And I’m okay with that.
The plot of the film is classic espionage thriller. A spy ship carrying crucial technology sinks, and it’s a race between the British and Soviets to get the device. However, an underworld kingpin catches wind that the device is in the open and begins his own search for it. Toss in a girl on a vendetta because her parents were recently murdered by said kingpin’s organization while trying to retrieve the device for the British government, and you have a recipe for a Bond film like none other.
The tone of For Your Eyes Only is considerably darker than any of Roger Moore’s previous outings as Bond. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s plenty of comic relief in the film. It’s Roger Moore’s Bond we’re watching here anyway. However, Bond’s lightheartedness is toned down quite a bit. So are his gadgets, over-the-top chase sequences, and less-than-plausible stunts. Here we have a simple spy film with a revenge-based plot and a number of twists and turns.
While he does maintain some of his former jocularity, Moore takes his Bond down a darker path this time around. He’s much more calculating and is more believable as a weapon than he had been in earlier films. He’s not as suave as he had been, and he’s far colder than he was in any of his other films. Here’s a perfect example of Bond’s new attitude:
There are a few new Bond girls as well. Bibi Dahl, played by Lynn-Holly Johnson, is a figure skater who takes a liking to Bond, but who Bond feels is far too young. It seems he actually does have his limits. There’s also the Countess Lisl Von Schlaf, played by Cassandra Harris-Brosnan (the now late wife of future Bond Pierce Brosnan), my personal favorite of the Bond girls from this film for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that she doesn’t look young enough to be Bond’s daughter. And finally there’s the main Bond girl, Melina Havelock, played by Carole Bouquet.
Melina is the daughter of Sir Timothy Havelock, a Greek marine biologist who has been hired by the British government to retrieve the spy ship that had gone down carrying the device in question: an ATAC, or Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator. Timothy Havelock is murdered right in front of Melina’s eyes, sending her on a personal mission to kill whoever was responsible, starting with the hired hand who carried out the deed.
Bouquet does an excellent job with the character, but unfortunately Roger Moore is at this point stretching the limits of romantic plausibility given his age; Moore is 54 at the time For Your Eyes Only is released, and Bouquet is 24. Bond seems too much like a father figure for Melina to be a legitimate romantic interest.
That isn’t to say that the romance isn’t believable. On the contrary, the two have great chemistry. It’s a far more believable romance than Bond and, say, Anya Amasova. Or worse yet, Bond and Tiffany Case.
Despite this, at this point Roger Moore has really sold me on his version of Bond. He’s more polished, more refined, and more believable a killer even than Sean Connery was (I know, I’ll probably get catch some flak for that statement). Here’s why I think that. While Fleming portrayed Bond as more of a cold-blooded assassin than even Connery was willing to portray, the character moved in a direction on film that was a departure from the 007 that Fleming created. As he continued to evolve, he took on many characteristics of the actors that portrayed him. The thing I appreciate most about Moore’s Bond is his attention to detail. Connery was gruff and blunt while Moore is elegant and refined. It’s easier to envision him murdering someone quietly in a crowded room and then walking away as if nothing happened. To me, Roger Moore is James Bond 007.
All in all, I really liked this film. It ranks up there with perennial greats like Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The action is well choreographed, the stunt work is astounding, and the plot seems to click along without any real hitches. This is certainly Bond at its best, and if this were the film Roger Moore were to go out on, he would have left behind a legacy of quite possibly the best Bond film to date. But with the young Pierce Brosnan unavailable to take up the mantle of James Bond due to contractual obligations to his TV show Remington Steele, it looked like Moore would be back yet again…