The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production of each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
In this week’s The 007 Collective, I revisit the last Roger Moore movie on my list, the one that most people tend to forget about, the largely underrated FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.
Mission Title: For Your Eyes Only
James Bond: Roger Moore
Release Date: June 26, 1981
Source Material: Loosely based on the stories “For Your Eyes Only” and “Risico” by Ian Fleming
Tagline: No one comes close to JAMES BOND 007
When a British spy ship containing a nuclear submarine control device known as the ATAC sinks in the Mediterranean, MI6 sends James Bond to recover it from the sea before the Russians, or their hired guns, get their hands on it. On the way, Bond teams up with Melina Havelock, a vengeance-seeking marine archeologist and deep-sea diver, and has to figure out which one of his Greek smuggler allies—Milos Colombo or Aristotle Kristatos—is actually working for the Russians.
For Your Eyes Only is the most undervalued movie of the Roger Moore era. With the campy humor and outlandish gadgets both confined to the edges, a Cold War-era plot, and filmmaking that emphasized suspense over ridiculous set-pieces, this was a calculated attempt on part of the filmmakers to return the series to the days of Dr. No and From Russia with Love, especially after Moonraker took the franchise into the realm of a Looney Tunes cartoon two years earlier.
To ensure that this 12th entry in the Bond franchise was brought down to Earth, uber-producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli decided to refresh the majority of the creative team behind the scenes. He upgraded long-time assistant director and film editor John Glen to the director’s seat in the hopes that Glen would bring his expertise with grit and action to the picture. He also re-hired screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who was instrumental in crafting the Connery Bonds, and teamed him up with his step-son Michael G. Wilson. This team would go on to produce, direct and write the next four Bond movies too. Composer Bill Conti, best known until then for his Rocky score, was hired to compose the score and title song after John Barry was unavailable. Peter Lamont was brought in to handle the production design after Ken Adam, known for his extravagant sets, was unavailable. Broccoli’s directive across the board was to fashion an old-school, realistic affair without losing the light touch of the Moore era.
Although the team succeeded, the restrained and grounded tone also end up making For Your Eyes Only an outlier in an era defined by its frothiness and preposterousness. Unlike Moore’s other six outings, the film doesn’t have a singular stand out (or embarrassing) element that comes to mind. For instance, it doesn’t have a classic title song like Live and Let Die or a memorable villain like Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. It doesn’t have an iconic henchman like Jaws or the outstanding stunts of The Spy Who Loved Me—a movie that also stands as a franchise high. It doesn’t have a batshit bizarre Bond girl like May Day in A View to a Kill or a plot that has him blasted into outer space and shooting fucking lasers as in Moonraker. Shit, it doesn’t even have a title like Octopussy. It’s unsurprising then that this is the one most casual Bond fans either ignore or completely forget about.
While this lack of iconic moments or memorable individual elements has been the primary reason why the film gets saddled with the label of being forgettable, I found the no frills, back-to-basics nature of it quite enticing. For one, the plot, which centers on the race to retrieve a lost nuclear arming device, is surprisingly small scale, especially after the epic extravaganzas that were The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. It has more in common with Cold War spy thrillers than Bond movies. There’s also the case of the film’s villain being a smuggler with comparatively modest ambitions. Unlike Blofeld, Stromberg, Drax, or even Scaramanga, the villain here doesn’t have any delusions of world domination. He just wants a paycheck. Is it as fun as the megalomaniac villains? Probably not, and there’s a strong case to be made that the villain of this movie may be the dullest of the entire franchise, but part of the fun is watching Bond go on a small mission in Greece, enjoying the gorgeous scenery, chug ouzo shots, not use any gadgets, and try to decipher who the henchmen trying to kill him (Locque, Eric Kriegler) are working for—Kristatos or Columbo.
For the first time since The Spy Who Loved Me, the primary Bond girl isn’t some knuckle-headed floozy who plays no part in the plot but a strong and independent woman who story arc is a major part of the plot. Melina is a vengeance-fueled businesswoman who is seeking the man responsible for killing her father, a marine archeologist who was hired by MI6 to find the ATAC machine. Her journey also ties up with one of the film’s themes of vengeance and the path it leads to. In fact, one of the most memorable lines of the film comes when Bond warns Melina, “Before setting off on revenge, you first dig two graves.” This line carries more additional significance because it’s an immediate call back to the film’s opening scene which features a somber Bond, full of regret, standing over the grave of his late wife Tracy, who you remember was murdered at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond is well-aware what the cost of seeking revenge is, and he doesn’t want Melina to go down that same path.
Now, as much as Broccoli and company tried to instill a harder, more serious and back-to-basics approach to For Your Eyes Only, it was far from a hard reboot of the franchise. That would only come in 1987 with The Living Daylights, and then again in 2006 with Casino Royale. For one, as much as Broccoli and company try to eradicate the humor, there’s still enough stupidity here that goes in the face of the restrained, more serious tone. For one, the character of Bibi Dahl, a 16-year-old gymnast/nincompoop who is smitten with Bond, is an utter waste of screen time. Not only is she poorly performed by actress Lynn-Holly Johnson but she serves no purpose in the movie either. You have to wonder who the screenwriters were trying to appeal to when they included her. Animal House fans? The jokes at her expense are at best inane, and worst misogynistic. There’s also the problem with the atrocious final scene. After nearly two hours of keeping a relatively straight face, the filmmakers cave in like a relapsing crack addict and include a preposterous scene in which Margaret Thatcher (played by Thatcher impersonator Janet Brown) calls Bond to thank him for his services. Instead of chatting with her, Bond simply leaves the Prime Minister hanging, instead allowing Melina’s pet parrot to do the talking (“Give us a kiss, Give us a kiss”) while he and Melina take a skinny dip. I’m sure this was funny back in 1981 when Thatcher was terrorizing the nation but in hindsight, its plain dumb. Perhaps the scene would have worked better at the end of Moonraker but at the end of this movie?
The most significant problem in the way with the attempted change in tone was Roger Moore himself. Although there seemed to be a concentrated effort on the 54-year-old Moore’s part to give Bond a world-weary quality, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this story would have been better served with Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan in the role instead. Apparently, the film was written with a younger and new actor in mind, until Moore decided to take the bigger paycheck. Like in Moonraker, Moore’s age has already become a distracting issue. Watching him try and romance the 24-year-old Carole Bouquet is more than a bit creepy, and we’re lucky we don’t get to see the two of them in bed. The only woman we do see Bond in bed with is Countess Lisl, Columbo’s mistress, played by the then 33-year-old Cassandra Harris, who although 20 years younger to Moore, was made up to look closer to his age. We’re lucky the producers were smart enough to have Bond avoid any relations with Bibi Dahl who keeps throwing herself at Bond. His look of abject horror when he finds her naked in his bed might be the movie’s single funniest moment. Apparently, even Bond has his limits.
Even more distressing is that Moore never performed any of the action sequences and was nowhere on set when it came to film them. Moore was so out of shape that in one scene it’s glaringly obvious that he has man boobs! How do you focus on a movie when your suave, sophisticated and cold-blooded secret agent has moobs? While Moore wasn’t up to par, at least the action sequences themselves are outstanding across the board. The cold open, in which Bond squares off with an old foe (whose name the producers couldn’t use because of the Kevin McClory deal) is largely enjoyable, even if the villain meets a controversial and disappointing end. A car chase down a hill in Corfu, Greece between a pair of cars belonging to goons and Bond and Melina in her yellow Citroen is exciting, intentionally comical and superbly shot. There’s also a lengthy and exceedingly thrilling skiing sequence set at a ski resort in Cortina, Italy in which Bond skis down a mountain, over roofs of houses, hotels and then down a bobsled track, chased by a man on a motorbike. The stunt work in these scenes are truly impressively staged and executed. There’s also a terrifying sequence in which Bond and Melina are dragged in the ocean by a speedboat. The fact that there are live sharks in the sequence trying to grab hold of the stuntmen gives the sequence an added jolt. How did they even film that? The best and most suspenseful of the set-pieces though comes during the finale as Bond has to climb a mountain, sans support. Although you know it’s not Moore over there, it’s nevertheless heart-pounding stuff.
Despite my issues with For Your Eyes Only, I found the film to be largely enjoyable and thankfully, mostly devoid of the nonsensical campy humor of Moore’s other movies. While the attempt by Broccoli and company to instill a harder edge and bring the franchise down to scale doesn’t completely work, the tremendous action sequences and more serious approach to the material come as a welcome respite after the eccentric Moonraker. Unfortunately, this dialed down approach wasn’t one that would last as the franchise would once again return to the larger-than-life extravaganza, complete with silly puns, two years later in Octopussy.
This is a very polarizing one. Some get a kick out of it while others find it blasphemous for the way it finishes off arguably the most important villain in the Bond franchise. Anyway, the sequence opens with Bond at a cemetery, laying flowers on his wife Tracy’s grave. Soon, a priest rushes to Bond informing him that MI6 is sending a helicopter to fetch him for an emergency. Suddenly, as they’re flying over London, the helicopter is hijacked by Bond’s old foe, Ernst Stavro Blofeld using a remote controlled device. Except Blofeld isn’t actually referred to by his name because Cubby Broccoli lost the rights to the character to Kevin McClory. Still, this is Blofeld alright, and it’s Cubby’s way of giving McClory the finger. The “Blofeld” character wears a Nehru suit, he’s bald, and he even has a white Persian cat. The only difference now is that we don’t see his face, and he’s sitting in a wheelchair. As Bond tries to gain the helicopter’s controls, first by climbing out the helicopter as it spins, dives and flips, among other things, Blofeld watches and laughs gleefully. His dream is finally coming to fruition. But just as he’s about to kill Bond by crashing the copter into a factory, Bond gains control of the vehicle and takes over. Wasting no time, Bond swoops down and grabs Blofeld, still in his wheelchair, and then coolly drops the villain to his death into a factory chimney. Cue credits.
Title Designer: Maurice Binder
Title Song: “For Your Eyes Only” performed by Sheena Easton
Famous Quote: “The passions that collide in me/The wild abandoned side of me/Only for you/For your eyes only”
I don’t have much to say about Sheena Easton’s title song other than that it’s a sugary ballad that feels really odd as a Bond theme song. But apparently audiences back in the day liked what they heard, allowing it rocket all the way up to number five on the Billboard charts. Academy members liked the song too, making it only the third Bond song to score an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. It would be 31 years before the franchise landed another nomination with “Skyfall,” which ended up winning the award.
At this point, Maurice Binder is obviously on auto-pilot mode. Following the tepid response to his work on the credits sequence of Moonraker, he decided to mix things up by having Easton perform the song during the credits sequence, thus making her the only singer to appear in a Bond credits sequence (to date). Apparently, Binder was smitten with Easton’s beauty after meeting her. The rest of the sequence is pure hokum—a mix of bubbles, colored lights, a couple of guns here and there, naked gymnasts, and Roger Moore’s surprised face.
The Big Bad: Scheming and conniving Greek smuggler Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover) who tricked the British during World War II that he was their ally when he secretly a Nazi double agent. Kristatos is a devious man who will work for the highest bidder – in this case, the Russians, who hire him to find the ATAC machine – and will stop at nothing to ensure he gets his way and provides false information to Bond numerous times. He is constantly at war with rival Greek smuggler Columbo who he convinces Bond to kill. Because of his lack of megalomania and grandiose ambitions, Kristatos is usually ranked low on the list of Bond villains. Still, he serves the story at hand quiet well.
Henchman: The near silent Emile Locque (Michael Gothard) who hires an assassin to kill Melina’s parents. Kristatos informs Bond that Locque works for Columbo when in fact he’s an associate of Kristatos. Locque is also responsible for murdering two of Bond’s allies during this mission—brutally running down Countess Lisl and then strangling Bond’s Italian contact Luigi. Bond pays him back by kicking him (and the car he came in) off a cliff in one of Bond’s coldest kills of the franchise.
Others: The Blond-haired, blue eyed East German muscleman and Olympian Eric Kriegler (John Wyman) who woos Bibi Dahl but secretly works for the Russians and Kristatos as a hired gun.
Organization: Freelance Smuggler
World Domination Plan: No domination plan really. Kristatos is a hired gun for Soviet Russia. After the ATEC machine is presumed lost, he tries to steal the device before Bond or anyone else can get it before him. Selling the device to the Russians would mean allowing them to control communications of all nuclear ships in the Atlantic.
Primary: Vengeance seeking and crossbow-wielding siren Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet) who will not rest until she gets her revenge against her parents killers. After her parents’ death, Melina takes over her family’s marine archeology business, continuing to excavate Greek ruins – that is, whenever she’s not hunting for her parents’ killers and impaling villains with her crossbow like a ruthless badass. Unlike most Bond girls, she plays an integral part in the film’s plot and is a strong ally in the finale. While Bouquet isn’t exactly a gifted actress—she’s especially bad at emoting anger—she’s a lot better than most of the actresses paired across Roger Moore.
Countess Lisl (Cassandra Harris): The doomed mistress of Columbo who sleeps with Bond only to be run over the next day by the sadistic Locque. Fun fact, Harris was the wife of then struggling actor Pierce Brosnan who, as the story goes, visited the set of the film one day during filming and caught the eye of producer Cubby Broccoli. The producer liked the Irish actor so much that he offered him the role of Bond five years later when Roger Moore stepped down. Alas, as I noted in my articles on GoldenEye and The Living Daylights, Brosnan’s history with Bond was a long and complicated one.
Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson), a 16-year-old gymnast/nincompoop who is being groomed by Kristatos for the Olympics, and to be his mistress when she comes of age. Or so he thinks. Bibi Dahl (i.e. Baby Doll) serves no purpose in the picture other than to whine.
Milos Columbo (Chaim Topol): Charismatic Greek smuggler and all-round rogue and badass who becomes one of Bond’s best allies when he partners with the British agent in taking down their common enemy Kristatos. Columbo comes from the same vein as Kerim Bey and Marc Ange Draco, connected criminals who redeem themselves by using their vast networks to aid him in his mission.
Luigi Ferrara (John Moreno): Bond’s contact in Italy who introduces Bond to Kristatos and who is murdered by Locque in Bond’s Lotus.
Bill Tanner (James Villiers): The role of Chief of Staff Bill Tanner was created after the untimely passing of Bernard Lee during filming. Although the legendary actor tried to film his scenes, he was too sick to do so. He died of stomach cancer towards the tail-end of the filming. As a mark of respect, Broccoli refused to replace him and instead simply stated that M was on vacation. As a result, Tanner is the one who gives Bond his mission instructions. Tanner would appear again during the Brosnan years in GoldenEye and The World is Not Enough (played by Michael Kitchen), and then again in the Craig years (played by Rory Kinnear) in Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and SPECTRE.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn): Although Bond doesn’t receive any new field gadgets during this mission the gadget master nevertheless takes on a larger role in this movie due to the untimely passing of Bernard Lee.
Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell): Has the requisite flirtatious encounter with Bond when he visits MI6 offices.
Sir Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen): The Spineless bureaucrat who sits in on Tanner’s briefing session with Bond, and constantly chides Bond. Gray is then made a fool of during the film’s inane finale when Bond puts a parrot on the line to speak with Margaret Thatcher.
Lotus Esprit Turbo (White, Red versions): The white version makes its appearance in Corfu, Greece. Bond drives it to the assassin Gonzalez’s home. The car promptly self-destructs when a goon tries to break into it. The red one is used by Bond in Cortina, Italy. Neither car is shown to use any gadgets.
Digital Watch: Which Bond uses to chat with Q and Sir Geoffrey Keen at the conclusion of the mission.
ODDS & ENDS
Most Memorable Quote:
[After a villain who Bond has just kills crashes into the window of a flower shop, Bond takes a bouquet of flowers and tells the florist]
James Bond: Send them to the funeral, will you?
Cold, 007, cold.
Most Embarrassing Quote:
[As Bond begins to take off her robe at the end of the film]
Melina: For your eyes only, darling…
[her robe falls to the ground, leaving her completely naked]
Groan! Way to cram in the title there, fellas.
Most Memorable Moment:
The slow, suspenseful and perilous climb up the mountain in Greece on top of which Kristatos and his goons are hiding out—a rare sequence in a Bond film that emphasizes suspense over high-octane action and explosions.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
Hands down, the preposterous final scene in which Margaret Thatcher calls Bond to thank him, only to hear a parrot on the other line state, “Give us a kiss, give us a kiss.” Instead of looking perplexed, Thatcher starts to blush like a school girl.
[Bond walks into his hotel room only to see Bibi Dahl naked in his bed.]
James Bond: Well, I’m flattered Bibi, but you’re in training [referring to gymnastics]
Bibi: That’s a laugh. Everyone knows it builds up muscle tone.
James Bond: Well, how about you build up a little more muscle tone by putting on your clothes?
Bibi: Don’t you like me?
James Bond: [wearily] Why, I think you’re wonderful, Bibi… But I don’t think your uncle Aris would approve.
Bibi: [scoffs] Him? He thinks I’m still a virgin.
James Bond: Yes, well, you get your clothes on… and I’ll buy you an ice cream.
Most Touching Moment:
Bond visiting the grave of Tracy during the opening scene of the film.
Most Shocking/Outrageous Moment:
Taking the ridiculous Margaret Thatcher scene out of the equation, I’d probably go with the cold open in which Blofeld meets his demise in one of the lamest ways imaginable. Is there anything more pathetic in the Bond franchise than Blofeld’s plea, “Mr Bond! We can do a deal! I’ll buy you a delicatessen! In stainless steel!”?
Best Pun/Double Entendre:
[After kicking Locque’s car off a cliff, and down a mountain, thus killing the villain]
James Bond: He had no head for heights.
Worst Pun/Double Entendre:
[After seeing Q’s gadget umbrella produce knives as it closes on its carrier]
James Bond: Stinging in the rain?
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
The long ski chase that begins finds Bond being chased by two men on motorbike across an Italian ski resort, and then over the rooftops of houses and finally unto a bobsled track. Fantastic stunt work accented by thrilling filmmaking, and only marred by a weak score by Bill Conti.
Most Dated Reference:
The car chase featuring the Citroen.
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 2 (once with Countess Lisl, once with Melina)
Number of people Bond kills: 10
Best Kill: Bond’s ruthlessly cold dispatching of Locque by kicking his car off the edge of a cliff, thus causing the henchman to fall to his death.
Locations visited (In order of appearance): London, Corfu, Cortina, Albania, Greece
Misogyny Meter: 6/10
For a Bond movie from the early 80s, the misogyny is surprisingly restrained in For Your Eyes Only. Perhaps the most egregious issue would be the depiction of the Bibi Dahl character as a horny toad teenager who is smitten by Bond, and who’ll do anything for him.
Homophobia Meter: 0/10
Racism Rating: 0/10
Box Office: $54.8 million ($165.4 million adjusted for inflation; 17th highest).
Oscars: 1 nomination (Best Original Song)
007 Chronological Listing: 12/24
Running time: 127 minutes
Companies: EON Productions, MGM
The 007 Collective will return in:
TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)
Previous entries in The 007 Collective:
- Goldfinger (1964)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The World is Not Enough (1999)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
- Octopussy (1983)
- Thunderball (1965)
- GoldenEye (1995)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
- The Living Daylights (1987)
- Skyfall (2012)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)
- Live and Let Die (1973)
- Moonraker (1979)
- Dr. No (1962)