WFTB Score: 7/20
The plot: When the St. Georges, a secret surveillance ship with an even more secret weapon, is lost at sea, the Russians are interested in recovering it. James Bond is charged with making sure the device doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, setting him on a collision course with powerful adversaries.
The British Government is in peril – again. The St. Georges has sunk, the crew failing to destroy the Automatic Targeting Attack Co-ordinator (ATAC) which controls Britain’s nuclear arsenal. The need to retrieve the device is made all the more urgent by the interest of Soviet General Gogol (Walter Gotell); but would-be salvager Timothy Havelock (Jack Hedley) is killed before he can find the ship. Secret Agent James Bond (Roger Moore, for the fifth time) hunts down the killer in Spain, also meeting Havelock’s sharp-shooting daughter Melina (Carole Bouquet). The pair renew their acquaintance in snowy Cortina and find they have many mutual enemies, such as shadowy Emile Locque (Michael Gothard). Bond is also introduced to aloof ally Kristatos (Julian Glover), mentor to perky ice-skating protégée Bibi (Lynn-Holly Johnson).
Kristatos informs 007 that the man mostly likely to be seeking the ATAC is well-resourced, ruthless Greek smuggler Columbo (Topol), known as ‘The Dove’. Bond survives a host of attempts to kill him in Cortina and charms the pants off Columbo’s partner, the ‘Countess’ (Cassandra Harris, Pierce Brosnan‘s wife (who sadly died before Brosnan assumed the 007 mantle)). Bond discovers she’s not all she seems to be, and as he plumbs the depths and scales the heights in his search for the truth, he finds she’s not the only one.
Some Bond enthusiasts will tell you that Glen’s first Bond outing is a welcome return to gritty spying after the spaced-out nonsense of Moonraker, but this is surely wishful thinking. After a sweetly referential opening, the pre-credits sequence quickly becomes embarrassing, some good stunt work ruined by clumsy execution: ‘Blofeld’, cackling like a loon, looks like exactly what he is when he‘s picked up – a dummy in a chair – while the infamous bargain ‘I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel!’ may have made sense to producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, but sounds completely out of place to everyone else (as does the dippy disco reworking of the Bond theme). In a way, it’s a miracle that the film recovers from this shaky start at all, but it does – only to be undone by its overlong, meandering story.
Although my view is undoubtedly skewed by later Bonds, even from a 1981 perspective For Your Eyes Only is written strictly to formula. Ski slopes? Check. Underwater sequence? Check. Blonde and brunette? Check. Casino? Mmm, hang on…yes, it’s in there, just. The globe-trotting is present and correct, as are 007’s leaden quips: but by the 80s, simply going abroad was no longer particularly exotic. Much of the movie comes across as a prolonged promo for the Winter Olympics, and it goes on, and on, so by the time you get to Janet Brown’s turn as Mrs Thatcher, your patience has been tested to the full.
Or you’ve had your money’s worth, depending on your point of view. Director John Glen certainly has an eye for action, and the chase scenes, explosions and stunts are all competently staged: besides the choppers, the submarine action and some nice cliff top work, there’s a particularly good stunt on a bobsleigh run. But there’s little narrative thread between scenes and locations (the ATAC device, just like The Man with the Golden Gun’s solex agitator, is a classic MacGuffin – and what‘s more, it’s patently a cash till). The filmmakers evidently believed that as long as Bond turned up in the right places to be menaced by the usual faceless henchmen, the viewer would lap it up: but it’s all done without context, without flow.
The clumsiest scene comes at the ice hockey rink, where Bond dispatches three masked figures with the help of that nimblest of vehicles, an ice resurfacer, complete with clunky jokes. In another scene, Bond interminably jogs up steps to catch up with Locque, recalling John Cleese’s Lancelot running towards the camera in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Just like Thunderball, the underwater sequences drag on; and no matter how many times I watch it, Bond’s escape from the St. Georges doesn’t make much sense. As for plot development by parrot (followed by the fleeting, redundant sight of Q in a beard) – well, it’s hardly gritty, is it?
It doesn’t help that Bond himself seems so bored. If you can detect an edge of weariness about Connery’s 007 in You Only Live Twice, it’s as nothing compared to Moore’s disinterest here. His facial expressions vary from weary to disgruntled, his consolation coming in the wearing of cosy cardigans and getting someone else to do his stunts. He appears too tired, or too self-conscious, to show much romantic interest in Carole Bouquet, but this could also be a matter of chemistry; the beautiful, statuesque, long-haired Frenchwoman struggles to put much feeling into her role, though it must be difficult for a French actress to speak English whilst playing half-Greek. Her thirty-year age gap to Moore makes Melina’s relationship with Bond only slightly less creepy than the enticements of Holly-Lynn Johnson, a year younger and looking all of fourteen. Bibi’s perky, brattish, deeply annoying persona is an unfortunate and rather pointless misstep; it’s a shame, because Topol’s Columbo is a lively and charming presence and Glover’s Kristatos proves a heartless, if not particularly thorough, villain.
The term ‘reboot’ wasn’t around when For Your Eyes Only was made, but I’m not sure it would qualify as one anyway; for while it does do away with the world-in-danger bombast and silly gadgets of its predecessors, it’s still hamstrung by a star who – while undoubtedly charismatic – is also on the verge of being arthritic. It would take another two dire movies before Bond underwent a rejuvenation; and even then, the franchise didn’t really find its feet until Mr Cassandra Harris swept in.