For Your Eyes Only (1981)

James Bond film #12 (Roger Moore Bond)

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

For Your Eyes Only (12) sees James Bond bursting into the ’80s, and with the new decade, the series takes another turn off its well-worn path. For the past few films, the Bond series has been digging itself into the ground as it went further and further into the realm of gadgetry and comic relief. Moore’s tenure has so far seen psychic mediums, tri-nippled assassins, underwater fortresses, and giant space stations, and while the Connery Bond films always had their own silly moments (like the jetpack in Thunderball (4) or all of Diamonds Are Forever (7)), they never got quite as outlandish as Moore’s. For Your Eyes Only (12) puts the brakes on crazy-town Bond, scaling back the theatrics and getting much grittier than he’s been in a long time. In this film, Bond tries to acquire a missile command system while getting manipulated and attacked by shady Greek businessmen. Fighting alongside him is Melina Havelock, a vigilante with a crossbow seeking vengeance on whoever murdered her parents. Though it’s different in tone than what we’re used to, the level-headedness of For Your Eyes (12) results in a fully satisfying, if not entirely memorable, Bond film.

While watching and researching the hell out of these movies, I’ve come to learn a lot about the people behind the productions, and it’s always interesting to me when a change-up occurs. I previously noted that Harry Saltzman quit co-producing the films with Albert R. Broccoli after The Man with the Golden Gun (9), dissolving a partnership that had been in place since Dr. No (1), but For Your Eyes Only (12) marks another big shift in personnel, this time for the direction. The first 11 Bond films have been directed by only 4 men: Guy Hamilton, whose personality served as the basis for James Bond, set the tone of the films and shaped Bond as a ruffian ladies’ man with Dr. No (1), From Russia with Love (2), and Thunderball (4). Guy Hamilton, who was more focused on humor and less concerned with realism, cut his teeth with Goldfinger (3) before taking charge of the Moore transition with Diamonds Are Forever (7), Live and Let Die (8), and The Man with the Golden Gun (9). Lewis Gilbert centered his films around epic battles and world-changing scenarios with You Only Live Twice (5), The Spy Who Loved Me (10), and Moonraker (11). The fourth man, Peter R. Hunt, lent his talents to just one Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (6), another aspect of that film that isolates it from the rest of the Bond canon.

Taking the reigns this time through is John Glen, no novice to the series, having previously edited OHMSS (6) , TSWLM (10), and Moonraker (11). Glen’s approach is one much more focused on characters than grandeur, one where the action surrounding Bond and others actually has an emotional impact. For the first time since his wife Teresa was killed, Bond expresses some serious sorrow at the death of an ally, even taking the time to check Luigi’s pulse when he finds him dead in his car. While all previous Bond films had a clear division between good and bad, this one introduces some ambiguity, with Bond’s initial contact, businessman Aris Kristatos, ending up as the villain while his original target, gangster Milos Columbo, ends up being one of his most colorful and memorable accomplices – his trademark pistachios adds to the character’s likeability and is used to great effect as a trap for his enemies. This simple midpoint twist and the attention given to some death scenes are just two signs of a film taking itself much more seriously than its predecessors.

Another thing that makes For Your Eyes Only (12) feel more like a standard action movie than just another Bond film is the score. The difference in music is caused by another change-up in crew as Bill Conti takes over for John Barry, whose work has been heard in every Bond film so far besides Live and Let Die (9) and The Spy Who Loved Me (10). Instead of relying almost exclusively on the James Bond theme, Conti’s score is much more diverse, evoking a range of emotions instead of just “super cool super spy”. For instance, the soft piano and strings that underscore a conversation between Bond and Havelock subtly suggest a romance between the couple, in place of the more immediate and visual seduction that usually takes place. Sometimes the music gets painfully ’80s, like when screeching guitar riffs play behind Bond’s jungle escape early on, but overall the musical diversity helps instead of hinders.

That’s not to say that For Your Eyes Only (12) is a complete break from the films that came before it. There are plenty of nods and throwbacks, like when Bond tosses his hat on the office rack like he used to all the time, or when he sits down at a card table to show off his gambling prowess. Q’s still around testing gadgets that nobody ever seems to end up using, and while M’s absence after 11 films is painfully obvious, Moneypenny’s still present to fawn over James, even getting her own bit of gadgetry in the form of a file cabinet-cum-make up stand. And despite its grittier tone, the film isn’t entirely humorless, even including some physical gags during the ski chase scene.

For Your Eyes Only (12) isn’t just an interesting change in style and tone; it’s also got some seriously kick-ass parts in and of itself. There are two amazing action sequences that stand out from all the rest. The first is a chase scene featuring Bond on skis, and while that’s been done several times now, the fact that he winds up behind a bobsleigh on a bobsled track, with henchmen on snow motorcycles chasing him down the trench, is a smart variation shot exceedingly well. The other sequence is more about tension and suspense (literally), as Bond tries to scale a giant rock pillar to reach the monastery on top (the real-life Monastery of the Holy Trinity in central Greece). Stuntman Rick Sylvester, previously of the ski jump that opened The Spy Who Loved Me (10), once again proves his giant gonads by dangling from a rope and climbing it multiple times as a henchman tries to dislodge his stakes. The best part of For Your Eyes is Miz Havelock, a ruthless Bond Girl hellbent on revenge and never showing an ounce of incompetence. Her ruthless crossbow killings are so indiscriminate that even Bond has to slow her roll. When their eventual intimacy finally occurs, it feels more like two partners blowing off steam together than yet another bedroom conquest by Commander Bond.

If you asked a casual fan to name all the Bond films they could, For Your Eyes Only (12) would surely be left out. It seems to have slipped through the cracks of the Bond canon in popular culture. It might be because it comes so late into the series (12 films is a ton to center around a single character, by any measure), or it might be because of the film itself. The villain isn’t memorable, the plot is mundane and full of MacGuffins, and there are no giant set pieces or war scenes to hang a memory on. Despite its inability to stand-out, For Your Eyes Only (12) is one of the better Bond films, reminiscent of the first few while getting a nice modern make-over.

Final rating: 7/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • Howabout that opening sequence, drastically different from the movie that follows? It seems like an attempt to connect with the established Bond mythos, with him visiting Teresa’s grave and then disposing of a villain that appears to be Blofeld. The bald-headed handi-capable bastard is never named because of some legal issues between Broccoli and Kevin McClory, but it looks like we’ve reached the end of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (and SPECTRE?!)
  • So Minister of Defence Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen) is going to essentially replace M? That’s fine, I guess. The guy’s been around for a few films now.
  • Looks like Bond has finally (tacitly) acknowledged that there are women outside his acceptable age range, as he rebuffs the figure skater Bibi Dahl. Bibi’s infantilized all over the place, from her name to her pigtails, but that doesn’t stop her from jumping into bed naked in an attempt to seduce Bond. Alas, it never ends up working, and Bond only beds Melina and Countess Lisl von Schlaf.
  • Oh God, what an awful title song. Sung by Sheena Easton, who appears in the title sequence (which is a first), it’s exemplary of ’80s pop, which is exemplary of music that I hate.
  • Q’s appearance as a priest was great. Desmond Lleweyn has looked more or less the same throughout all these Bond films, and he just keeps getting snarkier.
  • Looks like Glen is gonna steer us through the entire decade. Let’s see what you got, Johnny.
  • The Margaret Thatcher thing at the end was corny, but the actress’ laugh sold it.
Bond Girl Fate

Melina Havelock

(Carole Bouquet)

Main Bond Girl:Seeking vengeance for the gunning down of her parents, she partners up with Bond throughout the film, offing people with a crossbow, and eventually hooking up with him in the end.

Countess Lisl von Schlaf

(Cassandra Harris)

Secondary Bond Girl: Columbo’s mistress who sleeps with Bond to gain information about him. Ran over on the beach the next day by Emile Leopold Locque, an assassin working for Aris Kristatos.

Bibi Dahl

(Lynn-Holly Johnson)

Weirdly Platonic Bond Girl:The niece of Aris Kristatos, also a figure skater. Young and excitable, she falls smitten with Bond and tries to seduce him, only to be rebuffed for her age. Last seen tending to Columbo, who will probably end up sponsoring her skating instead of her creepy uncle.

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