“The Chinese have a saying: ‘When setting out on revenge, you first dig two graves.'” – James Bond
Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This is our weekly walk through the Bond films. We continue this week with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, another of the underrated films in the franchise.
After something as big and as ambitious as Moonraker, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and his son-in-law, Executive Producer Michael G. Wilson, figured the only way to continue the Bond series is to bring him back to his roots. Moonraker, for all its success (it was, until 1995, the highest grossing film of the series), could not be built upon without making Bond an out and out science fiction series. That would simply not do for anyone – fans or producers.
So, Wilson turned to Ian Fleming’s short stories to find inspiration for the new film. The stories “For Your Eyes Only” and “Risico” served up just enough plot ideas and characters to fill out the twelfth film. Wilson even went to the novel of Live and Let Die to find a tense action/stunt sequence that would find Bond tied to our leading lady and drug under the sea to encourage sharks to come up for a nibble.
Next, Wilson also wanted to play a bit with the Bond character. First, the movie opens with some continuity to his past. He visits Tracy’s grave and is attacked by Blofeld in their final showdown. It was, in Wilson’s mind, a way to show that Roger Moore’s Bond is indeed the same man as Sean Connery’s and George Lazenby’s. He has a full history that is entirely interconnected with every film we’ve seen before. There is no simpler way to do that than take Bond to that grave and have him spend a few moments in quiet reflection. Blofeld wasn’t even necessary. He was just icing on the cake.
Another character piece Wilson included was something not often seen in the Moore era – a harder edge. Between killing Blofeld by turning the tables on the big bad’s own assassination plan and tossing him down a smokestack at a factory and a particularly cold blooded kill of one of the main villains of the movie in the movie’s third act, the moments worried Moore a little bit. Moore is a pacifist, and was never really written or portrayed as a real killer, only a man who did what he had to survive and complete the mission. I completely understand Moore’s concern, but from a character standpoint, it was necessary to show that Bond is still an assassin. If you are going to connect him to Connery, then it might be best to connect all the dots – for better or worse.
The driving force of this movie’s plot is that a British ship that uses a machine called the ATAC (Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator) accidentally triggers an old wartime sea mine and sinks after the mine goes off. The ATAC would be quite the prize for other countries and interests. Bond needs to get the ATAC before the Soviets do. The British have contacted a marine biologist named Havelock to help find the ship. However, he has been assassinated. This begins a tangled web of deceit and misdirection and a revenge plot for Havelock’s fiery daughter, Melina (Carole Bouquet).
More on Melina in a bit because she is extremely important to this movie.
For Your Eyes Only ultimately turns up the intrigue more than the usual Moore era Bond film. Much like the entries in the 60s, there is more groundwork down with Bond meeting people from the Italian government who knows an anglophile named Kristatos (Julian Glover) who has some ideas on who might have hired the Havelocks’ assassin. Additionally, he’s needing to protect Melina who is still hot on the trail of the assassin for her own revenge.
Things take a major turn when Kristatos’ man he’s fingered for Bond as being the potential mastermind behind the Havelocks’ death is, indeed, a smuggler, but also a good guy. It is Kristatos that is playing everyone and working for the KGB to retrieve the ATAC.
This is something I really like about this movie’s plot. Bond is out of his element here. He’s used to people like Blofeld with plans to steal some sort of super weapon and either extort NATO for billions of dollars or blow the whole damn place up. He’s used to space travel, dammit. He’s not used to this underbelly of European attitudes and the cloak and dagger type stuff. He’s dealing with European criminal organizations that don’t have allegiance to a country as much as they do to what they’ve been hired to do. There are old rivalries and personal revenge that come first. Normally, the cloak and dagger and getting into the dirt is left up for 003 or something to deal with and when that fails and the shit is really hitting the fan, Bond comes in at the 11th hour to save the day.
Additionally, one of the more exciting action set pieces in the film involves Bond being chased by athletic thugs of Kristatos. The simple truth is Bond is showing age. Wilson knew that as long as Moore was Bond, and as long as Bond continued in relative age to when the film series began, there would have to be acknowledgement of this. For Your Eyes Only handles this in a couple ways.
First, Bond has a very young admirer in an American figure skater named Bibi (played by real life skater Lynn-Holly Johnson). She’s bankrolled by Kristatos and that’s how she meets Bond. As a viewer, the age difference in the girl and Bond is starting to get obvious. Even Roger Moore knew that and he plays it so well in this and Johnson is actually rather adorable despite being very forward with Bond.
As mentioned, the other way the filmmakers deal with age is through his physical vitality. He’s not equal to the challenge of those athletic thugs. There are many moments in that chase I mentioned that he’s lucky to be able to escape unharmed. I like to chalk this up to some of those things we saw in a few of the past movies and that is Bond being representative of an older day and age. His English gentlemanly machismo isn’t equal to Central or Eastern European muscle and refined athletic training. Let’s not forget this is almost two full decades since his screen debut and yet a third decade away from his debut in novels. I feel like there was an opportunity here to say as long as Moore wanted to continue in the role, and as long as the films continued to be extremely successful, Bond is going to have to deal with the modern world. When his time is done, then Bond can be fully modernized, but take advantage while you can to tell a story about an aging spy dealing with threats he’s not quite equal to anymore. For Your Eyes Only takes advantage of it.
One of the more fun elements of this movie is the always marvelous Topol as Milos Columbo. He’s the guy that Julian Glover’s Kristatos says has all the Russian connections and knows all the most powerful people and has a giant heroin smuggling deal. Topol first saves Bond’s life from Kristatos’ chief henchman, Locque, and then tells him that Kristatos had been a double agent for years and was so good at it he was awarded a medal from the United Kingdom. Throughout the whole movie, Topol is larger than life and full of smiles and laughs. He’s key to helping Bond all the way through and one of the better allies and supporting characters in the entire history of the series.
So let’s get to the real star of this movie – Carole Bouquet as Melina. Wilson co-wrote the script for this with long-time Bond writer Richard Maibaum. One of them came up with the idea that this film’s heart and soul would be her. While she is hardly part of the primary story of recovering the ATAC, her revenge story is vitally important to the film. She first gets in Bond’s way, which causes him to get a little heat from his bosses. Then, as her rage begins to subside with the help of Bond exerting a little toughness and sympathy with her, she’s able to help Bond find the wreck of the ship to try to get the ATAC.
What Melina brings most to this film is something I’ve been hinting at throughout the rest of this review – a cultural angle that hasn’t really been seen in a very long while in the series. On one hand, you have the international group of goons that value pay over loyalty to country with old rivalries that seem almost alien to the rest of Western Europe or North America. On the other, you have this very Greek idea of scorned women seeking revenge for supreme wrongdoing done onto them. It’s so very Greek that when Melina explains what her plan is, she even invokes the name Electra, the daughter of King Agamemnon who, according to Greek mythology, swore vengeance on her mother and her mother’s lover for killing her father. Her righteous anger is something that Bond has a very hard time piercing since he is usually regimented by his loyalty to England.
Bouquet is very good in this. She’s had a long career in film and TV, mostly overseas, but, outside For Your Eyes Only, she’s best known for being the face of Chanel in the 80s and 90s. That fact probably wouldn’t surprise you by simply looking at her and that stunning long hair of hers. She was only 24 years old when this film was released. For her to be that young, and that good at being a hurt and determined woman and able to stand up to the decades-long leading man playing the most famous character in the world, that’s impressive. She really is fantastic.
This film was directed by John Glen. This was his first time in the director’s chair. He had worked as an editor and second unit director on Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He also was a second unit director for Superman. The guy wasn’t just acquainted with this series, but with making a blockbuster. As the second unit director, he’d often work with the stunts and action sequences. He knew how to make exciting scenes. He’d be the director of the series for the rest of the 80s. There is a misconception that the films in the 80s weren’t successes – or at least there was a significant downturn in returns and profits. That’s not actually true. Bond is an international star. The films made massive amounts of money all over the world. John Glen was a wonderful caretaker of the series throughout the decade.
For Your Eyes Only may not quite have the over the top ideas the previous two films did. It’s a serious film for an older audience. It handles themes not often seen in this series. It’s beautifully shot and very well written. The characters are extremely likable – particularly from Johnson, Topol, and Bouquet. The chase scene through the little Olympic style ski resort and the scene in which Kristatos is dragging Bond and Melina behind the boat as they are tied together are exceptional in terms of stunts and excitement. It’s not a film in the series often discussed, but it should be. This is one of the overlooked, and underrated, gems in the series.
Join me next week for a look at the music of For Your Eyes Only. In two weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the thirteenth Bond film, and the one that most often induces giggles in pre-teen boys, Octopussy.