Roger Moore is my least favorite James Bond and I had the misfortune of growing up during his run in the 1980s. I saw both Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985) in theaters and caught up with Moonraker (1979) on home video. I found Moore’s Bond too silly with too many jokes peppered throughout his movies. He lacked the cool menace of Sean Connery who was my favorite Bond. For some reason, my memories of For Your Eyes Only (1981) were foggy and it was the Moore movie I remembered the least. It was time to revisit it and see if time and perspective might change my opinion of Moore as Bond – at least as far as this movie was concerned.
After the sci-fi silliness of Moonraker (which I actually remember enjoying as a kid but alas it has not aged well), the franchise’s producers decided to dial things back and return to the style of the early Bond movies. The movie starts off on a somber note as Bond (Moore) visits the grave of his wife and is subsequently very nearly killed by a Ernst Blofeld-looking bad guy (John Hollis) via remote controlled helicopter (anticipating a similar sequence in Spectre). By the end of the prologue, the lighter tone has been restored as 007 dispatches the baddie in amusing fashion.
After a British spy boat is sunk in a harrowing sequence, Bond is tasked with recovering the onboard transmitter that can be used to order the country’s fleet of submarines to launch their nuclear missiles. In the wrong hands, it could be deadly. The British government hired a marine biologist (Jack Hedley) to locate the wreck but before he could divulge the coordinates he and his wife (Toby Robins) were brutally murdered right in front of their daughter Melina (Carole Bouquet).
It is a shocking scene as this nice couple is killed in cold blood. The camera zooms in on Melina’s eyes and it is immediately clear how this incident has instantly traumatized this poor woman. Bond is tasked with finding the Cuban hitman who did the deed and find the person who hired him. The sinking of the British boat and the murder of Melina’s parents establishes early on a decidedly darker tone than the previous Bond movie.
Bond tracks down the assassin but before he can question the man he’s killed by Melina who then saves 007 from the killer’s handler’s henchmen. I like that she not only saves Bond’s ass but also drives their getaway car with cool confidence even when being shot at because she’s got nothing left to lose.
Bond visits with Q (Desmond Llewelyn) to use the Identagraph, a “state-of-the-art” computer program that helps him identify the man he saw pay off the assassin. This sequence is laughably dated as is the absolutely horrible guitar/synthesizer-based score for the action sequences, which has to be one of the worst in the entire canon. It is even more jarring when juxtaposed with Bill Conti’s cues for the rest of the movie, which are more classically orchestrated.
Bond soon crosses paths with Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover), who initially seems to be an ally but turns out to be the movie’s villain – a smuggler with plans to sell the transmitter to the KGB. And so, the struggle is on for what amounts to basically a glorified keyboard, which I didn’t think about while watching the movie but in retrospect seems a bit silly.
As one would expect, For Your Eyes Only is chock-a-block with exciting action sequences, like a chase through the snowy mountains of Italy as two assassins on motorcycles pursue Bond on skis, which goes on to incorporate a ski jump and bobsledding to very dynamic effect. The choreography, especially on the bobsled portion, is top notch. In another nice nod to popular winter sports, Bond is subsequently attacked by three assassins masquerading as hockey players, giving new meaning to the term “high-sticking,” and in a sly, funny bit he dispatches them with the aid of a Zamboni, sending them into a net – a hat trick of sorts.
In addition, there’s a thrilling underwater sequence that culminates in Bond and Melina tied together and subsequently dragged behind a boat that is quite intense. It sees the duo in tangible danger. Even though we know Bond will ultimately prevail the movie doesn’t make it easy for him. The climactic assault on Kristatos’ hideout atop an abandoned mountaintop monastery not only anticipates but also puts to shame Tom Cruise’s rock-climbing stunt at the beginning of Mission: Impossible II (2000), both in terms of scale and white knuckle intensity. It’s a refreshingly unique locale, which used to be the hallmark of Bond movies.
Carole Bouquet is excellent as the revenge-obsessed Melina who will stop at nothing to avenge her parents’ deaths. It was an interesting bit of casting as the producers opted not to have someone be used merely as eye candy. The actress had some serious cinematic pedigree prior to For Your Eyes Only, appearing Luis Bunuel’s final film, That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). Bouquet has a nice scene with Moore where Bond tries to convince Melina to back off and her all-business façade breaks for a moment as the emotional impact of her parents’ demise surfaces. The range of emotions that play over Bouquet’s face is impressive. Melina is smart and more than capable of holding her own with Bond. She’s an expert deep-sea diver, aiding Bond in retrieving the transmitter from the wreck of the British spy boat.
The lovely Bouquet has nice chemistry with Moore who is his usual suave, charming self. His Bond is as cool as they come and out of his entire run it’s the one I like the most because it gets the mix just right. Moore cracks well-timed jokes but Bond is also ruthless, like when he dispatches Kristatos’ lethal henchman by pushing his disabled car off a cliff in retribution for killing a loyal contact.
For Your Eyes Only’s requisite eye candy comes in the form of cute as a button Lynn-Holly Johnson as the not-so naïve but annoying as hell ice-skating prodigy. She was actually a very proficient ice skater in real-life and parlayed that into the much-beloved drama Ice Castles (1978). She awkwardly tries to seduce Bond, which he has the decency to fend off politely as there is more than a bit of an age difference. Julian Glover is a bit of a bland Bond villain and there isn’t really a feeling of urgency in stopping his plans as in other movies. His baddie also lacks a distinctive personality and is quite frankly forgettable.
Melina’s revenge mission gives For Your Eyes Only a little more emotional weight than a Bond movie would normally have and a significant supporting character has a very personal stake in the outcome. The filmmakers wisely dial back the humor so that there is a better mix of exciting action sequences with the requisite Bond one-liners (“He had no head for heights.”) and Melina’s serious revenge trip mixed with beautiful women, thrilling chase sequences, exotic locales, tough-as-nails henchmen, and Bond trying to save the world from a rich villain. This movie doesn’t change my opinion of Moore in the pantheon of actors that have played Bond – he’s still my least favorite – but I thought he did an excellent job in For Your Eyes Only and it is by far his strongest outing in the role.