Bond is back! After going to the moon in Moonraker (1979), Roger Moore’s Bond really had nowhere else to go but down. Scaling down was the best thing that could’ve happened for the film, and I can’t wait to talk about…
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
I’ve had a difficult relationship with the Roger Moore Bond films. Having seven entire films over the span of decades means he is arguably the most influential Bond. These films vary so much in tone and quality. Unlike other actors in the franchise, Moore’s work doesn’t follow a steady decline into camp and comedy. Moore started there and escalated, but this film had to go back to square one.
This was one of my least watched films in the franchise, and I gotta say, it might be the surprise of the retrospective. This film made me appreciate the sensibilities of the Moore films and the seventies and eighties that the previous films failed to do. There’s major problems to be certain, but Bond always chases quality espionage action with a side of something culturally unbearable. It’s his nature.
First, the film starts with Bond mourning his deceased wife Teresa from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) Remember her? He gets a lead on her killer (it’s clearly Blofeld, but due to legal rights his face and name aren’t shown) and Bond finally murders him for good old-fashioned revenge.
After that, a British submarine carrying a device called the ATAC (think magic device that controls the British navy) sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor. When a family of divers are assigned to retrieve the device, they are brutally murdered. Their daughter swears revenge. THIS IS A THEME OF THE MOVIE. TAKE NOTES, THERE WILL BE A TEST LATER.
Bond is tasked with tracking down the ATAC, the murderer of the family is immediately avenged, and Bond meets the surviving daughter, Melina Havelock. It’s not a name like Holly Goodhead, but it will do.
Bond is forced to track some other businessman, and finds a Greek tycoon named Kristatos pointing the fingers at at a man named Milos Columbo. Bond almost dies a few times then meets Columbo, who reveals the truth: Kristatos is behind it all and is setting him up!
Bond meets Melina again, this time knowing where the ATAC is located. They retrieve it successfully, but are intercepted by Kristatos. They survive being dangled in the water at high speeds for sharks, then storm the fortress to stop Kristatos from selling the ATAC to the soviets.
After the successful mission, Margaret Thatcher calls in to congratulate James, but he’s busy sleeping with Melina. All that’s there to answer the Prime Minister is Melina’s pet parrot.
A Closer Look
This film most wants to be like the Lazenby film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Tracy is mentioned by name, Blofeld is murdered, there’s a serious tone (eh, mostly) throughout. It emphasizes tension over pure spectacle. Most importantly, it tries to give the lead love interest her own agency like Tracy had, and the film also calls back to the film with similar locations and stunts. There’s a bobsled scene. You don’t do a James Bond bobsled scene if you’re not doing an OHMSS reference.
Yet, this film does a lot to not feel like it’s just treading familiar ground. The ski slopes in Italy are properly utilized for multiple chase scenes with actual bystanders and much more impressive stuntwork. It also goes for different moments of tension. Other than bobsledding, we see an actual ski jump and Bond fight a hockey team. That’s the right kind of silly.
This goes on throughout the film, the tropical setting actually utilizes the sharks for a very fun escape scene that features constant movement and no funny gadgets. Bond is usually still, forced to use whatever gadget Q gave him at the start of the film. The fortress they storm? It is quiet and stealthy, overgrown and we are introduced to this climax with Bond literally hanging off a cliff dangling by a shoelace. That’s fun!
Vengeance is the thematic throughline, Melina’s quest to avenge her family mirrors Bond’s own quest in prior films and the introduction to this one. This film actively utilizes previous film continuity, not only to remind people these films existed but because it helps the viewer appreciate Bond’s wiser role this time around. Bond isn’t sleeping with the young eager girl now. He’s not advocating a path of murder to satisfy one’s own ambitions. We saw this seed previously in the Moore film, The Man With the Golden Gun (1974). Moore’s Bond is heroic in contrast to the other portrayals, and it’s not necessarily because tone demanded it (okay, yes) but it’s excused by years of continuity and experience.
The film also keeps things relatively low in stakes. Bond isn’t saving the world from space genocide or a solar ray or something. The timer Bond has to beat is a business transaction, and the Soviets provide an appropriate adversary that isn’t necessarily portrayed as explicitly evil. Now that Spectre isn’t the thing Bond can keep coming back to for a villain and the Cold War was ramping up again, Russian Communism is the ongoing boogeyman. This is utilized in later films, but it’s a useful reminder of Bond’s own national allegiances.
This film does pacing and suspension of disbelief properly. Budgets don’t need to inflate for good spectacle, and taking your time with dialogue means people aren’t going to be questioning the absurdity of the plot. There’s plenty of ridiculous things here, but unlike Moonraker we aren’t constantly jumping around the world and hitting all the crowd-pleasing checkmarks. Everything works to move Bond into the next scene, which is how a Bond film should build its momentum.
Bill Conti is responsible for the music here, and although it’s definitely a product of its time, I very much enjoy it. It had the right sense of urgency to it that maintained a fun bounce with electric guitar and synth that previous entries absolutely failed at. The Bond theme itself still feels a tad out of place, mainly because the spectacle of it is that brassy orchestral vibe that grows as the theme plays on, and that escalation is never present in this kind of instrumentation.
The supporting cast of antagonists and friends are strong. I like both Kristatos and Columbo. Julian Glover is strong as Kristatos (producers chose wisely), and Chaim Topol’s Colombo is absolutely fun. The guy just eats pistachios the entire movie because his character ships pistachios. Madness!
I made a grave mistake last review. I totally forgot that Moonraker was the last appearance of Bernard Lee’s M. In this film, M is on leave because Lee passed away during filming, but before his scenes. He was, in my opinion, the best male M. Without a doubt. He understood M’s relationship with 007 completely, and he was always the most consistently great of the MI6 staff in these films. As we can see here and later, Q and Moneypenny aren’t always a good thing. Q is kind of a plot fixer here, allowing Bond to identify a man to chase and also provides a moment of exposition near the end to explain how Bond knows where to go. Moneypenny is given mediocre dialogue, and the Moore era really makes the dynamic between Bond and her a sad state of affairs.
The other elephant in the room is Roger Moore getting really old. It was noticeable before, sure. Here is when it becomes unavoidable. It’s the real reason Bond isn’t sleeping with the very young figure skater in this movie. It’s just a general reason why we aren’t seeing him act like a young flirt. He’s pushing girls away more than he’s pulling them in here, and that’s good news for this movie but bad news in the coming films. I don’t want to repeat commentary for Bond films, but most actors should quit while they’re ahead.
The women are also not that well written. The roles are either lacking in performance or conviction, like Melina, or grossly out of place, like Lynn Holly-Johnson’s Bibi Dahl. Bibi feels creepy to look at, as if she was meant to be portrayed as underage. Again, I’m thankful Bond doesn’t sleep with her, but the film is not ashamed to still show her sexually and even hints towards the antagonist uncle wanting some kind of perverted incest toward her. Ew. Can I just not have that in this movie? Thanks.
The last thing I have to complain about is the theme song and opening credits. Yep, we’re talking about it. So this is the only film where we actually see the performer of the song sing during the introduction. It plays almost like an MTV music video and feels very jarring when taken with the rest of the Bond series. I have no problem with Sheena Easton, this is a very passable song, but these introductions are one of the most essential staples to Bond and this film goes in a direction that I’m not a fan of. There’s such a heavy focus on Easton (who is not present in any other way in the film) instead of other engaging visuals or Bond himself. It actively attempts to date the film and this film does not need to suffer from its time any further. The intro is lightly more welcome when you consider the past chunk of intros have mostly been Bond dancing around in black with psychedelic colors, but there needed to be some other sort of innovation, which we will eventually see.
Moore just won’t retire. He has two more, then we get to Dalton. Next up is Octopussy (1983). I’m actually growing fond of Moore as I’m going through these, maybe I’ll cry or something when we hit A View to a Kill (1985).
What I Drank
Best bet here is gonna be a white wine. Greek preferably. I went Moschofilero here. Bond name drops some wines if you want to be authentic, be thankful I didn’t go for “champagne and oysters”.
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