"FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" (1981) Review
If James Bond fans and critics had judged all of EON Productions’ 1981 movie, "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" solely on its pre-credit sequence, the movie probably would have barely made a dime at the box office. Worse, it would have been regarded as the worst movie in the entire Bond franchise. Thankfully, the rest of the movie proved to be far superior to its atrocious opening sequence.
"FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" marked the directorial debut of John Glen, previously an assistant director and editor of previous Bond movies. Glen ended up steering the Bond franchise through a record five movies, all released between 1981 and 1989. With screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson (say that again?), Glen would take the franchise into a new era that depended less upon gadgets, grandiose villains and their even more outlandish schemes; and more on well-written plots, gritty edge and deep characterizations. And this new direction was certainly obvious in "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" . . . well, except for the pre-title sequence. Which has led me to wonder . . . what on earth made Maibaum and Wilson include that atrocious sequence, in the first place? God only knows. The best I can say about the opening sequence, which featured an unnamed and crippled Blofeld was that its theme resonated with the rest of the movie – namely revenge.
Once the movie moved past its odious beginning, it became a sleek and tight thriller in which James Bond must recover the ATAC missile launching system, that disappeared, following the sinking of a British spy ship off the coast of Albania. MI-6 had originally recruited a British marine biologist named Sir Timothy Havelock to locate the missing ship and missile system, but he and his Greek wife ended up being murdered in full view of their daughter, by an assassin named Hector Gonzalez. Bond tracked Gonzalez to an estate in Spain. But before he could question the killer, Sir Timothy’s daughter, Melina murdered Gonzalez out of revenge for her parents’ deaths. Bond eventually learned that Gonzalez had been hired by a free-lance Soviet agent, who had been recruited to also find the ATAC system. In the Soviets’ hands, the ATAC could be used to destroy Western nuclear submarines.
From the exciting chase sequence in the Spanish countryside, to the ski slopes of Cortina and the Greek Islands, Bond and Melina conducted a search for the missing ATAC that led to a bitter rivalry between two Greek smugglers – one who happened to be an independent agent contracted to the KGB. Portrayed by Israeli actor, Topol and British actor, Julian Glover; former friends Milos Columbo and Ari Kristatos drew Bond into a 30-year feud, in which both tried to convince the British agent that the other is the KBG contact. Even worse, Bond had to contend with Melina’s continuing desire for revenge - despite her murder of Hector Gonzalez. In the end, Bond managed to rein in Melina’s vengeful tendencies, learn that Kristatos was the KBG contact and prevent the ATAC from falling into Soviet hands.
Roger Moore had nearly passed over his fifth chance at portraying the fictional British agent. Fortunately, he changed his mind at the last moment and proved that underneath the sophisticated façade and cheeky wit, he possessed the acting chops to star in a serious spy thriller. To this day, many cannot decide whether his best performance was in "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" or in 1977’s "THE SPY WHO LOVED ME". Personally, I am inclined to believe that "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" was his finest moment in the Bond franchise. An excellent supporting cast and a first-class script – different from what he had been used to – allowed Moore to meet the challenge of a new kind of Bond and turn in a tough and excellent performance. Even better, he did all of this and still managed to retain something of his sly sense of humor. His finest moments included:
-Bond’s conversation with Melina, after saving her life in Cortina
-Bond’s first meeting with Columbo
-Emile Locque’s death (a controversial scene in the Bond franchise)
-final sequence at the St. Cyril’s monastery.
French actress, Carole Bouquet, who was 23 years old when she filmed "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" ably supported Moore as the movie’s leading lady. She skillfully turned in an emotional performance as Melina Havelock, seeking revenge for the murder of her parents. Both Topol and Julian Glover portrayed the two rivaling Greek smuggler, whom Bond has to determine was the KGB contact responsible for the Havelocks’ murder. I must say that both actors gave very subtle performances, making it difficult for the audience to decide who was innocent and who was guilty. And this ambiguity contributed greatly to the movie’s success. In fact, "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" seemed to be blessed with an exceptional cast that included Michael Gothard as the quietly callous killer, Emile Locque; Cassandra Harris (at the time, fiancée to future Bond, Pierce Brosnan) as the flirtatious and doomed Countess Lisl; Lynn-Holly Johnson as Kristatos’ ice skating protégée who develops a yen for Bond, Bibi Dahl; Jill Bennett as Bibi’s stoic trainer, Jacoba Brink; and Stefan Kalipha as the cold-blooded Cuban hitman, Hector Gonzalez. Also in the cast was Charles Dance portraying one of Locque’s henchmen, four years before he became well known in the miniseries, "JEWEL IN THE CROWN". Dance also portrayed Bond author, Ian Fleming in a rather dull biopic called "GOLDENEYE".
But what really made "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" for me, was the first-rate story centered on MI-6’s recovery of their secret missile system. Both Maibaum and Wilson, very smartly eschewed the gadget-filled fantasy epics of movies like "YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE"and "MOONRAKER" for a slightly gritty spy thriller with twists and double-crosses, reminiscent of classic spy movies from the 1940s and 50s. Instead of using Bond regular John Barry to write the score, EON Productions turned to Bill Conti, who would later write the score to the "NORTH AND SOUTH" miniseries and direct the music for future Oscar broadcasts, to create a lively score that I found very entertaining. Also included was the movie’s main theme sung by Sheena Easton. The song went on to receive an Academy Award nomination.
Thanks to Conti’s score, John Glen’s tight direction, a serious and tougher Bond portrayed by Moore, a first-rate supporting cast, and a skillful script written by Maibaum and Wilson, "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY" (aside from the crappy pre-credit sequence) turned out to be one of the finest movies in the Bond franchise.