Page to Screen: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

For Your Eyes Only
based on the short story collection by Ian Fleming


At last, the Bond films enter my beloved eighties. If you’re new around here, I am an eighties freak of the highest order—to celebrate the end of my college career, I threw the San Dimas High School Prom for the class of 1989. It’s like that. Plus, the eighties means two things for the Bond franchise: Grace Jones and Timothy Dalton. A View to Kill (which also boasts one of my favorite Duran Duran songs) has been long bandied about as one of the worst Bonds, and given my positive reaction to supposed stinker Moonraker, the results can only be good. And, as much as I like Moore, I can’t wait to get to Dalton, who I’ve built up as some sort of perfect Bond in my head. But let me stop myself from getting ahead of myself.

For Your Eyes Only opens with the sinking of British spy boat St Georges, which contains the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC), which controls the firepower of the Royal Navy’s submarines. In the wrong (shall we say Soviet?) hands, this could not only destroy any tactical advantage, but give the Soviets actual destructive power over the Brits. James Bond is put on the case, investigating first the murder of Sir Timothy Havelock, the man hired to find the wreck. He finds himself helped by Havelock’s vengeful daughter, Milena, as he’s drawn into a web of deceit centered around an opium smuggling ring…

After the camp heights of Moonraker, which I adored, editor-turned-director John Glen decided to take Bond into a more realistic direction. The opening shot of For Your Eyes Only features Bond visiting the grave of his wife, Tracy, which made me pause the film so I could deal with the fact that I was suddenly weeping. Unfortunately, unpausing it took me into the weirdest and most unrealistic stretch of the film, where Bond murders Blofeld (or “the bald villain in a wheelchair”, due to the same copyright battle that resulted in Never Say Never Again) by kicking him down a smokestack. Vengeance for my beloved Tracy is sweet, but I do think this film would flow better without that scene at all. The rest of the film is much more successful in bringing the Bond series back to earth. The plot is more mundane, the characters more realistic (except for Bibi, who we’ll get to), and, in the last third, I could see the DNA for Goldeneye. Well, Goldeneye 64, we’ve established that watching half of Goldeneye doesn’t count as watching Goldeneye.

Unfortunately, this realism means that we lack the wall to wall action and story that made Moonraker’s pace simply sing. While the first major set piece is fantastic—Bond sneaks into Havelock’s killer’s to interrogate him, only to see him killed by Melina and then get his own butt saved by Melina and her crappy car—the rest can drag, especially the underwater sequences. (Thunderball it ain’t.) Cinematographer Alan Hume does step things up a notch, but the natural cheese factor of the eighties is compounded by the decision to set enormous action set pieces in the Olympic venues at Cortina D’Ampezzo. It’s hard to buy the dark and gritty thing when Moore’s dry, fussy Bond is skiing on a bobsled course and waving at bobsledders.

But the grittier tone is preserved in Melina, the female lead played by Carole Bouquet. Melina can be rightfully considered one of the first Bond girls who is actually quite capable—while the camera pays much attention to Bouquet’s leggy figure and long hair, she’s also a proto-Katniss who spends the last third of the film in mountain gear, assisting a raid and shooting dudes with her trusty crossbow. As much as I love Dr. Goodhead (her arch line delivery plays so perfectly off Moore’s one-liners), Melina’s dour determination and introduction in her own context, not Bond’s, really make her feel like a whole person outside of Bond. And her relationship with him is different for much of the film. Moore and Bouquet are thirty years apart in age, so for much of the film, there’s a platonic or even avuncular feel to their relationship; while Bond is grateful for Melina’s help, he also warns her of the dangers of seeking revenge. (Pot calling the kettle black, eh, Jimmy?) It’s reinforced when Bond is given the age-appropriate Countess Lisl von Schlaf to seduce and turns down the aggressive affections of Bibi, a young figure skater. So when the final scene of the film has Melina and Bond consummate their relationship, it’s really quite a shock to the system. Man, if you went ahead and trimmed the first and last scenes from this movie, you’d get some fine results…

Other things of note: Chaim Topol’s turn as Milos Columbo is delightful, giving Bond a friend and contact he can actually rely on when he needs to assemble a crew, and I screamed when Margaret Thatcher showed up at the end. Synchronicity (I watched this shortly after Thatcher’s death), you fickle mistress…

Bottom line: After the camp heights of Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only tries to make Bond darker and more realistic, and almost succeeds. It’s just the silly opening sequence and poor “romance” that keeps it from realizing that vision. Otherwise, it’s a quite serviceable Cold War thriller that lays the foundation for some of the Brosnan-era stuff I remember from childhood and contains one of those Bond girls with her own storyline and soul. An interesting Moore installment.

I watched this film on Netflix Instant.

6 thoughts on “Page to Screen: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

  1. I think I’d like to see an edit of “For Your Eyes Only” that had all those odd scenes cut out. I think it would be a fine movie and not weird in the least. No one needs to be bought a delicatessen.

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