‘For Your Eyes Only’ marks two notable firsts in the franchise: it’s the first Bond to feature a writing credit for Michael G. Wilson, and the first to be directed by former editor John Glen. Both men would continue in these roles for the next four movies. At what point in pre-production and who banged the drum for it the loudest I can’t say, but the decision was made to back away from the outlandish spectacle of ‘Moonraker’ and take the character (and, to a greater or lesser degree, the series) back to basics. Less gadgetry, tighter action sequences, more focus on narrative. ‘For Your Eyes Only’ strikes the right balance, delivering what is basically a thriller while remembering that Roger Moore is the punster Bond and allowing him to toss off the requisite amount of audience-friendly quips.
The plot is a magnificent piece of MacGuffin deployment, cheekily revisiting the race to recover a gizmo that threatens the safety of British nuclear submarines scenario of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’. Here, the device is still within the wreck of a British naval vessel; a spy-boat of sorts operating in foreign waters and therefore unable to benefit from an official salvage operation. When Sir Timothy Havelock (Jack Hedley), an oceanologist with ties to the government, is murdered in front of his daughter Melina (Carole Bouquet) by a hitman identified as Hector Gonzales (Stefan Kalipha), Bond is sent to intercept Gonzales and find out who he’s working for.
Bond discovers Gonzales – who, for such an infamous and supposedly deadly hitman, is (a) crap at hiding his identity and (b) really easy to track down – hosting the kind of pool party that wouldn’t be out of place in an Akon video. Before he can brace the pistol-packer (or hit on any of the chicks), Melina pops up with a crossbow and gets some payback. An awesome moment courtesy of an awesome actress. Bouquet is never less than fabulous whatever she’s in. The scene where Melina witnesses her parents’ murder is the best bit of screening acting by anyone in any Bond film, and DoP Alan Hume is wise enough to zoom in on Bouquet’s piercing eyes. The look she projects right into the camera – an expression knife-edge between heartbroken and vengeful – is powerhouse.
It’s tempting to wrap the review up here and now with a simple reiteration: this movie is a rattling good unpretentious thriller and Carole Bouquet brings her A-game. But that would be to rob a few other luminaries of some well-earned words of praise. Moore delivers in this one; he hinted at it in ‘Live and Let Die’, but here he plays Bond with gravitas. Indeed, he comes as close as he ever would to the brutal Bond of Connery circa ‘From Russia with Love’, particularly when he despatches an assassin who’s garrotted a colleague. The assassin’s Mercedes, its escape route interrupted by Bond’s bullet, teeters on a cliff edge; Bond coldly walks up to it, tosses in the dove pendant (the killer’s calling card) taken from his friend’s body, and lands a hefty kick against Merc, sending it plunging. A Falstaffian Bond he may be in virtually every other film, but in this one scene Roger Moore is badass.
Weak points? The score is pretty horrible (when Sheena Easton’s title song can be said to be the high point musically, then you know something’s wrong), any and all scenes involving Kristatos’s Olympic protégé Bibi (former skating champion Lynn-Holly Johnson) are borderline embarrassing, a snowbound chase scene that runs almost ten minutes gets fairly tedious very early, and there’s another one of those protracted underwater sequences that the Bond movies are so fond of.
This character – who is absolutely not Ernst Stavro Blofeld if a lawyer representing Kevin McClory happens to be present, and who patently is if you’re Albert Broccoli and you’re wanting to make a mono-figured gesture to the aforementioned Mr McClory – has great fun sending the helicopter spiralling and plunging through the sky and Bond struggles to wrest back control of the machine. He eventually does, and turns the tables on his nemesis in memorable fashion. All of which is exciting/suspenseful/attention-grabbing on paper, only it’s staged against an abandoned gasworks so grim in its architecture and emptiness that the high-flying hi-jinks just don’t gel. It’s an anodyne approach to criticise a Bond film for having a pre-credits sequence that has sweet FA to do with the actual plot, but when that selfsame sequence is also so stylistically at odds with the rest of the production, it rankles.
A much more satisfying conclusion – SPOILER ALERT – is after the climactic assault on Kristatos’s mountain-top stronghold, Bond finally recovering the device only to find General Gogol and a machine-gun packing minion ready to take it off him. Bond flings the gizmo out across the precipice. It shatters (to the accompaniment of a crap sound effect) and Bond gives Gogol a sheepish grin. “Détente, comrade,” he declares, “you don’t have it and we don’t have it.” Gogol responds with diffident shrug and grins back as if to say suits me, pal; you went through all that for nothing, I enjoyed a day out of the office. (SPOILERS END) It’s a nice little moment, underplayed and without any of the smugness generally inherent in Moore’s Bond. It’s also one of the rare moments where a Bond film manages to make an actual comment on the nature of espionage, no matter how moribund.