Coate: Where do you think For Your Eyes Only ranks among the James Bond movie series?
Christie: The really interesting thing about For Your Eyes Only is the way in which it denoted a turning point in the series; it marked the stage where Eon moved away from the flamboyant wide-canvas offerings of the mid-to-late seventies’ period of the franchise and concentrated more carefully on the credibility of the films’ plotlines and their handling of geo-political issues. This was something that would evolve constantly over the rest of the decade, eventually culminating in the casting of the no-nonsense Timothy Dalton and the dramatic shift in tone that we see in The Living Daylights and especially Licence to Kill. The glacial state of the Cold War is reflected more starkly in For Your Eyes Only than many other entries in the series at that time (excepting, perhaps, Octopussy a few years later), and the plausibility of the central threat lent the film an added sense of relevance and immediacy. There is also a sense that Roger Moore was making a determined effort to add a note of solemn pragmatism to his performance, something which is obvious from Bond’s unusually subdued investigative work through to his dispassionate assassination of Emile Locque, the cold-blooded henchman played so strikingly by Michael Gothard.
Cork: Twentieth. It’s a better film than Moonraker, but on some level not as much fun to watch. The film does not hold up as well as one would hope. I felt the move towards realism hurt a key element of the Bond look. I go to see Bond films for moments like the reveal of the secret area of the St. Georges, and there were not enough of those. Because the script was a patchwork of current events, an effort to reference real espionage operations and scenes from various Fleming stories and novels, the film lacks a strong narrative drive. So, if you remember the feeling of seeing Moonraker and being crushed by the humor and torpid pace, For Your Eyes Only seemed like a bright, shining justification of your love of Bond in the summer of 1981. Watching it out of that context? It’s got some good actions scenes, some nice performances, but it is a film that does not suffer from a casual viewing while one is folding laundry or doing dishes. It works better in small doses.
Desowitz: I might be in the minority but it’s my favorite Moore Bond and would rank it around 12th.
Pfeiffer: I think the film has aged reasonably well. I would rank it above Man with the Golden Gun, Moonraker, A View to a Kill, any of the Pierce Brosnan Bond flicks, Diamonds Are Forever and Quantum of Solace. The latter is a better film, arguably, but For Your Eyes Only is more satisfying as entertainment.
Scivally: For me, For Your Eyes Only falls in the middle ranks of James Bond films — a serviceable spy adventure, but nothing special. There are a couple of standout stunts — 007 (doubled by Martin Grace) hanging onto the outside of a helicopter in flight, and being kicked off a mountain (with Rick Sylvester performing the fall) — but compared to other Bonds, the pacing seems slow, the sets too grounded in reality, the plot holds few surprises, and the Bill Conti music lacks the punch of the early John Barry scores. The saving grace is Roger Moore, who handles both the lighter moments and the more dramatic ones with seemingly effortless aplomb, but he was by that point looking a bit long in the tooth to be 007 — a point emphasized when he declines to go to bed with Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson); one expects Sean Connery’s Bond, at any age, would not have been so gallant.
Coate: In what way was Julian Glover’s Aristotle Kristatos a memorable villain?
Christie: Ironically, what makes Kristatos memorable is his low-key nature. After the larger-than-life schemes of villains such as Carl Stromberg and Hugo Drax, both of them intent on global genocide, the audience is suddenly faced with an antagonist drawn from the shadowy world of espionage whose aims seem much more reserved by comparison. Played with admirable restraint by the terrific Julian Glover, Kristatos is unusually manipulative even by Bond villain standards, attempting to double-cross Bond by pitching him against business rival Columbo and playing West against East with consummate sleight of hand. The discovery of Kristatos’s malign dealings midway through the film is very effectively handled, and — such is Glover’s natural charisma — the character appears just as charming when his villainous role is revealed as he did when Bond had initially believed him to be an ally. The theme of antagonists playing the two Cold War superpowers against each other would be revisited throughout John Glen’s later entries in the Bond series, but the calculating Kristatos sets the ball rolling with much panache.
Cork: I love Julian Glover. Anyone who is reading this who has never seen Five Million Years to Earth needs to see it! Glover had already been around forever when he was cast in For Your Eyes Only. He’s an actor of great talent. Unfortunately, he’s not given a lot to do in the film. He never seems menacing. He plays Bond like a cheap hood, enticing him to kill the unfortunately-named good-guy smuggler, Columbo (yes, it’s from Fleming, I know, but at least there it wasn’t spelled the same as the iconic American television series). Glover plays many of the scenes like a good actor in search of a director. There is an uneasy sense that beneath the performance he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the character of Kristatos…. Like all great Bond villains, Kristatos is a man obsessed. Unfortunately for the audience, he’s obsessed with a teenaged figure skater. Heroin smuggling, working for the Soviets and outsmarting British secret agents seems to be a distraction from his main occupation of staring teary-eyed as Bibi Dahl does another triple-Lutz. The other issue with Kristatos is his obsession with inefficient forms of death. How does one hire a murderous crew of hockey players? Killing someone on snowy ski slopes? Is a motorcycle the best tool for that? In the end, his big quest is collecting his payment from the KGB. To do this, he will apparently sacrifice his entire legitimate business empire, which includes shipping, oil and insurance…. Sartorially, I like my Bond villains to dress the part. Kristatos ends up on his knees in a windbreaker and chinos. I knew guys who dressed better for dinner out at Red Lobster in 1981…. I still don’t understand why he sends his own set of goons down to the wreck of the St. Georges when Bond and Melina have no option but to bring the ATAC back to the surface where he is waiting, but I’m sure the JIM suit and the world’s worst attack sub weren’t too expensive…. So, with great love for Glover, Kristatos is the one Bond villain that I think the average nine year old could outwit.
Desowitz: Glover portrays a refreshingly low-key villain and I like the rivalry with Topol’s Columbo and his thirst for revenge, which serves as a caution to Bond.
Pfeiffer: I’ve always been kind of out there on my own in my opinion that Julian Glover’s Kristatos is one of the better Bond villains. Glover gives an extremely good performance in a role that is not nearly as showy as most of the Bond villains. He has all the ingredients of a Bond baddie: he’s handsome, sophisticated and witty. I always love the scenes in which Bond and villain dine or have drinks with each other, pretending to be friendly but all the while planning each other’s demise.
Scivally: Julian Glover is a fine actor, but the part as written is mediocre at best. Herein lies one of the faults of the film — a hero is only as big as the villain he opposes, and Kristatos is small potatoes compared to, say, Auric Goldfinger, whose outsized plot matched his gregarious personality. Kristatos is initially introduced as an ally, and a rather dull one at that; Bond doesn’t realize Kristatos is the enemy until Columbo tells him so, which has the effect of making 007 just a pawn in everyone else’s games — including Melina’s. An action hero needs to act, and in this film, Bond seems to always be reacting. And this, unfortunately, weakens his character, making this Bond suffer by comparison to the more dynamic 007 of The Spy Who Loved Me.
Coate: In what way was Carole Bouquet’s Melina Havelock a memorable Bond Girl?
Christie: Following two strong female supporting characters in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, both of them intelligence operatives with great technical expertise, Bond’s romantic relationships throughout the eighties films tended to be with women who were similarly smart, resilient, and who often had specialist abilities which equaled or exceeded Bond’s own. This was certainly the case with Melina Havelock, who was highly intelligent (she held a doctorate in marine archaeology), lethally proficient with a crossbow, and totally driven by her desire to avenge her parents’ murder at Kristatos’s orders. In spite of the sizeable age difference between Roger Moore and Carole Bouquet, the chemistry between the pair is rather more touching than many other Bond partnerships due to 007’s concern over Melina’s safety given her lack of field experience and his worry that her obsessive thirst for revenge is slowly consuming her. Bouquet does an admirable job of balancing her character’s obvious emotional pain with the single-mindedness of the vengeance that is driving her, occasionally showing Melina’s vulnerable side while continuing to push her into increasingly perilous situations. Melina Havelock set the bar high for many of the female supporting characters in later Bond films of the eighties, and her depth of characterization would be reflected in other portrayals of Bond’s romantic interests as the decade continued.
Cork: Carole Bouquet is a delightful actress and an amazing beauty. I don’t think she was in a very good place when the film was being made, and John Glen, for whom I have tremendous respect, I don’t think was at a place where he could really work with her on her performance…. Melina’s character is one of the highlights of the film. Although based on Judy Havelock from Fleming’s original short story, For Your Eyes Only, Melina is a re-imagining of Honey Ryder from Dr. No. Melina’s father did archeological work that took her all over the globe, just like Honey’s marine zoologist father travelled with her. Both fathers are killed by the villain. Melina’s quest for vengeance gives the strongest sense of narrative drive in the film…. The loss of her parents also gives Melina a deep sense of sadness that weighs uncomfortably on the film. Bond is doing double takes as his car is blown to bits and attackers are shot, making wisecracks and introducing himself with a charming grin while Melina is clearly suffering unrelenting grief. The two performances are both legitimate, but they do not mix…. In the original short story, Judy Havelock is determined to kill the man who took the life of her parents (and killed her pony and dog for good measure). She is transformed and repulsed by the act of murder, which I always felt would have made a stronger place for Bond to meet Melina in a more serious version of For Your Eyes Only. By the end, she’s killed a few folks, injured others and is ready to kill again when Bond tells her that this isn’t the way. To say that this moralizing seems patronizing coming from 007 is an understatement, and, of course, it almost costs both Bond and Melina their lives…. But Carol Bouquet’s haunting looks are a highlight of the film and provide some of the most memorable emotional moments.
Desowitz: Melina, too, is caught in this quest for revenge and makes a tougher and more exotic Bond Girl.
Pfeiffer: Carole Bouquet was an intriguing choice for the female lead. By all accounts, she and Roger Moore were not enamored of each other on the set but the two worked well together. She’s a great beauty, but not in an over-the-top way. She also marked the continuing trend of presenting Bond’s love interest as a strong, courageous and independent character.
Scivally: Carole Bouquet is a very beautiful woman, a fabulous model and was splendid as a Chanel spokesperson, but she is not an actress. This is a character who should be in great emotional turmoil, but Bouquet is ice-cold in every scene. Given that she’s the real protagonist of the story — it’s her quest for revenge that drives the plot as much as the search for the ATAC — the lack of emotional investment by the actress creates a lack of emotional involvement in the viewer, leaving Melina’s storyline flat and lifeless. As a result, Carole Bouqet’s Melina Havelock is not, really, a memorable Bond woman.
Coate: What is the legacy of For Your Eyes Only?
Christie: For Your Eyes Only is rarely a film to appear in fans’ top ten lists of favorite Bond movies, but there is still much to recommend it. The winning performances of the main cast, some multifaceted characterization, a credible threat and some well-judged one-liners all combine to create a solid entry in the series, and a robust directorial debut from John Glen. Today it may well be most prominently remembered for the role it plays in shifting the series into darker territory, and for the way in which Moore’s Bond rediscovers his Cold War credentials after the expansive travelogues of his seventies heyday. But no matter how determined the tonal shift may have been, For Your Eyes Only provides plenty of entertainment to enjoy; it may be just about as understated as the Bond films ever got, but those seeking the nostalgia of a taut 1980s espionage thriller will not be disappointed.
Cork: For Your Eyes Only has two important legacies. The first is the one everyone recognizes: this is the Bond that stepped back from the excesses of Moonraker, made a stand to go back to Fleming and attempt to look at the character of James Bond…. The second legacy is that this is the Bond film that marks a real retrenchment in the series. While Hollywood was embracing bold young filmmakers like Scorsese, Lucas and Spielberg, Eon was grooming their own “new” generation: director John Glen, production designer Peter Lamont, co-screenwriter Michael G. Wilson. All of these creative forces had tremendous experience in the world of Bond, but owed nothing to United Artists and little to the film industry at large. John Glen’s talent for amazing action and large set pieces created the tone for the next four Bond films. The writing team of Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum gave voice to 007 for the decade. The balance of Fleming influences, Wilson and Maibaum’s humor and the pair’s reinterpretation of current events would form the basis for the Bond stories through 1989’s Licence to Kill. As UA and soon MGM/UA spiraled into deeper chaos, Cubby Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson did everything they could to insulate 007 from the whims of Hollywood. For Your Eyes Only became the blueprint for Bond in the 1980s, a more realistic 007 whom one could believe not only kept the world safe, but also kept an eye on his expense account.
Desowitz: Again, it stands out as the toughest and most Fleming-like of the Moore Bonds. The title song by Sheena Easton is memorably romantic, and the pre-credit nod to Tracy with the gravesite visit and the subsequent finishing off of Blofeld is a nice touch (though executed too lightheartedly). It introduces the theme of revenge while tying up a loose end. If Moore had ended his Bond tenure with For Your Eyes Only, it would’ve been all the more noteworthy.
Pfeiffer: For Your Eyes Only enjoys a reasonably enthusiastic following among Bond fans. It’s certainly not top-of-the-pack but its attributes have aged well while its weaker elements don’t seem any worse than they did in 1981. The movie greatly misses a John Barry score and a bit of judicious editing could have made it much better by trimming some of the embarrassing gags, but in the end, it has held up well — and provided fans with what many think is Moore’s best interpretation of Bond.
Scivally: The biggest legacy of For Your Eyes Only is that it set the tone for the Bond films of the 1980s, all of which were directed by John Glen. These films were smaller in scope than the Bond films of the 1970s, leaning more towards reality than fantasy. They also tried to reintroduce elements of Ian Fleming’s stories that had not yet been used in the films. (Bond and Melina being keel-hauled over coral in shark-infested waters was from the novel Live and Let Die, and the auction scene in the next film, Octopussy, was inspired by the short story Property of a Lady.) There were more dramatic scenes written for James Bond, giving Roger Moore a chance to show some of the character’s darker aspects, as when he kicks Locque’s car off the cliff. But these films still contain the often over-the-top stunts that Bond audiences expect, creating a blend of reality-based moments and pure fantasy that doesn’t always coalesce into a comfortable whole.
Coate: Thank you; Tom, John, Bill, Lee, and Bruce; for participating and sharing your thoughts about For Your Eyes Only on the occasion of its 35th anniversary.
Selected images copyright/courtesy Eon Productions Limited, Danjaq LLC, United Artists Corporation, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Mike Heenan, Cliff Stephenson.
The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “Casino Royale” on its 10th Anniversary.
- Michael Coate