Sunday, September 11, 2011

Definitive Bond Marathon: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

(Directed by John Glen)

As the years moved along, it became increasingly evident that among the greatest threats to England and her allies were the sudden disappearances of highly sophisticated weaponry. It was coming to a point where our enemies no longer had to create the technological terrors themselves but only steal them from us. On this occasion, MI6’s system alerts were raised upon learning that one of our proudest concoctions, the ATAC (Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator, used to help coordinate Royal Navy fleet ), which had been secretly hidden in the St Georges posing as a fishing boat in the Sea of Albaina, vanished. The ship sunk and, to make matters worse, a marine archaeologist called upon by us to retrieve the prized invention, was murdered before he could ever complete his duty. Clearly, something was up.

007 (Roger Moore) was dispatched to find the killer, a certain Hector Gonzales (Stefan Kaliphan), at his Spanish estate, but Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), daughter of the deceased and on a personal revenge mission, was one step too fast and killed Gonzales with a crossbow. By indentifying one of Gonzales’ associates at the scene, a ruthless killer named Locque (Michael Gothard), Bond was able to locate an individual with whom Locque once had ties to, a businessman and former intelligence liaison, Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover), who directs 007 towards the figure apparently after the ATAC, a smuggler and former partner who goes by the name of Columbo (Topol). But investigation brings only confusion to the matter for once 007 finds himself in Columbo’s clutches, the smuggler, rather than liquidating 007, makes a case for his innocence in the entire affair and explains that the real threat is in fact Kristatos, who is on the hunt for the ATAC in the hopes of selling it off to the Russians. 

For Your Eyes Only is a movie I return to every now and then in order to remind myself that Roger Moore did in fact star in a 007 adventure that had some semblances of reality. As a standalone picture, in particular as a Bond picture, I think it is quite good. However, its qualities are enhanced exponentially when taken as a follow-up to 1979’s Moonraker which, while at times fun, is an over-stuffed, eye-rolling exaggeration of what a solid Bond film should be and as far removed from where the character started in 1962 as can be. John Glen’s 007 debut as director (he was second unit on previous instalments, so one could say he ‘graduated’ from within the ranks) is a throwback to better years, when the thrill of the chase and characters with hidden intentions were enough to drive an episode of the series. There are no lasers here and surprisingly few gadgets to be found here.

The similarities with Bond films of yore are not difficult to spot. Melina is a early 80s version of Domino Derval from Thunderball, there are some extended underwater sequences just as in the aforementioned Connery film, the hunt for a small technological device exercised by the British and Russians reminds us of the plot of From Russia With Love to a degree even though they aren’t identical. The ATAC is yet another addition to the long lineup of new weaponry or vehicles which have mysteriously disappeared...Then are some of the more blatant callbacks, such as when, in the opening minutes of the film, Bond visits his deceased wife’s grave and is subsequently attacked by a heavy who remains unnamed but who is clearly a representation of Blofeld. It has been written before in this marathon (and observed by countless more film critics more articulate than myself) that the Bond film franchise frequently reverts back to old ideas and re-hashes them to develop ‘new’ plots and adventures, so it would be difficult to fault For Your Eyes Only for doing the same. ‘There are no new stories to be told’ is a saying that comes up when discussing film, and the same applies to the universe of Bond, only that in this case the stories emanate strictly from the world of 007. The next step, after realizing that expecting wholly original stories is somewhat far-fetched, is hoping that the filmmakers can take this familiar plot and deliver something fun and interesting. In the case of For Your Eyes Only, the answer is most definitely yes. 

In one of the movies earlier scenes, when 007 and Melina are escaping Gonzales’s estate, the secret agent arrives back to his Lotus Esprit only to discover that Gonzales’s henchmen got there first. Unlike in previous films when the Lotus or any other famed Bond vehicle, would have performed something out of the world and outrageous to escape, in FYEO it is equipped with an anti-burglar system which promptly causes the car to explode when one of the thugs tries to smash its windows. Bond’s adventure has hardly begun and the Lotus has blown up! A message is sent right away to the audience: 007 will have to operate without some nifty gadgets this time around. It’s a very funny moment, but one that also sates a purpose. There are plenty of scenes similar to this one which make attempts to ground the picture in a reality everyone can identify with. Two thrilling sequences stand out. The first occurs when Kristatos reveals himself as the villain and has 007 and Melina tied together and dragged by boat in shark infested waters. Bond must do some pretty quick thinking to escape his predicament and his method of escape shares the same tone as a lot of the action throughout the movie: make a plan quick because you have no gadgets. The other highlight is arguably one of the best of the entire franchise. Late in the picture, after Bond and Columbo have officially formed their alliance, they mount a small attack on Kristatos’ hideout in a former monastery situated on a steep mountaintop in Greece, St. Cyril. First and foremost, the location is utterly breathtaking. What a sight. It is Bond who takes it upon himself to start the infiltration mission by climbing up the side of the cliff. Thus begins a very impressive sequence during which the music takes a backseat. At first it is Bond and his mountain climbing capabilities, but when a guard takes notice of 007’s approach, he begins to chip away at the spikes Bond planted into the mountain wall. The rest I’ll leave to the viewer, but suffice to say that it is a fantastic sequence and one of the few in the entire series that makes Bond look completely vulnerable.

John Glen and the screenwriters also choose to create some short yet impactful scenes with 007 as a character, not a caricature. The most obvious being his visit to Tracy’s grave. Suddenly, there is a sense of continuity to the series, loopy as the continuity may be at times. Another scene I personally love is when Bond and Melina are on a sleigh ride in Cortina, Italy, heading back to their hotel. At this point Melina does not know exactly who 007 is other than that he is also after her father’s killers, but for different reasons. She makes her case for a quest of personal vengeance. Bond, older than Melina and obviously more experienced in the world of murder and violence, warns her to step aside and let him handle things. Melina challenges Bond by stating what could be more important than the murder of her parents. Bond looks down for a moment, thinking about how to reply to this, and explains as calmly as he can that, essentially, her father was also involved and risked his life in the line of duty. No funny one liner, no pithy comeback. Just a more experienced person trying to reason with a hot-heated young woman enraged by a tragedy. Lastly, and this example is a more comedic one, is the little subplot involving Kristatos figure skating protégé Bibi, played by Lynn-Holly Johnson. Young, rambunctious and ready to screw Bond at any moment, her attempts to woo 007 do not impress the secret agent. He’s far too old for her and she...just isn’t his type.
‘Now put your clothes on...and I’ll buy you an ice scream.’

Such a great line for so many reasons. Here is a situation in which a young woman (or teen, I suppose) is drooling all over Bond, which would seem a solid freebee, but he refuses because he simply is not interested in her. In the grander scheme of things the subplot does not serve the story at all, even though Kristatos has Bibi as one of his many honest ‘facades’ to hide his more evil schemes with the KGB. Still, it serves as a reminder, albeit a comical one, that Bond is a human who has limits. He is not ready to bang everybody. Roger Moore himself delivers a really nice performance as 007 in FYEO, playing on some of the characters more outlandish staples while also reigning him in somewhat with hints of humanity and realism. Along with that in LALD, I think it some of Moore’s best work.

The rest of the cast does a pretty solid job too on the whole. Carole Bouquet, an absolute firecracker of a women, gives a sufficiently emotional and credible performance as Melina Havelock, who is bloodthirsty for vengeance but also displays a lot of womanly class. It is not an easy balance to strike, and where others have failed (we’ll see a couple later in the marathon), she hits the right notes for the better part of the picture. Topol, as Bond’s true ally Columbo, does not have much to do other than munch of peanuts, but his presence is welcome. I really wish he had been in the movie more than he actually is because, not only do I like the actor, but his character is given a backstory linked to that of Julian Glover’s. When they finally duke it out in the final minutes of the film, because we haven’t seen enough of Columbo, it fails to resonate as much as it should. I would not go so far as to say Topol is wasted, but the filmmakers definitely do not use him enough. Julian Glover is an interesting choice. He comes across as a very cultured man with a dark streak, but a reasonable one, unlike his two immediate predecessors, Hugo Drax and Stromberg. Sure, his goal (making more money) is nowhere near as dramatic as that of someone who wants to destroy the world as we know it, but his mean tooth is sharp. He’s a slimy bugger when the niceties are dispatched with, and Glover plays the part well.

The Bond of the 1980s starts off solidly if you ask me. After the preposterousness of the last two pictures, I cannot be the only one who was hoping for something a little more down to earth. People forget that these films are based on a series of books by Ian Fleming. The author certainly sent his secret agent on some lavish adventures, but, notwithstanding a couple of exceptions, most of them did resemble For Your Eyes Only in terms of scope and tone.



thevoid99 said...

This is another of my favorite Bond films not just for its themes song but the opening sequence. It has a great mix of humor and action in the way Bond handles the situation.

Plus, I'm a fan of Carole Bouquet and she is among one of the best Bond girls out there.

I'm so glad Bond knows his limits when it comes to women and Bibi is so wrong for him.

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