Across the Bond: For Your Eyes Only


For Your Eyes Only might be the most forgotten Bond. Coming right after the massive Moonraker and right before the eye catchingly named Octopussy it didn’t stand out much. It’s also not reviled so people don’t mention it much. It definitely does not deserve to be forgotten, though. If for any reason it is because it brought the franchise back to earth (literally), and re-established the Bond producers commitment to not always be over the top.

Xander and I disagree a bit about the quality of the film itself, but what we can agree on is that it took some balls to jump from going to outer space to a basic spy thriller. Thank goodness for that.

Xander Markham

After taking Bond into space, producer Cubby Broccoli could either have completely given up any trace of realism remaining in the series and remade Forbidden Planet with an eyebrow-raising English spy, or brought its hero back to Earth. Thankfully, he chose the latter option. For Your Eyes Only is widely considered one of Moore’s strongest outings for being a relatively serious affair, with its predecessor’s excesses pared back to a minimum. I have to admit that it’s a film I respect for that decision more than I enjoy watching, with large swathes lumbered with exposition-heavy dialogue and leaden pacing.

Moore was expecting Moonraker to be his final outing, and the pre-credits scene was written to make an immediate connection between whomever the new actor would be and the series’ long history. As fate would have it, Moore stuck around and the scene was kept in regardless. While it’s an interesting idea to show Bond finally putting Blofeld – or an unnamed and faceless version of him, since there were rights issues surrounding the character – to the sword, or rather chimney, cramming such an important event in the series’ history into a five-minute stunt sequence, existing in isolation from the rest of the movie, is more of a ‘what did I just watch?’ moment than gratifying payoff. Seeing Bond place flowers at his deceased wife’s grave is a lovely piece of continuity, and I’m relieved Blofeld’s fate was sealed in more permanent fashion than provided by the ever-unsatisfactory Diamonds Are Forever, but the short scene features so many shoddy creative decisions – from Blofeld’s comedy foreigner accent to his utterly baffling offer to buy Bond‘s mercy with a ‘delicatessen in stainless steel’ (has anyone worked out what that line means yet?) – it ends up a bit of a mess. Still better than Diamonds, natch, and the helicopter stunt work is pretty cool, but ultimately another flubbed attempt to do right by the squandered dramatic opportunity of Tracy’s death.

In many ways, that’s the story of the movie as a whole: nice ideas, mixed execution. For Your Eyes Only features some fantastic moments, but reaching them unfortunately means sitting through an interminable sojourn through an Italian sky resort, featuring by-the-numbers action sequences (having a skiing Bond being chased down a mountain by motorbikes is a neat idea, but comes out of nowhere and struggles to generate much excitement) and the horrendous and superfluous character of Bibi Dahl, a (very) young ice skater who takes a shine to the considerably older Bond. Whatever comedy potential the idea might have had – Bond having to turn down a girl because she’s so clearly underage – is offset by the off-the-scale creepiness factor, not to mention how out of character it seems for the increasingly archaic Moore to turn down a young woman. Carole Bouquet, the actress who played lead Bond girl Melina, was in fact only two years older than the actress (Lynn Holly Johnson) playing Dahl.

Bouquet is one of the movie’s greatest strengths, giving Melina Havelock an honour-bound determination to seek revenge for the death of her parents. Her performance is full of fierce sincerity, giving the character greater depth than just about any lead female since Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. She’s not a patch on Diana Rigg, of course, but a huge improvement over the likes of Britt Eckland’s Mary Goodnight and her penchant for crossbows gives her a defining weapon. Bouquet works well with Moore, and their budding romance is made all the more effective by how understated it is. True, several beats are replayed from The Spy Who Loved Me, but it’s a rare instance during the Moore era where there’s a real spark between Bond and his leading lady.

Melina is the biggest holdover from Fleming’s short story of the same name, which sees Bond volunteer to undertake an assassination mission against a Cuban hitman who has murdered two of M’s oldest friends, a Jamaican couple called the Havelocks. Before Bond can take his shot, the Havelocks’ daughter, Judy, takes the kill instead with her bow and arrow. Despite being renamed – Melina is the Greek word for Honey, a nod to Dr No‘s Honey(chile) Rider – and given a different nationality, the character is much the same as in the short story, where Fleming gives her plenty of personality despite featuring only briefly. The assault on Kristatos’ drug smuggling operation is taken from another short in the FYEO collection, ‘Risico’, which gave the movie the Kristatos and Colombo characters and the twist involving their respective allegiances, an interesting conceit – the assumed ally turns out to be the main villain, and vice versa – wasted by the movie playing it so casually. Regardless, it’s no surprise that so many of the movie’s best ideas derive from Fleming’s work, as the universal truth for the movie series is that the further it deviates from its literary roots, the less interesting it becomes.

For Your Eyes Only certainly isn’t a bad film, but definitely one which could have done with some strict editing (it drags at over two hours) and a few rewrites to ditch the tedious, and not especially important, Italy-set sections. The movie improves a lot in its second half with a number of standout sequences: the sequence where Bond is attacked whilst climbing a sheer cliff-face is a series high point for suspense, and Kristatos using his speedboat to drag Bond and Melina through coral reefs – lifted from Fleming’s Live And Let Die – almost equals it. Topol’s Colombo is a charismatic, moustachioed ally in the Kerim Bey vein, and Bond kicking Emile Leopold Locque (one of my favourite villain names, for some reason) to his death puts Moore’s cold-hearted streak to more satisfying use than mistreating women. Interesting, Countess Lisl, the secret Scouser who becomes the movie’s inevitable sacrificial lamb after Bond beds her, is played by Cassandra Harris, then wife to a certain Pierce Brosnan. We’ll be hearing more from him next week…

Matthew Razak

I find For Your Eyes Only to be incredibly refreshing. It was a ballsy but necessary move to take Bond back down to earth after the high flying antics of Moonraker. People were use to Bond just getting bigger and bigger, but after going pretty much as big as possible you just couldn’t get any bigger. Instead of attempting to duplicate the massive size of Bond in space the folks behind Bond instead went in the exact opposite direction. This is possibly Roger Moores most realistic Bond and also his darkest, but instead of completely backfiring like The Man with the Golden Gun did it somehow works. Moore seems to have a better grasp on the character and the screenplay is far less flippant with his harder edge than previously. Reports are that Moore wasn’t too excited about being a bit more serious with the role as he always treated Bond as fun, but I think it turns out one of his better performances as his one-liners are kept in check along with his raised eyebrow.

I’m in a slightly different boat than Xander, in that my great respect for what the producers did in grounding Bond only compliments my enjoyment of the film. While it does run long I find it neither tedious or uninteresting. There’s definitely a lot going on here so the film does seem to jump all over the place, but it’s held together nicely by both Melina Havelock’s quest for revenge and Colombo’s lesser-of -two-evils alliance with Bond. More importantly it’s actually a Cold War plot instead of some crazed plan to take over the world. The coding machine that villain Kristatos eventually steals is basically the exact same things the Lecter in From Russia With Love. While the Russians don’t play a major part in the film — except when General Gogol shows up at the end — it’s a Cold War plot involving far more spying, double crossing and intrigue than the action blockbuster that had come before. While it’s handling of the open sequence (not even the commentors on the film’s Blu-ray will explain the the delicatessen quote) is misguided it does kick the film off with some daring action that only escalates throughout.

I’m glad Xander didn’t mention the film’s big car chase, which might be one of my favorites in all the Bond series. After escaping from some bad guys with Melina Bond runs to his car only to finding it exploding as a villain tries to break in (because destroying your cal is the best way to stop being from stealing it). The two rush to Melina’s car, which turns out to be a Citreon 2CV. It’s a marvelous turn on what we usually get from Bond and a firm statement that this is not like the two previous Moore films. The chase, down the side of a olive tree covered mountain, is fantastically done and probably one of the most exciting since Bond is without any gadgets to help him get rid of the bad guys. Between this chase, the stunning cliff climbing near the end and the opening helicopter stunts For Your Eyes Only has some of the most impressive action set pieces to date, all while not going bigger and better, but just being more creative. I will admit that the ski chase (a Bondcliche by now) is not one of the better ones, but I think it still drums up enough excitement to warrant itself even if it’s not the best. 

I’m also in love with Carole Bouquet, who casting couldn’t have been better for a film called For Your Eye Only. She has hands down the most gorgeous eyes of any Bond girl. She is also one of the rare cases of a Bond woman who kicks ass throughout the entire film, and she does it without being a crappy female version of Bond (*ahem* Jinx *ahem*). She has a badass cross bow that she’s deadly accurate with, the only time she needs saving is when Bond needs saving as well (thus he’s never rescuing her) and if Colombo hadn’t shot Kristatos at the end of the film she probably would have shoved Bond out of the way and killed him point black. She’s also actually a character and not a caricature. I wouldn’t call Bouguet the greatest actress in the world, but she manages to express emotions, which is far and beyond what a plethora of other Bond girls have done. It’s just too bad the second Bond girl (emphasis on girl) is Bibi Dahl whose love infatuations with Bond, as Xander pointed out, is beyond creepy. Maybe it was another hold over from when they thought Moore was done with Bond, but it probably would have been awkward with a younger actor too. Oddly Lynn-Holly Johnson, the actress playing Bibi, was 23 at the time so they consciously made the decision to have her act younger and make it weird. Of course we’re being a little hypocritical here since Moore bedded Jane Seymour in Live and Let Die when she was only 22. The age gap was less, but he did Solitaire’s virginity so that seems pretty sketchy too.

What I really find so enticing about For Your Eyes Only is that it hits a sweet spot for Moore’s Bond that makes me like him more. The vengeful kick off the cliff to kill Emil Leopold may not have been Roger Moore’s cup of tea, but it’s probably my favorite kill that he pulls off simply because it’s so subdued. I may praise the film a bit too much because I appreciate it for going back to Bond‘s roots, and taking a more serious turn, but for me this is Moore’s second best film.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.