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Non-Review Review: For Your Eyes Only

This post is part of James Bond January, being organised by the wonderful Paragraph Films. I will have reviews of all twenty-two official Bond films going on-line over the next month, and a treat or two every once in a while.

The Bond film also known as “the one that even people who dislike Roger Moore Bond films enjoy.”

Bond plays “Eye, Spy”…

In many ways, For Your Eyes Only feels like a delayed reaction to the general direction that the Bond franchise had found itself going in over the past number of instalments. Of course, this movie’s immediate predecessor, Moonraker, just happened to be a very strong example of the ridiculousness that the series had descended into, but you could argue the slide had begun as early as Diamonds Are Forever.

So it’s fitting, perhaps, that this film seems like a belated acknowledgement of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, even after the films that directly followed Lazenby’s single movie ignored it (the direct sequel, Diamonds Are Forever, didn’t even explicitly tie Bond’s rampage at the start to the loss of his wife). So here we have Roger Moore visiting Tracy’s grave, which has been left (metaphorically) untended for quite some time. The opening sequence features Blofeld as well, explicitly linking the loss of Bond’s wife to the criminal mastermind. It’s worth nothing that Blofeld is, again, bald here – like Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas, but not at all like Charles Gray.

Not quite an Aston Martin…

Like the rest of the movie, the opening vignette works much better in theory than in practice. It’s nice to see Bond’s status as a widower dealt with, even in so shallow a fashion. It’s nice to see Bond give Blofeld a final send-off that feels more personal than the messy climax of Diamonds Are Forever. However, it doesn’t remedy the problems with that film – the connection between Blofeld and Bond is never treated as an emotional one. It just feels like Bond is taking care of any random criminal who would try to kill him. As nice as it is to see Tracy’s name, if you are going to bring it up, you owe it more than just a pre-credits sequence.

And then there’s the problems with how the scene is handled. The pre-credits sequence is quite similar to the rest of the film. Technically, it’s very well put together. The stunts are impressive and it is genuinely thrilling. John Glen does good work here, as he would go on to do with Dalton. However, it undermines the scene to hear Blofeld beg for his life by pleading to Bond, “I’ll buy you a delicatessen!” (Maybe his next fiendish plan is to give Bond a massive coronary heart attack!) And when Bond drops Blofeld down the chimney, I don’t need the whistling sound effect that so frequently accompanies a bomb dropping in comedies.

“No, Mister Bond, I expect you to dine!”

However, this bookended sense of closure isn’t the only thing which links this Roger Moore film to Lazenby’s sole outing in the legendary role. We’re treated to scenes at a skating ring and the movie’s central chase sequence is on skis. The movie borrows heavily from a whole heap of Ian Fleming stories, which perhaps also contributes to its charm and sense of nostalgia, harking back to classic Bond. I’m inclined to believe that Fleming wrote Bond as Dalton rather than any of the other actors, but the literary character was always more Connery than Moore at any rate.

And there is the problem, I’m afraid. This is Bond movie that doesn’t want to be a Roger Moore Bond film, but it is a Roger Moore Bond film. I could imagine this film being reworked to serve Connery if it had been released earlier, or to feature Dalton if it had been left until later – however, it’s stuck trying be both a classic Bond film and a Roger Moore film at the same time.

The movie loves its low-key spy stuff. “The snow this year is better at Innsbruck,” Bond’s contact introduces himself with the agreed phrase. “But not at St. Moritz,” Bond gives the expected reply. Bond uses very few gadgets this time around, with Q appearing mainly to use the “identigraph” to help Bond identify a henchman, and the movie feels very much like a “back to basics” spy thriller. The only problem is that it can’t be a classic spy thriller and still enjoy the sort of pantomime that the movies so regularly engaged in with Moore.

Bond decides to pool his resources…

During the ski chase, for example, we have all manner of crazy sound effects playing out, heightening the comedy of the scene. Except it shouldn’t be comedy if you are trying to give us an old-school espionage yarn. Similarly, people are hilariously knocked over as Bond skips through a skiing school, and lunch is disturbed as Bond takes a shortcut across the table. Later on, during a confrontation at the hockey rink, the scoreboard keeps track of Bond’s success against the goons, which is just nuts.

It just doesn’t work like that. I appreciate what the movie is attempting and, at times, it succeeds. Roger Moore feels more like a spy here than he does in any other film. The scene in which he casually executes the movie’s low-key henchman (by famously kicking a car off a cliff) is perhaps the one time in the series that I took Roger Moore seriously as a secret agent with a license to kill. However, the moment is fleeting. Brosnan or Connery would have delivered the subsequent one-liner with cold contempt – Moore sounds like he’s trying to cheer the room up after that frightful business. During a car chase, he is sure to wittily raise his eyebrow to their pursuing car, rather than actively trying to evade them.

Bond knows better than to cross a lady…

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate Roger Moore as Bond. To be honest, I think history has been unfair to the actor. I do think that, taken as a whole, Moore has the weakest body of work of any Bond actor (he also, interestingly, has the largest), but I don’t think he was necessarily wrong for the part. I maintain that Lazenby (an actor to whom history has been more than kind) was unsuited to play the secret agent – or perhaps just felt unenthused about, I don’t know – but Moore was no more or less correct a choice than any of the other actors.

He could do sophistication and dry wit, just in a different ratio than his fellow actors. And some of the scenes here play to his particular strengths as an actor. He could never seem as cold and calculating as Connery, Dalton, Brosnan or Craig, but that also means that his Bond feels more like a genuine gentleman than a cold-blooded manipulator in a tuxedo. Here there’s a scene in which Bond is attempting to console Melina, following the death of her parents – killed in an attempt to locate a top-secret MacGuffin. Bond tells her the device is important. “More important than my parents?” she asks directly. Any other Bond would seem cynical or detached, but Moore looks genuinely sad as he nods. This is a Bond who is paternal.

I hope it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger!

One might joke that the reason Bond seems so paternal is because Roger Moore is acting opposite women young enough to be his daughters. In fact, the movie features a scene I’ve always found somewhat odd. In looking back at Sean Connery’s time in the role, I’ve remarked time and time again that he portrays Bond as a sexual predator – looking for an excuse to manipulate or coerce women into going to bed with him. One would think that when Bond eventually declines the advances of a young woman, I would be cheering. “Character development!” I might loudly declare, as Bond pulls himself into the twentieth (and, eventually) twenty-first century.

However, there’s a particularly cringe-worthy scene here where Moore’s Bond declines sex from an attractive young lady named (in that fine Bond tradition of silly names) Bibi Dahl. The character (and actress) are over the age of twenty, yet Bond seems pretty much determined not to have sex with her, not matter how much she may protest that it “builds up muscle tone.” As she climbs into his bed, she coos, “I’ll do anything for you.” However, Bond isn’t tempted in the slightest as she removes her towel underneath the bedsheet. “I’m exceedingly flattered, Bibi,” he replies, as he politely declines.

He was like a Glover to me!

The scene bothers me, because (even in refusing to take advantage of a young lady) Bond is extremely condescending. “You put your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice cream,” he promises her, trying to get her out of his room. Obviously the one thing that Bond should never do is talk to a young woman like she knows what she’s talking about. It isn’t that Bond now might accept that he should objectify women, he just really couldn’t be bothered objectifying this particular one. The real reason the scene exists (in the context of the film) is to juxtapose Bond against the villain, who does want to take advantage of her – the idea being that Bond is just a better person because he doesn’t want to take advantage of this one particular woman. Where was this sense of moral decency when he tricked the only-slightly-older and much-less-sexually experienced (in fact, virginal) Solitaire into bed in Live and Let Die? Or when he expected Scaramanga’s girlfriend to spend the night with him after threatening to break her arm in The Man With the Golden Gun?

We’re also treated to a really awkward (and unnecessary) Margaret Thatcher impersonation. “Your courage and resourcefulness are a credit to the nation,” she assures Bond, as part of the obligatory “James Bond is a hero, but in the end he just wants a night with his lady friend” bit at the end of the film. It dates the film almost as badly as the early eighties soundtrack. How For Your Eyes Only got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, I’ll never know.

It’s good fun if you just dive into it…

That said, it’s an enjoyable film and one of Moore’s better efforts. In particular, a rock-climbing sequence near the film’s climax is stunningly effective – it’s genuinely thrilling and breathtaking, even today. It’s the sort of practical stunt that the series is known for, executed with aplomb. I wouldn’t be surprised if John Glen had assured his future directing Bond movies simply with that one little scene.

There’s also a return to the early Bond idea of spying being the game of civilised men. In Dr. No, the contact on the island used to sit around playing cards all day, and the mastermind was always ready with a bottle of wine for the young secret agent who stumbles in. It’s a very innocent way of looking at things, and one which we see less frequently in the increasing cynical portrayal of spying on film. Here, Bond has defeated the villain, saved the day, and destroyed the MacGuffin – only to find himself staring at the Russians who have arrived (guns in hand) to claim the device. “That’s détente, comrade,” Bond assured Gogol, the Russian spymaster. “You don’t have it, I don’t have it.” And the two share a laugh, like proper veterans of the world of espionage – true gentlemen. The Soviet spy doesn’t quite say “well-played”, but there’s a romantic sense of mutual respect between the two.

It’s a fun ride…

For Your Eyes Only is regarded (perhaps along with The Spy Who Loved Me) as Roger Moore’s best Bond film. I think it’s definitely one of the stronger ones during his time. However, it also feels awfully like a movie trying to pretend to be something that it isn’t. Moore isn’t Sean Connery – and perhaps it was unfair to ask him to be. The movie wants to play it straight while still going as far over the top as it normally does, and that isn’t a combination that necessarily works.

We have complete reviews of all of the Roger Moore films available, if you are interested:

The following bloggers have written reviews of this film as part of James Bond January:

3 Responses

  1. Roger Moore in a sweater.. what else do you need?

  2. You’re completely wrong thinking he wrote Bond as Timothy Dalton. He in fact wanted Roger Moore to play him before Sean Connery. What a genius you are!!

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