Posted by: dougery | July 6, 2011

Better Late Than Never: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

For Your Eyes Only (1981) is the Frankenstein’s Monster of the Bond series. The story, such as it is, has been stitched together from the rotting corpses of Fleming’s novels (among them Live and Let Die, Goldfinger, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) which is not a direct comment on the quality of the source material, simply a statement that these stories had already been given life by the movie studio once before. However since the cinematic treatment of 007 plays so fast and loose with the novels there were plenty of perfectly functional discarded limbs in those literary graves. Enough to be reassembled into something approaching an actual plot. Provided there were enough chase scenes included to properlyly animate this monster, of course.

The Frankenstein analogy also applies to the general philosophy behind this film, not just the random grab-bag of parts that compose it. Following the runaway success of Moonraker (1979), its tendency to, say, stretch the boundaries of believability (ahem, LASERS, *cough cough*), its inclination towards slapstick comedy (intentional or not) and its obscene emulation of Star Wars and the attendant popularity of things sci-fi, the idea behind For Your Eyes Only was a return to Bond’s roots. To breathe fresh life into a dead series, or rather, the portions of the 007 mythology that had been sacrificed along the way. A “grim and gritty” reboot before that term was made popular by film execs decades later, For Your Eyes Only fails on almost every conceivable level to resurrect Bond’s golden years.

Like most frankenstein’s monsters, the first thing a reanimated melange of moldering parts must do is kill its father. Thus the opening sequence, appropriately enough, set in a graveyard. 007 is paying his respects to his late wife Tracy (who didn’t make it out of OHMSS alive) and is whisked away in a helicopter that gets taken over by a very familiar bald headed Bond villain from movies past. Though never referenced by name as Blofeld, the megalomaniacal head of SPECTRE is summarily dispatched after a legitimacy thrilling bit of aerial hijinks. It is a rather sudden and strange sequence made all the more so by the fact that it is both wholly unnecessary and never mentioned again. Perhaps it is a bad sign when an unnecessary stand-alone opening is the most infamous part of a 2 hour movie.

What follows is a lot of running around, back and forth, in various settings (snow, sea, mountain cliffs, the beach, etc), almost like a Scooby-Doo cartoon where the heroes and villains jog across the hallway and into one room only to emerge one door down whilst the villain that is chasing them comes out of a different door, etc. The film functions as one long chase sequence with precious little in the way of emotional resonance or character development as interference. A family revenge drama lays somewhere at the heart of For Your Eyes Only, but its not even Bond’s quest, merely Melina Havelock’s, the daughter of marine archaeologists caught in the crossfire wake of the British Secret Service. As such, we don’t really care about it much, we only just met this women and she is expected to hold up all of the film’s thematic weight? This would be difficult for even the most intriguing and complicated of Bond girls.

Despite kicking more ass than many of her predecessors, Carole Bouquet just isn’t very interesting as Havelock. Or perhaps she just doesn’t have the right kind of chemistry with Moore’s Bond. I was never convinced she was capable of killing anyone as her acting is flat and unemotional. Even the way she kills (with a crossbow) is detached, executed from a distance, far from passionate. Moore is no help and seems to be going through the motions by this point as it was rumored he wouldn’t be coming back to the series before the film began shooting.

Which leads us to the most damning condemnation of For Your Eyes Only as most disconcerting of all is how un-Bond-like 007 is. Constantly running away, getting saved by other people, turning down sexual advances. Even when he does kill it is oddly humorless. That sounds bad when you read it, but in previous adventures, especially with Connery, death is always transmuted into a kind of funny gag. When a stone-faced Roger Moore kicks a teetering car off the edge of a cliff or drops a wheelchair bound cripple down a chimney he may as well be the villain of the piece. I suppose if he had gone along with the advances of the teenage figure skater he’d be even more ‘evil’ yet 007 has always been lecherous, his restraint here somehow feels morally wrong. Neutering him is decidedly off-putting. A sexless Bond is nothing but a professional thief, an emotionless escape artist, and a cold-blooded killer.

Bond Grade (out of 007): 001

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