Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bond-arama: No. 007 For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Believe it not, For Your Eyes Only was a reboot. Yes it was. This was an attempt to strip away the silliness of the franchise and to return it to its early-Connery roots. The result was a really strong film with one big flaw... Roger Moore. Had they replaced Moore, this could have been in the top three. But they didn’t, so it sits at No. 007 of 0023.

Plot Quality: For Your Eyes Only has a strong story. It begins with a British fishing trawler, the St. Georges, striking a mine and sinking. This trawler also happened to be a spy ship, and it sinks before the crew is able to destroy a communications system (the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC)) which would let the Russians redirect Britain’s Polaris submarines if they had it. The British send noted marine archeologist Sir Timothy Havelock to search for the ship while pretending he’s examining ancient underwater ruins. He gets killed. Naturally, Bond is sent in to investigate.
Bond first hunts for Havelock’s killer. In the process, he runs into Melina Havelock, the daughter of Sir Timothy. She’s seeking revenge for the death of her father. Bond’s attempt to find the killer ends up a disaster, but he identifies a man at the scene who may be important: Emile Leopold Locque, a paid assassin. Bond goes to Italy to track Locque. There he meets an ally, Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover), a well-connected Greek businessman and informant for MI-6. Kristatos is in Italy to watch a young girl, Bibi Dahl, he sponsors prepare for the Olympics. Kristatos tells Bond that the real villain is Milos Columbo (Topol). Bond is then attacked by Locque and an East German athlete.
Bond is soon captured by Columbo after Columbo’s mistress is killed by Locque. Columbo tells Bond that Kristatos is the traitor and he takes Bond on a raid of one of Kristatos’s warehouses in Albania so Bond can see that Kristatos is an opium smuggler. After this, Bond goes to Melina, who has found the St. Georges. They are attacked by Kristatos and left for dead. Kristatos takes the ATAC device with him and plans to sell it to the KGB. Bond, Columbo and Melina must now find a way to climb to St. Cyrils, an abandoned mountaintop monastery, before the Russians arrive to pick up the ATAC.
I said above this is a reboot. The last three Bond films before this had become increasingly silly. The villains were crazed circus freaks or misanthropic billionaires who wanted to wipe out the human race for no real reason. They had laughably stupid plans. Their henchmen came from comic books. The action was more funny than tense. Moore played Bond as a fop who issued snippy one-liners when people died and who simply wandered through the plot as it solved itself. This film threw all of that out the window.

In fact, For Your Eyes Only signals that this is what it’s doing right in the opening. The film opens with Moore escaping an assassination attempt from Blofeld, who uses a remote control helicopter. Bond turns the tables on Blofeld. And right before he dies, Blofeld spits out a truly stupid line: “I’ll buy you a delicatessen... in stainless steel!” Bond then dumps him down a chimney stack to his death. Roll credits, begin the film. This feels like a statement. A lot of people see it as a shot at Kevin McClory, who claimed ownership of the Blofeld character, but really this feels like a statement that the ridiculous Bond was finished. All the silliness got tossed down that chimney and from here on out, there would be no more clownery... Bond would become a serious spy in the mold of the best Connery had to offer. And that is exactly what happens. Observe.
First of all, this plot makes for an extremely good spy thriller. Of course, there are some holes – like why they couldn’t just change the launch systems in the subs, but you can ignore those because that’s not what the film is about. The film is about recovering the device, which is the same idea behind From Russia With Love. The film is fast-paced too as Bond and the villains play cat and mouse throughout. There is more tension in this film than there has been in any Bond film since Thunderball. Bond is serious, challenged, professional and merciless... as he was in Dr. No. The plot is topical and believable. The villains are strong and edgy. There are some iconic moments, like the underwater scenes which are easily the best in the entire series, even beating those in Thunderball. The travelogue feel returns strongly with this film too. And the whole thing is extremely satisfying. In fact, if it weren’t for one big flaw, this film could easily rank in the top three. What flaw?

Moore.

Bond Quality: This is Moore’s fifth film and it’s the first one he took seriously since Live and Let Die. And in the scenes where he’s playing the spy opposite Kristatos, Columbo or Locque, he does an excellent job. This time, he doesn’t come across as prissy or snippy. Instead, he plays the character in a relentless, professional manner that is reminiscent of Dr. No. And for once, he’s physical. You also actually believe he can kill someone in cold blood in this film. And in fact, he does that to Locque, in a scene that’s unlike anything in his prior films as he mercilessly pushes the man over the cliff. He is what Connery was in Dr. No... suave and cool, but also professional, cold-blooded and merciless.
So how is Moore the flaw? To put it simply: age. At this point, Moore comes across like the protective father of grownup daughters. He walks, instead of runs. He counsels caution instead of fighting. He still seems perfectly content to let the women around him do his fighting. He wears granny glasses. And he seems ill-at-ease with women. In fact, the biggest mistake the film made was pairing him with young Olympian Bibi Dahl. He comes across as far too old for her, and far too fatherly, and when she throws herself at him, it feels really creepy; it highlights just how old and uncool he has become. It’s even worse that she’s just using him to try to make the East German athlete jealous. That makes him the fool or the over-matched babysitter. She should have been stripped from the film... actually, Moore should have been replaced with someone younger.
The Bond Girl: The main Bond girl is Carole Bouquet as Melina Havelock, who is the daughter of the murdered marine archaeologist who was looking for the ATAC. She’s Greek and thus is supposed to be passionate and driven by the burning fire of revenge. Unfortunately, she’s a little too stiff for that to work. She also has zero chemistry with Moore, which probably isn’t her fault. Fortunately, she’s absent from large portions of the film.

Villain Quality: Julian Glover is an accomplished actor at playing villains in big budget films. He was Gen. Veers in The Empire Strikes Back and Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He even tested for Bond before Moore got the role. And he does an excellent job as Kristatos. Kristatos is a well-connected Greek businessman and informant for MI-6. His loyalty appears beyond question, yet Glover injects just enough ego into Kristatos that you wonder what he’s really up to. There is also something off in the way he acts toward Bibi and her handler, which belies the grandfatherly proclamations and suggests a villainous core. These acting choices give real depth to the character, something you rarely have in Bond villains.
Then you add his back-story. A freedom fighter who sold out Greece to the communists and acted as a double agent against the British... a smuggler of opium... a cold-blooded killer... those are all things that make this character come alive, especially as he doesn’t act maniacal. In many ways, Kristatos seems modeled on Largo from Thunderball, right down to having a young “niece” living with him. But to Glover’s credit you not only don’t notice that he’s a copy, but he makes his version into the most realistic villain since Largo.

His scheme is highly believable as well. Indeed, just as with From Russia With Love, this is exactly the kind of thing audiences think spies are busy doing all the time. And the stakes, though probably phony, are presented as sufficiently high and sufficiently believable to present the audience with a good deal of tension: “If the Russians get this, then they can launch British nuclear missiles!” Those are big stakes, and the film does an excellent job of making the action which underpins the plot feel believable as well. This time, there is no army of unexplainable henchmen, no volcano lair, no nonsense plan to destroy the planet, and no insanity in Kristatos’s character. He is simply a smuggler and a traitor who wants to recover something the Soviets would want very, very badly. That makes him an excellent villain.
In the end, what you have here is a very smart film that tosses away the silliness and excesses of the past twenty years. And in the process, I believe, they saved the franchise. If they hadn’t rebooted the series here, I suspect the Bond franchise would have simply vanished as a forgotten franchise that got too silly for its own good and burned out on volcano layers and space stations. This film... this reboot... changed the direction of the series back to a direction it hadn’t been since the 1960s by taking its scheme from From Russia With Love, its villain from Thunderball, and its Bond from Dr. No. Add in the fast-paced script, the great underwater effects and the strong physical ending, and the result is a very strong film... one of the best. Indeed, if they had swapped out Moore for someone less fatherly and more comfortable around women, this could easily be remembered as one of the best Bond films ever.

But they didn’t. And that’s why this film sits at No. 007 of 0023.

30 comments:

Dave Olson said...

It's worthy of a top-5 finish, but I'm biased. This is the first Bond film I saw in the theater at the tender age of 10. I don't remember how many Bonds I'd seen on TV (if any) in those pre-home-video days; it just seemed like a cool movie to see. It was an excellent introduction to the world of "Universal Exports".

Had Moore been a few years younger, I think he really could have pulled this one off. But he was 53 during filming, and back in those days "fifty-whatever" wasn't the new "thirty-whatever", it actually meant 53. He really looked old, and gave an impression of frailty. Bond's flirtations with young Bibi now seem unbelievably creepy. (Side note: Peter Capaldi, the new Doctor Who is 55 years old, the same age as William Hartnell when he got the role. Liam Neeson was also about 55 when he was filming Taken. The mid-50s ain't what they used to be.)

FYEO is astoundingly good when you realize that the ATAC is just a MacGuffin. There are no ticking clocks on nuclear bombs or nerve gas satellites (huh?) to stop. Everyone's chasing the MacGuffin, the thing that moves the plot forward. And a few missteps aside (the hockey player charging the Zamboni to get to Bond) they cranked out a helluva movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, Agreed. The hockey player thing is a minor misstep, but beyond that, this movie holds your attention with its story because it feels so plausible, real and tense. At each turn, it gets stronger. That's something new for Moore films at this point.

And I agree completely about the age issue. Neeson is currently older than Moore was when he made this film and yet he comes across as tough and menacing. Moore, on the other hand, started to come across as frail by this point. And yeah, the Bibi stuff feels amazingly creepy. It wouldn't have felt creepy if this has been the same Moore as from Live and Let Die, but this many years later, Moore was just too old to be flirting with a near-teenager.

shawn said...

Good review Andrew, I would have to say that this is probably my favorite Moore Bond. The only true downfall of the film as has been pointed out, Moore was starting to look like he was past his sell-by date.

PikeBishop said...

The extended moutain climbing sequence is IMHO the most intense, nail-biting extended sequence in the entire franchise! Kudos to the director and the editors.

ScottDS said...

I've always been biased against this movie but only because, whenever a Bond marathon would air on TV, it always seemed like THIS movie was the one that played the most. The repetition annoyed me, I guess. Thankfully, it's a good movie!

Topol is always fun to watch, though with the Bibi stuff, it's like, "They were going to go there?"

And this was the first Bond film with Peter Lamont as production designer. He had worked as an art director or set decorator on most of the previous films and his design aesthetic was more practical than that of Ken Adam... which meant Moonraker was the last Bond film with really far-out sets and design. This film took all that back to Earth (literally!).

ScottDS said...

Pike -

This was the first Bond film directed by John Glen, who had worked on some of the previous films as - you guessed it - an editor!

Tennessee Jed said...

this is an interesting review, Andrew. When I look at the fact it was Roger Moore's 5th film, and when it was made, I realize a couple of things: first I gave up on Bond for a while (quite a while actually.) And when I mean "gave up" I mean there are several Roger Moore films and Tim Daulton films I did not view in the theater. It occurs to me I probably have never seen this one all the way through, though I have seen portions during marathons. You assessment sounds like it makes a lot of sense even if the plot has absolutely nothing to do with the version Ian Fleming wrote beyond the title. Look, I have always agreed that Bond should be a cruel cold blooded killer who happens to be erudite and enjoys fine tobacco, alcoholic beverages, and, of course, women. Connery and Craig do the cruel violent part better. Moore and Brosnan did the erudite "classy" Brit side well. Lazenby and Daulton were just oddities. So, your assessment that this could have been a really good Bond film had they not stuck with Moore too long seems completely valid. That sounds like the recipe for a re-make, to me.

Tennessee Jed said...

By the way, if I may be permitted a brief aside .... since I know many readers of this site are fans, I wanted to remind people that BBC will begin airing season 3 of "Sherlock" at 10:00 p.m. eastern on Sunday, January 19th. As you know, this series gets the notion of placing Holmes and Watson in the 21st century exactly right. It is vastly superior to CBS' "Elementary" which foisted a female Watson on potential viewers like myself, killing any chance I would ever stay with it beyond the original pilot.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Shawn! I too think this is Moore's best film. If only he had been younger, this would have been a tremendous film. As it is, it's a very good film, it just has some moments that don't feel right.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, The mountain climbing scene really is a nail biter and makes for a fantastic ending to an otherwise excellently understated film. Had they tried this in Moonraker, I'll bet they would have given him a jet pack instead.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, They showed it a lot because it's a very popular film. This and Live and Let Die are the two Moores that always get mixed in with the Connery's during the Bond-athons.

It definitely shows that Glenn was an editors because none of these scenes ramble on, as is so often the case in films.

Yeah, the Bibi stuff really doesn't fit.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, This film represents a real change in the series. Before this, the series had gotten laughable and bizarre. This film brought it back to the more real-life stories. As I say, the one problem is that Moore really is too old for the role at this point. But otherwise, this is an excellent film.

In terms of not being related to the books, I get the sense that the filmmakers only ever cared about the titles to the book and the character, so I never judges the series by the books... also haven't read them all.

Thanks for the warning on Sherlock! I've enjoyed that a lot.

tryanmax said...

I admit I'm still slogging through the Moore films and haven't reached this one yet. At least I have something positive to look forward to.

AndrewPrice said...

The Moores were easier to take growing up because they were the current Bond so they seemed kind of normal. They didn't feel much like the Connery films, but they were ok. Then Dalton came along and was so much worse, so the Moores still seemed good. The Bronsnan's were better, but flat. But by the time Craig came along, the Moores really stuck out as a joke.

Tennessee Jed said...

no question they only used the titles. And that is not entirely a bad thing. Several were more short stories than novels. Hell, even the novels were pretty concise. Only the original Connery films followed the books.Of course it is like a lot of those things. I remember Connery as the original Bond, and those early stories as great cold war spy books featuring the "lone wolf" who, as one might expect, enjoyed life to the fullest since it could end at any time. For me, just like with cowboys, he might be a bit politically incorrect, but Bond was a hero since he did it for King & Country."

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, I think you hit the nail squarely with the hammer on this one. (Except that I would've rated it higher, but that's just me.)
A few points:

-I believe this is the only movie with the guts to make the Soviets the bad guys. Quite a bold move.

-I really can't agree about your plot hole assessment concerning the ATAC, or Dave's comment that it's only a MacGuffin. The ATAC reminds me of the Nazi's Enigma device from WWII. (Whether it's based on it or not, I'm not sure.) But remember, this was still the mostly mechanical age of computers. As an example, the Enigma was so unique (it took 20 years to develop), that simply replacing it with a system that was completely different in a short time was impossible. The Germans attempted adding more rotors, but once the UK's physists at Bletchley Park had the foundation down, (from careful analysis and captured devices), any variations were cracked within months.
Similarly, (even 40 years later), the Brits would be faced with either blacking out their fleet, running the risk of fake dispatches being sent through their supposedly secure system until a new system was ready- likely a few years away, or making minor changes that would only hold off the Soviets for a few months at a time in the best scenario, if the ATAC was compromised. (Since when have governments worried about having backups?)
As mentioned, this was still the mechanical age, so swapping software wasn't an option. Like 'Red Dawn,'this seems to be a very plausible danger for the time.
However, I would draw the line at British subs firing missiles at allied cities. I'm sure the Royal Navy is smarter than that. Still, the idea of the system being compromised is a genuine danger enough.

(continued...)

Rustbelt said...

-Melina Havelock is easily one of my favorite Bond girls- mainly for being exotically easy on the eyes. She isn't just a mindless pretty face or an annoying femiNazi. She sets out on a revenge quest until Bond asks her to hold off so he can complete his mission. Afterwards, she brings her own intelligence and skills where they can help the most.
My only problem is, during the rock climbing scene, (resist...urge...to make...obvious reference...), after Columbo says he has only a few men, she says "and one woman." To me, that line just seems out of place. I'd expect lines like more so in Brosnan's overly-feminist 90's films.

-Kristatos is just a terrific villain. 'Nuff said. Like you mentioned, he's not just another world conquest type. Like Scaramanga, he has an actual goal. (And as Lawrence Meyers noted, unlike Goldfinger and Scaramanga, he's not an insecure crook looking for affirmation.) Like real-life traitors Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansson, he's playing both sides off each other and he loves it.
And if I could have a George Lucas-bashing moment, Glover's General Veers character was supposed to come back in early drafts of 'Jedi' (Veers is wounded on Hoth and ended up in a hoverchair after losing his legs.) He and Admiral Piett were apparently in on a plan with the Emperor that included the replacing of Vader with Luke. (So was Moff Jerjerrod- who gets the Admiral-Ozzel-Force-strangle-treatment for trying to follow orders and deny Vader access to the Emperor.) But that's just too good a plot and leave it to George to throw it all out. He apparently felt that all Imperial officers should be interchangeable clones of the system. (He only kept Piett after a massive fan petition to bring the character back.)

Okay, back to the topic at hand...

-My only other thought is how Lazenby may have handled this film. This are several tense moments where Bond is trying to elude his pursuers. As Backthrow and I mentioned, the scene of a vulnerable Bond in OHMSS was definitely one of Lazenby's strong points. Maybe a script like this could've cemented him as Connery's successor. Who knows?

-And as an observation...I noticed last year that when this movie ran on the soon-to-be-defunct G4 Network, the editors always removed the ski jump scene, likely for time purposes. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?! That scene rocks! No wonder that channel's on its way out!

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I guess it depends on what you are hoping for before you can say if it's a problem that they only take titles. If you're looking to see the books on screen, then it would definitely be annoying.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, The stolen ATAC system works for the film. It's menacing enough and real enough to give the film high enough stakes to make you care. In reality though, I'm pretty sure the Brits would have found a replacement system fairly easily. But it sure sounds horrible and it's believable.

That line doesn't bother me on the rock climbing scene. I don't see it as a feminist statement at all, I see it as her adding herself into his equation in a "don't you dare count me out" sort of way.

Glover was certainly underused by Lucas, but that's no surprise. Lucas really isn't a good storyteller.

Anonymous said...

Andrew you misunderstand Rustbelt, in 1981losing the ATAC would have taken down the British system, because changes to targeting was a manual, mechanical process. Even during the first Gulf War in 1991retargeting cruise missiles meant you had to physically remove them from launch tubes and change settings in the guidance systems, think pin settings on a hard drive. By the time of the Iraq war in 2003 targets could be changed by software without actually physically touching the equipment

Backthrow said...

I agree, FYEO was the best showing for Moore (on his best behavior) as Bond, has a good story, Carole Bouquet was one of the most drop-dead gorgeous Bond women in the series, Topol and Julian Glover were good, and the film overall ranks in the higher zone of the films in the series, though I wouldn't personally place it quite this high. Moore was a bit too old, true, and he's as cold/ruthless as was possible for him, but I think he still comes across as a little lightweight to be totally believable in doing such things as kicking the car off the cliff, and a more youthful Moore in the same film would not mitigate this very much, in my eyes.

I get what Andrew's saying about the smokestack-dumping of (the unnamed) Blofeld in the pre-credits sequence as a metaphor for severing ties with the previous goofy Moore vehicles; whether that was its true purpose, or a jab at Kevin McClory (or a two-fer) is arguable, but it's still totally stupid, and undercuts the good start with Bond at Tracy's grave. It's not as bad as the slide-whistle during TMWTGG bridge-jump, but it's close. That's not the only residual stupidity in the film; there's also Bond's grade-school antics in Q's lab, and the Bibi Dahl stuff was dumb, even without Moore's age difference being a factor... what a lousy actress and a stupid character.

Great theme song by Sheena Easton, and the rest of the score is serviceable, but John Barry is missed. The climax is thrilling, but not quite as much to me now that I know that the same exact location was used for a similar action climax (except with hang gliders) just 5 years earlier in the James Coburn movie, SKY RIDERS (1976). I don't expect most people to know (or care) about that, and it doesn't make the FYEO climax bad by any means, but it takes a bit of the shine off of it for me. Probably John Glen's best directorial effort, but it's workmanlike... it does the job, but doesn't quite have the visual flair of some of the other films, foreshadowing the '80s entries yet to come.

ScottDS said...

Jed -

I don't watch Elementary but I've heard it's surprisingly good, despite the fact they made Watson female (which doesn't bother me, but I'm not a hardcore Holmes fan to begin with). :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, If that's the case though, then having the ATAC wouldn't have mattered because the Russians couldn't use it to re-aim the missiles. All they could do would be send a phony launch signal to the crew, which would get the British to nuke their targets in Russia... unless the British put a different safeguard in place.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I agree about the opening. I find it painful, unpleasant and otherwise unfitting the rest of the film.

As for younger Moore, he would have been better able to handle Bibi, but he was never particularly cold-blooded.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, that's entirely correct, if the Soviets had the ATAC it would effectively render the British nuclear deterrent ineffective. With the state of technology at the time it would have taken several years to bring something else online, unless they were ready to replace ATAC with something new or willing to use an American or French system.

Kenn Christenson said...

Definitely, my favorite Bond film (not because of Bond, but because of the twists and turns in the story, and of course: TOPOL! - one of my favorite character actors.)

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Either way, it's enough to make the movie feel like it has high stakes that are worth sending Bond.

AndrewPrice said...

Kenn, I love Topol, especially in Flash Gordon.

Kenn Christenson said...

Agreed, Andrew. I was one of those people, late to finally viewing "Fiddler on the Roof." I was blown away by his performance. The guy just brings an authenticity to even the most outlandish parts.

AndrewPrice said...

Kenn, Sorry about that. Your comment got caught by the spam filter and I haven't been online the past couple days.

I agree about Topol. He makes every role believable, no matter how "out there" the role might be.

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