Once James Bond has been to space, where can he possibly go next? Back down to Earth, of course.
So went the popular line about 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, a more Earthbound Bond adventure in both setting and tone. Two years earlier, the Bond franchise had devolved into pure cartoon with Moonraker’s space adventure and Looney Tunes humor and been rewarded handsomely for it at the box office. No Roger Moore movie before or after matched Moonraker’s worldwide gross, but it was also his most expensive.
Longtime franchise producer Cubby Broccoli felt that both financially and creatively the Bond films had been pushed to their limit. “We were overcrowding the public on fantasy and outer space,” he said of Moonraker. “I found it very boring too. It might suit somebody else but it didn’t have to be Bond. Everyone keeps saying, ‘When are you going to do another From Russia With Love type of thing?’ So we’re trying the adventure, Hitchcockian sort of thing, full of suspense, excitement, and thrills.”
Bond distributor United Artists agreed. A lot had changed in just the short time after Moonraker’s production. Michael Cimino’s 1980 fiasco Heaven’s Gate nearly bankrupted the studio. Outside of the industry, there was a global financial crisis, rising oil prices, and increased inflation. So, basically, not the best time for another sci-fi Bond movie. Also, not the best time to bring back anyone who’d grown too expensive.
Thus, For Your Eyes Only was made by either new-to-the-franchise or newly-promoted filmmakers – like longtime Bond editor, first-time director John Glen and longtime Bond art director, first-time production designer Peter Lamont. All of the young blood injected new energy into the picture. They were almost joined by a new, presumably cheaper leading man as well. Cubby reached out to Timothy Dalton.
Actors like Ian Ogilvy, Lewis Collins, and Michael Billington were also considered. Looking back on it, Roger Moore joked, “It didn’t bother me as I knew Cubby would never find anyone who would work as cheaply as I did.”
He was right. The chess game between Broccoli and Moore’s agent ended with Roger coming back for one last movie…until the next time (Octopussy) and then the next, truly final time (A View to a Kill). Once he finally resigned his 007 commission, turned in his Walther PPK, and lived out a life of semi-retirement, Moore looked back on his time in Sean Connery’s shadow and declared 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me to be his favorite Bond picture.
Ask the fans, however, to name his best movie and the leading contenders are The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only, because those are the quote-unquote “serious” Roger Moore Bond movies. Some are inclined to go against that particular grain and advocate on behalf of his silliest, Moonraker aka Bond in Space. Not me. (For my take on Moonraker, come back tomorrow.) However, bad ones, good ones, silly ones – I struggle a little with all Roger Moore Bond movies.
Roger Moore’s Best Movie?
Before Daniel Craig and his sculpted abs came along, no actor had played James Bond longer and without interruption than Roger Moore. For over a decade, he kept the Bond world safe from the wretched villainy of Russians, industrialists, and, most importantly, audience indifference. His films were immensely popular in their time and steady financial performers. In the decades after he left the role, he became a philanthropist with UNICEF but was always willing to share the war stories from his days manning the trenches of 007 Studios. Few Bond actors, it turns out, were ever as charming and witty in real life as Roger Moore, who passed away in 2017.
Yet, whenever you look up James Bond movie rankings, the Sean Connery and Craig pictures duke it out for supremacy while stray efforts like Pierce Brosnan’s GoldenEye and George Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service typically fill out the rest of the 10 best. The Roger Moore pictures are often absent entirely. Personal tastes vary, of course, and no “Best James Bond” list is identical to the next. However, there does seem to be an argument in the fandom as to whether Moore ever made a truly great James Bond movie.
Personally, I quite like For Your Eyes Only. It’s a solid gun-and-run picture that sends Bond to beautiful locations in the Alps and Greece as he deals with standard spy stuff like double agents, betrayals, and a dangerous MacGuffin. The standard Bond recipe – beautiful women, fight scenes, car chases, underwater expeditions, dangerous skiing – is honored. There is some edge-of-your-seat stunt work involving Roger Moore’s double and another stuntman teetering on the edge of oblivion during a rock climbing sequence.
We get a Bond girl (Carole Bouquet’s Melina Havelock) with an agency – and crossbow! – all her own. Unlike later Bond adventures such as License to Kill and Quantum of Solace, it’s solely the Bond girl – not Bond or maybe Bond AND the girl – on a vengeance quest. When she sees her parents shot down near the beginning of the film, she flashes the camera her best “Revenge!” face and we’re on to a proto-Huntress origin story.
All solid stuff for a 1981 Moore movie. Oh, oh – plus, I still can’t stop humming the title song:
I struggle, however, to regard For Your Eyes Only as a truly great Bond movie, one of the all-time best and all that. My hesitation is mostly because of Moore himself.
Liking, But Not Loving the Leading Man
To explain why, I point to Moore’s anecdote from his The Many Lives of James Bond interview:
Just after I had been announced as Bond, I took my eldest son to the White Elephant in London. He looked around the room and said, “Dad, could you beat up everyone here?” I looked around. They seemed a pretty frail bunch of folks so I said, “Yes, sure.” He then asked, “What about James Bond?” I then explained that I was going to be James Bond. “No!” he protested. “I mean the real James Bond, Sean Connery.”
It’s a typically self-effacing tale from Moore. Once when asked how much his and James Bond’s personalities converged, he joked, “When I played the part, he looked and sounded like me. That’s where the similarities began and ended.” When discussing how exactly the A View to a Kill production talked San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein into allowing them to stage a murder scene as well as a very dangerous fire on one floor of the City Hall building, he quipped, “She was one of the few who preferred my Bond over Connery’s.”
He was a one man show with his Bond jokes, really. However, if not even Roger Moore’s own son could manage to see him as the real James Bond I’m a little more secure in admitting I feel the same way. If I’d grown up with his Bond instead of watching all of his films for the first time as an adult for this marathon, I might feel differently. As it is, while I appreciate his gift for wit, his interpretation of Bond as more unflappable wiseass than spy isn’t my cup of tea.
It’s not just “he’s not Sean Connery/Timothy Dalton/Daniel Craig” syndrome though. Moore’s version of acting – “I honestly don’t read into it. I look at the script, talk to the director, and just say the lines,” he told Many Lives – always keeps me at an arm’s length from connecting with his Bond as an actual person. Granted, if you’re watching a Bond movie – particularly the older ones – in search of a truly relatable person instead of a pure fantasy figure at the center you might be watching it wrong. But Moore, less so than any other Bond I’ve seen, can’t be bothered to take anything he does remotely serious. That’s sometimes at the expense of his movies which are actually trying for a modicum of depth and intrigue.
That’s part of the charm of the Roger Moore pictures, though. If you, for example, thought a back-to-basics, gritty spy story with an overly intricate plot like For Your Eyes Only would stop his Bond from a Keystone Cops routine involving would-be assassins on ice, hockey costumes, and a zamboni, you thought wrong. His films follow a simple philosophy: hit the audiences with the thrill, and then get them with the laugh.
Moore Goes Dark
That’s why Moore fought them so hard on For Your Eyes Only’s most memorable moment. Bond successfully outsmarts a would-be assassin into nearly driving completely off the edge of a mountain, and rather than offer assistance he provides the final kick the car needs to send the bastard to his demise. John Glen and his writers – Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, authors of just the second Bond screenplay to earn a WGA nomination – thought it made sense. Earlier in the picture, the assassin knocked off one of Bond’s friends. This is payback. The bad guy deserves it.
Yeah, but there might be kids in the audience. “Although it’s Bond, I thought it was a bit un-Roger Moore Bond to kick a car over with someone in it,” the star later said in the film’s making of featurette. They compromised and filmed it two different ways – 1. Bond tosses a pin into the car to alter the balance just enough, 2. Bond kicks the car over the edge – and then put both of them into the movie. To his credit, Moore plays the sequence honestly and doesn’t step over his follow-up quip: “He had no head for heights.”
However, there’s an unrealized potential there. This is a movie that actually opens with Bond mourning his dead wife from On Her Majesty’s Service and then almost instantly achieving his revenge by dropping an uncredited Blofeld – whose remote control helicopter attack really backfires – down a damn smokestack. Later, when Bond’s friend is killed he takes no mercy on the murderer and sends him to a violent end. Yet, on the other side of the picture he warns Melina, with no real explicit sense that he’s actually referring to his experiences elsewhere in the movie: “The Chinese have a saying; “Before setting off on revenge, you first dig two graves!”
They could have had Quantum of Solace decades earlier, but they didn’t because that’s not the kind of Bond Moore played. Then again, when I start dipping into “I wish it could have been more like something made in 2008” I might be working too hard to find things not to like about For Your Eyes Only.
But I Really, Really Like For Your Eyes Only
Because, dangit, this is a truly solid Bond movie, putting 007 on a fetch quest that sees initial allies turn into villains and vice versa. There are precious few gadgets, no sci-fi cars, instead an alternately thrilling/hilarious car chase that puts Bond inside an entirely pedestrian vehicle. A nighttime raid turns into one of the largest hand-to-hand fight sequences in franchise history to that point. Julian Glover capably performs as a perfectly opportunistic big bad, and freakin’ Topol from Fiddler on the Roof entertains as a charismatic frenemy. (“I found, for the first time in my life, that filmmaking can really be fun” is Topol’s quote in Nobody Does It Better.)
Plus, no surprise since this is a John Glen movie, there is an action sequence which ranks with the best I’ve seen from the franchise thus far. Bond and Melina end up captured, tied together, and keelhauled behind the bad guy’s ship as part of an especially cruel death-by-shark routine. Really, the villains should just shoot him in the head. He always gets out of these things. The way he does here, however, is particularly exhilerating:
Does all of that add up to the best Roger Moore Bond movie, though? Wait till we get to Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me. Spoiler: we’re not going to pick Moonraker.
Thoughts on the Bond Women: Lynn Holly Johnson’s Bibi Dahl is an attempt at a much younger and astonishingly sexually aggressive presence that forces even Bond to draw the line at full-on Lolita. Some find the effect to be a fun, clever deconstruction. Others – like, reportedly, Moore himself while filming his scenes with Johnson – find it uncomfortable. I’m in the latter. The late Cassandra Harris puts in lovely work as the doomed Countess but suffers from created-just-to-die syndrome. Carole Bouquet’s Melina Havelock predicts Olga Kurylenko’s Quantum of Solace vengeance-seeker by a good quarter-century and still plays as surprisingly progressive today, though the tacked-on romance at the end hews to a disappointing formula.
Ian Fleming Connection: The screenplay is cobbled together from two Fleming short stories – “For Your Eyes Only” and “Risco” – as well as unused bits from the 007 novels, specifically the keelhaul sequence from the Live and Let Die novel. “That scene had been in and out of Bond scripts for as long as I can remember,” John Glen said. “It’s a scene no one wanted to shoot, except for Cubby. The reason was because it was such a complex sequence to shoot with no guarantee you were going to get it.”
Bond Song Thoughts: Having heard the “For Your Eyes Only” song for years, I’d always assumed Sheena Easton’s top 5 Billboard hit came from an especially romantic Bond movie about some fight over top-secret government intel. Clearly, I thought wrong. Oh, well. I still love the song and the way composer Bill Conti weaves the melody throughout the movie.
Coolest Scene: Keelhaul.
Favorite Line: “I love a good drive in the country, don’t you?”
Biggest regret: That they didn’t give us more of Glover’s henchman Eric Kreigler (John Wyman), an Olympic athlete with KGB connections and abs of steel.
Little Known Fact: Ever wonder why the camera seems to linger on the attractive flower shop employee, a character who pops up for one brief interaction with Bond only to never return?
She was a Playboy contest winner!
“I was reading Playboy and I was always a pageant buff, but I never dreamed that I would get a role in a James Bond movie,” Robbin Young told the authors of Nobody Does It Better. “Three thousand entrants, and a long process, because I didn’t hear from Playboy for about three months. Three of us were selected to go to California for a screen test, and then I was selected. It’s like a dream: a girl from Fort Lauderdale getting a part in a Bond film.”
Box Office: $195.3 million worldwide ($551.6m adjusted for inflation) compared to $210.3m ($744.4 inflation-adjusted) for Moonraker
Sources: Nobody Does It Better, The Ultimate Guide to Bond, Some Kind of Hero, The Many Lives of James Bond
James Bond Will Return Tomorrow in: Moonraker