No, sorry, that’s the Barbara Broccoli way.
If you’re her father, you just plough on turning out Bond Films every couple of years because that’s mysteriously The Law, progressively less spectacular ones until you can’t afford to give Timothy Dalton a proper haircut, or story, and the series stalls. Mediocre returns and critical indifference await. I don’t pretend to know about the studio economic politik of the 1980s, largely because that would render me a fatuous dullard and “the” Internet already has more than enough of those, and of course it’s on record that 1989-1995 coincided with yet more litigation, Bond attracting as many lawyers as he does bullets. Yet so often is that dispute wheeled out as the explanation for the lack of production activity that one wonders if it’s a bit of a cover story, a convenient ruse for self-denying the truth that, starting with For Your Eyes Only, Bond was gently but horribly complacently driving itself into the ground, coasting along in neutral with the odd blip here and there on the accelerator, gathering some cash but running out of road, fuel and audience captivation in equal measures. Studio bankruptcy and creative bankruptcy going hand in hand. After eleven films, we can churn out any old dross, slap a gunbarrel on it to make it A. Bond. Film to draw the core punters in, and get away with it. Making it look effortless (The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker) is different to actually making it without any effort.
This isn’t to say that parts of the Bond Films of the 1980s aren’t appealing but, when it comes to it, they’re just yet another five Bond Films to watch. Despite pretence in each film at trying new stuff out (For Your Eyes Only – “seriousness”; Octopussy – “turbo-racism”; A View to a Kill – “quiche”; The Living Daylights – “an hour of mesmeric brilliance followed by an hour of the usual tat” and Licence to Kill – “shameful cowardice”), in essence they deviate very little from the previous eleven. Even the ostensibly “radical” Licence to Kill is teat-suckingly dependent on being A. Bond. Film, with all the decades of reheated canker that comes with that idea, and totally to its disadvantage.
For Your Eyes Only represents very little progress from Moonraker.
If it’s progress they wanted. It seems to be the case that “they” were trying to convince us – if not themselves – that it was a hugely dramatic step change from the previous film, that daft and harmless circus in which a terrified woman is ripped apart by Dobermans. When it comes to it, the claims that it’s a more adult Bond largely arise from its rich vein of paedophilia rather than any overall thematic seriousness. It’s still more smiley than it is Smiley and any retrenching from many of Moonraker’s more creative moments is only because they cost a lot of money, rather than the result of any particularly convincing artistic decision to make it tougher, no matter how many times we are told this. Given that this film had less spent on it, on a pound-per-preposterousness basis, it’s a much, much more inane film than Moonraker could ever be, even in its most deluded brie-dream. All “serious” means is managing our expectations that this is going to involve less Space Laser Death Carnage and more padded blousons; it’s not Space Shuttles and nuclear subs, it’s a ZX81. It’s blowing up the Lotus because that’s Old Bad Silly Bond, but it’s having the world saved by a horrible screeching garrulous bird, played by Janet Brown. The “serious” action often pointed to, Bond kicking Locque’s car away, is tempered by the fact that in the last four Hopelessly Rubbish Turn One’s Back On Them films, he’s threatened to kill a girl just after sex, slapped a woman and threatened to break her arm, slapped a fat bald man from a roof and thrown a martial arts stereotype into some piano wire. It represents nothing new, just an absence of lasers. And joy.
What’s the message? We may have spent less but that doesn’t mean you have to, oh audience with your lovely money. At heart, this colossally cynical little film is as stupid as the previous one but whereas Moonraker tends to dance around gleefully, begarbed in very little, proudly waggling its craziness in our faces at such energised length that’s it’s hard not to jiggerboo along with it, For Your Eyes Only dishonestly tries to hide its dead-behind-the-eyes sameoldsameold Bond Film stupidity of soul in “themes of revenge” and “Cold War realpolitik” and “unremitting total guff about both”. This is a much more “damaging” film to the longevity of the series than Moonraker could ever be. No-one in their right minds would try to outdo Moonraker (albeit in 2002 they tried and accordingly demonstrated that it was impossible); where they could have gone after a plot to gas everyone on Earth from a space brothel is open to debate: blow up Uranus? Fnarr. But then no-one would contemplate that Moonraker was meant to be taken seriously. This thing wants to be, so very desperately wants to be, and is more ridiculous for it as a result, because instead of the Baumgartneresque plummet back from the stratosphere that its (inflicted) reputation would suggest it represents, its pretence at realism is hilariously incompetent. Moonraker one laughs with; afraid this one, it’s laugh at.
In being a reasonable success and thereby setting a style for the imminent moribund decade of smug they’ll-watch-any-old-thing-if-it’s-got-a-gunbarrel-on-it, For Your Eyes Only does stand for something in the Bond series, albeit not an admirable development. Of itself, on its own merits, we may unfortunately have reached with this, the twelfth film, the first unnecessary one. What would we miss, were it to meet with a little accident? Its 007th minute may help me work that out, because I’m a bit stumped, to be “honest”.
Prior to reaching the 007th minute, its hapless, confused nature and lack of certainty in vision is splayed before us for our “enjoyment”. Jazzed the gunbarrel up a bit – I do like the tune here, also Roger Moore’s resplendent troos – but when it comes down to it, it’s still the same thing again, isn’t it? Bit of ostensible seriousness with MooreBond laying flowers on another man’s wife’s grave, although I assume we’re meant to take from this that he is the same Bond bereaved at the end of OHMSS and therefore not “The Other Fella” but that Fella and a ) where did his accent go? and b ) no nasty comments about the acting quality, please. Indeed, in a total reverse of the Lazenby method, his being good at the drama and headbashingly poor at the jokes, again Moore’s deftness of touch does much to merit (if not justify) the creation of this film and yet his handling of some of the more (laughably described as) dramatic stuff is frail. Not to suggest he couldn’t do it – the Andrea Anders episode (whatever its morality) and the confrontation with Anya in the hotel are good, convincing stuff, but here, lecturing Melina about digging two graves and not killing Kristatos with a crossbow bolt to the brain, he comes across as stiffly paternal. Given the age gap, that’s understandable. One could be generous and suggest Roger Moore is playing it as James Bond knowingly being a self-hating hypocrite when he starts banging on about the demerits of revenge, hence the awkwardly wooden delivery of such material and, as I don’t like being rude about Sir Roger Moore because he is a better man than I will ever be, I will be that generous. It’s the least I can do, really. Still, given that this revenge stuff is meant to be a “theme”, the handling of it is duff and stilted.
And, for that matter, confused. No, Melina, taking a crossbow to some underwhelming crook is not the way, and remember those two graves I droned on about? Revenge is BAD. Learn this, young ones in the audience. REVENGE IS NAUGHTY and it will eat your soul and kill your mummy and melt all your Lego. Just don’t. Oh, hang on, dumping a cripple down a chimney and/or booting a Mercedes to its doom and/or piking a man (this is not a euphemism) through a stained glass window (…could be a euphemism, hmm), these show that REVENGE IS GREAT. You just have to do it in a more spectacular way than firing an arrow; ideally you need stuntmen and/or special effects teams on hand. Revenge is only any good if it’s really show-offy and expensive? What an unusual message to give. Strange film.
I suppose Moore staring at the gravestone in contemplation is meant to front up this idea of the price of revenge and it eating away at one but it doesn’t really look like anything’s been eating away at Rog since we last saw him, wrapped lithely in yellow rubber and attempting re-entry; quite the opposite. Not just the knitwear that’s a bit chunky in this film, is it? Four Pork Pies Only. Yet to reach Connery’s level of being whale-and-hearty but I think it’s trying to tell us that, amongst its many inconsistent attributes, revenge does tend to make you hit the biccies. Pity there’s no weightlessness in this film. Additionally, he’s a ) very blond throughout much of this so in the hair colour, girth, mysterious levels of attraction and avuncular buffoonery he may as well be played by Boris Johnson and b ) he looks, like most of the cast, absolutely knackered. He’s only three seconds in and all the skiing and swimming and climbing and acting is yet to come. No wonder Melina is a bit stand-offish towards him for most of the film: she knows it would be a mistake to bed him as he might fall asleep or, worse, die. She also doesn’t trust herself not to keep going, if he does. She is a bit, y’know, damaged. We’ve already got paedophilia in here, why not necrophilia? If you don’t think that’s an appropriate theme for a Bond story, read Carte Blanche (although that’s not an appropriate excuse for a Bond story).
Right, so Tracy Bond’s buried in England, a country with which she appears to have no connection and simply because her husband of four minutes, a Scottish Australian Englishman, seems to think this is justified. Moving swiftly on from the attempt at continuity holing itself below the waterline as effectively as any dredged-up mine would, Bond mounts a chopper whilst a priest watches him. Hmm. Oh look, Blofeld. Of course it’s bloody Blofeld and of course it’s a massive spoiler McClorywards to a ) kill him off and b ) make him look utterly ridiculous. Stuff Dr Evil; this sort of thing means that the days of the supervillain were numbered. Presumably wounded after the Diamonds are Forever oil rig cataclysm and having to spend days at sea bobbing up and down on a small buoy (…urr), here he comes with his magic Wheelchair of Death. Being in a wheelchair myself I’m not sure the depiction here is progressive and, given that it’s Blofeld’s ultimate undoing, a particularly sweet message to blurt out there – James Bond is much better than people in wheelchairs, everyone (remember: “realistic” “hard-edged” “gritty” film, yeah?) – although I have reconciled myself to it over the years by acknowledging that a ) given the abuse meted out by MooreBond to women, those of the international beige persuasion, dwarves, giants, Egyptian builders and, what the hell, some more women, it was physical disability’s “turn” and b ) I have never had a middle-aged man spear me roughly up the chair with his chopper (a buoy can dream, though). Nor do I like cats. Vermin. If a cat comes near me, I’ll do what I do with Jelly Babies and bite its spine out. Therefore I have learned to assume that it’s not an attack on my physical state. An attack on my mental state, yes. Just listen to the direlogue. It’s not badinage. It’s bloodyawful-inage.
Right, so pilot gets fried (albeit not toasted enough to stop him flying the thing in several subsequent shots) and we’re now flying remote control. We’re now producing Bond Films on remote control, so this is an appropriately cynical metaphor; give us your money, there was a gunbarrel and everyfink, Q’s coming up, you all love Q and his ker-azy gadgets, yeah? Cackly madness ensues, sounds like the cat’s got his claws in his nadgers, as does brave but way-beyond-believing-it’s-Roger-Moore-doing-it-now stuntwork and Moore administers some splendid “oh do shut up” expressions which pretty much rescue this very silly sequence. That’s it, scoop him up, cat flees (this is why I don’t like them: disloyal little runts, with flees) and, of course, we get the baffling offer to buy Bond a delicatessen, in stainless steel (no less). What is that, and why on Earth would Bond want one? It may admittedly be time to redo the kitchen – the dribbly espresso machine’s past its warranty, for a start – but, y’know, uh? Is Blofeld offering to buy him a shop? What is this, are these two bachelor men going to open a boutique olive emporium (in stainless steel, obviously) somewhere in The Cotswolds and, I dunno, pretend that they’re brothers to ward away gossip and spiteful children? “Very good friends” James and Ernst – he dropped an e. You’d have to drop an e to make sense of it.
Anyway, not giving the cinema audience enough time to look at each other in bemusement and ask each other whether they all heard what they thought they just heard or whether something disconcerting has been spliced in by Tyler Durden again, we chugchug on to realising Bond’s wearing a quite horrid co-respondent shirt – the clothes in this film are very nasty – and dumping Blofeld down a power station chimney. I think that the law of England & Wales would interpret that as an implicit rejection of your offer, Ern, it being a very much a Hyde v Wrench counter-offer of “No, I do not want your weird …thing; what I suggest instead is, y’know, die” – and just as Blofeld “gets off” (everyone gets their jollies somehow) and screams Mr Booooonnnnnnnnnddddddd we hit
0.06.00 – 0.07.00 For Your Eyes Only
Titles pretty much right on the second, and here’s Sheena Easton beginning to writhe her way up Roger Moore’s body. Sheena Easton was born in 1959. This James Bond was born in 1927 (bit of a track record for “this sort of thing” – we’ve just been told his wife was fifteen years younger than him. Hmm). There’s more – much more, Roger Moore – of this stuff to come. Notably, writhy Sheena is the youngest of Bond’s prey but you couldn’t tell: she doesn’t have pigtails and the way she’s molesting him would confuse him so. But she was sending out these signals, officer, really she was. And singing all the time about freeing her fantasy and colliding passions. What am I meant to do? It was only a friendly grope; honest. In comparison, Baby Doll (what a splendid joke, how tasteful) born in 1958 and Melina “The ‘tache” Havelock (1957) are terrible old hags and therefore fair game. If one believes that Moore is playing a man in his mid-forties the age-gap thing might not be quite so troubling but you have to get over the substantial hurdle of believing that Bond is anything other than 54 in looks, weight, manner and dress. Pretty good for 54, I’m unlikely to be in that sort of shape by then, but for 44 he’s looking wrecked.
Albert R. Broccoli is doing the presenting again and this time he’s presenting unto us Roger Moore as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007. Last whirl around the gift-that-never-stops-giving moneyglut, it was Roger Moore as James Bond 007 in Ian Fleming’s Moonraker, which plenty of people paid for, but few really bought (although there are more notes from that novel in there than the spaced-out stuff suggests). Strange, given its reasonably faithful adherence to For Your Eyes Only and Risico, that they went instead trying to convince us that Roger Moore was playing Fleming’s Bond. If anything, in the “return to Fleming”, that’s the least likely of all the film’s many unfulfilled claims. Fair enough, he does deliver some of the more memorable lines from both short stories, but Fleming’s Bond he isn’t. Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only Bond demonstrated challenge to the authority of a personally conflicted M and more irritation than kindness to Judy Havelock. The Risico Bond is a bit closer to Moore’s portrayal, swanning about Venice and whatnot, but the brutal chase through the Lido minefield would I suspect have been a bit beyond him by now. Whether Fleming’s Bond would have treated Bibi any differently could head off into very bleak territory, although it’s probable that he would just have been brutally rude, put her in her juvenile place and then completely ignored her. The Dalton and Craig Bonds wouldn’t have bought her an iced lolitapop, they would probably have administered a headbutt or strangled her with her own hair. Can’t help feeling that would have been well worth watching.
The mashing together of the two stories works OK, although what is left unexplained by the plot is why Kristatos hangs around waiting for Bond to retrieve the ATAC for him when he has more than enough resource to do this himself. I accept that he may not know the combination for the wire-cut and therefore arguably has to wait for someone to turn up, but it is a bit of a presumption therefore that the British will bother to recover the device, given that it’s made of metal and is underwater in crushing-pressure (but seemingly unaffected by this, oddly). Just lucky for him that they do, then. Further mystery lies in why James Bond is the only agent the British send after the device, given that they know full well where the boat sank. Everyone seems to wait around for him to stop pratting about in Cortina and actually bother to get on with things. Further further mystery beckons in why Kristatos spends so much time in Cortina trying to have Bond killed when he’s the only one who can retrieve the device for him and… I give up.
Unless, of course, the cost-cutting has hit here as well and 007 is indeed the only British agent left. One wonders where the budget’s gone although one look at the Q-branch cellar of crummy rubbish and it’s not hard to work out. Clue to The Treasury – don’t spend it all on giving Q the opportunity for stupid umbrellas and racism.
I suppose there’s something new in having the singer appear in the titles (although rumour has it – a rumour I’m starting - that Tom Jones is one of the naked women in the Thunderball titles). We’ve gone from Shirley Bassey to Sheena Easton, which seems to be a statement of economics and breadth of the scale of the thing more than an artistic one, although the song’s pleasant enough if a little wet (no pun intended) and the title sequence itself is a bit insipid, save for the patently naked woman at the end, its little bubbles being created by Maurice Binder breaking wind into a bucket of his own tears. Legend has it that to ensure Ms Easton remained still for the close up on her lips, Mr Binder nailgunned her feet to the floor and shoved a girder up her. This is acceptable conduct in the pursuit of art. It also happens to be untrue.
This film stars Carole Bouquet and it’s a distracted performance. I accept that the character has had its parents killed by a “Cuban hitman” but this she largely visited upon them by cadging a lift with Gonzales in the first place; something I’ve never really understood. Perhaps she wanted moustache grooming tips. There’s some dark character beats in acquiring herself a replacement father pretty bloody quickly, moving into really disturbing areas with a mutual disrobing at the end, and it’s probably best not to think about that too much. The ending does seem a bit out-of-character given the serious trauma the character has gone through, including shaving for the first time; it may ultimately have been better to have her and Bond end as friends rather than let 007 peek his turtle’s head from its shell, as there doesn’t seem to be a tremendous amount of chemistry nor mutual attraction up to that point. It has to happen, because it’s A. Bond. Film, but it’s not very convincing. I appreciate that it coincides with a spectacularly rancid scene involving a Thatcher impersonation and that is meant to distract us from concluding that without a naked Melina swimming around moistened old relics (“insert” Roger Moore joke … here), Bond’s only conquest in the film would have been Countess Lisl, which is forgettable even while it’s happening.
Topol’s in it too and that sly wink he gives at the end when pouring his nuts into Baby Doll’s hands; what are we to make of this? Deeply sinister, poor girl’s just being handed round a ring of middle-aged men, with a complicit lesbian tagging along behind, waiting for her to get back into the purple leotard. Well, this is family entertainment at its finest, isn’t it? Other than this, not that it should be ignored, the performance has some charm but he’s so evidently a good sort that any suspense about the shocking twist of who the villain might be is evaporated the moment Topol appears. He does liven up what was in danger of becoming a flat escapade and the first encounter with Bond on the boat is far and away the best scene in the film (there’s really not much competition though; only the keelhauling runs it close). On reflection, he really isn’t in the film much but seems to appear on time whenever there’s serious lag. Shame that one is never convinced that it’s anyone other than Topol, though.
Right, well, Lynn-Holly Johnson in a role that can probably be best summed up by “I’m very sorry, I must have misheard you, I thought you might have said – God forbid – that what the James Bond series needs, even after the hugely suspect Jaws/Dolly thing, is some underage sex comedy? Oh, you did. Rrrrright.” Right, so Melina – barely a year older – is absolutely fine, then? Where do you draw the line? Above her lip, in black marker pen, is that it?
Good judgment call this; really doesn’t make your rapidly ageing leading man look any older, does it? I suppose it may show how much times have changed that even buying her an ice cream these days would be met with deserved suspicion and a tabloid front page. Does make one wonder about all the silhouetted nudes often on show in titles such as these; is that to protect their identity? Does the character of Bibi Dahl actually do anything very much apart from annoy? And what, pray, is the point of the scene in which a woman playing a pigtailed teenage girl repeatedly bounces up and down on a trampoline in a leotard, other than aiming this at a very specific audience that I have no desire to share a cinema/town/country with? G’on, chuck her off the mountain. No? Shame. It could have saved her from her inevitable grim sex-slave fate, smacked up to the eyeballs and pretending to be a “Countess”, openly imprisoned in a beach house. This can be the only conceivable explanation for a ) Countess Lisl’s sorry and tragic existence and b ) her rather, how shall we put this, “dozy” delivery. Still, you can take the girl out of Liverpool but you can’t take the Liverpool out of the girl. Even if she gives off the vibe that most of Liverpool has indeed been in her at one time or another.
Suspicion is that both Melina and Bibi were cast at a time when Bert Broccoli was in the throes of having to cast a younger Bond and then Roger Moore turned up again, only ever for the art and never for the money, and it was too late to find marginally older people. True, they tried their best to convince us that Melina was a mature woman by having her grow a huge waxy moustache but the Bibi stuff was beyond rescue. Maybe times have progressed and maybe all this was terribly funny and innocent in 1981. Maybe.
“You can see so much in me, so much in me that’s new”. No. That’s a fib and you know it, Sheena. Nothing new here. I appreciate you’re in great pain but, seriously, you’re not helping yourself.
And Julian Glover, accompanied by Maurice doing a big let-off of his best flatulent bubbles. Sleazy rather than villainous – although the (fun) keel-hauling does allow him to demonstrate some malicious glee and give us a good opportunity for boohissery – the character doesn’t seem to be high on the list of fan or public favourites, both collectives tending to go for the broader strokes when it comes to Bond Baddies. That said, he does appear to have a single-minded motive and winds up looking a bit grubby and pathetic – which I guess is the intention of having a wheeler-dealer chancer “realistic” sort of villain rather than someone out to destroy the planet - although the death feud between Kristatos and Columbo could have been upped a bit towards “convincing” by, say, actually having their characters meet. I know they don’t actually meet in Fleming’s story either but that’s a weakness there too. It’s not as if everything Fleming wrote was super; believe this and Bond 24 will be “Koreans Smell Of Zoo”. I’m quite fond of Kristatos, Glover’s performance is amusingly shifty, even if he’s a character blessed with the worst early-80s middle-aged leisurewear imaginable. Awful taste in wine, too.
Ooh, a camp bit of Bill Conti piano. Ta-ding! The score, well, hmmm. Bits of it work, a lot of it is very chipper, but its fondness for massive synthesised melodramatics tires one after a while. Still, it does help so very overextended chase sequences along, without which one would draw bleak conclusions about how padded out much of the film is. Notably, the mountain climbing sequence is silent and whilst this is doubtless meant to add suspense on a “more – much more, Roger Moore – is less” basis, silence does allow the sequence to go on forever. A smidge more cowbell and Bond’s hammering the pitons into place wouldn’t have been discovered. That would, admittedly, have deprived us of the splendid fall stunt but the net effect of that incident – dangerous and a highlight though it is – is that he’s got to climb that sodding mountain all over again. Yawn.
Cassandra Harris. To die young is obviously not material for flippancy and that must have been really horrible. Rest in Peace. Concentrating on this moment, though, it appears she was directed (and I do blame the director – OK on the action, hopeless on the acting) to shove at us a performance of such reinforced concrete it’s amazing that beach buggy wasn’t a write-off. The character has to exist, not least because it’s sort-of drawn from Risico, and the scene about “Manchester? Close; Liverpool” demonstrates MooreBond at his most relaxed and charming and downright nice. Additionally it gives Bond a half-time shag when we were all getting a bit worried about his strike-rate given that the only women on display up to that point are spectacularly younger than him or probably lesbian or more interested in buying crossbows than razors, or all three. Still coming to the conclusion that the character is more Columbo’s sex-prisoner than lover, though. Look, I’m just trying to make the film darker and more interesting and not the “parrot saves Britain, oh look a 2CV - how madly droll” rot that it too often is.
Jill Bennett is an interesting name to see in a Bond film and is symptomatic of something that For Your Eyes Only onwards does add beneficially to the Bond films; established-name theatre actors turning up now and again, to take one a bit by surprise as to why they’re lowering themselves (save, of course, to get money to eat). Louis Jourdan. Steven Berkoff. Christopher Walken. Sod it, Timothy Dalton himself. Not to say the likes of Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas are total no-marks, far from it, but even in a tiny role such as this – she basically has about five lines – we get Jill Bennett? Seems to add greater dignity and gravitas to the affair than the role of “A Lady With Shares In Birkenstock” would really require. Perhaps she’s there to get on with delivering a performance and not having to rely on a first-time director to provide guidance when he’s patently more interested in pigeons. Tim Piggot-Smith suddenly turning up in Quantum of Solace is another example. “And Judi Dench, as M”. The phenomenon is spoiled a bit by GoldenEye which has a cast straight out of a 1990s ITV midweek drama – Sean Bean! Michael Kitchen! Samantha Bond! Robbie Coltrane! Minnie Driver! - with a special American guest star – is it William Devane? No. Shane Rimmer? No. It’s Peerse Brosnnon. Oh him, yes, I think I’ve heard of him… um, who is he again?
Michael Gothard doesn’t say anything and gets kicked off a cliff which, albeit satisfying, doesn’t a character make. I suppose the idea was that he would be more sinister – even beyond those giveaway octagonal specs – as a mute, although what it actually does is make him forgettable even though he’s responsible for several dastardly acts and remains completely beyond redemption right up to the end. Still, at least he’s the source of the only amusing Q joke in a decade – the banana nose; despite myself I find this funny – and allows us to gasp in nostalgia at that white and green computer paper that now makes For Your Eyes Only look about as modern as scurvy. Jack Hedley – another odd person to turn up in a Bond – gets his character all shot up, cue absurdly melodramatic Continess and a close-up on Ms Bouquet’s very lovely eyes that, unfortunately, on the Blu-Ray version, clearly shows wisps of her moustache billowing into shot. Walter Gotell, as the actual villain, gets very short shrift with very minor billing, but at least he gets a nice ride in a helicopter into Greece, which looks a bit warmer than that photo of Moscow that they’ve gone and used yet again. The business about “that’s détente Comrade” is a neat resolution of the matter but why Bond didn’t just destroy the
Bit of that blue/orange thing traditional – if not ever-present – in the Bonds now and – crikey - there’s a very naked girl jumping about in a Bindery spume; I have never noticed this before, usually because I fast forward through these titles as the song’s a bit shopping arcadey and all this rushing water makes me want to do some weeing. I never felt this, till I looked at you. Indeed not. Titles, song and viewer experience cleverly rolled into one, there.
James Villiers turns up as the Chief of Staff because “M’s on leave” (is it just me or is there a noticeable reaction by Roger Moore to this?) and the character was already insanely stupid and unfriendly without the ghastly “Sir Havelock” reference, which is scandalous. Why people whine that Quantum of Solace was some sort of deviation in its depiction of those with power being corrupt and indolent when you have this character, defeats me. Perhaps because the Craig film was less than subtle about it when For Your Eyes Only demonstrates incompetence, laziness and stupidity as a far more endemic thing and such distasteful behaviours as the bedrock of the Intelligence establishment. In Quantum of Solace, most if not all of the corruption is exposed and dealt with: here, it remains in charge. Pretty chilling.
And, of course, no depiction of incompetence and stupidity would be complete without the Llewelyn Q, largely kept on home soil to avoid an international incident, kept in a dungeon of bad and crappy things and women called Karen. Doubtless frustrated, he breaks free late in the day to perform his statutory act of casual racism by dressing up as… erm… a Greek Orthodox priest (just writing that makes me feel ill) and engaging in the most redundant scene in any Bond film, for the sake of some local colour, a Gwilson cameo and a “I have sinned/ Putting it mildly” “joke”. Utterly pointless, save to exhibit some of the late Mr Llewelyn’s (putting it “nicely”) overearnest acting style - “HeaVEN KNOWS! to which one KrisTATos took THE atac!” as Bond already knows he can find out about St Cyril’s via Topolumbo. Why is it Q who turns up at the church and why is he allowed to dress up? Had it been a mosque, would they have done the same thing? How can this nonsense be justified in this “serious” and “gritty” film? The long, long, boring and stupidly slippery slope of “everyone likes Q, let’s have him do stuff” - sodding off and never, ever coming back not evidently on the agenda - that leads us to the gawping horror that is Licence to Kill, it starts right here.
John Moreno’s Luigi is an idiot who may as well have “I am dead meat” carved into his neck to save someone the trouble of slitting it. True, we get to see a bit of blood here which evidently makes this the most shockingly violent and pacy hard thriller ever rather than the lumbering collection of underwhelming eventitude that it is otherwise successfully deceiving us into believing it is. Geoffrey Keen’s Friedrich von Gray is still in role, leaving one to wonder what he has to do to get fired. On his watch, a nuclear submarine has been stolen and comes atoseconds close to being an instrument of Armageddon; a Space Shuttle is nicked and every human being on Earth is very nearly gassed to death. Now, one of our typewriters is missing! Admittedly this is nowhere near as interesting, but it still indicates pretty lax ministerial oversight of his department’s stationery resources. Most chillingly suspect of all, he’s obviously changed party allegiance and yet retained the position of “Minister” of Defence. What hold does he have over people? What do the blackmail photos actually show? It had better not be underaged athletes; there’s quite enough of that going on already. Why he’s always so grumpy with Bond when 007 saves his rotten, corrupt and snivelling hide every couple of years is terribly, terribly unfair. If I were 007, I would hand “Gray” over to my masters, the KGB, and let them probe him with white-hot pinking shears. Still, if his replacements are Dick Barton and that nice old man from Waiting for God, he must feel pretty safe. Another six years at least in the job; Gregory Beam’s got nothing on the nerve of this guy.
Everyone looks about ten years older than when we last saw them, and completely beaten-up. Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny actually looks like Quentin Crisp. Civil servant she may be; naked we do not want, thank you very much. Nicely written little scene between them but some of those lines are a bit beneath her dignity, given that she now appears to be Bond’s gran. Women of this age don’t really behave like that, unless she’s from Liverpool as well. Beginning to disturb a bit about what a Bond/Moneypenny coupling would be like now. MooreBond would suck her teeth out and they’d probably get entwined in each other’s wrinkles and have to be prised free with a lubricant of Ovaltine and Steradent.
John Wyman’s character of whatever-it-is is, apparently and according to World-expert Bibi Dahl, is “not interested in girls”. This means either that he’s interested in women, which sets him aside from most of the other male characters in the film, the duhhty old bastards, or by being a blond bemuscled Adonis Rocky Horror-type who hangs around the yachts of Greek gentlemen in his swimming trunks, he’s a young man who is helpful to sailors in navigating the windward passage. Some uncertainty about how to treat the character either has him as a malicious threat – his perversely enjoyed sniping at a prone, trapped Bond is a tense little sequence – or a clown – his unusual decision to throw a motorbike and collapsing in a heap when trying to stand on his skis are both a smidge undermining. But then he probably likes undermining. As t’were.
The second unit direction and photography was by Arthur Wooster and he always comes across as a very nice chap and all but… It’s hard to put one’s finger on it, or fairly lay the responsibility on the shoulders of one individual, but from this film and onwards through the decade, the films are quite blandly shot, aren’t they? Whilst some of the stuff here is nice – Cortina and Corfu do look quite appealing, in a middle-aged holiday away from the kids way - there’s nothing particularly inventive about the visuals to match up to Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me or even, say, Live and Let Die. Maybe it’s just me, but with For Your Eyes Only we seem to start the notion that we go places but we don’t show places. The Man with the Golden Gun does little of any strength beyond definitely giving us the benefit of its locations; here, there’s plenty going on but it could all pretty much happen anywhere, really. We go to Cortina just because it’s ages (four years is ages) since we had some skiing; Locque could have been “anywhere, really”. OK, so we don’t have Mayan temples and Outer Space and that’s patently A Good Thing, Official, but are these terribly interesting replacements? Additionally, huge amounts of this seem to be overlit soft-focus – the scene in the back of the Rolls between Bond and Lisl suggests the lens was getting steamed up despite the forced banter’s deathly chill. That may be flattering to one’s star but questionable in providing anything very engaging to look at. Some of the crisp slickness of the look of the past couple of films seems to have gone and there seems to be a reduction in the style of the presentation as a result.
Underwater, Aerial and Ski photography by Messrs. Giddings, Devis and Bogner respectively and again there’s nothing particularly offensive about any of their efforts but equally so there’s nothing that inventive about the look of them either. Some of the ideas that come through in the sequences – the ability to talk underwater, the lunatic (and, one understands, fatally dangerous) bobsleigh stunt – are diverting enhancements of previous incidents but are at risk of going on a bit too long – the ski sequence seems to be planned with the phrase “…and then this happens… and then this happens… and then this happens… and then this happens…and it’s still not over because then this happens…and there’s some more… and more…much Moore…Roger Moore. Oh, no, forgot, it’s a stuntman in a woolly hat”. Throwing all this action at us does tend to suggest that the message was “some of the other films only have underwater bits or only have skiing bits; this one’s got the lot!” True, but does that make it twice as, or half as, good?
The bob chase sequence, with some truly awful visual effects, tends to ram home the point that there’s actually no way in any dimension of hell that this is Roger Moore doing this thing. As he stands up straight against some dirty back projection and waves cheekily at the riders of the bobsleigh, it’s the point at which he finally waves goodbye to any pretence that it’s him. From that point on, it’s harder to spot Roger Moore as James Bond than trying to see where it’s someone else. Accept this and Octopussy and A View to a Kill become better and a Spot the Moore drinking game. Well, they both need something to help them along, as do I.
There’s a woman crouching down; is she going to do a pooh? Woman! Do NOT pooh! I think she’s going to pooh, y’know. Ah, another lady has run into view and appears to be trying to shoot her up the bottom. Bit of an extreme reaction to an emergency pooh, but unless it’s a metaphor for rapid ageing and the onset of incontinence, a justifiable one.
Here’s something odd: the production supervisor was Bob Simmonds. I thought he did stunts stroke action sequences? Is this cost-cutting doubling up of roles? Has this occurred elsewhere in the film? Does Carole Bouquet exist or is Melina actually played by Topol, with a bushier moustache? Is that actually Geoffrey Keen in a purple leotard jumping up and down and wanna-ing to win a gold medal? (I do hope so; it makes the Bibi character much less uncomfortable viewing knowing that she’s really played by a squat fat middle aged man, in blonde pigtails. Tula is not alone). Oh no, my mistake – stunty Robert is a Simmons without a D. Different bloke. What japes “on set” mixing the two up; they must have had grand fun. If only that had translated into the final product. The production managers were Mara Blasetti, Phil Kohler and Aspa Lambrou and, as ever, these things must have been a hell of a job to sort out and ensure they happened although there remains a whiff of “why bother?” about this one. Significantly, as we reach the end of the 007th minute, the production’s accountant Douglas Noakes, gets a credit and although it’s still a Bond film because the gunbarrel Tells Us It Is, And That’s Enough, it does feel scaled back in terms of ambition and scope. But, I’m sure “they” would argue, they prepared us for that by basically telling us that this was “the plan”. Yes, but they also told us there would be changes and seriousness and all we really got was the same type of churned-out production line tick-box rubber-stamped package, just less expensively done.
A change of director more than a change of direction, For Your Eyes Only is most notable for what it doesn’t do than for what it does. It isn’t really, truthfully, any radical change from Moonraker – this is a film in which Britain is essentially saved by a parrot and there’s a hil-ar-i-ous chase in a 2CV – and is a bit of a misfire when it comes to doing serious – because it just isn’t capable of being serious enough – and daft – because it isn’t daft enough either.
Generously, one could view it as an experimental film to see what the audience liked (an expensive way of finding out) to then push that audience “like” in the next one as the defining characteristic of where James Bond should go – although the results of the experiment seem to conflict as Octopussy is both more serious in its serious parts and more stupid in its many, many stupid parts than this one. Undernourished and slightly shy in all departments, For Your Eyes Only does seem to be a bit lost for its purpose, milling about, wanting to be liked but without sufficient strength of character to shine in any particular way. Even with what follows – the repeat references to the might of the Greek police (are there any left?), statuesque transsexuals and bald fat half-naked men “doing disco dancing” arthritically to a winningly filthy “song” – are blips of interest rather than anything particularly memorable per se. It’s not a bad film – there’s nothing actively poor about it and it’s tremendously professional and generally zips about OK – but when it comes to it, it’s just “one of” the Bond Films and is left to merge into the public consciousness without presenting anything significant on its own. It doesn’t do what it ostensibly set out to do and therefore it’s just there.
What it does successfully show – depending on your definition of success – is that there wasn’t the vision to scrap the whole bloody thing and effectively start again. That would have to wait. Too long.
James Bond will return in the 007th minute of Octopussy. Jacques Stewart is diving equipment for salvage work at depths of more than 300 feet.