For Your Eyes Only (1981)

After the disappointing and silly conclusion of Moonraker, Bond needed an adventure a bit more down to earth. However, with Bond getting closer and closer to being six feet under and yet another adventure that takes him even farther down than the surface of the earth, For Your Eyes Only might make us question if this is even something we need to see. 

When an important British vessel with military secrets end up sinking in an “accident” in neutral territory, the good guys once again turn to James Bond (Roger Moore). After an unexpected encounter with an old friend he’s left a bit reeling. Meanwhile, Greek beauty Melina (Carole Bouquet) has her world torn to bit in front of her when her parents are killed. Both Bond and Melina end up looking for the same guy, although they both have different plans as to what they’ll do when they catch up with the killer.

The problem plaguing For Your Eyes Only early on is that it’s a film that feels composed of all sorts of tangents. Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson have great ideas for scenes, but they’ve no idea how to connect the disparate locations and characters into a story that develops into a cohesive Bond experience. It’s not always clear where Bond is going and what he expects to find when he gets there.

To me, the logical starting place is the shipwreck. For some unexplained reason, Bond starts elsewhere but must eventually return to the sunken ship anyway to regain the equipment and flush out the real villain. And why didn’t we do that to begin with? But it does present my favorite part of the Bond franchise: underwater action scenes. The pair are attacked by a man in a giant scuba suit who’s followed up by a mousy fellow in a sub.

However, this does present one of the strong suites of film: suspense. The underwater sequence has Bond and Melina in close quarters and the way director John Glen builds tension allows for some moments where the pressure slowly ratchets up and builds into something where you’re not quite sure how Bond is going to make it out of this mess.

Another great suspense piece is presented near the very end. It’s a strong contender for my favorite Bond action setpiece. It’s a slowly moving scene where Bond spends most of the time trying to get into the right position and make sure everything is lined up for his attack. It’s a stealthy, quiet assault and the way the film is edited and the action is choreographed makes for a thrilling sequence.

I’ve also got to praise the amazing stunt team for some fantastic scenes. After the skydiving sequence in Moonraker, I wasn’t sure how this film could live up to that action setpiece, but it tops it with a fantastic chopper sequence in close quarters, some impressive skiing acrobatics and a thrilling—albeit somewhat comical—car chase sequence. More than once my jaw dropped as I wondered how they pulled off such a stunt.

But these action sequences do bring up a problem that’s been growing for the past couple of Bond film: Roger Moore is beginning to show his age. More than once, it’s clear that Moore is getting a bit winded and he doesn’t seem quite as physically agile and virile as he once was. The wrinkles are beginning to show, the movement is starting to get a bit stiffer and it’s clear that Bond is passing his prime.

And in some ways, the film is aware of that. The sexcapades of the film are reduced to almost a bare minimum. Moore no longer is the wolfish sex fiend of previous films. In fact, he turns down sex from a young woman. It might be because the film alludes she’s underage, but one also gets the feeling that Bond feels as if he’s a bit too old for such a girl, a girl he’d have no trouble bedding a few years ago.

The film also shows a bit more class with the main Bond girl of this film. Melina (Carole Bouquet) is not the usual sex object. In fact, she’s almost completely devoid of sexual appeal for a good portion of the film, as the story focuses more on her quest to avenge her parents. However, the emotions never come off right and, in practice, she’s not as compelling a Bond girl as she should be.

I do like the relationship between Bond and Melina. Instead of being the typical flirtatious romance, it’s a serious, adult relationship of two people who, on some level, can understand one another. Both have lost a loved one (there’s a brief opening scene where the film reminds us of Bond’s deceased wife), but Bond knows where the path Melina is taking will end. He tries to save her from taking the path, while she tries to embrace it.

As much as I like that core relationship, it’s not as dark or emotional as it should be. The film is a bit more concerned with the impressive action feats, letting the characters take a back seat to the ride. I don’t mind too much, because the ride is fun, even if the structure and logic is poor. While I liked For Your Eyes Only, there’s a better Bond film to be made with this film’s stronger elements.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing

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11 Responses to For Your Eyes Only (1981)

  1. Dan Heaton says:

    I didn’t remember much about this movie, so it was surprising to note that it’s actually pretty good when I watched it a few years ago. You’re right about the final action sequence, which is one of the more thrilling in the Bond series. I also enjoyed the scene where Moore callously kills the henchman by kicking his car in the water. Apparently, Moore really hated doing it, but it fits with the tone of the movie.

  2. Moore is my favourite Bond, I love the tongue-in-cheek humour and his films are somehow more charming and soulful to me, and this is certainly one I’ve watched many times growing up. The 70s and 80s Bond movies I can always return to for nostalgic reasons. Don’t care for the later films with Dalton, Brosnan.

    I agree on the ending, thrilling stuff!

    I’m glad the female character Melina is portrayed more seriously in Moonraker ,I was shocked when Bond says in surprise to Goodhead having that Dr job “a woman”! The Bond series really does reflect the times they were made

    from Chris

  3. pgcooper1939 says:

    I love For Your Eyes Only, one of my favourite Bond films and easily my favourite of the Moore films. Great review.

  4. This is one of my favorite Bond films not just for its opening sequence but also its story. Melina is one of my favorite Bond girls as I do love Carole Bouquet. Yet, it has one of the worst in Lynn-Holly Johnson as the figure skater. At least Bond knows his limits when it comes to the ladies. Plus, it’s got one of my favorite theme songs. I’m going to go listen to it on Youtube right now.

    • It’s one of the few Bond films I could see myself revisiting. Strange that you’re the second person who’s talked about how much they liked this theme song. For me, it went in one ear and out the other. Maybe I need to give it another listen.

  5. pgcooper1939 says:

    I’m with Steven, I love the theme song. Even though it’s almost the exact opposite of what I usually listen to.

  6. edgarchaput says:

    The comical situations involving Bond and Bibi are, in a certain way, attempts by the film to acknowledge that Roger Moore is no longer a spring chicken. I chuckled however when you wrote that in FYEO he is not as agile as he once was. I don’t think he ever was terribly agile to begin with, but whatever.

    Watching the film this time around, it did strike me as odd that 007 does not go to the sight of the shipwreck at first. It is only what we can assume are several days later that he finally shows at the true scene of the crime. I think the movie makes an attempt to explain this, although poorly, when the Minister says that an official investigation is out of the question. Why exactly is left up to the viewer to decide. It’s a pretty flimsy excuse to get Bond to travel all around the Mediterranean.

    In my review I gave Carole Bouquet some praise for her performance, but you hit the nail on the head about something I failed to mention: the lack of sexual appeal. Now, let’s not kid ourselves, Bouquet is stunning to look at, but in terms of how the movie presents her character, you’re right. She is not that sexual. Maybe not at all. I must have been so caught up in the movie because it wasn’t something that struck me last week when watching it. I think it would have been a bit shameful for the producers to sex-up Melina under the plot-wise circumstances of her character. The character is not someone who requires sex appeal. It would have felt misplaced.

  7. Dan says:

    I do like the action of For Your Eyes Only but admit the film has its drawbacks. As a fan of Roger Moore I love him in the role of Bond and that always knocks his Bond movies up a notch for me.

  8. Lucius says:

    Robert Bresson infamously loved this film (I think he took his niece to see it and ended up hailing it as ‘pure cinema’ or something like that), and I feel he’s probably right.

    All your Bond reviews have been enjoyable, whether I agree or not with the take, but I think this is the one I’m most point-by-point in agreement with. There are some shaky elements in the film (esp. a questionably weak and uncharismatic vilain) that make me waver on whether this is Moore’s finest entry, but this film does continue the physical beauty of its two predecessors with a story that in some ways is more satisfying.

    The ski chase is surely a supreme achievement: it’s clearly leagues ahead of the comparable attempt in “The Spy Who Loved Me” (at least minus the jump). The other chase scenes are also ingenious. What pains and mystifies is how John Glen got off his game & never seriously rivaled this film’s strength as sheer filmmaking, even if The Living Daylights is comparably satisfying as a piece of storytelling.

    I’m more forgiving of Moore’s one-liner deliveries and even his ruddy wrinkles than you, but I am a bit more aware as a grown-up of the awkwardness of the film’s sexuality. I’m not sure why the sweetheart ice skater was thrown in, or at least why she throws herself in Bond’s bed. I’ve always loved his “Bibi, you’re fickle” line, so that’s something.

    Carole Bouquet is a big fave– gorgeous, and a sympathetic character. But you’re right, their onscreen chemistry is more avuncular or something, rather than erotic. I think Bouquet had gone through some personal tragedy before filming– death of a husband or fiance perhaps?– Moore’s memoirs talk about her. She also has some medical condition that means she cannot possibly scuba dive or swim underwater, so they actually filmed most of the ‘underwater’ stuff with fans and blue gels and so forth: actually I think it works beautifully. This is one of the best Bond films as eye candy, esp. since Ted Moore, bless him, shot the early Bond films in such a grungy style.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the title song– perhaps it’s a bit cloying– but I think it’s one of Binder’s best title sequences. Somehow it has a very seductive, richly romantic ambience about it. Whether Moore is “sexy” or not in this film, he comes off as very human and emotional, and that helps make FYEO feel sweeping and lush.

    • Never would have figured Bresson would like this film.

      Yes, I feel the same about Glen. Ever the film or two he made that I think are about as good as this one don’t feel as well directed as this one. On some level, I wonder if he gets credited unjustly for these films. It’s hard to imagine the same guy who made this movie would go on to make A View to a Kill. I’d venture the writers and producers probably had more control over the direction of the film.

      I didn’t realize the water scenes were fake, they looked real enough to me so they did a fantastic job.

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