For Your Eyes Only: The Last Good Roger Moore James Bond Movie

Roger Moore got back to James Bond movie basics with For Your Eyes Only. Mostly.

For Your Eyes Only is the outlier of the Moore tenure. A low-key outing, more realism than romp, For Your Eyes Only has its moments but never quite takes off. It remains the most likely tripwire should you attempt to recite all the Bond titles for a bet (or perhaps for leisure). The plot recalls From Russia With Love, only without SPECTRE, the honey-trap, and the Orient Express. You know, the good bits.

A reinvention of Bowie-like proportions, For Your Eyes Only grounds the franchise after the space oddity of Moonraker but the changes, while admirable, aren’t a cause for dancing in the street. Under pressure to restore credibility, the franchise harks back to its golden years without quite convincing anyone that everything is hunky dory. Reactive more than proactive, For Your Eyes Only is the franchise asking itself, “where are we now?”

The Villain: Good character, lousy villain. Does that make sense? Aris Kristatos is an intelligent man and his rivalry with onetime friend Columbo is the most intriguing strand of the narrative. However, as an antagonist Uncle Ari is woefully underpowered.

Fair play for the keelhaul but that marks the only point Kristatos feels like a true bad guy. A minor plan is alright if you are a major personality. (Kananga, Scaramanga.) A shortage of allure can be hidden behind a truly gigantic scheme (Drax, Stromberg). But small man, small plan? That makes arguably the least memorable villain of the lot. Fifth-placing on the credits says it all.

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The Girl: Beautiful, enigmatic and avenging her murdered parents one crossbow bolt at a time. Melina Havelock is a strong heroine. But somehow I feel she could be stronger. Caroline Bouquet and Moore don’t exactly spark – possibly because he was courting his third wife while she was still in nappies. (Bouquet, that is. Not the third wife.)

Fiercely independent, brave, and resourceful, Melina has much going for her. But something, a certain fizz, is lacking. A sense of fun, perhaps. With all her attributes (a goddamn crossbow, come on!) Melina should be one of the greats. But, somehow, she isn’t.

For Your Eyes Only is the franchise going cold turkey. Out with the space shuttles, lasers, supervillains, lairs, gadgets, disfigurements, and global genocides. In with heroin smugglers, accidental (!) shipwreck, monasteries, ice skating, and plot-developing macaws. Like any period of abstinence, the sensation is refreshing, strangely pleasing and definitely required. And, of course, a little forgettable.

Watch For Your Eyes Only on Amazon

The opening is bizarre, and I hate it. Dense legal shenanigans meant screenwriter Kevin McClory owned the rights to Blofeld, SPECTRE and the film Thunderball. So Broccoli retaliated by dropping Blofeld down a chimney because Albert was, like, so over him. Ernst who? Essentially he violated the legacy of one of cinema’s great villains just to prove a point.

Only it slightly backfired. Broccoli doesn’t really drop Blofeld down a chimney: just some bald guy with a wheelchair and a cat. Sure, it’s obviously meant to be Blofeld, but obviously the film can’t identify him because of the whole rights thing. Which, in my book, means the viewer is perfectly at liberty to reject the character as Blofeld if they wish. Which I do.

If you’re going to kill Blofeld off, do the damn job properly. Devote a film to it. I’m sure Broccoli would have loved that. But obviously he couldn’t because he didn’t own the rights. So instead he killed off an unidentified Blofeld-clone in the pre-credits of a minor Moore outing and never referred to the incident directly. He couldn’t. Because he didn’t own the rights.

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Leaving ample space for the discerning viewer to either marvel at the coincidence of two Bond villains owning white Persian cats or completely ignore the canonicity of the episode. Disagree with both if you wish, but two wrongs still don’t make the rights.

Bond leaving flowers on Tracy’s grave is a nice touch; even if the scene only exists to add validity to Not Blofeld’s subsequent appearance. I feel the films never referenced Tracy often enough. Aside from this scene, Anya abortively in The Spy Who Loved Me and a beautiful line in Licence To Kill, I can’t think of any others. (although I bet somebody can). Heaven knows where we are with the Craig semi-reboot (reshoe?) but it seems a safe bet Tracy is currently erased from his timeline. Pity.

So, after thwarting successive Armageddons, Bond must recover some kind of submarine coordination machine seemingly purchased at Fisher Price. Multi-coloured buttons! That’s just adorable. The Lektor, sorry Solex, sorry ATAC is frightfully valuable because, in the wrong hands, our submarines could be ordered to attack us.

I refuse to believe the military don’t have a contingency plan for a mislaid ATAC. Such as changing the launch codes. Sure, it’ll probably take time, effort, and money but you’d look pretty silly if London got smoked. But, being budget conscious, MI6 dispatch Bond in an attempt to avoid such hassle. It’s basically losing your keys and hoping the house isn’t burgled because you’re too cheap to get the locks changed.

M wouldn’t stand for such parsimony. But alas, M is on leave – and Bernard Lee has taken his. He died shortly after filming commenced. Although Connery was the first of the original MI6 quartet to depart, he could and did return. This rupture with the past was unfixable. For eleven films and nearly two decades Lee anchored the series: to both its cinematic and literary origins.

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This is taken from the novel Moonraker: “M. looked like any member of any of the clubs in St James’s Street. Dark grey suit, stiff white collar, the favourite dark blue bow-tie with spots, rather loosely tied, the thin black cord of the rimless eyeglass…the keen sailor’s face, with the clear, sharp sailor’s eyes. It was difficult to believe that an hour before he had been playing with a thousand live chessmen against the enemies of England; that there might be, this evening, fresh blood on his hands, or a successful burglary, or the hideous knowledge of a disgusting blackmail case.”

Bernard Lee, ladies and gentleman. Risen from Fleming’s pages, written into cultural folklore. The Boss.

The action in For Your Eyes Only kicks off sharpish with the assassination of the Havelocks, the revenge killing of Gonzalez and the yellow Citroen all within the first half hour. The car chase is a breezy little affair. Three credit points: for the brilliantly unstylish Citroen, the clever use of zigzagging hill roads, and the involvement of only two cars in pursuit. It makes a nice change to have a couple of tenacious chasers, as opposed to a whole squadron crashing into every obstacle in sight. And the music is so jaunty too.

Does anybody else feel sorry for the poor olive famers? That must be a whole harvest ruined!

The Indentigraph scene with Q is a real treat. As the most comically gifted Bond, Moore’s interactions with Desmond Llewelyn are invariably a joy. And the Indentigraph itself brings out my inner child. I do slightly doubt the accuracy of the technology: going by the match Bond and Q created it’s a little surprising the machine didn’t print out a picture of Where’s Wally.

I rather wish we saw more of Locque, the Wally Doppelgänger. Or at least saw him better. Although Locque appears frequently throughout the first two thirds of the film, no time is spent deepening the character. Everything we ever know about him is listed by Bond following his identification (essentially: he kills people).

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Angular, bespectacled and utterly silent throughout the film (save a dying yell), Locque makes an intriguing villain, far more so than ‘Big Blond Baddie #23’, aka KGB ski-champion Erich Kriegler. Who isn’t developed either, but then Kriegler is only there to be strong and Russian. There are many Krieglers but few Locques – and it’s a shame he never takes centre stage.

Locque has the honour of being Moore’s coldest kill. Indeed I read somewhere that Locque is the only person Moore ever kills in cold blood. One might count Sandor, the henchman knocked off a rooftop in The Spy Who Loved Me, but admittedly I can’t think of any others. Anyone?

If Bond killed Bibi Dahl in cold blood few would blame the man. Oh, I take it back, Bibi isn’t that bad. She’s just stuck in the wrong film. Poor Bibi missed the Moonraker so snuck into this one instead.

Presumably somebody read an early, Bibi-less script draft and decided: “You know what this needs? This needs a blonde American teenager who continually flings herself at Bond. Never had that before.” Well, the series of Nick Nack, Jaws, and Sheriff Pepper has room for all sorts – but perhaps there’s a reason Sugar Daddy-seeking American sexpots had not previously featured. 

I feel one should watch Bibi’s attempted seduction of Bond between laced fingers, and scream “Sacrilege!” when she surprise-snogs him, but I quite enjoy Moore’s acting here. “Yes. Well. You get your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice cream.” Brilliantly delivered. Imagine Connery saying that one.

The other five Bonds, while obviously distinctive, can be interchanged. You can imagine Craig in From Russia With Love or Brosnan in The Living Daylights. Dalton slots nicely into Casino Royale, and even Lazenby might just manage Thunderball (okay, Lazenby is tough. But he only made one). If you’re ever stuck watching a Bond you’ve seen a million times already – although I can’t imagine how that could ever happen – imagining the film as played by a different Bond is surprisingly diverting.

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But not Moore. Only Moore could ever play a Moore film. Even in the imagination. Try it. Next time you watch Moore, try and imagine anybody else speaking his lines. And vice versa: try and place Moore in all the other films that aren’t his own. Conjuring the most incongruous switch is a game in itself. Roger Moore’s Licence to Kill ranks pretty highly. But surely nothing beats Moonraker starring Daniel Craig?

Some housekeeping to shoot through. There’s the third and final appearance for the much-loved Man with Wine! Victor Tourjansky: he built an entire cinematic legacy on surprised boozing. Cheers, Victor. Look out for those skiers!

And also: anyone spot Charles Dance? Yes, Tywin Lannister is one of Kristatos’s henchmen. (I think he gets harpooned at some point). “Actors in Bonds before they were famous” – surely an article there if anybody fancies it.

The ill-fated Countess Lisle is played by Cassandra Harris, then Mrs. Pierce Brosnan. Sadly she died before Pierce received his 00-status, a part she’d always championed him for. And how right she was.

The rivalry between Kristatos and Columbo is really what makes the film here. The latter’s appearance marks the point of uplift. Columbo is a wonderful old rogue, the best since Kerim Bey (Sorry, Draco).

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The Bond ally is a hard template to get right. His existence is optional (the Bond ally is invariably male. Any female allies are young and hot and inevitably have sex with Bond, turning them into Bond girls). Whereas the villain and girl demand a certain level of characterisation, the ally only need be a name and job title (take Lieutenant Hip). And whereas the villain and girl slot neatly into a handful of pre-determined narrative roles (villains are seasoned megalomaniacs or rival killers, girls are fellow agents or reformed baddies) the ally begins a blank slate.

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As such, writing a good ally requires a certain level of effort. Much easier to make him a name and a job title (take the unfortunate Luigi). Even Felix Leiter is a name and a job title; just a recurrent one.

Anyway. Columbo. Fair play to the writers because they pulled out a corker. His introduction on the boat is a brilliant two-hander, a tense yet amusing exchange in which both men feel the other one out.

Bond initially believes Columbo an enemy but the latter’s charm and sincerity wins him round. While the seemingly virtuous occasionally transpire to be bad, I can think of very few occasions where a character set up as a villain proves themselves a good ‘un.

Columbo’s pistachio habit is an endearing symbol of the care that was obviously taken with his characterisation. A lovely touch, especially when he deploys the shells to give away enemy movement in the warehouse battle. And of course Topol’s performance cannot be praised enough. A beautiful baritone voice, eyes never without a glint: cut the man and he probably bleeds charisma.

Kristatos falls a little short by comparison. Julian Glover is solid as both friend and foe: the reveal of his duplicity is a fairly decent twist. And keelhauling is one of the best ever attempts to kill Bond – added points for the utter lack of necessity. But Kristatos is never allowed a chance to shine. No monologues, little sense of threat. No real faceoff between him and Bond: apart from a brief exchange pre-keelhauling, Evil Kristatos is kept on the peripheries. A shame, because Moore and Good Kristatos display a nice chemistry in their early scenes together.

But the true shame the lack of a proper Kristatos/Columbo showdown. Two strong characters, played by two great actors, endowed with a compelling backstory. Let the pair share some dialogue! Preferably in some kind of standoff situation, or where one holds the other at gunpoint. A fleeting scuffle on a stairwell, and a knife hurled in the back, may fit with the toned-down ethos but provides an uninspiring end to a fine plotline.

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Watching the creaky struggles of Kristatos and Columbo, I immediately thought, ‘Old Man Fight!’ Then suspicion struck and I reached for my laptop… Yes, Roger Moore is older than both Topol and Julian Glover. Seven years Glover’s senior, eight ahead of Topol. While that esteemed duo are in their mid-forties, Roger is pushing 54. Caroline Bouquet? She’s 23.

Actually, want a real mindblower (well it blew mine)? Today, in 2015, Caroline Bouquet is 57. Barely four years older than her 1981 onscreen lover. Think. On. That.

It can’t be avoided here: Moore’s age is definitely an issue. Not quite the issue, but nobody could see For Your Eyes Only and think he had another two 007 films in the tank. Indeed the Bond-Melina age-gap is the widest in the series, weighing in at a cool three decades. They just about manage because Bouquet acts older than her years, Moore looks younger than his, and the pair only hook up at the end. Wisely, the producers cast a 38 year-old heroine in Octopussy. This wisdom didn’t last.

Kristatos’ mountain retreat is located thanks to the wonderfully named parrot Max. Moral of the story: never discuss your plans within earshot of talking birds. Things do seem a little desperate when Bond is getting his information from a macaw, yet Max proves a far more useful ally than certain Bond girls in the series I could mention.

The mountain climb is a tense if lightweight finale. Bond dangling from a rope as an enemy knocks out his pitons is a superbly executed set-piece. And it certainly makes a nice change from Laser Quest in space. However, once St Cyril’s is breached resolution is swift and easy. The arrival of the ever-avuncular General Gogol hardly raises the stakes, even if the good General has seemingly forgotten how to speak English.

Having opened with a random cameo from a power crazed megalomaniac, the film closes by wheeling out Margaret Thatcher. Despite battling the likes of Dr. No, Oddjob, Scaramanga, and Jaws, Bond doesn’t have the minerals to face The Thatch. He leaves the task to Max the parrot and goes off skinny-dipping with Melina.

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So Max and Mrs T chew the fat until the latter asks for a kiss and the listening Fredrick Grey and company swiftly pull the plug. It is a little alarming the MI6 top brass can’t tell the difference between their best agent and a parrot, thus the shambles when M leaves the building.

For Your Eyes Only, then, is a palate-cleanser, a little something to remove the taste of Moonraker. And considering we were basically one film away from Bond fighting The Mekon, a shrinking of characters and concept was probably required. But it doesn’t last. Octopussy is back to nuclear bombs, mad Russian generals, secluded palaces and clowns. For Your Eyes Only pushes the franchise back on track but, with two Moores still lurking, its brief flirtation with reality isn’t a new direction so much as a dead end.

Best Bit: I really rate that first encounter with Columbo.

Worst Bit: Oh look, it’s Blofeld! Sort of. Disappearing down a chimney. We won’t be seeing him again.

Final Thought: Why would anybody want a stainless steel delicatessen?

This article first appeared on Den of Geek UK on May 11, 2015.