Review: For Your Eyes Only

Welcome to my review of For Your Eyes Only, the twelfth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my trashing review of the previous film, Moonraker, here. Spoilers follow.

For Your Eyes Only
(dir. John Glen, 1981)

For Your Eyes Only - trailerDuring my review of Moonraker, I mooted that the franchise seems to alternate between good and bad in terms of quality. This theory seems to stand more-or-less true for the post-Goldfinger films and doubly so for everything post-On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

This is probably because the James Bond films are nothing if not reactionary. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a critical failure, so Diamonds Are Forever was a clear attempt to regain the glory days of the Connery films (see my review for more on this). Diamonds Are Forever wasn’t very good, so Live And Let Die changed the formula, replacing Connery with Roger Moore and dropping the world domination for a more localised heroin-smuggling plot. And so on.

Moonraker was a clear reaction to Star Wars, but it is notable that For Your Eyes Only succeeds in almost all the ways that Moonraker failed. For Your Eyes Only loses the overt science fantasy, tones down the overbearing camp humour and strips out the more lunatic edge of the bad guys, giving us a flawed but fun Bond film with a plot not a million miles away from From Russia With Love.

A British spy ship is sunk in a slightly weird accident involving a sea mine and a fishing net, and Russia—who are, for once, ‘the enemy’—want a piece of British technology called the ATAC, which effectively tracks and controls Britain’s Polaris missiles. Bond teams up with Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), whose parents were killed while searching for the device.

Havelock is a successful Bond girl whose skill with the crossbow ends up saving Bond’s life more than once (in fact, she saves Bond more than he saves her in a neat little twist of the status quo). There is another minor Bond girl—Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson)—who mostly served to annoy me, but in fairness to the film she is clearly portrayed as annoying Bond as well. In fact, her entire character seems to be a dig at previous useless and air-headed Bond girls, in the same way that the early (and pointless) destruction of Bond’s first car (the Lotus Esprit again) is a dig at some of the sillier gadgets of the series.

The loss of the Lotus (Bond gets another one, although it doesn’t seem to be armed) leads to one of the sillier moments of the film: a car chase where Bond is driving a clapped out Citroën 2CV. Again, this is played mostly for laughs… but unusually for the comedy stylings of the Moore films so far, For Your Eyes Only manages to actually be funny. Part of this is that, while the film is unrepentantly daft, it never crosses the line into the squeamish slapstick comedy of Moonraker or Diamonds Are Forever, and the humour never detracts from the action. Indeed, the aforementioned car chase is one of the best car chases in the series so far.

This also applies to the pre-credits sequence, where Bond is trapped on a helicopter being operated by a man who is DEFINITELY NOT BLOFELD WE PROMISE. Yes, it’s all a bit inane, but the helicopter stunts are impressive and thankfully remain unsullied by comic sound effects (aside from a bomb whistle when he’s finally dropped down a chimney).

It’s a pity, then, that For Your Eyes Only stands on an uncomfortable mid-ground between the outlandish escapades of, say, The Spy Who Loved Me and the straighter spy fiction of From Russia With Love, and unfortunately this jack-of-all-trades position makes it a master of none. The eventual bad guy, Miles Colombo (Julian Glover) is probably more realistic than many of Bond’s former opponents, but he never comes across as a serious threat, and indeed the film never gives us any overarching sense of urgency: Bond isn’t saving the day and the ATAC device feels unimportant for much of the plot. Still, the film is fun and a definite step up from Moonraker; my confidence in Roger Moore, for the moment, remains.

Title song: For Your Eyes Only is a very eighties song from Sheena Easton, which—unusually—actually features the singer in the visuals.

Greatest moment: Bond’s mountain climb at the end of the film is suitably epic, and the Maggie Thatcher-a-like is surprisingly funny.

Worst moment: I’m not sure why Havelock chose to leave her SCUBA tank underwater, but by God it was lucky she did—otherwise, how would she and Bond survive later in the film?

Best gadget: Dated it may be, but Q’s 3D facial reconstruction equipment is pretty cool and—for the time—actually relatively realistic.

Best quote:
Man-in-wheelchair-who-looks-familiar-and-who-isn’t-Blofeld: Mr Bond! We can do a deal! I’ll buy you a delicatessen! In stainless steel!

Most obvious product placement: Lotus return with two Esprits. The first one is a literal throw-away; the second is a bit pointless. That’s some budget that MI6 is playing with.

Verdict: For Your Eyes Only is a decent return to form for the series after the horrorshow that was Moonraker, although the film is a long way from being a true classic. Having a Bond girl with a brain elevates it slightly higher than Dr No, though.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969)
  2. From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
  3. The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1977)
  4. Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
  5. Live And Let Die (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)
  6. For Your Eyes Only (dir. John Glen, 1981)
  7. Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
  8. You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
  9. The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1974)
  10. Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
  11. Diamonds Are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)
  12. Moonraker (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

Two more Roger Moore films left. I’ve never seen Octopussy before—at least, I don’t think I have—so join me next time for my review!