18 August 2012

THE TRIP TO BONDIFUL

A guide to this blog's James Bond marathon can be found right here.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
Directed by John Glen
Written by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson
Premiered 24 June, 1981

PRE-TITLE SEQUENCE
It is customarily held that Bond opening sequences have precisely fuck-all to do with the plot of the movie they are attached to, but this is actually only rarely the case. Mind you, what they have to do with the plot is awfully very, very tenuous and flimsy, but the number of opening scenes that are totally and utterly and in every way divorced from anything that happens afterwards is small enough that we have now, with the twelfth Eon Productions Bond picture, only come across our second one, 17 long years after Goldfinger.

And Christ, is it stupid.

James Bond (Roger Moore) is visiting the grave of his late wife, in the franchise's second overt mention of this facet of his biography since On Her Majesty's Secret Service, when a kindly vicar (Fred Bryant) stops by to inform him that he's been sent for by his employer. As Bond boards a waiting helicopter, he observes the vicar solemnly crossing himself, all spooky-like, and we shortly learn that this is because the whole thing is a great big set-up (though why the vicar was in on it, we are not told - for the foreboding image, I guess), and the helicopter is under the remote control of a bald man in a wheelchair with a white cat on his lap, played by John Hollis and voiced by Robert Rietty. This man taunts the shit out of Bond as the spy manages to crawl around the outside of the vehicle to get into the cockpit, where he deactivates the remote link and swoops down to pick up the bald man and dump him into a smokestack, with comic explodey sound effects and all.

Clearly, this is the one and only Death of Blofeld, ignoring the fact that it looked like Blofeld had already died at the end of Diamonds Are Forever. Thing is, Albert Broccoli and his Eon Productions didn't own the rights to the name Blofeld; that had been granted to Kevin McClory as part of the monumental clusterfuck surrounding the writing of Thunderball, and that is why Blofeld and SPECTRE had been absent from the Bond franchise for all of the Moore years. My suspicion is that by this time, rumours that McClory planned to exercise his right to remake Thunderball had reached Broccoli's ears, and he threw in this death of a pointedly unnamed character who is so obviously Blofeld strictly as a "screw you" to McClory, that the introduction of Tracy Bond's grave was added to give extra gravitas to this totally unnecessary narrative parenthetical, and so we have a sequence that lurches inexpertly from sorrow to doofy humor (cod-Blofeld actually says, "I trust you had a pleasant... fright?" when he thinks that he has the upper hand on Bond in the 'copter, complete with the massively over-stressed ellipsis) and is really just aggravating altogether, and exists solely because two movie producers were busy measuring their dicks. Fun, fun, fun.

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Rating: 1.5 Union Jack Parachutes


TITLE SONG
The March of the Bond Ballads continues on, leaving behind the singer-songwriters of the 1970s and slamming at high speed into the frizzy hair and techno overlay of '80s pop: Sheena Easton performs the Bill Conti/Michael Leeson title song, and I would be straight-up lying if I said that there wasn't a part of me, the part that was born in the '80s and considers its music to have the soothing effect of a warm blanket, that really digs the synth-heavy warbling that goes on here.

But there's also the part of me that has a brain: the part that can barely keep from committing suicide in a spectacularly colorful way at the insipidity of lines like... all of them, basically, though "For your eyes only, the nights are never cold / You really know me, that's all I need to know" is particularly grating and "For your eyes only, I never need to hide" is as grammatically problematic as "This ever-changing world in which we live in", but without Paul McCartney's whimsy. It's really, incredibly bland and inane - I like '80s pop more than I should, but it really truly is inane. And Easton's voice is criminally thin.

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Rating: 2.5 Shirley Basseys


TITLE SEQUENCE
Thank me next time this comes up at trivia: Sheena Easton is the only Bond theme singer to appear onscreen during the credits sequence (Madonna is the only one to appear in the movie proper, but that giddy moment is well in the future). This is for the awfully straightforward reason that she is stupendously easy to look at, even with '80s hair.

For this reason alone, Maurice Binder's work on the the credits here is rather novel; it is more like one of the music videos that were the hot new thing in 1981 than any of the previous, or subsequent, Bond credit sequences. Not exactly to its detriment, either, though fans of the "naked women slowly twisting about sexily in silhoutte" school of Binder title sequences will be disappointed that the only naked woman of note here is in relatively full display.

Easton being both attractive and well lit aside, this has always been one of the Moore-era credit sequences I was rather fond of; it uses a water motif (some bubbles here, aqua coloring there, swimming naked women in silhouette - because there still have to be some naked women in silhouette) to largely good effect. It's slow and moody and seductive without being raunchy, and while there are certainly better examples of the form, I think that it was only here that Binder really got a handle on the whole "slow-moving song" thing.

Fun fact! The song lyrics had to be considerably re-worked so that the phrase "for your eyes only" could be sung underneath the appearance of the film title.

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Rating: 3.5 Silhouetted Women


THE PLOT
Having at this point exhausted all of Ian Fleming's Bond novels, Broccoli now turned to Bond short stories, and I will admit that while I have read all twelve of the full-length books, I haven't touched either of the short story collections. My understanding is that For Your Eyes Only is another of those in-name-only adaptations, though considering how free and easy most of the movies have been with their source material, this is of minor concern.

The situation: another British military vessel has been downed. In this case, the surveillance vessel St Georges, sunk in the Ionian Sea, isn't particularly valuable in and of itself, but because of the top secret ATAC machine it was carrying, a communication device that could turn the entire British Navy against its home country. When Timothy Havelock, the archaeologist studying marine ruins who was contracted by the government to recover the ATAC, is murdered, it falls on Agent 007 to find out what's going on: first tracing Havelock's murderer to a Cuban gangster living in Spain, and thence backwards to Italy, chasing a villainous sort named Locque (Michael Gothard). Here, Bond contacts Greek businessman and MI6 informant Ari Kristatos (Julian Glover), presently shepherding a young ice skater, Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson) towards a date with Olympic destiny; Kristatos connects Locque to Greek smuggler Columbo (Topol), a mysterious, retiring crimelord. Aided by Havelock's revenge-seeking daughter Melina (Carole Bouquet), Bond eventually finds Columbo, but quickly learns that the smuggler is a jovial, harmless sort - the fact that he's played by Topol makes it effectively impossible for him to be the actual big bad, anyway - and in fact, Kristatos has been orchestrating all of this from the start, looking to sell the ATAC to the Soviets for an undoubtedly high price.

The last time a Bond plot hinged on a secret coding MacGuffin, it was From Russia with Love, the smallest of all Bond movies and also the best. For Your Eyes Only does not scale those heights, but as a deliberate and self-conscious attempt to cut back on the warped excess of The Spy Who Loved Me and particularly Moonraker, it is an agreeably grubby little thing. For the first time since way the hell back in the early Connery years, the bulk of the narrative is actually focused on a spy trying to solve a mystery - what a wildly innovative concept that is! - tempered with just enough of the globe-trotting and heightened stakes that had by this point become the bread and butter of the Bond franchise so that it fits comfortably within the company of its fellows. This, and not the leaden, draggy Live and Let Die, is how you marry the essential frivolousness of the Moore Bond to stripped-down, unglamorous adventure.

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Rating: 4.5 Stolen Nukes


THE VILLAIN
I will own up to a bit of "any port in a storm" here, but in the midst of a horribly long arid stretch of Bond villains - it's a long way yet before we start to get antagonists worthy of the name - Kristatos is at least slightly decent. He has one monumentally large handicap against him, which is that for the great majority of his screentime, we're not allowed to know that he's the bad guy, so that when he is revealed, and starts the fuming around typical of Bond villains, it plays as spectacularly far out of character, and while Julian Glover is absolutely phenomenal at the charismatic monster shtick, or just the oily businessman, he's not a good enough actor to couch the character's nasty secret in any kind of subtle moments that register on repeating viewings as foreshadowing, or even an attempt to build a coherent arc. And, truth be told, his scheme (steal a machine, sell it), is almost too far in the direction of low-stakes.

Still, he's enjoyable to watch, and that, sadly, has to count for a lot. Also, his draconian attempt to kill Bond and Melina by keel-hauling them through a coral reef and letting sharks smell their blood might be my all-time favorite overwrought death trap in a Bond movie.

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Rating: 3 Evil Cats


THE GIRL
Alongside Tanya Romanova from From Russia with Love, Melina Havelock is one of my picks for all-time most horribly under-appreciated Bond Girl, and this is only partially owing to Carole Bouquet's striking appearance, less "oh my God, she's a hottie" (which, she is, because duh, Bond Girl), and more, "oh my God, that woman's grey-green eyes are staring into the very depths of my soul". I don't where, exactly, this falls on the acting vs. writing line, but Melina is a potent, strong, determined, icy Bond Girl, far and away the most competent in the entire franchise (there's not a single damsel in distress moment except for one that she shares with Bond; in fact, she saves him more than he saves her), but if it were only a matter of her being strong, that would be more noteworthy as trivia than a reason to rank her way up near the tip-top of Bond Girls. It's the manic edge to her strength, the steel edge of "I want to kill, and kill, and kill" that makes her even more dangerous than she is sexy. In the most serious and rough of all Moore Bond pictures, it's from this imposing character that the most, and best roughness emanates.

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Rating: 4.5 White Bikinis


THE HENCHMEN
The mute, pinch-faced Locque isn't terribly memorable or terribly interesting, but at least he has a nice ominous feeling of just showing up out of nowhere; and this is the best I can muster up for the generally effective and inordinately dull thugs that make up Kristatos's army. The only other henchman of note is East German Olympian Erich Kriegler (John Wyman), who's um, blond and muscly. I think it's the hefty mystery plot: there's simply not enough room left over for colorful side characters. They're not bad, our pair, just horrifically forgettable.

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Rating: 2 Metal-Plated Teeth


THE SECONDARY GIRL WHO ENDS UP DEAD MAKES YOU CONSTANTLY & DEEPLY WISH FOR HER DEATH
Oh my holy fuck, I hate Bibi Dahl. You know who else hates Bibi Dahl? James Bond, or at least Roger Moore, who responds to virtually every one of Lynn-Holly Johnson's movements with a wide-eyed expression of confusion and disapproval. To start off, there's the fact that the filmmakers throw a jailbait girl who develops a massive and thankfully unrequited crush on the spy; then there's the rather obvious motivation they had in doing so, which was that winter sports and ice skating in particular were becoming extremely popular in the early '80s, and hey, gotta jump on some band wagon or another, we already did sci-fi with Moonraker.

There is nothing she adds but bad acting and a grotesquely repellent chirpy attitud; every moment she is onscreen makes me die a little bit inside, and at the end when she gets brutally slapped twice in a couple of minutes, I don't even bother trying to disguise my delight. The nadir of Bond characters of any gender.

Incidentlly, a teenager being off-limits as a sexual partner, Bond does get a quick fling with Columbo's mistress, Countess Lisl (Cassandra Harris), but she gets to do absolutely nothing besides have sex with him and then die, and it's indisputably the case that the most important thing she did was bring Harris's husband, actor Pierce Brosnan, to Broccoli's attention. So let's just ignore her.

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Rating: 1 Golden Corpse


ACTION SEQUENCES
The action is generally muted here, though one stunt is particularly stunning and dangerous, involving a fall from a cliff face. The focus on realism-for-Bond necessitated even more reduction of histrionic fighting and chasing than normal for a Moore vehicle, and the film's most extended sequence, the series' third skiing-based chase, wobbles uncertainly between heightened intensity and objectionable stupidity (motorcycles and bobsleds are involved, like it's the end of a '60s adventure-farce or something). But there are a great many little, action-ish moments, like the wonderful moment of raw brutality with which Bond offs Locque, or the fight at the end in which Moore, Topol, and Glover, none of them particularly young men, wheeze and flail and scramble, and generally make physical fighting look mean and nasty, and not cool and slick. So kudos to that, and to an early car chase that manages to balance wacky visuals (it's a Beetle, huhr huhr) with exciting choreography relatively well. And I cannot stress enough how much I admire the "Bond is keel-hauled, escapes" sequence.

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Rating: 3.5 Walther PPKs


GADGETRY
Minimal, and Desmond Llewelyn is atypically boring as Q. In fact, besides the ATAC, all we really have are a communicator wristwatch, and a hilariously dated sequence in which Q and Bond use a "com-pyoo-tor" to create a composite image of a killer. It must have seemed way cooler in 1981 than it does now, so I'll give it a little bit of a phantom point, but there's just not much gadgetry to speak of; "back to basics" and all that, but a little something wouldn't have killed us.

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Rating: 2 Easily-Riled Welshmen


THE FIENDISH LAIR (and other sets)
The emphasis on realism-ish-ness is not the designer's friend - and let's all say hi to new production designer Peter Lamont, who'll be spending a lot of time with the franchise from now on - but two sets in particular stand out to me: the monastery where Kristatos's evil plot reaches its climax, and which boasts plenty of hidey-holes and stairs in interesting places and a very lovely stained glass window that facilitates a very clever silhouette shot, and the inside of the sunken St Georges, which has a certain haunted house feeling going on, and is the site of the film's best slow-boil moment almost entirely because of the creepy gloominess. Not much to work with, but what's there works, and that's what matters.

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Rating: 3 Volcano Fortresses


ELEGANT LIFESTYLE PORN
Best casino sequence in the franchise. Full stop. If it's not Bond winning baccarat essentially by informing the universe that he is much too cool not to win at baccarat, it's him spouting off with one of the most pretentious lines about wine in the annals of cinema, and makes it sound as down-to-earth and homey as you or I ordering a coke at McDonald's. There's really nothing else in the whole movie at that level, or even close to it, but the movie could have ended with a montage of Bond farting and telling boob jokes, and it wouldn't be enough to elide the feeling of unadulterated sexy tuxedo-wearing gorgeousness and gorgeosity of that casino scene.

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Rating: 4.5 Vodka Martinis


APPEARANCE OF "BOND. JAMES BOND."
After having taken Melina though a car chase, Bond turns to her with a bright, cocktail-hour smile, and says, "We haven't been properly introduced..."
Forced or Badass? Perfectly timed and delightfully delivered, this is undoubtedly badass, the best use of the line in Moore's tenure.


BEST QUIP
BOND: "That's détente, comrade. You don't have it, I don't have it."


ADDITIONAL COMMENTS
I am sore tempted to say, "For Your Eyes Only is almost the best Roger Moore Bond film, except for...", but then the part that follows the "except for" is so much stuff that it kind of negates the "almost". The thing is that it all feels so shallow and superficial and easily-removed from the movie that you can readily pretend that the problems are less endemic.

Anyway, there are four things that want very badly to ruin an otherwise great Bond movie: Bibi Dahl is one of them for reasons already covered; the horrible opening scene is another, for it starts us off on the wrong foot; the even worse closing gag - it involves Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Janet Brown) - is still another, for it sends us out with a sour taste. The worst thing, though is the score by Bill Conti; Marvin Hamlisch flirted with disco in his The Spy Who Loved Me score, but Conti gets disco drunk, takes it to his hotel room, and fucks it till neither of them can walk properly anymore. Seriously, you cannot know the pleasure of living until you get to the point where you hear Monty Norman's James Bond theme done up all techno funk-style, because only then do you truly appreciate how beautiful every moment that you do not hear that really is. This was the first time that I ever consciously formulated the thought, "this score was so bad it made me like the movie less than I otherwise would have", for which I suppose I owe Conti thanks. But seriously, it's a nightmare; the skiing chase scene, I am absolutely convinced, would be considerably stronger as a work of action cinema with almost any other piece of music than the one Conti wrote for it.

But y'know, if you can get past all of that, For Your Eyes Only is good throughout and frequently absolutely fantastic: the grimmer, leaner story and the darker, more savage Bond on display work extremely well here, now that Moore had gotten comfortable enough with his take on the character that he could bend it without going off the rails. And this is the film that introduces two extremely important behind-the-camera individuals: writer Michael G. Wilson, Albert Broccoli's stepson, who would end up serving as the franchise's primary creative guide once Broccoli died, and whose sensibilities greatly informed the more muted approach the stories would largely take during his five-film tenure as co-writer; and director John Glen, who would stay on to direct the exact same run of movies, having moved up after a brief stint as the series' editor.

For Your Eyes Only certainly feels like an editor's movie: it's terse and pointed, cutting into scenes late and cutting out early, and spending as little time on nonsense as possible (an extreme example: the man played by Victor Tourjansky, who drops his drink in shock as Bond does something wild, makes his third tiny cameo appearance in a row in this film, but for only a few frames, and without the allegedly comic "wuh?" reaction of the last two movies). The series had elegant directors, wacky directors, fun directors, but Glen was its first brusque director, and coupled with cinematographer Alan Hume's muted color palette and flat focus, For Your Eyes Only feels compact, sensible, and focused, qualities the Bond franchise had lacked for quite some time.

Glen was hardly infallible: he oversaw one of the worst action movies of the entire decade and certainly the most indefensibly bad movie in the Bond series, just two films down the line. But let's not look ahead, and instead reflect on what marvelous work he did here: stripping the Bond formula bare without giving it the "darker & edgier" treatment, finding a way to make even Moore's breezy quipping work in a more sober vein. It's serious without sacrificing escapist fun, and that kind of alchemy only gets to happen very infrequently. It's enough to make this the last absolutely top-shelf Bond movie for rather too long.


OVERALL SCORE
35.5/60

9 comments:

Jeremy said...

I forgot to warn you to turn off FYEO right before the parrot/Thatcher stuff. Ugh, dreadful.

FYEO is maybe my favorite Moore Bond, although I love the Greatest Hits version that is The Spy Who Loved Me. It's leaner and meaner. Bond girls who's icey eyes pierce the screen, and a Roger Moore that straight up kicks a car over the edge in one of the single most ruthless Bond moments this side of Timothy Dalton. And that casino sequence? Too good. Also, I LOVE that it's a Bond movie that ends in a stalemate. "That's detente, comrade--you don't have it, I don't have it" Love that Gogol is the one who returns, someone we've seen that Bond has some history with, and he just gives a laugh and a shrug. Just another chapter in the Cold War game.

The intro is pretty terrible, but I love the metaphor of it. It's like an apology for the absurd nadir of the series Moonraker reached. "We're sorry we got too wacky, we're getting rid of the wackiness, see? Bye bye, Blofeld!"

I'm a bigger Octopussy fan then just about anyone, so I'm looking forward to your inevitably negative review on it!

Andrew Testerman said...

I'm a bit more partial to the Bond ballads, and I enjoy For Your Eyes Only's melody and energetic chorus. Sure beats Nancy Sinatra almost failing to stay awake during her number, anyway.

Plus, any mention of Sheena Easton always makes me think of this.

Neil Fulwood said...

The idea of an end credits sequence in which Bond, all raised eyebrows and immaculate tuxedo, farts and tells boob jokes had me laughing so loud and so breathlessly that I had to stop reading this review for a few minutes. I collected myself, took a drink, returned to the review and nearly choked with laughter at the Bill Conti gets disco drunk and takes it to his hotel room line.

This has been the single most entertaining review to date in your Bond retrospective.

Mysterious F. said...

In a sense, the opening actually does tie in with the rest of the movie. It lends extra gravitas to the theme of the nature of revenge.

Tim said...

Jeremy- I've seen the movie plenty of times, so unfortunately, I knew the ending.. In fact, the first time the parrot showed up, I cursed out loud and had to explain to the people I was watching with that I'd just remembered the ending. I like your explanation for the "purging the wacky" opening, though I think it's giving them a hair too much credit.

Don't be surprised if Octopussy isn't such a negative review.

Andrew- It sure does beat Sinatra's cold-blooded warbling, I will definitely give you that.

Neil- Thanks! Always nice to get such a pleasant compliment from a fellow Bond reviewer, specially one of such estimable talents.

Mysterious F.- Another good reading of that sequence, though before I could endorse it, I would have to square the wacky sound effects with the word "gravitas".

Brian said...

This is my favorite of the Moore films, although TSWLM is damn close.

Thing is, as someone that doesn't really like the Moore films all that much, I honestly think that, if you could just somehow magically remove Bibi Dahl from the film, this might have been THE best Bond film.

Alas, she probably drags it out of the top 5 all by herself.

redwood said...

Maybe this is the perfect Bond: cheesy, yet it works. Isn't that often Bond at his best, after all? Saw this too many times in the early years of cable TV, in the early 80s, making it the most-viewed, by far, for me. It was also my first cinema Bond. With all that, I am still NOT partial. However, it does tend to work in many ways.

Tim said...

This is actually my most-viewed Bond as well, it's the one I always seemed to manage to catch in full on TBS's Bond marathons back in the day. Familiarity breeds contentment, for me, in this case.

Thanks for all your comments, by the way! I've been reading them, even though I haven't had much time to reply properly.

redwood said...

Been thinking about your review the past couple of days (friend of mine is doing his own "Bond marathon" & I'm thinking of it, as well - no written reviews, just watching). I should add that I DO like the film - and for having viewed so many times, I can say I'd rather be stuck in a loop of this one than many other Bonds.
I think I may understand the pre-title sequence now, as well: as in the vein of OHMSS, this one's a "return" to the grittier Bond, right? Well, by going back to Tracy's grave and Blofeld (OHMSS), we have our connection ... maybe? Like an announcement: this is "another OHMSS, folks". Just a thought (which, I know it's not, but ... you know).