For Your Eyes Only (1981) – BlogalongaBond #12
A year of BlogalongaBond and we’ve gone from 1962 to 1981… which means we’ve reached a landmark year in my own real-life experience of 007.
For Your Eyes Only
(John Glen, 1981)
The perfect Bond to introduce an excited five-year-old to – but does it cut it as part 12 of an ongoing spy series?
October 1981. My parents have brought me to London for the first time. Earlier that weekend, an IRA bomb has gone off on Oxford Street. But for me, the real excitement starts when they give me a choice of films at a cinema on Piccadilly. One, about a guy with a whip looking for an ark, looks OK – but the other film, illustrated in the foyer with pictures of car chases, skiing and a scary looking deep sea diver like the one in Scooby Doo, looks amazing. So it is that, one week shy of my sixth birthday, I spurn Indiana Jones to see my very first James Bond film.*
It proves the perfect introduction – and not only for me. Because, for the second time in Bond’s history (and the second time in a year for us BlogalongaBonders), a major recalibration is required. Just as in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a long-time 007 editor is handed his directorial debut to rein things in after a particularly bombastic and ludicrous adventure. The result is low-key, semi-serious and with a grittiness not seen in Bond for a while… but fear not, us five-year-olds in the audience are still given the works. With set-pieces in the sky, on land, on skiis, underwater and dangling off a mountain, For Your Eyes Only ticks every single box in the James Bond playbook.
It’s hard not to be impressed with this film’s commitment to its new brief. The stuntwork is, frankly, superb, especially in Bond’s vertiginous fall off a Greek mountain, the long shot of a motorcyclist chasing a skier down a toboggan run, and the insolent wit of Bond careering down a hillside in a battered 2CV. Other films may have individual set-pieces that are more exhilarating, but for consistency and ambition, this is Bond’s finest action movie to date, with Glen knowing exactly what to ask his second unit for.
Where the film falls down is in its first unit work. Glen’s no-frills, functional approach is certainly watchable – and a lot more professional than anything in Moonraker – but it is also slightly anaemic and joyless after pranksters like Guy Hamilton and Lewis Gilbert had defined 007’s camp, jolly house style. There are great jokes here (the exploding Lotus is glorious) and knowing performances from nutty Topol and Cassandra Harris (who must be, incidentally, the owner of the first nipple I ever saw inside a cinema) but the film is straitjacketed by its reserve. It’s particularly frustrating to see the usually amazing Julian Glover having to rein it in as the main villain Kristatos; the performance he’d given two years earlier in the Doctor Who story ‘City Of Death’, as a one-eyed alien masquerading as a flamboyant art thief, suggests he could have been the greatest Bond villain of the lot.
But here he’s just an opportunistic smuggler with the chance to sell a Macguffin to the Russians. It’s a coherent, plausible premise, but one that doesn’t quite justify all the glorious things that the stunt team is doing. Put it this way: the entire plot hinges on everybody doing as little as possible to actually find the ATAC device, even though everybody knows roughly where it is and the exact location is only a decent code-breaker away from being pinpointed exactly. It’d serve Bond and Kristatos right if somebody else had stolen the damn thing while they were chilling out watching a young girl ice skating. And while we’re on the subject, how refreshing to see that Bond actually has some conscience when it comes to bedding the ladies. Turns out he won’t take advantage of a shrill, slutty Lolita. Probably just as well. Fuck knows where I’d have ended up if my five-year-old self was exposed to the sight of 007 rogering Lynn Holly-Johnson.
* In case you were wondering, I finally saw Raiders Of The Lost Ark in 1984. My mum was in hospital giving birth to my brother, so my Dad rented a Laserdisc player to keep us entertained. My choices were Raiders and Jaws 3. My Dad, though he strenuously denies it now, picked Porky’s, the dirty so-and-so. Again, just as well he didn’t let me see that one at the time, or I’d be more warped than I already am.