To mark the 50th Anniversary of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time and with filming almost complete on James Bond’s 23rd official outing in Skyfall due for release later this year, I have been tasked with taking a retrospective look at the films that turned author Ian Fleming’s creation into one of the most recognised and iconic characters in film history.
Following on from Bond’s previous mission into outer space for Moonraker, which although it was a huge success at the box office provided some of the worst excesses of the series so far preferring a more humorous approach over the serious spy thrills of the early days in the character’s long history. The film had also proved to be a costly exercise requiring co-financing from the French wing of United Artists to cover the budget. Series producer Albert R. Broccoli wisely decided there was only one direction to take for the next film For Your Eyes Only and that was a more stripped back, basic approach returning to Fleming’s original novels for inspiration.
Broccoli hired the services of screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who had already been responsible for many of Bond’s previous screenplays, working in collaboration with executive producer and Broccoli’s stepson, Michael G. Wilson. Taking elements from two of Fleming’s short stories For Your Eyes Only and Risico as well as taking a number of sequences from the original novels Live And Let Die, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the brief was to take Roger Moore’s Bond back to the roots of the Fleming character offering a more gritty, realistic take recalling the earlier films of the series.
To facilitate this change in approach a number of key crew members were offered new roles to shape Bond’s new direction. John Glen, who had made a name for himself as an editor and second unit director on a number of previous Bond films was chosen to direct while Peter Lamont, who had worked on the series since Goldfinger in the art department was asked to replace Ken Adam as production designer eschewing Adam’s trademark set design in favour of real locations and more modest sets. With a budget of $28 million, $6 million less than Moonraker and with shooting locations in Greece, Italy, the Bahamas and the UK, Bond was ready to take on the 1980s for a new adventure.
For Your Eyes Only is arguably Roger Moore’s finest performance in the lead role. In this his fifth outing as Bond the character is transformed, making a move away from the wise-cracking smarm of Moonraker to a much harder, edgier take on Fleming’s creation. While there is still room for Moore’s trademark quips they are toned down in favour of a Bond more akin to early Connery than the excessive seventies style Bond. Moore shows a side to the character that has rarely been seen until this point giving him a mean, vengeful streak. This is most evident in a scene where he has a choice to save or kill the lead henchman, Emile Locque, as his car hangs on the edge of a cliff. As Locque has been responsible for the death of two of Bond’s close associates he chooses to kick the car away from the cliff edge providing Locque with a painful death and marking a brutal change in Bond’s approach.
Another new element to his portrayal of the character is his own attitude to his age. For the first time Moore draws attention to the fact that he is not as young as he used to be and when receiving attention from young ice skater Bibi Dahl, rather than acting on her advances he uses his age as a reason to make his excuses and leave. Moore’s age does not affect his ability to convince during the film’s many action scenes. If anything, the fact that he is an older man adds to the perilous situations he finds himself in and brings an edge of humanity to the character. Overall, For Your Eyes Only offers a solid, dependable performance from Moore at the peak of his Bond career.
Pre-Credits & Theme Song
The film’s opening sequence is tonally very different to the rest of the film. Unlike previous Moore era pre-credit scenes it has no connection with the preceding or succeeding film. In a sly two finger salute to Thunderball’s co-writer Kevin McClory with whom Eon Productions were still locked in a legal dispute over the ownership of certain elements of the Bond world, in particular the character of Ernst Stavro Blofed, Bond’s nemesis and his criminal organisation SPECTRE, For Your Eyes Only opens with a scene putting the character to rest and essentially writing him out of the official Bond series for good.
Vicar: Mr. Bond, Mr. Bond. I’m so glad I caught you. Your office called. They’re sending a helicopter to pick you up. Some sort of emergency.
James Bond: It usually is. Thank you.
Beginning with Bond visiting the grave of his late wife, Tracey, killed by Blofeld in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond is called back to his office taking flight in a waiting helicopter. As the helicopter flies into London the pilot is killed by an electrical charge through his headphones forcing the helicopter into a dive before a voice comes over the radio. The voice belongs to a bald man in a wheelchair who resembles Bond’s old foe Blofeld, although he is never acknowledged by name. Taking control of the helicopter by remote control, Blofeld attempts to kill Bond by flying into buildings around London’s docklands. To regain control of the helicopter, Bond has to climb along the outside of the aircraft and into the pilot’s seat before disconnecting Blofeld’s radio link. Once in control of the helicopter he approaches Blofeld from behind picking his wheelchair up on one of the helicopter’s skids taking him up into the air before dropping him into a chimney stack.
Filmed at the Beckton Gas Works in London, the opening scene is memorable mostly for the awe inspiring stunt work as Bond climbs along the outside of the helicopter. Performed by long serving Bond stuntman Martin Grace the result is a spectacular sequence only slightly marred by the over use of cutaways of Roger Moore against a rear projected backdrop. While the scene is a humorous start to a largely more serious film it offers a suitable closure to the Blofeld saga particularly considering the on-going legal issues with McClory. It was the perfect statement from Broccoli, suggesting that Bond could survive perfectly well without Blofeld or McClory’s input.
With Bond’s regular composer John Barry unavailable for scoring duties the producers had to look elsewhere for a suitable replacement. American composer Bill Conti, probably best known for providing the music for the Rocky films was chosen for the film. His score is very much of its time taking a more disco approach to the music and as was the case with Marvin Hamlisch’s score for The Spy Who Loved Me, time has not been very kind dating the music badly.
Conti also provided the music for the theme song with Michael Leeson’s lyrics. American band Blondie had initially been considered for the theme song, writing their own song for the film, however when it was suggested that they perform Conti’s song they rejected the offer. Their version of the theme song can be found on their album The Hunter and is certainly Bondesque and could have worked really well. Conti and Leeson’s theme song was originally written with Donna Summer or Dusty Springfield in mind but United Artists suggested Scottish singer Sheena Easton after she had had a number 1 hit in the United States with Morning Train. She also had the honour of appearing during the film’s opening titles, the only artist to do so in the series. The song proved popular enough to become a worldwide hit reaching the top ten in the UK and top five in the US.
When a British spy ship sinks off the coast of Albania, a marine archaeologist, Timothy Havelock is hired to locate the ship wreck and retrieve the top secret ATAC (Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator) system used for co-ordinating the Royal Navy’s fleet of nuclear submarines before it falls into the wrong hands. When Havelock and his wife are murdered, British secret agent James Bond is assigned to find out who ordered the hit. Travelling to Spain, Bond encounters the Havelock’s daughter Melina who is out for revenge on the people behind the death of her parents. After she kills the assassin responsible they part ways and Bond heads to the skiing resort of Cortina in Italy to continue his investigation. On arrival in Cortina he makes contact with Aristotle Kristatos a Greek businessman who tells Bond that his former partner in organised crime Milos Columbo is behind the killings. However when Bond travels to Corfu to confront Columbo he discovers it is actually Kristatos who has been working with the KGB to locate the ATAC system. Bond, with the assistance of Melina and Columbo, find themselves in a race against time to reach Kristatos’ mountaintop hideout in St. Cyril’s to retrieve the ATAC before it falls into the hands of the Soviets.
What sets For Your Eyes Only apart from all the Bond adventures since Goldfinger is that is does not follow the same formula of the previous films. The plot is more convoluted and much less straight forward, taking in the kind of twists and turns that a good spy movie should have. It benefits from a grounding in reality with no world domination aspirations just a more believable Cold War threat with clear influence taken from the original Fleming novels.
Sadly, shortly after filming had begun on the film Bernard Lee passed away. Lee who had played Bond’s superior M in all eleven films had been a key member of the cast since the series began. The chemistry he had developed with all three lead actors over the years brought some truly entertaining scenes making largely expositional exchanges more enjoyable with a sly sense of humour. As a mark of respect, Broccoli chose not to recast for the film and instead had Chief of Staff Bill Tanner (James Villiers) as acting head of MI6 working alongside the Minister of Defence (Geoffrey Keen) for Bond’s briefing. Other scenes that were originally intended to include M were re-written with Q, once again played by Desmond Llewellyn, filling in.
The Bond films have always been synonymous with exciting action sequences and For Your Eyes Only is certainly no exception. The film will always be remembered for its car chase featuring Bond in a very un-Bond-like vehicle, a yellow Citroen 2CV. With Bond more used to high powered sports cars such as Aston Martins and Lotus Esprits, the car chase begins with his own Lotus being destroyed when a thug ignores the burglar warning sticker on the window only to be blown up when he breaks the car window, Bond then has to rely on Melina’s car to make his escape. With producers calling on the expertise of French stunt co-ordinator Remy Julienne, beginning a partnership with the series that would last until Goldeneye in 1995. The thrilling sequence sees Bond and Melina pursued by villains in two black Peugeot 504s along the winding roads of the Corfu countryside. With the cars trading paint, crashing through the small villages and olive groves along the route, the sequence has all the reckless abandon of a classic Bond chase.
James Bond: I’m afraid we’re being out-horse-powered!
When the action moves to the Italian slopes of Cortina the Bond team managed to conjure up another memorable sequence with Bond pursued by two motorcycles with studded tyres as he makes his getaway on skis. Under the direction of Willy Bogner Jr. the skiing maestro who had provided such incredible cinematography for the skiing scenes for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me, the sequence takes things up a gear and includes some truly incredible stunt work. Of particular note is the moment the chase takes to a bobsleigh run with Bond following a bobsleigh down the track with a motorcycle hot on his heels. The stunt was achieved by having the skier towed on a rope behind the bobsleigh so they would stay within a safe distance of each other. The whole sequence captures the speed and danger of the chase and is one of the finest of the series.
A number of scenes take place underwater and these, like most previous Bond underwater sequences, are excellently shot however they involved some slight of hand after it was revealed that actress Carole Bouquet had a condition that prevented her from filming underwater. To achieve the close-up shots of her and Moore underwater they were filmed on a dry soundstage with a combination of slow-motion photography, lighting effects, wind and superimposed bubbles to give the impression that they were filmed under the sea. The effect is so well done that it is hard to believe they were filmed in such a way. The remainder of the underwater scenes were filmed with doubles portraying the Bond and Melina.
The climax of the film is a rather low-key affair far removed from the all-out battles of previous films in the series. Beginning with another spectacular stunt sequence as Bond scales the heights of Kristatos’ mountain hideaway. As he reaches the top of the mountain one of Kristatos’ henchmen kicks him back over the edge of the cliff sending him into a freefall with only his climbing rope to break the fall a few hundred metres above the ground. The stunt was performed by Rick Sylvester, the stuntman who had performed Bond’s parachute leap at the beginning of The Spy Who Loved Me, and provides another memorable heart-stopping moment for the series.
The final scene of the film is one of the strangest moments of the whole series. Following the success of Bond’s mission his phone is put through to the Prime Minister who wants to congratulate him personally on a job well done. With Margret Thatcher impersonator Janet Brown playing the role of the PM the scene is played purely for laughs and like the pre-credits sequence is tonally very different to the rest of the film but as part of a Roger Moore Bond film it still kind of works.
Despite the comedic bookends, the film marked a real change of direction for the series and a return to the style that had served it so well during the early years. It also cemented John Glen’s position as a credible director for the series, a post he would keep for the next four films. With Bond entering into his third decade the return to reality secured his future proving he did not need to follow popular trends to stay relevant and strike a chord with audiences.
The Bond Villain
For Your Eyes Only stands apart from other Bond films as it does not establish a clear villain until some way into the film’s running time. Initially we are led to believe that Milos Columbo, the pistachio chomping former partner of Aristotle Kristatos, is the man behind the death of the Havelocks however it turns out to be misinformation as Kristatos is in fact the man behind the killings and has been working with the KGB to obtain the ATAC system.
Columbo, is played by former Fiddler On The Roof Chaim Topol, who despite being named as the villain by Kristatos, joins forces with Bond during the final assault on Kristatos’ mountain hideout. Much like Topol’s turn in Flash Gordon he offers solid support bringing gravitas to a small but important role.
Aristotle Kristatos, is played by the British actor Julian Glover who back in 1973 had been considered for the role of Bond during the casting sessions that saw Moore offered the part. Glover plays a very low-key villain far removed from the larger than life theatrics of some of the series’ previous villains. He is only revealed as the film’s bad guy during the final third of the film so only has a few scenes where we see his true colours but probably the most memorable is when he orders Bond and Melina to be tied together and towed behind his boat dragging them through the coral reef leaving them to the mercy of the sharks. This scene is lifted straight out of Fleming’s work and was actually a key scene in the novel Live And Let Die.
Kristatos: Bind that wound. We don’t want any blood in the water. Not yet!
Kristatos’ henchmen in keeping with the film’s return to reality are also fairly low-key and certainly not as iconic as Jaws or Oddjob. Eric Kriegler, played by John Wyman, is a henchman in the Red Grant mould, an Olympic biathlete and more than a match for Bond during the spectacular skiing chase in Italy. A man of few words he strikes an imposing figure and is the main link between Kristatos and the KGB.
Emile Locque played by Michael Gothard is Kristatos’ other henchman. A hired assassin who organises the deaths of the Havelocks as well as killing Columbo’s mistress in a vicious attack using high powered beach buggies to run her down. Locque is most well known for providing Moore with his game changing scene on the edge of a cliff and while his appearance is deceptively placid he is one of the most brutal henchmen of the series so far.
The Bond Girl
The character of Melina Havelock offers a different take on the kind of Bond girls we have seen in the past. When Bond meets her she is already on her own mission looking to avenge the deaths of her parents proving herself adept with a crossbow assassinating Hector Gonzales, the pilot hired to kill the Havelocks. In teaming with Bond she sees a way to continue her mission with his help and connections. Melina proves to be a more three dimensional character than some previous Bond girls and has a sophistication and intelligence making her one of the most interesting female partners in Bond’s long career.
The role of Melina was offered to French actress and model Carole Bouquet after Broccoli had seen her in the Luis Bunuel film The Obscure Object Of Desire. Bouquet had initially auditioned for the role of Dr. Holly Goodhead in Moonraker but lost out to Lois Chiles. The then face of Chanel, she has a natural beauty and brings life to the tortured soul of Melina. Afforded more back story than the average Bond girl she has real chemistry with Moore and totally convinces in a role that requires her to be at the heart of much of the film’s action.
James Bond: The Chinese have a saying; “Before setting off on revenge, you first dig two graves”!
Melina: I don’t expect you to understand, you’re English, but I’m half Greek and Greek women like Elektra always avenge their loved ones!
The other important female role in the film belongs to Columbo’s mistress, Countess Lisl von Schlaf. Played by Cassandra Harris, who was at the time married to future Bond actor Pierce Brosnan. Her role is small but very significant as it is her death at the hands of Emile Locque after Bond has spent the night with her, that leads to Bond’s confrontation with Locque on the cliff edge giving him justification for his actions when he shows Locque no mercy.
The back to basics approach to the film included the removal of Bond’s gadgets that had become such an integral part of the films since Goldfinger. The scene where Bond’s Lotus is destroyed by its own anti-theft gadget is a case in point. It strips Bond of his usual high performance gadget laden car forcing him to use his own skills in Melina’s Citroen 2CV offering a new take on the now familiar signature car chases of the series.
James Bond Will Return…..
While not quite beating Moonraker’s huge haul at the box office, For Your Eyes Only still managed a healthy $195 million ensuring Bond’s future going into his third decade. However his next adventure had some unusual competition in the shape of a rival Bond film starring none other than Sean Connery as the Kevin McClory saga rolled on……
To catch up on previous installments of the James Bond Retrospective click here:
Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker