License to Review #12: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

James Bond will return to cinemas this November with his twenty-fifth adventure, No Time to Die. In preparation, David Alkhed will take a look at all the previous entries in the franchise and see which ones are deserving of praise (shaken) and which ones aren’t (stirred).

“It filled me with wonder, because of its cinematographic writing…if I could have seen it twice in a row and again the next day, I would have done.”

That quote comes from French filmmaker Robert Bresson, and was his impression on the twelfth James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only from 1981. Whilst I personally wouldn’t go that far describing my enthusiastic feelings towards this film, I still find it interesting whenever a famous arthouse filmmaker known for their meticulous or slow style embraces a big and/or dumb blockbuster. Tarkovsky praising The Terminator or Kubrick listing White Men Can’t Jump as one of his favorites come to mind as other good examples. But I digress. In all seriousness I did like For Your Eyes Only very much, and consider it Moore’s second-best outing as Bond after The Spy Who Loved Me, so I’ve been surprised about how the film is historically rated quite low on the list of Bond films.

In For Your Eyes Only, a British vessel sinks off the coast of Greece. The ship, being equipped with a weapons description device, could obviously cause great disasters if it would fall into the wrong hands, so of course MI6 send Bond to Greece to retrieve the device. It’s not as easy as it would seem however as Bond quickly falls into a web of deceptions and intrigue, including getting involved with a young woman Melina Havelock, who tries to avenge her murdered parents.

So the reasons why I like For Your Eyes Only are plentiful, but let’s start with the brief negatives, don’t worry it won’t take long. My only major caveat with the film is the very opening pre-title sequence which is absolutely dreadful. It starts off good enough with Bond visiting Tracy’s grave, hinting at perhaps a more grounded and/or serious tone for a Roger Moore film, but then he gets involved in some shenanigans with a man who is clearly supposed to be Blofeld but isn’t named as such because of copyright issues with Kevin McClory. Combine that with the fact that we (I’ve been watching these films with my family) ordered hamburgers and mine was quite spicy from the jalapenos which I wasn’t prepared for, I was really getting ready for this to be a repeat of Moonraker. But luckily for me (and my appetite), the rest of the film was surprisingly engaging so I can forgive that awful opening.

So what is it that I like so much about the film? For one, once we get past the terrible opening we get not only one of my favorite Bond themes, but also favorite Bond title sequences with the theme song performed by Sheena Easton. I really love the song, as it has an effective blend of genuine romance and drama going on throughout its relatively brief timespan, and the fact that Easton herself appears during the credits sequence is an inspired choice that actually didn’t bother me and just worked for some reason. Then apart from that, I found the story engaging and I was genuinely interested in seeing where things were going, especially in the case of Melina and Bond’s relationship. On that note, can I say how refreshing it was to see Bond not sleep with a woman on every occasion he gets? I don’t know about you, but I like a little less creepy Bond as opposed to borderline sexual predator Bond most of the time in the week thank you very much.

I also liked the action sequences a great deal. After the crushing disappointment of Moonraker where virtually every set piece felt like Lewis Gilbert was just pointing the camera at the action because he was too bored to come up with more imaginative angles, it was a lot of fun to see a lot of the action scenes display a wide array of interesting angles that cut together creates a cohesive whole, not unlike the action scenes in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That comparison actually holds up as, much like Peter Hunt before him, John Glen who directed For Your Eyes Only had been the editor and second unit director on the prior Bond films and I feel like he used those skills he’d learned on the previous films to set this apart from the most recent entries in terms of action. It does somehow feel like a ‘greatest hits’ of Bond action scenes though; there’s a ski chase, there’s an underwater fight and there’s a car chase, albeit no boat chase, a rarity for the Moore-era Bond films.

I think there is definitely a possibility that my positive reaction to For Your Eyes Only is merely a direct counterreaction to my hatred of Moonraker. I mean, after that there’s really no way to go but up right? And maybe whenever I decide to rewatch For Your Eyes Only I’ll see more mistakes and bump the film down some slots in my ranking of the franchise, but as of this writing I do feel comfortable in saying this is one of the better Bond films. I was engaged in the story, I liked Moore, the jokes in the film landed, the action scenes were tense and well put-together. So I say For Your Eyes Only is shaken indeed.

James Bond will return in Octopussy, which is actually the second James Bond film to have the main Bond girl have the word ‘pussy’ in her name, the first one of course being you-know-who from a few movies ago.

Also, my dad made vodka martinis for the viewing and you know what? Not bad

Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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