Thursday, June 7, 2012

For Your Eyes Only: A Review (Review #403)


He's Got An Eye for the Ladies...

Please visit the James Bond Film Retrospective for all Bond reviews.

For the twelfth James Bond film, the decision was made to tone things down.  After the extravagant and grandiose plot of Moonraker (which ended with Bond In Space), For Your Eyes Only kept things firmly grounded, so grounded a good chunk of FYEO took place underwater.  The plot was likewise more realistic, with the characters less outrageous and the motivations remarkably human.

In the pre-title sequence, we get nods to Bond's past: we start with James Bond (Roger Moore) placing flowers on the grave of Teresa Bond, who for the uninitiated was the only woman he ever married and who was killed at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  However, the helicopter sent to pick him up is really a trap.  Although it's never stated and we don't see the villain's face, the pussy on his lap indicates that it is suppose to be his lifelong nemesis Blofeld (the villain from You Only Live Twice, OHMSS, and Diamonds Are Forever).  The tables are quickly turned with the wheelchair-bound dispatched, and then we flow to our title theme.

We quickly get to the plot of FYEO: the British spy ship St. Georges is sunk in the Ionian Sea, with a powerful decoder aboard: the ATAC.  The Russians now want it and the British want to recover it.  Meanwhile, Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), daughter of a marine archaeologist secretly hired to find the ship, survives an attack on her family's boat that kills her parents. Bond is sent to find the hitman that slaughtered the Havelocks and from there find who hired the Cuban assassin. 

First stop: Spain.  While Bond easily finds Hector Gonzalez (Stephan Kalipha), someone beats Bond to eliminating him with a bow and arrow.  It is Melina, on a quest for vengeance.  Her own motives are bound to interfere with MI6's own plans.  However, with the ATAC still out there, the search for who was behind the Havelock's murders continues.  Next stop: northern Italy, where there is a contact that can lead them to the man who brought the money, Locque (Michael Gothard).  This is Ari Kristatos (Julian Glover).  He tells them of a Greek underworld kingpin named Columbo, nicknamed The Dove.  Bond survives yet another attempt on his life from East German marksman Erich Kriegler (John Wyman) and assorted henchmen, perhaps working for The Dove.

Now it's off to Corfu, Greece.  Bond mixes business with pleasure, with an amorous night with Countess Lisl (Cassandra Harris), Columbo's mistress.  However, as is the case, a Secondary Bond Girl never makes it, and she is killed by Locque and his minions.  Now Bond meets the Dove himself (Topol...yes, Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof Topol), who tells Bond that it is Kristatos who is working with the Russians to get the ATAC.  Now Bond reveals to Melina her father's work as well as Kristatos' involvement, seeking her help to continue the search.  Melina agrees, bringing the Havelock submarine Neptune to seek the wreck of the St. Georges

Melina and Bond find the ship, and now it's off to find the ATAC before Kristatos.  They retrieve it, but Kristatos has been waiting for them, letting them do the work while he takes the ATAC from them.  Fortunately for them, Max the parrot tells them where Kristatos is headed: the monastery of St. Cyril's.  With the aid of Kristatos' nemesis Columbo, the scene is set for an epic battle.      

There are quite positive aspects to FYEO.  There are many action sequences that work quite well and are thrilling to watch.  The chase sequence in Spain is well-filmed and even allows for bits of comedy.  The other actions scenes: the ski chase in the Italian Alps, when they are at the St. Georges, and when Bond and Columbo's men storm the monastery are all done with a perfectly straight face.  Each one builds on the previous one in terms of tension and excitement, raising the bar for each succeeding action scene in FYEO.

I think this is one of the reasons why For Your Eyes Only is among the better Bond films: it takes almost everything seriously.   Granted, we did have some moments of humor (the pre-title sequence with "Blofeld", the Spanish car chase scene and even a surprise "appearance" by newly-elected Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Denis), but on the whole the tendency to have too much humor in Bond films is toned down much to its benefit.

The seriousness of FYEO extends to the performances.  Glover is able to play both ally and villain with equal conviction.  For some time we do wonder whether he is on Bond's side or not, and when we do see his turn, Glover does not overdo the part.  Instead, he plays Kristatos as a calculating character, one who is not interested in world domination but instead to merely make a fortune.  Bouquet likewise gave a strong performance as the avenging Melina.  Again, she is different from most Bond Girls in that she has a motivating factor in being with Bond.

I would say that Topol, in a small but vital role, was a bit over-the-top as the Greek underworld boss Columbo.  I think this is just how Topol is (at least judging from this and Fiddler on the Roof), an actor with a wild bon vivant performing style.

Despite Topol's rather grand turn as Columbo, FYEO is a credit to director John Glen in drawing strong performances from his cast and keeping the pace flowing well.  The screenplay by longtime Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum and Michael Wilson (adapting two Ian Fleming stories: For Your Eyes Only and Risico) was exciting and more grounded than the literally far-out Moonraker.

The title sequence for For Your Eyes Only is unique in that it is the only one as of today that has featured the singer as part of the Maurice Binder montage. Sheena Easton achieved something that Dame Shirley Bassey in three films didn't do, that Sir Paul McCartney didn't do, Sir Tom Jones didn't do.  As to why Easton was selected to be part of the title sequence I don't know, but the song is in the romantic vein, and For Your Eyes Only (the third and so far last Bond song to receive a Best Original Song nomination), is a beautiful and powerful theme.

I also think Bill Conti's score acquitted itself quite well, which was exciting and romantic whenever the mood needed to be.

I would critize a few things in FYEO.  First, although it's become routine for the villain never to take the rational route and just shoot Bond in the hed to eliminate him, the method Kristatos uses to try to kill our hero and heroine seems rather elaborate even for them.  Second, I found Topol's performance as Coumbo a bit...shall we say, overenthusiastic.  Third, the subplot involving Kristatos' protege Bibi, whom he sponsors for ice skating competitions, goes nowhere and seems tacked on.

Now here's where things get a bit tricky.  Due to strange legal turns involving the complex writing of Thunderball, another production team had teh legal right to make a Bond film apart from the official Broccoli productions.  With that, Never Say Never Again was released and there was nothing Eon could do about it.  Whether it was intentional or not, NSNA was released a few months after the next official James Bond film, Octopussy.  After some thought I've decided to review both film, starting with the first released one.

After the lovely debacle of Moonraker, it is nice to have a more grounded and realistic film that puts lie to the idea that James Bond films were ridiculous and unbelievable.  In the end, For Your Eyes Only is a misnomer because it is a Bond film that should be seen by all. 

Next James Bond Film: Octopussy


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