Of [In]human #Bond_age_ #12: For Your Eyes Only – The Forgotten Bond
When people discuss the latter Roger Moore films after Moonraker, many of the events contained within become jumbled and disconnected. Before going through the entire series in #Bond_age_ I always needed a minute to remember, for certain, that the “Tarzan yell” happens in Octopussy or that the “California Girls” snowboarding scene takes place in A View to a Kill. But these are the embarrassing Bond moments, the ones that stand out because hindsight now decrees them to be filmmaking gaffes that break our connection with the whole narratives. I’d be extremely curious to know how contemporary fans reacted to each misstep, but you’d probably need a Delorean and maybe some plutonium (depending upon whether your model of Delorean time machine came with Mr. Fusion) because even Bond fans who were old enough to remember seeing either in the theater would likely still be subject to the retroactive brainwashing brought about by critical and public consensus. That brings us to today’s topic… how does For Your Eyes Only sit in the collective conscious? And why is For Your Eyes Only so easily overlooked?
But to put a finer point on it (I’ve always wondered who — other than They Might Be Giants — used that phrase), nobody seems to remember For Your Eyes Only because it just doesn’t fit neatly into the Bond lineage. I might go as far to suggest that people forget For Your Eyes Only because it does not support the unfortunate but widely held opinion that all of Roger Moore’s Bond movies, save The Spy Who Loved Me, were farcical crapsicles. These are not my words. That’s more of that regrettable public consensus, held in the hall of public records and viewable upon request. Call ahead to confirm that Alan, the 24-year-old English Literature Ph.D. student with a specialization in turn-of-the-century American composition and pedagogy, won’t be away on an extended lunch break. I’d go even further to suggest that if you remove a few isolated gaffes and missteps, For Your Eyes Only more closely resembles the tonal seriousness of the early Sean Connery films. I’m sure a few people have closed the browser and gone to fetch their pitchforks (riled up Lobster trappers, #AmIRight?), so with them out of the way, let us commence with the proceedings: 10 Reasons you’ll never again forget For Your Eyes Only.
1. A Return to Cold War Comforts
Consider how For Your Eyes Only (1981) marks an ideological shift. With the Cold War springing back up in the early 1980’s, the Rusco-Bondian détente in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker again turns adversarial in For Your Eyes Only. A submarine containing the ATAC (a device that sends nuclear launch codes to the British submarines) has been accidentally sunk off the Greek island of Corfu. The previously agreeable Russians send “their man in Greece” to find it. The British hire an inconspicuous private citizen, Timothy Havelock, who owns a salvage vessel (for archaeological purposes) to retrieve the ATAC. When Havelock is murdered, James Bond is sent to investigate the murder and secure the McGuffin. Bond’s informant puts him in contact with Kristatos because functionally, he’s Norm from Cheers — everyone knows him and he knows everybody. Kristatos fingers for the murder Milos Colombo, an organized crime boss in the Greek underworld. Colombo denies involvement and flips the finger back on Kristatos. Will Bond decide who’s telling the truth? (Spoiler alert! Kristatos is the bad guy.) Will he rescue the world from yet another Soviet nuclear threat? Will Bond flip anyone the finger? And does Carole Bouquet have a second facial expression?
After the madcap interstellar sexcapades of Moonraker, EON returns James Bond to a more grounded narrative with actual spying to be done. The Cold War provides a natural conflict to ground Bond’s narrative in the real. Remove the McGuffin, remove Melina Havelock’s revenge plot and you’ve got an old fashioned pissing match between the West and the Soviet Union. The villain Kristatos (a very good but understated Julian Glover) doesn’t want to take over the world or wipe out the human race. He is merely a freelancer, working for the Russians to retrieve the ATAC through any means necessary. Furthermore, Bond doesn’t get fancy weapons, gadgets or frivolously glib entendre. New director John Glen downplays the humor and consequently fosters Moore’s best performance as 007. He’s certainly no scowling T-Dalt or dour Craigers, but Moore comes off as serious, deliberate and (dare I say?) rugged, snuggling in the downy blankets of the Cold War.
2. Bond mourns
For Your Eyes Only opens on a scene of Bond laying flowers at the grave of Teresa (“Tracy”) Bond. This is the first outright acknowledgement of Bond’s status as widower. It’s also a surprising opening that plays with our expectations. Bond openly grieves during a private moment of reflection before anything else happens. He’s not breaking up an arms bazaar and commandeering a MiG jet or bedding a duplicitous bunny before being called to duty, ski-jumping off the side of a mountain and parachuting to safety.
The grave marker identifies Tracy’s date of death as 1969, the year of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s release. Previously, Bond ducked the wife question when Anya inquired in The Spy Who Loved Me. This is also the first overt cross-Bond callback since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when Lazenby’s Bond collected the souvenirs of prior missions from his desk before leaving MI-6. It also confirms that Bond has actually (gasp) aged. We no longer have to reconcile 54-year-old Roger Moore with the 35-year-old action hero. For Your Eyes Only acknowledges that more than a decade has passed since the death of Bond’s wife. This feeds back into my theory that the Bond movies are a series of interweaving events in the career of one 00-agent, not multiple agents all called James Bond, 007. Lazenby calls back to Connery’s Bond in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball. Moore now calls back to Lazenby. He’s not mourning the death of another Bond’s wife, just as Lazenby isn’t salvaging pointless tchotchkes for posterity.
As this is the anniversary of Tracy Bond’s death, devious Blofeld would find the temptation to torment Bond irresistible. Thus catalyzes an abrupt transition from Bond in mourning to one of the most bizarre pre-title sequences in Bond history.
3. The Execution of Not-Blofeld
But first, a measure of backstory.
Kevin McClory, who co-wrote Thunderball, was awarded the rights to the character of Blofeld and the SPECTRE organization. McClory had sued EON and UA to let him do his own Bond movie, and won on the basis that the screenplay he co-wrote with Fleming before any Bond movie had ever been made became the foundation for the Thunderball novel (which, in turn, inspired the movie Thunderball). McClory would go on to make Never Say Never Again in 1983 — a remake of Thunderball. In 1980 during the production of For Your Eyes Only, EON (Cubby and Michael G. Wilson) would have been abreast of McClory’s production finally having come to fruition. So EON tarred and feathered a bald, wheelchair bound character that strokes a white cat and wears a grey Nehru jacket. They couldn’t call him by name, but fans would know., without a shadow of a doubt. It had been ten years since their last meeting in Diamonds Are Forever (during which he was already presumed deceased). Thus, Bond producers resurrected Blofeld just to officially execute him on-screen, to show McClory that the series didn’t need SPECTRE or Blofeld.
But the scene isn’t notable just for the character’s execution; it remains notable because of the absurd means with which not-Blofeld is dispatched. First, the pre-title action sequence has no bearing on the rest of the movie. It exists unto itself, and the juxtaposition of this absurd scene (some might say inane) with the otherwise largely straight-laced For Your Eyes Only proves jarring in hindsight. Not-Blofeld remote-electrocutes the pilot (one of not-Blofeld’s own men) and hijacks Bond’s helicopter. Bond escapes by climbing out, entering the cockpit and casting aside the dead pilot (to which not-Blofeld replies “Have you no respect for the dead?”). Now in control of the helicopter, Bond scoops up the wheelchair bound baldy, patting his head condescendingly. “Keep your hair on,” Bond says. Consider the sinister, shadowed Blofeld from From Russia with Love or the formidable portrayal by Telly Savalas in OHMSS and then consider the debasement undertaken here. Before being deposited down a factory smokestack, not-Blofeld says “Mr. Bond, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel.”
While I assumed that this was merely an EON in-joke, there appears to be something slightly more broad to it than that (or maybe I just want this scene to have a cryptic backstory in order to justify itself). I’ve read that Cubby mentions the phrase in his autobiography (but I don’t remember the blurb nor can I locate the section in question). The same blurb that attributes some explanation to Cubby autobio suggests that it’s an Italian mafia saying regarding bribery. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, if someone owned a stainless steel delicatessen cart or a stainless steel deli counter this was a sign of being successful or well off. Not-Blofeld’s out-of-character attempt at bribery is a desperation play from a man who knows he is at Bond’s mercy. The bribery then represents the lawsuit and McClory’s suggestion that by winning the Thunderball lawsuit he’s taken something that EON coveted: Blofeld and SPECTRE. Thus, when Bond dispatches both in such an embarrassing fashion, EON definitively casts aside all ties, past, present and future with McClory, Blofeld and SPECTRE.
Author’s edit – 6/21/16: Spectre throws a wrench into this symbolic execution by bringing Blofeld back for an encore. One of the reasons I dislike Spectre on a basic, theoretical level is that by bringing Blofeld back, EON has undermined this brilliant, bonkers and crass dismissal of McClory and his attempt to ransom of the Bond franchise. Consider this scenario. Your boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend — we’ll call him Kev) steals all your precious vinyl then sends ransom notes attached to pieces of shattered Beach Boys and Cure records. Instead of giving in to his astronomical ransom demands, you burn the turntable and send him the wreckage. 30 years later, he shows up with flowers and says, “You can have all your records back if you just give me $20 instead of the $5,000,000 I asked for before,” and you agree to the deal and take him back. Now you paid Kev $20 for breaking your records and burning your turntable. It was a nice one too. A vintage Thorens TD124 with an Ortofon ST-104 solid beechwood plinth. You don’t take him or the broken records back at any price. It’s the principle of the thing.
All that said, the scene remains a regrettable, albeit fascinating blemish that often overshadows the rest of the movie in the minds of naysayers.
4. The Score
While Bond settles the score with not-Blofeld, the viewer must contend with another score entirely. Nary two minutes into the movie, our ears are treated to contemporary 1981. For Your Eyes Only’s score assaults us with the first hint of Bill Conti’s disco-era wacka wacka wacka. That’s not John Barry! What have you done with John Barry, FYEO?!? As it goes, John Barry was apparently not allowed back into England to produce the score for the 12th Bond film due to some business of delinquent taxes (he, like many wealthy Britons, had become a tax exile in the 1970s). In fact, Barry himself had recommended Conti as a possible replacement in his stead. While the For Your Eyes Only score entertains as only a time capsule into the music of the early 1980’s can, its durability is suspect. The talented if misappropriated Conti (best known for his scores for the Rocky series, minus Rocky IV) does display, however, a learned study of prior Bond films. His ski-chase scene, despite being cluttered with disco fever, recalls directly the score from the ski chases in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me. Taken on it’s own merit, Conti’s score is another fascinating anomaly in the Bond series. Berry could have recommended the great Georgio Moroder to score For Your Eyes Only and it’d have been a blood bath. You can mess with certain aspects of the Bond formula without recourse, but John Barry isn’t one of them.
Authors edit – 6/21/16: When I first wrote this essay I held little love for the Conti score because I found it off-putting in the grand scheme of the John Barry-born Bond sonic universe. Now, For Your Eyes Only is one of my most oft-spun Bond records. Conti’s score may not be very “Bond” but it’s an entertaining slice of early 1980’s electronic/orchestral experimentation that does a very nice job of incorporating classic cues into a contemporary soundscape. Compare Conti’s reverence of Barry’s source to the ways in which Serra abused Barry (and our ears in GoldenEye).
5. Winter Sports!
Much of the film takes place in mountains of Northern Italy. What do people do in the mountains of Northern Italy? Well, they ski. And if there’s skiing in a Bond movie, you know 007’s got some serious ass ski pirate problems ($1000 virtual internet bucks if you get that reference). Some of Bond’s finest snow-bound stuntwork takes place in For Your Eyes Only. Ski chases, ski vs. motorcycle chases on a bobsled run, ski jumps. There’s gawking at a “famous” bi-athlete/assassin. That “famous” bi-athlete/assassin, upon failing in his pursuit of Bond, chucks his motorcycle at him, the greatest “shake my first angrily in your general direction” gesture ever.
And then there’s one last horribrilliant scene where James Bond is assaulted by hockey players on an empty rice rink. He’s checked and thrown into the boards. They attempt to cut him with skates and club him with their sticks. But Bond perseveres. He commandeers a Zamboni and deposits them each in the goal as the scoreboard tallies a goal for each goon. Is it tongue-in-cheek? Is it just confused? During the live tweet for For Your Eyes Only, the scene reminded us of Kevin Smith’s street hockey agents of Satan in Dogma. The Bond bit, however, lacked the irony and was unintentionally hilarious.
But what was Bond doing at an empty ice rink? Spy work? No. He was visiting Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson of Ice Castles fame), the ravenous Bond-chaser and teenage skating phenom, at her practice facility. Oh, then surely he intends to stuff the turkey, rock the casbah, roast the broomstick, introduce Charley to a bit of the teenage itching Jenny. NOPE. He’s there because he promised Bibi he’d stop by her practice for a visit. Very fatherly like, despite Bibi’s best efforts to grapple with Bond’s burgeoning truncheon. Which brings me to my next bullet point…
6. Bond is not (exactly) a serial womanizer
For Your Eyes Only features three notable Bond girls. In many ways each of these women is more interesting (in the way that they play with the Bond formula) than Bond’s set of forgettable but well executed villains. The primary Bond girl, of course, is Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet, she of the “my parents are dead” face). She has witnessed the murder of her parents and now seeks revenge. As the second revenge-minded Bond girl (the first was Anya in The Spy Who Loved Me) her bite is much worse than her bark. She emotes little, but wields a deadly crossbow and will not be deterred, despite Bond’s best efforts to extricate her from the unfolding drama. Without this revenge-plot to motivate her, we would know nothing about her. She’s got no defining profession such as spy, geologist or nuclear physicist. Without the revenge fantasy and her inexplicable crossbow expertise you imagine this sweet girl with the drastically straight hair might be a casual Oprah fan, have a fondness for baking and browsing the mass-market paperback sections at used book stores. Her quiet scenes with Bond, while soundtracked by burdensome romantic ballads, are far more platonic than Conti’s score would suggest. He wants her leave Italy, to leave the violence to him. He says, “The Chinese have a saying; ‘Before setting off on revenge, you first dig two graves.’” Because we’ve seen Bond’s revenge (directly juxtaposed with his mourning at the grave of his dead wife) against not-Blofeld played out in the pre-title sequence, his warning about the soulless nature of revenge resonates. For another brief moment, the viewer is given an honest portrait of Bond’s repressed sadness as tied to the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. If he were to simultaneously use these quiet moments to bed Melina, per Bond’s standard modus operandi, the confession would be undermined. Likewise she expresses no interest in Bond until the revenge has been completed. Of course, then it’s time to shag on a seafaring vessel.
This mostly platonic relationship with Melina is contrasted by two further female acquaintances: Bibi Dahl and Countess Lisl von Schlaf.
The teenage Bibi throws herself at Bond, at one point appearing naked in his hotel bed. He forces her to dress and ushers her out the door, with a look of “what if someone sees me ushering a teenage ice skater out of my hotel room door!” While Bond’s relationship with Melina might at times appear fatherly or protective, his relationship with Bibi must then be grandfatherly rather than just fatherly. Finally, an age difference that causes Bond to pause and reassess his moral code. She’s supposed to be 15 (Lynn Holly-Johnson is actually in her 20s here) and if Moore is playing his legitimate age of 54, that age difference is 39 years. Bibi is cloyingly sweet, bratty, entitled, and her hyper-sexual cravings are creepier (and often irritating) than they are humorous. Her character manages some redemption, but ultimately, merely recognizing that your sponsor is an evil villain doesn’t excuse the bizarre attempts to bed grandpa.
The flipside of Bibi is Countess Lisl von Schalf (Cassandra Harris, Pierce Brosnan’s late wife), the high-class prostitute by any measure other than title. She boasts only a few minutes of screen time, but her relationship with Bond is striking in that she presents herself as much older than her real-life age of 33. Yes, in the Bond universe this is considered a legitimate attempt to give Bond a love interest of reasonable age. The relationship, if read a certain way, offers an interesting glimpse into Bond’s sadness, perhaps a longing for a future of domestic placidity in England… perhaps he’s considering retirement. She’s rented out by the then-suspected villain Colombo to find out more about Bond. Bond knows this, so obviously, when you’ve got some time with a free prostitute, you take some time to get to know her. He notices a break in her accent, calls her out. It turns out she’s from Liverpool! Small world, Countess. As a result they develop the closest thing Bond’s seen to a real connection since Diana Rigg. You can tell by the soft jazz and quiet walks on the beach. And then, of course, she’s made dunebuggy roadkill. So it goes.
7. Etch-a-sketch identification technology
And the perpetrator that runs over the Countess? Emile Leopold Locque (Michael Gothard), Kristatos’ henchman. Bond first runs into Locque when some spy business interrupts a killer 80’s pool party at the home of the assassin hired to kill the Havelocks. Major bummer. Here he meets Melina (clad in a beekeeper hat). Bond tactically explodes his Lotus to take out some heavies, and the duo flees in Melina’s Le Car, a Citroën 2CV. Bond returns to MI-6 where he and Q go about sketching the identity of this potential connection to the brains behind the entire evil enterprise.
While this might be a stretch to include as one unique bullet point, the scene stands as a singular time capsule of the 1980’s. The 1980’s were damn proud of their boat anchor cell phones and booming computer technology, therefore, a pencil-to-paper sketch won’t gird a Bond flick’s loins. This is not, after all, TV detective drama. Instead, Bond describes Locque to Q, who inputs his description in real time with a few keystrokes on his Apple IIc or, as it’s called in the film, “the Indentigraph.” As the movie is notably devoid of gadgets, the “Identigraph” thus becomes the only gizmo in For Your Eyes Only. The scene lingers long enough for Bond to chide, “A nose, not a banana, Q” as the quartermaster etch-a-sketches a full on Cyrano de Bergerac proboscis on the perp. Sent off to the global database of bad guys, the Identigraph immediately returns the identity of Emile Leopold Locque. And afterward Bond and Q played a rip-roaring game of The Oregon Trail. Spoiler alert: Bond dies of dysentery and Q kills all the oxen trying to ford a raging river.
8 the climax
Note how I’ve gone all e. e. cummings on that title. Call it artistic licence to bullet-point. I’ve done this to highlight the manner of the gripping finale of For Your Eyes Only.
What we’ve got here is yet another lair assault, but a lair assault with a twist. Kristatos and his not-so-merry band of KGB employees have taken refuge with the pilfered ATAC in a mountaintop monastery. With the help of Colombo’s men, Bond (and Melina) must break into the monastery. To approach the lair unseen, Bond scales the vertical rock face below. One of Kristatos’ henchman discovers Bond and starts kicking free the pitons securing Bond’s climbing ropes.
Thankfully, this scene is not accompanied by Conti’s disco synth. It is silent, except for the crunch of Bond’s feet against the rock. The ascent is languorous, tense and completely unlike any of the iconic lair assaults in the Bond series. Consider the screaming ninjas approaching the volcano lair in You Only Live Twice, the military breach of Fort Knox in Goldfinger, the united Navies of England, Russia and the U.S. attacking Stromberg’s supertanker in The Spy Who Loved Me. For Your Eyes Only introduces a small-scale approach that remains inherently forgettable due to its lack of whiz bang in a series most noted for its whiz bang. Minimalist when compared to the aforementioned Bond climaxes, it is perhaps inevitable that the finale to For Your Eyes Only would get lost in the morass of bombast. Colombo says before the ascent, “We should have brought more of my people,” a line that could be read as a reference to the more populated lair assault’s in the series’ history.
After finally breaching the monastery, it is not even Bond that dispatches Kristatos. Bond retrieves the ATAC and finds Melina prepared to execute Kristatos and consummate her revenge plot. Bond steadies Melina’s crossbow as Kristatos surrenders, but Kristatos is one bad mutha and tries to kill Bond with a concealed flick knife. It is the injured Colombo that throws the knife that ultimately kills Kristatos, saving Bond. The second such instance where Bond has required saving.
Moments later, Gogol (head of the KGB) arrives via helicopter with some heavily armed guards to assume control of the ATAC. Instead of handing over the device, Bond heaves it over the cliff. “That’s détente, comrade. You don’t have it; I don’t have it,” he says. Gogol stays the guards, an unspoken gesture of consent. More minimalism.
It’s an excellent Bond set piece that would have felt more at home in the less black-and-white world of Daniel Craig’s 007. But because For Your Eyes Only stars Roger Moore, the excellent ending is discarded, forgotten and lumped in with the comical frivolity of Octopussy and A View to a Kill. It could also be that an insipid plot point undermines the entire conclusion, causing more plot-conscious viewers to take in the finale through a skeptical facepalm. Bond only knows the location of the ATAC because Melina’s parrot, which was on board when Kristatos steals the device, repeats the phrase “ATAC to St. Cyril’s” thus revealing the villain’s plans. But as with everything in For Your Eyes Only you must occasionally forgive to appreciate the moments of inspiration.
9. For Your Eyes Porkly Poster
While we’re on the topic of undermining a generally earnest attempt at “serious” Bond, let me remind you of this:
Is this James Bond or Porky’s with crossbows? Not only does this poster undermine the mostly sincere attempt to scale back the Moonraker insanity, it also undermines the series’ burgeoning feminism by foregrounding a derrière and some shapely stems.
Melina Havelock (like Anya in The Spy Who Loved Me) takes on a more pro-active role by rescuing Bond in her first on-screen appearance rather than slipping into the traditional role of Bond’s overtly sexual female baggage. At times, however, the story forces Melina back into the female-in-peril archetype to give Bond something to do and to artificially raise the stakes – most notably in the underwater scene in which Bond and Melina retrieve the ATAC. Overall, Bouquet’s Melina Havelock is notable for her simplicity and sweetness – a simplicity and sweetness that apparently acts as a front for being a crossbow assassin. She’s perhaps the least sexual Bond girl in series history, and the poster depicts a woman showcasing tremendously bare assets. Puns (almost) aside, it’s an asinine representation of the far classier contents of For Your Eyes Only. The poster remains iconic, for better and worse. More iconic, certainly, than the film it represents.
If you remember For Your Eyes Only for only one reason, make that reason the Margaret Thatcher and Denis Thatcher “cameos.”And if you’ve been following #Bond_age_ you would have seen this one coming as DENIS! has been giving his approval to good live tweeting since #Octopussy. In the closing scene, where Bond would otherwise be interrupted pre-coitus by some variety of rescue, Chief of Staff Bill Tanner and the Minster of Defence call Bond with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the line to praise Bond for averting a certain nuclear crisis. (Bernard Lee died after filming began on For Your Eyes Only but before his scenes could be shot. Out of respect for Lee, the character was not re-cast. Instead M was excused from the narrative by being “on leave.”) The joke is that Margaret Thatcher doesn’t speak to Bond, but merely Melina’s parrot who they think is Bond. The gag shouldn’t work and is completely unnecessary. But at the same time… it’s absolutely hilarious because of the Thatcher parody. Janet Brown, a Scottish comedienne, first began impersonating Thatcher after her election as the leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. John Wells began his career as a writer for This Was The Week That Was and appeared in a number of films and television programs such as Yes Minister and Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (1979) before creating the stage farce Anyone for Denis? in which he played Denis Thatcher. Brief but joyously irreverent, the scene punctuates the inconsistent balance of sincerity and humor and leaves one final lasting impression of a confused movie caught between two disparate Bond worlds.
Good. So we’re straight then. You’ll never confuse For Your Eyes Only with Octopussy or, more egregiously, A View to a Kill again. Right? I mean, 4000 words later I’m still hearing Bill Conti and Sheena Easton in my head all lovin’ day. I edit a typo. Bill Conti and Sheena Easton. I fact check something on Wikipedia. Bill Conti and Sheena Easton. I take a drink of coffee. Bill Conti and… you get the picture.
DENIS! salutes this piece of #Bond_age_ about the movie in which he appears.
Previous James Bond #Bond_age_ Project Essays:
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 / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View to a Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence to Kill / GoldenEye / Tomorrow Never Dies / The World Is Not Enough / Die Another Day / Casino Royale / Quantum of Solace / Skyfall