Saturday 25 May 2013

For your Eyes Only

Eye Society

For your Eyes Only
1981 UK
Directed by John Glen
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C

The 1981 cinema release of this film was kind of a big deal for 13 year old Bond fans like myself. I can’t remember why exactly, but I think the hype machine was in full swing on movie tie-ins by then... not even a hundredth of the merchandising available for most films these days, mind you, but I remember I had bought the For Your Eyes Only poster magazine, which was basically a thing which was very big for movie promotions in the wake of the first Star Wars movie especially (although I also have, among many, a Doc Savage poster magazine from 1975, so the phenomenon wasn’t entirely new when Lucas’ holy trilogy unleashed merchandising heaven). Poster magazines were basically just a big poster which was folded in half twice with the cover and promotional articles printed on the reverse page to accommodate the folds. For young film enthusiasts they were a big deal and I believe I still have all mine, there must be between 30 and 50 of them, tucked away in a box somewhere. My proudest possession when it comes to poster magazines, asides from the afore mentioned Doc Savage poster magazine, obviously, was the one dedicated to my favourite TV show of the time, Tales Of The Gold Monkey, which was promptly cancelled after one series and which, I believe, had already just stopped showing when that particular issue hit UK newsagents.

The other, and more exciting, tie in that I remember for the film was the For Your Eyes Only Marvel Super Special, single issue comic book... which retold the story in the usual Mighty Marvel Manner and which I didn’t realise until many years later was a UK reprint of the two issue American For Your Eyes Only comic. However, the UK edition is much, much nicer than the original US version in that, aside from having the whole thing printed in one thick issue, it was a slightly larger size and it was printed on a much better quality paper stock which really did justice to the colours used on the page. Marvel did a fair  few of these Super Specials towards the end of the 70s (as opposed to their Treasury Editions, which carried a special thrill all their own), the two sticking in a lot of children’s minds of the time would have been their reprint issues of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Battlestar Galactica. And, yes, these comics were published, at least in the UK, a good while before the film had come out on general release... so it would be fair to say that a lot of the kids had read the new Bond film a few weeks ahead, at least, of when they eventually got to see it in the cinema (in those days, the concept of spoilers was really not an issue, the most exposure we’d had to that particular concept being an episode of The Likely Lads on TV... but that’s another story).

For Your Eyes Only was the first film to have John Glen as the director, who worked his way up from being a Bond editor into the eventual director’s chair just as Peter Hunt had done before him for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Now I have to say that I do find Glen’s directing style very work-a-day and professional... which is my way of saying that it usually serves the story very well. But which is also my way of saying that I find his films a bit hit and miss depending on the quality of the writing... at least that’s how I feel about it. I have nothing but respect for him as a director and what I sometimes feel he lacks in dynamic shot composition, he more than makes up for with coaxing great performances and the knowledge of how to shoot exactly what is needed for some good action editing.  He would direct this plus the next four Bond films in a row and I have to say that this is one of only two Roger Moore films which I admire enough to be able to watch a few times and which I think can credibly stand up there with the better Bond movies... Live And Let Die being the other Moore film I have a little more time for.

For Your Eyes Only has a really good stab at being a serious Bond film and, since it was written at a time when Roger Moore was not expected to return to the role, the Bond character is toughened back up a little to suit the stylings of another actor. To tie a link to the old movies, the film starts off with Bond, who turned out to be Roger Moore after all, visiting the grave of his dead wife Teresa Bond... who we saw killed just after the wedding reception at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, riddled with machine gun bullets courtesy of Blofeld and Irma Bunt. However, as promising as this opening is, it sets up one of the silliest and, for me, least watchable opening sequences in Bond history, ending with Bond dropping an unofficial, wheelchair bound Blofeld to his death down a tall chimney (the character name of Blofeld was with Kevin McLory at that time and so EON weren’t allowed to use it - see my review of Thunderball here for a little more info on McLory’s relationship with Ian Fleming and 007).

Fortunately, things get better right after this title sequence and we go into a credits sequence designed by the often imitated Maurice Binder which was the first one to actually incorporate footage of the title song’s singer into the titles - namely a gorgeous looking Sheena Easton in this particular case. And then, after this, the film gets rather good again and the writing is pretty cool. This is, perhaps, partially because the writers and producers actually went back to Ian Fleming’s original source material again (for the first time in a while) with a lot of the plot elements and characters coming from two of the short stories in Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only collection, namely the title story and one other called Risico. In addition, there is also a “coral drag” sequence where Bond and his leading lady (played her by famous French actress Carole Bouquet) are dragged behind a boat, underwater through coral in the hopes that they’ll either be cut to ribbons or attract sharks, which comes straight out of Fleming’s second Bond novel Live And Let Die... not the last time that novel would be further pillaged for the series, either.

This really is a great little Bond film (considering my dislike of Moore in this particular role) and the action sequences, tougher attitude of Bond (compared to the last two movies) and the decision to pare down Bond’s over reliance on Q branch gadgets for this one is greatly appreciated... just as it was by my thirteen year old self. In addition to this, there are some fine actors in the film. In addition to the leading lady we have ice skater Lynn-Holly Johnson playing a real “baby doll” jailbait character called Bibi Dahl (I can’t believe, after the number of times I’ve seen this movie, I only just got the Eli Kazan reference with that name) and iconic sci-fi horror villain Julian Glover (who played a bad guy in such famous fan favourites as Quatermass And The Pit, The Empire Strikes Back, Doctor Who and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade) adding another of his “best bad-guy” routines to the cast.

We also have the wonderful actor Topol (aka Chaim Topol), who made an excellent Dr. Zarkov opposite Sam J. Jones’ Flash Gordon in a performance to give even Frank Shannon’s 1930s recreations of the character a run for their money. Here he is playing the role of Milos Columbo, who turns out to be a friendly ally to Bond, after he’s won his trust and shown Bond the truth about Kristatos, the character that Glover plays. His performance is truly joyous to behold and one wonders why he wasn’t asked back to be in more Bond films... his scenes really bring the film to life.

Another casting oddity is an early role for noted British actor Charles Dance who has no lines in the film and plays a determined “third villainous thug on the left” kind of role for a couple of scenes in the movie. Perhaps the less I say about this one the better.

An important future Bond link comes in the form of the late actress Cassandra Harris, taking on the role of Lisl. She would be dead from cancer ten years later but she was the wife of future Bond and Remminton Steel actor Pierce Brosnan, who was first introduced to the people behind the scenes of the Bond movie phenomenon such as Cubby Brocolli by Harris while she was making this film. Four years after Harris’ death, Brosnan made his debut as James Bond in the 1995 film Goldeneye... and helped get the franchise back on track again by being an absolutely wonderful version of the character.

One of the actresses brought her own problems and this resulted in some amazing “work round” sequences by the cast and crew. Carole Bouquet, it turned out, had sinus problems, so she just couldn’t film any scenes underwater, which is where a few of the key scenes of the movie with her character in them take place. As a solution, whenever you see a close up shot of Bouquet under water, or indeed anything that looks recognisably like her, those specific shots were recreated on a dry studio set. Yes, really! Actors were suspended to make them look like they were swimming and combined with high speed photography (later slowed down in playback) with wind machines to make the hair look like it’s floating in water. Coupled with underwater lighting effects and snorkel bubbles which are literally superimposed onto the screen this works surprisingly well and I defy anyone who watches this movie, who doesn’t already know about this technical solution, to actually realise that all these shots were taken without any water being present. It’s a truly superb feat of “movie magic” and you have to really keep an eye on it if you want to catch the visual clues. I never found out about this until decades later and I still find some of the shots hard to spot. Seriously good work here.

Bernard Lee, was supposed to be playing his long standing role as M again for this movie but, although he did make it to set, he was just to ill to do the job and died soon after. So this is the first Bond film not to have the M character in it... Bond being instead briefed by the minister character and actor who appeared in a few Bond films before this one and with the rest of M’s role being rewritten for Desmond Llewellyn’s Q character, Major Boothroyd.

The only other thing I want to mention is Bill Conti’s score. Barry was not available, once again, to score this movie and Conti landed the gig. While some of the score is quite classically dramatic adventure movie underscoring which can hit the right kind of emotional notes that Barry could do effortlessly (although you would never have guessed this from the original, unexpanded edition of the soundtrack album), the other half of the score is... well... there’s no two ways about it... it’s Disco Bond. Synthesiser pop scoring which, while exciting, really helps to date the film for modern viewers and it’s interesting that when Barry used synthesiser to augment the orchestra himself in a more transparent manner, in stretches of the scores for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Living Daylights, those scores still hold onto a certain timeless quality which Bill Conti doesn’t seem to be able to do on this one. But still, even if they are “of their time”, Conti’s synthesiser scoring for this is still pretty high energy and fun and, certainly at the time, they seemed to make sense and help the film out well.

For Your Eyes Only is a fairly good Bond film and I think most fans of the character would have a reasonable time with this adventure... unfortunately, one of the very worst Bond films ever was soon to follow.

EON James Bond Movie Reviews on NUTS4R2

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