Kristatos: The odds favor standing pat.That's why I love For Your Eyes Only.
Bond: If you play the odds.
It would have been easy for the franchise to stand pat. Although it's come into disfavor, at the time the reviews for Moonraker were surprisingly positive. Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars, and Vincent Canby in the New York Times made it a "critic's pick" and declared, "Almost everyone connected with the movie is in top form..." Really, he said that. And Moonraker made a gazillion dollars...in absolute terms (but not-inflation adjusted) it outpaced every prior Bond movie, and was a huge world-wide financial success.
So the momentum was there, the temptation to keep the movies huge fantasy pieces, gala spectacles. Moonraker cribbed from The Spy Who Loved Me, which retold You Only Live Twice, and few noticed or complained at the time. They'd abandoned any real connection with Ian Fleming, and were rewarded handsomely for it. So why not keeping remaking the same blockbuster over and over? Why not keep bringing back Jaws, and keep facing billionaire madmen who want to blow up the whole world?
Yet, for some reason, they didn't. After the spectacular one-two punch of TSWLM and Moonraker, they abruptly changed direction, taking Bond back to his roots. There was precedent for this: after You Only Live Twice and its (for the time) huger than huge spectacle, the producers suddenly retrenched, dumped most of the gadgets, and brought Bond back down to earth with On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Coincidence? Or did Cubby Broccoli and crew realize that, despite the continued praise and money, they had taken Bond a little too far each time, and it was time to reel him back?
There are more similarities between OHMSS and FYEO. In both cases, after the prior movie was written by someone else, Richard Maibaum was brought back in. Both times, after the prior movie was related to Fleming essentially by title only, we were given much closer adaptations of Flemings' Bond stories. And in each case, the series' long time editor and occasional 2nd unit director was given his first shot ever at directing a motion picture. And (in my opinion, at least) both movies rocked pretty hard.
How risky was this reversion to an older Bond archetype? Consider that this was 1981, and we have James Bond without gadgets. None, nada (unless you count the "identograph," which is really just a big Etch-A-Sketch/police artist, and it never was in the field with Bond). After a film in which Bond never even held a gun, and relied 100% on gadgets, this was a pretty big reversal. This is a movie where Bond has to survive on wits and skill, not toys.
And I think Maibaum and co-writer Michael Wilson deliberately comment on this a couple of times. In the teaser, when "Blofeld" gets dumped down the smokestack, I think that's a symbolic way of saying "goodbye" to the style of Bond epics that dominated the 1970s. And when the Lotus blows up early on, not only is it a funny joke in its own right (burglar proof, indeed), I like to view it also as a statement: "We don't need no stinking submarine cars filled with gadgets!!" I'm sure that every person in the theater expected to see a gadget enhanced chase at that point--and the movie subverts that brilliantly.
Of course, one can only wish the teaser were a little bit better.. It gets off to an auspicious start, as we start with Bond leaving flowers at Tracy's grave. Wait--continuity in the Bond franchise?? Explicit acknowledgment of name and dates of Bond's wife?? Color me stunned but thrilled. Unfortunately, things go south fairly quickly. Bond as prisoner on the remote control helicopter isn't bad, really; it just pales next to the outlandishly wonderful stunts in the previous two teasers. While the stunt work is nice, it's also repetitive and overlong, and the direction is unimpressive, as we often aren't given a sense of scale or perspective as to the copter's location or how close it is to crashing.
And of course, the part everybody hates, "Blofeld." For legal reasons, they couldn't actually use a character named "Blofeld," (more on that next week) and the character popularly known as "Wheelchair Man" doesn't even get a mention in the credits. For which, no doubt, the actor is eternally grateful. Because his dialogue is cliched at best, because he exudes no particular wit or charm, and because his personality changes from criminal mastermind to whinging cretin in the space of seconds, this is at best a fraternity follies version of Blofeld. Especially galling is perhaps the strangest and most cringe-worthy line of dialogue in any Bond movie, as "Blofeld" pleading for his life, tells Bond "I'll buy you a delicatessen--in stainless steel!!" 27 years later, I am still waiting for someone--anyone--to explain what the hell that even means. Someone, it's not too late--tell us what the hell you were thinking!! Even if you give this appearance and disposal of Blofeld the most charitable reading--which I mention above--it is terribly executed, and ridiculously inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the movie. And for people who weren't thrilled with Moonraker, the reappearance of an old villain in a jokey end to the teaser wasn't too reassuring.
(Aside: I guess I'd better share with you the best Blofeld theorem ever. It's not mine--I didn't come up with it--but I can't remember where in the world I've heard it...although it does have the smell of 3AM-waiting-for-pizza dorm room conversation. Anyway, the theory is this: THE CAT is really Blofeld...it just keeps finding a new human to mind control and carry out its will. That's why we always get Blofelds who look different, with different hair, different accents, different personalities...they're not really Blofeld, they're just fronts. Whenever a "Blofeld" dies, the cat gets away to find a new host...)
Ah, but the theme song...I rated it #4 in my theme song rankings, but I'll be damned if there aren't some days I'm tempted to make it #1. Heresy, I know...and I'm undoubtedly influenced by my (at the time) schoolboy crush on Sheena Easton. Sensuous and hypnotic, I love this song. I'm not the biggest fan of some of the arrangements Bill Conti used throughout the movie, but this song is great and is used well in the film's score. Fact--this movie is the first and only time that the singer appears in the opening credits...it was the MTV era, after all, and I guess the assumption was that people now wanted to see the people singing the songs. The "trend" didn't last. (Note to youngsters--MTV used to show "videos" all day long, not asinine reality crap)
With the next scene, we know something is different about this movie. The sinking of the St. Georges is exciting and well filmed, but it's also different from everything else in franchise history in a very real way--because for the first time in a Bond film it's an accident, not a villain's plan, that is the impetus for all the action in the story. MI6 doesn't stumble across a plot to destroy America's gold supply, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. isn't hijacking planes or space capsules...no, a simple "act of God" in the form of an old WWII mine that puts the MacGuffin into play, and both sides are equally scrambling to get it.
Two things are noteworthy about the A.T.A.C. First, it's certainly the most humble MacGuffin in a Bond movie since From Russia With Love. The fate of humanity, or WWIII, isn't at stake here. Nope, just like the Lektor coding machine, the A.T.A.C. isn't a device that will cause a war or wipe out a continent--it's just a piece of intelligence that will make life easier for one side of the cold war and harder for the other. Probably no one will die, new technology will be found to replace the old, and in 5 years none of it will have mattered (As Spock said, "Military secrets are the most fleeting of all"). For the first time in nearly 20 years, we have a real-world spy situation.
Secondly, and I had to double check this to make sure I wasn't nuts, FYEO is the first time a Bond film makes England and the Soviet Union direct competitors. They sorta kinda were in FRWL, but both sides were being manipulated by S.P.E.C.T.R.E., and Blofeld's organization tried much harder to kill Bond than the Russians did. In the rest of the movies, it was either S.P.E.C.T.R.E. or demented billionaires who were the enemy. Which was a huge change from the Fleming novels, because there, SMERSH was behind almost everything. I find it interesting that after 20 years of trying to avoid Cold War controversy by avoiding the Russians or making them dupes or making them allies, the franchise decided that the time had come to make them rivals, if not actual villains.
The quest for the A.T.A.C. is the glue which holds together the merging of two Ian Fleming short stories. In "For Your Eyes Only," M's friends the Havelocks are murdered in Jamaica (again with the Jamaica, Ian??), and he sends Bond on an off-the-books mission to find their killer and protect their daughter, Judy...who it turns out has taken up hunting down her parents killers with a crossbow. "Risico" is pretty much the story of Colombo and Kristatos as presented in the movie. Bond is sent to investigate an Italian drug ring, meets with contact Kristatos who tells him Colombo is the bad guy, Colombo captures Bond and tells him that Kristatos is really the Russian-backed bad guy, and proves it by having Bond join him on a raid of Kristatos' warehouse. The movie also borrows the "shark-drag" from the Live And Let Die novel (which the Venture Brothers did a hilarious riff on last week!).
Adding spice to this recipe is a collection of memorable supporting characters. Really, aside from Bond Girls and villains, we haven't had a lot of interesting people for Bond to meet in recent movies, and those he did were usually just cannon fodder. But FYEO gives us one of the classics, in Milos Columbo (yes, they change the spelling from the book). Topol charms the pants off the audience as the latest in the Bond tradition of roguish "bad guys" that Bond becomes first allies and then friends with. Watching Bond's initial distrust turn to grudging acceptance and eventual friendship helps humanize Moore's performance. And it brings back a Flemingesque element that's often lost in the "extravaganza" Bond films--the overlap between the spy world and the criminal world, and how 007 is able to tread in both. Bond taking part in a gang war between Greek smugglers, even if a diversion from his mission, is a facet of Bond you don't get often in the movies.
Yes, Topol overdoes the pistachios bit. But you know what I would pay to see a movie of? I would pay to see a movie of Kerim Bey, Draco and Columbo sitting around, drinking and telling roguish stories and sharing philosophies of life. Could the screen hold that much charisma??
Another wonderful character is Contessa Lisl Von Schlaf, Columbo's doomed mistress (and Bond's). Cassandra Harris (the first wife of Pierce Brosnan!) makes the most of her small amount of screen time, turning what could have been another forgettable conquest into a touching and sad bit. We never learn much about her--was she really a contessa, perhaps a girl who married a minor noble as Tracy Bond had? Or was it just a costume, part of her role as a shill for the house at Columbo's casino? Whatever her origin, Lisl's relationship with Bond is believable and touching, and her death is one of the series' most painful.
A lot of people rip on Bibi, which is their right, but forgive me if I disagree. Sure, she doesn't actually do much, and she's no one's ideal of a Bond girl. But she provides a good contrast with Melina, and helps disguise the fact that Kristatos is the villain. Plus, she gives Kristatos someone to slap, so we can really hate him. To address a specific complaint, about the "ick" factor of such a youngster making it with Bond: First, they never do it, and Bond is never even tempted, so where's this supposed ick? Secondly, Lynn-Holly Johnson is one whole year younger than Carol Bouquet, so any queasiness over Bond and young ladies is highly selective. She's pretty, she jumps on a trampoline. What more can I ask?
Continuing the trend of mostly silent henchmen, Michael Gothard is one of the few who can actually pull that off while still being memorable. Locque's quiet menace is palpable, even when he doesn't say a thing. I was surprised to find that he doesn't have a single line of dialogue the whole movie! Yet his presence dominates the first half of the movie--which just goes to show how much impact someone can have without having to resort to metal teeth or prosthetic hands. He earns Bond's enmity, killing both Luigi and Lisl, and hunting Bond during the winter sports chase. When Bond shoots him down, and administers the coup de grace of kicking Locque's car down the cliff, it's one of the most satisfying moments of the Moore era (even though it's been said that Moore himself didn't like that scene at all).
Speaking of that car fall, did you notice how it didn't explode? FYEO took very seriously its commitment to more realism. Despite several car crashes, none of them exploded! That same commitment can be seen in many of the set pieces, which take a much less outlandish approach than, say, Moonraker:
- The Citroen chase. It could have been turned into a joke, like the hover-gondola, but no--they treat it seriously. Bond has to escape with a less than state-of-the-art car or special gadgets. It's very refreshing to see 007 mount an escape not because of special auto enhancements, and not because the people chasing him just drive into things for no reason (like a Guy Hamilton movie). Bond just out drives them, despite being out-horse powered.
- The shark drag. Thrilling and frightening, there's no magnetic buzzsaw watch to save James and Melina. They escape through wits and fortitude.
- Bond's winter pentathlon (cross country skiing, downhill, ski jump, bobsled, and hockey). Silly at times, but never over the top, and exciting. And once again, no magical rescues. 007 just outperforms his enemies. Nobody does it better, and he needs no gadgets. (Special note to those who complain about Kriegler missing Bond--Kriegler may have been an expert target shooter, but that's not the same thing as hitting a swiftly moving object...which explains why he could shoot the gun and ski pole out of Bond's hand when Bond was stationary, but couldn't seem to hit him when Bond was actually moving. Good biathlete, crappy assassin)
- The climb. Beautiful use of location, wonderful stunt work. One man, one cliff-face to climb, one evil goomba to overcome. Tense and fascinating.
Kristatos makes for a good change of pace villain. No, he's no scenery chewer, but compared with Curt Jurgens and Michael Lonsdale, the existence of actual emotion and charm in his delivery is something of a revelation. He actually has a pulse!! And given the tone they wanted for this movie, Julian Glover's performance is note-perfect. Not a megalomaniac, not someone bent on conquest or blackmail; Kristatos is just a venal little man seeking to make money by betraying his people, first to the Nazis, then to the communists. His veneer of charm is convincing, as Bond (and most viewers, I find) are initially fooled by his performance, and are surprised to find that Kristatos is really the villain of the piece. The final fight between Columbo and Kristatos isn't pretty, but it's perfect--a couple of old men foes flailing at each other over an A.T.A.C., but really fighting over 40 years of bad blood and betrayal. Kiristatos is not one of the great villains, but he is a good one, particularly in the context of the Moore era. Special bonus: Julian Glover has been a Doctor Who villain, a Bond villain, an Indiana Jones villain, and a Star Wars bad guy. That's quite the resume...
Melina Havelock is a beautiful and deadly companion for Bond. No, Carole Bouquet is not a great actress, but then again, the script never tries to stretch her that much (and compared to Lois Chiles, she's Meryl Streep). Her drive to avenge her parents--while not caring about the big picture--is reminiscent of what Bond himself will be going through in Licence to Kill. And Bond's concern that getting revenge will ruin her is perhaps a hat tip to Domino, who did get her revenge--does this mean that things didn't go well for her later? (And, it should be noted, Bond's concern is rather late, as she had already killed Gonzales, in a pretty cool scene straight out of the Fleming story, before he starts warning her to dig two graves). She's striking, she competent, she has fire, and she's a good partner for Bond.
As to Bond himself, well, this is just me, but I think this is Roger Moore's best performance as 007. The know-it-all-ism is tamped down, as his smirking (teaser aside). Now when he gives the death quip, it's not to get a laugh, but a bitter taunt at his fallen foe. The visit to Tracy's grave pays dividends, as well--check out the look on Moore's face when Melina tells him that, as an Englishman, he doesn't understand what it is to have to avenge your loved ones. His chemistry with Topol is wonderful, his relationship with Melina adult, not condescending and leering (oh, Moonraker, how you still hurt me). How much credit goes to the writing of Glen's direction, I'm not sure. And the coasting is gone. Despite being in pain for much of the shooting (a badly dislocated shoulder) and reportedly not being thrilled with the direction for his character, Moore gives us his best Bond.
The ending, of course, is wonderful. What other Bond movie would have the balls to end in a stalemate? The climax line, "That's detente, comrade--you don't have it, I don't have it" would be completely out of place in any other Bond movie, but is a brilliant finish here. And the sale of that line is completed by the return of Walter Gotell as General Gogol...we know these men have some history, and that there is some respect between them (note to Eon: this is how you do a returning character...not Jaws, not Pepper, but Gogol), so his laugh and shrug at the loss of the A.T.A.C. is believable, just another move in "The Game" of Cold War spycraft. Talk about not standing pat, about not playing the odds!!
And that's what I find so magical about FYEO. Not only is it a complete change of pace in the midst of circumstances that might have called for standing pat. But it's a rearranging of the same old Bond elements into a an actual spy movie--honest to god motives, goals, and methods...with just an occasional hit of the outlandish. I don't think that I would want every Bond film to be like this--variety is good, and fantasy is an important component of the series. But I think this was a type of movie the franchise needed at this point in time...and amazingly, they got it.
FYEO doesn't have the best Bond girl of the Moore era, doesn't have the best villain (or maybe it does??), the best gadgets, the best teaser...but somehow, Maibaum and Wilson and John Glen put everything together with a synergy that hits it out of the park and removes the bad taste of Moonraker from our mouths. It's a movie that takes itself seriously, that denies itself some of the easy storytelling tools from the previous two pictures, and reaps huge rewards from the efforts. As someone who prefers the more "straight" secret agent types of Bond movies, I confess I might be biased towards this flick. But I think For Your Eyes Only is the best Roger Moore Bond. No, it's not perfect, it has flaws (more below). But the good so outweighs any less-good that I find this an easy call to make.
This lightning in a bottle wouldn't last--the same writing and directing team is on board for the next 4 Eon pictures, and they would somehow plunge to the depths of A View To A Kill. But this movie? I love this movie.
And I think the Thatcher scene was hilarious. So sue me.
SNELL"S RANDOM NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
**Let's start with the baccarat screw-up. In the first hand we see against "Bunky," the croupier somehow announces that Bond has a 9, when he quite plainly has a 5:
It's an obvious editing error...the next hand, Bond is dealt the exact same hand, queen of spades + 5 of diamonds, so they just used the wrong frames there.
Still, as this is the first game of chance we see Moore as Bond playing (really--5 movies in, and it's the first), it's a shame they screwed it up.
**An obvious question to ask is, why the hell doesn't Bond just set off the self-destruct on the A.T.A.C. the moment they find it at the bottom of the sea? Having it destroyed and not in Russian hands is clearly viewed as a huge triumph by his superiors. And it's not like you need that particular console--England presumably still has the blueprints and can build more, right?? By recovering it and carrying it around, you run the risk of exactly what happened--the A.T.A.C. falling into enemy hands.
**Q's trip to Greece is not only unnecessary, but ridiculous! Timeline: Bond signals Whitehall that Kristatos has taken the A.T.A.C. to "St. Cyril's." Q goes all the way out to Greece to tell Bond there are 439 St. Cyrils!! Then, and only then, does Bond think, "Hey, I'll ask Columbo!"
Given the need for speed--Russian agents are surely on the way for the A.T.A.C.--couldn't Q have just phoned Bond, or sent a wire to Station G, as opposed to wasting a day flying out there, setting up a rendezvous, etc? And more to the point, couldn't Bond have just asked Columbo in the first place? We have two Q scenes in this movie already...do we really need a third, just as an excuse to put Q in a silly costume?
**The question has been asked, "Why does Locque kill Lisl? Isn't Kristatos trying to convince Bond that Columbo is 'The Dove?' Killing Lisl is counterproductive?" Yes, but seconds afterward they also try to kill Bond. It's clear that Kristatos has given up on having Bond kill Columbo--Bond has gotten too close, and once he meets with Columbo the game is over. So take out Bond now, and Lisl is just the bonus.
**Another reason why Kriegler couldn't hit Bond: An East German athlete from the late 70s/early 80s? It's gotta be 'roid rage:
**I know that it was kind of short notice, having to come up with an excuse for M not being around in the wake of Bernard Lee's death. But James Villiers as Chief of Staff (Bill Tanner, but not named as such on screen) is all wrong. He comes across as a somewhat supercilious upper class twitsmug and clueless, not the man who should be running the Double O section. Fortunately, a longer term solution was on the horizon.
**Yeah, yeah, there's a transsexual in the pool scene. Big whoopity do. Who really cares?
**Did the priest know?
In the teaser, the priest tells Bond his company has called, and is sending a chopper. Even though it is a Universal Exports helicopter, "Blofeld" says the pilot was one of his men. So was there really an emergency, and Blofeld intercepts the MI-6 pilot and replaces him with one of his own? (If so, we never hear of this emergency). Or is it all made up, and Blofeld's show all the way?
And since Blofeld is set up a ways away, how does he know that Bond is at the church? Did he have him trailed? Or is the priest in on it, and he gave Blofeld a call ("he's here, send the copter quick!")?
**There's a crossbow shop in Cortina? (and worse...Melina doesn't re-arm herself before she gets there??)
**Why does it take Kristatos so long to find St. Georges? Havelock's diary says he found the wreck near where he had earlier seen a diving bell (presumably Kristatos'). Since it takes Bond several days, at least, to get down there in the submarine (London, Madrid for at least one overnight, back to London, Cortina for at least one overnight, Corfu for at least 2 nights before he meets up with Melina)...what are Kristatos' people doing? They should have found it before Bond showed up...
**Speaking of which, this is a good reason why Chief Of Staff Tanner shouldn't be running things, because the mission he gives Bond is ass backwards. Instead of worrying about who hired Gonzales to kill the Havelocks, shouldn't the first priority be recovering the A.T.A.C.?? All the time Bond is traipsing about in Madrid and Cortina and snuggling with Lisl, not a single thing is done to recover the A.T.A.C. Nothing. All that time Bond spends hunting the person who ordered the hit, that same person could have been (and should have been) finding the A.T.A.C. and handing it over to the Soviets. Finding the killers doesn't do you any good if they still recover the A.T.A.C. first. Why not clue in Melina, or hire other fronts, to keep looking?!?
**Is this really the best use of taxpayer funds? Really, Q and Moneypenny...
**Bond Score: 2. Lisl and Melina. Cumulative Bond score: 34
And, as always
But wait....there's been another rip in the space/time continuum...TWO Bond movies in 1983? And one of them starring Sean Connery? That could NEVER happen, could it? Tune in next week to find out...