For Your Eyes Only
Written by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, based on Ian Fleming’s short stories “For Your Eyes only” and “Risico“
Directed by John Glen
UK, 1981, imdb
You probably have never heard this before, but my favourite James Bond film of all time, For Your Eyes Only, was the first 007 film I ever saw. (Spookily, this is exactly the same reason that my Huffington Post doppelgänger likes the film.)
But I don’t love Roger Moore’s fourth Bond film for nostalgic reasons, or at least not completely. Every so often, the 007 franchise strips Bond of his gadgets and gives us a back to basics story where a more ruthless secret agent has only his wits to fall back on: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Living Daylights, Casino Royale and For Your Eyes Only are the best examples. Of these, For Your Eyes Only stands out for having the most realistic plot line of any of the Bond films. Instead of a killer satellite or a supertanker that swallows warships or a plan to nuke gold, Bond has to find and recover a piece of technology (the ATAC or Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator) off a sunken British spy-ship, before a Greek criminal gets his hands on it and sells it to the Soviets. The stakes are no less daunting than the more outlandish plots: with the ATAC, the Soviets could order British nuclear submarines to fire their missiles wherever they wanted – including Britain!
When the St. Georges pulls a naval mine on board in their fishing nets (part of the spy ship’s cover) it is as though the modern vessel is being attacked by an angry ghost of World War 2 – like all angry ghosts, taking vengeance on the living for the crime of being alive. The St. Georges sinks right beside an underwater Greek ruin – a graveyard of sorts – that Sir Timothy Havelock uses as a cover to search for the wreck until he and his wife are killed in front of their daughter Melina (Carole Bouquet) by Cuban assassin Hector Gonzales. The entire film is built around the dangers and benefits of vengeance and the way that the past haunts us.
This begins right in the film’s prelude when (an unnamed) Ernst Stavro Blofeld tries to kill Bond. James is visiting the grave of his wife Tracy, killed by Blofeld’s men at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. After years (and four films) of fighting Bond, Blofeld is a crippled wreck driving around in a motorized wheelchair. Significantly, Bond is not hunting for Blofeld, Blofeld is hunting Bond – Blofeld is crippled by his need for vengeance, while Bond has moved on. This is not to say that Bond has forgiven his arch-enemy, he does after all take the opportunity to kill Blofeld by dropping him (and his cat!) down a factory’s industrial chimney when given the chance, so there is a sense of ‘do as I say and not as I do’ when Bond later tries to discourage Melina from taking vengeance for her parent’s murder. When James says, “Before setting off on revenge, you first dig *two* graves,” he neglects to tell Melina that in his case the two graves were for Tracy and Blofeld – his dead wife and her killer.
What makes Melina a compelling Bond girl is that they are so evenly matched. Like Bond she is a killer; like Bond she is an agent of vengeance. When she barks at him, “I don’t expect you to understand, you’re English, but I’m half Greek and Greek women like Elektra always avenge their loved ones!” your heart breaks a little at James inability to explain that he just murdered his wife’s killer. Melina is also one of the few women able to sneak up on James, both outside of Gonzales’ Spanish mansion and later in the Greek casino when James has no idea that she is watching him.
The film’s only downside is that the villain is the least charismatic of any of Bond’s foes. This is, in part, a function of the fact that Bond is operating blind, trying to find his opponent without knowing who he is. A scenery-chewing bad guy would have given the game away too quickly. Instead Bond has to deal with bagman Emil Leopold Locque and East German biathlete Eric Kriegler, while trying to figure out if they work for Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover) or Milos Columbo (Chaim Topol). Echoing the theme of the film, the two Greek men carry grudges from their time as members of the Greek resistance in World War 2.
In a broader sense, Bond’s true foe in this film are the technology and gadgets that he once leaned on – technology which threatens to replace human ability and judgement. The ATAC would not be a problem except for its ability to overrule the good judgement of the captains of Britain’s nuclear submarines. This theme is introduced in the film’s prelude, when Blofeld uses a remote control device to kill the pilot and take over the helicopter that Bond is flying in as a passenger, forcing 007 to climb out onto the skid of the helicopter to break into the cockpit and manually take the controls. Throughout the film, Bond is forced to use non-technological means to defeat foes who use technology – using a sawhorse and ski-poles to take out the thugs on motorcycle; sneaking up on the Greek warehouse in a sail boat; using the pistachio shells to track the gun men in the warehouse; using the paper rolls to take out the gun men; chasing and catching Locque’s car on foot up the winding mountain road; using the rocks underwater to cut the rope that is towing him and Melina through the shark-infested reef; using his shoelaces to form a crude pulley to rappel up the rope on the mountainside St. Cyril’s; and killing the gunman Apostis on the mountainside with a thrown climbing piton.
It’s not just that Bond is constantly on the wrong side of the technological divide. When he does have technology it betrays him. The anti-burglary system on his modern Lotus results in the car blowing up, forcing Bond to make his escape in Melina’s primitive Citroen 2CV. The only piece of MI6 gadgetry that works as it is supposed to is the Identigraph and that is a tool that allows Bond to demonstrate his keen powers of observation, an extension of Bond’s abilities rather than a replacement of them. Despite all of MI6’s computers and resources, when Bond finds out that St. Cyril’s is where Gogol will pick up the ATAC, Q can’t tell him which St-Cyril’s of the hundreds in Greece it will be and Bond must turn to his local allies to find the right one. By the end of the film, Bond’s solution is to destroy the ATAC technology, telling Gogol, “That’s detente, comrade; *You* don’t have it, *I* don’t have it.”
Bond’s eventual ally Melina Havelock is actually better equipped as a private citizen in the film than James Bond, but, echoing the theme, her older technology uses brute force rather than technical wizardry and succeeds as a result. Her crossbow fires silently allowing her to get a head-start on an escape after killing Hector Gonzales; her Citroen 2CV is slow but rugged, allowing her and James to roll the car repeatedly and keep going – as well as to travel off-road, something James’ Lotus would never have been able to do; her 2 man submarine Neptune is not as modern as the one man submarine that attacks them, but since it is more powerful, they are able to defeat the smaller, more modern submarine. (Arguably, Melina’s scuba gear is less powerful than the more modern atmospheric diving suit that attacks Melina and James in the wreck of St. George’s, but their older equipment, while more vulnerable, is also more flexible, allowing them to outmaneuver and outrun the heavier suit.)
The one time that Bond is able to successfully use technology in the field is the explosive that he attaches to the atmospheric diving suit. Only, echoing the themes of the film, the explosive is one James recovered from the St. Georges – from a ghost ship filled with corpses. In a sense, the diver attacking James and Melina is destroyed by the angry ghosts of St. Georges‘ crew, by an explosion that they initiated as their final task while the boat was sinking. A final task that, only with Bond’s help, they were finally able to complete. (Significantly, the diver is killed within the wreck, and minutes later James uses the wreck to trap the diver’s partner is in his modern one man sub by wedging his sub into the wreckage.)
On a larger scale, the film pushes the value of the older over the newer, whether that is in technology or in women – Bond rejects Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson) in favour of Melina. (In real life, Carole Bouquet is only a year older than Lynn-Holly Johnson, but the film makes it seem like a decade of experience separates the two women. Bibi repeatedly throwing herself at James and bouncing off was mocked in the Archer episode Swiss Miss.) Other examples of age being valued over youth include: Melina’s father was an archeologist; she chides James over bumping the 5,000 year old underwater ruins while he is piloting Neptune; her parrot Max, who provides the critical clue that the ATAC is going to St-Cyril’s, is 30 years old; St-Cyril’s is an ancient monastery used as a hideout in Word War 2 by the Greek Resistance; the modern British spy ship St. Georges is sunk by a WWII era naval mine.
When Bond raids the warehouse, we see other naval mines, raising the possibility that the sinking of St. Georges was not an accident, but part of a larger scheme. One not initiated by Gogol and the Soviet Union as part of the Cold War, but started by a greedy Greek smuggler looking to line his pockets. In a sense, the entire film is built around the Reagan era philosophy of beating the Soviets by forcing them to spend money – that the Cold War was an economic war. Everyone is trying to make money or pinch pennies. The threat to Britain is real, but if the ATAC is lost, the solution will be to recall the British nuclear fleet and replace the equipment – costing no doubt a staggering sum. Gogol, the head of the KGB, must argue with his superiors over the phone to spend money to recover the ATAC. When Melina shoots Gonzales, Locque’s first move – rather than shooting James – is to grab the money he just paid Gonzales for murdering Melina’s parents, including stealing a wad of cash back from one of Gonzales’ women. The only reason that Bond is able to get the ATAC back by raiding St. Cyril’s is that the ATAC will only be turned over to the Soviets when Gogol brings the money for it.
Years later, the film resonates thanks to its narrative themes of money, ghosts, revenge, and man vs. technology, but what makes the film truly sing is Moore’s most ruthless turn as a man with a license to kill. Roger Moore rose to fame playing Simon Templar, The Saint, a “gentleman adventurer” who occasionally blundered into spy scenarios, usually recruited to help Britain’s enemies by villains who – always to their regret – couldn’t tell the difference between a thief and a traitor. There was always a sense in Moore’s Bond adventures that he was playing Simon Templar posing as James Bond. This film is different, perhaps because the script was not written with Roger Moore in mind – his orignal contract had called for three films and the producers had not expected him back.
The film’s best moment and Moore’s most ruthless moment as Bond is when he shoots Locque’s car on top of the mountain road, leading to the car teetering on the edge of a cliff. 007 throws a dove pin into the car that Locque left on British agent Luigi Ferrara’s body after killing him. The car lurches and then Bond kicks the car over the edge. It was a scene that Moore did not want to shoot, complaining that the scene, “was Bond-like, but not Roger Moore Bond-like.” It was in fact Moore at his most Connery, Bond killing one of Britain’s enemies and taking vengeance for the murder of his colleague and friend.
That’s the James Bond I love, an agent of righteous British vengeance protecting the country he loves from its enemies by ruthlessly killing them.
This article is part of our 007 marathon. You can find all the entries by clicking here.