Saturday, February 28, 2009

James Bond review: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

CUT TO THE CHASE: Let’s just pretend Moonraker never happened, shall we?

BOND, JAMES BOND: This was the movie they said they were going to make after The Spy Who Loved Me – that’s what the closing credits of Spy promised. Then the sci-fi craze happened and they made Moonraker instead. That made tons of money, and yet this is nothing like it, which suggests to me that the producers were somewhat chastened by their complete squandering of the Bond mystique. That or they were simply spooked by the threats of the Other Bond contingent (which would result in Never Say Never Again).

This explains, by the way, the curious precredit sequence. Bond visiting Teresa’s grave takes us back with a jolt to OHMSS, and then – surprise! – Blofeld’s back. But only just long enough to meet an unceremonious end. It’s a fairly nice bit of aerial action, and starts the movie off with a bang, but it’s a waste of a rare bit of continuity, really. It feels like it’s there only to spite Kevin McClory.

Whatever the motivations, this is a more serious Bond than last time out, and that makes this a better movie. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late. At this point Moore is getting too old for the role, and either he or the producers have forgotten the smirking glamor that made his first three turns as Bond so memorable. Moore trots through the film gamely, looking well-preserved but not especially sexy. He’s harmless.

The result is a reasonably tight film with a lot of nice elements that nevertheless can’t quite rise above the workmanlike.

What Makes Bond Bond: In a meeting at MI-6 with the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff, Bond seems to be the only one in the building with the slightest grasp of detection or espionage. He has to explain to them the utility of tracking down the bad guy. This is stupid, but at least it plays into the male fantasy of Bondness. You’re always smarter than your boss – in your dreams.

What Makes Roger Moore Roger Moore: The easy charm he displays in his scenes with Cassandra Harris. She’s not quite his age, but she’s a lot closer than Carole Bouquet or Lynn-Holly Johnson, and this frees Moore up to be, for the last time, as suave as he was in earlier films.

BAD GUYS: Part of what makes this film intriguing is that they abandon the formula when it comes to the bad guys. Instead of a supervillain trying to destroy/take over/extort lots of money from the world, we get a bit of Cold War drama. A British nuclear weapons guidance device has sunk in the Adriatic, and Bond has to recover it before the Russians, working through a shady Greek tycoon, get their hands on it. It's a tiny bit like From Russia With Love: both films involve Our Hero chasing a briefcase-shaped MacGuffin.

It was the age of détente, and to that end the Russians aren’t really villains. Just as they were in Spy (where we first met General Gogol, who returns here), they’re merely opponents to be outwitted.

The villain, then, is the Greek smuggling tycoon. And here, too, the producers have exercised a little cunning. There are two such characters in the film: Kristatos (Julian Glover) and Columbo (Topol – who gets to play a rich man – good for him), who have a rivalry going back to their days in the Greek Resistance. Our Man In Italy thinks Kristatos is the one to be trusted, and the well-dressed, well-mannered Kristatos fools Bond – for a while. But of course it turns out that Kristatos is the bad guy and the rough-hewn Columbo is actually the good guy. Hoary stuff, perhaps, but still a little more energy in the plot department than we’ve seen for a while. A refreshing change from the Draxes and Strombergs we’ve grown accustomed to.

With no monomaniacal villain to dominate the proceedings, the Henchman role changes a bit too. We do have a couple of guys trying to kill Bond – a Belgian underworld figure named Locque and a KGB guy named Kriegler. Both are memorable, but not particularly superhuman.

In short, what we have here is the makings of a real live spy movie, another From Russia With Love. It doesn’t quite work out like that, but that’s not Glover’s or Topol’s fault. They’re both fine.

GRATUITOUS SEX: Now we can get down to the nitty-gritty of what’s wrong with this film. As we’ve noted, Cassandra Harris’s Liverpudlian countess is the most believable Bond girl in the film, and that’s because she’s a little older. It doesn’t look entirely wrong to see Bond seducing her.

Carole Bouquet as Melina Havelock is the best official Bond girl of the ‘80s; that’s not saying much, but she is good. Melina’s out for vengeance (which means she’s part of a lineage that starts with Tilly Masterson in Goldfinger and continues through Camille Montes in Quantum of Solace), and Bouquet manages to make her eyes flash with anger now and then. The problem is Moore is thirty years older than Bouquet. They manage to go through the motions of a growing romantic/sexual attraction, but really the producers have to downplay this: he looks like he could be her father.

But the real snafu comes with Lynn-Holly Johnson as Bibi Dahl, Kristatos’s ice-skating protégé. It’s never specified how old the character is; maybe we’re supposed to assume she’s underage, but Johnson is only a year younger than Bouquet, and in the film she’s a bombshell. She doesn’t look underage. And yet they have Bond rejecting her as if she were a child: she throws herself at him, and he throws her right back. And the thing is, we’re glad, because next to her Moore looks like an icky old man. I can’t begin to describe how wrong this subplot is. I’ll simply observe that when Bond has to resist the advances of a sexy twenty-three-year-old because she’s too young for him, you know you’ve got the wrong guy playing 007.

That leaves us with a GS of 2, but more importantly it leaves us with the sad realization that the producers have just betrayed everything that Bond stood for. Let us bow our heads for a moment of silence.

AND VIOLENCE: The workmanlike nature of the film shows up clearly here. There aren’t very many memorable stunts – the mountain-climbing bits are the notable exception – which indicates less of a reliance on gimmicks and more of an interest in visceral action. Again, one thinks of From Russia With Love.

The problem is, none of the fight scenes here approach that level of intensity. The skiing, the motorcycles, the car chases, the various fistfights and gunfights, all feel a bit blah. They do their job, but never really grab the viewer. (Another exception: the death-by-coral-reef bit is nicely done.)

In fairness, let’s point out that this isn’t Moore’s fault. Everything feels a little tired by now, a little out of step. The editing, the direction, the cinematography all feel flat. This is a problem with all the ‘80s Bonds. In a couple of years, viewers would get to see what a state-of-the-art 007 could look like. This wasn’t one.

BOYS WITH TOYS: Bringing the white Lotus back, only to blow it up before Bond can take it through its paces, is a nice touch. Other than that, it’s not a gadget Bond.

JOIN THE NAVY AND SEE THE WORLD: Spain, northern Italy, Greece, Albania. No complaints here. They even manage to make the underwater photography work: lots of luminous, langourous swimming, not too much fighting.

ETC.: The title sequence is a departure, in that they bring the singer onscreen. Presumably this is because they thought Sheena Easton was Bond-girl-worthy (one might have thought the same about Carly Simon, though). Or maybe they just wanted to save some money on the music video; this was the year MTV began… The song itself is one of the better entries in the series, lush and romantic and mysterious. It’s the best thing about the film. Bill Conti (Rocky) does the score, which sort of works, expanding on the disco elements that showed up in the previous two films. Unfortunately by 1981 disco was morphing into the soulless workout music that dominated the ‘80s, and you can hear that here… Add a Zamboni to the list of vehicles Bond has driven. (A Zamboni?)… Perhaps the most interesting thing about this installment is the fact that, during filming, Cassandra Harris got married. To Pierce Brosnan…

RATING: 004.

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