Skip to main content

Courage is no match for an unfriendly shoe, Countess…


For Your Eyes Only
(1981)

You can’t fault Cubby Broccoli’s decision to tighten the purse strings following the enormous expense of Moonraker. That film paid off, but it wouldn’t make economic sense to make a habit of such profligacy. Nor were Michael G. Wilson and John Glen wrong in feeling that the series should put a brake on the fantasy; the science fiction trappings of that entry were pushing it even for a series renowned for excess in plotting and spectacle. But neither of these decisions needed to result in the stodgy, joyless affair that is For Your Eyes Only. Diamonds are Forever, on an obviously limited budget, managed to be one of the most distinctive Bond films, both in terms of script and visuals. No one seemed to realise that a stripped-down, grim-faced Roger Moore Bond is a bland Bond.

Bond: He had no head for heights.

It should be noted that many Bond aficionados hold FYEO in high esteem precisely because of the back-to-basics ethos espoused by Broccoli and Glen. The scene where Bond pushes Locque (in his car) off a cliff is cited as a return to the cold-blooded killer the character should be. But Moore was right; it’s not what his version of Bond would do. It might have worked if Locque had been a sufficiently malevolent premise, building Bond’s motivation up to the point of catharsis; it’s clear that the gratuitous demise of Bond’s one-night stand is supposed to inspire this but, in a film where 007’s revenge for the murder of his wife is reduced to a comedy prologue, it’s rather weak. And Michael Gothard (Loque) stands around diffidently for the first half of the film, not so much exuding malevolence as the air of a member of Kraftwerk patiently waiting to go on stage.

Blofeld: Mr Bond! We can do a deal! I’ll buy you a delicatessen! In stainless steel!

Aesthetically too, there’s a sloppiness to the production that undermines the grittier intensions of Glen. The film is bookended with sequences that not only look cheap, they are also written that way. The disposal of the unnamed Blofeld (we never see his face, only his chrome dome) during a pre-credits sequence involving a remote controlled helicopter is seriously underwhelming, and represents a flagrantly cynical response to the rivalry of Kevin McClory’s imminently competing Bond project. John Hollis (Sondergaard rocks!) plays Blofeld but, as with seemingly every other performer in the movie, is voiced by another actor (Robert Rietti, who also dubs John Wyman and John Moreno).


The final scene, featuring Maggie and Dennis Thatcher impersonators thanking Bond and the former getting a bit flustered as a parrot gives her the come-on, far out-cringes even the laziest of gags in previous movies. One can only speculate as to the root of this misjudged topicality (nations’ political climates tend to be the closest the films veer to current events). While there appears to be a slight-air of piss-taking, it’s more likely that the filmmakers wish to acknowledge their veneration of Maggie and her dubious values. Whatever the reasoning, it’s an embarrassing sequence, one that would have seemed out of place even in the previous two Lewis Gilbert movies, let alone the serious-minded FYEO.


There’s also the music. The only positive thing I can say about surely the worst Bond score is that there are extended passages of the movie where it is entirely absent. Bill Conti’s paceless, listless, disco dirge of a score kills early action sequences stone dead so it’s fortunate that at least one of these (the 2CV chase) is tongue in cheek. In contrast, Sheena Easton’s title song, which Conti also wrote and produced, is a strong one and holds up (it was a hit both in the US and UK). The score serves to add to the sense that this is Bond as a (costly) TV movie, something that would never have previously crossed my mind. Part of the problem is that the filmmaking technique isn’t sufficiently advanced from the previous “It’s all a bit of fun” approach; replace the warmth with an austere tone and you end up with a deflated balloon, exposed in all its lack of finery.

Cinematographer Alan Hume’s wide-ranging career would include both eminent (The Legend of Hell House, Eye of the Needle, Return of the Jedi) and not so eminent (the Carry Ons… a litter of AIP and Amicus productions of varying quality) work. He would go on to lens two further Bond films, but for the most part his contribution here doesn’t particularly stand out; there’s something rather flat about the photography. The results are not helped by John Grover’s editing, which only occasionally snaps into gear. This film needed to be taut if it was to carry the lean, pared-down attitude prescribed by the production. But at more than two hours in length it drags interminably, with little sense of narrative drive or direction.

For Your Eyes Only used the title of Ian Fleming’s 1960 short story connection, borrowing its drug smuggling element from another of the tales therein (Risico). The characters of Kristatos (Julian Glover) and Columbo (Topol) are pretty much as per Risico; Kristatos is set up as an ally of Bond, but it is eventually revealed that he is behind the opium smuggling.  Columbo, whom Kristatos put the blame on, teams with Bond to bring him down. Grafted onto the plot is the standard theft of a top-secret device, in this case the ATAC system (Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator). Kristatos’ objective is its sale, rather than some hare-brained plan for world domination. It doesn’t seem to be a particularly well thought out scheme, as the drug kingpin apparently requires Bond to show up and disarm it before taking possession (if not, why does he leave it in the wreck for 007 to salvage?)


Also added is a sub-par revenge plotline. Melina Havelock (Carole Bouqet), the daughter of a murdered marine archaeologist asked to locate ATAC, is set on evening the score; Locque, the hitman who kills her parents, is employed by Kristatos.

There’s something to be said for attaching a weighty theme to a Bond movie, but not if it only plays lip service to such substance. Melina is a barely-sketched character and Bouqet brings nothing to the part (perhaps the least interesting Bond girl ever?). References to Elektra and Melina’s skill with a crossbow don’t sell the character, nor does Bond’s rather hypocritical advice against following the dubious path of vengeance. The problem is partly that the script and direction fail to emphasise the theme and partly because due to the casting. Moore’s Bond is antithetical to this kind of business, and the result is lukewarm at both ends; the quips aren’t sufficiently broad or memorable and the stern tone saps away the vitality of previous outings.  

Bouquet was dubbed, which isn’t necessarily an obstacle to chemistry between Bond and his leading ladies. But there’s no spark at all between Bouquet and Moore. She mopes her way through the film with all the effervescence of a dead-eyed fun machine. It’s a shallow admission, but at one point I became so disengaged I began trying to work out if she’s slightly boss-eyed. There’s no doubting Bouquet has long, lustrous hair going for her, but that’s about it. She has one moment where she seems disarmingly likable, when Moore causes her to corpse during the 2CV chase. Elsewhere, her afflicted sinuses meant that the underwater close-ups she shares with Moore were filmed on a dry soundstage; Moore in particularly looks very silly in this environment, reminding one of a wet-suited Leslie Nielsen in Naked Gun 2½  (to be fair, the effect isn’t all that bad, but Roger is tellingly as immaculately turned out as ever). Apparently Melina was written with Flash Gordon’s Ornella Muti in mind, and one can see that she’d have brought a sensuality and presence Bouquet lacks.

It’s also an bizarrely chaste relationship. They don’t get it together until they skinny dip at the end of the film. Indeed, it’s this outing that sees Moore suddenly repositioned as an old man. The grave scene at the start was intended for a prospective new Bond actor, indicating this was the same character; when this didn’t happen, they stuck with Rog. But the effect serves to remind you that, if his wife died in ’69, this Bond who is no spring chicken no matter who’s playing him (admittedly, if Lazenby was still playing the role he’d only be in his early 40s, younger than Moore was when he took the part). Beyond that, the film seems to go to amusingly lengths to makes Moore seem past-it (yet the next film, Octopussy, doesn’t have this problem).

Bibi: I know what you want, but you’re too old for me!

The sequence in the Italian Alps is most guilty. Moore dodders around looking comfortably middle-aged in his fashionable pistewear and fends off the advances of a precocious teenage ice skater. In what kind of Bond universe should 007 be reduced to the status of a prudish uncle? And there’s no get-out in having Bibi (real life skating prodigy Lynne-Holly Johnson) accuse mentor Kristatos of being a dirty old man; Moore’s nearly a decade older than Glover! Only a year separates Bouquet from the snub-nosed Johnson, so you could argue that the latter does a good job of portraying an irritating perky teenager (except that there’s a strong impression she’s just playing herself). But her character is completely superfluous to the plot, seemingly added at the behest of Broccoli (his bright ideas were generally hit-and-miss, and in this case her debut acting role in Ice Castles had caught his eye). The presence of her character only adds to the messiness of the scenario, pushing for realism with one hand and pulling back into overt silliness with the other. But it does give Moore one classic line (“Now, put your clothes back on and I’ll buy you an ice-cream”).

FYEO was Michael G. Wilson’s first screenplay credit on a Bond film (he would co-write all five of the ‘80s 007s), working with old hand Richard Maibaum. Presumably it’s Wilson’s influence that makes the characters are so unmemorable (how many strong villains – or indeed strong characters – are there in ‘80s Bond?) The issue is not one of the restricting the scale of the movie, but the shortcomings in the writing. Since Maibaum delivered one of the most memorable budget-driven Bonds in From Russia with Love, I’m disinclined to lay the blame at his door.

Kristatos: Oh, leave the legs free. They’ll make appetising bait.

Julian Glover is fine actor, and he’s often been a fine villain (Doctor Who’s City of Death being possibly the best example), but he makes little impression here. He wasn’t too well-served in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at the other end of the decade either, but at least there he was more than a dirty old hood. Kristatos is boring, and Bond baddies should never be boring.


His henchmen are little better. I’ve mentioned the Kraftwerk guy (who essentially powers all the location-hopping during the first half of the film). At least he is distinctive, I suppose. John Wyman’s blonde KGB beefcake Erich Kriegler has stature on his side and the ability to lob a motorbike, but little else. Wymam appeared as another hulking loon in the Blake’s 7 episode Assassin, the same year as FYEO. Charles Dance, as a henchman of a henchman, glowers charismatically in a couple of scenes; he’d have been better employed in the Kriegler part. A return for Richard Kiel was apparently considered but it was decided he’d conflict with the serious tone; I’m dubious this was ever more than heresay, as Bond had made pals with him and he’d found love at the end of Moonraker.

Columbo: By tomorrow, we’ll be good friends. Let us drink to that.

A further testament to the underpowered writing is that Topol, not known for his restrained performances (see Flash Gordon), goes barely noticed as Columbo. He has a nice scene with Bond early on, as the suspicious spy has to deal with a charm offensive, but soon drifts into the ineffectuality that taints Glover.


Ironically, probably the best-defined character has very brief screen time. Cassandra Harris plays Countess Lisl von Schlaf, Bond’s only proper shag in the movie (it’s 70 minutes before he gets his leg over). She’s Columbo’s mistress, and amusingly drops her airs and graces for a Mancunian accent once 007 has her in the sack. Harris has an obvious rapport with Moore. I said earlier that Bond’s despatch of Locque is scarcely justified, but the starkness of her murder is the film’s only affecting moment. The problem is that Glen et al don’t do enough to make it a central motivator, compounded by the fact that Moore isn’t the sort of actor who can sustain such depth of feeling. Harris, who died very young, was married to Pierce Brosnan, who also visited the set…

The series’ regulars are all creaking along. Bernard Lee did not return as M (he wanted to but was too ill, making Moonraker his last appearance). Lois Maxwell’s flirtations with Moore are now faintly embarrassing. Desmond Llewellyn is still having fun, but seeing the familiar ensemble is now tantamount to wheeling out antique furniture. Because there’s so little fun in the main story, the badinage between Bond and Q seems a bit forced and out-of-place (Q as a priest elicits an amusing exchange, though). The one nod to hi-tech is a laughable photo-fit sequence where Bond and Q burn the midnight oil using a computer with graphics worthy of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV series to find their man.

As noted, the plot drifts along making little impression. Bond usually spends the early stages of a film chasing someone or something before he happens across the main villain, during which time he is aided and abetted by some regulation totty. That’s standard, and you can’t really pick holes in a tried-and-tested formula. But there’s such little interest in making FYEO’s variations stand out or seem purposeful that, in the absence of fun, the plot becomes incoherent. Bond takes in Spain, Italy, Corfu, Albania and Greece but the globetrotting fails to stand out. Each location is an excuse for a further less-than-clearly-motivated set piece as the bad guys attempt to do for 007.

Bond: I love a drive in the country. Don’t you…?

Nevertheless, as an editor and second unit director on Bond for more than a decade, first time helmer Glen has a good sense of what does and doesn’t work in terms of action sequences. He eschews the gadget overload of previous installments. Bond’s Lotus is blown up almost as soon as we set eyes on it, and as a mission statement you can’t get much clearer. The decision to fashion a car chase with the least fancy make imaginable, a 2 CV, is positively inspired. And setting it across sloping roads and hillside olive trees also makes it scenically distinct. The only downside is that dreadful Conti score.


The Alps scenes feature a succession of action set pieces that serve as a reminder of the far superior On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond fends of spikey-wheeled motorbikes across a series of locations; in the town, on skis, down a bobsleigh track, over a ski jump. Later he has a scrap in an ice hockey court, with a band of hockey-masked hoodlums, and it becomes clear there’s little rhyme or reason to where thugs will show up next.

Déjà vu also strikes during the salvage scenes, this time suggesting Thunderball on a budget. The submerged temple set looks like a rather pristine set in a water tank (although, it was built underwater in the Bahamas).


In contrast, the keelhauling sequence (inspired by a scene from the Live and Let Die novel) works extremely well, complete with sharks (cue the Jaws theme – so much for treating the film seriously) and flesh-tearing coral. It’s here, and during the climbing sequence where a lackey pulls out pitons as Bond desperately attempts to climb back to the summit, that Glen really comes into his own. There’s a glimpse of how good the film might have been if he had held such a sure command of tension (both in terms of editing and narrative) throughout.

Bond: Détente, comrade. You don’t have it; I don’t have it.

But the final standoff lacks bite; there’s no big showdown as Columbo kills Kristatos and Gogol sees the funny side of flying away empty-handed (nice to see the now regular cameo from Walter Gotell, though). And Columbo becoming a not-quite-as-old dirty old mentor to Bibi makes for a somewhat queasy celebratory moment.

John Glen’s promotion had precedence; Peter Hunt was allowed to helm OHMSS as his debut. But Hunt showed a crispy clarity and precision that Glen lacks. Eon was much more comfortable with a reliable journeyman, rather than having to deal with some upstart full of panache and vision. Surely this was the real reason Broccoli turned down Spielberg; this was the Bond film he was in the running for, when it was planned for production post-The Spy Who Loved Me).  Apparently Hunt was offered FYEO before Glen got the gig, but was unavailable (he was filming Death Hunt). Glen’s contribution is solid but the ‘80s Bonds rarely take-off, probably because he’s so safe and uninspired. His limited post-Bond credits only go to confirm his non-wunderkind status. It wouldn’t be until Brosnan arrived that a few chances were taken with the choice of director, and not until the most recent film that a bona fide prestige figure would be asked.


Although FYEO is cited as coming in much cheaper than Moonraker, the (not always reliable) Wikipedia puts its budget at only about $6m less. It proved a comparable hit with the non-Moonraker Moore films, suggesting that either this incarnation of Bond was a sure thing or that they were doing something right.

Certainly, the formula of Moore probably seemed unbroken to the less discerning eye. The film poster encouraged more than ever the idea of Bond as a fantasy surrogate for male viewers, belying his onscreen reserve. A woman clad in a buttocks-enhancing backwards bikini stands astride tiny Roger Moore, his weapon cocked. There was also a memorable Marvel comic adaptation, which made the film seem far more invigorating than it actually was, blessed with stylised framing and a youthful Bond.


It’s ironic that FYEO is such a washout, because it was commendably trying something different. Perhaps this was a case of the right attitude at the wrong time (i.e. the wrong Bond). Then again, a not dissimilar attempt to put the seriousness and edge back into the series saw the floundering of Licence to Kill. And on that occasion no one even bothered going to see it. It would take Daniel Craig and the Bourneisation of audiences to embrace a mean and moody 007. FYEO is afflicted by a slipshod quality, tarnished by uninspiring production choices (costumes, haircuts, music, lighting; you name it) and indistinct writing. It’s easily the weakest Bond film since You Only Live Twice, but unlike YOLT at least it wasn’t playing it all oh-so safe.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

If you could just tell me what those eyes have seen.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Rodriguez’ film of James Cameron’s at-one-stage-planned film of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm on the one hand doesn’t feel overly like a Rodriguez film, in that it’s quite polished, so certainly not of the sort he’s been making of late – definitely a plus – but on the other, it doesn’t feel particularly like a Jimbo flick either. What it does well, it mostly does very well – the action, despite being as thoroughly steeped in CGI as Avatar – but many of its other elements, from plotting to character to romance, are patchy or generic at best. Despite that, there’s something likeable about the whole ludicrously expensive enterprise that is Alita: Battle Angel, a willingness to be its own kind of distinctive misfit misfire.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).