Review: 'For Your Eyes Only' (1981) Dir. John Glen
Updated: Jun 24
Coming back to Earth (literally) after 'Moonraker', James Bond scaled down for a darker and more dangerous espionage adventure...
After a British spy boat carrying the Automatic Targeting Attack Computer system is accidentally sunk by a naval mine in the Ionian Sea, MI6 agent James Bond (Moore) is tasked with locating the device before the KGB do.
Tracking down the identity of the hit-man who killed their MI6 contacts in Greece, Bond encounters their daughter, Melina Havelock (Bouquet), out for revenge. Bond also identifies mercenary, Emile Locque (Gothard) and smuggler Milos Columbo (Topol).
Bond and Melina contact intelligence informant Aris Kristatos (Glover) who helps them track down Columbo. But it soon comes to light that the real villain is closer than expected, and Bond must race to locate the ATAC before the KGB do with only a few allies he can trust...
The good thing with EON Productions and their James Bond series is that they know when certain aspects have to change to convince fans and critics the series is still relevant, faithful and honest at heart. As with changes in actors, cultural significance and general tone, here the producers decided to bring Bond back to basics after the out-of-this-world ‘Moonraker’ in 1979 for a film that was more gritty, darker and practical, all the while retaining the fun and charm that Roger Moore brought to the role of James Bond.
Here we focus more on the traits of the Ian Fleming novels, taking aspects from ‘Live And Let Die’ and ‘Goldfinger’ to create a film that features more espionage and investigative action from Bond rather than back-to-back action and gadget-fuelled spectacles.
While it does work for the most part, you can’t help but feel this isn’t the right vehicle for Roger Moore’s 007, yet it does prove his grounded acting ability more than ever.
While Moore is easily one of the best and most loved Bond actors with his immense passion for the series even going strong today, you miss the tongue-in-cheek fun he injects through his films and slightly OTT elements. He kills without hesitation, famously showing no mercy to one of our deadly villains when it comes to the end. While this is by no means a weak entry and it does benefit from having a darker and more dangerous feel to it, showing Moore’s dexterity as one who can also be cold-blooded as well as charming, you do miss the little things.
This comes across as a Cold War thriller, pitting our hero racing against the KGB to find the common goal – the ATAC system that represents a more real sense of threat in manipulating and accessing naval secrets that could be used to spark a war rather than larger-than-life dastardly plots to take over the world or destroy it. Along with few gadgets (Bond’s gadget filled Lotus is destroyed in under 1 minute of seeing it), Bond needs to rely on the elements that made him the man we love – a tough fighter, a clever thinker and a doer. One who puts himself in danger to save Queen and Country.
We are also treated to real locations and sets, rather than hidden fortresses or space-stations, like tense underwater sequences, death-defying mountain ranges, crisp snow scenes and sun-baked villas and villages. It all just makes this a Bond offering that is based far more in reality than previous outings, and that’s not a bad thing at all, it’s just a drastic change in tone for Moore to adapt to, which he does very well.
If anything, the only parts I never seem to enjoy is the underwater sequence. But that comes across also in films like ‘Thunderball’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ – I just find them dreary, slow and not very exciting and I doubt I will. I can easily skip these parts without really missing much. Bar that, we have some brilliant practical action like the keelhaul sequence, the nail-biting St Cyril’s mountain ascension (shamefully overlooked stuntwork) and the breath-taking Italian biathlon chase blending skis, sleds and motorbikes. It shows that nobody does action better like the Bond films using the environment to give us excitement, danger and thrills.
A strong cast keep the film grounded, with a more military themed run to the villains and heroes like Julian Glover’s charmingly sophisticated and dangerous Kristatos, Topol’s roguish Greek smuggler Columbo and Carole Bouquet, one of the more stronger Bond women as Melina Havelock who started the phase for Bond girls to hold their own against Bond and the villains who is beautiful AND dangerous to measure without being helpless and in the way. Real people who could easily exist in the dangerous world of espionage.
A touching, if somewhat surreal pre-title sequence follow the best sounding gun-barrel music by Bill Conti, and a somewhat dreary but likable Sheena Easton main theme. This all sets the tone for a darker, more investigative outing not seen for many years since the Connery era.
Roger Moore and EON prove they really understand the character of 007, and are not afraid to make him as dangerous, dark and effective as the story (and audience) requires.
'For Your Eyes Only' is an EON Productions production