An ageing Moore proves his mettle as Ian Fleming’s irrepressible super spy
Camp is a word often associated with Roger Moore’s record-equalling tenure as Ian Fleming’s internationally revered 007, and it’s easy to see why.
The series had always possessed a certain kitsch quality, even before that formula was fully refined. After all, the kind of egomaniacal super villains synonymous with the series don’t exist anywhere in the real world (though there are subtler variations with their fingers on the political buttons), and a plethora of garish gadgets, overblown scenarios and larger-than-life henchmen have kept the series firmly in the realms of male-oriented fantasy. Pre-Moore, there was always the ruggedly handsome Sean Connery to keep affairs somewhat grounded, his ‘women should be seen and not heard’ ideals punctuated by an icy sense of detachment and propensity for the occasional backhander. In some ways, those earlier instalments can appear ludicrously dated, and the searing smack of male palm on female flesh leaves something of a bad taste in the mouth.
Connery’s eventual successor was cut from a decidedly more silken cloth. By the time of Moore’s inaugural outing in 1973’s Live and Let Die, violence against women was much less tolerable, and Moore’s Bond would even embrace the multicultural movement by frolicking with the wholly unconvincing, African American CIA agent Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry), which was quite the leap forward for the series racially, even if her embarrassingly vacuous character smacked of misogyny. Instead of employing the kind of brute force that came naturally to former Mr. Universe contestant Connery, Moore would turn to salacious charm and a plethora of eyebrow-raising quips to make his mark, winning over a new generation of fans while displeasing many more with his relatively wimpish demeanour.
Moore’s suitability for the role of an international spy with a licence to kill was somewhat questionable, even after a highly successful small screen endeavour as ‘The Saint’. Particularly damning was the fact that Moore was infamous for dodging his own stunts, a subject that the devilishly self-deprecating actor would often broach in a manner befitting of his onscreen persona, stating on many an occasion, “Of course I do my own stunts. I also do my own lying.” He would also tackle the many naysayers baying for his blood in the absence of Connery, explaining, “Sean played Bond as a killer – I played him as a lover”, something that was likely to irk those naysayers even further.
But the times, as they say, were a changing, and Moore would embody a more cosmopolitan facade off the back of the civil rights movement — an alien concept to the many full-bloodied males weaned on a diet of Connery. The Vietnam War would mark a change in the thoughts and feelings of Western society, compassion rising above patriotism for a generation who would denounce the philosophies of old and challenge the antiquated attitudes of an unenlightened society. In the eyes of their elders, free loving, anti-war advocates were nothing but a bunch of crybabies, and in some ways Moore’s Bond was a reflection of those changing attitudes. For many, he wasn’t representative of what a man should be.
I’m a huge Moore fan, but it’s hard to deny the kind of overripe flamboyance that has become emblematic of his tenure. From a personal perspective, Bond isn’t Bond without a little silliness — this is fantasy wish-fulfilment after all — but some of those innuendos haven’t aged well, nor has the sight of Moore adorning a white safari suit and swinging with Tarzan abandon or assuming the guise of a sad clown. Moore starred in some of the most memorable instalments during his twelve-year stint, but he also starred in some of the weakest, particularly towards the end of his spell when the ageing actor soldiered on far beyond his sell-by date.
James Bond: Oh, by the way, we haven’t been properly introduced, Melina. My name is Bond, James Bond.
Originally, Moore was only contracted to three movies with an option for a fourth, and though he felt himself too old for the role and would often talk of walking away beyond 1977‘s The Spy Who Loved Me, Star Wars cash-in Moonraker was too much of a financial cherry to pass up on, becoming the highest grossing film worldwide in 1979. Though both Michael Jayston and Patrick Mower were considered for 1981‘s For Your Eyes Only, Moore would return for what was once again considered his final foray as 007, thanks in no small part to director John Glen, who pushed hard for Moore to front his directorial debut, which was a tough enough task without the added difficulty of introducing a fresh marquee face to the fold.
Moore was 53 by the time For Your Eyes Only hit theatres, and many rolled their eyes following the ludicrous, scattergun finale of a mostly solid Moonraker, but, perhaps as a repost to growing criticism, Moore would hit back with arguably his most authentic portrayal, coming considerably closer to the hard-edged Bond of yore. Eschewing the silliness of recent instalments for what is essentially a straight-up espionage thriller, For Your Eyes Only was the perfect antidote to Moonraker‘s space-bound, money-oriented antics. Glen would be responsible for some of Moore’s sillier moments, but with a CV that includes For Your Eyes Only, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill, he mostly presented 007 in a more serious light. Even the often ludicrous Octopussy was comparatively low-key and stripped of the more grandiose embellishments as the franchise stumbled through the early 1980s.
Okay, so For Your Eyes Only is bookended by a couple of dubious moments, one of which marring what was an intriguing reference to George Lazenby’s highly divisive anomaly On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The sight of a visibly matured Bond visiting the grave of his deceased wife in the movie’s prologue was somewhat poignant, but the appearance of an unnamed character who appears to be former nemesis and Mrs Bond assassin Ernst Stavro Blofeld is somewhat curious, particularly since we only see the back of his head as he attempts to kill Bond via a remote-controlled helicopter, a series of Moore-esque quips crudely voiced over in a scene that Glen would defend thusly, “We just let people use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions … It’s a legal thing,” referring to the fact that producers had lost the rights to the Blofeld name. Ironically, the scene has an unusually dark pay-off that would set the tone for Moore’s coldest portrayal, Bond’s wheelchair-bound aggressor dropped from the helicopter down an industrial chimney for what is a particularly brutal dispatch. Even Moore’s prerequisite quip comes across as unusually heartless. Still, a predominantly jokey sequence is no way for arguably the most notable villain in the series to meet his maker.
The other silly moment, which appears during the usual innuendo-laden epilogue, features a quite ludicrous scene in which a Margaret Thatcher impersonator (Janet Brown) flirts with a parrot as Bond finally succumbs to urges that are positively cringeworthy, deciding on a spot of skinny dipping with 23-year-old model and memorable Bond girl Carol Bouquet. Thatcher’s husband Denis, here portrayed by satirist John Wells, even breaks the ‘fourth wall’ by staring into the camera John Hughes style, resulting in a scene that is completely at odds with the rest of the movie, though the whole ordeal could be deemed anti-establishment given its ruthless sense of parody. Also, Bond’s uncaring is somewhat rebellious, his second such act having already thrown the device the world’s been chasing off a mountaintop.
[to Gen. Gogol, after throwing the ATAC system over a cliff]
James Bond: That’s detente, comrade; *You* don’t have it, *I* don’t have it.
[Gen. Gogol laughs]
But for the most part, that’s where the silliness ends. In fact, Glen does everything possible to douse the flames of Moore’s flamboyancy. His first move is to tackle the subject of the actor’s increasing age. The movie’s fleeting and largely implied epilogue aside, Bond reins in his lascivious nature, and his real love interest, as fleeting as it may be, comes in the form of Cassandra Harris’ considerably maturer Lisl. But the real trump card is that of Lynn-Holly Johnson’s irrepressibly flirtatious Bibi Dahl, a young Olympic hopeful whose advances Bond emphatically shuns, demanding that she get dressed when he finds her naked in his hotel room and offering to buy her an ice cream like a patronising father looking for a convenient distraction. Dahl may be borderline annoying, but her character serves her purpose, helping to diffuse the kind of backlash that was only inevitable.
In Carol Bouquet’s ravishing Melina Havelock, we also have a character who is largely numb to Bond’s sexual charms. Sure, she ends up in his arms eventually, but for the most part Bond is just as much of a father figure to her, talking her back from the brink of vengeance in a manner that is both paternal and respectful, and Havelock’s character is one who demands respect. There were some weakly sketched female characters in a series that had been nothing if not chauvinistic, but Havelock is an entirely different entity. After witnessing the brutal gunning down of her parents at the hands of a Cuban hitman, she sets off on an unflinching path of crossbow-led retribution, proving herself both independent and resourceful — a far cry from the legions of itty bittys who have fallen helplessly into Bond’s lap throughout the years. Moore’s usual repertoire of innuendo is also kept to a minimum. The film’s humour, where is exists, is less contrived and largely determined by the action rather than the other way around, and once again it veers from the sexual. When he does deliver the prerequisite wisecracks they are much darker in tone. “Send the roses to the funereal, will you?” he says after sending an assassin crashing through a florists window to his death. He had bought them a moment earlier having retreated inside the shop to analyse the situation.
Havelock’s crusade is tied to the movie’s central narrative, which sees Bond tracking an encryption device to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. It’s rather low-key as Bond plots go, but then the entire movie is relatively understated, and effectively so. The remaining cast members of note are memorable if lacking the usual ostentation. Julian Glover’s surreptitious skate instructor-come-drug-smuggling killer is unusually cautious and more authentic as a consequence, his attempts to have Bond wrongly assassinate a former acquaintance who knows too much appropriately calculated for a person in his position. Henchman Locque (Michael Gothard) makes a rather big impression doing very little, projecting an inhumane, almost robotic facade until Moore kicks his car off a cliff with a coldness rarely glimpsed during his tenure — revenge for yet another brutal murder that sees Lisl mowed down with a cruelty that underpins the entire instalment.
Perhaps the movie’s most animated character is that of Greek smuggler Milos ‘The Dove’ Columbo, an underworld player who, though corrupt on a non-deadly level, is gregarious, jovial and otherwise honest, ambushing Bond for the purpose of becoming his ally and immediately earning his trust. Columbo is equal parts playful and serious, a goodhearted rebel who causally reaches for a snack mid-battle, using the remaining pistachio shells as a makeshift trap for oncoming enemies. He glows with magnanimity, and his idiosyncratic manner is hugely endearing.
James Bond : If I don’t report in by tomorrow, not only will my people, but the entire Greek police, will come down on you like a load of bricks.
Columbo : By tomorrow, we’ll be good friends. Let us drink to that.
For those who prefer their Bond with a little more pizzazz, there’s plenty of that to go around too. For Your Eyes Only features some truly glamorous locations, from the splendour of the Greek Islands to rural Spain — the setting for a gloriously comical car chase which leaves Bond’s suave demeanour wilting, his booby trapped Lotus instead replaced by Havelock’s banana yellow Citroën 2CV, which 007 reluctantly uses to bamboozle the chasing pack. From there we are off to the setting of one of the most incredible action sequences in the entire Bond canon — Cortina d’Ampezzo in the snow-tipped Dolomites, a location that is just as awe-inspiring in real life. The movie’s ski chase features a series of breathtaking stunts. There’s a slalom jump, a table slide, a cabin grind, and a quite incredible sequence which sees Bond pursued along a bobsleigh track at high speed by a rabble of spike-wheeled bikers. Truly breathtaking stuff.
Of course, this is Bond, and in spite of Glen’s relatively sober vision there is still time for an elaborate and ultimately fruitless murder attempt by Kristasos, who ties a bleeding Bond and his female accomplice to the back of a boat and drags them through shark infested waters, the kind that are beautifully captured by cinematographer Alan Hume. Inevitably, Bond is able to cut himself and Havelock loose, taking out one of the villain’s henchmen and disappearing to the bottom of the ocean. Kristasos is only mildly perturbed by this, convincing himself that the two have drowned and that Bond is history. Will they ever learn?
For many, For Your Eyes Only was a Bond too far for Moore, but for me it proves his finest performance, and one of the better instalments in the entire series. Many fans, myself included, have a huge appreciation for Moore’s successor Timothy Dalton, whose hard-edged portrayal would have been perfect for this movie. Ironically, Dalton would turn down the role for the second time two years earlier because he didn’t like the direction the series was heading in, and it would have been interesting to see what Dalton, seven years prior to his eventual debut, would have made of the role at thirty-three years of age. It could have been something quite special.
Still, I’m glad Moore stuck around. He may have been a little long in the tooth, his sexual prowess may have diminished quite dramatically, but with Glen doing everything in his power to conceal those deficiencies, Moore goes some way to proving his doubters wrong. The biggest accusation levelled at Moore is that he didn’t fit author Ian Fleming’s vision. Moore’s Bond was pretty, polished, even mildly effeminate, but with For Your Eyes Only he shows that he could be hard-edged when the material demanded it, and he carries one of the more sobering entries with unflinching aplomb, particularly during the film’s incredibly tense cliff face finale.
It’s easy to wrap Moore’s tenure in clown costumes and cheap innuendo, but For Your Eyes Only is about as far-detached from that formula as the series got back then. It is low-key, gripping and hard-faced, with just enough glamour and stunt-laden artistry to remind you exactly what it is you are watching. This is a past-his-peak Moore at his very finest, and it is a joy to behold. Roger would return for two further instalments, and though both of those movies would have their plus points, For Your Eyes Only is the actor’s most fitting swansong.