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, but the series had always possessed a certain kitsch quality, long before it slipped into the silken suit of self-awareness. 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), a plethora of garish gadgets, overblown scenarios and larger-than-life henchmen keeping 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 becoming less tolerable, Moore’s Bond even embracing 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. Incidentally, Carver did receive a slap for her thinly-veiled subterfuge, but Moore’s was a very different portrayal. Instead of employing the kind of brute force that came naturally to former Mr. Universe contestant Connery, he would rely more on salacious charm and a plethora of eyebrow-raising quips, 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 the devilishly self-deprecating actor would often broach in a manner befitting his onscreen persona, stating on many occasion, “Of course I do my own stunts. I also do my own lying.” Moore’s tenure would also arrive in the midst of the counterculture movement, an era of free love replacing the postcard ideals of the nuclear family. As Moore would explain, “Sean played Bond as a killer – I played him as a lover”. He wasn’t kidding.
Such a cosmopolitan facade was still 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 love, 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 would 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 through the jungle with Tarzan abandon. Moore starred in some of the most memorable instalments during his twelve-year stint. He also starred in what many consider some of the weakest, particularly towards the end of his spell when the ageing actor soldiered on far beyond his sell-by date.
Oh, by the way, we haven’t been properly introduced, Melina. My name is Bond, James 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 big of a payday to pass up on, becoming the highest-grossing film worldwide in 1979. Both Michael Jayston and Patrick Mower were considered for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, but 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 gorgeous, if somewhat ludicrous antics of a mostly solid Moonraker, but perhaps as a response to growing criticism, Moore would hit back with arguably his most authentic portrayal, coming considerably closer to the hard-edged Bond of Fleming’s novels. 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 excess. 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 semi-kitsch Octopussy had one foot in the Dalton era as the franchise stumbled through the early 1980s.
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 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The sight of a visibly matured Bond visiting the grave of his deceased wife during the movie’s pre-titles sequence was rather poignant, but the appearance of an unnamed character who appears to be former nemesis and Mrs Bond assassin Ernst Stavro Blofeld is just a little risible, 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 by admitting, “We just let people use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions … It’s a legal thing.”
Glen was of course referring to the fact that producers had lost the rights to the Blofeld name prior to the release of For Your Eyes Only, and in a dubious start to the film decided to go with an impersonator. Despite this lame character forgery, the scene has an unusually dark pay-off that would set the tone for Moore’s coldest portrayal, Bond’s wheelchair-bound aggressor dropped down an industrial chimney in what remains 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 jarringly silly moment, which occurs during the usual innuendo-laden epilogue, features Margaret Thatcher impersonator (Janet Brown) flirting with a parrot. 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.
Thatcher wasn’t exactly popular among the working classes during the early 1980s, she and Ronald Reagan’s global expansion and the dismantling of worker unions leaving a generation jobless and in many cases homeless, so the whole ordeal could have been deemed anti-establishment given its ruthless sense of parody. Bond’s ambivalence is also somewhat rebellious, his second such act having already thrown the device the world’s been chasing off a mountaintop with a flip sense of morality that smacks of anarchic liberalism, but the reality was quite different. Moore was a steadfast Conservative, as I’m sure many of those involved were, but tax hikes in Britain for high earners meant that many fled the country during the 1970s, and this was surely a dig at the British government for those reasons.
There’s also the infamous ‘identigraph’ to consider, a ‘high-tech’ 3-D photo-fit machine that hasn’t aged too well. I’m sure Q’s sleuth contraption looked positively futuristic at a time when surveillance was less ubiquitous and police sketches were still law enforcement’s most valuable asset, but the meteoric rise of the digital age has left this particular gadget resembling a trumped-up game of Guess Who. Bond gives the vaguest description of Locque you could ever imagine, one that results in a perfect visual match in a matter of seconds. It’s pretty ridiculous in hindsight, but some degree of technological obsolescence is expected in a movie that is barely out of the 1970s, and it’s always a pleasure to see Moore and Desmond Llewelyn’s utterly endearing Q reunited.
That’s detente, comrade; *You* don’t have it, *I* don’t have it.James Bond
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 film’s fleeting and largely implied pre end credits smooch notwithstanding, Bond reins in his lascivious nature, his real love interest, as fleeting as it may be, coming in the form of Cassandra Harris’ relatively mature Lisl. But the movie’s real trump card is 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, even offering her the consolation of an ice cream like a patronising father looking for a convenient distraction. Dahl may be borderline annoying, but her character serves its purpose, helping to diffuse the kind of backlash that was only inevitable given the actor’s advancing years.
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 a father figure, 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 have been some weakly sketched female characters in a series that has 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 individualistic and resourceful — a far cry from the legions of itty bittys who have fallen helplessly into Bond’s lap over the years. Of all the glamorous beauties who have blessed the Bond canon, Bouquet’s angel of vengeance, a mainstream residue of characters such as Abel Ferrara’s feminist vigilante Ms. 45, may be the most respectable.
In the eyes of many Bond fans, Bouquet’s icy veneer is just as palpable, and sacrilegious, in real life. “It’s extremely boring to do a James Bond movie,” the former philosophy student, notable for her work with French cinema icon Gérard Depardieu and influential filmmaker Bertrand Blier, would admit. “It’s very fun to watch but awfully boring to do because you fake everything… You don’t act; it’s stunts, and it’s an action movie… Maybe boys, they love to do action movies. I don’t like that at all.” Bouquet, who would famously have her own Bond moment after her phone was tapped on the orders of ‘obsessed’ former French president François Mitterrand, was only 23 when starring in For Your Eyes Only, but she was already a highly respected young actress in her native France, and a near ten-year career as a model used by the likes of Chanel had prepared her for a famously misogynistic environment like Bond. “You get stared at [by men] the whole time,” the actress would explain. “I was first noticed when I was about 13. I was very shy. Being considered beautiful, I always felt that people were waiting for something more. I imagined you were supposed to have an intellectual ability ― and I’m making no claims here ― proportional to your supposed good looks.”
Moore’s usual repertoire of innuendo, which would have wilted in the presence of Bouquet’s Havelock, is also kept to a minimum. The film’s humour, where it exists, is less contrived and largely determined by the action, once again veering from the overtly suggestive for the most part. Whenever Bond delivers the prerequisite wisecracks they’re less sexual and much darker in tone. “Send the roses to the funereal, will you?” he says after sending an assassin crashing through a florist’s window to his death. His interactions with Havelock are no less sobering, “The Chinese have a saying,” he says as vengeance consumes her unflinching gaze. “Before setting off on revenge, you first dig two graves.” When the whiff of romance inevitably seeps through, it’s far more respectable: “I love a drive in the country. Don’t you…?” Bond quips as he and Havelock escape a pursuing rabble.
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 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 inhuman, almost robotic façade 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 callousness 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. Along with Dahl, Columbo brings a calculated sense of levity to proceedings, but when the time comes to get serious he’s no joke. He works on a more playful level, possessing an idiosyncratic manner that proves hugely endearing, but he’s not someone to be trifled with.
By tomorrow, we’ll be good friends. Let us drink to that.Columbo
For those who prefer their Bond with a little more pizzazz, there’s plenty of that to go around too. Despite its tonal austerity, 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. Havelock, having just assassinated one of her father’s conspirators, even takes the wheel for a short while, zipping through the hazardously tight roads with a skill and determination that further sets her apart. From there we’re 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 away from cinematographer Alan Hume’s lens. 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.
Though Glen was setting the groundwork for the kind of Fleming-esque Bond that would blossom in the 21st century, something we hadn’t really experienced since Connery’s From Russia With Love almost two decades prior, in a sense it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Compared to the cinematic exploits of blockbuster front runners George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who would introduce “James Bond without the hardware” Indiana Jones to audiences that very summer, 007’s latest outing may have seemed somewhat old hat in 1981. Bond, once the progenitor of lavish, special effects films, was certainly playing catch-up in that regard, Glen shunning the gaudy spectacle of Star Wars derivative Moonraker, despite its astronomical commercial success. It was a huge comedown tonally; perhaps a reaction to those critics who had grown tired of Moore’s increasing tomfoolery, but For Your Eyes Only isn’t the damp squib that many had it pegged for in such a special effects hungry climate. Spielberg and Lucas may have raised the blockbuster stakes, but in many ways this was a step forward for an evolving Bond formula that still had a long and uncertain road ahead.
Despite Glen’s relatively sober vision, there is still time for an elaborate and ultimately fruitless murder attempt by Kristasos, who ties a bleeding 007 and his female accomplice to the back of a boat, dragging them through shark-infested waters classic Bond style, a scene beautifully captured by 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?). Those underwater scenes ― though a tad drawn-out ― are absolutely spellbinding, giving us Bond at its most dreamy and elegant. It may impact the film’s pacing somewhat, but I couldn’t think of a better location to dwell in.
That location is given further majesty by the movie’s score, which can be spellbindingly luxuriant, but also a little inappropriate, particularly compared to John Barry’s quintessential contributions. Barry, who was unable to work in the UK at the time having gone into tax-related exile for reasons already mentioned, would relinquish his long-standing duties and recommend Rocky composer Bill Conti, who brings the disco flavour with a score that is unique to the series at large. It’s not classic Bond, and some of those funky splurges can be a little jarring considering Moore’s advancing years, but it’s a solid effort for the most part and absolutely befitting of the era.
Conti would also compose the film’s titular theme, which is a different story entirely. Sheena Easton’s Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated ‘For Your Eyes Only’ may not be as revered as many of Bond’s classic, big band themes, or as beloved as the new wave surge that would propel the series into the latter part of the decade, but it’s a lush, elegant ballad, a perfect fit for the character’s more graceful turn. The same can be said of the track lyrically. Easton’s ode to the man who does it better than the rest is intimate and relatively chaste. It doesn’t swoon over our leading man as much as themes had previously, nor is it overtly sexual or lascivious. It’s mature, romantic, less catered to Bond’s philandering antics. It portrays the ageing actor in much the same way as the movie.
Another broken trend is a little harder to swallow, though through no fault of creative. For Your Eyes Only is the only Bond movie which doesn’t feature series stalwart M, the head of M16 and 007’s long-suffering boss, a character who’s featured in so many classic moments that he/she has become an essential member of the Bond family. M’s absence was actually a show of respect following the death of original portrayer Bernard Lee, who was already in ill health for his last appearance two years prior. Nobody aced the moral resilience and approachable façade of the M character quite like Lee, who passed away during pre-production. Some viewed For Your Eyes Only as something of a depleting anomaly, and, subconscious or otherwise, Lee’s absence must have added to that feeling, particularly with Bond traditionalists. His contributions to the series are nothing short of legendary.
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 of the series. Many fans, myself included, have a huge appreciation for Moore’s eventual successor Timothy Dalton, whose hard-edged portrayal would have been perfect for this movie. Ironically, Dalton would turn down the role for a second time two years prior because he didn’t like the direction in which the series was heading. This would have been around the time of Moonraker, so you can certainly see his point, but with For Your Eyes Only Glen pulled the rug out from under us tonally, and it would have been interesting to see what Dalton, seven years prior to his eventual debut, would have made of the role at 33 years of age. It could have been something quite special.
Personally, 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 showed that he could do hard-edged when the material demanded. Despite his waning reputation, he carries one of the more sobering entries with unflinching composure, particularly during the film’s incredibly tense cliff face finale, one that has no time for frolics and fancies. Ian Fleming would surely have approved.
It’s easy to wrap Moore’s tenure in gorilla costumes and cheap innuendo, but For Your Eyes Only is about as far-detached from that formula as the series got back then. It’s gripping, fittingly low-key and hard-faced, with just enough glamour and stunt-laden artistry to remind us exactly what it is we’re dealing with. This is a past-his-peak Moore, but with age comes experience, and his performance here is a joy to behold. Roger would return for two further instalments in 1983‘s semi-camp Cold War effort Octopussy and 1985‘s unfairly maligned A View to a Kill, and while both movies would have their charms, For Your Eyes Only was the actor’s most fitting swansong.