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), and a plethora of garish gadgets, overblown scenarios and larger-than-life henchmen 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. 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 more readily accepted as the postcard ideals of the atomic family began to split at the edges. 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 with Tarzan abandon. Moore starred in some of the most memorable instalments during his twelve-year stint. He also starred in what many consider to be 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 big 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 excesses. 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 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 anomaly 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 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 by admitting, “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 in 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 fiercely independent 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. Bond’s uncaring is 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 is also the infamous ‘identigraph’ to consider, a ‘high-tech’ 3-D photo-fit machine that has aged terribly. 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 all rather laughable, but some degree of technological obsolescence is expected for 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.
[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]
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 pre end credits smooch 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 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 and offering to buy her 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.
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.
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. Whenever Bond delivers 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 florist’s 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 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 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. It’s breathtaking stuff, and again remains gritty and grounded.
But this is Bond, and despite 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 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 elegant. It may effect the film’s pacing, 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 follow the series into the latter part of the decade, but it’s a lush, elegant ballad, and a perfect fit for the character’s more graceful turn. Taking his cue from Barry, Conti also incorporates the theme into numerous sequences with admirable aplomb. Lyrically, ‘For Your Eyes Only’ 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 the same way the movie does.
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 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 the second time two years earlier because he didn’t like the direction 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 thirty-three 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 is low-key, gripping and hard-faced, with just enough glamour and stunt-laden artistry to remind us exactly what it is we are watching. 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.