All expectations were for the twelfth James Bond film to be another outing in the tradition of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. An outlandish gadget-laden and globe-trotting extravaganza packed to the gunnels with outrageous stunts and quips. For Your Eyes Only wrong footed cinema goers completely by returning 007 to his roots as a Cold Warrior in the conflict between the superpowers.
A major influence in the unexpected change of direction was Michael G Wilson, Cubby Broccoli’s stepson and now Executive Producer. An avowed fan of From Russia With Love Wilson wanted to evoke the spirit of Ian Fleming in a realistic thriller concentrating on plot, character and tension. Taking inspiration from two Ian Fleming short stories: For Your Eyes Only and Risico, Wilson penned the script in conjunction with Connery era veteran Richard Maibum. At the behest of Broccoli the screenwriters also inserted the keel hauling sequence from Live And Let Die which had gone unused in the film adaptation.
In place of grand super villains and megalomaniacal schemes to annihilate humanity by nuclear or biological means Maibum and Wilson skillfully wove Fleming’s original material into a realistic tale of revenge and espionage revolving around the recovery of the British nuclear missile control system ATAC. A true Hitchcockian MacGuffin similar to the Lecktor of From Russia With Love ATAC was there simply to provide motivation for all parties concerned and drive the plot.
Former editor and second unit director John Glen was assigned to the director’s chair as it was considered that he could bring a hard-hitting gritty atmosphere to the proceedings in the same way as Terence Young and Peter Hunt had done in the 1960s. Initially consideration was given to bringing Jaws back for a third outing but the idea was discarded early on as it was rightly recognised that the character would be out of place in the more realistic Bond universe that For Your Eyes Only was aiming for.
Roger Moore had originally signed a three film contract with EON Productions, which had expired with the completion of The Spy Who Loved Me. His appearance in Moonraker had been negotiated on a single film basis and now uncertainty regarded the actor’s involvement in For Your Eyes Only – especially as he was announced in July 1980 at a press conference for The Sea Wolves that he was not interested in playing Bond again. Faced with the possibility of introducing a new 007 to the world the opening sequence of For Your Eyes Only was tailored to introduce a new actor by having the British agent visit the grave of his wife Teresa Bond.
For Your Eyes Only came very close to being the first Timothy Dalton James Bond film. The Shakespearean actor had been under consideration ever since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969 and the back-to-basics character-orientated style of the new film would have been very much in tune with the character that he would ultimately portray. Dalton was approached whilst negotiations with Moore were ongoing but he feared being asked to act as the figurehead for a production similar to The Spy Who Loved Me or Moonraker and turned down the opportunity.
The prolonged negotiations with Roger Moore eventually proved fruitful and at the eleventh hour he signed onto For Your Eyes Only. John Glen has stated on numerous occasions that he was pleased to have Moore aboard for his first film as it removed the additional pressure of having to introduce a new 007. All lamenting of Dalton’s absence aside For Your Eyes Only contains Roger Moore’s best performance as James Bond. The actor’s best scene in any of his seven films comes when he kicks a car containing the assassin Locque over a cliff. It is a key moment in the history of the franchise that reestablishes 007 as a blunt instrument of the British Government, an agent with a licence to kill. Moore took much persuading to film the scene as written as he considered it to be “Bond-like, but not Roger Moore Bond-like”. Throughout production the actor remained uncomfortable with the toughening up of his Bond but acquiesced to John Glen’s vision. For the rock climbing scenes in Greece Moore even resorted to beer and valium to overcome his fear of heights in order to assist Glen in getting the shots he required.
The best supporting cast since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was assembled to support Moore. United Artists publicist Jerry Juroe suggested Carole Bouquet as the vengeful Melina Havelock and after Glen and Broccoli watched her in That Obscure Object of Desire, they travelled to Rome to invite Bouquet aboard.
In the key roles of Milos Columbo and Aris Kristatos, two old foes engaged in a feud dating back to World War II and the days of the Greek Resistance, Topol and Julian Glover were cast respectively. Most famous for Fiddler On The Roof, Topol’s inclusion came after a suggestion by Dana Broccoli and he gloriously bought to life the light and dark aspects of the smuggling crime lord. Once considered for the role of Bond in Live And Let Die Shakespearian actor Julian Glover was an old friend of Roger Moore having appeared in The Saint. Topol was responsible for the reconciliation of Cubby Broccoli with his former producing partner Harry Saltzman after suggesting that the latter be invited to the premier of For Your Eyes Only. Saltzman was delighted to accept the invitation, and as a result he and Broccoli were able to put a decade of bad blood behind them.
Glen’s mission statement of taking Bond back to his roots came early in the film with the destruction of the agent’s gadget-laden Lotus Esprit in a genuinely amusing scene that cocked a snoot at car thieves across the world. Here was a declaration that from now on 007 would rely on his wits and ingenuity. In numerous previous outings the agent might have accessed the high altitude lair of Kristatos, filmed atop the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Meteora, via jet pack or parachute but in For Your Eyes Only there is a The Guns of Navarone-like climbing sequence that creates genuine thrills and tension for the audience. For the heart stopping moment where Bond plunges from the cliff face Moore was doubled by Rick Sylvester, who had previously performed the pre-credit ski jump in The Spy Who Loved Me. Special effects supervisor Derek Meddings was responsible for devising a system to dampen Sylvester’s sudden stop and prevent the stuntman’s back from being broken.
Less successful in terms of holding the attention of the audience was the epic ski chase staged by Willy Bogner, Jr in the Italian ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo . A clear attempt to outdo his previous work on The Spy Who Loved Me and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the sequence continues far beyond its optimum length by incorporating a ski jump and a bobsleigh run. Not for the first time the production team was guilty of not observing the old maxim of less often being better than more.
Originally Blondie were signed up to provide the theme song but their composition was rejected by the producers as they wanted the band to interpret the song selected by Bill Conti, who had replaced John Barry as composer as the veteran musician was unable to work on the film due to tax issues. Sheena Easton was the eventual choice to perform the song and she secured herself a place in Bond history by becoming the only title song artist to date to appear on screen in the opening credits.
With a darker, yet believable edge applied to Roger Moore’s 007 and the reintroduction of believable story narratives and characters all looked good for For Your Eyes Only to take its place in the pantheon of classics alongside the likes of From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Alas it was not to be as the producers clung with a death-like grip to one of the most lamentable aspects of the 1970s Bonds: the inclusion of inexplicably puerile humour. What was being smoked in the production office when it was decided to include the so-called humourous coda featuring Margaret and Dennis Thatcher? And Bibi Dahl? Lynn-Holly Johnson’s character is only a part of the proceedings so as to give Bond a “funny” moment of offering to buy her an ice cream after rejecting her offer of sex-on-a-plate. All the steps towards reestablishing the franchise as serious thrillers were destroyed in such moments.
The melancholic visit to the grave of Teresa Bond is subsequently undermined by the idiotic inclusion of Ill-judged Moonraker-style humour and a character clearly meant to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld in all but name. Silly attempts at making the audience chuckle remove the focus from impressive footage of the helicopter flying around the abandoned Beckton Gas Works in London with stuntman Martin Grace hanging on for dear life.
Due to the hangover of ill-judged humour from the previous Roger Moore outings For Your Eyes Only was not the full-blooded return to the glory days of the early Sean Connery films that the producers had been aiming for.
In a parallel universe there exists a deadly serious version of the film with Blondie performing the title song and Timothy Dalton as 007…
1 From Russia With Love
3 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
4 The Spy Who Loved Me
6 Dr. No
7 For Your Eyes Only
8 You Only Live Twice
10 Diamonds Are Forever
11 Live And Let Die
12 The Man with the Golden Gun