2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 12: FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981)
KEEPING IT REAL The successor to the star-scraping Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only is an emphatic reality check for the Bond franchise. A grounded, almost mundane counterpoint to the escalating excess of ‘70s superspydom, it’s a film that wilfully rewrites our hero’s ancestral motto – for now, the world is clearly enough. Gone are the grand lairs of the villains, the whimsically macabre henchmen, the dream-tech MI6 gadgetry and outlandish, planet-bullying schemes, supplanted by a modest tale of drug smuggling, personal vendetta and low-key Cold War maneuvering. Tellingly, Bond’s Lotus is obliterated in an early scene, forcing him to endure a slapstick-packed chase sequence in an incongruously cute Citroen 2CV, a set of wheels more suited to the school run than the adrenalised world of international espionage. This wasn’t a profit-minded rethink; Moonraker had been a global hit, perfectly attuned to the post-Star Wars landscape. With fantasy cinema in the ascendant, the decision to strip Bond of the improbable was a genuine box office gamble, but executive producer Michael G Wilson (Broccoli’s stepson, and a rising creative force within Eon) was troubled by 007’s growing disconnect from reality. Inspired by the classic spycraft of From Russia With Love, he was determined to return Fleming’s creation to core values, to humanise this suave, unbreakable superman and clip his Q-branch Icarus wings. Welcome to reality, Mr Bond – it’s been expecting you…
THE FLEMING FACTOR While The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker had conspicuously outdreamt their source material, Moore’s fifth caper marks a reverent retreat to the work of Bond’s creator. The title homages Fleming’s first anthology of short stories – adaptations of episodes he’d outlined for an abortive 007 TV series in the ‘50s – and the screenplay splices two of those five yarns: “Risico”, an account of an Italian dope-smuggling racket that gives us the characters of Kristatos and Columbo, and the title tale itself, the story of Judy Havelock (more exotically named Melina in the movie, and armed with a funky crossbow in lieu of Fleming’s bow and arrow), out to avenge her parents’ murder at the hands of Cuban hitmen. The movie also plunders another piece of unfilmed Fleming – the sequence where Bond and Melina suffer the savage ordeal of keel-hauling is recycled from the novel of Live And Let Die. Coincidentally, 1981 saw the resurrection of the literary Bond with the publication of John Gardner’s Licence Renewed, the first officially sanctioned post-Fleming adventure since 1968’s Colonel Sun. The drably credible, Saab-driving agent in its pages feels in synch with the newly grounded incarnation on the big screen – this was the redefined face of Bond for the recession-bruised Britain of the early ‘80s, a more modest hero for a bleaker, more downbeat age.
FLOWERS FOR TRACYFor Your Eyes Only immediately aims to erase the lingering smirk of Moonraker. Its mission to humanise Bond is established from the opening frames of the pre-titles, which place him by the grave of his late wife, Tracy. It’s hard to say what’s more jolting about this sight: Roger Moore in uncharacteristically sombre, reflective mood, the Betjemanesque location of the English churchyard (a reminder of how rarely we see Bond on home shores, and never in such an Avengers-friendly heritage setting) or the explicit continuity with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. An impressive helicopter sequence follows, thrusting Bond into the ugly heartland of industrial London. This feels like jarringly new territory too: spiritually, the pipes and chimneystacks of the abandoned Beckton gasworks surely belong to the relentlessly urban milieu of The Sweeney or The Professionals (this is certainly the only Bond movie to flaunt a deeply un-Fleming credit for “North Thames Gas Board”). The villain of this sequence is ultimately revealed as a bald, cat-stroking maniac in a wheelchair – a cheeky nod to Blofeld, a former cornerstone of the franchise now ensnared in an ongoing legal battle with rival filmmaker Kevin McClory. We’re still waiting for an explanation of his baffling declaration “I’ll buy you a delicatessen – in stainless steel!”
ENTER JOHN GLENEyes is the first 007 adventure by John Glen, the director who would come to define James Bond for the ‘80s with a decade-long, five-film sequence that still stands as the longest unbroken run of any helmer. As with most Broccoli-anointed talent he was promoted from within – he had served as action unit director on a number of previous Bonds, supervising the bobsleigh sequence in OHMSS and capturing the heart-stopping ski leap in The Spy Who Loved Me. Glen was a fan of the Fleming novels and in synch with the producers’ desire to root the series in a muscular sense of reality. There’s rust in the Bond universe now, from the gasworks smokestacks of the pre-titles sequence to the ocean-stained hulk of the St Georges, and this new sense of reality extends to the shocking smears of blood we glimpse on the corpses of the Havelocks, brutally slain on the deck of their ship. Glen has a journeyman rep but there are some striking visuals here (a claw-handed diving suit looks alien and monstrous in one of the film’s tensest scenes) and he also proves to have a fine eye for locations, from the shimmering Ionian to the rugged peaks of Greece. If Eyes lacks the velvet grandeur of classic Bond it does at least succeed as photogenic travel porn. Elsewhere, Glen’s touch is less sure. An inescapable hint of ‘80s wine bar haunts the film’s attempts at romantic sophistication while a comedy coda with a marigolds-clad Margaret Thatcher and sprout-stealing Denis Thatcher shamelessly plays to the cheap seats, distinctly at odds with the film’s quest to purge the kitschier elements of big screen Bond.
MOUNTAIN MAN Bond’s plummet from the edge of Kristatos’ mountaintop lair proves the film’s most memorable piece of stuntwork. For once the absence of music underscores the drama – all we hear is the ceaseless howl of the wind and the desperate chink of gunbarrel on grappling hooks as Bond fights to rescale the precipice. The fall from the rockface was enacted for real, with in-house daredevil Rick Sylvester (who had performed Spy’s ski-jump) doubling for a vertigo-cursed Roger Moore who was mainlining valium and warm beer simply to perform on the mountain, let alone plunge from it. While Sylvester had agreed to the potentially fatal stunt he soon realised he had no real idea how to accomplish it. In a panic he sought out veteran FX man Derek Meddings, who knocked up a special rig and a landing trough with sandbags. When the day came to shoot the dizzying fall, a superstitious Sylvester did his best to avoid the unbeatable aerial view of the local cemetery…
THE NEW BOND?For Your Eyes Only very nearly saw a fourth actor strap on the iconic shoulder holster. Certainly the tabloids were confident that surly Professionals star Lewis Collins was in the frame for the most coveted gig on the British screen (Collins was indeed a contender but later confessed he’d had a less than auspicious meeting with Broccoli, who found him “too aggressive”: “I was in his office for five minutes, but it was really over for me in seconds. I have heard since that he doesn’t like me. That’s unfair. He’s expecting another Connery to walk through the door and there are few of them around.”). The film’s opening callback to Tracy’s grave was specifically designed to cement a sense of continuity for any new 007, but in the event Roger Moore signed at the last hour – much to the relief of helmer John Glen, who had dreaded the prospect of breaking in a neophyte Bond on his first watch as director. Moore’s reluctance to return to Bondage may have been as much to do with an honest awareness of his gathering age as his traditional blink-and-you-lose moneygame with Broccoli. He was particularly peturbed by the idea of co-star Lynn Holly Johnson playing a nymphomaniac teen – “I thought I was a bit long-in-the-tooth even then,” he later admitted – and the film takes care to reposition Bond in her presence. The eternally remorseless seducer resists Bibi’s advances with the deathless line “Yes, well, you get your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice cream…” Elsewhere Moore clashed with Glen over the moment Bond boots Locque’s car over a cliff, consigning the henchman to his death. The star felt it was too vicious, too callous – not “Roger Moore Bond”. Glen disagreed, keen to steel-cap the edges of Moore’s expertly louche persona. He won.
TRIV AND LET DIE
Tracy’s gravestone is engraved with the words “We have all the time in the world” – a direct quote from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as well as the title of its love song.
Main villain Julian Glover was once considered for the role of Bond himself.
The anonymous Blofeld surrogate is played by John Hollis – Lobot in The Empire Strikes Back.
Bond’s not entirely without gadgets in this one – he has a transmitter watch.
John Glen’s inspiration for the opening helicopter sequence came from a Pinewood technician he’d seen playing with a remote control car.
The monks of the Meteora monastery attempted to sabotage the location shoot. The filmmakers built their own monastery on a neighbouring rock.
Blondie had a stab at the title song. You can hear it here.