Normally, I scoff at the so-called “grittier” and “more realistic” add-ons to the James Bond film franchise. There’s nothing realistic about them usually and in my experience, they tend to trade on stereotypes.
For Your Eyes Only isn’t like that and that’s surprising. This is the twelfth Eon Productions Bond film and Roger Moore’s fifth. Like the two films before it, it pulls from different sources and doesn’t have one Fleming book as its source. Its main plot revolves around James Bond’s attempts at locating a missing missile command system while also being pulled into a messy rivalry between Greek businessmen (Julian Glover’s Aristotle Kristatos and Chaim Topol’s Milos Columbo). Our main Bond Girl for the film also has a major chunk of the plot to herself and that is amazing. Carole Bouquet’s Melina Havelock is the daughter of a Greek marine archaeologist out for revenge after her parents are murdered by one of the aforementioned Greek businessmen.
For a movie with such a slow start, For Your Eyes Only winds up being a really good movie to me. The plot is a really nice change from the former ones and I liked that aside from Bond’s dry, dark humor, that we don’t really wind up saddled down by crappy attempts at humor. The lack of genocidal egomaniacs is a nice change too, I’ll admit. I like when they mix it up and we get to go back forth from genre-smushes like Moonraker to the corruption and international espionage in this film.
For Your Eyes Only has a lot of high points for me and that’s such a good thing. Where Moonraker was actually not my thing at all (despite looking so much like and the high points were few and far between, this movie was so good and very low on low points.
Let’s start with how For Your Eyes Only brought back a few things from the pre-Moore era that were a bit of an awesome shock to see. SPECTRE makes a brief (and decidedly not triumphant) appearance in the pre-credits scene but in such a way that the Eon Production people could squeak on by without getting in trouble for using anything related to Kevin McClory’s Thunderball lawsuit.
Blofeld shows up and of course, isn’t called by his name at any point. He’s out to get James Bond for the last time and goes about it in a really ridiculous way that’s doomed to fail from the start. He tries to kill Bond via a radio-controlled helicopter and winds up meeting his end in a rather gruesome way–dropped down a factory’s still-smoking chimney shaft after begging for his life. The end of the head of SPECTRE isn’t left ambiguous this time and it was a weirdly funny end to his reign of terror.
From the pre-Moore era we also get another Teresa Bond reference. This is the second one in his run because in The Spy Who Loved Me, Anya Amasova rattles off everything she knows about her fellow secret agent including the tragic death of his young wife. In this film, James Bond visits Teresa’s grave to lay flowers at its side with the appropriately serious look on his face. It’s nice that every once in a while we’re allowed to remember Teresa but I hate how she was fridged to spur Bond onward in the fight against SPECTRE.
(Seriously, I’m never going to be over the fact that Fleming and the Eon Production people thought that the only way to get James Bond to continue to fight against an evil organization was to have them murder his wife. He’s a spy and set up as the Good GuyTM so why wouldn’t he do his job?)
I’m a sucker for maintained continuity so the fact that they’re bringing back these little things that tie all of the movies together is just one of the best things about the franchise.
Another high point for me are the film’s chase scenes. They’re a staple of action films and expected in James Bond films, but they can be a bit tedious. You can only watch so many car and boat chases before they all start to blur together. What I liked about For Your Eyes Only is how these scenes that should seem repetitive actually kind of stand out.
Take the very first chase scene in this movie. Bond and Melina are stealing through the grounds around the Italian villa belonging to assassin Hector Gonzales trying to escape him and his henchmen. After some of the henchmen trip a trap on Bond’s Lotus Esprit Turbo that sends the car – and them – sky high, Melina winds up heading up a car chase in what is one of the dinkiest little cars ever.
The Citroën 2CV is a cute car and it looks like it shouldn’t survive the chase scene in one piece. It’s like something out of a comedy routine because they’re constantly just squeaking out of these narrow escapes. The car that they’re in is just… so tiny and yet they have it careening through the Italian countryside and crashing past people working on olive farms. And despite the truly dirty look that Bond casts its way when he first sees it, the Citroën 2CV still comes out on top even though it probably shouldn’t have.
The politics and history references in For Your Eyes Only are another thing that I liked about the film. At first, when they mentioned the prime minster, I blanked. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember who was the Prime Minister of England at the time this film was made. And then she had a cameo in the film–or at least an actress playing her–and I was kicking myself for missing that until the very end of my first re-watch.
This movie also has a Cold War feel and focus to it. The head of the KGB from The Spy Who Loved Me returns in this film but this time, he’s not interested in cooperating with MI6. He’s out to get the tracking system and the film implies that he wants it so that he can get one up on the rival agency. Part of the “injecting realism” factor for this film was returning to the UK vs Russia theme of some of the Connery films and there’s no doubt that that’s connected to the political climate of the time.
It’s the little things in this film that worked for me and that’s pretty awesome.
Now I want to spend some time talking about my favorite parts of the film–or the parts also known as “every single scene that Melina Havelock was in.”
After James Bond himself, Melina was the best character in the entire film for me. No surprise of course, because my weakness for the women in James Bond films has to be pretty obvious by now. Ever predictable, I gravitated towards Melina from her first scene where she watches her parents get gunned down in front of her because of how she handled it. Instead of breaking down with her grief, Melina decides that the best thing that she can do in the wake of her parents’ death is to find who killed them and make them pay.
And she gets really darn close to doing so.
I really love that we can chart the evolution of our “main” Bond Girl in the Eon films. While a few of the films slip and our main girl kind of backslides in terms of agency and power (both personal and professional), we’re getting to a point where our Bond Girls are comparable in power with the man himself and that’s pretty wonderful to see. Melina embodies this sort of thing for me because she’s in this horrible situation–parents murdered and assassins on her tail–and all she can think about is doing whatever she can to make sure that whoever is responsible for her parents’ deaths winds up paying for it.
Right after the first car scene, James Bond gets a bit patronizing with Melina and her quest for revenge and she just shuts him down. It’s glorious. (It’s also hilarious to be because what should feel like a continuity fail on Bond’s part just feels as if he’s being a hypocrite since he really has no business telling anyone that seeking revenge is a bad idea with what he did to Blofeld in this movie alone.)
Bond: The Chinese have a saying: “Before setting out on revenge, you first dig two graves.”
Melina: I don’t expect you to understand. You’re English, but I’m half Greek. And Greek women, like Electra… always avenge their loved ones. I must go.
I appreciate the reference to Greek mythology so much. What I like even more is that she takes Bond’s ridiculous comment and points out that essentially it’s in her nature to want to get revenge. How she gets it is up to her, but Melina is very clear that she will be getting it with or without Bond’s assistance.
Melina is an interesting character to me because she’s a very feminine character. She has super long hair and wears dresses in most of her scenes but then she carries a crossbow that she’s not afraid to use. In fact, Melina actually shoots and kills with her crossbow, proving that it isn’t for show.
What’s also fun about Melina is that she really doesn’t put up with any of Bond’s nonsense or the main villains’ either. While she’s not necessarily as powerful in the narrative as the previous two Bond girls, she’s a quietly forceful presence that isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and that isn’t afraid to push back. Seriously, can we cover how she shoots a crossbow bolt into a henchmen’s chest near the end of the film? It was an epic moment for an epic character.
Even her relationship with James Bond is kind of awesome. My favorite relationships in the franchise tend to be ones where he’s not the initiator. This can change even in the space of the same movie because different female characters are initiating intimacy in ways that are just… not good, but for the most part when ladies go after Bond, I’m game.
At the end of the movie where you have the obligatory “James Bond having sex in a boat” scene, Melina is a teasing figure that wants to be with Bond as much as he wants to be with her. Is their relationship perfect? Not at all, but they’re like teenagers at heart and I actually really enjoyed their ending scenes.
Unfortunately, not all of the other women in the film had as much agency as Melina seemed to have.
With Kristatos’ figure skater protégée Bibi Dahl, you hit one of my biggest pet peeves with Bond Girls: infantilizing them. I don’t think we’re ever told how old how old she is, but we’re supposed to think of her as a young adult or maybe someone just on the cusp of adulthood. When she throws herself at Bond, he pushes her away for a change and makes reference to her being far too young for him.
What makes me uncomfortable about Bibi is how her character can be read as a hypersexual young woman or teenager and how one man in particular reacts to her.
Our main bad guy Kristatos is a creep with Bibi, paternalistic and frankly too focused on her youth for it to be a good thing. Despite calling her his protégée, she’s a prisoner to him and he’s creepy beyond belief about their relationship.
At one point near the film’s last major fight scene, Kristatos comes into the room where Bibi is training and tells her how they’re going to Cuba for a time and how he’ll be her audience. She lashes out at him and tells him how he’s too old for her, implying that she knows why Kristatos has her around him and it’s not because he’s interested in her athletic skills.
When Bibi dares to show even the smallest sign of rebellion, not only does Kristatos threaten her but he also threatens her coach Jacoba. The age difference and power imbalance in their relationship is made up largely of implications, but they’re nasty implications to have floating around. Bibi isn’t an equal to him in any way and she’s framed as a naïve child that is too attractive for her own good.
Seriously, the only thing that made it easier to stomach than scenes of Connery’s Bond with, well… everyone was that it’s not framed as a good thing and she does escape from the paternalistic pervert that was trying to keep her against her will. Bibi does get free of Kristatos and leaves Greece along with her badass coach Jacoba (who seems ready to fight to keep Bibi safe!!) and while I don’t love how Bibi is infantilized, I do like knowing that she’s probably going to get a happy ending.
For once, James Bond isn’t the one being creepy in this sort of scene and it’s such a relief.
The other female character that shows up and serves as a romantic partner for Bond gets the actual shortest end of the stick. Countess Lisl von Schlaf (played by Cassandra Harris, who was the wife of future James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan) was Columbo’s mistress and unfortunately, a pawn in the rivalry between the two men. After sleeping with James Bond, she winds up being hit by a dune buggy driven by one of Kristatos’ henchmen.
The thing about the Countess is that she isn’t really fridged.
Because the term ‘fridging’ implies that the male character actually notices/cares long enough to want revenge or to get an extra reason towards fighting the villains. Aside from Bond checking her pulse and finding her dead, I don’t think that she’s brought up again by anyone including the man she was sleeping with on a regular basis. While fridging is seriously a terrible trope to rely on, so is treating women as disposable and insignificant is also a thing that I wish would stop.
How hard is it to find a balance really?
For Your Eyes Only is a very slow film in terms of but I enjoyed way more than Moonraker. The plot was… alright. I was focused more on Melina’s plot and her quest for revenge than on the whole thing with the missile tracking system. I couldn’t help it, not really. Melina was a clear-cut favorite for me because she was cute and carried a killer crossbow. I know that we really just keep getting good Bong Girls on a regular basis after this, but her role in this film makes me wish that we’d be able to get some recurring Bond Girls sooner than, well… now.
What I’m looking forward to:
I always miss Connery’s Bond when I haven’t watched him for a while and this time is no exception. This coming week I get to watch and rewatch the 1983 film Never Say Never Again. Sean Connery’s last performance as James Bond is an unofficial one, but I’ve always seen it as a good end to him playing Bond.
After Never Say Never Again, it’s off to Octopussy and what will be a very uncomfortable week for anyone that talks to me about what I’m watching. I have complicated feelings about Octopussy (both the character and the film) and I’m really invested in working some of that out in my recap.
More Bond Girls (and villainesses) that get to kick butt and love hard without being reduced to objects for Bond and the big bad villains. They’re out there and we’ll be getting more of them as the franchise gets to the very end of the 20th century and onward but I’m impatient.
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