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Revisiting 1981’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’

50 Years of James Bond

After the excesses of “Moonraker,” producer Albert R. Broccoli made a surprising but welcome decision: He brought James Bond back down to earth. The result, “For Your Eyes Only,” is one of the best films in the series. It also marked the directorial debut of editor/second unit guru John Glen, who would go on to helm four of 007’s next five outings (including all three Timothy Dalton pics) — a clear sign that by recasting the director, Broccoli was able to save the series without avoid having to recast the lead.

For Your Eyes Only” works for a simple reason: It features all of Bond’s signature traits — the wisecracks, the women, the gambling, the cars, the stunts, the travel, etc. — but it does so with elegance and moderation. For example, Q still remains, but they’ve reined in the gadgets. And for once, Bond is seen resisting the charms of a potential conquest, Olympic ice skater “Bibi Dahl,” and though he still sleeps around (seducing the Countess in order to obtain information, as an actual spy might), his relationship with Carole Bouquet’s crossbow-toting revenge seeker is stronger for his restraint.

As a child, I was willing to accept the crazy lengths to which the 007 movies went to entertain me. But I had one question: If there was really someone out there like James Bond, thwarting such elaborate schemes to extort governments or annihilate the human race, why didn’t we ever hear about it? No one builds space stations or hollowed-out volcanoes from which to unleash such mayhem. Billionaires already enjoy world domination, and terrorists turn our own tools against us, as 9/11 proved, flying American planes into domestic targets.

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“For Your Eyes Only” features the same kind of scenario. A British spy ship hits a mine and sinks with a special device that controls the government’s entire missile system. No one plots to sabotage the vessel (the way they do to steal nuclear warheads in “Thunderball”). However, when the Russians get wind of the accident, they task a Greek smuggler named Kristalos to retrieve the ATAC — a perfect “MacGuffin” in the true Alfred Hitchcock tradition, supplying an ambiguous yet super-charged object the likes of which everyone seeks possession.

In many ways, “For Your Eyes Only” is the most Hitchcockian of the Bond movies, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. It is also the most like a European art film — which I mean more as a tease, since Glen superficially (yet effectively) adopts certain stylistic elements, including airy widescreen compositions and tense, wordless set pieces to give the proceedings a classier edge.

The best example of both influences occurs during the finale, in which Bond scales the sheer sandstone cliffs of Meteora to reach the monastery where Kristalos plans to hand the ATAC over to the KGB. Once the climb begins, no one speaks for several minutes while Moore (and his stunt double) makes his way up the rock cliff, even as he is spotted by a henchman, who sends Bond tumbling over the edge, where he dangles hundreds of feet above the ground.

With very little music and absolutely no dialogue, the scene is as lean and effective as the bank heist in Jules Dassin’s “Rififi,” while the location easily compensates for the fact that famed base-builder Ken Adam was off making “Pennies from Heaven.” (The scene also introduces Glen’s trademark: Long before John Woo wrangled his first pigeon, Glen was rigging them to fly out of nowhere to startle Bond.) “For Your Eyes” only wasn’t as radical a reboot as the Daniel Craig-starring “Casino Royale,” but it accomplished much the same thing, resetting an increasingly unruly franchise … for a short time.

Revisiting 1981's 'For Your Eyes Only'

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