Friday, February 12, 2016

Let's Not Be Ostentatious (For Your Eyes Only)

fig. 1: Ersatz Stavro Blofeld

From its bizarre, tacked-on opening scene through at least the first act, For Your Eyes Only is a deeply paranoid film. It's not politically paranoid; the Bond films remain resolutely apolitical. Rather, it's the paranoia of the classic spy film, of Alfred Hitchcock, even almost of David Lynch. Before settling in to more traditional action-adventure fare, For Your Eyes Only commits fully to a creeping dread of hired killers and death traps, of dangers lurking around every corner.

Let's start with that cold open. Though the man who has hijacked Bond's helicopter is never identified--or even properly glimpsed--he's clearly meant to be Blofeld, and the quick way with which he is dispatched was meant as a big Eff You to Kevin McClory, who through the Seventies was litigating his way toward putting together the film that would become Never Say Never Again.

The opener also served two functions of interest to Roger Moore. The first: James Bond begins the scene visiting the grave of his wife Tracy, killed in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, back when he looked like George Lazenby. He's unusually somber for this incarnation, ruminating on his loss when approached by a vicar who tells him there's a helicopter coming for him. Moore wanted that scene to demonstrate a continuity between actors, to showcase again that he was playing the same guy as Connery and Lazenby had, and by way of doing this to lay the ground for his departure. Though he would go on to make two more films, Moore intended, at least at the time, for this to be his last picture.

The dread in this movie starts with the vicar, who's giving Bond the sign of the cross in a loaded, strange shot that inserts a level of disquiet just before the helicopter is hijacked by Ersatz Blofeld. So the helo is hijacked, and Blofeld, through the radio before implementing his hilariously baroque murder plot, informs Bond that the guy piloting the thing--who has just been murdered via electric shock--was one of Blofeld's "less reliable people." So here's a guy who has the resources to place a mole in British Intelligence close enough to get to James Bond, and instead of using him to just shoot 007 in the head, he has him rig up a specialized helicopter that runs via remote so Blofeld can play with Bond all cat-like for one last go around. It works out about as well as you'd think.

Ordinarily, this would be just another example of the ludicrously involved Bad Guy Mastermind Scenes we've come to expect from the franchise. Coupled with what's to come next, however, it has an interesting resonance. After the opening title, we open on a fishing boat. Only it's not a fishing boat. Slide one door back and instead of grimy, rusting walls, there is a pristine computer nerve center staffed by British sailors keeping an eye on the Iron Curtain from the Aegean Sea. The ship brings up something in its nets, only it's not fish, it's a mine and the ship goes down.

A scene later, female lead Melina Havelock arrives at her parents' boat via chartered plane. The pilot, in fact, is a Cuban hitman named Hector Gonzalez, after making sure Melina gets off the plane with her Guy Laroche bag, swings his plane back up into the sky, banks back, and sets about murdering everyone, save Melina (though not for lack of trying). When Bond arrives in Cortina, Italy to track down the hitman's employers (after being rescued by out-of-nowhere arrows courtesy of Melina while tracking Gonzalez) the strange paranoia ramps up.

There's the secret message written on his shower glass, hired killers on spike-wheeled motorcycles, a glowering biathlete who can't help giving 007 the stink eye before trying to murder him, and, apropos of nothing, a group of killers done up as hockey players who ambush Bond mere moments after he's alone on an ice rink. They don't even have guns! They're just a hockey team that has suddenly turned deadly, the scenery around James Bond conspiring to do him in

fig. 2: It got so bad I was expecting this guy to be packing heat.
By the time he gets to Greece, things settle down a bit, though there's still a double-ambush on the beach following Bond's dalliance with a Liverpudlian lady passing herself off as a wealthy Countess. Lisl's an interesting figure. She's pointed out to Bond at first by Kristatos, himself introduced to Bond as an Anglophile Greek. Bond thinks Kristatos is on his side at first, and Kristatos feeds Bond information about the smuggler Colombo, information which turns out to be false, but based on Kristatos own shady dealings.

It's fitting, then, that the McGuffin at the heart of For Your Eyes Only is a decryption device. Everyone here is putting on some kind of front. Even Colombo may be lying about the extent of his own criminal enterprises. The movie itself is putting on a kind of front. Though its immediate predecessor, Moonraker, was a financial success, it wasn't a critical one and there was pressure from fans and critics to return the series to its roots. The result is a film that plays very much like Moore making his way through a Connery film. The gizmos are kept to a minimum, the stakes are deliberately lower than the global genocide threatened in the two installments previous, and while Moore retains the charm that propels his character, he's brought low by the grittier tone, to the point of his uncharacteristically cold-blooded murder of Warren Zevon-lookalike Locque, a stooge for Kristatos.

fig. 3: That's right, kids. I fought James Bond, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, AND Doctor Who. Oh. And those Stark brats.

Kristatos is no bloviating madman. He's a criminal, a businessman, a smuggler looking to play the Russians and the West off one another. Compared to, say, Moonraker's Drax, for instance, or A View to a Kill's Zorin, or Tomorrow Never Dies' Carver, Kristatos is nowhere near as transparently evil. It's concievable, at least at the start of the film, that he's telling the truth, that Locque and Gonzalez and the rest of those hired goons do not in fact work for him, which adds to that feeling of dread, of menace that can spring from anywhere. While Drax announces his intentions out of the gate ("Keep an eye on our guest. Make sure some harm comes to him.") Kristatos is played with enough ambiguity that is only the storytelling tics of a long-running franchise that might give him away. In attempting to return the franchise to its roots, For Your Eyes Only navigates through the classic concern of spy films: whom to trust, and what to believe.

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