REEL RETRO CINEMA: A new look at old flicks and their comic book connections — on the 40th anniversary of For Your Eyes Only…
UPDATED 6/24/21: Hello, darling! For Your Eyes only came out on June 24, 1981, in the UK and June 26 in the US! Perfect time to re-present this column from 2015’s 007 WEEK. Now, do pay attention… — Dan
By ROB KELLY
In 2006, the producers of the James Bond film franchise were universally praised for Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig in his first outing as 007. Tougher, rougher, and meaner than previous installments, it was clear that Eon Productions had shrewdly realized the excesses of the Bond films during Pierce Brosnan’s tenure (invisible cars, really?) needed to be reined in, lest the series become so silly that it could never recover. And make no mistake, Casino Royale deserves all the praise it received—but it’s worth taking a few moments to discuss another Bond film that was crafted for the same purpose, 1981’s For Your Eyes Only.
For Your Eyes Only was originally scheduled to be Roger Moore’s fourth Bond film, following 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me (it was even promised as such at the end of that movie’s credits). But in between Spy’s production and release, 20th Century Fox unleashed Star Wars, a film whose impact on the movie business is still under-discussed (even after the 40 billion words that have been written about it). Eon Productions was still being run by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, half of the team that first brought Bond to movie screens back in 1962 with Dr. No.
Broccoli wasn’t afraid to chase a hot trend, so For Your Eyes Only was put on hold in favor of Moonraker, pretty much no one’s favorite Bond movie, Non-Ironic Division. Basically it’s The One Where Bond Goes Into Outer Space, and while it was a massive hit, fans of the series wondered just where the hell it could go after this. What’s next, James Bond vs. Michael Myers?
Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and it was decided that for the next film, a more “back to basics” approach needed to be taken, for the long-term health of the franchise. Gone were the cartoony villains like Jaws, the outlandish gadgets, and the (literally) out-of-this-world settings. No, this time around, James Bond would be put squarely in the middle of Cold War-inspired espionage thriller.
Kicking off with a wonderfully memorable title theme by the super-sexy Sheena Easton (go Google her, I’ll wait), For Your Eyes Only combines characters and story threads from two Ian Fleming short stories (published as For Your Eyes Only). It features Moore as Bond once again, paired up with the assassin Melina Havelock (the stunning Caroline Bouquet), and a roguish smuggler (see what I meant about Star Wars?) named Milos Columbo, played by renowned actor Topol. Together, they attempt to retrieve the film’s MacGuffin, a computer system for communicating with nuclear subs called ATAC.
The ATAC is stolen by the film’s main villain, a man named Aristotle Kristatos (played by Julian Glover, who has appeared in, among other projects, The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade and Game of Thrones, which means if he ever showed up at a comic con, he’d have an autograph line a mile long).
The chase takes Bond through various fabulous locales and dangerous scrapes—he gets attacked by some murderous hockey players, chased by gun-wielding hit men on snow machines, dragged over some coral and used as chum for sharks, and hit on by a jail-bait figure skater named Bibi, whose efforts to get 007 into bed are for naught (told you this film was a change of pace). And it all wraps up with a death-dying climb up a mountain to a remote hideaway!
For Your Eyes Only is filled with wonderful little details—some thematic, some right out in the open—that help separate it from the previous installments of the Moore era. The cold open has Bond visiting the grave of his wife Teresa (from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), it features a scene of Bond consciously, ruthlessly killing an opponent, and it attempts to deal with the moral questions brought up by Havelock’s quest to kill the man who murdered her parents (“Before your embark on a journey for revenge, dig two graves”). It still manages to retain all the crowd-pleasing stunts and action sequences the Bond series is famous for, but grounds the whole enterprise in something more akin to a John le Carré novel, a startling contrast to the comic-book antics of Moonraker.
Oddly enough, it was with the more sober For Your Eyes Only that the comic book medium embraced 007 once again. There had not been a James Bond movie in comic form since DC’s low-key version of Dr. No (bought lock, stock and Walther PPK from another publisher) almost 20 years earlier. But in June 1981 the House of Ideas released Marvel Super Special #19: For Your Eyes Only.
Written by the no-nonsense Larry Hama and pencilled by Howard Chaykin (who knew a thing or two about movie adaptations—see? Again with the Star Wars!), Marvel Super Special #19 hits most of the film’s story beats and sports a beautiful painted cover by Chaykin. It was then reprinted as a two-issue regular-format mini-series a few months later, which is where a 10-year-old me purchased it off the newsstand rack while on a family vacation.
In the days before cable and home-video were a thing, having a tangible keepsake of a movie I loved was a wonderful, if abbreviated and simplified (did I mention the inks were by Vince Colletta?) way to relive the adventure, over and over. While they did publish a British-produced adaptation of Octopussy a few years later, For Your Eyes Only is only time a James Bond movie was given the full-on Marvel treatment, written and drawn by the same kind of personnel that could have brought you Spider-Man or the Hulk. While I knew James Bond was never going to join the Avengers or anything, there was something quite powerful about seeing his name under the Mighty Marvel banner. It made this larger-than-life figure seem more intimate, more mine.
While For Your Eyes Only made a ton of money and decades later retains a “fresh” rating over on Rotten Tomatoes, it generally is not ranked among Bond fans as one of the series’ best installments. Some say it’s too dull, some say it’s still too silly (see: the weird, Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote-esque opening with Bond and a Bad Guy Who Is Totally Not Blofeld).
But just like how Neil Gaiman has said the Silver Age of Comics is when you’re 12, so the same could be said for James Bond movies. I had seen The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker in the theaters, but I was a little too young to fully appreciate what was happening before me (“Bond is attempting re-entry”? What does that mean and why is my Dad laughing?). But in 1981, I was exactly the right age to get whisked away with James Bond into a world of danger, exotic locales and beautiful women. I’ll never be able to separate my feelings for For Your Eyes Only the movie from For Your Eyes Only the comic, and I don’t want to. They’re both great, full stop.
Nowadays, of course, when every new film is available across multiple formats, there’s not much need for comic-book movie adaptations. The only Spectre comic book I know of features that green-and-white ghost guy. But who knows? James Bond has “gone back to basics” several times, maybe comics will, too.
Rob Kelly is a podcaster and pop culture historian. He is the host/co-host of several shows on The Fire and Water Podcast Network, including Aquaman and Firestorm: The Fire and Water Podcast, Fade Out, TreasuryCast and Pod Dylan. He is also the co-host, with fellow 13th Dimension contributor Chris Franklin, of the Superman Movie Minute podcast, which examines the Christopher Reeve movies five minutes at a time.
Read more of his REEL RETRO CINEMA columns here.
— A Special Tribute to Roger Moore on the FILM AND WATER PODCAST. Click here.
— ROGER MOORE: The Man With the Golden Charm — An Appreciation. Click here.