Roger Moore hit his stride with The Spy Who Loved Me, made a decent effort in an otherwise forgettable Moonraker, and turns in his best performance in Bond #12, For Your Eyes Only.
Before we get to the premise, the pre-credits sequence itself is a fantastic little vignette that ties Moore’s tenure back to Lazenby (and by extension, Connery). Bond is visiting the grave of his late wife, Tracy, when a Universal Exports helicopter arrives to retrieve him. As it turns out, it’s a ruse by Blofeld (unnamed because Kevin McClory was an ass and busy writing his own Bond flick). Blofeld kills the pilot by remote control and seizes control of the aircraft. Bond manages to disable the remote feed and takes over the chopper. Then he promptly dumps Blofeld down a smokestack in one of the most hilarious villain deaths in movie history.
Sidenote: This had better be Christoph Waltz’s fate in No Time to Die, or I shall be very disappointed.
Now, the premise. Someone has sunk a British ship and stolen a control system for the UK’s sea-based nuclear missiles. When a marine biologist finds it, he’s killed before he can report back to MI6. Bond reports in and is sent to track down the device. His chase leads to Spain, then Greece, where a smuggler named Columbo is fingered. As it turns out, MI6 ally Kristatos is the true thief, Columbo offers to bring him down, and KGB head General Gogol faces Bond to take the device back to the USSR. Bond’s solution to the dilemma amuses him and sums up what the operatives in the field really think of the Cold War. (Spoiler alert: Neither Bond nor Gogol seem to be big fans.)
Topol, better known for his roles in Fiddler on the Roof and Flash Gordon, plays would-be Bond villain Columbo. As an ally, he is even more relatable, smiling in the face of Bond ready to kill him. Julian Glover (considered for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever) is Kristatos, and between his and Topol’s performances, they really sell the switch in roles mid-movie. There are three Bond girls this time, and how Bond relates to each of them shows much more depth than in the past. Cassandra Harris (married to future Bond Pierce Brosnan) plays Lisl, a woman who uses her body to get information out of Bond, fully aware Bond is doing the same to her. She’s a player, and the two enjoy the seduction before one of Kristatos’s henchmen violent ends the encounter. Lynn-Holly Johnson plays Kristatos’s underage ward with a disturbing crush on Bond. Our otherwise lecherous spy shows a huge amount of restraint by rebuffing the advances of a woman who is barely out of adolescence. And then there’s Carolyn Boquet as Melina Havelock. Even though she’s an amateur, she is Bond’s equal, a welcome trend that began in The Spy Who Loved Me. Their mutual seduction takes time, and Bond is fine with her kicking a bit of ass in pursuit of first Columbo, then Kristatos.
Missing from this movie is Bernard Lee as M. Lee died before he could shoot any scenes. Geoffery Keen reprises his role as Sir Frederick Gray, Minister of Defence while James Villiers plays Bill Tanner. The pair take over M’s role (as he’s “on leave.”) However, Villeirs’s Tanner is more like the replacement M played by Edward Fox in Never Say Never Again, stuffy and pretentious.
Had Moore retired from the role after, his would be a run he could be proud of. Moonraker suffered not from his performance but a stupid premise that actually held up until the space shuttles were launched in the movie’s last 30 minutes. Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, and For Your Eyes Only are classics to this day. The only real misfire is The Man with the Golden Gun. It was during the filming of For Your Eyes Only that Brosnan came to the attention of Cubby Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. The pair also took an interest in Timothy Dalton, who had turned down the role earlier as he felt he was too young. Plus perennial candidate Michael Billington remained on the radar. Any one of these actors could probably have made Octopussy and possibly A View to a Kill decent films. I wish I could tell you Moore did the right thing and hung it up with For Your Eyes Only.
I wish I could tell you.