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United Artists

The First Gritty James Bond Reboot Actually Happened in 1981

40 years later, 'For Your Eyes Only' still kicks ass.

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For Your Eyes Only, released 40 years ago this summer, brought the James Bond franchise back to Earth. And it was time. Roger Moore, who’d replaced Sean Connery as 007, delivered the goods in the lean and mean Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun, but by the time The Spy Who Loved Me rolled around, things were getting silly. Bond, now played more broadly, even jokingly by Moore, grappled with Jaws, a hulking baddie with metal teeth. And then came Moonraker, which came off like a sci-fi/comedy Bond flick rather than a British spy thriller/action movie laced with well-placed bits of humor. Seriously, much of the film unfolded in space. It was big and gaudy and over-produced. Jaws even returned, falling through a circus tent, and meeting the love of his life in the process. Cute? Yup. Entertaining even? Yup. But right for a Bond movie? No, no, no. 

Now, to be clear, Moore was always fun, a solid Bond, and he was THE double-0 for a generation of fans. Jaws, and the actor who played him, Richard Kiel, were awesome. The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker both had their moments, and upon its release, Moonraker raked in more money worldwide than any other franchise installment. However, they weren’t particularly good films and they both strayed way too far from the established Bond formula.

This brings us to For Your Eyes Only. It’s not a top-drawer Bond, but it’s a prime Bond and a necessary soft reboot. After the over-the-top Moonraker, and a generally sillier take on the Bond series, For Your Eyes Only — directed by editor and second-unit director turned director John Glen — got back to basics. Bond relies on almost zero gadgets in this film and dispatches some of his enemies more ruthlessly than in previous films.

Here are our top five reasons why For Your Eyes Only works better than you remember.

5. Great opening sequence: Bond finds himself trapped in a helicopter being controlled remotely by a bald man who uses a wheelchair and sports a Nehru jacket. Cue the race against time, as 007 tries to gain control of the copter. He does so, of course, and with more than a little glee, he pilots the chopper, scoops up the whining baddie and drops him down a massive chimney. Add in some great music by Bill Conti, and you’ve got a bravura scene.

4. The title song: Sheena Easton sings the hell out of “For Your Eyes Only,” delivering it as a power ballad. The legendary Bond title sequence director Maurice Binder gave fans everything they could possibly desire: nude female silhouettes, phallic shots of 007’s Walther PPK, gauzy images that vaguely reflect the story (in this instance, everything is, well… wet, since much of the film takes place in and on water), etc. So gorgeous was Easton that she holds the distinction of being the one and only singer ever to appear in the title sequence. Interestingly, Easton wasn’t first choice for the gig. Blondie’s Debbie Harry sang a very different song also called “For Your Eyes Only.” It’s an OK tune, but not right for a Bond adventure.

3. Roger Moore: The actor was in his early 50s when he made For Your Eyes Only, and he was as suave and charming as ever – and as deadly, too. Was he starting to show his age? Sure. As a result, Sir Roger looks a touch stiffer and slower in running scenes, and it’s laughably easy to see where his stuntman took over for the really athletic stuff. Not everyone can be Tom Cruise, who’ll be just shy of 60 when the next Mission: Impossible movies debut, and not only still looks impossibly boyish, but continues to perform his own insane stunts.

2. The Bond Girls. Carole Bouquet as Melina is fantastic; and we know that’s not a popular assessment. The camera simply loved the French model-turned-actress (and now wine impresario), and she and Moore shared some winsome chemistry. Less successful was Lynn-Holly Johnson as Bibi Dahl (get it?), the perky ice skater with the major hots for 007 (who, thankfully, declines her advances, though it’s still a wince-worthy moment). Meanwhile, Cassandra Harris hit the right notes as Countess Lisl von Schlaf. If her name rings a bell, she was married to Pierce Brosnan, who later played Bond. Harris was just 43 when she succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1991. Overall, the female cast of this Bond is more progressive than previous entries of the Moore era.

1. The action: There’s tons of brilliant action to behold here, all built around a simple plot (involving Britain, in the person of Bond, and the Russians, trying to retrieve the ATAC, a missile-control device, from a sunken British ship). The underwater sequence with Bond and Melina – or their stunt doubles – being bound together and pulled at high speeds through the water, hitting corral (which draws blood), and attracting the attention of sharks, is a doozy. Even better is an extended sequence with 007 skiing down a mountain (and a bobsled track) pursued by machine-gun-toting guys on motorcycles and skis. And, for good measure, there’s an old-school car chase (with an amusingly low-tech vehicle) that’s exciting as hell, and Bond dangles perilously from the edge of a cliff. You didn’t believe most of the action in Moore’s other Bonds was real. But in this one, at least for a literally cliffhanging moment, you bought it. 

For Your Eyes Only is streaming to rent on YouTube.

Here’s where all the Bonds are streaming right now.