Part two is here

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

w. Richard Maibaum, Michael G Wilson; d. John Glen
The one with: Dr Zarkov out of Flash Gordon, Scaroth out of Doctor Who, crossbow assassinations, the 2CV, lots more skiing, lots more scuba.
Overview: Recognising that, as successful as Moonraker had been at the box office, further developments in that direction would lead to madness, Broccoli reigned the excesses back in and brought Bond back to earth. Taking up near-permanent residency in the director’s chair was stalwart editor and second-unit director John Glen, whose association with the series went back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Similarly moving into the typewriter next to Richard Maibaum was Michael G Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson, who had been hanging around Bond sets most of his life and who would go on to run the franchise with Broccoli’s daughter Barbara. The film begins with the revenge on Blofeld (in all but name) which Diamonds denied us. The scene at Tracy’s grave is the last time the series explicitly maintains the conceit that the chap on the screen is the same as the one who blew up Doctor No’s base in Jamaica in 1962. Following this is a cold war thriller, with occasional flashes of glamour and humour, not all of which work. The 2CV chase freshens up what could have been a lot of repetitive screeching and crashing, but the appearance of Janet Brown as Thatcher at the end is a step too far. Also adding to the sense of a movie drifting away from its origins, this is the first in the series not to feature Bernard Lee as M (he died during preproduction); James Villiers stands in as Bill Tanner. And John Barry’s still not back from his tax exile, so Bill Conti takes over on the music front. Some solid sequences, and never less than entertaining while it’s on, this doesn’t have the guts to give us a really hard-edged thriller, but nor does it sparkle the way that Spy did. Roger Moore’s advancing years now require him to take a paternalistic attitude to an apparently teenage girl who obediently jumps into his bed for a little après-ski, and he doesn’t even get to have it off with Carole Bouquet (thirty years his junior) until the credits are rolling. Insurance wouldn’t even allow him to go underwater, so all of his sub-aqua closeups are shot “dry-for-wet” on a soundstage. Really time to go now, surely? Takes its title (but nothing else) from a collection of short stories, the Fleming novels now having been exhausted, save for the first – Casino Royale – for which Broccoli and co did not control the rights.
Best for: suspense. The ascent up St Cyril’s is genuinely tense and brilliantly staged.

Octopussy (1983)

w. Richard Maibaum, Michael G Wilson, George MacDonald Fraser; d. John Glen
The one with: the trip to India, Q in a hot air balloon, Steven Berkoff, the circus, Fabergé eggs.
Overview: most of the Roger Moore films have a certain tension between wanting to take themselves seriously as spy thrillers (which runs the risk of making them indistinguishable from other spy thrillers) and wanting to give the audience a good time (which runs the risk of double-taking pigeons and the like). However, there is no Bond movie, possibly no movie, more disjointedly lacking in identity than this one. We open with a quite splendid stunt sequence in which Bond cheerfully blows up an airbase somewhere in Latin America. While it is commonly assumed that Bond films open with mini-movies, unconnected with the main feature, only this one and Goldfinger’s genuinely have no connection at all to the main plot. What follows initially is a slab of espionage intrigue surrounding a forged Fabergé egg which is more confusing than interesting. Once we move to India, courtesy of “Flashman” writer George MacDonald Fraser, things take a drastic turn for the worse, with Moore’s smug self-satisfaction now manifesting as patronising parochialism, idiotic jokes like requesting that a ravenous tiger should “si-it” in the manner of TV’s Barbara Woodhouse (she didn’t even train cats for fuck’s sake), or the flute player trilling Monty Norman’s James Bond theme. Then, miraculously, the main threat – driven by Berkoff’s pleasingly unhinged Soviet general – takes hold and we get a really good chase and suspense sequence in an East German circus tent. Although Roger Moore in clown make-up is pretty good shorthand for “Bond films don’t take themselves seriously anymore,” the bomb-at-the-circus scene is played with the kind of deadly earnest that might have benefited other parts of the picture. An attempt has been made to give Moore a leading lady who doesn’t make him look quite so much like a dirty old man – by which I mean she’s 18 years younger than him instead of thirty. Robert Brown takes over as M for this and the next three pictures, and while never doing anything wrong, only makes me miss comfortingly crusty Bernard Lee. That’s this film all over – not much that’s horribly wrong, does feel like a Bond film for the most part, but has been apparently assembled from unconnected bits and pieces left over from previous efforts. That some of these bits are actually quite good doesn’t make the less good ones any more satisfying, of course. More damaging is the general feeling that no-one’s heart is quite in this, and no-one really knows what direction to take the series in now. Time for some fresh blood?
Best for: plot convolutions. Wait, which fucking Fabergé egg is that now?

A View To A Kill (1985)

w. Richard Maibaum, Michael G Wilson; d. John Glen
The one with: The Golden Gate Bridge, Steed out of The Avengers, Christopher Walken, horses
Overview: the same weary team, in front of and behind the camera, staggers out for another miserable canter around a thoroughly well-worn course. From the instant that the moderately impressive snowboard sequence is underscored with the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” you can tell that this is straining for effect rather than effortlessly soaring; thrashing around rather than closing in on its target. The Paris sequences are flat, the horse-doping plotline confusing and boring, Patrick MacNee is wasted, and the San Francisco chase indistinguishable from dozens of similar efforts in contemporary movies and TV shows. Bond himself is reduced to smirking close-ups, stunt men in chunky sweaters, and a cookery demonstration. The final fight on the Golden Gate Bridge is all right, I suppose, but honestly how am I meant to care by this stage? It’s not even the real Beach Boys. Should have been shot in the paddock.
Best for: genuinely nothing. Very much of it is thoroughly poor and while some bits can spastically clamber up to the level of “good” – Grace Jones’s jump off the Eiffel Tower, Christopher Walken’s performance as Zorin, Moore’s partnership with MacNee, each of these is bested earlier in the series (by the ski jump from Spy; Gert Frobe, Donald Pleasance or Michael Lonsdale at least; and Pedro Armendáriz as Kerim Bey, respectively). Many people like the theme song, but it can hardly be called the series’ best. Even the film’s big climax, blowing up the mine, would have been greeted by fans of what were by now being called “action movies” not with happy astonishment but by bored familiarity provided they’d seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom which did the same scene far better twelve months earlier.

The Living Daylights (1987)

w. Richard Maibaum, Michael G Wilson; d. John Glen
The one with: the Ferris wheel, the cello case, the Mujahideen as good guys
Overview: Despite one major change in front of the camera, the same writer, producer, director and key supporting cast remain from the previous entries. Lois Maxwell, whose Miss Moneypenny had graced every previous film, is the only casualty other than Roger Moore; she was replaced by the instantly forgettable Caroline Bliss. In comes saturnine Welshman Timothy Dalton, who had reportedly turn the part down in 1969 on the grounds that he was too young (probably rightly, he was 23). This time around, the role had been offered to Pierce Brosnan, but a conflict with the TV series Remmington Steele meant that he was unable to accept it. Dalton signed on the dotted line almost immediately prior to shooting, so Maibaum and Wilson found themselves writing for a generic anybond and not trying to tailor the script to any particular actor’s strengths. Rather remarkably, this approach pays off. It doesn’t hurt that the glamour and globetrotting sophistication has been ramped up, so we are taken to Bratislava, Afghanistan and Tangier, rather than some of the more familiar locales we’ve seen lately. But this movie also balances the tension and wit perfectly. There’s a veneer of emotion in Bond’s attitude to his mission, the girl and his colleagues – enough to give it depth, not enough to be a distraction – the double-crossing plot feels complex enough to be more than an excuse to stitch together a bunch of action sequences, and there’s a comforting nostalgia triggered by things like the return of the Aston Martin, but combined with a freshness and energy that’s been sorely lacking since Moonraker. Good jokes too – as Bond and Kara slide by a snowy border control on a cello-case-cum-sled, waving their passports, Dalton cheerfully brays “we’ve nothing to declare” to the dumb-struck guard. A few niggles – the Pushkin role taken by John Rhys-Davies was intended for Walter Gotell’s General Gogol, part of the Bond “family” since Spy. Bringing in a new character makes it hard to identify with how conflicted Bond feels when told his friend is a traitor. More seriously, there is no properly hissable villain. Joe Don Baker’s Whitaker is introduced too late and has none of the grandiose ambitions of a real Bond villain, and Necros and Koskov are just doing his bidding. A shame, but hardly a major flaw in this, probably the most completely entertaining of all the eighties Bonds. To add to the fun, John Barry returns for a final turn holding the baton and contributes one of his best scores of the series.
Best for: fight scene (aerial). The cargo net fight – a combination of genuine aerial photography, faultlessly matched with a studio set shot with big fans over a painted desert floor – is absolutely fantastic.

Licence to Kill (1989)

w. Michael G Wilson, Richard Maibaum; d. John Glen
The one with: the same Felix Leiter as Live and Let Die, Bond goes rogue, cocaine dissolved in gasoline, Benicio del Toro looking amazingly thin and lithe and young.
Overview: So, the producers think they’ve found a new direction to head in – Timothy Dalton wants to do acting and has a nice line in glowering, and the fans still haven’t shut up about the double-taking pigeon, so we’ll strip back the humour, ramp up the violence and really go for broke. But aren’t Bond movies meant to be fun? Borrowing unfilmed pages from Fleming’s novel Live and Let Die (not for the first time), Bond’s motivation in this movie is having had his best friend Felix fed to a shark while Felix’s new young wife was being raped and killed. Operating outside the purview of MI6, his moral compass seems a little off. The jokey sadism of earlier films has been replaced by a disturbingly psychotic bloodlust, which given the chief villain’s overall scheme seems a little over-the-top to say the least. By this time, the stunt, chase and fight teams have complete mastery over their domains and can make any of these sequences work – so the fight in the bar, Sanchez’s escape and especially the final truck chase are brilliantly executed, and it’s true that the film lacks the disjointed, multiple-personality feel of some of its predecessors. On its own terms, as a one-off story about a slightly unhinged British agent who takes the law into his own hands, it does kind of work. Only the more than usually sustained presence of Desmond Llewellyn’s cuddly Q and the fact that Bond pays no price for his morally questionable actions mars this reading, On the other hand, as a continuation of the story begun in Doctor No, this is unpalatably brutal, lacking in wit and style, with muddy cinematography and it just feels wrong. Possibly the legal troubles, which stalled the franchise for six years following this outing, were a blessing. The first movie not to take its title from a Fleming work, although the phrase had been long associated with Bond.
Best for: chase (vehicular). As mentioned, the truck chase is totally brilliant all the way through.

Next time – the modern era!

Which James Bond film is best? Part Two: The 1970s
Which James Bond film is best? Part Four: The Modern Era