John Glen was actually an integral part of the James Bond crew before directing For Your Eyes Only, as he worked as an “action” director and editor on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Moonraker, and it was handling of the exhilarating skiing sequence during the filming of The Spy Who Loved Me that won him the approval of producer Cubby Brocolli. It didn’t hurt that he worked with Roger Moore on the actor’s extra-curricular projects, which made it easier for him to transition to the role of director with greater ease.
Then he went on to become the director with the most notches, helming five entries, including the two that starred Timothy Dalton. Between these actors, Glen screen-tested Pierce Brosnan, which resulted in the Irish actor winning the gig in 1994. Glen’s favourite book was Goldfinger, which was interesting because the novel – unlike the film it turned into – explored the inner workings of the sleuth at his most depraved and despondent.
Keenly aware that the Lewis Gilbert had pushed the series to camper, less respectable territories, Glen brought Bond back to his roots, writing a scene that honoured the importance of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, making it the first time the series had openly stopped to look back at its legacy.
Perhaps it was the way he filmed it, but Moore genuinely looks tormented as he lays his flowers on the one grave Bond hoped never to dig. We next catch up with Bond as he begs Melina Havelock (the sombre Carole Bouquet) to reconsider the murder she is about to embark on, noting that killing only leads to another death. In both instances, Glen lets the script do the heavy work, and the crew react accordingly, doing what they can to stand in the background of the picture, as the actors and themes work their magic.
Moore is excellent in For Your Eyes Only, delivering what is possibly his most assured performance as Bond, but the film is also remembered for the gritty nail-biting tension found within the climbing sequence, robbing Bond of anything but his nerve and bravery. His camera style focuses on the characters in question, clinging to the rock in front of them, keenly aware that one wrong move could cost them their life.
Sam Mendes might have decorated the work with fade-outs and close-ups, but Glen is rock steady in his outlook, letting the camera detail the action in front of them, never letting the camera go for a second. It’s the work of a documentarian, carving a portrait of the reality that is alien to both the director and viewers. Talking about documentarians, EON made the decision to hire 7 Up custodian Michael Apted to direct Brosnan’s rawest work, The World Is Not Enough, so there must be something to the naturalistic approach Glen spearheaded.
In Dalton, Glen had a consummate actor willing to go all the way with the character, which allowed him to journey even further into the cerebral. Indeed, the opening 30 minutes in The Living Daylights could well be the greatest in the series, as Bond unwittingly spots the woman he is set to murder performing a classical aria. He wounds her, humiliating his superiors, as the central characters then thrust themselves into the back of a station in the hopes of saving a defecting KGB agent from the clutches of his assailants.
Like the climbing scene, the plot is rife with tension, but Glen is savvy enough to let Dalton – personally picked by Peter O’ Toole to play foil to his king in The Lion In Winter – internalise the drama, as the character exhibits fury, frustration and maniacal glee as he sorts out the case the British government is too incompetent to resolve.
Licence to Kill is Glen’s finest hour, but For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights are also noteworthy, as is Octopussy, a frothy adventure that showed that an exercise in camp cinema did not necessitate a lack of pathos. Indeed, the film is grittier than many give it credit for, and behind the crocodile submarines and convoy of Bond bunnies comes a story of tremendous urgency and dark comedy.
Recognising the might of the explosive device that lies in his hands, Bond (Moore) pleads with a collection of army superiors to listen to his pleas, behind the facade of a clown costume. But the tears of this clown are the cries of an agent who is as disenfranchised and lonely as the spy who contemplates the purpose of his life in the Goldfinger book.
Again, Glen stays back, committed to the nuances and shadings of the story, giving the film an intellectual standing and setting. Films need great patience to realise their potential, and perhaps it’s the forbearance that has stood in Glen’s favour, showing that the density of the 1980s was greater than camp frolics of the 1970s.