After the hi-tech tomfoolery of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, Bond reclaimed his licence to kill with this action thriller considered by Sir Roger to be his best 007 effort. Forgoing supervillains and world domination, this has Bond in a race with a KGB lackey for a computer located on a sunken MI6 spy ship, with codes and information that could use England's Polaris submarines against friendly countries. Carole Bouquet is on hand for requisite glamour, but is given more to do than most Bond girls, while one Charles Dance makes his big screen debut as a (dialogue-free) heavy.
John Glen had earned his stripes by the time he reached the director's chair for this movie, having shot 2nd unit and edited On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
Influenced most by the Lazenby Bond, he brought a harder edge than Lewis Gilbert's previous two movies, pointedly blowing up The Spy Who Loved Me's white Lotus Esprit early on.
Glen and then-debuting writer Michael G. Wilson (Albert Broccoli's stepson and now Bond uber-producer), plus regular series scribe Richard Maibaum, brought back a sense of peril and pain, beginning the movie with England's finest spy visiting his wife's grave (a nod to Glen's first Bond experience), dumping arch-nemesis Blofeld down a chimney stack, and having Bond girl Melissa Havestock (Bouquet) witness her parents' violent deaths while searching for the sunken MacWhatsit.
Bond also kills a pitiless henchmen in cold blood by kicking his car off a cliff (something Moore didn't agree with), and judicious use of dummies in explosions and mountain top falls demonstrates Glen's desire for wincey realism.
Sadly, the plot is too slender for the statutory two-hour running time, with Bond batted between Topol and Julian Glover's shady businessmen, both of whom accuse the other of being KGB stooges, and both of whom seem to be sending armies of South American and Eastern European assassins after the long-in-the-tooth secret agent, while crossbow-brandishing Melissa hunts her parents' killers (the plot of For Your Eyes Only's short story), inevitably crossing paths with 007.
Compensations come from Glen's trained eye for carefully mounted tension followed by impressive stunt set pieces, notably a cat-and-mouse chase through the snowy mountains of Northern Italy leading into a breakneck ski and motorbike chase, spilling out onto a ski-jump and toboggan run.
A 2CV car chase down a mountain path is one of the better Bond pursuits, an attack on a villain's warehouse is a well-orchestrated gunfight/pyrotechnic display, and James and Melissa's near-death by being dragged through a coral reef is a bit of excitement lifted from Ian Fleming's Live and Let Die novel.
But amidst the darker tone, double-crosses, and reduced emphasis on bed-hopping (the first woman Bond beds after visiting his wife's grave is brutally run down), there is still ham-fisted humour (the comedic Iron Lady epilogue must have tickled the staunch Tory Moore) and a climax in the villain's mountaintop lair that cannot top the earlier action.
Sir Roger almost didn't return for this outing and Lewis Collins almost became the fourth screen Bond, but an undisclosed sum tempted him back (to the presumed relief of his stunt doubles).
He almost gets away with hitting on the younger, flawlessly beautiful Bouquet, but is wisely surrounded by a cast equal to his age if not older, with Glover and Topol lending credibility to their 'maybe' villains, but M sadly absent, as Bernard Lee succumbed to cancer while the film was in production.
With its wintry European locations and flinty edge, it's certainly the closest Moore got to doing Bond as Bourne.