And here we go again! Yet another excursion to the planet of 007 is being had today! We are nearing the end of the journey that started several hundred years ago, give or take an hour or two. It has been a bumpy ride and I’m sure that most of you have forgotten the trials of Madonna title songs or fights on blimps that are moored to national landmarks. You’re even angry I reminded you, aren’t you?
Back in 1985, Roger Moore decided that being 58 years old with seven Bond movies under his girdle had been enough of a ride and he decided to walk away, slowly and with assistance, from the series. After A View to a Kill, it is a wonder that he wasn’t run out of town. Look, I know that the man was frightfully charming and self-deprecating to a fault with some wonderful moments as Jim Bond. But over the course of seven films those good moments added up to about 3 and a half total movies.
The Bond producers had some candidates in mind for the role. Unfortunately as I was only seven years old at the time, the producers astoundingly decided to go in another direction. This was disappointing considering my amazing screen test, but as the Belgians say in their broken French, c’est la vie. Besides the guy they had in mind was going to be great in the role.
Remington Steele was a semi-popular TV show back in the early 1980s and starred the suave and debonair Pierce Brosnan. The show proved he could handle himself with action and definitely could deliver a quip as needed. Since Steele was going to be cancelled, EON thought this was a dead lock so they signed Brosnan to a contract. Yes, there was the possibility that should Steele be renewed, Brosnan would have to commit to the series. But what were the odds that would even happen? Steele was done, after all.
Hollywood is rather odd though, to say the least. Brosnan now had some heat on him because he was going to be cast as James Bond, so the show’s producers then decided to take that option on Brosnan’s contract, going ahead with an unneeded new season of Steele. Brosnan was out as 007 and was quite pissed. He was even more pissed when the Bond producers had to now find someone else because of the TV show commitment. He was triple pissed when the heat faded because now that he wasn’t going to be Bond, Steele limped into a last season and in the end was cancelled anyway. But by then, a new Bond was decided on.
Timothy Dalton was first approached to play Bond waaaay back in 1968 for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. However, viewing himself as being too young for the role, he got out of his wagon and turned it down. But Dalton always remained a possible Bond candidate with the producers. Finally, when the events surrounding Brosnan happened, he was approached again. This time Dalton said yes, becoming the fourth James Bond in The Living Daylights.
Dalton went back to the Fleming books, studying the character of Bond. He also brought forth a toughness that was sorely lacking in the Roger movies. Dalton was dead serious and showed a Bond with vulnerabilities. He wasn’t above a quip, but there definitely was a dearth of the laughs that came with most of the previous Bond movies. When I read Fleming’s books, Dalton is the face I think of when picturing James Bond in my head. He embodied the character like none other.
Of course I am biased, as Dalton was the very first Bond I saw on the big screen back in 1987. Looking back, it is rather incredible that my parents took a then eight year-old me to the theater to see such a movie. Gone were the moon buggy chases and gondolas that turned into speedboats, this was an espionage action movie with a complex plot and plenty of violence with a hardened lead actor.
I think a lot goes into who one picks as their favorite Bond. Sure Sean and Roger get the most lip service because one was the first Bond and the other did it consecutively longer than the rest, but they weren’t the Bonds I grew up with. I grew up with the two Dalton 007 movies. He was Bond for me until 1994 when he asked to be released from the character. I remember being rather bummed that he walked, even though Brosnan was a good choice too. While I enjoyed Pierce’s 007 movies, I just didn’t feel the connection with them like I did with the Dalton ones.
Speaking of scripts, suddenly and without prior notice, let’s look at The Living Daylights. The Ian Fleming short story does consist of the scene in the movie where Bond is brought in to assassinate a sniper but makes his own judgments with the assignment. This would be the only Fleming moment contained within the film’s rather complicated plot. (Well, “complicated” compared to some of the cookie cutter Roger movies that had come before.)
We don’t know who to trust as Dalton goes through this adventure. We begin with trusting a KGB defector to ending up with Bond riding with the mujahedeen in then Russian held Afghanistan, fighting some rogue Soviets that are trying to use heroin to finance their illegal arms dealing. Or something like that. (Trust me, do not start out with The Living Daylights with a newbie Bond fan. This is a Bond film to appreciate and digest after having to wade through a morass full of boat chases and redneck sheriffs and moments where a 6’ 2” Scot was ineffectively altered into a Japanese fisherman.)
Along for the ride we have three co-villains, and as none of them could be considered the lead baddie, they will all be jammed into this one paragraph. Jeroen Krabbé plays Koskov, the aforementioned KGB defector. Or is he? Krabbé plays the role of the guy you just cannot trust and does it very well with an air of charm. Joe Don Baker is in the mix as the illegal arms dealer Whitaker. Baker has always been an excellent character actor and the producers liked him enough to bring him back as a good guy for Brosnan’s first two Bonds. Rounding out the group of ne’er-do-wells is Andreas Wisniewski as Necros, Whitaker’s blond assassin. He’s quite good at his job, whacking people left and right as he makes sure that his theme song is playing somewhere.
No, really, he has a theme song! John Barry, in what would turn out to be his last Bond score, produced not only a pretty good soundtrack but also not one, not two, but three songs for this movie! To top it off, they range from not bad to pretty good. The title track was performed by Norwegian group a-ha, the band you remember because VH-1 played their “Take On Me” video incessantly. As Bond title songs go, it is distinctly Euro-sounding, but after the worldwide hit of Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill”, it was a bit of a letdown on the charts.
The other two songs were “Where Has Everybody Gone” and “If There Was A Man”, both performed by Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. Both songs are rather good and it could be argued they are better than the title track, but I’ll let you all fight it out in some kind of Bond music nerd cage death match. The former song emerged to great effect every time Necros was involved in a scene. The latter song was brought out whenever there was time devoted to the leading lady in the film.
Maryam d’Abo was cast as Kara Milovy and was basically Bond’s only dalliance during the entire runtime. She was supposed to portray an innocent that is caught up in the intrigue and for the most part, she succeeds. But once again Kara either turns out to be a damsel in distress far too often or she makes some rather stupid decisions and gaffes along the way. Kara should be smarter than this. For instance, even after everything Bond has been doing for her, she still betrays him because her boyfriend Koskov says so but then she feels horrible for doing so afterwards. The problem lies in that D’Abo is not in the same tier as the rest of the actors in this film and it shows.
Back in the fun is a new Aston Martin, the V-8 Vantage, decked out in full “blowing the snot out of winter” gadgets and gear. I actually like the look of this Aston Martin more than the classic DB5 or any of the more recent models in the Daniel Craig Bonds. I was also going to mention the invisible one in Die Another Day, but you never saw that one.
The car plays a part in some wonderful stunt sequences in the movie. There’s also an action packed pre-credits teaser that lets you know right off the bat that this is not Roger Moore anymore. Dalton wanted to get his hands dirty with doing his own action as much as the production would allow. The final battle on the Afghan airfield is quite good as is the aerial fight that Bond has with Necros while hanging off of a net in midair under a cargo plane.
As far as some negatives go, the guy they’ve got playing Felix Leiter is about as memorable as his name, which I’ve forgotten. He also seems abruptly jammed into the story, because he doesn’t really advance the plot much if at all.
Speaking of which, John Rhys-Davies is in this movie too! This is not a drawback by a long shot, but I wanted to see even more of his character. Unfortunately there are so many other cast members, he gets lost in the shuffle, which is sad. If only Rhys-Davies had shown up in a later Bond movie as a Russian ally, but that never happened. The same goes for the wonderful Art Malik as the mujahedeen leader. He has a wonderful screen presence and plays very well with Dalton. Again, not enough screen time and it is a pity to be sure.
The plot can be rather dense as well, which I understand. After the kind of stories that would consist of “Bond is sent after bad guy, bad guy tries to kill him, Bond survives, Grace Jones shows up, rinse, repeat, more things blow up, roll credits” kind of thing for years with most the prior Bonds, The Living Daylights actually requires you to pay attention because it gets rather intricate. In certain respects, perhaps the Bond formula had become so rigid that it wasn’t easy to translate a slightly more complex story to the screen.
Something else that I’ve got to bring up is the stunt sequence where Bond and Kara escape from Czechoslovakian snow troops, who apparently were Imperial Stormtroopers in a past life due to their lack of aiming ability. They get away by both sitting in a cello case, tobogganing their way to the freedom of the Austrian border. I like to think this was a goofy unused idea from a Roger 007 movie that was never executed in Moonraker or something. This is one of the only major “eyebrows raised in skepticism” scenes for me in this movie. Now I can suspend my disbelief like nobody’s business, using pulleys and levers and wires, but this one? Let’s chalk it up to being a guilty pleasure, I suppose.
The Living Daylights did close to $200 million dollars at the box office, which is quite remarkable given the shift in Bonds from the established Roger Moore over to the new Timothy Dalton. James Bond had indeed returned and a new 007 was accepted by the masses. And history has been kind to the Dalton Bond films. They have aged well, better than most of the Bonds in the series.
Since that summer day in 1987 when I first saw The Living Daylights, I’ve never missed seeing a new Bond film on the big screen. No matter if the Bond movie is good, bad, or indifferent, my watching a new 007 film in the theater is a must. And this Bond movie is the reason why. That being said, I am also indebted to this movie for another reason. I will always see the film through the eyes of that eight year old boy who first saw James Bond on the big screen. For that I’m eternally grateful to The Living Daylights for the fond memories it brings.
Most importantly and before I forget: for those interested in sending me an Aston Martin V-8 Vantage, please message me. No, this isn’t a joke. Why are you laughing? I want one! Gimme one! I want outriggers and amazing modern safety glass! I do!