“I bet I scared the Living daylights out of her”, smirks Bond as he considers the blonde sniper he managed to shoot at before she did. The same could have been said of an audience used to the on screen exploits of Roger Moore for 12 years. Fans of Roger’s light-hearted interpretation may well have been a bit scared about the new gritty direction the franchise seemed headed in. This of course was completely deliberate. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli concurred that the series needed to get back to its roots, and that meant the literary creation of Ian Fleming. Add to that idea Timothy Dalton, a Shakespearean actor well known for his intense roles, and 007 had never looked so interesting. Veteran Bond writer Richard Maibaum then set to work on a script with Michael Wilson that would showcase this new direction with the first segment of the film being a faithful adaptation of Fleming’s short story of the same name. The presentation also sometimes lacks the spectacle and glamour of earlier Bonds. Even in the more ‘realistic’ espionage tales there was plenty of gloss. However The Living daylights still looks more like a classy Bond film than parts of A View to a Kill, and the unofficial film Never say never again, which sometimes looked like the TV movie of the week.
The film’s pre-credits sequence is probably the best of the ‘80s Bonds with James and the other ‘Double-O’ agents on a training exercise, parachuting onto the Rock of Gibraltar. Things soon take a nasty twist with agents being killed for real, and soon our man Bond is on top of a runaway van full of explosives, trying to get to the killer driver. After a fantastic stunt over a cliff edge, Bond parachutes down onto a yacht occupied by a lovely lady. “Nothing happens around here”, she complains on her telephone, “…I wish I could find a real man!” God was obviously all ears that day, as Mr. Bond soon lands on her deck and snatches the ‘phone off her. “She’ll ring you back!” he says, in a no-nonsense manner, and calls his office instead. “I’ll be an hour…”, he tells them. She promptly offers him a glass of champagne. “Best make that two!”, says Our Man. And that, as far as I was concerned, was that. Timothy Dalton was James Bond and I couldn’t remember anybody else being as good.
I’ll start with Dalton, with regards to negative criticism, since he dominates the picture. He’s also a controversial James Bond because he offered a more intense and humourless Bond than we’d been used to, which can often split his popularity with the public. A lot of people either really love what he did with 007, or they can’t abide it. Like I said, I’ve always thought he was good and can be my favourite Bond depending on what mood I’m in. There isn’t much humour though, and I personally think it was missed. I know Fleming’s original Bond was the same, but I think Connery found a nice way of balancing the humour and the serious aspects. Dalton is a much more earnest James Bond, but does convince you as being a genuine world-weary man of action. When he does make a quip it’s perhaps too deadpan and shows how much better Roger Moore was at light humour. Still, it’s a minor criticism because overall Timothy Dalton has the true Fleming character of James Bond down to an art. Where he differs a little from the literary figure, to my mind, is in his treatment of the women. Dalton is the most romantic of the screen Bonds. He’s the one who looks like he means what he says, when it comes to love. Although he doesn’t smile much, when he does it’s usually because of his blossoming relationship with Kara. He’s not perfect, and sometimes looks a little too intense, but by the time of his second film Licence to kill, he’d have perfected his interpretation. Also in the cast is Robert Brown as “M”, who actually seems more at home in “The Living daylights” than previously. His less enigmatic intelligence boss always seemed less well suited to Roger Moore, than the late Bernard Lee. There’s also a new Moneypenny in Caroline Bliss, who makes a good impression. She seems to be a bit more pro-active in working alongside Bond, although her music taste is terrible. Even for 1987. “You’ll have to come around and listen to my Barry Manilow collection”…how could Bond have refused her? There’s also the return of Felix Leiter! Leiter fans rejoice, for James’ ever-reliable best mate is back, and still working for the CIA. Old school fantasy fans will no doubt recognise this incarnation of Felix as John Terry from the cult sword and sorcery flick Hawk the slayer. He’s not in The Living daylights for long, but he fills the niche. Also, Bond’s casual suggestion to Leiter of “let’s talk shop” is a line you can never imagine Roger Moore’s Bond coming out with. This Bond is all business. There’s also Desmond Llewellyn back as “Q”, but doesn’t get much chance for classic verbal exchanges with 007 in this film. Dalton’s Bond is probably lacking the right humour for the workshop scenes.
The story concerns a defecting Russian officer, General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé), who informs British intelligence of a rogue KGB campaign to assassinate western agents. Koskov claims to have defected because his superior, General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), who has replaced General Gogol, has started a new operation: ‘Smiert Spionem’ (Death to Spies). Bond is sent to help. Eventually the officer is taken back in a daring raid, and ‘M’ finds himself in a most embarrassing situation. The truth turns out to be somewhat different, as Bond uncovers a plot unfolding in Eastern Europe and North Africa.
The Living daylights is a more down to Earth Bond film, and can sometimes come across as Le Carr story, given a less intelligent treatment. There are no plans to rule the world, no huge sets and Bond doesn’t bed loads of women. In “The Living daylights” he has eyes for one woman only, cello player Kara Milovy, played with a wide-eyed innocence by Maryam D’Abo. In the age of AIDS awareness, Bond was changing with the times. He’s still got an eye for the women though, as he is James Bond after all. “Forget about he ladies for once, Bond”, complains Bond’s contact Saunders, as Bond uses his opera binoculars to study Karina. Saunders, incidentally, is a right ‘by the book’ spy, only telling Bond what he really needs to hear or see. “That’s on a strictly need to know basis….”
Elsewhere there’s some spectacular stunt work and fight scenes. The model work is very impressive too. See if you can spot which scenes of the plane are models and which are real. It’s not easy, I can tell you, and shows just how good the effects work is. There’s also the return of an Aston Martin with plenty of “added extras”. There’s a great car chase actually, which ends in the Aston Martin self-destructing and Bond and Kara tobogganing down icy slopes in a cello case. It sounds absurd, but it works wonderfully.
The Living daylights was an attempt to change direction for the series, and launch a new James Bond. I’d say it generally succeeded in its aim, but the choice of a new direction was never truly fulfilled (as we’ll see with the next film). The style of the film’s traditional elements is somewhat different with even the appearance of Q’s workshop and Moneypenny changing. Her desk is no longer outside M’s office either, which is one of the first obvious changes I noticed. This isn’t the ‘Universal exports’ of Connery or Moore’s era (‘Universal exports’ being the cover name for Bond’s secret service, which is used in several of the films). But change can be good, and here it is often welcome.
There’s a lot to recommend in The Living daylights, and it proves itself to be a very commendable thriller. It’s one of the less colourful of the Bond films and it’s reinvention of the series may take a little getting used to if you’re more used to the Roger Moore films. If that’s the case, you might not find The Living daylights to be much fun. But if you, like me, can see how great Dalton is you’ll be happily engaged to the film for a couple of hours. It also has a great ending, which features those romantic qualities I mentioned. But I won’t tell you what James and Kara get up to, unfortunately.
That’s on a strictly need to know basis.