Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bond Is Forever: “The Living Daylights”

General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) of the KGB, planning to defect to the UK, specifically requests the protection and assistance of MI6 agent James Bond (Timothy Dalton). However, after accusing KGB head General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) of initiating assassinations of British and American agents, Koskov is captured by the KGB and returned presumably to Moscow. Bond’s mission is to assassinate Pushkin, but he is reluctant, as he begins to question not only Pushkin’s involvement but also Koskov’s information and defection. He shadows a cellist, Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), an apparent sniper sent to kill General Koskov and who 007 was supposed to have eliminated (“I only kill professionals”). Bond’s investigation ultimately points him in the direction of American arms dealer, Brad Whitaker (Jon Don Baker), but meanwhile, Bond and Kara must evade the KGB, as well as assassins and various explosives.

The Living Daylights (1987), its title and opening plot device taken from Ian Fleming’s short story of the same name, was the 007 debut for Welsh actor Dalton. Originally, the Bond film to follow 1985’s A View to a Kill was to star Roger Moore for an eighth turn as the British spy. After Moore decided to depart from the series, the producers had cast Pierce Brosnan, but a surprise renewal of his TV show, Remington Steele, kept Brosnan from accepting the role (an offer which was supposedly withdrawn by producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who did not want audiences to associate James Bond with Remington Steele). Dalton himself was reportedly asked to be Sean Connery’s replacement for On Her Majesty Secret Service (1969), but he declined the offer, believing that, at around 22 years of age, he was too young to portray Bond. Dalton is a laudable 007, his portrait of the spy with less humor than Moore but an equal amount of charm. He’s more physical, comparable to Connery’s work, but with a delivery all his own.

The Living Daylights is a solid entry in the Bond series. The movie opens by dropping the audience into the action, literally dropping 007 and other agents, who parachute as part of a training exercise which turns deadly. The movie erupts with thrilling action sequences, as Bond pilots an airplane carrying an armed explosive, finds an imaginative use for a cello and its accompanying case, and is pursued in his impressively outfitted Aston Martin, to which hopefully audiences have learned to not grow too attached. The always welcome Q (Desmond Llewelyn) gives Bond a set of keys which open the majority of locks, with a keychain that responds to whistling (either to release a stun gas or to explode, depending on the tune).

Additionally, the film boasts strong performances from the supporting cast. Maryam d’Abo is wonderful as Kara. Her character is naive and trusting, but she is not unintelligent. She also proves more than capable in combat. Likewise, Art Malik is exceptional as Kamran Shah, leader of a group of freedom fighters in Afghanistan. Shah has little screen time, but the character is given both personality and depth. Krabbé, as well as Andreas Wisniewski paying KGB assassin Necros, provide energetic showings (and Wisniewski would play one of the villains in the immensely successful actioner, Die Hard, the following year). The only exception is Baker, who makes a rather bland villain as Whitaker. He would fare better as CIA agent Jack Wade, a pseudo-substitute for Felix Leiter, in the subsequent Bond films, GoldenEye (1995) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).


Although there are a number of familiar components in The Living Daylights (e.g., Bond introducing himself, his drink of choice, etc.), there are also a couple of notable changes. Caroline Bliss plays Miss Moneypenny for the first time, a role she would reprise only once in the next Bond film, Licence to Kill (1989). Her predecessor, Lois Maxwell, had played Moneypenny for each of the previous 14 movies. Walter Gotell, who’d appeared as KGB head General Gogol in the latter five films with Moore, was originially scripted
as Gogol in the scenes that ultimately featured General Pushkin. Reportedly, Gotell was too ill to handle a more substantial role, so he only did a cameo. It was the final Bond film for Gotell and his character. Virginia Hey, who plays Pushkins girlfriend, also starred in George Millers cult film, The Road Warrior (1981), and portrayed Zhaan in the cult SyFy (formerly Sci-Fi Channel) series, Farscape (and still strikingly beautiful as a bald female with blue skin).

While Bond always has his reliable Walther PPK at hand, he also employs a Walther WA2000 sniper rifle near the beginning of the film. John Terry plays Felix Leiter in The Living Daylights, and, like most actors portraying the CIA agent, would not return to the role. Terry is perhaps better known more recently as the enigmatic Christian Shephard in ABC’s popular series, Lost. In The Living Daylights, agents are being killed, and the message left behind reads, “Smiert Spionam” (translated as “Death to spies”). The terrorist organization in Fleming’s novels, SMERSH, was actually an acronym of these words, spelled Smert Shpionam (SMERt SHpionam). Interestingly,
although referenced in From Russia with Love (1963), SMERSH does not actually appear in the cinematic adaptations, as Bond typically deals with SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion). The terrorist group in Casino Royale (2006) is officially named as Quantum in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

The Living Daylights was the final film to utilize a title of a story or novel by Fleming until the 2006 adaptation of Casino Royale. Director John Glen had helmed the previous three Bond movies and would direct the next film as well. He was also editor of three additional movies with 007. The title song was performed by Norwegian pop group a-ha, most famous for its hit single, “Take On Me” (as well as its award-winning music video that combined rotoscoping animation with live action). While the song is one of the weaker tunes to open a Bond film, it is well incorporated into the movie’s score.

This is one of my personal favorites of the James Bond movies. The action is topnotch, the story compelling, the characters refined, and the entertainment level on high throughout. Dalton is a distinguished Bond, and he was equally good in his follow-up film. Does anyone have any thoughts on The Living Daylights or its 007 star?

Bond Is Forever will return next month with Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).

10 comments:

  1. Sark, I really enjoyed your write-up even though this 007 series entry is one of the weaker ones for me. I liked Timothy Dalton pretty well as Bond, but I think he needed time to grow into the role--I felt he was much better in LICENCE TO KILL and was bummed that the series went on hiatus after that installment. I always thought it odd that Cubby ended Dalton's run as Bond so quickly--after all, it took Roger Moore three films to really nail the part and produce a Bond blockbuster. I always get a kick of your Bond trivia. This time, you enlightened me that Virginia Hey (from one of my fave TV shows FARSCAPE) was in LIVING DAYLIGHTS. Somehow, I never made the connection (but do remember her from THE ROAD WARRIOR). Thanks for another super 007 review...I'm already looking forward to next month.

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  2. Rick, thanks for the compliments! Dalton was contracted for three films, and Cubby had been planning the next Bond film with Dalton as 007. It was Dalton who walked away from the role, when it was unclear as to whether or not the Bond series would ever continue.

    I like LICENCE TO KILL, too! It's sad that Dalton only did two Bond movies, but I thoroughly enjoy both films and thought he made a splendid MI6 agent.

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  3. Excellent review with interesting background facts, Sark. I personally liked Timothy Dalton very much as Bond, and it's too bad he didn't continue. Sounds like a bad career choice to me. Pierce Brosnan is wonderful, though. I remember the opening scene in this one, although it's been a long time since I've seen it. I'm a sucker for parachute drop scenes -- they are so thrilling, as in Errol Flynn's "Objective Burma". I've probably said this before in your series, but I wish the movie-makers had stuck to Ian Fleming's original stories. They were just as exciting in content, not as much humor maybe, but a lot of the movies made Bond such a caricature figure, with the sarcastic one-liners after he shoots somebody, that kind of thing. I liked Dalton's more serious approach a lot. Of course, if you remember from some of your other posts, I never liked Roger Moore at all as Bond. Too clipped and stiff for Bond, I thought. Dalton fit the bill. Now I'm going to have to see this one again and enjoy it as I did the first time.

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  4. Sark, it has been a while since I have seen "The Living Daylights" but I remember liking it and Timothy Dalton's Bond very much. I thought he was quite believable and brought an element of class to the role. I, too, was surprised to see Virginia Hey among the cast. She is so memorable in "Farscape" and I would like to revisit "Daylights" especially to see her again.

    I truly enjoy your thorough research and insightful commentary about the Bond series. You have made me once again want to check this out. Thank you for your thought-provoking posts!

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  5. I'm a fan of the Timothy Dalton Bonds. Dalton was much closer to Sean Connery's interpretation, and I thought he was a superb 007. And I could see why women would melt in his presence (as with Connery). I've never been able to sit through the Moore or Brosnan Bonds. Am having no trouble with Daniel Craig...THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS was much stronger than LICENSE TO KILL, but I'd like to have seen Dalton stick with the franchise longer than he did...and...Becky mentioned remembering the film's opening scene - which reminded me that I've always remembered the closing scene...Good work, sark...

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  6. Sark, this an excellently written review. Well your reviews are always terrific to read! I do not like this movie. I think it is the weakest all of the Bond films. I found the plot uninteresting. I think Dalton is a good actor, just not in this role. He lacks the enthusiasm and charisma that Connery, Moore, and Brosnan had portraying Bond. I found him rather a bore! I missed the witty dialogue and all the fun in the previous Bond movies. I was so upset when it was announced he would portray Bond in License to Kill! I like the song though and have it on my iPod, but have never bothered buying the DVD of the movie. I enjoyed reading your review and like Rick, I loved all the trivia you included.

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  7. Aki, originally I felt the same way as you about Dalton. But a few years after I first saw LICENCE TO KILL, I watched it again and re-evaluated Dalton's 007 portrayal. To my surprise, I discovered that I really liked TD as JB. Subsequently, LICENCE TO KILL--which breaks the Bond formula--jumped up in my personal rankings!

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  8. Dalton made a terrific Bond and I agree that Maryam d'Ado is a charming heroine. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is a strong entry in the Bond series. Must say that the title song stank.

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  9. Sark, I always look forward to reading your wonderful reviews! I do not think I have seen this movie. Although... I did love reading the interesting background facts. Now, I'm going to have to add this one to my "gotta see" movie list.

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  10. Rick, you may be right and I need to watch The Living Daylights again. I think I like Timothy Dalton as JB better than Daniel Craig. I am still thinking about if I like Craig as JB or not. Sark, you made the movie seem more exciting with your outstanding and well researched article. So I am going to revisit this film and see what I think of it years later.

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