The Living Daylights (1987)

Posted: June 16, 2020 in James Bond
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And so for the first time since 1971 we get a canon Bond film that doesn’t star Roger Moore, and by all rights it shouldn’t be Timothy Dalton parachuting into Gibraltar, it should have been Pierce Brosnan, but he couldn’t get out of his contract for Remington Steele and so Eon signed up Dalton. Was he their only option? Probably not, after all you can watch Sam Neil’s screentest! Was he always on their radar, possibly. Supposedly he was approached in 1968 and 1971, though given he’d have been in his early twenties it seems unlikely he was a serious contender.

In the end it doesn’t matter how Dalton ended up as James Bond, it only matters that he was Bond, and he was bloody fantastic.

Yeah, my feelings about Dalton are no secret, and The Living Daylights is one of my favourite Bond films (some Starkey trivia here, this was the first Bond film I saw on the big screen).

It had been a while since I’d seen it though and, much as I loved it, there were some weak elements…

Would I still feel the same?

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Of course I would!

From the get-go this is a very different kind of Bond film. The pre-title sequence is gritty and devoid of humour (comedy paintball moments aside). There’s no Beach Boys soundtrack here, no horse’s arse lifting to reveal a plane (though ironically there will be a horse’s arse later). Three 00 agents parachute into Gibraltar as part of an exercise, the SAS, armed with paint guns, are waiting for them. After one 00 is murdered it’s time for Dalton to enter the fray. It’s a nice intro and what follows is a thrilling set piece featuring Bond atop a moving vehicle. Hard to see Roger pulling this off, but it’s clear Dalton did a decent amount of his own stunts, and if proof were needed that this isn’t Roger’s 007, Bond headbutts the assassin. I mean, technically I think Roger tried to headbutt Jaws but realistically Tim’s the first Bond to successfully deploy this. Thankfully he repacked his parachute (and finally a pre-title sequence where it makes sense for him to have a parachute!)

Check out his acrobatic roll onto the boat as well, but he’s still Bond and still has an eye for the ladies.

Cue A-ha with a tune that isn’t as good as Duran Duran’s, but is still catchy.

Next stop Bratislava where Bond’s tasked with taking out a KGB sniper, thus allowing Soviet general Georgi Koskov to defect. The op’s being run by prissy MI6 agent Saunders, who has no time for Bond turning up in a dinner jacket and even less when Bond only wounds the KGB sniper. He’s even more pissed off when Bond takes over and gets Koskov out of Czechoslovakia his own way, which involves Julie T Wallace’s bosom. This scene was way more fun than I remembered it, and I do wonder if this was supposed to be the pre title sequence, given Bond’s “I must have scared the living daylights out of her” line.

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Koskov tells MI6 he defected because of a new directive by General Pushkin to start killing western agents, and that poor unfortunate 00 was just the first. Before the Brits can get much more out of Koskov, he’s kidnapped by the milkman! Seriously though, Necros’ attack on the safe house is wonderful, and his fight in the kitchen arguably one of the best in the franchise, and 007 isn’t even there!

M orders Bond to kill Pushkin, but Bond’s not so sure and takes a detour back to Czechoslovakia where he discovers the so called sniper is a cellist named Kara, Koskov’s girlfriend, whose gun was loaded with blanks to make the defection look real. Bond persuades her he’s Koskov’s friend and plans to get her to Austria, easier said than done with the police and army after them. Luckily Bond’s Aston Martin has a few optional extras installed. 007 may no longer be Moore but he still has a reckless disregard for Q Branch’s toys, so the Aston’s soon a smoking wreck and Bond and Kara slide into Austria via a very unorthodox form of transport.

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After a romantic interlude in Vienna, Bond’s pushed back into going after Pushkin by Saunders’ murder, but Bond’s no fool and quickly he and Pushkin team up to reveal what’s really going on. Koskov is in league with arms dealer Brad Whitaker. The pair plan to make millions using Russian money to buy drugs in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Koskov convinces Kara that Bond’s a wrong’un and the two wind up prisoners in a Russian airbase in Afghanistan. Bond being Bond they don’t stay there long.

After a fortuitous meeting with the mujahedeen Bond plots to blow up the plane carrying the drugs, but has to change his plans when Koskov spots him. Cue a mujahedeen attack on the airbase and Bond and Kara are forced take off in a plane carrying a bomb, and to make matters worse, a Necros as well!

After one final mission to take out Whitaker Bond can finally relax with some classical music, well with a classical cellist at least.

I know I’m biased but even so, this is a great film.

Let’s talk Dalton. He has the piecing eyes of a killer (the whole scene in Pushkin’s hotel room is just fantastic; “If I believed Koskov we wouldn’t be talking” “You should have bought lilies”) the cold rage of a man you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of (check out his expression upon finding Saunders’ body!) and yet he has the looks of a matinee idol, and is perhaps the most convincing romantic lead of any Bond. His seduction of Kara isn’t remotely creepy, it feels genuine, feels like they could fall in love.

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People will say he can’t do humour, but people are wrong. Just watch Hot Fuzz for further details. He isn’t Moore or Brosnan, but much like Craig he’s dryly humours given the right material. “Are you calling me a hose’s arse?”

Finally, there’s the physicality. I love Rog, always will, but Tim convinces in a fight in a way Roger rarely did, not even in the early days. Maybe at the time it was too radical a shift for some people, but for me Tim will always epitomise the character, closer to Fleming’s creation than anyone else, even Craig or Connery, and unlike Craig’s Bond, who hates what he does and gets depressed about it, Dalton hates what he does and covers this up by embracing the hedonism.

I fell a little in love with Maryam d’Abo back in 1987, and she’ll always be one of my favourite Bond girls. She isn’t a super spy or a scientist, isn’t that horrible phrase ‘Bond’s equal’ and yet I still think she’s a good Bond girl. Yes she’s manipulated by Koskov, and let’s be honest here, by James as well, but she still has agency, and I love the scene where she guilt trips the Mujahedeen into attacking the airbase by leading the charge. She isn’t superhuman, but she is believable. People are snarky about her flying ability, but for goodness sake she’s a cellist, and given she’s grown up behind the iron curtain she probably hasn’t seem a million Hollywood action films either! Give her a break.

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The bad guys are a trifle weak, though not as weak as some would argue. I actually like Jeroen Krabbé as Koskov, he’s wonderfully slimy and the fact that Bond doesn’t kill him in the end is perfect. I hope he isn’t executed and instead winds up in the same Siberian gulag he taunted Kara with.  He and Bond share some lovely snarky dialogue.

Joe Don Baker’s Whitaker isn’t exactly memorable, although oddly he’s probably got more relevant as time has passed. Let’s be honest here, there’s something Trumpian about him isn’t there?  Baker must have done something right however, as he’ll be back in two film’s time!

The best villain of the bunch is probably Andreas Wisniewski’s Necros. For saying he’s a monosyllabic henchman who doesn’t even have a prosthetic arm, or metal teeth, he’s incredibly effective, thanks to a script that showcases how dangerous he is before he ever meets 007. His one-man attack on the safehouse marks him out as a deadly foe, so when he and Bond finally come to blows, we know he’s a threat. It’d be wrong to put him in the same category as Red Grant, but compare him to the similar, but nowhere near as effective, Stamper in Tomorrow Never Dies, or even the woefully underused Dave Bautista as Hinx. And a side note about Wisniewski, he’s the first Dalton/Die Hard connection, stay tuned for two more in Licence to Kill!

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Robert Brown is back as M, and while he is the weakest M, he’s effective. Desmond Llewelyn doesn’t get a lot to do as Q but Rhys-Davies is wonderful as Pushkin, though if Walter Gotell had been in better health presumably it would have been Gogol in this role. I like Thomas Wheatley’s Saunders, who goes from dick to useful ally just in time to be horribly murdered.

There are some missteps though. Caroline Bliss gets the thankless task of replacing Lois Maxwell, and given terrible dialogue into the bargain (“Any time you fancy listening to my Barry Manilow collection”). Not her fault but she’s the worst Moneypenny by far, and John Terry makes for a weak Felix, shame given he was Hawk the bloody Slayer (which isn’t rubbish).

The plot is tight, and not at all fantastical which works well in a more grounded Bond film, and the scenes in Czechoslovakia (really Austria) lend a nice touch to this, the last Cold War themed Bond film (setting aside Goldeneye’s pre-title sequence), and Bond gets to act the detective which is always nice to see and there are some great set pieces. The pre-title sequence and Necros’ attack of course, but also the chase into Austria, starting off with a fully tricked out Aston Martin (the first Aston since 1969!) and ending up with our hero and the girl sliding down the mountain in a cello case which is the kind of thing only Bond can really get away with. The attack on the Russian airbase is full on and Bond’s fight with Necros on the cargo net is superb, with a nice ticking time bomb thrown in for good measure, which means even after Necros gets the boot, Bond can’t relax. Yeah the final showdown with Whitaker is lame (stop shooting at the bulletproof screen, 007!) but it doesn’t go on too long and the wolf whistle denouncement is very JB.

Talking of JB this was to be John Barry’s swansong and he gives Dalton a great debut soundtrack, much as he did for Lazenby. He’ll be missed.

All in all a top drawer Bond film, jettisoning the silliness for a down to earth adventure that gives us a Bond we can believe in as an ice cold assassin yet keeps more than enough Bond tropes to keep all but the grumpiest Bond fan happy. I love it, Dalton and d’Abo and likely always will.

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