Over the last several months, members of the CBn Forum have been reviewing all the James Bond 007 films in the “Countdown Threads“. If you wish to join in on the forum discussion all you have to do is register. Now here are some selected reviews, varying in opinion, of The Living Daylights…
‘The Living Daylights’ by Double-Oh Agent
The Living Daylights marked a significant change in the James Bond films as it was the first movie after the Roger Moore era. Stepping into 007’s shoes in this one is Timothy Dalton and it is, as the tagline says, Bond at his most dangerous.
The bad: The villains, namely Whitaker and Koskov are not quite as sinister and evil as the traditional villains of the series are, and their scheme of selling arms for drugs is much smaller than we’re used to. Nevertheless, the plot works and it’s a fun movie. Caroline Bliss as Moneypenny is okay but not as enjoyable as the wonderful Lois Maxwell. However, she is better here than in Licence To Kill. And Dalton’s delivery of his iconic line of Bond…James Bond is done too fast.
The good: Where to begin? The pre-titles sequence is awesome! A very good introduction for Dalton’s Bond. We are led to mistakenly believe that Bond is the first 00-agent and then the second, but it isn’t until the third and final agent that we really get to see who the new Bond is and it is expertly revealed, a truly great moment. Dalton grounds his Bond in reality and is probably the closest interpretation to Ian Fleming’s legendary character than any other 007. Dalton is a man determined in this film–nowhere more so than in the pre-titles sequence. He certainly jumps into his part with gusto and is readily willing to do his own stunts.
Speaking of stunts, they are incredible in this film, from the pre-titles to the ice chase to Necros’ fights at the Blayden Safehouse and against Bond on the cargo net. John Rhys-Davies makes a formidable Leonid Pushkin. His one big scene with Dalton is good and crackles with suspense. Maryam d’Abo is effective as Kara Milovy, a talented but naive Czech cellist. Although the villains are not as big a scale as we’re used to, I still like them. Joe Don Baker’s Brad Whitaker is a big boy with a love of war games and weapons and he is good in each of his scenes. I love his line: “You’ve had your eight, now I’ll have my 80.” Jeroen Krabbe is always good in whatever he does and his Georgi Koskov is no exception. However, he is not as slimy or as evil as he can be or has been. Nevertheless, his duplicitous friendly act is believable early on and it’s shocking when it turns out he’s actually one of the bad guys. Art Malik is good as the Afghan rebel leader, Kamran Shah, but the best performance of the movie for me is Andreas Wisniewski as the voice impersonating Necros. He is a quiet menace throughout the film, causing death and destruction wherever he goes. Wisniewski’s ballet skills help him greatly in his fight scenes, particularly in his fight against the Blayden Butler (Bill Weston), which is easily the best fight not involving Bond in the entire series.
Another highpoint in the film is Bond’s car. The Aston Martin Volante is a great looking car and the gadgets it contains, provided by Q are fantastic. Speaking of Q, Desmond Llewelyn makes a welcome return. I love his name for the deadly boombox–a ghetto blaster. A final highpoint to mention is the film’s music. A-ha does a solid effort with the title theme, the only drawback being the fact that it’s a little difficult to understand some of the words. I also greatly enjoy the Pretenders’ Where Has Everybody Gone? which is heard over Necros’ headphones. Like the henchman, it packs quite a punch. John Barry, meanwhile, scores again with his final Bond soundtrack–and he even gets a cameo at the end of the film! The rest of the music is great to listen to as well and is different from what he’s done before. Barry’s Ice Chase music is a nice twist on the James Bond Theme. One thing I am disappointed at from Barry, however, is that my favorite instrumental for If There Was A Man, the beautiful Into Vienna, is not used in the movie! Why not? It’s a great track on the CD.
Oh well, you can’t have everything, but The Living Daylights is close to having it all and, consequently, it provides a great beginning for Dalton’s tenure as 007. To paraphrase Bond at the end of the film, this is a performance not to be missed.
‘The Living Daylights’ by hrabb04
With no place left to go but up after A View To A Kill, James Bond gets a new lease on life with an actor who at least tries to take the part seriously and do some acting. The problem is, the movie is not a good fit altogether. There are no strong villains, no real tension, and the sole Bond woman is a Tanya Roberts clone. The Maurice Binder credits have been emasculated, and it’s not pretty.
Plusses: Dalton taking the part seriously, the last John Barry Bond score, John Glen’s direction, and the Aston Martin.
‘The Living Daylights’ by trumanlodge89
This is a tough review for me. For as much as I love the first half hour of this film (right about when the Fleming material runs out), and as much as I really enjoy Tim Dalton’s portrayal of James Bond, something about this film doesn’t click for me. On my list, everything after this film (The Man With The Golden Gun, Diamonds Are Forever, etc.) I consider guilty pleasures. In other words, don’t watch these unless you’ve seen the good ones. So is this film a guilty pleasure or a good one for me?
Really the answer to that question is neither. When it tries to be a cold war thriller (the Fleming portion), it works. I could watch the pre-titles over and over. The whole sequence feels like lost footage from Thunderball, it’s that good. I love the Suanders character as the anti-Bond, and sending Koskov though the pipeline is far-fetched enough to be believable.
However, I don’t think Bond would put up with Kara. To me, she seems immature and demanding, which annoy me, which means she would’ve driven Bond crazy. I also think Brad Whitaker was a poor main villian, and Pushkin was a poor substitute for General Gogal. I love the fighting in Afghanistan, especially the battle between Bond and Necros. The shootout between Bond and Whitaker is poorly filmed and not very interesting.
I love the car chase and the chase down the mountian, featuring Bond and Kara riding on a cello case, and the fantastic moment where Bond throws the million dollar cello over the gate with the, “Nothing to declare… except a cello” dialogue.
Barry’s music is great. I do not, however, enjoy the orchestra scenes. Maybe I haven’t read enough Fleming, but I feel like Bond would think the orchestra was a waste of time. Calle me crazy. I do love the title theme. It’s much more original than the theme to Licence To Kill, not to mention a-ha’s theme has a great epic feel to it.
So it is a film with a lot more positives than negatives. Still, something about The Living Daylights just doesn’t work for me.
‘The Living Daylights’ by DLibrasnow
Soundly rejected by critics and the public alike Timothy Dalton seemed doomed from the start with his ridiculous assertion that James Bond be taken as a serious character. Really, who can take a secret agent who everyone knows (“You just kiled James Bond” – Diamonds Are Forever), who drives the best cars, beds the most beautiful women and saves the world from annihilation like other people change their socks.
Dalton, in his warped sense of reality never “got” this and so he was unceremoniously dumped after his second movie Licence To Kill (by all accounts) almost finished off the franchise with the outright rejection by US audiences in 1989 (despite some strong movies that should have served it well.)
One reviewer described Dalton in his initial 007 outing as being “the George Lazenby of his generation in his stalwart boringness” which was a terrible injustice and insult – to Lazenby.
Truth be told The Living Daylights has an intelligent and involving plot, some nicely painted villains, a fun snow sequence/car chase and some great music by John Barry. Unfortunately all of this is for nought due to the heavy-handed approach with which Dalton handles the material.
Maryam D’Abo makes an appealing heroine, not a secret agent, nuclear scientist or assassin instead she is a cello player caught up in the political brinksmanship of mad KGB General Koskov and his friend Whitaker. Unfortunately for D’Abo she gets lost in all the dull drama of the production and becomes as the movie progresses less interesting to the point that towards the end Kara is irritating in a Mary Goodnight sort-of-way.
The Living Daylights was a brave, if misguided experiment that had some great elements too it, but was marred by the inability of its leading man to be entertaining.
‘The Living Daylights’ by tdalton
The Living Daylights is, without question, the best Bond movie in the franchise’s 40+ year history. It combines action, suspense, intrigue, interesting characters, and the best performance by an actor portraying James Bond.
Timothy Dalton was born to portray James Bond, Agent 007 of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He plays the role closely to how Ian Fleming wrote it on the page. The humor that plagued the series during the first half of Roger Moore’s tenure is completely gone here, and the movie is better for it. It’s just a shame that Dalton only got 2 films in the role, as he could have easily established himself as the best James Bond in the general public’s eyes had he been given more time in the role.
The plot of The Living Daylights is very down to earth, which makes it a very appealing film. General Koskov and Brad Whitaker are very believable villians who are trying to carry out a variety of operations, none of which are unrealistic as we have seen in previous films like You Only Live Twice or Moonraker. Whitaker’s arms dealings and Koskov’s fake defection and plotting behind General Pushkin is something that could very well happen in any country, and is dealt with in a very realistic way by Her Majesty’s government.
Maryam D’Abo establishes herself as one of the finest Bond girls in the series. She is not an unintelligent fool that many of the previous Bond girls (Mary Goodnight of The Man With The Golden Gun comes to mind). She is a smart, strong, and independent woman who is thrown into the mix with 007, and does a surprisingly good job of holding her own, despite what one would think by taking a look at her. Her chemistry with Timothy Dalton is great, and it comes across as well as any relationship between Bond and a Bond girl in any of the previous films.
Locations play a very big part in The Living Daylights. Afghanistan provides a good backdrop for the Cold War espionage of the movie, as it is based around the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the rebels who are trying to resist the invasion. It works very well with Bond working with the opposition in order to bring Koskov down. Also, other locales are presented very realistically, as opposed to other places that have been previously visited.
The score is another high point in The Living Daylights. John Barry outdoes himself with this one, providing his best score of the series. The Pretenders’ “If There Was A Man” is a great ending credits song, and a-ha provides one of the better title songs in the series.
Apart from Dalton’s portrayal of Bond, the best thing about The Living Daylights is the fact that the action is very believable. The car chase is treated realistically, as opposed to Roger Moore’s underwater adventures in The Spy Who Loved Me and the gondola ride he took in Moonraker. The pre-title sequence is the best one in the series, and its great to see Dalton doing some of his own stunts on top of the jeep. It was a great way to introduce the new James Bond (although its a shame that he wasn’t allowed to take over for Octopussy or A View To A Kill).
As mentioned, Dalton has the best debut by any of the other 4 actors who portrayed Bond. He comes across very much the way that Fleming intended the character to be, and he seizes The Living Daylights and makes the film his own. Under John Glen’s expert direction, The Living Daylights is a great Bond film (and a great film in general) and is by far the best film in the series.
‘The Living Daylights’ by Scottlee
If you can overlook the slight weakness in villains, this is a fantastic James Bond film, full of plot, intrigue, and masterful scenes from Dalton, who immediately becomes Bond from the off. A delightful change in pace from the Roger Moore era.
‘The Living Daylights’ by Publius
The Living Daylights is quite possibly the greatest James Bond film ever. It hits all the right notes, touting a stellar lead in Timothy Dalton, a respectable supporting cast, a down-to-earth but exciting plot with deadly worldwide implications and never-ending twists, solid action sequences, numerous exotic locales, a brilliant musical score yet to be matched, and a subtle humor all its own to boot.
The pre-title sequence is easily one of the best, bringing us sky-diving, assassination, and an explosive race against time on the Rock of Gibraltar, all while signaling a long overdue return to a younger, darker, edgier 007. It also serves as the best introduction to a new Bond, and one whom is clearly ready to handle the athletic demands of the job. Dalton’s first delivery here of “Bond, James Bond” is rivaled only by Sean Connery’s first in Dr. No for coolest in the entire series. He also gives an undeniably great performance throughout, be it in the Czechoslovakia scenes (in which Bond genuinely comes across as a man divided, ready and willing to jeopardize his career in Her Majesty’s Secret Service), his angry response to a “message” from a certain conspirator while in Austria, or his tense encounter in Tangier with Russian General Pushkin (which makes for one of THE quintessential moments of Bond history). And contrary to the belief of some, there is also humor to be had in this Bond outing, albeit a type very different from that seen before, in that it is tailored here to the subtler tastes of Timothy Dalton and his grittier portrayal.
Bond’s romance with the classy and beautiful Kara Milovy is perhaps the most believable he’s ever had, and she makes for a nice change of pace in a Bond girl. She provides for some innocence, importance to the plot, and sexiness all at once, the first time in a while and enough so to hold her own as the only Bond girl here.
The overall storyline, involving arms dealing, drug smuggling, double agents, and the ever-looming threat of a resuscitated Cold War, makes for one hell of a ride, and a classic Bondian adventure. With an unexpected turn at every corner, it’s hard to say who’s NOT a villain until the film begins to wind down.
The action in the film is also top-notch. The car (and later, cello) chase sequence is a fun romp, indulging in the lighter (and more explosive) side of the Bond universe. The fight between Bond and main henchman Necros in mid-air (which seems to define Dalton’s brief tenure, along with sniping, head-butting, and clinging for dear life on top of moving vehicles) while in Afghanistan is simply among the best of its kind. The myriad of other chases, fights, and miscellaneous action scenes are no less superb.
The music is likely one of the most widely appreciated aspects of this wonderful film, which features not only a great title song by 80s pop group a-ha, but also showcases an outstanding musical score, with the movie’s various themes blending into and out of each other quite masterfully.
The biggest drawback to this film is lack of a strong central villain, although that could have readily been worked out by fleshing out the character of Brad Whittaker. Other than that, only minor flaws are present in this masterpiece of Bond cinema, which has stood the test of time to remain a definitive, quality entry to this day.
‘The Living Daylights’ by Qwerty
The Living Daylights was the welcomed breath of fresh air into the series. I love the Roger Moore films of the series, but it’s always nice to see a new change, with different actors and new ideas. The viewer can see immediately from the thrilling pre-title sequence that this film is going to be a relatively well-plotted, fast-paced James Bond film. It delivers the goods.
Timothy Dalton gives his better performance of his two films here in The Living Daylights. He most certainly lives up to all the taglines mentioned for this film and gives a great performance. He has good chemistry with Kara and handles the action scenes wonderfully. So far, so good.
While this story is sometimes said to be going in too many directions (I’ve heard that before, in any event), I’ve come to like it more and more with each new viewing. Complex, but gripping.
John Barry’s final contribution of a score for the series sees him at some of his best with both outstanding love and action/adventure themes throughout the film. A top-notch score without a doubt.
My main complaint for this film would be the villains. Koskov simply does not stand out as a memorable villain to me, even if he is supposedly well “under the radar” by being so sweet and caring in the beginning. Whitaker on the other hand, does not get enough screen time to develop his menace.
‘The Living Daylights’ by ACE
The Tarnished Knight: An Opinion On “The Living Daylights”
A Quiet Revolution:
When The Living Daylights was released, a quiet revolution happened in the world of James Bond. All of a sudden, what opened up in film Bond were possibilities. A Bond film no longer had to be a circus or a pantomime but could attempt to return to its roots – that of the contemporary, Hitchcock-ian, romantic, intelligent, international, mystery, thriller.
A story murky with recent Iran-Contra-gate topicality, this 15th Eon Bond film was a character-led tale of intrigue that was difficult to summarize for the press. Said press were already antagonized by a new leading man who kept an air of mystery about his personal life. In order to fully appreciate what Timothy Dalton brought to 007, one would have to have been a James Bond fan before he was cast. The long and successful reign of Roger Moore was an achievement in itself but the Press had been rather spoilt by 14 years of media-friendly frolics. Dalton’s distance did not endear him to them. Their view was, “It’s only a Bond film, lighten up.”
However, for the first time, the actor playing Bond had read all 14 Fleming Bond books, researched and knew about Fleming (allegedly keeping a copy of John Pearson’s Fleming biography on his bedside table) and had a keen sense of what he wanted to achieve: something different yet classic.
The Dalton Effect:
Upon his announcement as Bond on 6th August 1986, Dalton was a relatively unknown, leading man/working actor. However, this became an important aspect to the thrill of his debut. This lack of knowledge about the actor made his Bond unpredictable. On first viewing, the PTS and the defection in Bratislava were dangerous, involving and atmospheric. When trailing Kara and meeting in her flat, Bond was intense – his careful phrasing making their conversation a chess game of circumstance. When Bond interrogates Pushkin, it is tough and ruthless and even Rubavitch (sic?) is not spared. When Bond is beaten in the Afghan jail, there’s no pithy comeback. Just when one thought a one-liner was coming, it didn’t. To an audience weaned on 14 years of suaveness, this was a revelation. Out of context now, these grace notes are lost.
In The Living Daylights, few scenes are written to showcase character. Character is revealed through the plot. Dalton presents Bond as a reluctant yet ruthless romantic protagonist. A man of action and energy, living on the edge, Dalton is in the centre, running, jumping, fighting and shooting with conviction. He details his performance with nuggets of information and emotion:
- a) cigarette smoke escaping on hearing Koskov’s report of Smiert Spionam – hot air,
- b) rigid and economical movement in the pipeline scouring pig launch bay,
- c) martial bearing in M’s office,
- d) the regrasping of the Walther grip in the Pushkin interrogation,
- e) drinking whisky with Leiter,
- f) his protectiveness of Kara in Afghanistan,
- g) frustration in the Hercules as he tries to communicate with Kara,
- h) frantic grip on the Hercules controls to evade oncoming, landing plane.
Dalton’s performance conveys the effort of survival, the pain of being hit, the exhilaration of escape, and the spoils of seduction.
He went back to the humanity of the man from the novels and injected as much of the man as the script would allow. In M’s office, a cut scene containing a brief rumination on accidie allowed Dalton to inject some overt world-weariness into his Bond. Dalton had wisely asked for one-liners to be removed and his Bond is a taciturn intelligence operative. Marketed as “The Most Dangerous Bond…Ever”, Dalton’s lupine looks and careful publicity heralded a finely wrought, unsurpassed approach to the characterization of Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
The Dalton Defence:
The film is not without humour but it is a different sort of humour to that of previous Bonds, especially the Roger Moore era. In The Living Daylights, there is little outright comedy. This has been replaced by comic relief. Brief relief, perfectly in keeping with the darker, moodier, thriller tone. One doesn’t laugh, one smiles:
- 1) The gag of landing on the boat in the PTS.
- 2) Bond: “Why me?” Saunders: “He’s under the impression you’re the best.”
- 3) Koskov’s overdone embrace of Bond.
- 4) “Section 25 paragraph 6, I’m sure you understand.”
- 5) “You’re the first…”
- 6) The classic “Why didn’t you learn to play the violin” jump cut.
- 7) “Salt corrosion”
- 8) “We’ve nothing to declare” “Except a cello-lo-lo-lo…”
- 9) The exasperated fair ground worker’s “No more” after Bond’s sharp shooting bags yet another prize.
- 10) “Kara, we’re in the middle of a Russian airbase…”
- 11) “Are you calling me a horse’s…?”
All these moments emanate from the humanity of Bond and give The Living Daylights a gentler tone, complementing the harder edge to the character and the deeper romance. However, after 14 years a broader, more predictable, pantomime humour was expected. When this surfaced in the film occasionally, it highlighted Dalton’s weakness for flippancy e.g. “Amazing this modern safety glass”. The script’s major weakness was a lack of well-written, witty humour. Dalton is adept at playing darkly humorous characters (Framed, The Rocketeer) but he is seemingly not a natural improviser and cannot conjure what is not on the page. The new, subtler approach was lost on some audiences.
However, Timothy Dalton was simply too good an actor and presence for the story and dialogue and general direction of the film. A more linear, more direct storyline would have showcased his particular talents for capturing the spirit and essence of the character of James Bond found in the writing of Ian Fleming. His interpretation of Bond will endure and be discovered by those audiences and fans in time. Timothy Dalton was arguably the best James Bond in the entire series.
The Complex Caper:
Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson have placed at the heart of The Living Daylights a complex caper. American Brad Whitaker is league with Soviet General Georgi Koskov. Koskov is ostensibly using funds procured to buy hi-tech arms from Whitaker for use against the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to secure the Soviet presence there.
Their plan is this:
- 1) A down payment of $50 million of Soviet funds is made in secret accounts to Whitaker. The money is meant to be used to purchase hi-tech arms…
- 2) …but Whitaker uses these funds to purchase diamonds instead which are then smuggled to Afghanistan.
- 3) The diamonds are used as currency to buy raw opium from unscrupulous Afghan drug Lords of the Snow Leopard Brotherhood.
- 4) This opium is then to be quickly processed into heroin and sold in the West, converting $50 million of Soviet funds to $500 million in drug profits.
- 5) Part of the profit from the sale of drugs is used to buy the arms for the Soviets pursuant to the original deal.
- 6) The rest of the profit is shared between Koskov and Whitaker and to fund revolutionaries led by Necros, their chameleon-like junior partner.
We are led to believe that Whitaker and Koskov have done this before, but presumably on a smaller scale. Whitaker and Koskov obviously have course of dealings, Whitaker having bought Koskov’s girlfriend, innocent cellist, Kara Milovy, a Stradivarius cello, The Mary Rose.
This big sting is obviously bad news for the West (a huge influx of heroin) and the USSR (leading to a Soviet Irangate of their own). Such an action could destabilize the superpowers drastically.
Now, there is a fly in the ointment. Leonid Pushkin, new head of the KGB is suspicious of Koskov and Whitaker and has started to investigate them. Pushkin has to be stopped.
- a) Resurrecting Smiert Spionam , “Death To Spies”, an old Beria assassination programme, Koskov uses his KGB contacts (was Necros on annual leave?) to infiltrate an SIS training exercise in Gibraltar, causing mayhem, killing 004 (and eventually Saunders and others) thus announcing the programme to SIS and embroiling 007.
- b) The validity and presence of Smiert Spionam has to be made known to the British and in particular their Double-0 Section. Koskov knows James Bond 007 by reputation and specifically requests him to assist in his defection, knowing Bond takes his work seriously…
- c) …that work being the use of his licence to kill. Koskov sets up his girlfriend, Kara Milovy as the KGB counter-defection assassin to be killed by Bond. Milovy has become excess baggage and can link Whitaker and Koskov and their plans. Her presence will add validity to Koskov’s fake defection and her death, at the hand of 007, will tie off loose ends for Koskov.
- d) Once Bond has killed Kara, Koskov will brief SIS about Smiert Spionam to persuade them to ensure that Pushkin be “put away”.
- e) Koskov will be snatched back (seemingly by the Soviets), adding weight to the imperative to SIS to kill Pushkin.
- f) Bond will be licensed to kill Pushkin, and in doing so, thereby stopping Smiert Spionam and conveniently, Pushkin’s investigation into 1-6) above.
- g) Upon his return to the Soviet fold, Koskov’s defection can be explained as a misinformation initiative of Pushkin’s (who, alas, will no longer be around to verify this).
- h) With no Soviet investigation pending, Koskov and Whitaker can continue, unfettered, with 1-6) above.
If only Bond had followed orders, not instincts! Deciding in a split second not to kill Koskov’s defection-preventing assassin when he targets her, Bond unwittingly unravels Koskov’s precariously calculated plan. 007 shoots Kara’s gun from her hand in an effort to “scare the living daylights [and break her assassination nerve]”. In the Fleming short story, the twist is that a beautiful cellist can also be a trained assassin (“The Trigger”)and the subtext of the title is the psychological scar of her near death will stop her being useful as a killer. Unfortunately, both aspects are lost in the film and the title becomes a non-sequitur. However, it is wonderful to have the Fleming story essentially in place and also the reference to Smiert Spionam (SMERSH from the novels although unmentioned here). Remember, Fleming’s half-sister, Amaryllis was a famous concert cellist!
The fact is that too many characters carry too complex a plot with not enough time devoted to their motivations and the effect of their actions. Like all wise-after-the-event reviews, I suggest the following changes:
- 1) Defer the Blayden Hall snatch back of Koskov. Instead devote time to Koskov’s persuasion and convincing of SIS that Pushkin has to be taken out as intercut with 2 and 3 below.
- 2) Cut to Whitaker’s Tangier base where we seem him in huge war chamber eavesdropping on CIA/KGB reaction to escalating spy war (Necros either onscreen or implicitly taking out spies).
- 3) Cut to a global briefing to the NATO agents intercut with the same scene in the Soviet Union (in unsubtitled Russian) would have been an economically visual storytelling device. The machinations are given context displaying the way Smiert Spionam was affecting the intelligence apparatus, heightening the tension Koskov spoke of.
- 5) Koskov disappears while under Bond’s protection. Bond should have had the fight in the kitchen, knocking out one of Necros’s helpers. When Bond declines to kill Pushkin, M throws this failure in his face. Plus Bond is at the centre of the best fight in the film.
- 6) The reveal that Koskov is in league with Whitaker must be a dramatic moment.
- 7) Koskov and Whitaker extolling their plan to raise funds in Afganistan to fund Necros’ wars of revolution in said huge war chamber in the villa with maps and tin soldiers in Africa, Asia and South America (providing a more dramatic setting for the eerie shoot out at the finale). If there’s one Bond villain who needed his own private army, Whitaker was the man. These guards should be swarming all over the villa, to be taken out by Bond at the end. These wars will be Whitaker’s wars, where he will finally play general with real soldiers and then be a powerful man in those spheres of influence. The money raised is the means to this global threat. This would streamline the need for introducing new elements later (the diamonds, the raw opium would be understood and have context) and could shorten the running time of this already overlong film. Admittedly, some of the mystery element would be lost but Koskov’s duplicity would provide the intrigue.
If There Was A Girl:
The love story between Bond and Kara is believable and well developed in the film. It is essential to the story that Bond uses Kara to trace Koskov, having initially been set up to kill her. In the process, his heart approaches what it yearns; Bond’s humanity gets the better of him and he falls for her. However, when she is manipulated by Koskov, his only chip left is the fact that he did not kill her. This sequence in Tangier is powerful although after Bond’s confession, Kara’s functionality in the script is effectively over. Her character becomes comic in Afganistan. Perhaps the revelation should have come at a pivotal moment in Afghanistan. Bond is then sent to be executed by Feyador and Kara rescues him! The meeting in Bratislava, the fairground scenes in Vienna and the aftermath of Saunder’s death really make this a wonderful subplot, helped, in no small measure, by John Barry’s exquisite romantic theme. She believably falls for Bond – a darkly handsome man of danger and mystery, a bit like her Georgi. He is tender yet determined and seduces her with the delights of the West. She too is conflicted – he is her route back to Georgi but in the time spent with the beautiful stranger, she begins to waiver. The film is not erotic or sexy but that is in keeping with the romantic subplot. Maryam D’Abo deserved special credit here. An excellent actress, D’Abo plays the role as a Hitchcock ingenue with a convincing accent and musical ability, sincere romance and passion. She looks splendid, capturing the cellist with the “golden bell of hair” from the short story. Her Playboy photoshoot showcased other talents the film seemingly could not…
The villainy is a development of the From Russia With Love triptych which was also found in Octopussy. The Rosa Klebb/Orlov of the piece is Brad Whitaker; a failed West Point-er, turned mercenary and arms dealer. A sort of spoiled, brash, toy soldier with martial vanity and private army, he is played with gusto and relish by Joe Don Baker. Similarly, the Kronsteen/Kamal Khan is ideological hypocrite, General Georgi Koskov. Jeroen Krabbe’s Soviet general is suavely treacly and treacherous, roguish yet casually ruthless: knowingly setting up his girlfriend and his superior both with a view to a kill. Finally, the Red Grant/Gobinda is Necros, Andreas Wisniewski’s scarily effective physical threat who is a menacing presence at Blayden Hall and the Prater Park. The experiment here seems to be to make each of the elements more equal – a triangulation of villainy. However, this interesting experiment does not quite work. Whitaker is given little screen time yet has the trappings of a grander villain. The self-styled pantheon is a great idea but feels too small. More needs to be made of this quirk – his dealings with Koskov seem to merely about the accumulation of wealth. Perhaps he is the scion of an American military family, who admires what the Soviets are doing in Afghanistan. Perhaps, his private army, glimpsed briefly in Tangier, should have been in Afghanistan. Perhaps his arms dealing is a way to pretend to be a real general giving him real power, no matter what the consequences of his war-making. Koskov, on the other hand, is given too much time out of necessity for the mechanics of the plot. His double-cross needs to be a surprise, come out of the blue. Once again, the plot, if streamlined, would have less need for him, showcasing Whitaker more. Necros is the most successful henchperson for ages, with his own malevolent theme (“Where Has Everybody Gone?”), method of killing and physicality and pretensions to be an Aryan Che Guevara. The shortcomings of the caper are outlined above but this attempt to shake up the films and layer them with more depth and intrigue is laudable.
Section 25 Paragraph 6:
Bond’s interaction with the wider world of espionage is interesting. Thomas Wheatley’s Saunders is the best Bond ally since Columbo. The role of a by-the-book case officer (in the short story, the Wykehamist is called Captain Paul Sender) beautifully acted by Wheatley: Saunders actually has an arc and comes to respect Bond. We feel his death – a key moment in the film. Bond’s anger in close up is one of the most powerful moments in the entire series. It is a shame that actor Walter Gotell’s health would not permit him to have played Gogol as a pivotal character in the film. However, the rewrite that created Leonid Pushkin allowed John Rhys Davies to shine. The line reading and chemistry of two fine Welsh actors in the Pushkin interrogation scene is tight and tense, elevating it to one of the series only tangential examinations of the Cold War. This Bond is really is dangerous. Art Malik’s Kamran Shah is an echo of Hossein from The Spy Who Loved Me but is played with earnest realism, although similar to Saunders. I would have preferred the more cliched, bigger, less restrained, warmer performance – an Arab buccaneer freedom fighter morally conflicted by the dope dealing scheme. His appearance at the finale is contrived but again, a satisfying, smile-inducing moment. It’s also nice to see Gogol there too.
Caroline Bliss’ Moneypenny is attractive. Bliss, if allowed to, would have grown in the role which could have benefited from more astute and sophisticated writing – the handling of the character (the sigh, the overt pining) was slightly cringe worthy. Indeed, this same clumsy handling of female roles (apart from most of Kara’s characterization) does not help CIA agents Liz and Ava and Rubavitch (not Rublevitch?) – who are all sexy and beautiful but do nothing. It’s interesting to compare these women with their post-1995 counterparts. John Terry’s Felix Leiter is too restrained, with none of the Texan bonhomie of the character. It is a shame because, lack of a mop of straw hair apart, visually, he could be Bond’s best friend. Unfortunately, the character is wasted. When we open on M in the PTS, it is an attempt at one of those fabulous Bond reversals – M in an immaculate office that then reveals itself to be in the back of a Hercules. The Blayden Hall briefing and interview with Bond gave us a more formal, edgier relationship. It was less clubbable and added a welcome frisson of conflict. Sir Frederick Gray also added some irascible energy. Q functions well in the field (justifiably, for once, and popping pills!) and in the lab. The ghetto blaster line and the revolving settee are excellent jokes. Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Walter Gotell and Geoffrey Keen create natural and seamless continuity; vital monuments in a transitional Bond film world whose tonal landscape had changed radically.
John Glen directed his best Bond film with The Living Daylights. His attempts to create atmosphere and mystery and romance are very successful. The tone throughout the movie is mostly even although Julie T Wallace’s Rosika Miklos and Kamran’s gate-crashing Kara’s concert borders on the burlesque. However, Glen’s work with Dalton is remarkable, as with D’Abo and the creation of the romantic subplot. The other performances are wonderful. The action is extremely exciting: the visceral Gibraltan PTS, Blayden Hall snatchback, the Aston-Martin-cello-sled escape, the moody cat-and-mouse finale in Whitaker’s villa. The notion of Bond throwing a rug over telegraph wires and escaping on a seeming magic carpet, if shot well, would have been visually terrific and a perfect example of Bondian flair. However, as included on the DVD, the deletion of this scene appears to have been a wise move. The battle on the airbase is similarly too sprawling and needed a better sense of geography. Despite fake mountain peaks, the inflight fight is breathtaking. Literally. At my first cinema screening in the Odeon, Leicester Square on 30th June 1987, the entire packed audience sucked in one collective breath when that cargo net slides out!
John Barry composed one of his best scores ever. Seemingly reinvigorated and yet inventively exploring new production technology, Barry gives us three wonderful songs. A-ha’s anthemic synth-pop hit has that Barry majesty although lyrically it is thin. Chrissie Hynde’s Pretenders give us the powerful aforementioned Necros theme and one of the most beautiful (Bond) songs ever written; the achingly, romantic If There Was A Man. The trickling piano for the instrumental of this song, used as the love theme, inhabits that space between a smile and a tear. All are repeated thematically throughout, instantly binding the film together and giving it musical and tonal coherence. Barry goes on to provide wonderful mysterious Czech suites and haunting, majestic soundscapes for Afghanistan. John Barry’s score for TLD is an amazing piece of varied, memorable and appropriate film composition.
Alec Mills’ photography is sweeping and captures the wonder of picturesque but not obvious locations. It is shame that Afghanistan could not have been re-created more believably (no palm trees, more rugged terrain) but Vienna, Gibraltar and Tangier are feast enough for the eyes. Peter Lamont’s production design is in keeping with the reality of the script although a little more size and flair would have been preferred, especially for Whitaker’s villa – a chance to really add scale to this villain. Also, the weapons and technology use by the Soviets is distinctly western (the pistols, the planes). Surely there was another way of doing this, especially as a lot of these shots were achieved with very realistic models. John Richardson’s effects and tricks with perspective are very clever and the reality of the danger is conveyed. The fake mountains in the cargo net are a shame. The lazer hubcaps, while visually good, are a bit of a cop out and take the film slightly out of its own reality. Emma Porteous’ costume design is believable creating euro chic and romantic desert figures, although Kara is a tad school girlish. Her work with Dalton is interesting. They gave Bond a modern, action figure look that was very much required at the time. From the parachute jumpsuit, the angular, modern yet classic black leather jacket, the Afghan fighter to the black clad assault figure at the end, the clothes framed a more agile, less foppy Bond. The suit in the office is formal (the wearing of which, a female interviewer friend told Dalton that she thought was more difficult for him than doing the stunts! He laughed heartily!). Dalton (very casual in real life) asked for and got a more relaxed, continental sport jacket ensemble. The costuming of Bond lacked a certain attention to detail and flair but at the time, this streamlined modernity was exactly what was needed for this new interpretation.
The Spirit And The Essence:
The bravery of the direction of The Living Daylights coupled with the inauguration of a new and radically different actor playing Bond did not help the film at the US box office. The film was a worldwide hit (grossing $192 million theatrically) and made on a budget (variously $32-40 million without P & A), which was in real terms, the same as that of Moonraker. Perhaps it was too much too soon. Certainly, Dalton’s lack of panache with the press did not help but he was game and came across as an intriguing, earnest man in interviews. For the Bond scholar, however, his insistence on attempting to capture the spirit and essence of Ian Fleming’s spy and his view of Bond as a tarnished knight was wonderful to hear and see. His James Bond has lost some of its sparkle in light of what happened during his reign as Bond. However, it does reward repeated viewings and has earned a favourable position in a lot of our personal Bond histories. Timothy Dalton WAS James Bond.