00 Saturdays Week #29 – The Living Daylights Movie Review

“Go ahead and tell him.  If he fires me, I’ll thank him for it.  Whoever she was, it must have scared the living daylights out of her.” – James Bond

Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure.  This is our weekly walk through the Bond saga.  This week begins the unfortunately short era of a Bond I believe is slowly getting re-evaluated in recent years.  This is the fifteenth bond film, The Living Daylights.

Roger Moore retired from the role of James Bond at the conclusion of filming A View to a Kill.  The next film is due in two years.  So Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum began writing the next script without a new Bond cast.  The first person tested was Sam Neill who had played real-life James Bond-like figure in Reilly, Ace of Spies.  Most liked what he brought to the screen test, but Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the man behind the series, rejected the idea.  Next was Pierce Brosnan who was a star on NBC’s Remington Steele, but, famously, NBC renewed the film the morning of the press conference scheduled to announce him as the new 007.

That brings us to friend of Cubby Broccoli, Timothy Dalton.  Dalton was originally approached to play Bond in 1968 when he was only 24 or 25 years old.  Dalton himself refused the role believing himself to be too young.  They kept returning to him throughout the 70s and into the 80s.  When Moore finally retired, Dalton was unavailable due to his filming schedule on the film Brenda Starr.  However, thanks to Brosnan becoming unavailable at the last moment and creating a slight delay for the start of The Living Daylights, Dalton was able to take the part.  It was one of those classic situations – finish Brenda Star on a Sunday, arrive on set for your first scene as James Bond on Monday.

Dalton wanted a new style of Bond.  Not only that, but there was some outside pressure to make sure Bond would be updated for the late 80s and beyond.  First, Dalton wanted Bond to resemble more of the Ian Fleming character created in the 50s.  He was more than a good looking man in a tuxedo.  James Bond was an assassin and a killer with a tortured soul.  There would of course be moments of Dalton in a tux, but he is seen often in this movie in much more tactical and practical clothing.  Dalton was also very keen and game to do as many of his own stunts as possible.  He was going to be a new style of rough and tumble, and angrier, Bond.  I’ll be talking about that more later (and definitely much more in two weeks).

Change is always difficult, but it is necessary.  Over the 25 years of the series, it was always known that Bond was a male fantasy where he would romance women all over the world.  Hell, if I could be anyone, I’d be James Bond.  However, with the 1980s, came a brand new threat.  A real world threat that would endanger that fantasy – AIDS.  With the number of women Bond would normally bed in films, and the real world concern over the dangers of being overly sexually active, it was time to be much more responsible in that portrayal.  In the Dalton era, Bond would be harder, but also more monogamous.  You don’t see him taking women for his pleasure.  He is mission first and let the romance follow or not.  It was a definite move toward being more modern while still making Bond a macho figure.

It’s probably true that audiences weren’t quite ready for that.  As well, Dalton wasn’t as lighthearted as Moore was.  He’s not as quippy.  After seven hugely successful Roger Moore films, The Living Daylights is an odd nut to crack for many fans.  Until more recently, with Daniel Craig’s portrayal of a much darker version of Fleming’s spy, Dalton’s films are generally underrated or flat out disliked, but I think that is a very unfair and incorrect attitude toward these next two films.  If anything, he had to follow those Roger Moore films and the personality of Roger Moore that was harder to overcome.  These films are particularly good in your author’s humbled opinion.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!  Let’s start with The Living Daylights.

The movie opens with a particularly exciting pre-titles sequence that helps set up a dangerous element in the story.  M sends three 00 agents, Bond included, on a training mission at the Rock of Gibraltar.  They are basically playing war games with the armed defense forces there.  However, also there is a someone who isn’t playing with a paint gun.  He kills two of the agents, and Bond rushes to kill him by having a truck of explosives lit on fire and have him get blowed up real good like.  Bond lands on a rich girl’s yacht, takes the phone from her and hangs up on her friend to report in – but not before he has some friendly glasses of champagne with the girl.

Already in the first few moments of The Living Daylights, you have more excitement then that of the entire running time of A View to a Kill – and any scene without the babes working for Octopussy before that.

In the opening scene of the story proper, Bond is sent to assist in the defection of a KGB agent, General Koskov.  While at a concert in Czechoslovakia, Bond notices a pretty cellist, Kara Milovy, and then sees her trying to assassinate Koskov.  However, Bond smells a rat and only shoots the rifle sensing that she is not a trained assassin, but an amateur.  He escapes with Koskov and sends him through the Trans-Siberian Pipeline into Austria where he is taken to Britain.

All this seems great, but Koskov, played by Jeroen Krabbé, isn’t all that he seems.  He claims the new head of the Russian KGB, General Pushkin is the reason why he defected.  He claims Pushkin’s revival of the old “Smiert Spionam” (Death to Spies) program is in effect.  Sure enough, that is the note left by the assassin at Gibraltar when he killed one of the 00s.  A supposed KGB agent, Necros, makes off with Koskov at an MI6 safehouse.  Neither Bond nor M believe Pushkin is a madman, so before he goes to Tangier to assassinate Pushkin, Bond decides to check some of his instincts.  This leads Bond back to Czechoslovakia and to Kara the cellist.

This is where the intrigue of the film really beings to kick in.  Kara is Koskov’s girlfriend and was basically a pawn in Koskov’s staged defection.  Believing the girl is in danger, and seeing her get questioned by Pushkin, Bond poses as Koskov’s friend and convinces her to go to Vienna.  Bond is particularly kind to Kara because he knows she is not professional and is quite over her head.

Kara is played by Maryam d’Abo and I always thought she was a very nice change of pace for a Bond Girl.  She’s pretty, but not overly sexy in this.  In fact, there are other films in which she is much sexier.  However, in The Living Daylights, she’s charmingly “normal”.  Aside from being an excellent concert cellist, she’s not quite spectacular.  She’s not another agent, or a pilot, or anything like that.  She’s just a girl in over her head.  It kind of makes her much more obtainable than just about any other Bond Girl in the past.

As Bond leads her through a pretty fun chase in his decked out, brand new Astin Martin, and a neat stunt in which they have to cross the border to Austria in her cello’s case, Bond plays it especially cool, but she looks terrified.  It’s a fun dynamic Dalton and d’Abo have in this movie.  It definitely plays to that idea of what I talked about at the beginning where Bond is less than a ladies man during the majority of this film.  He is doing his mission, but he’s also caring for this girl who is in dangerous situation that she didn’t exactly sign up for consciously because she felt she owed Koskov for helping her with her career.

There is another player in this intrigue – “General” Brad Whitaker, played by Joe Don Baker.  Baker plays this arms dealer who is a self-stylized general who idolizes past military leaders.  He has a wax museum of several of history’s world leaders in his own image.  Pushkin meets with him in Tangier to cancel an order of weapons that was set up with Koskov.  Pushkin (the always brilliant John Rhys-Davies) knows that Koskov and Whitaker are up to something so he wants to put an end to it.

It’s here in the halfway point that a seemingly complicated plot is made much clearer.  Koskov, and his primary goon, Necros, is working with Whitaker to sell arms to various countries, mercenaries, etc. When Pushkin gets wind of Koskov embezzling tons of money from the USSR, Koskov faked his defection, and set the British government out after Pushkin to eliminate the obstacle.  Koskov expects Bond to be sent to kill Pushkin, but it turns out that Bond discovers the truth and teams up with Pushkin to basically deal with all the bad guys.  However, in order to get assistance to defeat Koskov and Necros, Bond gets assistance from the Afghan Mujahideen and a leader in the group by the name of Kamran Shah (Art Malik) who Bond and Kara helped escape from a Soviet prison.

This is a movie that I think is easy to say is complicated, but not in a bad way.  It is most definitely detailed.  There are fake defections, double crosses, a staged assassination, and it deals with Afghan heroin dealers fighting against the Soviets.  Hell, even Bond sort of double crosses his own government by staging the assassination of Pushkin to beat Necros to the punch so he didn’t have to waste time explaining what Pushkin told him.

This is a particularly well made entry in the series.  It takes itself very seriously and that is a breath of fresh air after the last two entries didn’t seem to have the same goal in mind.  While being serious, it also has a lot of fun elements in it in the action scenes.  It is also something I quite enjoy in Bond films – it starts in one place but travels to other areas of the world before it ends in a place you didn’t expect to go at the beginning.  In this case, Bond starts in Gibraltar, then goes to Czechoslovakia, to Vienna, Tangier, and finally to Afghanistan which wasn’t really brought into this until the third act when Koskov’s full plan was revealed.

Dalton’s Bond may not have been what people were expecting or wanting in 1987, but 20 years later, Dalton’s portrayal would find its way into how Daniel Craig carried the role, and now his run is a multi-billion dollar enterprise.  With that said, Bond gets angry in this film.  He is frustrated that colleagues are dying and that he’s been played as a fool by a villain.  He almost feels over-matched and ill-prepared for some of what he uncovers, but he relies on his wits and a steely disposition that allows him to think quickly and improvise.  He even tells one of his contacts to shove the orders they were given and that he hopes he gets fired for making a quick decision on the spot while in the field.  During Moore’s time, there were attempts to try to make Bond seemingly burdened by the blood he’s spilled in service of his country and the crown.  However, Dalton’s run made him seem particularly hateful for his job.  Almost as if he had no other choice but to do this and that he’d almost lost all emotion from it.  He treats his job and his license to kill as a person who has had just about enough of the bullshit spreadsheet reports he’s asked to produce for the accounting department.  Not really willing to quite yet quit, but if he’s forced out, he’d be happy for it.

Through all this, he still has a deep sense for what is right and what is wrong and what he must do to ensure the world will be safe.

Join me next week for a look at the music of The Living Daylights.  In two weeks, I’ll be taking a look at one of my very favorite Bond films, Licence to Kill.

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