“Forget the ladies for once, Bond”, an MI6 contact in The Living Daylights reprimanded 007 (Timothy Dalton) for showing more interest in a female cellist than the defection of a Soviet general. It could have been the mantra for a production that, along with the replacement of Roger Moore as Bond, focused on espionage rather than bed-hopping shenanigans. While Golden Eye and Casino royale get more credit for their much-needed reinventions of the franchise, 1987’s The Living Daylights is an equally important course correction – one that showed that Bond could be more than an anachronism and paved the way for later successes.
After a great pre-credits scene on the Rock of Gibraltar, Bond is in Czechoslovakia, protecting General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) of a KGB sniper as he flees to the West. When the defection turns out to be a puppet show, Bond switches Kara Milovy (Maryam D’Abo) to locate him. After collaborating with the Mujahedin in Afghanistan, Bond confronts Koskov and a corrupt American arms dealer, Brad Whitaker. (Joe Don Baker).
The end of an actor’s stint as Bond is generally commemorated by a subpar entry in the series, featuring only Daniel Craig’s Die another day against the trend. Pierce Brosnan bowed with the tonally confused Tomorrow never dies. Sean Connery should have called it a day with You only live twicebut returned for two more average bonds in Diamonds are forever and (the non-Eon produced) Never say never again. Roger Moore’s swan song from 1985, A look at a murderis the worst of the bunch, though the rot set in when 007 wore quasi-futuristic clothes into space for moonraker. Focusing on both comedy and action for a decade, the series looked old-fashioned compared to the excitement of new franchises like Indiana Jones.
If the Connery years retain a sheen of outdated 60s cool, revisiting the Moore movies can be a shock. Apart from an attempt at something more grounded in Just for your eyesMoore’s tenure is marked by increasing absurdity. They were considered family-friendly diversions at the time, although in retrospect they are problematic at best. In these films, Bond looks like a product of Britain’s post-colonial terror, striding across foreign destinations in a white suit, beating up locals and having lots of sex. The spy who loved me is the only time it all comes together well, with the unsavory elements offset by brilliant action scenes at a time when Moore was still young enough to convince as Bond. At the start of that movie, 007’s seemingly endless base jump culminates with the opening of a Union Jack parachute that’s thrilling and delusional at the same time.
In 1987, there was no doubt that moviegoers were ready for someone new to play Bond. Dalton had been approached so early… About Her Majesty’s Secret Service although he turned down the part, considering himself too young and Connery too hard an act to follow. This was not the case at the time of The Living Daylights. Moore’s age had become part of the joke in… A look at a murder, with stunt doubles that do practically everything (from hanging vehicles to running down stairs). Merging him with the even more senior Patrick Macnee helped, though Moore looked ridiculous next to female actors half his age.
Another element that was behind it was Bond’s attitude to sex. AIDS was a major problem in the mid-1980s, when the British government launched a health campaign warning the public ‘not to die of ignorance’. There was a growing pragmatism about sex education and in 1986 the first ad for condoms appeared on British TV. There were voices of disapproval from the conservative voices of society, but a change had come and suddenly Bond’s promiscuity looked as old-fashioned as flared tuxedo pants. There is an opulence in the older Bond films, where promiscuity is presented as both a sign of masculinity and a joke through incessant ambiguity. 007 has sex with four different partners in A look at a murder alone the highest percentage of ‘the British love’ in all of Moore’s films. With changed priorities, much was pointed out in the press that Dalton’s Bond would have sex in just one person The Living Daylights (aside from an implied liaison on a superyacht) – an innovation that brought him more in line with other ’80s heroes who liked to focus on just one partner per film.
Accordingly, Dalton’s Bond is headed straight for the business of espionage as soon as he gets behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia. There’s a dingy realism to scenes where Bond sets up his sniper’s nest in a back room and checks out a clue in a public restroom. The sniper setup reminds us that behind all the brilliance 007 is a government-sanctioned killer. He still gets some cool gadgets from Q (Desmond Llewelyn), especially his Aston Martin Vantage, although a tuxedo jacket that doubles as a nighttime camouflage is the most practical tool. Dalton’s hero is surly and quarrelsome, refusing to follow the orders of his tense contact. years before Daniel Craig in Casino royalehe is the most disobedient Bond, annoyed by the stupidity of his superiors and more than happy to be fired.
The comparison with Casino royale extends to Bond’s relationship with Kara, which is more than the superficial love interests of many films in the series. The middle part of the film spends time with Bond posing as an ally of Koskov to get information, though the pair inevitably fall for each other. truer Ian Fleming‘s novels, often equal parts spy thriller and romance, there are elements of comedy and a real connection between the two characters. The romantic scenes are nicely balanced with the action, and The Living Daylights has one of the most inventive and funny chases in the series: Bond’s Aston Martin cuts a Lada in half with a laser, then takes to the ice to escape the Russian army.
If things get a little mixed up once Bond lands in Afghanistan, it’s probably a reflection of the times. Alliance with the Mujahedin was an 80s action movie cliché (fans of the boys expect Soldier Boy to appear any moment). With the heroin and arms trade, The Living Daylights at least suggests that the relationship is compromising. After much running back and forth at a Soviet air base, the film has its best scene when Bond fights Koskov’s henchman, Necros (Andreas Wisniewskic), on a Hercules transport. With two stuntmen hanging from a cargo net at the back of the plane, this is the kind of really dangerous spectacle that the Bond movies do best.
Through it all, Dalton is assured as 007, convincing as both a skilled spy and a romantic lead. The film feels like it comes from a different era than the last Moore film, aided by Dalton’s age-appropriateness and physicality. he is no Tom Cruise (which would really hang from the back of the Hercules), but at least he does his own running and jumping. A few relics from earlier movies, like some casual workplace harassment with Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss) and the shocking decision to make Bond a smoker again are a reminder that this is still the 80s. D’abo is empathetic and smart like Kara in the first half of the film, but in the later action sequences she stops too often. The weaker second half of the film reminds us how successful Casino royale was in sticking to its romantic storyline.
The Living Daylights is also not always well served by his villains. While Krabbe is quite slimy like Koskov, it’s unclear what he wants: guns, money, or just a promotion at the KGB? At least A look at a murder‘s Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) had clear life goals by blowing up Silicon Valley. However, Necros is a great accomplice. He has one of the best hand-to-hand combat scenes in the pre-Craig era when he fights a butler at the MI6 hiding place. It’s one of the coolest ideas from the movie that even British domestic workers are special unit killers, with bonus points for spotting the parrot talking to Margaret Thatcher (Janet Brown) at the end of Just for your eyes.
Joe Don Baker’s Whitaker, a self-proclaimed military man who dropped out of West Point, is also a disappointment. Aside from a final gunfight with Bond (a disappointment after the spectacular Hercules fight), he doesn’t have much to do in the film other than bankroll Koskov and act like a pretentious fool. Baker, an accomplished actor, was undoubtedly included because of the thriller’s popularity Edge of Darknessone of the BBC’s greatest achievements to make a name for themselves Golden Eye and Casino royale director Martin Campbell. Baker reappeared as a CIA agent in Golden Eye and Tomorrow never dies, part of the (sometimes confusing) Bond tradition of repurposing actors in different roles. Another BBC star of the time, Julie T Wallace from The Life and Loves of a Devilgives a scene-stealing twist as a Bond ally that will make you wish she had been cast as Kara.
Reaction to Dalton’s debut as Bond was mixed at the time, with praise for the more serious tone but disappointment at the lack of humor. His next outing as Bond, License to Kill, the severity doubled but with less effect. Set mainly in the US and Mexico, it had the plot and feel of an American action movie rather than a Bond entry, subtly emphasized by the choice of Deadly Weapon‘s Michael Kamen to score. (permanent composer, John Barryhad renounced Bond movies, outraged at having to work with people like Duran Duran and a-ha rather than Shirley Bassey.) Considered a failure, it ended Dalton’s tenure and put 007 on extended leave until Golden Eye in 1995. Looking back, it’s a shame that Dalton’s rendition of The Living Daylights didn’t get the chance, especially given the changing times. He is serious but compelling, more Craig than Brosnan.
The Living Daylights may not have the cult cachet of About Her Majesty’s Secret Service, without the excellent supporting cast that revolves around that film’s undersized hero, but of all the pre-Craig 007s, it’s an outing worthy of re-review. While many bonds are welcome longer, Dalton is the only one who left too early.