Bringing the sexy back.
James Bond 007 is back, with a savage demeanor, a rocket-shooting car, a KGB plot, an illegal arms deal, a beautiful blonde, an even more beautiful secretary, and a double double-cross. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS takes its title from Ian Fleming’s 14th book and final collection of Bond short stories published in 1966, Octopussy and The Living Daylights. A new opening gunbarrel sequence; the rifling is now tinted gunmetal blue, and a new Bond dynamically fires on us—
new bond: dalton, timothy dalton
39-year-old Briton Timothy Dalton was approached to be Bond way back ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE in 1969, but felt he was too young at the time (around 23) – and he only came onboard for this movie because Pierce Brosnan was fucked over by the producers of his TV series REMINGTON STEELE who, overjoyed that Pierce was chosen to play Bond, decided to squeeze more STEELE episodes out of him to cash in on his higher profile.
But Bond producer Cubby Broccoli said Fuck You to the STEELE producers and hired Dalton instead.
After Dalton turned down the 1969 offer, he busied himself with TV movies and TV series, and in a way, it’s fortunate that he never hit big with any of them, or this second opportunity may not have arisen.
Dalton signed for three Bond films, but after this film’s sequel, LICENSE TO KILL, legal issues between Cubby Broccoli’s EON Productions and United Artists held up production of the third film for nearly 5 years; by the time the court battles ended, Dalton had lost the taste for Bond, and let his contract expire, never to renew it.
Timothy Dalton was truly the precursor to Daniel Craig. The hawk eyes, the dashing figure, the lean towards cruel action rather than suave quipping (although he does get his fair share of quite humorous quipping in), and he brings a welcome upgrade in energy to Moore’s doddering, e.g. that scene where Dalton guns down a man from an opera balcony and then turns like a striking cobra to shoot at the spotlight suddenly aimed at him, looking like he’s doing the gunbarrel opening sequence for real. Also, Dalton did most of his stunts, really putting his back and blood into Bond.
Cold open. Head of MI6, M (Robert Brown) sends three double-oh agents on a mock parachute mission, all clad in black Archer turtlenecks. After two double-ohs are killed by a guy who looks like young Anthony Hopkins, Bond finds himself smack in a real mission, on the roof of a truck barreling down a cliff-edge road, being shot at through the roof. And we suddenly realize how integral soundtrack is to the Bond series (or, I presume, any branded franchise), because when Connery was infiltrating the castle in the opening for NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, there were no Bond themes allowed in that production, so it felt surreal, “non-Bond”; but here, with Dalton battling Hannibal Lecter with the Bond Theme backing him – well, how could he lose?! Though we’ve never met this Bond before, we immediately identify with him, due to soundtrack alone. We feel more of a kinship with Dalton in his 1st film than Connery in his 7th!
Truck goes off cliff with dead Hannibal and live Bond in it – he deploys a parachute; as it burns, he lands on a yacht in the bay, pleasantly surprising the bikini babe onboard, who was just on the phone, craving man-meat. What are the odds?! Bond snatches her giant cellphone to call HQ, introduces himself to her offhandedly as “Bond, James Bond,” and tells HQ he’ll be there in an hour [woman holds out a champagne glass]… “Make that two hours.” Ha! I love this Bond!
And with that terse quip, Dalton’s ownership of the character is complete. Throughout this movie, he proves time and again why many hardcore Fleming fans consider him The Best Bond.
The limp disco of A-ha’s The Living Daylights opens the film. It’s of apiece with Duran Duran’s View To A Kill; the 80’s day-glo dance era spawning thin synth-based plop like this. After their gargantua 1985 hit Take On Me, this would probably be the only other time the Western world would hear this Norwegian one-hit wonder. There is an outro song as well, “If There Was A Man,” performed by The Pretenders.
The plot (written by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson) is intriguing and well-constructed: After a plot by a Russian defector is proven to be a scam to entice the British to assassinate the Russian KGB leader, the KGB teams with Bond to uncover arms and drug deals by the defector and an ex-patriot American general.
Bond aids a Russian defector (Jeroen Krabbe as Koskov) to get a secret list to MI6, that targets British agents for assassination, including Bond. Koskov says the list is sanctioned by KGB Russian leader Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), but Bond has his doubts about the list, especially when Koskov is snatched back by the KGB hours afterward.
Without warning, the new Miss Moneypenny comes onscreen, and without warning, I come on screen. Glowing, luscious, bespectacled blondette, the absolutely delectable 26-year-old Caroline Bliss (in name and nature), spars coquettishly with the handsome new Bond, rekindling that sensual thrill that sparks so naturally between two young, hot people, rather than us being forced to watch Moore and Maxwell spar like our grandparents. Lois Maxwell, though a classical beauty when young, overstayed her post as Miss Moneypenny, through three Bonds, from DR. NO (1962, when she was 35, still looking like an aunty) to A VIEW TO A KILL (at 58, looking like an uncle).
Unfortunately for Bliss (and the male world populace), she was also an indirect victim of Broccoli’s legal Bond battle; by the time pre-production was ready to start on the next film, she had aged five years – and that’s way too long for a woman in the movies to be a sex object. Just ask Lois Maxwell.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn) seems content as a pig in shit designing man-eating couches and ghetto blasters (that really blast ghettoes); his role is expanded past weapons quartermaster, basically doing any task that keeps him onscreen as an agent, the producers realizing his comedic utility at last. The main gadgets are a key-fob explosive that reacts to whistling, and a tricked-out Aston Martin, with so many weapons, I lost count. (A tech who tricked out the Lotus Esprit in SPY WHO LOVED ME once remarked that with the mechanics required to include this many devices in a car, you wouldn’t have space for the engine.)
While helping Koskov escape a sniper, Bond (using a techno sniper rifle bigger than anything Connery or Moore ever used) defies orders to kill the sniper, because a) he can tell she is no professional, so wings her gun instead (“Whoever she was, I must have scared the living daylights out of her!”), and b) she’s the cellist he just noticed playing in the opera house, and c) she’s hot. Bond makes contact with her, and discovers she is Koskov’s girlfriend, Kara (Maryam d’Abo)! Then why was she sniping at Koskov?!
Plots within plots, as Kara relates how Koskov himself set her up to snipe at him, with dummy bullets. Then why did Koskov employ Bond and MI6 to kill his sniper?…
Bond poses as a friend of Koskov’s, empowered to take her to him. A strange dynamic develops, as Bond and Kara roll through a montage usually played to denote a couple growing closer to banging (on the run, visiting a fair, bodies touching innocently, meaningless laughter) – but she believes she’s on the way to her boyfriend, so why is SHE getting so chummy, like a schoolgirl in love?
Bond even gets a little p-whipped by Kara, maintaining they should NOT go back for her cello – CUT TO: the wahp-wahp-wahp moment of waiting outside her apartment while she retrieves her cello. (Maryam does a good job miming the instrument, with a noticeable vibrato. As a violinist once told me, “Try and get a string player NOT to use vibrato.” It’s such an inbuilt mechanism that it’s easy to spot any actors who are mining, because they usually can’t or don’t do it, but Maryam pulls it off. There is even a pure Bond-ian use of the cello case in a chase scene, used to escape henchmen by sitting in it and sliding down the snowy hill.)
Bond’s gentlemanly interaction with Kara differentiates Dalton as the guy who did, in fact, read the Fleming source material diligently – and applied it – making his Bond more human than caricature, so whereas Connery and Moore would have already banged Kara, this Bond is sincerely trying to get a lead on Koskov by Friend-Zoning himself, and later cautiously falling for Kara like any Cary Grant or Hugh Grant. If the screenwriters are playing it this way, it can only mean Koskov is gonna end up dead or treacherous, so that these two can bonk in good conscience.
Sure enough, we discover Koskov poolside, kissing and groping many chicks at once – the lame filmic device that informs us he’s a Villain. No decent man would kiss and grope this many chicks – at once… forgetting that the hero of this series is as big a cad as this villain. Also, Koskov arranged for MI6 to kill his “sniper” because he wanted Kara out of the way! So now it’s only a matter of time before Kara applies her tremolo guilt-free to Bond’s skin flute.
Set around Tangier and Eastern bloc countries, the plot unveils Koskov in cahoots with ex-pat American general Whitaker (Joe Don Baker, as repulsive as fried butter), who supports dictators, tyrants and Confederates, neck-deep in arms deals, drug deals and fried butter. Whitaker’s number one hitman is a Nordic chiseled blond named Necros (Andreas Wisniewski), whose oomph Bond gimmick is exploding milk bottles, who totally looks like that blond terrorist in DIE HARD… Waitaminute–he IS! Next year, he would be killed by John McClane, who would write on his sweater, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”
Bond discovers that Pushkin knows nothing of the double-oh assassination plot – it’s a set up by Whitaker to get Pushkin killed by MI6. Thus the two Cold War enemies – Britain and the KGB – team up to smoke out the Even Badder Villains, the fried butter general, the womanizing perve and the Die Hard milkman.
Virginia Hey appears as Pushkin’s girlfriend – one of the most striking Australian beauties (she was the Warrior Woman in ROAD WARRIOR), unfortunately with no lines – but who needs lines with side-boob like that?!
John Terry plays a new Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA pal, who is after the same villains. (I’ve totally lost count of Felixes – why couldn’t they ever get an actor to reprise the role?!) And Walter Gotell squeezes in a cameo as Russian General Gogol during the final minutes…
Bond publicly shoots Pushkin as a ploy to smoke out Whitaker’s plot. When Bond is captured by Whitaker, there is a compelling reason not to kill him: Whitaker, always the opportunist, wants to score points with the Russian authorities by turning Bond over to them for murdering their leader.
The jail scene is more compelling than it needs to be, as the sadist Russian jailer-bear buries himself in the role, looking like he’s really going to beat Timothy Dalton to death and rape Maryam d’Abo. Escaping the jail, Bond and Kara also free another entertaining prisoner – the great Art Malik as Mujahideen freedom fighter, Shah, who is a big man in his village, elbows deep in opium deals with Whitaker.
Shah helps Bond bring down Whitaker, after Bond explains that his opium deals end up funding more weapons for the Soviets. This was back in the day when the Mujahideen were still considered America’s pals (America supplying them with arms to beat back the Soviets; in 1998’s RAMBO III, the Muja rode by Johnny Rambo’s side).
On the opium transport plane, Bond sets a bomb timer for 10 minutes, which takes the whole third act to explode. And later, when Bond finds he and Kara’s only escape is to liftoff in the plane, he doesn’t RUSH back to the bomb like a man who set a 10-minute timer at least 20 minutes ago – he saunters back – only to be accosted by Die Hard out of nowhere after we thought he was dead. (See? It runs in his family!) Why Bond doesn’t scream at him, “I am trying defuse a bomb, you idiot!” is beyond me.
Plane runs out of fuel, glides into a mountain, as Bond and Kara dive into a Jeep and roll out the back cargo bay. (Should the plane really make such a big Pretty Orange Explosion when it crashes? I mean, the thing IS empty!)
Separating himself from previous Bonds, Dalton’s final prurient encounter is with Kara in a private room, no chance of being discovered by MI6 or Q; a more “romantic” ending, not a stray bang. It’s the second-best debut film of any Bond (ceding first place to Daniel Craig’s perfectly formed arse in CASINO ROYALE).
The same team responsible for the shoddy A VIEW TO A KILL made this exciting film. Maybe it was action man Dalton that inspired Glen, Maibaum and Wilson to bat their A-game – or maybe it was something else… Albert R. Broccoli’s daughter, Barbara, was brought onboard as executive producer (taking this role in every successive Bond production to this day). I believe with this passing of the torch from Cubby to Barbara, her input enabled us to cleanly delineate the “cartoonish” Bond films from the tonally realistic ones, and this movie, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, is that dividing line. Yes, there will always be fan service callbacks to the old Connery and Moore flummery (Brosnan para-sailing a wave, harking back to Moore snowboarding a cowabunga chase scene; or Craig in a plane chopped smaller and smaller, like Moore in a car chopped smaller and smaller; or Halle Berry tied to a table with lasers threatening her, like Connery tied to a table with a laser inching toward his nuts) but the overall tenor of the New Generation Bonds (Dalton, Brosnan, Craig) has been one of hyper-world fiction rather than schoolboy tall tales.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS grossed more than Moore’s last two Bond films – $191 mil worldwide (the 4th most successful Bond film at time of release), which also means it grossed more than many of Connery’s Bond films! Not bad for a guy who said he didn’t want to take over from Sean Connery way back in ‘69 because “Sean was far too good.”
Seeing those grosses must have scared the living daylights out of Roger and Sean.