Published on October 26th, 2015 | by Brad0
The Living Daylights: New Day, New Bond
After the mixed bag that was Roger Moore’s tenure in the famous tuxedo came to a pretty dismal end with 1985’s A View to a Kill, the search was immediately on for his replacement. And the choice was obvious to all – Pierce Brosnan, star of the recently cancelled Remington Steele! Unfortunately, the interest generated around Brosnan by these rumours caused NBC to renew the show, making him unavailable to star in the 15th entry in the James Bond franchise, The Living Daylights. Attention soon turned to Timothy Dalton, an actor who’d been approached for Bond as far back as Sean Connery’s retirement (although the then-25-year-old wisely rejected it on the grounds of both being too young and not wishing to follow Sean Connery in the role).
The title and one of the central action sequences came from Ian Fleming’s final James Bond book, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, a short story collection which in addition to the two tales from the title also – in later editions – featured Property of a Lady and 007 in New York. Until 2005’s Casino Royale, The Living Daylights was the last Bond film to be adapted from an existing work (although elements of the For Your Eyes Only book were used in Licence to Kill).
The Living Daylights sees 007 assigned to sniper duty in order to assist a KGB defector, General Georgi Koskov, escape to the west from a concert hall in Bratislava. As Bond catches site of the sniper sent to assassinate Koskov, he realises she’s a cellist from the orchestra, and shoots the rifle from her hands instead of killing her. Koskov’s defection, along with the deaths of a number of British agents – apparently at KGB hands – bring tensions between the Russians and the British to boiling point.
Title Sequence and Bond Theme
The opening sequence is quite good fun, with Bond as one of three MI6 agents on a training exercise in Gibraltar. An assassin starts picking off the agents, before fighting with Bond in and on a Land Rover careering downhill. After running the assassin and the car off a cliff, Bond lands on a yacht whose buxom inhabitant is complaining on the phone to her friend about how she needs a real man. What luck! We then cut to the most awesome James Bond theme song of all time, a-ha’s The Living Daylights.
That video starts out really cool, then after about thirty seconds they just give up and show women’s silhouettes with moving water reflecting off them. Shame.
The Villain and their Plan
The villains of The Living Daylights are its chief weakness, to be honest. There are three main villains in total, and the only one who leaves any real impression is the heavy. First up, I don’t think anyone was shocked to discover that Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) wasn’t really on the level. He’s partnered with international arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) in a scheme to sell weapons to the Soviets, represented chiefly by KGB head General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies. Obviously), and use the proceeds to buy opium from the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan to sell at a profit. It’s a bit more down-to-Earth than what Messrs Connery and Moore had to deal with, which goes with the more stripped-down style of Timothy Dalton’s all-to-brief era. Neither Koskov nor Whitaker really feel like any particular threat, and there’s never even a suggestion of doubt that Bond could take these guys down with ease. Baker would go on to better things in the Bond franchise as CIA agent Jack Wade in the first two Pierce Brosnan films.
Altogether more interesting is their chief henchman, Necros (Andreas Wisniewski). A strikingly handsome, humourless man of few words, Necros is responsible for the deaths of a number of British agents over the course of The Living Daylights. In particular, his staged kidnapping of Koskov from a stately home in Britain is a bravura piece of cinema, as he uses the headphones of his Walkman as a garrotte and delivers milk bottles with bombs in them on his way to his prize. His final encounter with 007, fist-fighting on a cargo net hanging out the back of an airborne plane, is one of the most exciting scenes in the franchise.
After the bright sunny opening in Gibraltar, we spend a lot of time in dingy-but-scenic Cold War Europe, particularly Bratislava and an extended sequence at a fairground in Vienna. Whitaker’s base of operations is in Tangier, Morocco, and the third act takes place in northern Afghanistan at the height of the Soviet-Afghan war. It’s all very handsomely mounted, but a bit less attractively globe-trotting than some of its peers in the franchise. Some of the architecture in Bratislava looks very nice, mind you.
Again, in keeping with the stripped-down aesthetic, The Living Daylights is a touch thin on the ground when it comes to gadgets. There’s the obligatory Q-branch expose, of course – more on which when we come to the best one-liner – but the only gadget of note is Bond’s keyring. As well as containing a range of keys capable of opening 90% of the world’s locks, the fob emits a brief burst of stun gas when you whistle the opening notes of Rule Britannia, and contains a highly concentrated plastic explosive which is detonated by a wolf whistle. It’s a neat piece of kit, but I imagine there wasn’t a great clamour for merchandise.
The car, on the other hand, had a few tricks up its sleeve. In order to truly introduce Timothy Dalton as Bond, The Living Daylights wisely arms him with an Aston Martin of his very own – in this case the 1986 Aston Martin Volante. As well as the usual extras it comes with retractable skis, headlamp-mounted rockets, a laser cutter in the hubcap, bulletproof windows and a rocket propulsion system, all controlled – of course – from a hidden panel under the arm rest. Obviously the Volante’s never going to match the DB5, but there’s something about seeing James Bond in a gadget-laden Aston Martin that just feels right.
Skipped a category here, as there’s nothing that leapt out as being particularly politically incorrect in The Living Daylights, beyond the misogynistic base line that underpins all James Bond films. What’s weird, however, is that this one exists in that little spate of blockbuster films from the mid-to-late 1980s in which the white hero fights alongside the noble Mujahedeen in Afghanistan to defeat the dastardly Soviets. Given events in Afghanistan in the ensuing decades, you wouldn’t get that today in a Hollywood blockbuster!
This one goes to the inimitable Desmond Llewellyn of Q-Branch. As one of his lab technicians places a radio on his shoulder and flicks a switch to reveal a concealed rocket launcher, he tells Bond, “Something we’re making for the Americans. It’s called a ghetto blaster!”
So is it any Good?
Absolutely. After the rapidly diminishing returns of late-era Roger Moore, The Living Daylights is a breath of fresh air and a shot of new life and vigour for the James Bond franchise. Timothy Dalton is excellent in the lead, capably supported by a brilliant cast. The plot is a lot more grounded than it had been for a good while, and after Dalton’s era it would take the Die Another Day debacle to see Bond back in this kind of territory. It was extremely popular, too, at the time becoming the third-highest grossing film in the series. The Living Daylights is a damn fine entry into the series, and Timothy Dalton a very worthy, too-often overlooked part of the canon.