Should I Watch..? The Living Daylights
What's the big deal?
The Living Daylights is an action spy thriller film released in 1987 and is the fifteenth film in the James Bond series. It marked Timothy Dalton's debut as 007, replacing Roger Moore after twelve years in the role and sees Bond pursue a recaptured defector and battle with the new head of the KGB. The title comes from a short story by Ian Fleming and this would be the last film using a Fleming title until the Daniel Craig-helmed reboot Casino Royale (1) in 2006. The film was well received by critics and audiences alike, becoming a commercial success with box office takings in excess of $190 million and Dalton's portrayal of Bond helped bring the character back to his roots after the increasingly light-hearted interpretation of the role by Moore.
What's it about?
British secret agent James Bond is assigned to assist the defection of Soviet General Koskov during a orchestra's performance in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. During the intermission, Bond notices that the orchestra's cellist, Kara Milovy, is the sniper preventing Koskov's escape but Bond shoots her gun out of her hands (disobeying orders to kill her) and escaping with Koskov. Back in London, Koskov warns MI6 that the new head of the KGB - General Pushkin - is assassinating suspected Western spies but before he can elaborate, Koskov is snatched from MI6's safe house. MI6 therefore assigns Bond to locate and eliminate Pushkin before tensions rise between the Soviet Union and the West.
Bond quickly discovers that Koskov's initial defection was staged and that Milovy is actually Koskov's lover. Tracking her down in Bratislava, Bond escapes with Milovy from the KGB and must quickly locate Koskov who is working with American arms dealer Brad Whittaker in order to sell a massive amount of opium purchased in Afghanistan from the Mujahideen.
General Georgi Koskov
Joe Don Baker
General Leonid Pushkin
Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson *
Release Date (UK)
30th June, 1987
Action, Spy, Thriller
What's to like?
Bond is back! The goofy rogue that Moore played in seven films has gone and the dangerous man of action we remember from From Russia With Love (2) makes his long-awaited return. Dalton's Bond might lack the humour that endeared 007 to us but he's certainly ready to get his hands dirty when it matters. The action, which had come on in leaps and bounds since the 1970s, once again lifts the film out of its spy-based clichés. Highlights include the opening sequence and a stunning fist fight between two characters clinging to a cargo net hanging out of the back of a plane in mid-flight. For my money, this latter stunt is one of the best ever seen in the Bond series.
But frankly, it's a relief to finally see the Bond character get back to his roots. No floating in space with laser guns, no gondolas transforming into a hovercraft, no girls with stupid innuendo-based names. This feels like a proper Bond film, full of Cold-War imagery and even the Aston Martin makes a return. OK, it's only an ugly V8 Vantage compared to the beautiful DB5 but you can't have everything...
- Partly due to criticism of Roger Moore's poor stunt doubles, Dalton did most of the stunts himself including the opening sequence where he clings to the roof of a Land Rover speeding down a hill in Gibraltar.
- The rocket fired from the ghetto blaster is Q's lab was an effect activated by none other than Prince Charles who was visiting the set that day with Diana, Princess Of Wales.
- The film's poster caused some controversy because it appeared to evoke violence against women. The model, Kathy Stangel, was only paid $600 to appear in the poster.
What's not to like?
The story is pretty weak - you can tell that they ran out of ideas once Fleming's short story finished. There is little cohesion to the film and makes an already complex plot almost impossible to follow. Take the character of Whittaker as an example - did the film really need him? What did he bring to the movie besides an additional shoot-out after the main battle in Afghanistan? I honestly cannot remember.
He's not helped by the supporting cast - Krabbé isn't too bad but d'Abo's gooey-eyed routine as the film's sole Bond girl gets annoying very quickly and is a far cry from the more proactive female characters we see in Bond films these days. Wisniewski's Necros is also a poor henchman with little to distinguish him from any of the other anonymous grunts. Aside from the stunt work, there's little to get that excited about here. It doesn't feel memorable or as engaging as it should, probably due to the fact that most audiences won't have a clue as to what's going on. I suspect that nobody really knew what to expect from Dalton, who barely cracks a smile in the entire picture and is utterly devoid of Bond's signature charm and wit. If anything, he feels a bit like Rambo (3) in a tuxedo which is something that would come to the fore in his second and final outing as 007, Licence To Kill (4).
Should I watch it?
It was a good effort but The Living Daylights remains a solid watch instead of a spectacular one. Dalton's Bond has the brawn but not the charm that 007 also possesses and its confusing story will serve only to make most viewers lose interest. My advice? Watch it for the stunt and action sequences which are some of the best the series has ever produced.
Great For: action fans, 80's themed parties, fans of the Bond books
Not So Great For: people who can't concentrate for long, Roger Moore fans
What else should I watch?
Dalton's second film as 007 - Licence To Kill - is a much more straight-forward affair which dispenses with complicated Cold-War plots and settles for being a basic action flick. It's a much darker film than most Bond efforts but sadly, one where Dalton still couldn't find his inner personality and further reduces the role to that of an indestructible superman.
It's harsh of me to dismiss Roger Moore's time as Bond because he did do well in The Spy Who Loved Me (5) which is an underrated and very enjoyable film. Personally, I associate Moore more with nonsense like Moonraker (6) and A View To A Kill (7) which are weak Bond films indeed, not helped by Moore's increasingly apparent old age. For me, I prefer the ultra-modern Skyfall (8) or the granddaddy of them all, Sean Connery's iconic Goldfinger (9).
© 2015 Benjamin Cox