BOND RETROSPECTIVE 15 – THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS
Bond 25 – NO TIME TO DIE opens in April 2020, and it may be Daniel Craig’s last. Our re-watch of all the Bond films is at number 15, when an “old” Bond left and a new one arrived…
Pierce Brosnan had successfully auditioned for Bond. Broccoli had spotted him and was keen to secure him as Bond when his contract for TV series Remington Steele ended.
However, at the last minute, a new series of Remington Steele was commissioned, and Brosnan was contractually bound. (Ironically, that new season didn’t last long – but the opportunity had gone).
Timothy Dalton, a Welsh actor, known for classical stage roles and an increasing portfolio of movie credits, then successfully won the role.
Dalton, who had been approached a decade earlier, and had refused as he felt he was too young, threw himself into the role. It is widely known that he read all of Fleming’s novels and aimed to create a more serious take on the spy.
Indeed, the producers were keen to move away from the joke-filled bloated Bond films that ended Roger Moore’s tenure.
The Living Daylights put Bond back into cold war action – which really tightens up the story, tunes into his spy roots (and not just over the top action antics). And for the most part, I think it is a success.
M issues orders to three 00 agents just before they parachute out of the plane above Gibraltar on a training exercise. Of course, nothing is as straightforward, and we soon see an assassin who is trying to kill the agents. He kills a ground soldier, cuts the rope one agent is scaling the cliff on, and tries to escape in a jeep. But our new Bond leaps onto the car as it hurtles down the narrow cliff road.
The action is great, Dalton was doing most of the stunts. The jeep is full of explosives and it crashes through a wall, plummeting to the sea. Bond pulls his reserve chute and is extracted as the assassin is killed in a ball of flames. This is a great opening. It truly states that the new Bond is here, and he is a force to be reckoned with.
There’s an urgency about the main theme by Norwegian band a-Ha that for me at least feels right for this smart spy flick.
British agents are being killed by a group using the name “Smiert Spionem” which means “Death to Spies” – a group that originally existed during World War Two (and this is a call-back to Fleming’s books where SMERSH were the villains). A Russian KBG officer defects to England to explain who the mastermind behind this is, and this takes Bond to Bratislava, Austria, Tangier then Afghanistan.
Bond is sent to Bratislava to supervise the defection of an important Russian KGB officer to the West. Looking back now, especially for younger viewers, this may seem confusing. Suffice to say that after World War Two, when The East and The West were deeply suspicious of each other, and spying on each other, it frequently happened that a Russian would try to “defect” to the West, often because they feared for their safety, or had valuable information.
THE RUSSIAN AND THE CELLIST
Bond helps the officer, Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe) escape though a pipeline in a very well executed scene. First though, Bond must make sure Koskov sneaks out of a concert, escaping his handlers.
Bond is in assassin mode at the start, with a huge gun and a nifty collar in his suit jacket that hides his white shirt. A sniper tries to kill Koskov and Bond spots that she is a cellist from the concert. Instead of killing her, he shoots her rifle instead.
MI6’s man in Bratislava, Saunders (Thomas Wheatley), is furious the miss, but Bond knows an amateur when he sees one.
Koskov divulges his information in England before a blond assassin Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) infiltrates the safe house and kidnaps him back, presumable to return him to the East.
Bond has two short scenes with the new Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss) which show her to be more of an analyst/agent than a “secretary”, but sadly she is given little else to do in the story. Then again, did Moneypenny ever have much to do?
Bond discovers that the cellist, Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo) is being followed by the Head of the KGB Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) – the man Koskov claims is behind the assassins. He also learns that she is Koskov’s girlfriend. Smelling a rat, Bond helps her escape to Vienna before where he learns that Koskov is in cahoots with a mercenary arms dealer called Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker).
The cold looking streets, the trams, the mysterious tail car parked across the road – the paranoia of living in a state where your every move is watched, and you could be snatched out of a tram or on the street and no one would dare to react.
ESCAPING ACROSS COUNTRY
This extended chase is great, if a little repetitive. Bond’s Aston Martin is kitted out with another great range of gadgets, and when he and Kara are making a break for the border, he needs those tricks. Lasers from the wheels cut through a pursuing car (like the cutters from the DB5 in Goldfinger that disabled Tilly Masterson’s car). A booster switch gives the car extra power. Ski out runners lock into place as the car escapes over a frozen lake. Missiles target and obliterate a roadblock to allow them to zoom through.
It’s a nice sequence with some great stunts, but then it is topped by a ridiculous, but still very cool dash to the Austrian checkpoint as Bond and Kara ditch the car and make the rest of the journey skidding down the slope while sitting in her cello case!
The Vienna scenes involve the fairground and big wheel that film aficionados would recognise from The Third Man. We see Bond and Kara bond here. And who would have thought that we’d see Bond in a tux on a rollercoaster?
The blonde assassin is an interesting character, quite menacing. In the attack on the safe house we see he can throttle victims with the wire from his Walkman (almost as deadly as that song by The Pretenders he plays constantly), use multiple accents, fight an agent in a pretty brutal brawl in the kitchen and then make his escape using explosive milk bottles. (Yeah, you read that right).
He reappears in Vienna and you know that this won’t end well. There is something weird about him selling balloons in the fairground too. And of course, the most horrific thing about him is that whenever he appears, we hear the same annoying section of that song by The Pretenders that graces the soundtrack.
Necros booby-traps a door in the cafe (odd, but okay), killing Saunders, leaving the Smiert Spionam balloon behind, and infuriating Bond. And doesn’t Dalton sell the anger and thirst for revenge here? (Wait till the next film, revenge fans!)
Tangier is notable for Bond confronting Pushkin and escaping across the rooftops in a sequence which feels like it should have been longer. (Then you learn it was longer, with a deleted scene where Bond slid down some telegraph wires on a carpet in some ill-judged flying carpet joke).
There is a great moment is when Bond is caught in the spotlight as he shoots Pushkin in the concert hall, much to Necros’ surprise! But before long, Bond is kidnapped, betrayed by Kara who still thinks Koskov loves her.
FELIX LEITER AND TWO WOMEN
They appear. Do nothing really. That’s about it.
For me, this is where it all goes a little average. Not only is the reason for the whole plot a little muddled, but the villains are also a little weak. If only we could have seen Dalton opposite Walken and Grace Jones from the previous film.
Bond and Kara end up being taken to Afghanistan where we learn Koskov is dealing with drugs to raise funds to buy arms from Whitaker. The defection was an elaborate ruse to throw the KGB and MI6 off the scent.
Bond and Kara escape the holding cell in the Russian air base using his whistle-activated keys and are immediately captured by the Mujahideen. Their leader, who escaped at the same time, welcomes them and takes them along to the drug meet the next day where Bond hopes to disrupt Koskov’s plans.
The attack on the base is fine, with lots of frenzied action, horses charging and some big explosions. Kara gets a moment of strength when she rides into battle to help Bond.
THE PLANE PART 1 – THE NEAR MISS
Bond sneaks onto the plane with the intention of using a bomb to destroy the drugs but ends up trapped as it takes off. An incoming plane narrowly misses them, but wrecks Koskov’s pursuing jeep. Somehow Koskov survives.
THE PLANE PART 2 – THE CARGO NET
Necros and Bond fight in the plane and then fall out onto a cargo net. The stunts are hair raising, especially when you see the net flailing about violently in the draught. The effects here are simple, but effective. No green screen or projection here – you can see the hills of Afghanistan below Dalton as he clambers over the net. All of this while the bomb Bond planted is still ticking away in the plane. The fight ends when Necros clutches Bond’s boot for safety and 007 simply slits the laces. Bye, Necros. No more songs by The Pretenders. Result.
THE PLANE PART 3 – BLOW THE BRIDGE
Bond and Kara, who had driven her jeep into the cargo bay of the plane before the Necros fight, then have an interrupted quip, which I love.
Kara, flying the plane: “Where is he?”
Bond, entering the cockpit: “He got the boot—!”
Then he lunges forward to grab the stick to make sure the plane doesn’t hit a mountain. But they aren’t finished yet. They fly over a bridge where the Mujahideen are fleeing from the Russians after their attack on the base. Bond drops the bomb and boom – bad Russians fall.
THE PLANE PART 4 – JEEP ESCAPE
Before the plan finally crashes, Bond and Kara escape through the open cargo doors. Backwards. In a jeep. Class.
As Whitaker wasn’t in Afghanistan, Bond returns to Tangier to confront him in a tension-free shoot out in his toy soldier museum.
Kara is given freedom of movement to play the cello East or West (granted by General Gogol – a short final appearance of Walter Gotell). John Barry, in his final Bond film, also appears as a conductor in the concert.
Backstage, Bond is waiting for Kara and their lips lock as the film fades.
No. Wait. There is another song from The Pretenders over the end credits. Sigh…
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS succeeds for me in introducing a new, serious Bond. Dalton doesn’t sell the (mercifully few) silly jokes well, but I think he’s a great assassin/spy. The stunts and set pieces are strong, and I like Maryam d’Abo as Kara, even though she is kept in the dark about Koskov’s betrayal and Bond’s identity for a while. But there are no bikinis, swoons or “oh James” moments, and not only can she play the cello, but she can ride horses, shoot, fly planes and drive jeeps up into planes as they take off.
The villains are weak, their motivations unclear, and for me the whole Afghanistan finale, while spectacular, is quite unexciting. I mean, I’ve not even mentioned the wonderful Art Malik as the cultured Kamran Shah, head of the rebels who attack the base. Not because Malik isn’t great, but he simply isn’t allowed to do much.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS made loads of money and we were assured Bond would return.
The next film promised a Bond on the edge, out of his depth, driven by revenge, and I couldn’t wait to catch it in the cinema.
|Produced by: EON Productions
Presented By: Albert R Broccoli
Director: John Glen
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson
Composer: John Barry
“The Living Daylights” by a-ha and John Barry
Production Design: Peter Lamont
Cinematography: Alec Mills
London Premiere June 1987
Joe Don Baker