living_daylights_ver2The Living Daylights

  • Year:  1987
  • Director:  John Glen
  • Series Rank:  #9
  • Year Rank:  #30
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Bond Girl:  Maryam d’Abo (Kara Milovy)
  • Bond Villain:  Jeroen Krabbé (General Koskov), Joe Don Baker (Brad Whitaker), Andreas Wisniewski (Necros)
  • Bond Support:  Robert Brown (M), Caroline Bliss (Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Art Malik (Kamran Shah), Thomas Wheatley (Saunders), John Rhys-Davies (General Pushkin), John Terry (Felix Leiter)

I have found most people tend to think that Timothy Dalton is either one of the best or one of the worst Bonds.  They don’t seem to be neutral about him.  I fall on the “best” side of the fence.  This is James Bond as he was written by Ian Fleming, not the ridiculous aging punster that Roger Moore had become.

the-living-daylightsThere is a point about half-way through the film when Bond has broken into the room of General Pushkin, the head of the KGB (he’s replaced General Gogol in a rather amusing joke – if you don’t get it, then you should read more).  Bond explains that Koskov has set up Pushkin to be killed by Bond and that as long as Pushkin is alive they will never be able to find out what Koskov is up to.  “Then I have to die,” Pushkin says.  In the next scene, we see Bond assassinate Pushkin in front of a conference and then escape over the rooftops of Tangier.  It’s a ruse, of course, though it certainly seems believable at first.  And that’s the key.  You would never believe that Roger Moore’s Bond would have done this.  You wouldn’t even have believed that he might kill Pushkin when he first corners him in his room.  You couldn’t imagine that he would rip the blouse off Pushkin’s mistress to distract Pushkin’s bodyguard.  Moore’s Bond wasn’t that cold, he wasn’t that calculating and he wasn’t that dangerous.  But Ian Fleming’s Bond was and that’s what Timothy Dalton is giving us.

daboThat coldness is not the only way this film departs from the Roger Moore films.  In the easy Golden Globe breakdown of Drama or Comedy, the Moore films and even really the Connery films could have fallen into the Comedy category.  This film really moves away from that.  That’s not to say there aren’t funny moments in the film.  Bond has a number of good lines when he and the young cellist he is helping are escaping across the mountains from Czechoslovakia to Austria.  She doesn’t know he’s a secret agent and he keeps calmly explaining what’s going on – slicing a police car with a laser (“Salt corrosion”) or launching missiles (“I had a few optional extras installed.”).  Indeed, when the car is damaged and they have to flee, there is even the humor of sliding down a snowy mountain in her cello case.

But for the most part this is a colder and less comedic film.  That was a problem for a lot of people who had gotten use to Moore – indeed, Roger Ebert tried to insist the Bond movies are supposed to be a joke and without the humor it doesn’t work.  Except they’re not designed to be a joke and this one works because it is serious.  Gone are the puns.  Gone, for this film, are the multiple Bond women.  Gone are the more outlandish gadgets (though, we get an amusing look at one in Q’s workshop as one of his subordinates sits on a couch).  This is much more of a Cold War thriller.

jeroen-krabbe-living-daylightsThe Cold War is the background for this plot.  A Soviet general wants to defect and Bond is there to help.  He’s supposed to kill the KGB assassin who will impede the defection, but Bond realizes the “assassin” is an amateur who’s been set-up.  After the general is supposedly kidnapped back, Bond goes to the girl and helps get her out of the East and we really get into the plot.  It will involve a crooked arms dealer, a half a billion dollars worth of raw opium and the Russian war in Afghanistan.

joedonbakerDalton is quite good as Bond and John Rhys-Davies is magnificent as Pushkin.  Maryam D’Abo I would say is passable as the Bond girl, the cellist who he drags along with him through the whole film, but she is such an improvement over the last couple of Bond girls that passable seems insulting.  None of the main villains is especially good, not Jeroen Krabbe as the “defector”, not Joe Don Baker as the arms dealer (though his final shoot-out with Bond is pretty good, Baker will be a much better fit as a Bond ally when he returns as a different character in Goldeneye), not Andreas Wisniewski as their hired muscle.  Even the new Felix Leiter isn’t very good.  But with a much better story than the last several (this arms deal works much better than the more ridiculous plots of the last couple of films) and with a much, much better Bond, the franchise has finally righted itself.