The 007 Series: The Living Daylights (1987)

Ian Fleming's The Living Daylights (1987)

Synopsis:

M16’s James Bond (Timothy Dalton, The Lion in Winter) is assigned to help a KGB officer, General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe, The Prince of Tides), defect to the West. But after Koskov mysteriously disappears, Bond realizes that the whole defection was a sham. Bond also discovers that Koskov is involved with an American mercenary (Joe Don Baker, Walking Tall), who is suspected of selling arms to the Russians.

Reaction & Thoughts:

This is the first real reboot of the Bond franchise. Although the films have never been considered sequels, from Dr. No to A View to a Kill, you get the impression that you are watching a series of adventures by the same person — there are tidbits of information that tie the whole franchise together. The Living Daylights, written by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, directed by Bond veteran John Glen (Octopussy and A View to a Kill), marked a new beginning, with an obviously younger actor, Timothy Dalton, in the starring role.

Time does strange things to you. When the movie first came out, I flatly rejected it. Looking back, I was just being immature. I was just mad that Timothy Dalton was no Roger Moore. I grew up with Moore’s Bond (I didn’t even know of Sean Connery or George Lanzenby until much, much later). My idea of Bond was formed by watching Moore’s outings. Now, older and hopefully wiser, I can fully appreciate Dalton for what he was, not for what I wanted him to be.

Dalton is really an excellent Bond. There is no other way to say it. Neither drolly urbane (like Moore) nor brutishly elegant (like Connery), Dalton is both realistic and conflicted. He’s tough, very tough, but he is also warm, even caring. More important, he brings to the role a level of energy and agility that was lost somewhat as Connery and Moore got older and older (odd-man-out Lanzeby was also a spunky Bond, but his reign was too short to make an impression).

There is a great moment that’s pure Dalton. After a fellow spy is brutally killed, he pauses to reflect. You can see the anger on his face and you can clearly see that he is deeply saddened by the death of his co-worker. The moment doesn’t last long, but it is long enough to make a huge impression. And, as I suggested before, Dalton moves like leopard. When the stuntman takes over, you really don’t notice the changeling and this helps sustain suspension of disbelief, a vital requirement in these types of films.

There are a few things that prevent the film from being a total success. First, I think the movie has a terribly anticlimactic ending. It all should have ended with Bond aboard the cargo plane. It’s such a fanatic sequence, one of the franchise’s most exciting montages, that what comes afterwards only serves to diffuse the suspense.

Finally, some of the acting in the film disappointed me. Don Baker’s villain is too much of a cartoon character. It doesn’t really belong in an otherwise straightforward thriller. Baker is a fine actor so I blame the writers for the lack of depth. Maryam d’Abo (White Nights) is one of the wimpiest Bond girls and she doesn’t have any chemistry with Dalton. They look like brother & sister (Dalton looks at d’Abo the way one looks at a stray puppy) — I didn’t believe their romance for one second.

I did like the work of English-born Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies (Sallah in the Indiana Jones movies and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings trilogy), who plays General Leonid Pushkin — it’s an interesting character that Rhys-Davies play well. Krabbé is also very good as weasily Koskov. Desmond Llewelyn’s “Q” (the only actor to survive the reboot) has some good moments too.

The title song, “The Living Daylights”, lyrics by Pål Waaktaar (a member of the famous Norwegian band A-ha), music by composer John Barry, is just okay. I like the pop group A-ha, but I wasn’t crazy about the song. Barry’s last Bond music score is excellent, though. He left the series on a high note (no pun intended).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I hate to admit it, but I was so, so wrong about The Living Daylights and Dalton — the movie is a lot of fun and Dalton is great as our favorite spy. Yes, it is not perfect, but it is better than most of today’s action flicks. As far as the franchise is concerned, The Living Daylights deserves a place right in the middle, right below great Bond films like Dr. No, Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me, but above of Thunderball, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. Color, 130 minutes, Rated PG.

James Bond will return
in
License to Kill (1989)

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16 responses to “The 007 Series: The Living Daylights (1987)

  1. Unlike you I loved Dalton as Bond from the first time I saw this – he’s clearly what Fleming had in mind! And this was a terrific entry in the series and feels so appropriate to the time. Great review. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I too saw Living Daylights when it came out and wasn’t sure what to make of the new Bond. Over the years I’ve come to realize that the two Dalton films are 2 of my faves of the long running series and I’d like to think I’m not alone in that assessment.

    Liked by 2 people

        • The story goes actually that Cubby came to Dalton and discussed doing another in 1994 when the legal issues were resolved. Dalton felt that the time had come and gone. So they were still planning to go with Dalton despite Licence to Kill doing poorly at the U.S. Box Office in 1989 against stiff competition from a number of sequels. Dalton declining left only one obvious choice. The man who had been pulled by his Remington Steele contract almost a decade earlier – Pierce Brosnan.

          Liked by 2 people

            • Maybe not. A View to a Kill was Moore’s last effort. Diminishing returns were maybe more acceptable as a result. But I am surprised by that statistic. I think Licence to Kill did respectable business at the world box office especially by today’s standards in comparison to it’s budget but the story goes it’s US box office was bad and then Brosnan cracked the $100 million mark with Goldeneye. Don’t forget whatever the perception, they were doing one in Hong Kong to be released in 1991 with Dalton until the legal wrangles delayed everything so I think they were happy. I think the hyperbole of the time is my God isn’t Brosnan the best since Connery and aren’t his films so much more successful than grumpy Dalton. With Craig and distance we are seriously reassessing Dalton and what he brought to the role. I did a listing of Bond flicks a little while and his two films made my Top 7.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I was always under the impression that Dalton’s films were not big moneymakers so I was truly surprised to see the actual numbers. I guess “perception is reality”! 😉 It reminds me of Altman’s Popeye (1980), which made tons of money but most people remembered it as a financial disaster! Anyhow, Dalton is slowly, and shockingly, becoming my favorite Bond! 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes an absolutely fantastic moment when the balloons pop. Then later drolly saying “Yes I got the message.”. I liked The Living Daylights watching it when it came out on VHS. Too young to notice or care about the difference between Moore and Dalton’s performances I just took it on face value that both were Bond. I liked the supercar with lasers and explosions and people hanging out of cargo planes. I remember my mother literally exclaiming when that stunt occurred. Now as an older person I keep coming back to it with a greater appreciation. Originally I rated Licence to Kill as the better Dalton outing but now the race is tighter. Maybe there’s some 80s nostalgia involved there but to me it is right up there with the best. This compromise of an proper spy plot but also a film that arguably lags in places. You’re right about the ending and yet how reflective of how this film actually was a bit about spies in back rooms confronting each other. Interesting tidbit, Joe Don Baker who would appear in later Brosnan Bonds had actually served in the military though here he is playing a man with delusions of military glory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just re-watched Licence to Kill, and I have to put it a notch above The Living Daylights. They are both great, though. Surprised how much I enjoyed them. Dalton is indeed one of the best Bonds!

      Liked by 1 person

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