The Living Daylights (1987)


Super-spy 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:

“I must have scared the living daylights out of her.”

This is the first official reboot of the James Bond franchise. Although the films in the franchise 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 all those movies together. The Living Daylights marked a brand-new beginning, with an obviously younger actor in the starring role.

Time does strange things to you. When The Living Daylights first came out, I flatly rejected it. Looking back, I was just being a little immature. I was very angry that Timothy Dalton was not Roger Moore. I grew up with Moore’s Bond, and 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.

There is no other way to say it: Dalton is an excellent Bond! Neither drolly urbane (ala Roger Moore) nor brutishly elegant (ala Sean Connery), the energetic Dalton is both charismatic and grounded. He is very tough, but he is also warm, even caring. What is more, Dalton 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 George Lanzeby was also a spunky Bond, but his reign was too short to make a huge impression).

There is a great moment that’s pure Dalton. After a fellow spy is brutally killed, Dalton pauses to reflect. You can clearly see that he is deeply saddened by this death — it’s a nice human moment. And, as I suggested before, Dalton moves like a leopard. When the stuntman takes over, you really don’t notice the changeling and this helps sustain the suspension of disbelief, a vital requirement in these types of films.

Although enthusiastically directed by Bond veteran John Glen (For Your Eyes Only), there are a few things that prevent the movie from being a total success, though. The Living Daylights has a terribly anticlimactic ending. It all should have ended with Bond aboard the cargo plane. It’s such a fantastic sequence, one of the franchise’s most exciting montages, that what comes afterwards only serves to diffuse the suspense.

Some of the acting in the film disappointed me. Joe 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. The beautiful Maryam d’Abo (White Nights) is a little wimpy. Plus, she doesn’t have any chemistry with Dalton. They look like brother and sister — I didn’t believe their romance for one second.

I did like the work of Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies (better known as 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 plays well. Jeroen Krabbe is also very good as weasily KGB officer Koskov. Desmond Llewelyn’s “Q” (one of the few actors 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 Oscar-winning composer John Barry (Born Free, The Lion in Winter and Out of Africa), is just okay. I like the pop group A-ha, but I wasn’t crazy about the song. Barry’s incidental music — his 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 Timothy Dalton — the movie is a lot of fun and Dalton is great as our favorite super-spy. Yes, it isn’t 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, maybe below great Bond films like From Russia with Love and The Spy Who Loved Me, but way above Live and Let Die and Octopussy. Color, 130 minutes, Rated PG.

James Bond will return
Licence to Kill (1989)

16 responses to “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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