Posts Tagged ‘The Living Daylights’

A few years ago I had the ambition to write about all the Eon Bond movies before the release of Skyfall for the series’ fiftieth birthday. Well, I didn’t quite manage it: I did all the Moore films, as well as George Lazenby and Daniel Craig’s, but a couple of Connerys eluded me, and also The Living Daylights. This was the fifteenth Eon Bond film, directed by John Glen and released in 1987: the twenty-fifth anniversary Bond, in fact, though I don’t recall much fuss being made about this at the time.


This is a film which has a special place in my memory, for the simple reason that it includes the first change of Bond in my lifetime. A new James Bond is always an exciting prospect; perhaps not quite as exciting as a new Doctor Who, but certainly approaching the same ballpark. Being in at the start of something new is always refreshing.

The movie opens with a rather well-executed pre-credit sequence featuring some Land Rover-based mayhem around the Rock of Gibraltar and Timothy Dalton establishing his Bondian credentials by getting it on with a woman whose yacht he ends up parachuting onto. From the start Dalton takes pains to demonstrate he is not Roger Moore, by taking everything very seriously and doing a rather intense face at every opportunity. I found this rather laudable.

The plot proper gets going with a somewhat-retooled version of the short story which the film is named after. Bond is sent to Bratislava to help facilitate the defection of a senior KGB general (Jeroen Krabbe) by putting a bullet in the sniper who will be attempting to stop him. Bond goes off the reservation a bit by not killing the girl who is apparently the assassin (Maryam d’Abo) on the grounds that she is a) clearly a patsy and b) quite fit.

What follows is actually quite complex, as Bond plots usually go, with the defection not being all that it seems. The villains are not trying to take over the world, nor even stir up trouble between Britain and the USSR: if you look closely it eventually becomes apparent that the plot is actually about another renegade KGB officer attempting to make a pile by engaging in heroin dealing, but I think you have to be on the ball to follow this the first time round. Narrative clarity is not, perhaps, the film’s greatest strength, and indeed it is a little unclear who the main villain of the piece is: is it Krabbe, or an arms dealer played by Joe Don Baker?

On the other hand, the action sequences in the film are numerous and uniformly well-staged, often with a slightly harder edge than was usually during Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond. How much of this was directly down to Timothy Dalton’s influence I don’t know: like most big franchises, there’s a sort of oil tanker effect with the Bond films, and it takes a while for a change in direction to actually become apparent. In many ways The Living Daylights has much more in common with, say, Octopussy than it does with Licence to Kill, but Dalton is playing Bond very straight all the way through.

There’s something very much of its time about The Living Daylights, which makes it more interesting as a historical artefact than most Bonds. Never mind a-Ha or The Pretenders on the soundtrack, nor indeed the villains’ walkman-loving henchman (he only appears to have one song to listen to) – in an attempt to reflect real-world geopolitics, this is the Bond film which partly takes place in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. These days it is rather odd to see a film in which James Bond teams up with, effectively, the proto-Taliban to launch an assault on an airbase in Afghanistan, but I suppose this is a valuable reminder of a historical truth – though quite what that truth is I’m not really sure.

The Living Daylights is a solidly assembled movie that sticks to the Bond recipe quite faithfully and with decent results – the only real problem with it is that, by this point, Bond films had ceased to have any identity other than as Bond films. Is this meant to be a family adventure blockbuster, in the style of Indiana Jones, or is it an actual grown up espionage thriller? No-one seems quite sure, with the result that this is a slightly jokey stunt spectacular about arms dealing and heroin smuggling. Licence to Kill has much a much better sense of what it’s supposed to be, but The Living Daylights is a slightly odd amalgam of frothy Moore-era lightness and Dalton’s muscular intensity. Still fun, though.


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