For the silver anniversary of the James Bond franchise out were the fantastical and humour-laden adventures that had been a hallmark of the series since the 1970s. In their stead came The Living Daylights, a grittily realistic, darkness-tinged, geopolitical tale of espionage and treachery that finally saw the return of Ian Fleming’s Cold Warrior – a man living on the edge, knowing that each moment of existence could be his last.
Roger Moore’s interpretation of Bond as a laid-back, light-hearted and indestructible playboy had finally taken his last bow and acclaimed Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton debuted as a more serious, physically dynamic, humane, emotional and plain bloody dangerous 007. A fan of the original Ian Fleming books and early films Dr.No and From Russia With Love, Dalton only signed onto The Living Daylights after producer Cubby Broccoli reassured him that the new film would take the character back to the style of the early Sean Connery era.
Yet Dalton nearly wasn’t the new 007. When initially approached for The Living Daylights he’d been forced to turn down Cubby Broccoli’s offer due to his commitments to a film in America whose production would overlap the start of principal photography on the new Bond by several weeks. As a result Pierce Brosnan underwent several days of screen tests at Pinewood Studios and all look set for him to become the fourth James Bond. However the plans of EON Productions and Brosnan were scuppered when the actor was unable to extract himself from contractual obligations to the recently cancelled and resurrected Remington Steele TV series. In order to secure the services of his original chosen actor Cubby Broccoli delayed production by several weeks and in a rather jet lagged condition Dalton started work on the film the day after flying in from America following completing his work on Brenda Starr.
An early suggestion from Maibum and Wilson for the fifteenth film had been to make a prequel chronicling the early days of 007 – showing his first mission in conflict with the Soviet assassination section SMERSH (featured prominently in the novels Casino Royale and From Russia With Love) and the acquisition of his licence to kill. Broccoli rejected the notion but the concept of Smert Shpionam (“Death to Spies”) which gave SMERSH its name was retained and the central plot point of Bond being tasked to kill a KGB sniper was cribbed from Ian Fleming’s short story The Living Daylights. Contrary to rumours the film didn’t start development as a potential eighth outing for Roger Moore. It would have completely implausible for Moore’s Bond to have been viewed as the ruthless government assassin mandated by the script.
Initially Richard Maibum and Michael G Wilson had penned the script without a specific actor in mind and as filming progressed they continually tweaked their material to better suit Dalton’s darker and more serious interpretation of 007. The often cringe-worthy one liners that had peppered the series for far too long were pared down to a minimum with Dalton delivering them in a throwaway manner – the “salt corrosion” line when the Czech police car falls apart after being sliced in half along the middle by the Aston Martin’s laser beam. That’s not to say humour was completely excised, it was simply handled more deftly than stopping proceedings for a poor quip to be delivered in a manner that came close to breaking the “fourth wall”. One of the funniest moments in the entire series comes when Kara Milovy is insistent on retrieving her cello and Bond is adamant that they don’t have the time – cut to a frustrated 007 waiting for her to retrieve the instrument.
The Living Daylights emerges as a close relative to 1960s classics From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service given that it is a action thriller set in a realistic world where characters have genuine emotions and motivations, even 007. Bond develops feelings for his leading lady that go beyond the simple act of a pretense to acquire information on the location of the missing General Koskov, yet he is able to mask them when his duty to Queen and Country is called to the fore.
Dalton’s commitment to his new role went beyond simply interpreting the dialogue within the script as he literally threw himself into the many action sequences. Not since George Lazenby had the leading man been so physically involved in proceedings. Like Harrison Ford, Dalton considered such participation in action footage as physical acting as opposed to stunt work, such as falling off buildings or crashing cars. However it is termed it is often genuinely difficult to determine whether it is Dalton or a double in shot. In the breathtaking pre-credit sequence upon the Rock of Gibraltar the actor was atop the speeding Land Rover at several key points as the vehicle hurtled down narrow roads normally closed to traffic due to their hazardous nature.
Aside from the breathtaking aforementioned Gibraltar sequence The Living Daylights features many other action sequences that remain amongst the best from any of the films. For the first time in far too long Bond once again found himself behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. Dubbed “Britain’s First Supercar” and outfitted by Q Branch, the V8 Vantage participates in the most exciting car-related chase since Goldfinger whilst being pursued by Czech security forces along roads and across a frozen lake. Whilst slightly OTT in comparison to the more realistic tone of the rest of the film the chase works as a fun sequence. Though the subsequent ski chase with Bond and Kara using her cello case as an improvised toboggan pushes the humour slightly too far into the territory of Dalton’s predecessor. In the whole director John Glen judged the action scenes wisely for his new leading man – even cutting a scene filmed in Tangiers where 007 escapes from pursuers by “riding” a “magic carpet” along telephone lines on the grounds that it was too slow moving and more suited to Moore than Dalton. And for all those constantly accusing 21st century Bond of ripping off the Jason Bourne series it’s worth noting out that Dalton’s 007 was chased across rooftops in Tangiers 20 years before 2007‘s The Bourne Ultimatum was released…
The pièce de résistance action moment of The Living Daylights is undoubtedly when Bond and Necros are dangling from a net deployed from the cargo door of a Hercules in midair engaged in a battle royale to the death. Performed by Jake Lombard and BJ Worth who had previously worked on aerial stunts for Moonraker, Octopussy and A View To A Kill, astonished cinema goers were constantly having to remind themselves that they were watching real people hanging thousands of feet above the ground and not elaborate special effects. The stunt is truly is a highlight of the filmmakers’ mandate to create the world of Bond in camera as far as possible and not via post production special effects. Unfortunately this mandate would be lost by the end of the Pierce Brosnan era…
Ok, all is not perfect with The Living Daylights. A trinity of villains is not doomed to failure, as From Russia With Love proved, but Georgi Koskov, Brad Whitaker and Necros are certainly not in the same league as Rosa Klebb, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Red Grant. It becomes rather muddled as to who is meant to be the chief villain here when in the earlier film it was quite clear Blofeld was calling the shots. Whilst former dancer Andreas Wisniewski is passable enough as chief henchman Necros, and certainly up to his various fight sequences, Joe Don Baker’s arms dealing Brad Whitaker (“a nut who thought he was Napoleon”, according to the actor) is underdeveloped.
Far more entertaining is Georgi Koskov, the second renegade Russian general in conflict with Bond in the space of three films. Jeroen Krabbe plays the character with a deliciousy tongue-in-cheek naughty schoolboy quality and it’s impossible to dislike him in the same way as Orlov in Octopussy. Despite setting up his girlfriend to be assassinated by the British Secret Service, steal millions from the KGB, and flood the Western world with tons of Afghan opium to make a profit, it’s very difficult not to feel sorry for Koskov as he’s hauled off to face Russian justice at the end of the film. He’s that rarity: a Bond villain who survives. Perhaps if Dalton had been able to make a third or fourth film Koskov could have returned. Imagine GoldenEye with Dalton as Bond (as originally intended) and Koskov in place of Valentin Zukovsky.
With its Blayden safe house, agents in Eastern Europe, intelligence gathering facilities, and levels of access to classified information, MI6 once again felt like a vast government agency and not an elaborate gentleman’s club there just to service Bond. For the first time Robert Brown’s M was given something to get his teeth into. Replacing the late Bernard Lee as from Octopussy Brown had not impacted on the final two Roger Moore Bonds but with Dalton to play against he was able to finally put some fire and authority into his performance. Once again M is quite prepared to face down and pull rank on his best Double 0 agent. Alongside the arrival of Timothy Dalton’s Bond came the new Miss Moneypenny in the shape of Caroline Bliss. Whether Bliss could have formed a character equal to that of Lois Maxwell remains unknown as her scenes in Q Branch were the only ones that she would ultimately film with Dalton as the nature of Licence To Kill was to keep the two actors separated.
Amongst all the arrivals and departures one constant thankfully remained: Desmond Llewelyn’s iconic Q. Now on his fourth James Bond, Llewelyn cited Dalton as being the best actor to have assumed the role and the closest to Ian Fleming’s original character. Amazingly the scenes with Dalton saw the first proper equipment briefing within London’s Q Branch facility since Goldfinger! All briefings in between having occurred in M’s office or a foreign branch of MI6. With the advent of the new darker Bond the Quartermaster could be used more and more to inject humour into proceedings. There seems to be a twinkle in Dalton’s eye in all his scenes with Llewelyn that seems to indicate that he’s enormously enjoying working with the series veteran.
For fans of the literary character Timothy Dalton was a breath of fresh air and helped bring 007 back to reality after nearly two decades of overly humorous and fantastical adventures. The Living Daylights was a massive hit at the box office raking in $191.2 million on a $40 million budget and all looked good for Dalton to carry the Bond series into the 1990s…
1 From Russia With Love
3 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
4 The Living Daylights
5 The Spy Who Loved Me
7 Dr. No
8 For Your Eyes Only
9 You Only Live Twice
12 Diamonds Are Forever
13 A View To A Kill
14 Live And Let Die
15 The Man with the Golden Gun