The Living Daylights (1987)

Director: by John Glen
Starring: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, John Rhys-Davies, Jeroen Krabbé, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Caroline Bliss
Music: John Barry
Title Song: ‘The Living Daylights’ performed by a-ha
Based on a short story by Ian Fleming

I must sound like a parrot when I say ‘this Bond film had a troubled production history’. I start each Bond review with that sentence. It seems that putting together a new Bond film is not an easy task, and each production presents a new series of pitfalls. On this occasion, the drama related to the casting of James Bond.

After A View To A Kill, Roger Moore finally said goodbye to the character of James Bond. Over his tenure, many actors had been suggested as his successor. They included: Lewis Collins, Ian Ogilvy, Sam Neill and James Brolin. But most of them had faded away by 1987, and there only seemed to be one real contender, Pierce Brosnan. And indeed, Brosnan was cast as Bond. Brosnan had just finished work on the cancelled Remmington Steele television series. But he was still under contract for that show. The publicity that Brosnan received from being cast as Bond, focused the public’s attention back on Remmington Steele. At the last moment, the producers of Remmington Steele changed their minds and decided to make another series. As Brosnan was contracted, he was obliged to do the series. But, and here’s the kicker, by being seconded back to Remmington Steele, Brosnan was no longer free to accept the role of James Bond.

Enter Timothy Dalton. After the pre-title sequence, the film opens in Bratislava in Czechoslovakia. Bond is assigned to aid in the defection of top KGB agent General Yorgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) to the West. When Saunders (M.I.6’s man in this part of the world) makes a balls-up of the operation, 007 takes over, and smuggles Koskov out in a specially designed carriage that travels through the gas pipelines. Those of you who have watched Sol Madrid with David McCallum will have seem this device before.

Anyway, 007 gets Koskov out of Czechoslovakia and to the UK. There Koskov explains his reason for defecting. He states that General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), Koskov’s superior, has to all intents and purposes gone mad. He has initiated a plan called “Smiert Spionen”, which translates as ‘death to spies’. Pushkin intends to kill all the British agents operating in his area. On hearing Koskov’s information, M.I.6 assign 007 to investigate and, if necessary, assassinate General Pushkin. But two things interfere with Bond completing his mission. The first is that Koskov, although protected by M.I.6 in a safehouse, is kidnapped back by the Russians. The second problem occurs, when Agent Saunders (Thomas Wheatley) is killed in Vienna. Whatever Koskov or Pushkin’s stories maybe, there is definitely someone out there who is targeting the best agents the UK has to offer.

It is up to 007 to unravel the mystery. Along the way, Bond ingratiates himself with Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), a brilliant cellist, who just happened to be Yorgi Koskov’s girlfriend. By staying close to her, he believes it will bring him back in contact with Koskov and closer to the truth. Bond’s journey takes him from Czechoslovakia to Vienna, and afterwards to Morocco. The last destination is Afghanistan, and this brings Bond into contact with the Afghanistan Freedom Fighters, headed by Kamran Shah (Art Malik).

Maryam d’Abo plays Kara Milovy, the main Bond girl in the film. The character, despite being a world renown cello player, isn’t the brightest spark. In fact she is rather gullible and naïve. But d’Abo plays the role rather well, and is convincing. Alas, she does get lumbered with the worst women’s fashions to ever appear in a Bond film.

The Living Daylights is the last Bond film that John Barry composed the score to. Rumour has it, that he didn’t get along well with Norwegian pop group a-ha, who performed the title song. The song itself seems a bit of a rehash, of Duran Duran’s title song for A View To A Kill. Two other songs appear on the soundtrack, performed by The Pretenders. They are: ‘Where Has Everybody Gone’ and ‘If There Was A Man’. Both songs have the Bond sound. The score itself is a bit of a departure for Barry. It features a thin sounding drum machine to underscore the action. I must admit, I find it a little bit disconcerting in places, and is makes the score seem artificial rather than orchestral. But generally the score is pretty good.

When The Living Daylights was released, it was marketed as ‘safe sex Bond’. The A.I.D.S. Epidemic had just been swept to the public’s attention in a particularly scary fashion. People’s attitudes and lifestyles were being forced to change. No longer socially acceptable was casual sex with multiple partners. Monogamy was the order of the day. With these prevailing attitudes, Bond was given only one Bond girl (or so the marketeers told us – in fact he has two – one in the pre-title sequence, and Kara Milovy). It was considered socially irresponsible, for Bond to have multiple partners throughout the film.

Despite the machinations of the marketing gurus, The Living Daylights is still very much a Bond film. In fact, I’d say that the first two thirds of The Living Daylights are some of the best Bond story and and acting we have seen. Mostly due to Dalton’s performance, The Living Daylights is an emotional experience. By the time the films reaches Saunders death at the fairground, the film is positively bursting with tension. Sadly, the last third of the film is lumbered with some uninspired action scenes set in Afghanistan. As it’s a Bond film, the sequences are put together professionally, but on this occasion they seem rather cold and fail to engage the viewer.

Even Joe Don Baker and Jeroen Krabbé as villains, don’t provide any real threat. In fact both men come off as ‘jokes’. It really is a shame that the film couldn’t keep up the style and substance set up at the beginning – otherwise I’d be championing this film as one of the best of the series. Instead it gets pulled back in line with the rest of the pack.

I get frustrated with The Living Daylights. I see so much potential. But the ending kills it. Even a film that is boring at the start and then has a ‘kick-ass’ ending is generally enjoyed by the public. They walk out of the cinema on a high. They don’t remember the dirge at the start. This film works the other way. It starts brilliantly than leaves us on a low. I’d be interested to hear other opinions on The Living Daylights. What did you think?

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