After most of the Roger Moore movies went heavy in the camp direction for the Bond series, The Living Daylights brings the franchise closer to its thriller roots. The story in The Living Daylights involves government hired assassins, deceptions, fake assassinations, defectors from either side of the Cold War, and double agents. It’s a fairly complex plot, yet it’s not too hard to figure out as long as you’re paying attention.
This also marked the first of Timothy Dalton’s only two portrayals of the Bond character. When they first planned the movie, following the financial and critical disappointment of A View To Kill, they intended The Living Daylights to be a prequel of sorts. They knew they didn’t want Roger Moore returning to the role, and then 59-year-old Moore didn’t want to return anyway, after having portrayed the British spy for 7 movies in 12 years.
Because I’m doing the in-between movies before I touch the Roger Moore Bond films, I’m skipping a fair amount of changes in the production team. I’ll go into more detail later, but Harry Saltzman retired from the Bond franchise after Moore’s second movie, Man With The Golden Gun. Instead, Albert R. Broccoli produced the movie along with his step son, Michael Wilson, and his daughter, Barbara Broccoli. Barbara helped co-direct the last two Roger Moore movies, and she’s been involved in every Bond movie on some level since.
The search for a new Bond actor was extensive, and somewhat confusing. MGM strongly considered New Zealand actor Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Irish actor Pierce Brosnan (who would later portray Bond for 4 movies) and of course, Welsh actor Timothy Dalton. Although most of the team was impressed with Neill, Albert wasn’t sold on him. Dalton initially turned down the role, being in the middle of a contract for the film, Brenda Starr. They even offered the role to Brosnan after a three-day screen test, but at the time, he was contracted to NBC TV series Remington Steele. NBC in response offered a 60-day option in Brosnan’s contract to make further seasons of the show. As a result, Albert withdrew from the James Bond offer for the time being.
Meanwhile, Dalton showed reluctance to portray Bond, but at the insistence of his wife, Albert agreed to meet him. Dalton agreed, but didn’t sign a contract right away. They even auditioned other actors. One such auditioned actor, Robert Bathurst, accused the studio of using him mostly to arm-twist Dalton into signing a contract.
From early on in the production, Dalton pushed for a darker, straight thriller after the campy Roger Moore movies. He felt the recent Bond movies lost track of the storytelling and wanted to get back to that.
“I think Roger was fine as Bond, but the films had become too much techno-pop and had lost track of their sense of story. I mean, every film seemed to have a villain who had to rule or destroy the world. If you want to believe in the fantasy on screen, then you have to believe in the characters and use them as a stepping-stone to lead you into this fantasy world. That’s a demand I made, and Albert Broccoli agreed with me.”
In this movie, Dalton gives Bond a performance that makes him feel like a burned-out agent on the verge of resigning. It’s probably the closest the movies have been to Ian Fleming’s Bond – the suffering Bond. This turned out to be a double-edged sword in a sense. On the one hand, critics and fans alike wanted a more serious interpretation, but the movie was criticized for its lack of humour. In hindsight, some critics prefer Dalton’s portrayal over Daniel Craig’s fairly similar performance.
It’s worth noting that Dalton also performed most of his own stunts.
But enough on the casting; let’s talk about the movie itself. This is a straight spy thriller, with some great action and a couple good surprises in the writing. It’s the last movie with John Barry, the creator of the original Bond theme, composing the soundtrack. And it’s a soundtrack that’s both perfectly Bond and so very much pure 80’s. It’s also the first Bond movie to use different songs over the opening and closing credits. Since the main Bond girl, Kara Milovy, is a professional cellist, the movie also blends classical music into the soundtrack. Yet as different as all of these musical styles may sound on paper, it blends well together.
Although there are multiple layers to the story and the different defectors and deceptions in play, the ultimate story is for Bond to stop a soviet arms deal that would give them a huge advantage in the ongoing Afghanistan conflict. There are also multiple assassinations, aimed to increase tensions between the fading Soviet Union and the West. It makes for a fairly dark movie overall. At times it’s exciting, but it also feels a bit overstuffed with conspiracies at times. The ending also feels like it drags a bit, especially since the most exciting action scene in the movie isn’t the final action scene.
The movie released on June 29 of 1987, the month I was born. Earning $191 million on a $40 million budget, it was at the time the fourth most profitable movie in the franchise, and for a 15 movie franchise at a time when inflation wasn’t affecting movies nearly as much as it has in the last 20 years, that’s a great performance.
The movie did critically well for the most part as well, earning a 70% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Washington Post even described it as the best Bond movie ever, praising Dalton’s performance. However Roger Ebert was much more critical, noting the movie’s lack of humour.
Having never seen this movie before, my thoughts on this movie are somewhat mixed, but mostly positive. Dalton does a great job giving Bond a hard-edged performance. He’s angry when he keeps seeing a repeated message every time a fellow spy or ally is killed. His fight scenes are often brutal, with great stunt work and use of his surroundings to his advantage. Same goes for an enemy assassin’s fight scenes. There are times when the number of sub-plots feels a bit bloated. But overall, I’m glad I finally saw it, and I can’t help but wonder how great a Dalton Bond movie with tighter writing could have been.
Bond kills – 13
Other’s kills – 29
Total kill count – 42
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Timothy Dalton’s kill count – 13
Next up is License to Kill, the first Bond movie not named after one of Ian Fleming’s stories. It’s also the least James Bondy of all the James Bond movies, and that’s intentional. Next month we’ll be going back to DreamWorks with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, followed by Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and Shrek 2. We’ll be back for all the Roger Moore movies in September. I’ve seen all but two of them, and I’ve seen parts of the one. I’m also planning a blogathon for all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, hopefully timed so that it’ll end right around the time Avengers 4 releases. That will likely cut into the DreamWorks blogathon, but I’m ok with that.