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The Giant James Bond Rewatch – The Living Daylights (1987)

Whenever a new Bond film is released there’s always a fair amount of kerfuffle and The Living Daylights was no different. That amount increases exponentially when a new Bond actor is also unveiled. The audience is usually divided between those who think the new guy is a great choice, the ones who think that there couldn’t possibly be a worse choice, and the rest who are split between the “wait and see” group and the “don’t cares”. The new Bond in this case was Timothy Dalton… what conceivable problems could there be with him?

The most ludicrous one was that he was Welsh. This is ludicrous for two main reasons. Of the three previous Bonds only one was actually English and the other reason is that Timothy Dalton may have been born in Wales but he was only three years old when the family moved to Belper, Derbyshire which is, guess what, in England.  So the chances of him shouting “Ych a fi, Blofeld” were, pretty much, non-existent. What we got in Dalton was a tall, dark, handsome, and intense Bond. What we also got was an excellent actor with RADA and RSC experience.

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Glad I Insisted You Brought That Cello

Dalton’s route to Bondhood/Bonddom/Bondage/whatever wasn’t particularly straightforward.  He was first approached in 1968 for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but, as he was only in his mid-twenties, he turned it down due to being too young. A decade later and he was approached about taking the lead in For Your Eyes Only. This time he turned it down because he didn’t like the comedic approach that had been adopted and developed during Roger Moore’s tenure. Dalton was a much more serious actor and he didn’t think that Eon was really serious about replacing Moore. So we roll around to 1986 and Roger Moore is now ready to retire; possibly because Q had run out of ideas for bulletproof incontinence pads and ejecting Zimmer frames.

Eon goes for their first choice of a new Bond only to find that Pierce Brosnan is contractually committed to Remington Steele. And, at last, Mrs Dalton’s little boy gets to play James Bond. He only got to play the part twice (The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill) but that was down to bad timing rather than being a bad fit. There were, at least, another three films in the Dalton branch of the pipeline but a legal battle between UA/MGM and Eon put everything on hold for four years. When everything had been resolved, Dalton’s Bond contract had expired, he was committed to other projects, didn’t want to play the part again, and Pierce Brosnan was available… c’est la vie!

It Is A Matter Of Pride That The 00 Section Has Been Chosen For This Test

The Living Daylights begins with a moody shot of the Rock of Gibraltar followed by a cut to M briefing three agents; these turn out to be 002, 004, and 007 but, at this point, we haven’t been properly introduced so who could possibly be Bond? Before long there’s only one of them still alive so now we know who’s who! Five minutes of frantic action later and we get the line… “Bond, James Bond” and the thinly veiled allusion to his masculinity, desirability, irresistibility, and stamina.

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Then we get the opening music, stylised dancing girls, and overdone graphics which lead us into the film proper. This involves defections, double-crosses, gadgets, snipers, arms deals, cars, girls, and etcetera. Incidentally, the rocket fired from the ghetto blaster in Q Section was triggered off-screen by Prince Charles during a visit to the set.

So, all the usual trappings of a Bond film

What is missing is the majority of the silliness, one-liners, and various capers that Roger Moore, well… his body double, used to run through. They didn’t manage to get rid of all the foolishness though; one minute a cello is a priceless Stradivarius the next they’re sledging down a hill in the case and using the instrument as a rudder.   A “magic carpet” scene involving Bond buying a rug and using it to slide down power cables to the astonishment of the bystanders was dropped for being too silly. Also, an ending similar to the one in For Your Eyes Only that featured a parody of Margaret and Denis Thatcher was originally intended for the movie. It was to include instead a parody of Charles and Diana.

Fortunately, however, the idea was scrapped and we are more in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold territory rather than that inhabited by The Spy Who Shagged Me. As I’ve said elsewhere, this is more my idea of what a Bond film should be and Dalton should be up there with the better portrayals of the character.

Section 26, Paragraph 5. Need-To-Know

Like nearly all films of this era, The Living Daylights is showing its age and not just by the casual sexism and racism which were hallmarks of the franchise pretty much into the current millennium. We’re still in the Cold War era so the Soviets are the bad guys. And they are still Soviets too as the USSR had nearly five years left to run at the time of filming.  Perhaps the biggest difference, given that the Western Bloc forces are only just leaving after about twenty years, is that the Mujahidin are the good guys! Then again, anywhere Art Malik leads, I’d follow.

There are a lot of firsts and other things that make The Living Daylights unique; sometimes good, sometimes not so much. This is the first official Bond film without Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, Caroline Bliss took the role for the Dalton era. This is the first time that multiple “00”s are seen. It’s the only time that the name of the act providing the title song (a-ha) was displayed as the band’s logo rather than the same typeface as the rest of the credits; apparently, it’s “American Caslon Italic Swash” if you’re interested.

Going from one extreme to another… this is the first time that Bond is a one-woman man and also it is the one which has the most ‘in-film’ nudity! I counted four bare buttocks and one bare female nipple which I think is the limit for a PG in the USA.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen more outings for a Timothy Dalton Bond.

Movie Grade: A-

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