And thus we begin the short but sweet stint of Timothy Dalton as 007, as he punches out The Living Daylights.
(NB: Before I proceed, for another take on the film, do check out Eamon Hamilton’s <a href=”https://eamonh.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/send-my-regards-to-dalton/”> Send My Regards To Dalton</a>.)
Bond and a bunch of his double-oh mates are sent on a training drill to assault a facility on the Rock of Gibraltar. Unfortunately, one of the mates is playing for keeps, bumping off another agent, before 007 realises that shit has indeed gotten real, and heads off to deal with the double-agent assassin himself. Having neutralised the threat, he drops in on someone’s boat to recuperate in a manner befitting him.
The continuity is retained in the inimitable Maurice Binder style. Likewise, a-ha are put on duty to score the opening song – it’s not miles away from “A View To a Kill”, but probably their only song most people might recall apart from that one with the comic book video.
This is John Barry’s last score for the series, and in truth it’s a pretty good one, delineating the “new” Bond with added synth and percussion during the action scenes. The Pretenders also get a couple of contributions in, particularly on “If There Was a Man” over the end titles with Chrissy Hynde proving that had the producers gone for a more conventional lead song, they’d fit right in.
Exotic and varied, as it should be. After the opening at Gibraltar, the film is set in Bratislava to Vienna; Tangier in Morocco, and the wilds of Afghanistan (actually, Morocco again).
Timothy Dalton is a breath of fresh air, and in other circumstances (i.e. no Thunderball remake) he might’ve been given the gig a couple of years earlier – but then he would’ve had to deal with scripts of Octopussy and A View To A Kill that were tailored more to Moore’s style. (Then, his turn as Prince Barin in the Flash Gordon movie might’ve been evidence he could hack that anyway.)
Obviously comparisons are bound to be made with his predecessors, but my view he brought a slight return to the harder edge of Connery’s portrayal, although not totally unsympathetic, which perhaps touches on the better part of Lazenby’s very short run. As a slightly younger guy, he could more credibly do the action shit that was looking damned weird with Moore doing it.
Nevertheless, there was some big boots to fill in Roger’s wake, but I feel Dalton slipped into them like he’d worn them for years. It probably helped that he was a bit of a Fleming obsessive and was keen to have the films resemble that old school style, in the vein of From Russia From Love.
The plot, accordingly, is more down-to-earth but still high-stakes Cold War thriller, with Bond being specifically assigned to help a Russian KGB general Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) defect to the West from Bratislava during a concert. In the process of doing so, he spies a sniper, but sees that she’s the beautiful cellist performing in the concert, so rather than going boom-headshot, the old dog deigns to just knock her gun off target. He’d have to follow that lead later after he successfully smuggles Koskov out of Czechoslovakia through an oil pipeline.
(For a while I thought Koskov was played by Falco, and was somewhat disappointed when I found out the truth.)
Koskov fills in Bond and pals at the safehouse on the hot info that General Pushkin has revived “Smiert Spionom” – Death to Spies – which happened to be on the tag left on the agent killed at Gibraltar. Soon after this debriefing Koskov is abducted by some goons. Oh well, easy come, easy go.
Bond is set on the trail of Pushkin in Tangier and naturally decides hit up Bratislava first for the hot cellist, Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo) – all part of the investigation, of course. As it turns out, Kara is Koskov’s girlfriend (and why she was sent to snipe her boyfriend does becomes clearer later) so decides to accompany Bond to find Koskov.
Bond confers with his MI6 colleague Saunders who’s found financial links between Pushkin and crazy American arms dealer, compiler of “biggest badasses in military history” listicles and Warhammer enthusiast Brad Whitaker. Soon after the rendezvous, Saunders gets splatted in a particularly awful way, as orchestrated by the henchman Necros, whose M.O. is strangling people with headphone cords and leaving Smiert Spionom calling cards. Hey, every henchman has to have their gimmick.
(By the way, Necros was played by Andreas Wisniewski, who also played henchmen in Die Hard and Mission Impossible films. Talk about getting typecast!)
With nothing left to do in Bratislava, Bond moves on quickly, escaping from Czechoslovakia with Milovy in a hotted up and tricked out Aston Martin that is cool af, but needs more durable tyres. After a brief stop over in Vienna, they make their way to Tangier, where Bond catches up with Pushkin.
As it turns out, Pushkin isn’t the one behind “Smersh” – more or less, he’s after Koskov for siphoning funds in the guise of phony arms deals – with Whitaker of course – and he and Bond figure out that Koskov has manipulated Bond into killing Pushkin to get him out of the way, so his death needs to be staged so Koskov and Whitaker do whatever it is they’re going to do next.
I think I read somewhere that there’d been an idea to cast Sean Connery as Pushkin, but perhaps for the better, as that might’ve been too much of a mindfuck for a film with a new Bond. Instead, we have the extremely capable John Rhys-Davies, who cops the same “Scottish pretending to be Russian” accent as Connery puts on in The Hunt for Red October.
Anyway, the fake death fools Koskov enough, but for all of that, when Bond returns to his hotel room, he’s drugged by Milovy at Koskov’s behest, and, oh, he wakes up on a plane headed to Afghanistan.
In the year 2016, if you tried to pitch an idea for a film where the Great White Hope teams up with a bunch of Afghani jihadis to fuck up some shit, you’d probably get laughed out of the lift. But in the late 80s, the plight of the plucky resistance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was very in vogue, with Rambo III also getting in on this game a year later, even ending with the timeless dedication “Dedicated to the brave Mujaheddin fighters”.
James Bond’s intervention is slightly less bloody than John Rambo’s, but first he has to escape from the Soviet base along with Milovy (whom he has forgiven her for spiking his drink, about the same time Milovy gets dumped by her boyfriend) – as they do so, they also liberate one of the natives.
Later, it turns out the “native” is Kamran Shah (Art Malik), leader of the local resistance militia and apparently an alumnus of the Oxford Revue, who vouches for Bond and Milovy when they stumble on his mates waiting outside the base.
To keep the resistance ticking along, they have tonnes of opium to trade with the Soviets – actually, Koskov, who intends to on-sell the opium for a stupid profit and then buy the materiel from Whitaker, keeping the difference.
At the site of the deal, Bond suggests fucking shit up, Kamran is all “hell, why not”, so Bond plants a bomb on the cargo plane amongst the opium, but gets spotted by Koskov and Necros in the process. Milovy ends up dragging the mujahuddin into a full-blown Terence Young style battle on the airbase while Bond takes off with all the drugs in the plane, soon being accompanied by Milovy and Necros.
Bond gives Milovy a crash course in flying the thing while he goes and hangs out the back with Necros, who suddenly has to leave. Then Bond remembers the bomb – he deactivates it just in time but soon notices that his new mates are on the run from some Soviet tanks, so he makes use of it to blow up the bridge behind the mujahuddin as the tanks roll over it. Happy ending!
Actually, it’s a Bond film, so it needs a proper 007 happy ending. And also the two lead villains aren’t dead yet, so let’s deal with that.
Bond storms Whitaker’s pad in Tangier, Whitaker demonstrates of some of his products but after a tête-à-tête he gets squashed by one of his war hero statues. Walks in Pushkin, walks in Koskov, Pushkin arrests Koskov, whom presumably gets to break rocks in Siberia or something.
Finally, we advance to Kira Milovy’s grand debut as a soloist in Paris, and while everyone is milling around after the performance, old mate Gogol (who’s been shunted to the diplomatic core) promises the now-defected Milovy permission to visit Russia any time, and Kamran and his mates also rock up straight from Afghanistan. More innocent times in 1987.
Milovy excuses herself to the dressing room, where we finally get the 007 happy ending.
This became a crucial point in the series; while being very much in keeping with the general 007 vibe, the opportunity was taken to get rid of some of the cruft that had accumulated around the films. It strikes a good balance between continuity – John Glen getting to lead the direction for the fourth film and just now hitting his stride – and revitalising it.
The most common criticism about Dalton’s portrayal in comparison with other actors’ seems to be the relative lack of humour, but I don’t know if that’s such a terrible thing. Dalton does get to deliver a few corny one-liners, just to keep the tradition alive, but thankfully they are made spare and effective. Instead, we have a Bond which is hard but not callous, disciplined but flexible.
We do get another film from Dalton, where his Bond gets even harder – and even a bit callous – as I recall and will revisit very shortly. I do think that is a shame that we didn’t get another couple more out of him, though, but that was hardly Dalton’s fault, as I gather. If anything, the pause in production gave some time to reassess the idea of Bond after the end of the Cold War.
As for this instalment, As far as I can recall I did see this one in the cinema – often I skipped over the films when they came out but the idea of a new Bond was pretty exciting at the time. I continue to regard it with a fair amount of affection, subsequent geopolitical developments aside. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had to type Czechoslovakia as one word. Also hard to tell how much longer Gibraltar will remain in the UK, as well.
While it’s a steely portrayal, and the plot is occasionally threadbare, it also provides a good balance of intrigue and spectacle. And really, it’s probably the most fun I’ve had rewatching these films since Moonraker (which, I know, is completely the opposite in tone) and realigns a franchise that was in serious trouble of succumbing to cheese poisoning.
As such, I’m giving it 17 out of 20 luftballons.