Coate: In what way was Joe Don Baker’s Brad Whitaker (or Jeroen Krabbe’s General Koskov) an effective or memorable villain?
Christie: There was a degree of novelty in the way that The Living Daylights established dual antagonists in the form of unstable arms dealer Whitaker and the scheming, underhand Russian defector Koskov. It is rather interesting to contrast Koskov with Steven Berkoff’s General Orlov in Octopussy. Whereas Orlov had been the very acme of hardline Soviet zealotry, obsessed with gaining an upper hand in the Cold War at any cost, Koskov proved to be a refreshing change — his motivation was monetary greed, pure and simple. By the late 1980s, the temperature of the Cold War had changed a great deal as a result of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, and Koskov was a product of this newly-emerging world; content to play both superpowers against each other for his own personal gain, he was charismatic and callous in equal measure. While seeming the epitome of charm on the surface, his elaborate plotting puts his girlfriend at direct risk of lethal harm and almost leads to the execution of his KGB superior, John Rhys-Davies’s Leonid Pushkin. Thus in his calculating treachery, Koskov was far removed from the grandiose, ranting supervillains of years past, and his urbane duplicity was surprisingly well balanced by the pugnacious Whitaker. Obsessed with military history and glorifying warfare while singularly lacking any real experience of armed combat, Whitaker could have seemed like a buffoonish fantasist in lesser hands. But Joe Don Baker brings a low-key bloodlust to this deluded sociopath, laying bare his twisted view of the world and the wanton savagery which bubbles under his veneer of forced geniality.
Cork: I never felt a threat from Whitaker or Koskov. Their plot was a twist on the Iran-Contra affair (illegal arms sales profits used to finance a secret operation), but it is more complex than Rube Goldberg’s self-buttering toaster. But here’s the thing, I love both actors. Baker is always fun to watch. I keep trying to get my son to re-watch Walking Tall with me.
Joe Don Baker story: When he was leaving Morocco, a female crew member (who shall remain unnamed) took him to the airport. This was back when you could walk someone to the gate. This is a liberal Islamic country, but it is an Islamic country. Joe Don Baker turned to her just before he got on the plane and said, I got you a present, and he hands her a brown paper bag. She thanks him and walks away. Then she looks in the bag. It’s filled with porn magazines and maybe a couple of other things that are not quite legal in Morocco! She quickly threw away the bag. But when you see how bigger than life Joe Don Baker can be on screen, well, he’s lived a life that is pretty big, too.
Jeroen Krabbe is a very different character entirely. He does a great job playing someone who does not seem villainous at all, then has a great turn at the end where that darkness comes out. He’s, of course, a very talented visual artist and a lovely man. I really enjoy his performance. I do wish that both characters had been given the chance to have a villainous moment that gave them the chance to really turn on what makes them so watchable. That was something missing in the script for me.
Helfenstein: In some ways Whitaker and Koskov are the Laurel and Hardy of Bond villains. Neither are terribly menacing. While he’s a scoundrel, Jeroen Krabbe’s Koskov is almost too likeable and charming to be a Bond villain. Joe Don Baker’s Whitaker was a bit too much like a cartoon. Playing with toy soldiers and ripping the claws off of lobsters isn’t threatening enough to make any impact. But Baker was a favorite of Barbara Broccoli’s, and so he was brought back as Wade for the Brosnan era.
Pfeiffer: One of the negative aspects of Daylights is that it lacks a good, strong central villain. Brad Whitaker is an uninspired, smaller-than-life character with none of the grandiose schemes we associate with the more memorable Bond baddies. He’s more like a villain from a “B” spy movie from the 1960s and Joe Don Baker is miscast in the role. Similarly, the character of General Koskov is also a bit of a dud. Not helping matters is that Jerome Krabbe sometimes goes “over-the-top” in his performance. The weak villains reflect perhaps the most unsatisfying aspect of the movie.
Scivally: Who’s the villain of this movie again? Is it Georgi Koskov, or Brad Whitaker? Whittaker doesn’t even show up until a third of the way in, but it’s he who has the final show-down with 007; by that point, Koskov has become a comic character sent away by Pushkin with a quip and a nod and a couple of manhandling bodyguards. Then there’s Necros, the Ivan Drago-like henchman portrayed by Andreas Wisniewski. Wisniewski was formerly a ballet dancer, and it shows; he moves with panther-like grace, and proves to be a lethal killer. It’s a pity that the best hand-to-hand fight scene in the film involves him with an agent other than 007, at the Blayden Safe House; when he and Bond finally square off at the climax, what we get is a terrific stunt scene, but one that lacks the punch, so to speak, of the Blayden fight.
Coate: In what way was Maryam d’Abo’s Kara Milovy an effective or memorable Bond Girl?
Christie: What made Maryam d’Abo stand out as Kara Milovy is her relatability. She is a sympathetic and likeable character who has been unwittingly drawn into a clandestine world of spies and double-dealing simply because she happened to fall in love with the wrong individual. Kara is a fish out of water in many respects, and just as it is a pleasure to witness her wide-eyed enthusiasm as she emerges into the West after having spent her life behind the Iron Curtain in the oppressively authoritarian Eastern Bloc, similarly we feel for her as she slowly begins to realize the full extent of her former lover Koskov’s betrayal. As a classical musician by profession, she lacks the highly-specialized skillset required to endure for long in the shadowy world of espionage, and yet time and again she proves herself to be highly intelligent, resourceful, and above all independent. For all these reasons, it is easy to warm to Kara, and d’Abo brings a guileless appeal to the character while also emphasizing her autonomy, practicality and individuality — qualities which not only aid in her survival, but also make her ideally matched to Dalton’s more thoughtful, meditative take on Bond.
Cork: Having written a book with Maryam, I’m completely biased. I thought she gave a fantastic performance in the film when I first saw it. I don’t mind the idea of ”the woman is Bond’s equal” but I strongly prefer that the woman be a complement to 007 with her own competing interests and goals, not a mirror. Kara is that. She’s talented, smart, and where Bond has to be emotionally unattached, her weakness is her desire to be in love. I really found myself rooting for her in the film, which is rare in a Bond film. But I cared what happened to her, and I give all the credit for that to Maryam for infusing Kara with humanity.
Helfenstein: Producer Michael G Wilson said they needed “an innocent pawn with a classical face” and Maryam d’Abo fit the bill perfectly. A poor Czech girl living in a crappy apartment is a far cry from the glamorous world of James Bond, and so when she gets whisked into to Bond’s orbit, her wide-eyed innocence helps reinforce the contrast and reminds us of how cool Bond is. Critics made light of the fact that the film features a woman who is more interested in getting a Stradivarius between her legs than she is with Bond, but it was fun to see a Bond girl with a world-class musical skill. Her romance with Bond is quite believable. She doesn’t just throw herself at him — Dalton’s Bond has to work for it, getting her to trust him, extracting information, and finally sealing the deal. Then she betrays him, and then switches sides again. Daylights certainly has a lot of double-crossing!
Pfeiffer: Maryam d’Abo gave a fine performance as Kara Milovy. She was more in line with the contemporary view of women, thus we don’t have a voluptuous actress cast in the role. Kara’s main appeal is her intelligence and her courage. It should be noted that the script also caters to a more contemporary attitude towards sex in the era of the AIDS horror. Bond has an adult, meaningful relationship with one woman, Kara (if you excuse his dalliance with the rich woman in the film’s amusing pre-credits sequence).
Scivally: Maryam d’Abo is a lovely actress, more waifish, perhaps, than the usual “Bond Woman,” and in the beginning of the film seems poised to be — like Barbara Bach’s Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me — an equal to Bond. But of course she’s not a real assassin, but rather a dupe in an elaborate scheme that takes a Venn diagram to figure out (like Octopussy, one of the failings of The Living Daylights is that it is confusingly over-plotted), and in the fight scene in the Afghan jail, all she does is stand there with her hands at her sides, totally useless... as she proves to be for the remainder of the film. In the end, she is the farthest thing possible from an equal to Bond; she’s naive, clueless, and mostly just a pretty decoration. But she does play a pretty mean cello.
Coate: Where do you think The Living Daylights ranks among the James Bond movie series?
Christie: There is no doubt that The Living Daylights is a divisive movie amongst fans. For everyone who admires its attempts to drag Bond into the political realities of the eighties with its complex plot dynamics and moodier tone, there are others who lament its comparative lack of humor and Dalton’s straight-faced determination to play the character as a more somber, introspective intelligence operative who is not immune from self-doubt. Considered in isolation, the film was well-received by many critics at the time on account of its tense, intricate storyline and the obvious effort that had been taken to keep the series relevant in the fast-changing geopolitical climate of the late 1980s. The movie represented a particular point in the franchise where the creative team were determined to energetically steer both the style and content of the Bond films in a striking new direction, and Dalton’s more agile, saturnine approach to the protagonist — which would be more fully developed in 1989’s Licence to Kill — arguably helped to lay the groundwork for Daniel Craig’s uncompromising portrayal of the character in the twenty-first century, in all his unflinching drive and grim determination.
Cork: To me, the script for Daylights is the weakest link. So much is so good, but the whole never quite comes together for me. I can watch it easily, but I never list it among my favorites. It is one where there are whole scenes where I am fine to go wandering around the house, where the story just seems to go nowhere. Great scenes get little moments that kill them for me. Are there really Soviet soldiers who are showering during a battle on their airbase? They couldn’t hear the explosions? The gunfire? So a great battle gets interrupted by a cheap joke, but a joke that doesn’t make sense in the context of the scene. This happens over and over. But there are moments where the film just soars: the extended Aston Martin chase that ends with the cello case sled scene, a moment that in the script I thought would be beyond idiotic, but that I love in the film (and that all goes to John Glen who dreamed it up and got the tone just right). But as an overall film, when ranked the Bonds with my son in 2012, it landed at #17. I feel like it should be higher, but that was my ranking then.
Helfenstein: It’s my second favorite Bond film, though I know I am in the extreme minority ranking it that high. The film has some big deficiencies: an overly complex plot, weak villains, some wooden acting from the lesser players, etc. But Daylights has a tremendous amount of positives going for it: a glorious return to the work of Ian Fleming, an incredible soundtrack (John Barry leaving the series on a high note), a playful and sweet romance, great stunts, an astonishing pre-title sequence, and a commanding, era-defining, note-perfect performance from Timothy Dalton.
Pfeiffer: I would rank Daylights in the middle of the pack. I think it’s more satisfying than The Man with the Golden Gun, Moonraker, A View to a Kill, Diamonds are Forever, Quantum of Solace and all of the Pierce Brosnan movies, though I thought Pierce made an excellent Bond. There are some dated aspects to it in terms of the political tone but it boasts some incredible stunt work, especially that fight scene with Bond and the baddie dangling out of a cargo plane. There’s also a fine score by John Barry and a good title theme song. I’m among the few who believe that Licence to Kill, Dalton’s second and final outing as Bond, was far superior to Daylights because the script was written expressly for him and had a very strong villain in Sanchez, played by Robert Davi.
Scivally: Of the two Dalton films, The Living Daylights is my favorite, because it seems more “Bond-ish” to me, with a more globe-trotting feel, a tricked-out Aston Martin, and a Bond who hasn’t “gone rogue.” Not to mention a superb John Barry score. (Sadly, his final one for the Bond series.) I’d put it somewhere in the top half of the bottom 10.
Coate: What is the legacy of The Living Daylights?
Christie: The Living Daylights brought the Bond franchise bang up to date at an interesting period in its history. Arguably the apex of John Glen and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli’s attempts to bring Bond back into the realms of dramatic credibility, the series felt as though it had re-entered the territory of the spy thriller with a vengeance. The movie marked an occasion where the Bond cinematic cycle was re-evaluated and rejuvenated — a phenomenon which would occur again, in different ways, with GoldenEye and Casino Royale some years later. With the Cold War influences which had shaped earlier entries in the series now starting to wane and an uncertain global political environment beginning to emerge, Eon Productions knew that the Bond movies had to change, and The Living Daylights was perhaps the most noteworthy example of the franchise beginning to come to terms with this shift in world affairs. Although Dalton’s short tenure in the role means that the movie is often considered in tandem with its immediate successor, Licence to Kill, there are many who felt that the latter feature’s revenge-themed storyline was to drift too far from the Bond structural formula that had made the series such an enduring success. But with The Living Daylights, we have what might well be considered the ultimate 1980s take on James Bond — political intrigue, erudite characters, changing geopolitical realities, cutting-edge gadgetry, and one of the most sophisticated and engrossing storylines in the series until that point.
Cork: I think this is John Glen’s best directing effort. But the legacy to me was that this is the film where Michael G. Wilson really became the leading force for the cinematic 007. Cubby Broccoli was still deeply involved, but Michael was much more involved in the daily production, the creative choices, the final film, and from those I’ve spoken to, while Cubby always had the last word, his trust in Michael, and Michael’s great energy, even temperament, and respect for Cubby allowed him to be making most of the decisions. Cubby did a brilliant job of positioning both his daughter Barbara and his step-son Michael to continue to lead the Bond franchise. While the complicated plot of the film gets in the way of some of the great acting and action in the movie, this film helped keep Bond relevant and brought him back to reality much more than For Your Eyes Only (which is given much more credit in that regard). One could see Daniel Craig in a remake of this film more so than any other Bond film. This film is also the legacy of a man only a few have ever heard of in relation to this movie: Baron Enrico di Portanova. Bond fans know the name because it is his house in Acapulco that is seen in the next Bond film, Licence to Kill. But this film would not exist without ”Ricky.” He was instrumental in making a film designed to support the Mujahideen’s fight against the Soviets. That film put Cubby and Michael on the track to have Bond get embroiled in the Soviet battle to maintain control of Afghanistan. Considering the sweeping geopolitical changes in the nation in the past three decades, the film seems strangely ironic. Where would Kamran Shah, the Mujahideen leader, be today? Would he have been a moderate who wanted peace with the West, or would he have celebrated 9/11? Would he be supporting ISIS? The idea that high-level Russians would be coming to the West to manipulate entire nations for their benefit seemed outdated not too long after the film came out, but today? I wouldn’t be surprised if The New York Times soon identified another General Koskov-like character as an attendee at a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. It is by far the most overtly political Bond film, and the one that with Octopussy delves most deeply into the Cold War politics of the moment. It’s a film that has a lot going for it, a great watch for a rainy afternoon, and even greater if you start dissecting the politics behind it.
Helfenstein: The Living Daylights is so much more than just a course correction from the Roger Moore era. It is so much more than just the 25th anniversary film. It is so much more than just Timothy Dalton’s debut as Bond. It is a throwback to Bond’s cold war thriller roots. It is John Barry’s final bow. It is pure, classic Bond: he’s fighting the Russians, romancing a blonde, driving a rocket-powered Aston Martin, parachuting in and out of danger, and doing everything with a panache that only 007 can achieve. Its legacy proved that a fourth man could succeed at playing Bond, and make an indelible mark on the series. Underappreciated by the general public, but celebrated by serious fans, it’s everything we love about James Bond.
Pfeiffer: The legacy of The Living Daylights is that its legacy should be stronger. The two Dalton films are often overlooked in critical discussions of the series. In a way, Dalton never really had his chance. The release of Licence to Kill had been botched by UA in the United States and the series then went on a six-year hiatus due to legal disputes with the studio. By the time Bond was ready to come back, it was time to reinvigorate the role again with Pierce Brosnan, who, as most Bond fans know, had originally been slated to play 007 in The Living Daylights. I think Timothy Dalton never quite got the praise he deserves for helping to revitalize the series.
Scivally: At the time of its release, The Living Daylights was viewed — in its way — as a commentary on the AIDS epidemic; much was made of there being only one “Bond girl” in the film, though I never understood how everyone could overlook the obviously sex-starved woman on the boat in the pre-credits; what do they think Bond was doing with her for nearly two hours? It’s also significant for Timothy Dalton’s introduction as 007. Dalton is a fine actor who brought a much-welcomed harder edge to James Bond, but to me his 007 has always been lacking, and what he lacks most is charm. Dalton himself can be quite charming, and has been in other roles, but as James Bond, he seemed more apt to skewer you with a steak knife than with a sharp witty riposte. He is, to me, “the angry Bond,” the one who always seems just one mission away from intensive psychiatric therapy or a very, very long respite at Shrublands. There is a reason the teaser posters for The Living Daylights promised “The Most Dangerous Bond... Ever!” Audiences at the time were not ready for such a grim 007, and reaction to Dalton was unenthusiastic. As a result, it would be almost 20 years before a Dalton-style Bond would be seen again, this time to much acclaim, in Casino Royale.
Coate: Thank you — Tom, John, Charles, Lee and Bruce — for participating and sharing your thoughts about The Living Daylights on the occasion of its 30th anniversary.
The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “Dr. No” on its 55th Anniversary.
Selected images copyright/courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, CBS-Fox Home Video, Eon Productions Limited, Danjaq LLC, MGM Home Entertainment, United Artists Corporation.
- Michael Coate