“The Living Daylights was an admirable attempt to inject the series with renewed purpose and to ensure that it remained germane to moviegoers of the time.” — 007 historian Thomas A. Christie
The Digital Bits is pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 30th anniversary of the release of The Living Daylights, the fifteenth (official) cinematic James Bond adventure and, most notably, the first to feature Timothy Dalton in the lead role and the last to feature a musical score by John Barry.
As with our previous 007 articles (see The Spy Who Loved Me, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Casino Royale, For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball, GoldenEye, A View to a Kill, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Goldfinger, and 007… Fifty Years Strong), The Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship continue the series with this retrospective featuring a Q&A with an esteemed group of James Bond scholars, documentarians and historians who discuss the virtues, shortcomings and legacy of The Living Daylights. [Read on here...]
The participants (in alphabetical order)…
Thomas A. Christie is the author of The James Bond Movies of the 1980s (Crescent Moon, 2013). His other books include The Spectrum of Adventure: A Brief History of Interactive Fiction on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (Extremis, 2016), Mel Brooks: Genius and Loving It! (Crescent Moon, 2015), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Pocket Movie Guide (Crescent Moon, 2010), John Hughes and Eighties Cinema: Teenage Hopes and American Dreams (Crescent Moon, 2009), and The Cinema of Richard Linklater (Crescent Moon, 2008). He is a member of The Royal Society of Literature, The Society of Authors and The Federation of Writers Scotland.
John Cork is the author (with Maryam d’Abo) of Bond Girls Are Forever: The Women of James Bond (Abrams, 2003) and (with Collin Stutz) James Bond Encyclopedia (DK, 2007) and (with Bruce Scivally) James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002). He is the president of Cloverland, a multi-media production company, producing documentaries and supplemental material for movies on DVD and Blu-ray, including material for Chariots of Fire, The Hustler, and numerous James Bond and Pink Panther titles. Cork also wrote the screenplay to The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. He wrote and directed the feature documentary You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder on the Suwannee River for producers Jude Hagin and Hillary Saltzman (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry Saltzman). He has recently contributed articles on the literary history of James Bond for ianfleming.com and The Book Collector.
Charles Helfenstein is the author of The Making of The Living Daylights (Spies, 2012). His other book is The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Spies, 2009).
Lee Pfeiffer is the author (with Dave Worrall) of The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007 (Boxtree, 1998/Harper Collins, 1999) and (with Philip Lisa) of The Incredible World of 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond (Citadel, 1992). He also wrote The Films of Sean Connery (Citadel, 2001) and (with Michael Lewis) The Films of Harrison Ford (Citadel, 2002). Lee was a producer on the Goldfinger and Thunderball Special Edition LaserDisc sets and is the founder (with Dave Worrall) and Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine, which celebrates films of the 1960s and 1970s and is “the Essential Guide to Cult and Classic Movies.”
Bruce Scivally is the author (with John Cork) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002). His other books include Superman on Film, Television, Radio & Broadway (McFarland, 2006), Billion Dollar Batman: A History of the Caped Crusader on Film, Radio and Television from 10¢ Comic Book to Global Icon (Henry Gray, 2011), Booze, Bullets & Broads: The Story of Matt Helm, Superspy of the Mad Men Era (Henry Gray, 2013) and Dracula FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Count from Transylvania (Backbeat, 2015). As well, he has written and produced numerous documentaries and featurettes that have appeared as supplemental material on LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, including several of the Charlie Chan, James Bond, and Pink Panther releases. He is Vice President of New Dimension Media in Chicago, Illinois.
The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
And now that the participants have been introduced, might I suggest preparing a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) and cueing up the soundtrack album to The Living Daylights, and then enjoy the conversation with these James Bond authorities.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is The Living Daylights worthy of celebration on its 30th anniversary?
Thomas A. Christie: When The Living Daylights first appeared in 1987 it marked the 25th anniversary of the James Bond movie series, and it was to symbolize an effort by Eon Productions to highlight the series’ continued relevance to global audiences. The world was presented with a new Bond, and a new take on the character which was to set a very different tone for the years ahead. Looking back at the film thirty years later, The Living Daylights was an admirable attempt to inject the series with renewed purpose and to ensure that it remained germane to moviegoers of the time. There is a perceptible sense that the creative team was determined to update Bond for the demands of an increasingly uncertain world, taking into account political shifts as well as socio-cultural changes, and the extravagant flamboyance of the previous decade’s entries in the series suddenly felt impossibly far-removed from the comparatively stark, back-to-basics approach that was being offered to audiences of the late eighties. The movie was not only to prove very entertaining, but also laid considerable groundwork for the franchise’s subsequent evolution throughout the coming decades.
John Cork: The Living Daylights was the beginning of the modern era of Bond films. It is the movie where the filmmakers and fans began to take 007 seriously again, where the spirit of Ian Fleming again became vital to the cinematic 007. It is a film that has an excellent mix of all the ingredients that make James Bond so popular. It features a great cast and some spectacular action and effects. It is also John Barry’s last Bond score, and it is a score that I absolutely love — elegant, romantic, sexy, and filled with spy-movie vibe. The movie is pure 1980s, but in the best way.
Charles Helfenstein: There is so much to celebrate — the locations are the right blend of British and exotic, the music is classic John Barry amplified by 80s synth-pop, the story rewards you for paying attention, there are beautiful damsels in distress, there are heart-stopping jump scares, thrilling stunts, and in the center of it all is Timothy Dalton: an intense, wolf-eyed, lithe, chain-smoking, ridiculously handsome James Bond who looks like he just stepped off the page of an Ian Fleming novel. Daylights (and Dalton) swung the pendulum back to seriousness and back to Bond’s literary source. The film brought also mystery back to the series, both with a complex plot and with an actor who was not a household name.
Lee Pfeiffer: The Living Daylights is often overlooked by fans in terms of its importance in revitalizing the Bond film franchise. While Roger Moore was extremely popular and successful, even he admitted that A View to a Kill was a pretty anemic finish to his tenure as Bond. That movie had reverted to many of the overtly slapstick elements that most hardcore Bond fans abhorred. The script was uninspiring and the film underperformed compared to expectations. There was real concern that Bond’s audience was starting to become indifferent. The casting of Timothy Dalton revitalized the series when it needed it most. The Living Daylights is not a classic Bond movie. The script was written generically so it wasn’t fine-tuned for Dalton’s persona. It also has two weak villains and a plot that meanders somewhat. However, Dalton brought back a sense of seriousness to the role of Bond that was welcomed by the fans. The ads played this up with up with tag lines like “Dalton…Dangerous.” He looked like he meant business and managed to infuse the character with some Fleming-esque characteristics that had largely disappeared over the years.
Bruce Scivally: The Living Daylights is worthy of celebration if for no other reason than being the first 007 film to star Timothy Dalton, whose brooding performance was a sharp departure from the lighter touch of his predecessor, Roger Moore. With a new star, the filmmakers took a newer approach, making a James Bond film that felt tougher and more Fleming-esque; for fans of the Connery Bonds, it was like a throwback to the days of From Russia With Love, when James Bond films were humorous without trying to be over-the-top funny, as, say, Octopussy had been. A trained theatrical actor, Dalton researched the role by reading Ian Fleming’s original novels and trying to embody Fleming’s 007 as best he could. The result was a 007 film closer than ever to the Bond of the novels — a chain-smoking, hard drinking assassin on the verge of burnout who did not suffer fools gladly.
Coate: Can you describe what it was like seeing The Living Daylights for the first time?
Christie: The Living Daylights felt like a breath of fresh air after a period of stylistic uncertainty in the Bond franchise. Following the larger-than-life world domination scenarios of the late seventies Bond movies, the production team — and director John Glen, in particular — seemed determined to pull the series back towards the Cold War thriller scenarios of its glory days. With films such as For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, there was a noticeable effort to tone down elements of the fantastic that had permeated big-budget efforts such as The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, reintroducing some much-needed realism (or as close as a Bond movie ever really gets to realism) into the mix. But the late Sir Roger Moore had never seemed entirely comfortable with this attempt to return Bond to his literary roots as a battle-hardened and sometimes cynical figure who has been profoundly, and adversely, affected by his experiences in the intelligence community. Suddenly, with the arrival of Timothy Dalton, the mission to divert the course of the Bond series along a darker, slightly grittier trajectory seemed to have been kicked into top gear. Moore’s increasingly avuncular, seemingly-indestructible Bond was now gone, and in his place was a leaner, younger, more dangerous figure who reintroduced a much-needed element of unpredictability to the franchise. Everyone seemed to be upping their game, from Glen in the director’s chair to veteran screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, and the comparison to the movie’s immediate predecessor — the lackluster, oft-maligned A View to a Kill — could not have been more striking.
Cork: One may not understand the pent-up anticipation for Daylights. A View to a Kill and Never Say Never Again had tested the resolve of many adult Bond fans. I forget the machinations, but Bruce Scivally and I went to see The Living Daylights at a press screening in Los Angeles. My initial reaction was disappointment. I wanted the film to sweep me away, deliver everything I had been missing from the later Moore films. I recalled to Bruce the old joke about the very religious but racist sexist man who has a heart attack and flat lines. He’s resuscitated by paramedics and has this shocked look on his face. His family asks what happened. “I went to heaven. I, I, I saw God, and she’s black!” I felt like him. I had gotten everything I wanted, a more serious Bond film with lots of Fleming elements, but somehow I didn’t connect to it on that first viewing. That said, I saw it probably ten times in the movie theater and listened to the score for hour after hour that summer.
Helfenstein: Daylights benefited from two publicity hooks: the debut of a new actor and the 25th anniversary of James Bond in the cinema. So there was a great deal of interest, a great deal of coverage. I remember repeatedly watching the trailer and the brief preview included in Happy Anniversary 007. The Gibraltar stunts had my jaw on the floor. My brother and I went to the first day, first showing. We loved the film but were a bit confused by the complex plot, and went back for a second showing and everything made more sense. Seeing it in the theater was a treat. It’s the film that turned me from a casual Bond fan into a super fan. That summer I also saw the film in Maine, Scotland, and Greece — it was a Daylights world tour of sorts.
Pfeiffer: I saw the film at advance critics’ screening in New York City. I was extremely happy with the end result and relieved that a more serious approach to the Bond character had been taken. The overall reaction was very positive. I think everyone realized that the series was in danger of running out of steam and becoming too predictable. Daylights put Bond back into more realistic situations that reflected the changing tastes of modern action movie audiences. It must be said, however, that the movie went against Cubby Broccoli’s philosophy of embroiling Bond in contemporary political situations. When you look at the movie today, it’s a bit cringe-inducing to realize that the Afghan “freedom fighters” who Bond sides with against the Soviets would eventually morph into the Taliban and other terrorist groups that adamantly opposed the West.
Scivally: I first saw The Living Daylights, if memory serves, at a pre-release BAFTA screening in Los Angeles. The pre-credits sequence, I felt, was adequate, but not up to the standard set by the amazing stunts in the pre-credits of The Spy Who Loved Me or Moonraker (back when stuntmen actually risked their lives to create those amazing scenes). The Bratislava sequence, I thought, had a more authentically Fleming feel than perhaps any other 007 film... and by the time the film was over, I wasn’t sure that was a good thing. Books and movies are different animals, and changes are often made to book characters to make them more palatable for a film audience. Like the Bond of the books, Dalton’s 007 is relatively humorless, and the film is, in some ways, a less entertaining Bond film because of it. While, at the time, I did appreciate that Dalton was pushing Bond in a more serious direction, with the passage of time — and repeated viewings — I see that more as a liability than a plus.
Coate: Can you compare and contrast Timothy Dalton’s inaugural performance as Agent 007 with that of the other actors who have portrayed the character?
Christie: Dalton was famously an admirer of Ian Fleming’s fiction, and he is known to have studied the original Bond novels and short fiction closely when preparing to take on the part. Thus Dalton’s Bond was much more of a reluctant hero in comparison to Roger Moore’s incarnation, and there was an undeniable influence of the Fleming Bond in the way that the veteran agent was not always comfortable with carrying out his orders. Though he hits the ground running, thanks in no small part to a pre-credits sequence that hurls him straight into the thick of the action, it is interesting to see how Dalton’s take on the character quickly establishes itself as no-nonsense, slightly jaded, and considerably more contemplative than many of his predecessors. Whereas Sean Connery’s Bond appeared as more or less a fully-formed character from the earliest scenes of Dr. No, and George Lazenby faced the challenge of establishing himself as a successor while putting his own stamp on 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Moore had a much more stately introduction to the Bond role in Live and Let Die, easing himself into the character rather more gradually. But Dalton appeared determined to waste no time in establishing his troubled, world-weary take on Bond and — though he often seemed less than comfortable with the film’s sparing moments of light-heartedness and occasional punning witticisms — he performs with great confidence and lends this brooding, discontented figure a laudable depth of character throughout.
Cork: Dalton is a great actor. I’ve met him very briefly on a couple of occasions and he fills up the room with his charm. He was in a very tough position following Moore, who made the role his own. Like Moore, he had the same director as the previous Bond’s last film. (Guy Hamilton directed Connery in Diamonds Are Forever, then Moore’s first Bond, just as John Glen directed Moore’s last Bond film then Dalton.) I’m not sure this was the best circumstance for either actor because in both cases I think the director was quite naturally making a comparison. Also, Dalton had absolutely no prep time, no ability to rehearse and live in the part. Considering this, he gives an amazing performance. It just doesn’t quite feel like Bond to me. He laughs too easily and is too quick to play the line rather than play against the line. Connery, for example, would take an angry line and give it a very light touch. Note how Connery never breaks a sweat in the dinner with Dr. No, never talks through gritted teeth. Dalton to me runs a little too hot and cold, but rarely finds that perfectly cool center. And the thing is, meet him in person, he’s got that in spades. One of the finest scenes in any Bond film is when Dalton’s Bond goes to murder General Puskin. That’s where you can see Dalton’s amazing skill. He’s working with another actor (the brilliant John Rhys-Davies) and the tone is just perfect. There isn’t a flaw in that scene. But then Bond’s soon lumbering through the rooftop chase which was originally scripted as a comic action set-piece, and there was no way Dalton could hold that perfect tone in a script that didn’t embrace it.
Helfenstein: Dalton had the shortest preparation time of any of the Bond actors between when he was signed and when he started filming. But he was a fan of the novels and wanted to return the character to Fleming’s literary roots. Looks wise, Dalton was perfect. Rolling Stone magazine said he looked like he was genetically engineered for the role. He conveyed anger perfectly, did a great job with the love scenes and stunts, and his voice was like steel wrapped in silk. His theatrical-influenced delivery could have been toned down a bit in some scenes (“To drop a BOMB!”). Unfortunately his humor fell a bit flat, though I doubt even Roger Moore could have made a line like “Salt corrosion” uproariously hilarious. Dalton had been on Eon’s radar for a long time and his fantastic debut proved that those instincts were right.
Pfeiffer: I was always very admiring of Roger Moore’s interpretation of Bond, which was incomparable. But even he knew the producers had to bring some new energy and variations to the character. Dalton was the antithesis of Moore’s characterization of 007. He wasn’t comfortable tossing out bon mots and in some cases the insistence that he do so looked rather strained. Instead, he played the part as a deadly, sober and serious character and the result brought plenty of new energy to the franchise. Dalton reverted the character back to the earliest days of the films in which Sean Connery played the part essentially in a serious manner, with a few quips tossed out periodically. That’s the style in which George Lazenby portrayed Bond in his one and only outing as 007. Roger Moore realized he could not emulate Connery and successfully brought his own unique interpretation to the role. Since Moore was a very funny man in real life, he brought those attributes to his performances as Bond and it worked well. However, just as Moore couldn’t imitate Connery, Dalton wisely sought not to imitate Moore. He created the role anew by bringing in his own, more serious interpretation of the role.
Scivally: The great tragedy to me is that Dalton did not get a third chance to play 007. If one looks at Connery’s films, he seems a bit insecure, rushing his dialogue in Dr. No, and is getting the hang of the role with From Russia With Love, but it’s not really until Goldfinger — his third film — that he truly owns the role, bringing a swaggering confidence to every minute of his screen time. Similarly, after a couple of films where Roger Moore was rather awkwardly trying to fit his 007 into a Sean Connery mold, he was finally allowed to be more of himself with his third outing, The Spy Who Loved Me, creating a lighter Bond persona that kept the series alive into the 1980s. Especially given that the series was more or less re-booted with GoldenEye — a film that had a much larger budget than Licence to Kill, and benefited from a new director and fresh writers — it would have been interesting to see how a third Timothy Dalton film would have turned out. I like to think that under the guidance of a director like Martin Campbell, his rough edges would have been smoothed and he would have delivered one of the best Bond performances.
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