“THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” (1987) Review


“THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” (1987) Review

Twenty-four years have passed since EON Productions first released its 15th entry in the Bond franchise – THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, starring Welsh-actor Timothy Dalton I first saw THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS on the night of July 31, 1987 – the date of its original U.S. release. My family and I saw it at the Grauman Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The theater was so packed that we ended up seated near the screen. I had a headache by the time the movie ended. Yet, watching “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” that night was one of the most enjoyable movie going experiences of my life.

I have to say that EON Productions has been lucky in its choice of the six actors who managed to bring their own sense of style to the role of James Bond . . . and I mean all of them. And all were smart enough to portray Bond in a way that suited them, instead of adhering to what the public or the producers wanted them to play Bond.

The movie’s title comes from the 1966 short story, ”The Living Daylights” in which Bond is assigned to assassinate a KGB sniper out to kill a MI-6 agent trying to escape from the Soviet Bloc in Berlin. The movie’s director, John Glen, along with screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, took aspects of that short story and used it to initiate the screen plot. ”THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” starts with a military exercise on Gilbratar in which three 00 agents – including Bond – test the British base by infiltrating it. One of the agents is killed by a KGB agent, who leaves a clue behind with the following words, ”Smiert Spionam”. The phrase, which means ”Death to Spies”, is repeated by Soviet general Georgi Koskov (portrayed by Jeroen Krabbe), after Bond helps him defect from Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. The defection sequence turns out to be a slight remake of the Fleming short story. But whereas the female sniper turns out to be a genuine killer in Fleming’s version; in the movie, she turns out to be Czech celloist, Kara Milovy (portrayed by Maryam D’Abo), who pretends to be a sniper in order to convince MI-6 that Koskov’s defection is genuine. The movie later reveals that Koskov also had Kara impersonate a sniper in order to set her up to be killed by MI-6, namely Bond. And why? It turns out that Koskov is a renegade who has allied himself with an arms dealer named Brad Whittaker (Joe Don Baker) who have been using KBG funds to profit from drug dealing, instead of purchasing arms for the Soviet Army. When another general, Leonid Puskin (John Rhys-Davies) becomes suspicious, Koskov and Whittaker frame the general for the murder of 002 on Gilbratar so that MI-6 will terminate him. Thanks to Bond’s suspicions and his alliance with Kara, the CIA and Afghan freedom fighters named the Mujahedeen, he prevents Koskov and Whittaker’s plans from coming to fruition.

First of all, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is not a perfect movie. It has its flaws. The movie’s main flaw came in the form of the new Aston Martin Volante used by Bond during his escape from the Soviet authorities in Czechoslovakia to Austria. The car was equipped with weaponry such as to use during The Living Daylights mission, the car was equipped with all the essential weaponry that includes rocket launchers and lasers mounted in the hubcaps. Now if this had been”GOLDFINGER””THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” or ”TOMORROW NEVER DIES” this would not seem out of place. But a gadget laden Aston Martin does seem out of place in a taunt thriller like THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and Dalton’s Bond does not seem like the type of guy who would feel comfortable driving such a vehicle.

The Aston Martin sequence emphasized another problem with THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS – namely the humor that accompanied this scene. Some critics had complained of Timothy Dalton’s lack of humor during his tenure as Bond. Actually, one could plainly see that Dalton did have a sense of humor – but one that seemed subtle, dry and slightly dark. It was not the type of humor that drew belly laughs like Roger Moore’s. Most of the movie managed to display Dalton’s type of humor very well. Except during the Aston Martin sequence that featured Bond and Kara’s escape from the Soviet authorities and troops. During this sequence, the producers obviously had not only decided to burden Dalton’s Bond with a gadget-filled car, but also jokes that seemed to fit Roger Moore’s style of humor. I hate to say this but Dalton simply lacked Moore’s talent for broad humor. And it showed during this sequence.

Another problem with the movie turned out to be the character of Brad Whittaker, an American arms dealer. Granted, Joe Don Baker turns in a very competent performance. But his character contributes very little to the story. True, his business as an arms dealer serves as a catalyst to the story, but as a Bond villain he comes off as somewhat weak. Quite simply, he hardly does anything. The movie’s entire plot – using MI-6 to kill off the suspicious Pushkin in order to continue misuse of KGB funds – turned out to be Koskov’s brain child. It was Koskov who plotted to get rid of Pushkin. It was Koskov who plotted to get rid of Kara. It was Koskov who had plotted to frame Bond for Pushkin’s murder. And I suspect that it was Koskov who had originally created the scheme to misuse KGB funds for drug dealing in the first place. Frankly, I think that Whittaker should have met the same fate as Hai Fat from ”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”. He was that irrelevant. Only in his final scene with Dalton does Baker’s Whittaker seem impressive. Instead of arranging some ridiculous death that would give 007 an opportunity to escape, Whittaker did not hesitate to kill Bond in the most brutal manner possible.

With a weak villain such as Whittaker, one would expect THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS to fall apart. But it did not, thanks to the movie’s other main villain – Soviet General Georgi Koskov. Many Bond fans tend to dismiss Koskov as another weak villain. I disagree. Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe did a fantastic job in creating a character that seemed extroverted, charming and very likeable on the surface . . . and intelligent, devious, ruthless and cold-blooded underneath. This subtle duality in his personality comes to the fore in his relationship with Kara Milovy. He obviously had some kind of affection toward the blond cellist . . . enough to purchase a famous Stradivarius cello for her. Yet, when his deception threatens to be exposed, he cold-bloodedly arranged for her to be mistaken as a KGB assassin by Bond, so that the latter would kill her. After all, Kara knew about his relationship with Whittaker. If I had to be honest, I would prefer to be face-to-face wtih an obvious villain like Auric Goldfinger than to be unexpectedly stabbed in the back by the likes of Georgi Koskov.

Not only did Jeroen Krabbe contributed to the quality of THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, but so did the rest of the cast, including the London-born actress of Dutch-Georgian ancestry – Maryam D’Abo. Her Kara Milovy, the effervescent Czech cellist, seemed like a sister in spirit to the Bond leading lady of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE . . . only with a little more backbone. D’Abo infuses Kara with a fresh naivety and passion that has not been since Daniela Bianchi in FRWL. Even better, she and Dalton managed to create a magnetic, yet natural screen chemistry. But D’Abo has never been that popular with Bond fans. Apparently, she seemed too ladylike and not sexy enough for them. Another Bond fan had complained that once Bond learned all he could about Koskov from Kara in Vienna and she set him up to be captured by Koskov in Tangiers, her character became irrelevant to the story. This could be true. But if Kara became irrelevant after Tangiers, what were the writers supposed to do with her? Leave her there? I doubt that Koskov would allow a living Kara loose on the world to expose him. No wonder he had brought her along to Afghanistan. But even there, Kara proved to be more than “comic relief” as someone had put it. Thanks to her, Kamal Khan and his Mujahedeen fighters attacked the Soviet airbase and distracted the military personnel long enough to save Bond and give him the opportunity to steal the plane loaded with Whittaker and Koskov’s opium. Kara Milovy may not be the most popular of Bond leading ladies, but thanks to D’Abo’s performance, she is certainly one of my favorites.

I must admit that I found myself rather impressed by the rest of THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS cast. Robert Brown proved to be a more interesting “M” than he did in either OCTOPUSSY and A VIEW TO A KILL. His stuffy head of MI-6 proved to be an excellent contrast to Dalton’s Bond, with whom he constantly butt heads with. Although Robert Shaw had set the standards for the blond, muscle-bound henchman/killer in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, many have failed to be as memorable as him. As far as I am concerned, only one has come close . . . namely Andreas Wisniewski as Necros, Whittaker and Koskov’s hired killer. Like Shaw before him, Wisniewski had very little dialogue – in fact, probably less than the British actor. But he managed to project menace, intelligence and style without coming off as some muscle-bound clone like the Hans character in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and the Stamper character in TOMORROW NEVER DIES. Also included in the cast was legendary character actor, John Rhys-Davies, portraying Soviet General Leonid Pushkin, the very character whose suspicions of the Whittaker-Koskov partnership helped set the plot in motion. Unlike many of his other well-known roles, Rhys-Davies portrayed a more restrained character, yet managing to project his usual strong presence. He and Dalton played off each other very well in the famous Tangier hotel room scene, in which Pushkin nearly became one of Bond’s victims. And of course, there is Art Malik from THE JEWEL IN THE CROWNfame. In TLD, he played Kamran Shah, leader of a local Mujardeen unit. In a way, Malik’s character reminds me of Georgi Koskov – a strong and intelligent man who uses a benign persona to hide his true self. And Malik portrayed Shah with a giddy mixture of authority, charm, and mischievous wit.

That said, I want to say a few things about Timothy Dalton. Even though I was a major fan of Roger Moore, I realized by the mid-80s that it was time for him to retire from the role. With great fondness, I said adieu and breathlessly anticipated Timothy Dalton’s debut inTHE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. When THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS first came out, the media pointed out that Dalton had read all of Fleming’s novels, along with a biography of the author to get a vibe on the James Bond character. It is possible that many fans and critics, used to Roger Moore’s more humorous portrayal, found it difficult to accept Dalton’s grittier Bond. Personally, I feel all of that research had paid off. Dalton’s Bond was a tense and serious man with occasional flashes of grittiness, dark humor and a human heart – very much the personification of Fleming’s literary portrayal. Judging from the success of previous Bond actors, perhaps it was not necessary for Dalton to portray the role in such a serious manner. But hey! It worked for him. Many fans may not have appreciated his efforts twenty years ago, but now they do.

In the past seventeen-and-a-half years since LICENSE TO KILL‘s release, I have come to appreciate Dalton’s contribution to the Bond franchise even more. Whoever said that he was the right Bond at the wrong time was probably right. The man was ahead of his time . . . not just for the Bond franchise, but for many espionage films. People have also stated that Dalton had made a great impact on the franchise. Again, I believe that Dalton not only influenced Daniel Craig’s debut as Bond in the early 21st century, but many other espionage characters. Pierce Brosnan was not above utilizing Dalton’s darker take on Bond, every now and then. I also suspect that Dalton might be partially responsible for the influx of edgy, angst-filled spy or action/adventure characters that have emerged over the years. Characters portrayed by the likes of Matt Damon, Matthew McFaydden, Kiefer Sutherland, Harrison Ford and possibly even Richard Chamberlain and Robert DeNiro. Even the Tangier hotel scene between Dalton and D’Abo in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS seemed to have been copied in many action movies in the years that followed – including one between Dalton and Carey Lowell in LICENSE TO KILLand Harrison Ford and Allison Doody in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. But no one did it better than Dalton and D’Abo, as far as I’m concerned.

Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, created a taunt thriller, reminiscent of past Bond movies like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. Instead of the usual super villain bent upon controlling a major world market or the world itself, or the super terrorist groups up to its elbows in gadgets, Maibaum and Wilson took Fleming’s short story and created a tale of emotions, greed and betrayal. What I especially like about THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is that it featured a series of excellent scenes and moments:

-the entire defection sequence starting from Kara’s appearance in the window and ending with Koskov’s departure from Austria

-Koskov’s exuberant greeting of Bond

-Necros’ attack on the MI-6 safe house

-Bond and Kara’s first meeting

-Bond and Kara’s arrival in Vienna

-Bond and Pushkin’s confrontation in Tangiers

-the fake assassination of Pushkin

-Bond and Kara’s confrontation in Tangiers

-Bond and Kara’s escape from the Soviet military jail in Afghanistan

-Kamran Shah’s revelation of true nature

-the Mujardeen’s attack on the Soviet air base

-Bond and Kara’s arrival in Pakistan

-Bond and Whittaker’s confrontation in Tangiers

Thanks to the above scenes and the script, the story came close to feeling like a real spy thriller, instead of a quasi-fantasy/action-adventure flick. As I had stated before, the movie’s only misstep seemed to be the use of the gadget-laden Aston-Martin and the insertion of dialogue not suited for Dalton’s acting style in the Czechoslovakia-to-Austria chase sequence. In fact, the sequence’s style seemed out of place for such a taunt thriller like THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. Despite that particular sequence, the cast and the story, combined with John Glen’s competent direction and Alec Mills’ cinematography made THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS one of the finest – in my opinion – Bond movies in the franchise.

Returning back to that night in Hollywood, I recalled that the audience went wild over THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. They especially seemed to take pleasure in the scene in which Bond and Kara managed to escape across the border into Austria. I had enjoyed “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” so much that I saw it at least six or seven more times in the theaters before it was released on video. And for me that is a personal record – especially in regard to the James Bond film. Happy birthday, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS!

Memorable Lines

[after escaping out of a small jail cell]
Kara: You were fantastic. We’re free.
Bond: Kara, we’re inside a Russian airbase in the middle of Afghanistan.

“That’s too bad, Bond. You could’ve been a live rich man, instead of a poor dead one.” – Brad Whittaker

[James Bond and Kara Milovy snow-slide through customs in a cello case]
Bond: [yelling] We have nothing to declare.
Kara: [yelling] Except this cello.
[the word ‘cello’ echoes through the valley a few times]

[On Whitaker being crushed under a statue of the Duke of Wellington]
Bond: He met his Waterloo.

Koskov: I’m sorry, James. For you I have great affection, but we have an old saying: duty has no sweethearts.
Bond: We have an old saying too, Georgi. And you’re full of it.

Kara: What happened?
Bond: He got the boot.

[Bond is pointing a gun at him]
Pushkin: You are professional. You do not kill without reason.
Bond: Two of our men are dead. Koskov named you.
Pushkin: It is a question of trust. Who do you believe? Koskov, or me?
Bond: If I trusted Koskov we wouldn’t be talking. As long as you’re alive, we’ll never know what he’s up to.
Pushkin: [Slowly] Then I must die.

[after demonstrating a boom-box rocket launcher]
Q: [to Bond] Something we’re making for the Americans. It’s called a “Ghetto Blaster”.

[struggling with Kara’s cello]
Bond: Why didn’t you learn the violin?

[Bond and Saunders are discussing the change of plans on Koskov’s defection]
Koskov: James. James Bond!
Bond: [hugging Koskov] Later, General! [to Saunders] Lose them. I’ll pick you up at the border, twenty-three hundred hours. Be there.
Saunders: Where are you taking him? How will you get him out?
Bond: Sorry, old man, section 26, paragraph 5. Need-to-know. Sure you understand.

[Saunders has just been assassnated]
Kara: Did you hear?
Bond: Hear from Georgi?
Bond: Yes, I *got* the message.

Pushkin: Put him on the next plane to Moscow…
Koskov: Oh, thank you General, thank you so much…
Pushkin: …in the diplomatic bag.

[after removing his disguise] “Thank you both for your help. My name is Kamran Shah. Please forgive the theatricals, it’s a hangover from my Oxford days.” – Kamran Shah

[after destroying his car] “Glad I insisted you brought that cello.” – Bond

Bond: Just taking the Aston out for a spin, Q.
Q: Be careful, 007! It’s just had a new coat of paint!

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2 Responses

  1. really an eye opener for me.

    – Robson

  2. Thanks for finally writing about >THE LIVING
    DAYLIGHTS (1987) Review | The Rush Journals <Loved it!

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