“THREE ACT TRAGEDY” (2010) Review

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“THREE ACT TRAGEDY” (2010) Review

When I was in my early teens, I had shifted my attention from Nancy Drew mysteries to those novels written by Agatha Christie. And I have not stopped since. I confess that this shift in reading material was the result of seeing the 1978 movie, “DEATH ON THE NILE”, for the first time. Properly hooked on Christie’s works, I focused my attention on her 1934 novel, “Murder in Three Acts”, also known as “Three Act Tragedy”

I have seen two adaptations of Christie’s 1934 novel. The first was television adaptation in the mid 1980s, titled “MURDER IN THREE ACTS”, which starred Christie veteran Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot. Although I enjoyed it, I had hoped to see an adaptation of the novel in its original 1930s setting. I had to wait many years before the ITV series, “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”granted my wish with an adaptation that not only retained the original setting, but also the original title, “THREE ACT TRAGEDY”.

The story begins on the coast of Cornwall, where Hercule Poirot attends a dinner party at the home of famed stage actor, Sir Charles Cartwright. The latter’s guests also include:

*Dr. Sir Bartholomew Strange – Sir Charles’ old childhood friend and a nerve specialist
*Lady Mary Lytton-Gore – a Cornish neighbor of Sir Charles, who is from an impoverished old family
*Hermione “Egg” Lytton-Gore – Lady Mary’s young daughter, with whom Sir Charles is in love
*Muriel Wills – a successful playwright also known as Anthony Astor
*Captain Freddie Dacres – a former Army officer and gentleman gambler
*Cynthia Dacres – Captain Dacres’ wife and a successful dressmaker
*Reverend Stephen Babbington – the local curate and Sir Charles’ Cornish neighbor
*Mrs. Babbington – Reverend Babbington’s wife near Sir Charles’s home in Cornwall.
*Oliver Manders – a young Cornish neighbor of Sir Charles’, who is interested in Egg
*Miss Milray – Sir Charles’ secretary

The guests gather in Sir Charles’ drawing-room for a round of pre-dinner cocktails. The party is marred when one of the guests, Reverend Babbington, collapses and dies after drinking his cocktail. An inquest rules his death as a result from natural causes. However, Sir Charles believes that Reverend Babbington may have been murdered, but Poirot is not convinced. About a month or so later, Poirot is vacationing in Monte Carlo, when he encounters Sir Charles. The latter reveals via a newspaper article that Dr. Strange had died from similar circumstances, while hosting a dinner party at his home in Yorkshire. Most of the guests who had attended Sir Charles’ party had also been there, with the exception of Mrs. Babbington and Miss Milray. Unlike Reverend Babbington, Sir Bartholomew’s death has been ruled as a homicide. Both Poirot and Sir Charles return to Britain to investigate the two deaths.

Although “Three Act Tragedy” was one of the first Christie novels I had read, it has never been a favorite of mine. I liked it, but I did not love it. Screenwriter Nick Dear made some changes to the story that I either found appropriate or did not bother me. Dear removed characters like society hound like Mr. Satterthwaite and stage actress Angela Sutcliffe (and one of Sir Charles’ former lovers). I did not miss them. One change really improved the story for me. One aspect of the novel that I found particularly frustrating was the minimized presence of Poirot. The lack of Poirot almost dragged the novel into a halt. Thankfully, Dear avoided this major flaw by allowing Poirot’s presence to be a lot more prominent. He achieved this change by making Poirot a friend of Sir Charles and removing the Mr. Satterthwaite. Dear also made one other major change in Christie’s story, but I will get to it later.

Visually, “THREE ACT TRAGEDY” is a gorgeous movie to watch. Peter Greenhalgh, who had passed away last year, provided the production with a colorful photography that I found particularly beautiful. My only complaint about Greenhalgh’s photography is that it struck me as a little fuzzy at times to indicate the story’s presence in the past. Another dazzling aspect of “THREE ACT TRAGEDY” were the production designs created by Jeff Tessler, who more orless served as the production designer for “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” between 2005 and the series’ end in 2013. Judging by the admirable way he managed to re-create not only the movie’s 1930s setting, but also various locations, only tells me that he had been doing something write. I certainly had no complaints about the costumes designed by Sheena Napier. Like Tessler, she worked for “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” for a long period of time . . . even longer than Tessler. Although I am no expert on early 20th century fashion, I thought Napier excellent job in creating costumes for the production’s setting and the different characters.

The performances featured in “THREE ACT TRAGEDY” were first-rate. I did not find anything exceptional about David Suchet’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot, but I thought he gave his usual more-than-competent performance. Martin Shaw gave a very solid performance as the charming, yet intelligent Sir Charles Cartwright, who was the first to sense something wrong about the first murder. I was also impressed by how the actor conveyed his character’s insecurity over a romance with a much younger woman. Kimberly Nixon seemed like a ball of fire, thanks to her portrayal of the vibrant and charming Egg Lytton-Gore, who found herself torn between two men. I also enjoyed Art Malik’s portrayal of the extroverted Dr. Sir Bartholomew Strange. Although there were times when his performance struck me as a touch too jovial. Ronan Vibert gave a rather insidious, yet oddly charming performance as “gentleman” gambler Captain Freddie Dacres. The one performance that really impressed me came Kate Ashfield who gave a very interesting performance as playwright Anthony Astor aka Miss Muriel Wills. Ashfield did an excellent job in recapturing Miss Wills’ secretive, yet uber observant personality. The production also featured solid performances from Anastasia Hille, Tom Wisdom, Anna Carteret, Suzanne Bertish, and Tony Maudsley.

I do have a complaint about “THREE ACT TRAGEDY”. I really wish that Nick Dear had not changed the murderer’s main motive for the killings. I have heard rumors that there are two different versions of the story’s resolution. My literary version of “THREE ACT TRAGEDY” questioned the murderer’s sanity, making the murders a lot more interesting to me. Unfortunately, Nick Dear used the other resolution, one that struck me as a lot more mundane and not very interesting. Too bad.

Aside from changing the killer’s motive for the murders, I rather enjoyed “THREE ACT TRAGEDY”. I am thankful that screenwriter Nick Dear had made Hercule Poirot’s presence in the story more prominent than it was in the novel. After all, he is the story’s main investigator. But despite excellent acting and solid direction by Ashley Pearce, I would never regard it as one of my favorite productions from “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”. It was simply a pretty good adaptation of a solid Christie novel. There is nothing else for me to say.

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“THE FAR PAVILIONS” (1984) Review

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“THE FAR PAVILIONS” (1984) Review

Thirty-four years ago saw the publication of an international best seller about a young British Army officer during the British Raj in 19th century India. The novel’s success not brought about a not-so-successful musical stage play in 2005, but also a six-part television miniseries, twenty-one years earlier. 

Directed by Peter Duffell for HBO, “THE FAR PAVILIONS” tells the story of Ashton “Ash” Pelham-Martyn, the only son of prominent British botanist Hillary Pelham-Martyn and his wife in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in 1853. After his mother dies of childbirth, Ashton is mainly raised by his ayah (nurse) Sita, who is a part of his father’s retinue. Cholera takes the lives of all members of the Pelham-Martyn camp some four years later, with the exception of Ash and Sita. The latter tries to deliver Ash to his mother’s family in Mardan, but the uprising of the Sepoy Rebellion leads her to adopt the slightly dark-skinned Ash as her son. Both eventually take refuge in the kingdom of Gulkote. While Ash forgets about his British ancestry, he becomes the servant for Crown Prince Lalji and befriends the neglected Princess Anjuli, Master of Stables Koda Dad, and his son Zarin. Ashton eventually leaves Gulkote after learning from the dying Sita about his true ancestry. After reaching his relatives in Mardan, Ash is sent back to Great Britain to live with his Pelham-Martyn relations. Within less than a decade, he returns to India as a newly commissioned British Army. Not only does he make new acquaintances, but also renews old ones – including the Princess Anjuli.

British costume dramas have always been popular with American television and movie audiences for decades. But aside from the Jane Austen phenomenon between 1995 and 2008, there seemed to be an even bigger demand for period pieces from the U.K. during the 1980s . . . a major consequence from the popular royal wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. HBO and Peter Duffell took M.M. Kaye’s 1978 bestseller and transformed it into a miniseries filled with six one-hour episodes. Aside from a few changes, “THE FAR PAVILIONS” was more or less a television hit. And in many ways, it was easy to see why.

First of all, Kaye’s story about a forbidden love story between a British Army officer viewed as an outsider by most of his fellow Britons and an Indian princess with a touch of European blood (Russian) was bound to appeal to the most romantic. Add an epic trek across the Indian subcontinent (in the form of a royal wedding party), action on the North West frontier and a historical event – namely the start of the Second Anglo-Afghan War – and one is faced with a costumed epic of the most romantic kind. And I am flabbergasted at how the story managed to criticize the British presence in both India and Afghanistan, and at the same time, glorify the military aspect of the British Empire. If I must be honest, M.M. Kaye not only wrote a pretty damn good story, but she and screenwriter Julian Bond did a solid job in adapting the novel for television.

Now, I said solid, not excellent. Even the most first-rate miniseries is not perfect, but I feel that “THE FAR PAVILIONS” possessed flaws that prevented it from being the superb production it could have been. The miniseries’ main problem seemed to be its look. I had no problems with Robert W. Laing’s production designs. His work, along with George Richardson’s art direction, Jack Cardiff’s superb cinematography, and Hugh Scaife’s set decorations superbly brought mid-to-late 19th century British India to life. I was especially impressed by the crew’s re-creation of the Rana of Bhithor’s palace, the cantonments for the Corps of Guides regiment and the royal wedding procession for the Rana of Bhitor’s brides – Princess Shushila and Princess Anjuli of Karidkote (formerly Gulkote). For a miniseries that cost $12 million dollars to produce, why shoot it on such poor quality film, whose color seemed to have faded over the past two or three decades? It seemed criminal that such a lush production was shot on film of bad quality.

As much as I admired Bond and Kaye’s adaptation of the latter’s novel, there were two aspects of their script that annoyed me. One, the screenplay skipped one of the novel’s best parts – namely Ash’s childhood in Gulkote. Instead, the story of his birth, early travels with Sita and his time in Gulkote were revealed in a montage that served as backdrop for the opening credits. And I was not that impressed at how the script handled Ash’s early romance with a young English debutante named Belinda Harlowe. I found it rushed and unsatisfying. More importantly, the entire sequence seemed like a waste of Felicity Dean and Rupert Everett’s (who played Ash’s doomed rival George Garforth) time. And some of the dialogue for the romantic scenes between Ash and Juli struck me as so wince inducing that it took me a while to unclench my teeth after the scenes ended.

I had other problems with “THE FAR PAVILIONS”. The casting of American actress Amy Irving as the adult Princess Anjli (“Juli”) produced a “what the hell?” response from me when I first saw the miniseries. That startled feeling remained after my last viewing. Irving simply seemed miscast in the role, despite a decent performance from her and her solid chemistry with lead actor Ben Cross. Another role that failed to match with the performer was that of British military administrator, Sir Louis Cavagnari, portrayed by John Gielgud. Cavagnari was 39 years old, when he met his death at the British mission in Kabul, Afghanistan. Gielgud was 79 to 80 years old when he portrayed the military officer . . . naturally too old for the role. The makeup department tried to take years off the actor with hair dye and make-up. Let us just say that Amy Irving was more convincing as an Indian princess than Gielgud was as a character 40 years his junior.

Aside from my quibbles about the casting of Amy Irving and John Gielgud, I have no complaints about the rest of the cast. Ben Cross did a superb job in his portrayal of the hot tempered and impatient Ashton Pelham-Martyn. Ash has always been a frustrating character for me. Although I sympathized with his feelings and beliefs, his occasional bursts of impatience and naiveté irritated me. And Cross perfectly captured all of these aspects of Ash’s nature. Despite my strong belief that she was miscast, I cannot deny that Amy Irving gave a subtle and well acted performance as Princess Anjuli. But I could never accuse Omar Sharif of being miscast. He did a superb job in his portrayal of the wise and very witty horsemaster of Gulkote/Karidkote, Koda Dad. Sharif made it easy to see why Ash came to regard Koda Dad as more of a father figure than any other older male. Although I believe that Irving was miscast as Princess Anjuli, I was surprised at how impressed I was by Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Anjuli’s uncle, Prince Kaka-ji Rao. The Anglo-Spanish actor did an excellent job of portraying a character from a completely different race. I suspect the secret to Lee’s performance was that he did not try so hard to sell the idea of him being an Indian prince. And Saeed Jaffrey was superb as the effeminate, yet manipulate and murderous courtier, Biju Ram. It seemed a pity that the miniseries did not explore Ash’s childhood. Audiences would have been able to enjoy more of Jaffrey’s performance.

Sneh Gupta was excellent as childishly imperious and self-absorbed Princess Shushila, Juli’s younger sister. She did a first-rate job of transforming Shushila from a sympathetic character to a childishly imperious villainess. Robert Hardy gave a solid performance as the Commandant of the Guides. Benedict Taylor was charming and outgoing as Ash’s only military friend, Walter “Wally” Hamilton. I really do not know how to describe Rosanno Brazzi’s performance as the Rana of Bhithor. I feel that too much makeup made it difficult for me to get a grip on his character. I was surprised to see Art Malik as Koda Dad’s son, Zarin. But his role did not seem big enough to produce a comment from me. Rupert Everett was excellent as George Garforth, the British civil servant with a secret to hide. Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with the miniseries’ portrayal of the story line in which he played a part.

I realize that “THE FAR PAVILIONS” has a good number of strikes against it. But its virtues outweighed its flaws. And in the end, it proved to be an entertaining miniseries, thanks to the lush production and the first-rate cast led by Ben Cross.

“UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” (2010) – Series One Retrospective

“UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” (2010) – Series One Retrospective

Not long after ITV aired its premiere of Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame’s successful series, “DOWNTON ABBEY”, the BBC announced its plans to air an updated version of the old 1970s television classic, “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS”. The news took me by surprise. I had naturally assumed that the series’ creators Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins decided to revive the series in response to the news about “DOWNTON ABBEY”. Had I been wrong? I do not know. Did it really matter? I do not think so. 

The new “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” picked up six years following the old series’ finale. The London townhouse at 165 Eaton Place in the Belgravia neighborhood is no longer occupied by any member of the Bellamy family. A Foreign Office diplomat and his wife – Sir Hallam Holland and Lady Agnes Holland – have returned to Britain and inherited the Eaton Place townhouse. The couple hired former parlourmaid Rose Buck, now running her own agency for domestic servants, to find them staff as they renovate the house to its former glory. The Hollands are forced to deal with the arrivals of Sir Hallam’s mother, Maud, Dowager Lady Holland and her Sikh secretary Amanjt Singh; and Lady Agnes’ sister, Lady Persephone Towyn – all of whom cause major stirs within the new household. The three-episode series spanned the year 1936 – covering the death of King George V, the Battle of Cable Street and King Edward VIII’s abdication.

Because it came on the heels of the critical darling, “DOWNTON ABBEY”“UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” received a good share of negative criticism from the media and television viewers. And if they were not comparing it to the series written by Julian Fellowes, they were comparing it to the old “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” from the 1970s. Among the negative press it received was a report of a brief clash between Marsh and Fellowes regarding the two series. If I must be honest, I was just as guilty as the others for I had believed the negative press without having seen the series. But my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to watch it.

I did have a few problems with “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS”. It had its moments of over-the-top maudlin, courtesy of screenwriter Heidi Thomas. I suppose I should not have been surprised. Thomas had served as screenwriter for 2007’s “CRANFORD” and its 2009 sequel. And she managed to inject plenty of wince-inducing sentiment into those productions, as well. I also found Rose Buck’s hunt for the Hollands’ new staff rather tiresome. It dominated the first half of Episode One, “The Fledgling” and I nearly gave up on the series. And I also found the cook Clarice Thackeray’s encounter with society photographer Cecil Beaton disgustingly sentimental. But . . . the encounter led to one of the best cat fights I have seen on television, so I was able to tolerate it. I have one last problem – namely the series’ three episode running time. Three episodes? Really? I would have given it at least five or six. Instead, the three episodes forced the first series to pace a lot faster than I would have liked.

For me, the virtues of “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” far outweighed the flaws. First of all, I was delighted that Marsh, Atkins and Thomas had decided to set the new series in the 1930s. I have been fascinated with that decade for a long time. It witnessed a great deal of potential change and conflict throughout Europe – including changes within Britain’s Royal Family that had a major impact upon the nation. “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” did an excellent job in conveying how these changes affected ordinary Britons and the Holland household in particular. Many had complained about the strong, political overtones that permeated “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS”. I, on the other hand, loved it. The political overtones not only suited the series’ 30s setting but also jibed with the fact that one of the major characters happened to be a diplomat from the Foreign Office, with friendly ties to a member of the Royal Family.

Production wise, “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” looked gorgeous. Designer Eve Stewart did a superb job in re-creating London in the mid-1930s for the series. Along with set decorator Julia Castle, she converted 165 Eaton Place into a wealth of Art Deco eye candy. Amy Roberts’ costumes – especially for Keeley Hawes and Claire Foy – were outstanding and contributed to the series’ 1930s look. My only complaint regarding the series’ production is the series’ theme and score. Quite frankly, the only memorable thing about Daniel Pemberton’s work was that I found it too light for my tastes. It suited Heidi Thomas’ occasional forays into sentimentality very well. Unfortunately.

Not being that familiar with the original “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” series from the 70s, I did not find myself comparing the old cast with the new one. First of all, I thought the new cast did just fine – including the recurring characters. Blake Ritson gave a subtle performance as Prince George, Duke of Kent and youngest living brother to King Edward VIII. I noticed that Thomas took great care to ensure that Ritson’s Duke of Kent would be critical of Wallis Simpson’s pro-Nazi sympathies. I found this interesting, considering of his past reputation as a Nazi sympathizer. Speaking of Mrs. Simpson, I was slightly disappointed by Emma Clifford’s portrayal of the future Duchess of Windsor. The actress portrayed Mrs. Simpson as some kind of negative archetype of American women found in many British productions – gauche and verbose. This portrayal seemed completely opposite of how Mrs. Simpson had been described in the past – cool and tart. Edward Baker-Duly was given a more ambiguous character to portray – namely German ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop – which allowed him to give a more subtle performance.

I found the casting for the Holland servants very satisfying. Many have complained that Jean Marsh’s role as Rose Buck seemed woefully reduced in compared to the old production. If her role had been reduced, I did not mind. After all, Rose was a familiar figure and I believe it was time for the lesser-known characters to shine. As much as I had enjoyed Adrian Scarborough’s solid yet nervous butler, Mr. Pritchard, and Anne Reid’s tart-tongued cook Clarice Thackeray; I found myself impressed by Neil Jackson’s cool portrayal of the ambiguous chauffeur Harry Spargo. I thought he did a great job in conveying the changing passions of Harry, without resorting to histronics. Ellie Kendrick did an excellent job in her portrayal of the young and very spirited housemaid, Ivy Morris. Although Art Malik seemed a bit noble as the Dowager Lady Holland’s Sikh secretary, Mr. Amanjit, I believe that he managed to come into his own when his character befriended the German-Jewish refugee Rachel Perlmutter in Episode Two, “The Ladybird”. Like Scarborough and Red, Helen Bradbury gave solid performance as Frau Perlmutter. However, there were a few moments when she managed to inject a great deal of pathos into her performance, making it a pity that she only appeared in one episode. Heidi Thomas’ portrayal of the Hollands’ servants really impressed me. She managed to portray them as multi-dimensional characters, instead of the one-dimensional portrayals that marred the characterizations of the servants featured in Series One of “DOWNTON ABBEY”.

Heidi Thomas certainly did a marvelous job with her characterizations of the members of the Holland family. I had noticed that most fans and critics were impressed by Eileen Atkins’ portrayal of the Maud, Dowager Lady Holland. I cannot deny that she did a superb job. Atkins was overbearing, intelligent, wise and impetuous. But . . . the Lady Holland character also struck me as a remake of the Dowager Countess of Grantham character from “DOWNTON ABBEY” . . . who struck me as a remake of the Countess of Trentham character from “GOSFORD PARK”. In other words, the Lady Holland character struck me as being a somewhat unoriginal character. One could almost say the same about the Sir Hallam Holland character, portrayed by Ed Stoppard. Many fans have complained about his “noble” personality and penchant for political correctness – especially in his handling of Lotte, the orphaned daughter of Holland maid, Rachel Perlmutter, and his distaste toward the British Fascist movement. However, Stoppard did an excellent job in making Sir Hallam a flesh-and-blood character. And this came about, due to Stoppard’s opportunity to reveal Sir Hallam’s reaction to the conflict between his mother and wife, making him seem like a bit of a pushover.

But for me, the two most interesting characters in the series proved to be Lady Agnes Holland and Lady Persephone Towyn, the two daughters of an impoverished Welsh peer. In their unique ways, the two sisters struck me as very complex and ambiguous. At first glance, Keeley Hawes’ portrayal of Lady Agnes Holland seemed like a cheerful, slightly shallow woman bubbling with excitement over establishing a new home in London. Hawes’ performance, along with Thomas’ script, even managed to inject some pathos into the character after the revelations about Lady Agnes’ past failures to maintain a successful pregnancy. But once her mother-in-law and rebellious sister became a permanent fixture in her house, the cracks in Lady Agnes’ personality began to show. Thanks to Hawes’ superb performance, audiences were allowed glimpses into the darker side of Lady Agnes’ personality. After watching Series One of“UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS”, many would view Lady Agnes’ younger sister – Lady Persephone – as the series’ villain. And she seemed so perfect for the role, thanks to Claire Foy’s brilliant performance. Her Lady Persephone was a vain, arrogant and temperamental bitch, who treated the Hollands’ staff like dirt – save for Harry Spago, with whom she conducted an affair. At first, it seemed that Harry managed to bring out Lady Persephone’s softer side, especially in her ability to emphasize with his woes regarding the country’s social system. Harry also introduced her to the British Fascist movement. But whereas he ended up finding it repellent, Lady Persephone became even more involved . . . to the point that she developed a relationship with the German ambassador, Joachim von Ribbentrop, before following him back to Germany.

I am not going to pretend that the new “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” is an exceptional series. Because I do not think that it is. Basically, it is simply a continuation of the old series from the 1970s. I thought that its running time was ridiculously short – three episodes. It could have benefited from at least two or three more episodes. And screenwriter Heidi Thomas marred it even further with a good deal of over-the-top sentimentality, especially in the first and third episodes. However, Thomas managed to tone down that same sentimentality in the characters. Nor did she follow Julian Fellowes’ mistake in “DOWNTON ABBEY” by portraying the servants as one-dimensional characters. And the cast, led by Ed Stoppard and Keeley Hawes, were first rate. But what really worked for me was the 1930s setting that allowed Thomas to inject the political turmoil that made that era so memorable. I only hope that Thomas will continue that setting in the second series. “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” may not have been perfect, but I believe it was a lot better than a good number of critics and fans have deemed it.

“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!