Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Living Daylights [1987]

I've been looking forward to this one.

The Living Daylights has been one of my favorite James Bond movies ever since it came out in 1987.  When I began this blog, and its weirdo scoring system, one of the things I most wanted to find out was how The Living Daylights would fare.

So without further preamble, let's find out.

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

He's been the subject of occasional ribbing over the years from people who feel his era was a sort of 007 Dark Ages, but Timothy Dalton remains one of my favorite James Bonds.  But then, all the James Bonds are on my list of favorites; there isn't a one of them who I don't love.

Dalton, however, was the first person to become James Bond during my lifetime, and because of that, he holds a place that none of the others hold.  His casting also coincided with the time in my life when I was finally discovering Ian Fleming's work.  I was thirteen when The Living Daylights came out, and it was in the media blitz surrounding the franchise's 25th anniversary that I began to feel the roots of fandom truly take hold.  I distinctly recall reading a full-page newspaper article which ranked all of the Bond films; I was fascinated by it, and I cut it out and saved it for further contemplation.  The idea of comparing the Bonds had never occurred to me, at least not in that way.  It seems strange to think now, but the thought that such a thing could be done had never entered my mind.  This was, in some ways, my introduction to the idea of quantifying what one liked about movies.

I would occasionally produce the article and quiz my father on certain aspects of it.  I believe Goldfinger was the #1 movie on the list, so I'd ask Dad if he thought Goldfinger was really the best.  He'd consider it for a moment, and say, "Well, it might be...but From Russia With Love is maybe even better."  At which point I'd sit and try to figure out which I thought was the better.

"But, you know," said Dad, fatefully, "some of the books are even better."

"Better than what?"

"Better than the movies."

I was flabbergasted by this.  I'm not sure I even knew there were books.  The one I remember Dad talking about specifically was On Her Majesty's Secret Service; he told me about how Ian Fleming had gone into detail about how Bond made his escape from Blofeld's fortress.  "It was pretty good in the movie," he allowed; "but it's awesome in the book."

From that point, I began pestering my mother to buy me the Bond books any time we were in a store that was selling one.  And since this was the 25th anniversary of the movie series, there were a lot of the books in grocery stores, drugstores, and similar places we visited frequently.  So my mom bought me a bunch of the Ian Fleming books, and a lot of the John Gardner ones, too.  And I devoured those suckers.

I'm sure that at some point during this process, I must have seen -- or read -- an interview with Timothy Dalton in which he said that it was his intent to play Bond the way Ian Fleming wrote the character.  That was certainly one of the major talking points for the movie, and I must have heard him say it, because it quickly became one of my favorite things about Dalton.  At some point, several years into the future, a schoolmate was talking about how much he hated Dalton's Bond movies.  "Well, actually," I said, almost certainly sounding like a complete snob, "Timothy Dalton's Bond is more like the Ian Fleming books than either Sean Connery or Roger Moore's."

That's the kind of stuff I was worried about in my adolescence.  Other guys were just trying to figure out how to put their middle fingers to their best use.  Amongst other things.  Me?  Worried about making sure other people Timothy Dalton was a purer version of Ian Fleming's Bond.  Ah, misspent youth.

Misspent adulthood, too, 'cause here I am doing it again.  But it's too late to turn back now, so full steam ahead!

"I only kill professionals," Bond says to Saunders near the beginning of the movie; "that girl didn't know one end of a rifle from the other.  Go ahead; tell" [M] "what you want.  If he fires me, I'll thank him for it."  This is one of the most Ian Fleming-esque moments in the entirety of the series, even to this day.  And it is utterly unimaginable to consider Roger Moore delivering the lines.  I can put them in the mouths of any of the others, but not Moore.  And when you consider that when the movie came out in 1987, Moore had been James Bond -- and a popular James Bond -- since 1973, it's easy to imagine why people would have heard this dialogue and said, "The fuck is the shit?!?  This isn't James Bond!"

But it was.  Not for a lot of people, though.  It's impossible to discount the fact that Dalton's movies were nowhere near as popular as Moore's.  Heck, he only got to make two of them, and after that it required a return visit to the well for the producers.  

It's worth pointing out that Dalton was one of three men who nearly got cast as Bond for this movie.  The other, famously, was Pierce Brosnan, who actually was cast, but only until his Remington Steele contract with NBC caused him to have to return to that series.  At that point, the producers returned to Dalton, whom they'd wanted prior to Brosnan's involvement; a scheduling conflict on his end had held that up, but a subsequent delay on the Bond side of things put him right back into contention, and he landed the gig.

But another guy got really, really close: Sam Neill.  

Sam Neill as 007, from his screen-test

Both John Glen and Michael G. Wilson were thrilled with Neill's screen test, and wanted to give him the part.  Albert R. Broccoli got the final word, though, and his word was "no."  Wouldn't you love to visit that parallel universe and see what kind of a 007 Neill turned out to be?  I suspect he'd have been great.

But then, I think Dalton was pretty great, too. Want another example?  I love how grumpy Dalton is during the scene in which Kara demands -- successfully -- that they go to the Conservatoire for her cello.  ("Why didn't you learn the violin?")  Can you imagine Moore playing this scene?  Or even Connery?  Brosnan?  Craig would probably do it well, but really, this is one of Dalton's best Dalton-specific Bond moments.

Another example: "Can't we stay here" [in Vienna] "a few days?" asks Kara shortly after Saunders' death.  "No," says Dalton, coldly, brutally.  It is almost identical to the way Craig answers two decades later when M asks him if he trusts anyone.  Dalton is, in some ways, the prototype for Craig's take on 007; not as physical, perhaps, but otherwise, he's close.  When you think about it, the relative commercial failure of Dalton's take -- so widely known that it was a semi-plot-point in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- makes it that much more astonishing that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson went with Craig, and with that type of Bond movie.  Retrospectively, it seems like an enormous risk.  They deserve a huge amount of credit, and The Living Daylights makes it plain that screenwriter Wilson was obviously trying to take the series in that direction even as early as 1987 (if not in 1981 with For Your Eyes Only, which shares some of the same tone).

There are negatives to Dalton's performance.  They're slight, but they're worth mentioning, lest anyone accuse me of being too Dalton-fanboyish.  The best example: he doesn't always handle the script's humor well.  For example: when the Aston Martin's radio picks up the police band and Kara comments on it wonderingly, Bond says, "Must be atmospheric interference," and Dalton gives Kara a knowing double-take so that she knows he's kidding.  He does the double-take thing several times, and it's kinda lame every time.  This is probably a holdover from his most recent regeneration not having fully taken hold yet.  This is probably a holdover from the screenplay being written at a time when it was unclear who was going to be playing the role.

(At other times, Dalton handles this type of thing just fine.  "I've had a few optional extras installed," Bond says shortly before launching missiles from the Aston-Martin.  This is a line I can hear each Bond saying, though they each would say it differently.  I like Dalton's take; he's simultaneously playful and grumpy.)

There's also a weird moment in which you can clearly hear the sound (though you don't actually see it) of Bond giving Moneypenny an affectionate couple of smacks on the rump.  Not sure how I feel about that.  Connery does it to Dink in Goldfinger, but that was Connery, and that was Dink instead of Moneypenny, and that was 1964.  This is 1987, and it feels...wrong.

On the whole, though, I think Dalton is absolutely terrific here.  He's good at the action, he's good at the romance, he's good at the intrigue; he's a bit iffy with the humor, but he gets it right as frequently as he gets it wrong.

In considering what makes his take work, a thought occurred to me that had perhaps never occurred consciously before.  One of the reasons Dalton makes a great 007 is that he has a terrific voice.  This is a tradition among Bond actors: Connery and Moore had great voices, very different from one another but nonetheless great.  Craig does, too.  All their voices are relatively deep, so that they sound very manly indeed.  Brosnan, too, has a great voice, but his is in a higher register; I wonder if that's why some people could never accept him.  You could say the same of Lazenby, perhaps.  All I know is that if I were casting the next Bond, I'd end up giving the role to someone who not only looked the part and moved like Bond, but who sounds like Bond.

Points awarded: 007/007.  I considered going with a 006 instead, thanks to the occasional bungling of the humor, but I think that would be the wrong move.  The fact is, I think this is one of THE great Bond performances.  Other people may not like Dalton, but I do, and I think my reasons for it are laced with nostalgia and personal bias...but nonetheless sensible and appropriate.


Main Villain:  Jeroen Krabbe is an oily fellow as Koskov.  Specifically, snake-oil.   It's a little bit hard to believe that M and the various higher-ups would give credence to what he's saying about defecting because of Pushkin.  I get the feeling that the screenplay wants us to believe him, but that the actor and director kind of don't care.  Krabbe's performance isn't bad, but I think it weakens the movie in some ways.  On the other hand, since Bond patently distrusts the entire situation virtually from the moment he sees Kara through his scope, Krabbe's performance works subtly to make Dalton a more believable and compelling 007.  So in that sense, perhaps it was a benefit.

Points awarded (Main Villain):  004/007.  I don't think Krabbe is bad by any means, but in comparison to some of the rest of the movie, I feel Koskov is a bit of a weak link.
Henchmen:  Koskov is a weak link, and so is Brad Whittaker, the rogue arms dealer whose presence helps to make the plot work.

Whittaker is played by Joe Don Baker, and he's kind of awful.  It isn't his fault; I believe that he is merely doing what he was asked to do, which is chew some scenery as a military-wannabe American loudmouth with an inflated ego and ungovernable appetites.  I think I may just dislike hearing rednecks speak in the context of a James Bond movie.

Either way, I don't like Whittaker, and I don't like Baker's performance.

Andreas Wisniewski is better as Necros, Koskov's main henchman.  He looks rather a lot like Daniel Craig in that screencap above, but the vibe he puts off for most of the movie is Robert Shaw's Red Grant from From Russia With Love.  He's nowhere near as good, but he's okay. His thing with strangling people using Walkman headphones is lame, but it's totally in keeping with the series, so I'm going to give it a pass.

Points awarded (Henchmen):  002/007.  Necros is decent; Whittaker, not so much.
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  003/007.  This is undeniably the movie's weak spot.

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl: She never seems to rank very highly on people's lists of best Bond girls, but I think Maryam D'Abo is terrific.  The character is just a pawn, but during the course of the movie she grows into a self-assured, strong-willed person; this, presumably, is the effect Bond can have on the right woman.

I like the way D'Abo plays Kara's initial meeting with Bond.  She is at first extremely wary, but as she hears who he claims to be, she returns to being the type of sunny and optimistic girl who seems plausible as the kind of person who could be turned into a pawn in the way that Koskov has done.

She spends much of the movie being somewhat tentative and lost at sea, but Kara is great when she gets feisty, such as whopping Bond with a pillow and then later making Shah look like a coward.  That latter moment is especially a standout.  Bond disappears with the opium, and Kara looks at Shah disgustedly.  She asks him if Shah will do nothing to help Bond, and Shah indicates there's nothing that can be done.  Kara says there is, grabs Shah's gun from its holster on his horse, and rides off in pursuit of the Russian caravan.  Shah's Islamic soldiers give him a serious case of the stink-eye, and he looks at them in a state of stunned disbelief; they are waiting on him to make a move.  "Women!" he says, in a hoes-be-crazy attempt to save face; and then they all ride off after her.  It's pretty great.

Kara flying the plane is a collection of moments -- none of them overplays, happily -- in which she makes a lot of bumbling mistakes, but let's face it: who among us who doesn't know how to play a Soviet airplane could be expected to do better?  One might be tempted to think this is a reprise of Mary Goodnight's idiocy in The Man with the Golden Gun, but there's a key difference: Goodnight was a British agent, whereas Kara is a cellist.  Big difference.  It might also be worth considering the extent to which D'Abo doesn't go into Willie Scott mode; Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones of the Temple of Doom (a movie I love, by the way) has a few similarities to Kara, but she plays Willie as a nincompoop.  D'Abo plays Kara as a fish out of water, but capable of figuring out how to get back into the pond if she gets a little help.

Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  006/007.  I think Kara is a compelling character, and I think D'Abo played her exceptionally well.  Also: I had not mentioned it before now, but the two above behind-the-scenes shots should make it clear: Maryam D'Abo is a gorgeous woman.  She doesn't seem to have had all that great a career, but she has worked consistently, and she was a part of two other Bond-centric projects that are worth mentioning: the coffee-table book Bond Girls Are Forever, and a short documentary (also titled Bond Girls Are Forever) in which she travels the world interviewing other Bond Girl actresses about their experiences.  The documentary is very good; the book (which she co-wrote with John Cork) is a must-own for any serious Bond fan.  It is fan-freakin'-tastic.

Secondary Bond Girls:  Well, it was the late '80s, and everyone had decided -- publicly, if not quite permanently -- that Bond had better start acting more responsibly in the heyday of AIDS.  So this movie is a bit short on secondary Bond girls.  The woman on the boat in the pre-credits sequence counts, I guess.

Does the big-boned Russian chick who helps create a distraction during Koskov's oil-pipeline escape count?  I used to think she was repulsive, but I've sort of changed my mind on her over the years.  She looks as though she might be a bit of fun, and I'll do you a favor and stop that train of thought right there.

The only other candidate is Pushkin's girlfriend, whom Bond uses rather cruelly.  He doesn't engage with her in that way, but he does put her sexuality to good use.  Cruel use, but a double-0 has to do what he has to do.

That's Virginia Hey, incidentally, whom some of you may know from her role as Zhaan in Farscape.  I met Hey at Dragon*Con once; she seemed a bit out there, but in an utterly delightful way.  She has very little to do in The Living Daylights, but she does a good job of playing her character's distress at Pushkin's seeming death, and also her surprise at finding he is still alive.  She does a MUCH better job than most actresses in a role of this size do in Bond movies.
Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls): 004/007.  There aren't many, but I understand why, and it works for the movie.  I kinda like the big Russian chick.  Did I mention that?

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls):  005/007.  I considered not even scoring the Secondary Bond Girls category this time, but I think if I'd done that, it would only be because of my bias for the movie.  This seems more fair.
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  Most of the action scenes and stuntwork here are exceptional.  They don't quite hit the heights that some of the other '80s Bond films hit, but they come close.

The Gibraltar sequence -- which includes a cool skydiving bit at the beginning, then a nifty car chase, and then a great scene in which said car drives off a cliff and explodes -- gets the movie off on the right foot.

Later, there is a Bond series rarity: an action setpiece that does not involve Bond (the fight between Necros and the safe-house security guard).  It's a good fight, too; Wisniewski, whose background was in ballet, moves like a man who knows how to move.  That serves him well in fight scenes.

The Aston-Martin using a rocket boost to jump the guard shed is pretty great, and it's followed up by the eternally-amusing joke of having an enemy car try the same stunt, only to fail miserably.

The cello-case slalom works, and that's a bit amazing, isn't it?  It's a daffy idea, one that director John Glen pushed for while screenwriters Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum raised their eyebrows skeptically.  But it does work; and the reason for that, I think, is that it was done practically, with Dalton and D'Abo coasting down the hill rather than stuntmen.

The fight in the Russian jail is pretty good.  Mainly, I like the moment in which Bond slams the cage door shut on the fat guard's arm, breaking it.  That's brutal.

The whole dangling-out-of-the-end-of-a-plane thing is pretty awesome, too.  This was evidently a very dangerous stunt, and I wish it screencapped better.

Points awarded (Action/Stunts): 006/007.  Not fancy, but hugely functional.  Probably doesn't get the credit it deserves.

Editing:  As always, I struggle to explicate my feelings about the editing.  But my sense here is that it's very solid.  I noticed it during the scene in which the Aston-Martin is stuck inside the shed; a soldier fires a rocket at it, and Bond decides to speed out of it.  He does so just in time; the shed explodes.  The editing is a big part of what makes this work.

The editing between the stuntwork and the studio work during the airplane fight sequence is superb, too.

Points awarded (Editing):  006/007.  Not flashy, but -- again -- effective.  The editing is a huge part of the movie's tone, and I think the tone is just right in all but a few brief places.

Costumes/Makeup:  During the scene in which Bond snipes Kara, his tuxedo is designed so that part of it can be undone and then folded over so as to block out all of the white.  This is pretty genius.  I was tempted to call that a gadget, or even a special effect, but the fact is, it's costuming.  A very cool moment.

There are a few horrible jackets, such as the ones Leiter and Bond are wearing above.  It was the '80s.

Also of note: the Mujahadin costumes were evidently genuine Afghan wardrobe smuggled out of the country by a documentary filmmaker on behalf of the Broccolis!

Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 005/007.  There's nothing extraordinary here, except for Bond's sniper tux.  But it's mostly all pretty good.

Locations:  Can I be honest?  Until writing this post, I had no clue where Gibraltar is.  If you had a gun to my head, I'd have maybe been able to guess "Spain" is a queasy I'm-'bout-to-get-capped voice; but it would purely have been a guess.  Evidently, though, it more or less is in Spain.  And yet, it's a British territory.  It's also a lovely location, one evidently swarming with monkeys.  Macaques, to be precise.  Oh, to have heard Roger Moore make a "macaque" joke...

There's a lovely country estate safe-house in England, where I assume poor people are not allowed to go (at least I hope they aren't):

The snow-covered lake and hills from which Bond and Kara make their escape to Austria are gorgeous; Tangier is appealingly squalid; Morocco -- doubling for Afghanistan -- offers some lovely desert.  And, of course, there's Vienna.

Ah, Vienna...

(That's two Indiana Jones references in this post!)

Points awarded (Locations):  006/007.  Customarily lovely.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  005.75/007
(5)  Q Branch

Bond's Allies:  We begin with Saunders, the agent in charge of Koskov's defection.  Saunders is a jellyfish, but he comes around . . . just in time to be killed.  He's a decent character; we'll have more to say about him in our Mission Briefing section.

The second-ever Moneypenny arrives on the scene!  Caroline Bliss doesn't make much of an impact, sadly.  Actually, strike that; she is actively a weaker character than Lois Maxwell's Moneypenny; she seems to have no power over James, whereas with Maxwell you always got the sense that she did, and that she knew it.  By contrast, Bliss's Moneypenny is inviting Bond over to listen to Barry Manilow records (!) and sighing when he walks out, right after having him smack her on the rump.  This is a major downgrade.

Q gets a few good moments.  It's nice to see him involved in Koskov's escape, and nice to see him assisting Bond in trying to research female KGB assassins.

What to say about Art Malik's character, Kamran Shah?  I mean . . . he's basically Osama bin Laden, isn't he?  But in 1987, this raised no fuss, at least not that I'm aware of.  That makes The Living Daylights interesting, historically.  Regardless of any of those concerns, Shah is a cool character, and Malik plays him well.  I especially like him in the Russian prison scene, when he's pretending to be a bum.

The last major ally is General Pushkin, played by the wonderful John Rhys Davies.  Davies was Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark (meaning that if I can manage to squeeze in one more Indy reference, I'll have hit all four films), and he was Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, but in some ways, it's this movie that I think of when I think of him.  He's terrific.  He's intimidating enough that he looks like a villain; 1987 audiences could plausibly have assumed when he showed up that he was going to turn into the movie's main bad guy.  But he's also plausible as a guy who really does want to do the right thing, so that when he turns out to be someone who aids Bond, it plays 100% effectively.

Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  005/007.  Moneypenny loses a point for this category.

Direction:  I don't think it's going out on a limb to say this is John Glen's best work of the series.  Perhaps enervated by the new Bond actor, or by the change-of-pace seriousness of the screenplay, Glen brought a deft touch to the proceedings.  He shows an occasional visual grace that has not always been present in his work, but even better, the tone is just right for virtually all of the movie.  I think things might have been improved slightly if Koskov and Whittaker had been better-cast, but even those things do not kill the movie.  I think a great deal of that is down to Glen, and the tone he strikes.  It doesn't seem to have caught fire with viewers in 1987, but as far as I'm concerned, that's the only strike against it.

Kara and Bond escaping her KGB watchman is very good.  That's one of the scenes where Glen excelled, with a big helping hand from his editors.

I also love the scene in which Bond takes the "KGB sniper," and the one one in which he confronts Pushkin.  Glen's work is very strong throughout, but those scenes stand out for me.

Points awarded (Direction): 006/007.  I was tempted to go to 007, but a few odd notes -- Bond smacking Moneypenny on the rump being one -- caused me to dock a point.

Cinematography:  Alec Mills scored the gig on this movie, and he did a terrific job.  Standout moments: the takeoff of Koskov's escape plane is lovely (I'm not sure why it's magic-hour suddenly in the middle of the night, but let's ignore that); a gorgeous shot of galloping horses silhouetted against the rising sun; and a sunrise on the Russian airbase.  The whole movie is lovely, though.

Points awarded (Cinematography): 006/007.  To be honest, the only reason I didn't give it a 007 is that some of the studio sets seem to be lit ever-so-slightly on the flat side.  Not to any ill effect; it's just enough to keep me from awarding a perfect score.

Art Direction:  I've got little to say about this section. In keeping with a more realistic tone, Peter Lamont's production design is not showy.  But I like the new MI6 offices, and there's not a single set that seems like it doesn't work.  For example, all the Mujahadin stuff seems authentic; then again, how would I know?

I'd also like to add that the various wax figures of Whittaker as historical soldiers are creepy.

Points awarded (Art Direction): 005/007.  Nothing special, but functional.

Special Effects:  I have to constantly keep myself honest when assessing this category, and oftentimes that means that if I don't focus, I end up not giving the effects department enough creit.  For example: we don't always think of them as such, but explosions are special effects, and the exploding milk bottles Necros uses are pretty great.

So is the Aston-Martin slicing the police car off its axle.  Its missiles destroying the roadblock is even better.

The exploding barn is cool, too, and the bridge explosion toward the end of the movie is awesome.  Evidently, not only is the explosion a miniature, the shot of the tanks and horses passing across it is an illusion.  They were actually going over a bridge, but it was a bridge only a few feet off the ground; the shot appears to be a bridge several hundred feet off the ground.  So what gives?  Well, what happened was that the effects department rigged up a foreground miniature -- complete with fake water created out of saran wrap! -- and used forced perspective to make it look as if the horses, tanks, and whatnot were passing over a bridge vastly higher than it actually was.  If the behind-the-scenes material on the Blu-ray didn't tell me all of this, I would have no clue.  It's that good.

And, apparently, I failed to screencap it.  Good job, Bryant.  (I'll try to remember to go back and do so, and remove this regrettable moment from the blog.)

The model shot of the car being yanked via parachute out of the Hercules is awfully good, too; I actually tried to screencap that one, but it didn't turn out well.

Points awarded (Special Effects): 007/007.  Great work, partially because of how it barely even seems like effects work.

Gadgets:  The two previous two Bond films were comparatively silly affairs, whereas this is a mostly serious film; and yet this one has more gadgets than those two put together!  We've got the "ghetto blaster," we've got Necros's explosive dairy products, we've got the magnetized keyring with stun gas and plastic explosives; we've got a man-eating couch in Q's lab; and, of course, we've got the Aston-Martin, complete with laser-cutter, missiles, a rocket engine, and a ski aparatus.

Points awarded (Gadgets):  007/007.  This movie's gadgets don't get their due.

Opening-Title Sequence:  The first thing to mention is that Timothy Dalton does not appear in it; Roger Moore had done in the past several movies.  Dalton hadn't quite earned that level of visibility yet, presumably.  Maurice Binder's opening credits are full of naked women doing gymnastics, possibly so as to reassure fans that not all things had changed.  But they also introduce the concept of a gun-brandishing woman, and suggest that she might not be as dangerous as she looks.  I love it when the credits sequence actually reflects the story like that.

Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence): 006/007.  Not one of the more spectacular credits sequences, maybe, but it's solid.  I like it a lot.

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  006/007.  There was a lot working well here to try and ensure that Dalton's era as Bond began on the right footing.  As far as I'm concerned, job well-done.
(6)  Mission Briefing

Let's resort to bullet-points, mainly on account of how I'm getting sleepy.
  • The return to the harder-edged, Flemingesque Bond is welcome.  I like the semi-campy Moore era, but in general I prefer my Bond to be plausible (if not entirely realistic).
  • Why does the truck on Gibraltar have a bunch of explosives inside it?  I mean, yeah, it's a military base and whatnot, but doesn't it seem weird that somebody is just driving around with a truck full of active explosives during a serious inter-departmental training exercise?
  • Speaking of which, what happens to the double-oh agent who isn't killed during that training exercise?  The one who just gets shot with a paintball, I mean.  Shouldn't his lazy ass have been helping Bond try to hunt down the Russian agent who just killed 004?
  • Saunders is an annoying chap, but he serves a useful function: by having a character in the opening who is (for whatever reason) dead-set against Bond, it puts the audience immediately on Bond's side.  This has a side-effect: it puts the audience immediately on Dalton's side.  Bond knows things Saunders doesn't: that KGB snipers wear body-armor; how to operate the night-vision goggles.
  • Q talks briefly about a female Soviet agent whose assassination method involves "strangulation with hands or thighs."  Eight years later, exactly such a character appears.  Here, she is named Yula Yarkov, and is a lady of considerable carriage; in GoldenEye, she will be Xenia Onatopp, and looks like a fashion model.  Coincidence?  Or did somebody remember that detail a decade later and put it to use?
  • As I mentioned earlier, I was 13 when this movie came out, and certain aspects of the plot were maybe a bit too intricate for me to understand.  Example: it was years before I understood that Bond knew what was going on -- maybe not the specifics, but enough to know to be suspicious -- with Koskov all along.  So it was years before I understood why Bond ended up going after Pushkin, why he didn't go through with it, and why they faked his death.  Now, though, it all plays, and well.  This plot does Fleming proud.
  • Where did those exploding milk bottles come from?  Necros killed a milkman and took over for him; surely the regular milkman didn't just happen to have exploding milk bottles.  Seems like that'd be a specialty item.
  • Why do Leiter's girls not just tell Bond who they are when they pick him up?  I'm going to assume that they are under orders from Leiter to fuck with 007.

Points awarded: 006/007.  Occasional illogic and implausibility, but mostly, this is good stuff.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:  I was -- and am -- a huge fan of a-ha's big hit song, "Take On Me."  But they seemed like a weird fit foe a Bond movie, and their landing the gig was almost certainly a misguided attempt to replicate the mad success that was Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill."

Thing is, I really like this title song.  It's a great tune, and it's performed reasonably well.  There are a couple of places where the vocals become a bit wonky, but overall, I think it's a better song than it sometimes gets credit for being.

On a slightly more sour note . . . a-ha got their own font during the credits?!?

Points awarded (Title Song): 005/007.  You might not like it, but I do.

End Credits Song:  Well, here's a new category!  For the first time ever, a second Bond song appeared, this time during the closing credits instead of the opening credits.  This would become a trend in the series for the next few films, and frankly, I wish they'd bring it back.  I love getting two Bond songs for the price of one.

This first time out, the song is "If There Was a Man," performed by The Pretenders and (like "The Living Daylights") co-written by composer John Barry.

This is a gorgeous song, but it is a brutally sad one.  "Where's the one I'm holding out for?  When's he walking through that door (the one that you walked through), if he isn't you?"  That shit'll break your heart, boy.  So why does the movie end with a song like this?  "Happy endings never find me," sings Chrissie Hynde, although the movie ends happily for Kara.  "So my moment's overdue," she admits; "but if there was a man out there for me, I wish it would be someone who could love me, too...if someone was you..."

Here, in the end credits song, is a tacit admission: that while the movie may end with Kara falling into James's arms, whatever happiness they may share is doomed to be transitory and fleeting.  This is the song Kara will be singing six months from now, and it's a major bummer: all of James Bond's romances end in tragedy of one sort or another, the song tells us.

Points awarded (End Credits Song):  007/007.  This is a bit of a masterpiece, as far as I'm concerned.  And speaking of masterpieces...

The Score:  I feel as if I've neglected the Bond scores, in some ways.  I could probably write a separate post about each of them, and may do in time.  This is especially true of John Barry's scores.  His work on The Living Daylights was his final time scoring a Bond picture, and he went out in style, with a lush, exciting score that modernizes the Bond sound, but sacrifices not one bit of the relevance of the music.

Let's look at a few of the highpoints.  (I'm tempting to embed a shitload of videos here, too, but I'm tired as hell, and too lazy to actually do it.  Sorry!)

  • A modernized version of the James Bond theme plays during Gibraltar scene; it recurs during the chase across the ice.  There's a good bit of synthesizer in place of the steel guitar, but the tune is the same, and it works like a charm.
  • The score during the sniper scene is great; tense and foreboding.  Something is wrong, it says; all is not what it seems.
  • Necros gets his own theme music, one of the relatively few villains to have that happen.  The song you hear playing through his headphones off and on is "Where Has Every Body Gone?" by The Pretenders.  It, like "If There Was a Man," was co-written by John Barry.  Barry's uses the theme in an instrumental guise for scenes in which Necros features.  Good tune, although the Pretenders song itself is not one of my favorite Bond songs.
  • Barry uses an instrumental version of "If There Was a Man" during Kara's first meeting with Bond; it is a tentative, unsure version played on woodwind, but it is essentially the same gorgeous tune that will return later.  A few minutes later, Barry reprises it in a light, sweet piano version for the moment in which Bond gruffly allows Kara to pick up her cello; here, it indicates that Bond has already begun falling for this tender willow of a woman.
  • After Saunders is killed, Bond, enraged, begins chasing the balloons he saw earlier.  Barry brings in Necros's theme, and this helps to make the scene work; it's a fakeout, because Necros is gone, but thanks to the music, we -- like Bond -- feel like we are on the hunt.
  • When he first see Bond pursuing Pushkin, a slow, ominous instrumental version of the title song begins playing.  Several minutes later, when Bond is escaping after "killing" Pushkin, the music reprises, but in a more action-oriented mode.  It's really terrific, and dramatically it serves to link the two scenes. 
  • A cheesy sax solo plays when the two chicks in the convertible pick Bond up after the Pushkin assassination.  This is not one of the film's highpoints; it feels -- the scene and the score alike -- like it might have stepped right out of Diamonds Are Forever.
  • Barry's music for the journey into the badlands of Afghanistan is lush, gorgeous, ominous; vintage Barry.

This poster art is one of my all-time favorites for the series.  At one point, I strongly considered putting a category in that could encompass marketing imagery of this sort; I feel like that's genuinely been a major part of the Bond series.  I might revisit that idea when the inevitable You Only Blog Twice 2.0 rolls around in a decade or so.

Points awarded (The Score): 007/007.  Never you mind about that cheesy sax moment; this is one of the best scores of the entire series.  And hey, check it out: John Barry got a cameo at the end of the movie!

Total points awarded (The Music):  006.33/007.  It feels maybe a bit weird to give the end-credits song equal weight to the opening-credits song.  But I think it's the right decision, to the extent that such things matter.

Double-0 Rating for The Living Daylights:  005.58/007.  That clocks The Living Daylights in at #5 all-time (well, all-time through 1987, at least), which, given the movies ahead of it, seems about right.  I think it's a fine movie, and I think it's time it got its due.

The tally so far:

006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
004.84 -- Moonraker
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.42 -- For Your Eyes Only
004.39 -- Live and Let Die
001.43 -- Never Say Never Again
You Only Blog Twice will return in ... Licence to Kill.
But before that, here's an assortment of leftover screencaps and other images.  Many of them, you will note, are behind-the-scenes shots, most of which came from screencapping the documentary about the making of the movie that appears on the DVD.  I probably should have been doing that all along, eh?

"Smiert spionam?!?" I can hear John Rhys Davies say.

I crack myself up.

This is how Bond sees Necros after Kara has drugged him.

"Jerzy Bondov"!  Brilliant!

Albert R. Broccoli

Michael G. Wilson

Richard Maibaum

MUST find one of these posters some day...

Dalton, D'Abo, and Glen...

...and again


  1. "Ah, Vienna...

    (That's two Indiana Jones references in this post!) "

    Wait, isn't it "Ah, Venice?"

    Or is the joke that you're subbing in Vienna for Venice... probably, eh? Forget I mentioned it.

    Glad to see this one get some love, as I've always enjoyed it as well. Dalton gets a bad rap, primarily for License to Kill, I guess, but the timing of his Bond tenure came at a bad time as well. Whatever: this film is great, and great Bond. A fair ranking.

    Funny you mention that about your Dad. My parents went to see this and I asked what they thought when they got back. My Mom's number one celeb crush in life is Timothy Dalton. (Number two is Pierce Brosnan; guess the Bond producers had my Mom's demographic pegged!) So, she loved it. My Dad, amusingly, was hung up on the dismissive way Dalton delivered the signature "Bond... James Bond." I remember him saying "He was fiddling with the damn PHONE when he said it," like that was the ultimate indignity. Too funny.

    Maybe Yula Yarkov was one of Onatopp's aliases? If so, that's kind of a cool callback/ connection.

    I love that A-ha song. (I had no idea how huge they remained in Europe after they more or less faded altogether from American shores except for "Take On Me.")

    Did Alan Moore reference Sam Neill as Bond at all in LXG? That is ringing a bell for some reason, but I can't recall/ don't have 'em at the ready. I think I recall seeing that at one of the annotations sites, though. I'm probably making this up.

    Jerzy Bondov! This is a revelation to me, which greatly embarrasses me.

    Kara is such a unique Bond girl. She's not my fave, but she's fantastic. Even at the time I remember thinking how different she seemed. In many ways (like you hint at ) this has a lot in common with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, as well as For Your Eyes Only. If I ever meet someone whose 3 favorite Bonds are these, I'll know what kind of lady he finds super classy.

    Good call on how un-Willie-Scott-like she is.

    That bit about smuggling out the Afghan wardrobe is great. I think this film or Rambo III formed my first impression of Afghanistan. (Outside of the Soviet invasion and how that played on the news, but I was still pretty young, then.)

    Kamran Shah as Bin Laden (and the implication, there, re: US/ Afghanistan in the 80s vs now) is spot-on

    1. I was wondering if that "Ah, Venice/Vienna" joke would come across at all. I forget sometimes that if a reader doesn't imagine what I imagine -- Harrison Ford's voice speaking the words -- then we end up on different pages. Oh well. (Never did get my "Crystal Skull" reference in there, either. Fail!)

      I considered mentioning the off-hand delivery of the "Bond; JAMES Bond" line, but couldn't -- and can't -- figure out how I feel about it. It's a weak delivery, but I think that's the point of the moment: he says almost as if he isn't, then the lady with the champagne glass steps forward, and he smiles and realizes, "Oh, shit, yeah...I AM James Bond!"

      Is a-ha still huge in Europe? I had no idea. I figured they were just gone. I'll have to look into that!

      I don't recall Alan Moore mentioning Sam Neill in LXG, but don't take that to be a denial. There's a lot of things I don't remember. I certainly wouldn't put it past him.

      The Jerzy Bondov thing was new to me, too. It's only onscreen for a moment, and nobody ever says it; that's why I was thrilled and screencapped it.

      I remember the Afghan war being a huge deal, and I remember that people like Shah were looked at as heroes. Which, to be fair, they may well have been. It was a very different world. Or, at least, we looked at it very differently.

  2. Dalton was one of the best Bonds, in my opinion. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that he's a neck-and-neck second, along with Craig. I remember getting that teaser poster (still got it) of Dalton with the PPK and thinking how badass he looked as Bond. And yeah, definitely closest to Fleming's description of Bond. Dalton had cold ice-blue eyes. Just perfect. I remember reading that he read all of the Fleming books after signing on for the role.
    And that Royal Shakespeare Company training meant that he had the acting chops to give Bond a little more depth after the Moore years. And yes, Dalton had the best voice. It's a damn shame that he never did a couple more Bonds.
    Another great write-up!

    1. Thanks!

      Yeah, I wish he'd gotten to make a few more movies, too. Although if he had and the decline in popularity had continued, maybe the series might have died. I'm not a big fan of the Brosnan movies (I like HIM a lot, just not the movies), but they did at least keep the series vital enough that we have what we have now.

  3. I liked "Goldeneye" , but with each successive film, it seemed like Pierce Brosnan playing Pierce Brosnan rather than Bond. He had too many mannerisms that were left over from his "Remington Steele" days. And I was a huge fan of that show.

    1. Amazingly, I never saw a single episode of "Remington Steele." Not that I remember, at least. And I was born in '74, so really, there's no excuse. I wonder if some other show I regularly watched was on at the same time? Seems possible.

      I don't mind his Brosnan-isms; I just don't think any of his Bond movies are any good. All of them have their virtues, but they've also each got massive problems. That's spoilers for some of the upcoming posts, I guess, but so be it! And who knows, I might change my mind about one or two of them once I get to the writeup stage of things.

    2. Were you a Hart to Hart or a Spenser for Hire viewer? Those were two shows that aired opposite Remington Steele.

  4. I always felt Dalton wasn't well-served by the material. If he had scripts like Daniel Craig is getting he would be higher on everyone's list of best Bonds. I like him as Bond, always have, but there's always a sense of lost opportunity when I think of Dalton's Bond. He was way more badass than Moore and Lazenby, maybe even more badass than Connery. Dalton's Bond gave the impression that he could kick your ass at will. I didn't always have that feeling with any other Bond until Craig. That's not meant as a dis on Connery. He's still the best Bond.

    Maryam D'Abo. Wow. Not hot, exactly, but definitely pretty. I certainly wouldn't throw her out of bed for eating crackers. She aged well, as evidenced by "Bond Girls Are Forever." I really liked that documentary and I really liked her in it. It's a shame she hasn't had a more successful career. She should have.

    Yes, A-Ha was much bigger in Europe that they ever were here. In the Scandanavian coountries they're practically royalty, playing to sold-out crowds everywhere. Here they'd be a bar band, at best. Weird how that works sometimes.

    Joe Don Baker. Ugh. He's not quite as annoying when he shows up to help Brosnan for a couple of movies but here he just doesn't seem like someone who can legitimately give Bond a tough time.

    Also, both Moneypenny and Leiter suck in this movie. Samantha Bond and, later, Jeffrey Wright, can't get here fast enough for me.

    1. Wow, I totally forgot to mention this movie's Felix Leiter! You're right; he does suck. Almost all of the Leiters suck, frankly. This time, he's played by John Terry, who a couple of decades later had a quality role as Jack's father on "Lost." He was great there; here, not so much.

      On the subject of Joe Don Baker, I can actually tolerate him here a bit more than in the Brosnan movies. Here, at least he gets killed.

      I hear ya on the subject of Maryam D'Abo. She has indeed aged incredibly well. And she seems to be totally cool with the idea that she is primarily famous for having played a character who fornicated with James Bond. She strikes me as a thoughtful person, too. I can't recommend the book version of "Bond Girls Are Forever" highly enough.

      That's a really good point about Dalton's badassery level. He doesn't get much of that to do in "The Living Daylights." If you squint your mental eyes a bit, you can sort of see how the screenplay for this -- the broad strokes of it, at least -- must have been written with the assumption of Roger Moore returning for an eighth movie. Dalton got to be a lot more physical in "Licence to Kill," from what I recall...but boy (spoilers!) do I not like that movie much.

      To be expanded upon soon...

  5. Hi Bryant! I have been reading your blog with great interest as I rewatch all the Bonds being broadcast chronologically in the UK at the moment. I just noticed something in the Living Daylights which you may find interesting - when Bond drives the general away from Saunders' safe house and Saunders asks "where are you going?", Bond replies "sorry old man" and cites the same section 26 regulation that Saunders was obsfucating with upstairs. This reminded me of Red Grant on the train in From Russia With Love, when Connery's bond uses this line to put two and two together (along with the red wine and fish) that Grant isn't who he claims. Anyway, just thought it was an interesting slip that Dalton uses it here.

    Thanks for the great write ups!

    1. Oh, THAT'S interesting...! I wonder if that was a little nod the filmmakers put in to signal that the movie was making a significant change in style and tone?

      Very cool. Thanks for mentioning it!

  6. Glad you're a Dalton fan, and like the ah-ha theme song, which I think is probably the most underrated of the entire series. And happy you mentioned the creepy wax figures of Whittaker. I always wondered if Joe Don Baker got to keep one of those...

    I also find the big Russian gal working at the pipeline to be kinda kinky. The Stephen King fan in you will appreciate this: I saw her play Annie Wilkes in a stage version of Misery in London in the mid-90's. She was really good, with a flawless American accent (she's British, I believe). I think I still have a mini-poster of it somewhere.

    1. That's cool as hell! That's a wonderful bit of info, too -- thanks!

      "The Living Daylights" might be a good choice for most underrated Bond song. I think I'd cast my vote in that competition for "Surrender," which nobody seems to even mention.

  7. I spent the New Year binging on the mid-80's mini-series Reilly, Ace of Spies. Have you ever seen it? It's what apparently brought Sam Neill to the attention of the Bond people. Very fun series, showcasing Neill as close to Bond as we'll probably ever see him: gambler, world-traveller, womanizer, although based on a real guy from the early 20th century (not sure if Fleming based any of the Bond character on him?) He's oilier, but in ways more moralistic and smarter than Bond, sort of in a real-world kind of way (although there's plenty of melodrama). Anyway, if you haven't checked it out you should, as research for future installments of the blog as well as for entertainment.

    1. I've never seen it, but it sounds terrific. Makes sense that that would be what brought Neill to the attention of EON.

    2. Forgot to mention, half the episodes are directed by Martin Campbell, so there's that Bond connection too.

    3. Man! I really DO need to see this.

  8. Hey, Bryant! I just got done watching TLD and wanted to revisit your review. Upon reading it the first time some months ago, it made me want to give TLD another shot. I don't mean that to sound as if I strongly disliked TLD and wanted to see if my opinion might change, just that it left such a lack of an impression on me 30 years ago, that I'd pretty much forgotten most everything about. I know I rented it on VHS, but even that occasion was almost certainly still in the 1980s.

    I've got to say, I enjoyed it a lot, more than I expected to. For all the things I hadn't remembered about the movie, the one thing I clearly remember from seeing it in the theater was how hard it was for me to get over the fact that it was no longer Roger Moore on the screen before me anymore. I think that's what always doomed Dalton to the bottom of my favorite Bond list. And because I felt that so strongly for TLD, it even carried over to LTK, and all of that secured Dalton's position in my estimation. Secured it until today, that is. Maybe it just took 30 years for me to "forgive" Dalton for replacing Moore (yeah, that look as ridiculous as it sounds in my head) and enjoy TLD on its own merits, but I'll be damned if Dalton didn't just vault a couple spots up my favorite Bond list. My top 3 are pretty set in stone (well, certainly my top 2, Craig could be overtaken for third someday) but I know in some previous comment (I think it was under one of the Brosnans) I had Dalton ranked last, I just can't recall if the bottom three (which doesn't mean I dislike them - I enjoy all the Bonds to some degree - just that someone has to occupy those spots) were 4. Brosnan 5. Lazenby 6. Dalton or 4. Lazenby 5. Brosnan 6. Dalton (pretty sure it was Brosnan, Lazenby, Dalton - obviously I don't obsess over the bottom three the way I do over the top three), but as it stands at the moment, Dalton just juked his way to fourth.

    Among the many things I'd forgotten about TLD, the most pleasant surprise might've been what a great song A-HA turned in for the opening credits. You can tell they were trying for "A View to a Kill" type results with a popular pop band (is popular pop redundant?), and it didn't quite get there, but damn, I had a smile plastered to my mug for the entire song, so it got closer than A-HA had any right getting to Duran Duran.

    Man, this Felix Leiter sucked. I mean, he didn't blow pork whistle as hard as dude what played Leiter in DAF, but he might be second worst. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but it had a lot to do with that shitty, light blue 80s jacket he was sporting. All jokes aside, he just seemed like he was wedged into the movie because, "hey, look, it's Felix Leiter!"

    Anyway, great review, even (especially) the second time around. Like I said, it helped plant the seed (even if it took my lazy ass a few months to heed the call) to finally get around to reappraising TLD, and by extension, Dalton. I'm glad I did.

    1. I'm glad you did, too.

      I suspect a great many people had a similar experience to yours regarding not being able to forgive Dalton for not being Roger Moore.

      I have a hard time picking my least-favorite Bond. I love 'em all. Currently I'm claiming it's Brosnan, because I only love one of his movies. But still, he's a very good 007.

      Agreed on the a-ha song.

      also agreed on this movie's Felix. I'd have zero tolerance for him if he wasn't played by John Terry, who I later liked as Jack's dad on "Lost." Doesn't help him any here.

      Let me know what you make of "Licence to Kill" if you also revisit it!

  9. I just read your excellent review of Living Daylights, and I very recently watched the movie, so let me throw in my two cents worth.

    The Good

    Dalton is fantastic as Bond. He really is sort of a "proto Craig". Nothing negative to say about him.

    Kara is a very appealing Bond girl. Would have been nice if she had shown some skin, but overall she's very solid.

    Pre-title sequence is great, my second favorite behind Octopussy.

    Necros is an excellent henchman. Loved the fight scene with him posing as a milkman.

    Nice side boob and panties on Pushkin's girlfriend. I did a frame-by-frame and really enjoyed the view.

    The Bad

    Both Whittaker and Koskov are too cartoonish for my liking.

    I don't care so much for the monogamous Bond. This movie was practically G-rated in terms of sexual content. And no nudity other than the above mentioned side boob and panties.

    While I liked the Aston-Martin overall, I thought some of its scenes were too unrealistic, even for Bond. No way a laser could so quickly and cleanly slice a car off it's chassis. And no way the wheel rims could slice through the ice like that.

    Have to roll your eyes at the escape using the cello case (although I suppose it this point that's almost an iconic scene).

    Random Thoughts

    Bond's ability to pilot such a wide variety of complex aircraft is amazing.

    If Dalton's Bond and Kara had a kid they would have had a world class chin cleft.

    As someone who studies history and current events, it's hard not think about the whole situation in Afghanistan while watching this movie. Before there was the Iraq war and the 911 attack, people were still wrestling with an F-upped situation in Afghanistan.

    Quick comment on Leiter's girls abducting Bond without telling him upfront what they're doing. This seems to be a re-curring theme in Bond movies. Just off the top of my head, similar situation with the Japanese chick in YOLT, and with Draco's men in OHMSS. Also similar where Jack Lord's Leiter holds Bond at gunpoint (in Dr. No) before telling him they are on the same side.

    Overall, I love Living Daylights. One of my favorites.

    1. Nice! Mine too. It was WAY underrated for a long time, but I'm not sure that's the case anymore; it seems to have gotten its due, more or less -- finally!

      Agreed that the Afghani-centric stuff feels ... what's the word I'm looking for? Not "weird," or "funny," but I'm not sure what word I'm looking for. Whatever it is, it feels THAT for sure. But I don't think it's a bad thing; it's how the world was back then, or at least how it seemed.