If there’s one complaint I have of the last few James Bond films (both official and unofficial), it’s that Bond is old. Sean Connery, around the time that Octopussy and Never Say Never Again came out, was heard saying, “Bond should be played by an actor 35, 33 years old. I’m too old. Roger’s too old, too!”
After the disappointment (both critical and financial) that was A View to a Kill, Eon Productions began work on a new Bond film. This time there were no plans for Roger Moore to return to the franchise as he would be 59 years old by the time the film would be released. A massive search for a new actor to play Bond began, trying out talents like Sam Neill, Daniel Pilon, Mel Gibson, and Sean Bean.
The biggest splash was made by television star Pierce Brosnan, considered a favorite to portray the character. Brosnan accepted the producers’ offer to play Bond and was getting ready to take up the role as his television show Remington Steele had recently been cancelled by NBC due to falling ratings. Thanks to the announcement that Brosnan would be the new James Bond, interest in Remington Steele resurged, prompting NBC to exercise a 60-day option in Brosnan’s contract on the 60th day. NBC purchased another season of Remington Steele, causing Albert Broccoli to rescind his offer to Brosnan, stating that he didn’t want an actor playing Bond who was also starring in a contemporary TV series. According to Broccoli, “Remington Steele will not be James Bond.”
This series of events caused a decline in Remington Steele interest once again, and the newly purchased season was shortened to five episodes before it was officially cancelled. However, the deed was done; Brosnan would not play Bond.
The Broccolis were relentless. Rather than return to the aging Moore (as Albert and Harry Saltzman had done with Connery when Lazenby decided to not return for a second round), they continued their pursuit of a new actor. Dana Broccoli (Albert’s wife) suggested Timothy Dalton for the role. Albert was reluctant, knowing that Dalton had been publicly vocal about his lack of interest in James Bond, but he offered the role to Dalton anyway, who surprisingly accepted.
Finally, after 12 years and 7 films, a new James Bond appeared, right in time for Bond’s 25th Anniversary.
The Living Daylights premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square in London on June 27, 1987.
Later, Bond is sent on a mission to oversee the safe defection of Russian general Georgi Koskov. As Koskov is making his escape, Bond spots a lone sniper attempting to prevent his escape. Agent Saunders urges Bond to kill the sniper, but Bond notices that she is not a professional sniper and decides to frighten her with a shot instead of killing her.
Koskov escapes to western Europe and gives the British government Soviet military information. He also claims that General Pushkin has begun eliminating British agents in an operation known as Smiert Spionom, which means “death to spies.”
Several plot twists and action sequences later, Bond finds himself chasing down Koskov, who turns out to be on the wrong side of both the British and the Russians, and who has thrown Pushkin under the bus, as it were.
The Living Daylights is a welcome reprieve from the practical parody that had plagued the Bond franchise on and off for the past 12 years. Audiences in 1987 complained that the film was a bit too dark, but that’s likely because of what they were used to in the Bond franchise. Dalton has an excellent first performance as Bond, and his supporting cast is equally as competent.
As a side note, Dalton looks (to my eyes, at least) the most like Ian Fleming’s original rendition of the character among all the men who have played Bond so far. He also portrays the character more closely to Fleming’s description of him in the novels. While Moore took Bond in a more refined, light-hearted direction, and Connery played a dashing and debonair portrayal, Dalton plays him as a cold, hard assassin. The rendition works well, and this film turns out to be a hidden gem of the franchise.
The movie feels a bit dated for its time, carrying a somewhat 70s quality (with the exception of the soundtrack) despite being a late-80s film. That’s not necessarily a bad quality, but it doesn’t seem to have aged terribly well.
With regards to the characters, I found the new Miss Moneypenny and the new Felix Leiter to be a bit stiff in their performances. The Bond girl Kara Milovy, played by Maryam d’Abo, was quite good. Far less annoying than Stacey Sutton, but nowhere near as appealing as 60s Bond girls Pussy Galore or Tracy Di Vicenzo.
The primary villain, Brad Whittaker—an American arms dealer who comes off as a complete buffoon, was played by Joe Don Baker. There’s really nothing intriguing about this villain, or Koskov the secondary villain, which is where this film’s weakness lies. While it’s actually a decent movie, there’s a dearth of well written baddies, so the stakes just don’t seem terribly high. The villains of this movie are silly and incompetent, making Bond seem a bit weak when he can’t dispatch them easily.
All in all, this film wasn’t half bad. It was enjoyable, but not outstanding. That’s not surprising though. It seems to take Bond actors three films before they settle into their roles and come out with something stellar. It’s unfortunate that Dalton never got that chance.
Fortunately, we do get to see him one more time…